September 10, 2013

Yoga Breakthroughs: Miraculous Moments of Achievement & Understanding.

Photo: Jade Beall

I remember my first kiss.

It was stolen next to a bed of peonies; while ants ran rampant through the luscious pink petals swaying over our heads, a boy much older than me gently laid his lips on mine.

Nothing came of it—I was too young and the boy was embarrassed by the thought of us being together.

But what a moment.

I remember the first time my heels hit the ground in downward facing dog with the same kind of—dare I say it—erotic clarity. It wasn’t a goal I was striving for. I had long since given up on the idea that I would ever be “good” at yoga. I just liked how the classes made me feel, even though they were the worst sort of yoga classes—held at a corporate gym which doubled as a spin room and was rank with stale  sweat.

But the day my heels hit the ground in dog, was the day I became a Yogi.

Not because of the fact of the position of my feet, but rather because I sensed an opening in myself, a door through which lay possibility and joy. Without a particular goal in mind, I had reached a goal, and while the physicality of it was unimportant, what it signaled was happening on the inside was huge.

My willingness to let go of any preconceived notion of what I should do or could do, had allowed me to move into uncharted territory, and the pleasure I felt from that movement was intense.

If only I could have stayed so innocent.

Just because you are a Yogi, doesn’t mean you’re always in a Yogic (i.e. present) state of mind. We all falter back and forth between our ego, our fears, our desires and our ability to be present, even after our heels hit the ground.

I had several more surprising and transformative moments in that icky gym. I never planned on lifting my feet off the floor in prasarita (wide legged forward fold), but the teacher gave a cue that made sense to me (bring your weight forward, press into your hands and come up on your toes) and suddenly the tips of my toes floated up into the air as if my body instinctively knew what to do.

Ironically, it was yoga teacher training that muddied my waters. Suddenly immersed in ancient learnings and surrounded by “serious” Yogis, my competitive nature kicked in.

I remember my teacher once explaining that we all have some combination of Pitta (fire and water) Kapha (earth and water) and Vatta (air and space) which defines our character. She went on to say that she was willing to bet that just by virtue of the fact that we were there at Yoga teacher training at all, our primary Dosha (characteristic) was Pitta.

Boy, was she right. We were a room full of type A, driven, verbally expressive, intense, emotional, fiery people.

Perhaps me, most of all.

As I scrambled to integrate volumes of new knowledge about philosophy, anatomy, Sanskrit, Ayurvedic theory and more, my Pitta side became more and more dominant. It carried over into my practice, which, once an ernest if naive endeavor, was now a frenzy of trying to “get” new poses.

I looked like a “better” Yogi on the outside, but inside I was flailing—which doesn’t mean that finding things like headstand or eight angled pose wasn’t fun; it was. It just wasn’t done in the right spirit.

The power of yoga is this; despite my insistence of racing down a road on which each step should be savored and cherished, I was brought back to my senses by a simple sound.


Sometime, during the middle of training we began working  intensively on chanting and meditation. These were entirely unknown concepts to me. I struggled with them, finding myself becoming resentful in meditation (when was this going to be over?) and annoyed with chanting (why does everyone have to be off key?). I was like a sulky child who just can’t believe their parent knows what they’re talking about when they tell you to brush your teeth.

One afternoon, we were to chant Om 16 times together and then move into a silent meditation. Fine, I thought, barely suppressing an eye roll and putting on my best Yogi face. My teacher struck her singing bowl and we began.

I could hear the individual voices of my fellow students, people I had come to know well and truly care about. Then, the voices began to melt and blend together, the vibrations of our vocal chords merging and parting and merging again. There was a stirring in my heart. Our voices grew stronger and more powerful, transcending the simplicity of the sound we made. The whole building seemed to thrum with our sound.

When we finished our 16th Om and the last voice trailed away, there was a lush silence. I could feel the breath and life of the bodies that surrounded me as if it were my own. Our spirits seemed to be merging just as our voices had.

Suddenly, I was suffused in knowing. These people were me. I was them.

The knowingness expanded outward. I could feel the stardust in my veins and with perfect clarity understood that I was everything and everything was me. Momentary Samadhi. Enlightenment.

I never complained about chanting or meditation again.

Yoga has so many secret doors to take you to this ultimate destination. Asana (the physical poses), Pranayama (breath work), meditation, study of Yogic philosophy–most importantly the Yoga Sutras, and leading a Yogic lifestyle– committing yourself to Ahimsa (non-harm), and to love rather than fear.

Explore some of them or all, and you will find your miraculous moments, your epiphanies.

Yoga is like medicine that always works—the more you take it, the greater it’s power to heal.


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 Ed: Bryonie Wise

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