April 19, 2012

Happy Birth-day, Yogin: Surya Namaskar on the Solar Return.

Stations of the Sun, by Jeff Frazier

I was in many shapes before I was released. ~ Taliesin, Cad Goddeu/The Battle of the Trees

I’m not sure exactly where or when I received the idea that it is a tradition for yogis on their birth-days to do as many Sun Salutations as they are years old. It was many birth-days ago.

But I do this practice every year. Of all the changing rituals of the changing circumstances of my life, this is the one I hold to. I want to tell you about it, and recommend it to you, because it is one of the most powerful things you can ever do for yourself.

This is what I do…

Every year, at dawn on my birth-day, I choose the same album, an important one that awakened me, and I press play. I come to the top of my mat, put my hands to my heart and plunge into my life, starting at Year Zero, Chapter One: I Am Born.

In Samasthiti, I take a breath, and think of each year of my life, just one aspect, anything I remember. They don’t all have to be the same aspect, or a parallel structure: if I can think of only one thing for that year: what house we lived in; who was my best friend; what did my hair look like; what were my aberrancies. From one detail others come free-associating in, as I flow from pose to pose. I encounter all the different incarnations of myself, all my avatars, regenerations, iterations, all the becomings-of-me.

Here is me at four, sitting on the floor of my parents’ bathroom, watching my father shave. Five, yellow jumper on the first day of kindergarten and I colored a tuxedo cat as my nametag. Eight, the year of my parents’ divorce. Twelve, a spiky haircut and no friends except my Confirmation sponsor who would take me to get Butterfinger Blizzards and indulgently drive me past my crush’s house because I just might catch a glimpse of him mowing the yard.

Seventeen: my freshman year of college in Saint Louis, on a night drive with my best friend Tara in her little blue MG, sharing cigarettes and singing along to Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ blasting from the cassette player. Twenty-six: diagnosed with Hereditary Angioedema. Thirty-six: myself divorced, and reeling. As the years get closer, the stories get more and more raw, some still unresolved.

This is a real girl in a real place

In every sense empirically true! 

Or is it just ‘the past’?

~ Philip Larkin, from ‘Lines on a Young Lady’s Photo Album’

The testimony of the practice is this: that when you look back down the road you’ve traveled, at the times you couldn’t fly above the map to see what was on the other side of the woods in front of you, you realize that the fact that you are doing Yoga to it on this day means that you survived whatever you hadn’t thought you could.

Last year, I had my most miserable birth-day ever. I had just lost my job and was facing the final week of my phase-out, with no prospects. One of my best friends hosted a brunch for me, which also happened to be on Easter, and I felt like a failure and a fraud on a day of celebrating resurrection and birth. In all but one of the photographs my boyfriend took, I look dejected and stressed. I did not know if I would find another job or have to move back home. How could I celebrate anything?

But one year from then I can look back and say to Laura at thirty-eight: Look, honey, you got a job better than the one you lost. And now you live where you can climb mountains, take a train to New York City, drive to the ocean in two hours.

The birth-day practice is both individual and mythic. You learn to look back at yourself with compassion, integrating all the parts and past forms of yourself into your present life, like Vishnu as Krishna looking back at past avatars. He is fully himself, even as turtle and boar. But the incarnations are still coming, and even as Krishna, he knows that he is not done, that there is more life to come: like the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who looking back to the First. As the First Doctor, he is fully himself, nothing missing.

As the Eleventh Doctor, he contains the experiences of all the Doctors before him. Or like a Phoenix, resurrected from ashes, the life of all previous Phoenixes inside her. The person you look back upon is you but is not-you. In a year, the person on your mat at the moment will be you but not-you.

Bow, fling, strike, scoop, tilt, spring, rise, hands to heart.

As you move through the practice, one year for each salute, you can see what a happy little bear cub you were sometimes, and also how frightened you were at times. Sing yourself forward across the ages:

Little one, scared one, you will live. You are so scared now. Baby, you will make it.

And hear your future self singing to you:

Little one, scared one, you will live. You are so scared now. Baby, you will make it.

Birth-day Salutations are the most intense and profound practice I do. I recommend them to anybody. For support, if you do them, put on an old album you love. And go. Expect that at some point, you will cry. At the end, you will emerge covered in sweat, containing all avatars of yourself in one, all the years gathered together into this one spirit, this one body, this one day. Your footprints are an autograph of time, carrying your body again and again to the top of the mat.

As intense as it is, you will unify your life as you live it through, metronoming through the vinyasa, encountering all the aspects of yourself, incorporating and integrating.

You will be resurrected. You keep coming back. Everything is all right. You Are Born.

Through all the phases of your life: blessed be and love, and happy Birth-day everyday!

Ps. Here’s a present for you: ‘On the Road to Find Out,’ Cat Stevens

Photo credit: Stations of the Sun, by Jeff Frazier


Editor Tanya L. Markul

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