November 6, 2013

Can Yoga Save Us?

I don’t know what it means to be saved.

But I do know what it means to be in the midst of crisis. The kind where your heart is being ripped out and everything you thought was whole or sacred seems broken now. Whether it’s your child whose suffering, a failed relationship, a body that betrays you, or a busted bank account, I have known how it feels to have safety blown wide open.

I know what its like to feel overwhelmed, helpless, sad and scared.

The ancient yogis say fear is an animal that resides in all of us. She will rear her head and bite down if we don’t acknowledge her. She cannot be escaped from. Just like anger or lust, fear is part of who we are. Like bone marrow and internal organs. And like the body, we cant pretend she doesn’t exist.

I don’t know what it means to be saved, but I do know what it means to make the wrong choices when you are scared. These days I am grappling with something really terrifying. It doesn’t matter what it is, but let’s just say it’s one of the big life stressors.

I learn my lessons the hard way.

The lesson of acknowledgement. To fight my fear or be compassionate with it. Or maybe both at the same time. But no matter what the shitty situation we are walking through, we don’t have to pretend that everything is okay, especially when we see no places to grip onto. It’s brave to reach out and find a rock ledge of support.

But I had forgotten. I thought I was separate. I can do this alone. Buck it up.

Recently, while struggling on the inside, I decided not to press my problems upon others and made an effort to walk through my world being super nice, calm and strong to those I encountered. I taught the best yoga classes, made small talk, returned all my phone calls, and diligently answered each and every email. On the outside, I was a pillar that couldn’t fall. But my strategy backfired at the end of the day, when I got home and confronted something as small as dishes left dirty in the sink.

In a slice of a moment, I yelled at the people who mattered most. 

I yelled the type of words that make a six year old cry. Her tiny body folded in half while she clutched a pillow and covered her head. Curly brown hair peeked out from under. The one cheek I could see was red and glossy. Looking at her knees tucked into her arms, she reminded me of a walnut shell: small, dimpled and protected.

I felt awful, like a bad-breathed monster who had no real justification for her actions. The only good thing that came out of it was that I quickly came to my senses and stopped yelling.

“I am so sorry,” I said, while I stroked my little one’s cheek in remorse.

“Mommy you don’t hear me. You say no one listens to you. But I do.”

“Right on darling,” I say as I kissed her. She tasted like toast.

I say to myself that I am the one who needs to listen.

In Yoga Teacher Training, we talked about what it means to surrender to a force greater than ourselves. One of my students said he wants to lead his life from a place of total surrender. Another questioned surrender as a sign of weakness. “Isn’t it giving up?” she asked.

If I am honest, I have asked myself the same thing. Are we supposed to blindly give ourselves over to some outside source, and trust that all will be taken care of? Especially when we have been in situations that don’t work out. Are we not to put up a fight? Does surrender mean we should accept illness, unjust decisions or harmful situations?

I am dealing with some tough things right now and in my torn state, I yelled at my daughter, which hurt her and ultimately hurt me, and in the ugly truth of what I did, I began to get it.

Surrender is not about maintaining control and it’s not about giving up. Instead it’s about giving something over and coming home at the same time. It’s about being really present. To understand that everything is connected. It’s about embracing both the strong and the soft.

I think about the time I got pulled under while riding a wave.

I was a kid but was also a master at wave-riding. Day in and day out, I spent my summers sliding my body underneath endless waves and letting them propel me forward. Each one similar. One day, a big one came that was different from the others. It was more powerful, a combination of grey, greens, and browns, and as I held my breath and dived beneath the surface, it decided to take me under and churn me. In order not to drown, I let my body fold in with the sand and pebbles and trust I was only turning corners and the ocean would deliver me, like it always does, back to the shore. I was scared, but I wasn’t. I surrendered my fear to the power of the sea. Surrender is the ability to let ourselves be ripped away and fine tuned at the same time.

A ribboned force with a half hidden heart beat.

Fear resides in the mind but fear also resides in the body.

These days, as my life feels like it’s pulling itself apart, I try to save what I can still recognize as familiar. I tell myself I am still good—a good mother, a good yogi, a good wife. I need to be good. But this does not comfort me for I only half believe the message. Or is it that I only half believe the messenger?

I don’t know what it means to be saved, but I do know how to find the way back to the ground.

On my yoga mat, in downward dog, I spread the bones of my hands and feet and feel there is something solid underneath me. Something I can yield to and let support me at the same time. My arm and leg muscles hug my bones and I feel my own stability, below the surface, reminding me that I am still here, residing in my body. I feel the rise and fall of my breath and the sound provides a familiar clarity in the midst of a life that is tender.

I don’t know if I am good or bad or if that even matters.

I have no idea what it means to be saved but I do know what it means to be humble. On all fours, with my hips to the sky and my head bowed below my heart, I open up and when I do, I recognize the sacredness of life and not just the acid. I hear the flight of the leaves on their way to the ground, the squeal of glee you make when your arms wrap tightly around me, and the soar of your arms and legs twirling as you spin around the living room.

In a life fully lived, one cannot escape fear and suffering. I don’t know what it means to be saved but I do know that asking, “Where is my escape path, or how can I remain strong?” are no longer my questions.

In yoga, I know both how to fight and surrender. I know how to protect and to yield. I know what it means to be in the moment. In my life, if I allow it, I can know this and so much more.

The beautiful thing about living, especially during times of pain and suffering, is to learn how to choose love while feeling fear. To live close to our bones. And when we make the choice of love, in the face of our own humanity and shortcomings, this is where freedom resides.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Flickr.}

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