An experience that knocks you on your ass is tough to write about. When something is so big that it cannot be contained by words, it refuses being stuffed into a shape. So, I write around it, not about it. It holds a literal negative space that appears only in the shape left behind after I cannot write it.
My best friend and the love of my life for 12 years died May 16th 2009. It broke me. And it left behind a darkness impossible to describe—changing everything.
The day that the doctor told me that I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was quite surreal. I had not been feeling well and a doctor told me I needed psychiatric help several years prior. The old self prepared for the battle of her life, put on her big girl pants and met cancer head-on. I continued to work and would occasionally tap dance for other patients at the hospital to make them smile; however, as the treatments progressed, my body began to breakdown. It wasn’t being bald that bothered me, or losing the eyelashes, eyebrows, and nose hair. It was the lack of vitality–the pain in my joints with every step taken, the nausea, and every part of my body felt like I was hit by a truck. It was an everyday struggle to live. When I would catch a glimpse of self in the mirror, I wasn’t sure who was looking back.
Scientists report that the sense of smell triggers memory more poignantly than any other; if you are a listener, music boasts the same effect. Sitting on a mat in a yoga room on the fourth of July 2010, all I wanted to do was forget where I had been the year before and the year before that. The class began. The instructor had created a playlist that “celebrated” America’s Independence and Bruce Springsteen came blaring through the speakers—I time warped to the year before. This is where the work happens.
Laughing Buddha opened in August of 2012 and I was one of the lucky few present to see the beginning of this amazing community. At the time, some of the familiar faces were different and, as everyone who has been at LB for more than 3 months at a time knows, the layout and furniture have changed, but LB consistently embodies warmth, support, and comfort. And while the positive impression that LB makes continues, one of the early students at the studio, way back in the day, made a comment that sticks with me even now. While he may not have intended his comment as a critique, his assertion that the way we, as teachers, talk about breath, could be off-putting always sat strangely with me. As a teacher that may cringe slightly at the more “whoo whoo” side of yoga spirituality (if the words blessed or goddess ever come out of mouth in your presence, you should probably take my temperature and get me to a hospital) the implication that talking about breath is somehow too intangible and metaphysical, continues to make me wonder: when I talk about the breath in a classroom setting, am I adequately conveying my understanding of yoga’s reliance on breath as a practical tool? While yoga may be a spiritual practice, for its less “whoo whoo” practitioners, it is scientific. It teaches us how to use the very real, very solid instruments we carry with us to cope with the difficulties life brings.
I was reading article about a new style of yoga called Strala Yoga founded by Tara Stiles. Apparently this style employs very (if any) few hands-on adjustments and allows the students “free-flowing movement” during practice. Strala encourages teachers and students to break free from the traditional do’s and don’t of a yoga practice and simply share the movement that works for them. You can read the article here:
During teacher training with Amrit Desai, I watched him do spontaneous movement. My understanding is that when the kundalini energy, the Shakti divine energy, moves through someone spontaneously it produces different postures. Eventually the movements can become continuous, fluid and non-jerky as consciousness becomes dominant. It was amazing to watch and it was clear to me it wasn’t about the physical shapes; it was about a meditative trance he was in. It was almost as if he wasn’t of his body in the physical form. He was formless.
In many ways we are sensory receptors. Each day we encounter other objects, people, and places with which we interact in order to survive. We must interact with the world unless we want to become rocks or recluses; in order to even leave our beds in the morning, we turn to the side, plant our feet on the ground, and stand up—all simple acts that require interaction and the senses.
You only have to go to one or two yoga asana classes to recognize the important philosophy of being present. We often place words like “just” in front of “be” or “let go” as a way of minimizing the effort involved in this concept, but you also only really have to go to one or two yoga classes to know that “just being” demands more practice than the words imply. Maintaining presence can slip away so easily; the moment that we begin to anticipate something as simple as the next yoga pose, we jump into the future.
Rumi wrote “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” I won’t pretend to know the hearts of people who choose clenched fist rather than open arms, I suspect they fear love. Let us love all people no matter the color of their skin, their religion, gender or sexuality. This idea that we must all fit into the same beliefs and mold is an idea that causes the separation and keeps us struggling.
The practice of yoga constantly reminds us to surrender and let go. But surrendering does not mean giving up or letting go of the ability to act. Being present and adapting requires the constant reevaluation of what surrender actually means. Contrary to the notion of accepting injustice, the philosophies of yoga encourage us to participate in the current moment to continue to practice one of its most basic tenants: ahimsa (non-violence).
In Buddhism there is this idea that everything changes; nothing is permanent. For most of us, this isn’t something we embrace. If anything, we are reluctant to change. It can throw us off balance—rattle the cage we have built for ourselves. Change can require us to stand for or against something that is being shifted.
What is freedom to you? We put a lot of effort in working hard for more vacation time, to retire early, and to make more money in the pursuit of freedom, which equals happiness in our culture. Some even detach from worldly possessions and expectations to pursue this liberation. Freedom is liberation of the mind—to be free from all suffering.