Location: Berkeley, CA, USA
Racing around the Oakland International Airport feels far from my comforting “om” space. “Do I have my photo ID? Do I have my confirmation number? Did I pack my liquids? Am I staying present?” My mind jumps from checking my luggage and getting my boarding pass to wondering if I will get through the security line by Christmas. Finally my body catches up to my mind and I find myself in the security line.
The way the line wraps around makes me uncomfortable — too much awkward eye contact. I notice my self-judgment and insecurities coming up. “Why is she looking at me? Do I really look that weird at 5am? I wonder if it looks like I’ve been crying…God, why don’t you take a picture, it will last longer!” Far from compassionate and patient, I reach the security officer who approves my ID and ticket. “Take a breath.”
Now, the rat race to take off the shoes, remove the jacket, take out the laptop. “Darn, the old couple beat me to the x-ray machine! Will my purse come out the other end before I do? What if someone steals my bag or my wallet or something?” Now I walk into this strange contraption that looks like a new technology for x-rays. “Is this harmful? Can this cause cancer?” And then I come out the other end. A long sigh of relief. I gather my things and put my shoes on: I balance on my left leg, bring my right knee to my chest, and tie the shoelace on my right shoe. I do the same for my other leg. I then arrive at the gate and wait in line to board.
This is yoga. From my balancing posture, to my quickening heart rate; from my reminder to breathe, to my concern about how I look; from my mistrust in others, to rushing through the process only to end up waiting in a line. The whole experience is yoga. Have you not felt any of these feelings and sensations during a yoga class? Perhaps you felt that you were not flexible, or forgot to breathe, or wished for the end of a pose, or felt like people were judging your ability or your appearance. From our hardships to our successes, and all of the seemingly mundane activity in between, yoga is life.
In my Forrest yoga teacher training I saw many people suffering. Yearning for some momentary relief, I saw people desperately seeking answers to their problems. And all of us wanting to arrive at the light at the end of the tunnel- the tunnel of death, destruction, addiction, and despair. And at the end of the yoga training, nothing had really changed for me, and I became disappointed. I stopped practicing yoga all together for several months. And then I slowly let it back into my life, and now am practicing Ashtanga Yoga, Mysore style.
The answers I was seeking finally began to percolate into my consciousness. Now, at the other end of the tunnel, I look back, forward and right where I am and I see the same things I had seen before: death, destruction addiction, and despair. But now I also see life, creation, love, and passion. And more importantly, I see that these aspects are not different and we cannot have one without the other.
Someone close to us may pass away, but only so that another beautiful soul can experience this life as well. We might suffer addiction, but perhaps we are blessed with this ailment so that we are especially motivated to learn methods of non-attachment and renunciation in our treatment. We might despair over the end of a relationship, but only so that we may grow stronger in our individual strength and fortitude and learn more about our deep desires and passions.
We see suffering so that we may also see compassion; we see hate so that we may love more. All of these are faces of the same coin. And yoga is breathing through the process and staying present with the beauty of emotion that is the human condition. Yoga is every experience- from the difficult to the easeful. And if we remain present through this life, using practices like yoga, we may soak up all the wisdom and pleasure it has to offer.
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