March 10, 2012

The Obituary of a Yogi: Life, Death & Yoga.

(Photo: Brooke Kochel)

I laid a friend to rest yesterday; a young friend, at the ripe old age of 30. Moments like these make you question everything in life: your path, your love, your philosophy, your faith, even your yoga practice.

I was sipping coffee, on a morning full of promise, when I got the phone call. It was a Friday in Dallas. I’d driven in for a Shiva Rea yoga training due to start that evening. Shock ripped through my body and soul. As elevated as we strive to become through our various spiritual traditions and physical practices, we are still human after all.

I used to be a bereavement counselor for parents who’d lost children, so I’m familiar with the 5 stages of grief. It seemed I was having an outer body experience as I watched myself pass through: 1. Denial; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; and finally— 5. Acceptance.

I tenderly looked upon myself for any clue that yoga, the philosophy and practice I hold so dear, had any positive impact on me during these dark days.

In everyday life, I’m certain that my practice has sustained me and given me an amazing quality of life. It generates a mindfulness and presence that fills my days with loving moments. It’s given me a strong foundation in who I am, a stability which keeps me centered when the whole world in swirling around and balance that allows me to safely enjoy a little bit of everything life has to offer.

In yoga, we mimic the life cycle, from child’s pose to corpse pose, but what about the taboo subject that balances out life. What about dealing with death?

(Photo via Flickr: Wonderlane)

I went to yoga that night. Is it appropriate or respectful to stand on my head and flow through a Namaskar while mourning the loss of a loved one? I decided to go because it was a safe place to find solace.

Haven’t we all found ourselves on our mat in the studio, with the comfort of wooden hardwoods beneath us? Knowing you’ll sit in quiet reference, never explaining yourself to the silent person just inches away from you. It seems there was a pact created some time ago where we could just quietly be human together in this tradition of yoga.

And no matter the studio, there is a sublime quality in each one. Namastes have been uttered by thousands in each room. “The Higher Power in me honors the Higher Power in you” has blessed the room so many times, that although we boldly claim yoga is no religion, when you enter the studio, it can feel like holy land.

Tears have been shed in savasana. Intentions have been silently held in hearts and minds. Bodies have pushed themselves to their limits for the sake of a million different personal agendas.

As I entered my practice with a Namaskar or Sun Salutation, as I had a thousand times before, I felt the familiar flow of energy running through me, reminding me that I was still alive. I felt the strong urge to offer my body as a moving prayer.

In my childhood religion, I was taught not to pray for the dead, but my heart told me otherwise; and as a yogi, I’ve learned to listen to that quiet voice in between the heartbeats.

I was also reminded that the Namaskars we traditionally initiate each practice with, are meant as greetings. Surya Namaskars are greeting the sun or the day. Chandra Namaskars are greeting the moon or the night. Namaskar literally means greeting the divinity or cosmic force within. No wonder that all that time spent on the mat seems to delve deeper than the physical. We are spiritual warriors in those cozy, little studios; purposefully or inadvertently bettering ourselves for a better world.

Master Teacher, Adri Kyser’s, theme and mantra for our practice was:

“If not now, when?”

Life if short. Too short, it seems sometimes. A good yoga teacher will bring that element of manifestation to your practice. Set your intention. Put some energy behind it. Then go out there and manifest it. If not now, when?

I cried in savasana, seemingly appropriate being Corpse Pose. She placed one loving hand on my third eye chakra and one on my chest, bringing my aching heart and questioning mind together in balance with a “peace that passes all understanding”.

Even Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died, I’ve read. It took courage to show up that night, being present in my pain and guiltily grateful to have a body still so full of life.

Moments before his casket was closed for the last time, I placed my Indian mala in his hands. Symbolic of my own heart wrenching life journey and of the conversations we’d shared about the great cosmic ride we’re all on; A symbol of hope, faith, love and gratitude.

Graveside, the last to leave, I took comfort in watching his body returning to the Earth. I threw coral colored flowers down six feet as a last act of Earthly love.

After all,

“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey, but spiritual beings on a human journey.”

~ Chardin

(Photo: Lululemon Athletica)

May we all rest in peace, this day on Earth and in every moment our soul has afterwards.

In loving memory of Joe Brooks.

 [Photo 2: Wonderlane]



Editor: Andrea B.


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