Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
–Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
A lot has changed since my last Inversions post for the Laughing Lotus blog about a year ago. Back then, I was fascinated by the concept of pratipaksha bhavanam, translated as “taking another view”, and I wrote about how consciously steering your mind towards positivity was an essential part of practicing inversions in asana, and of course in living a fabulous yogic life.
In these last 12 months, without necessarily choosing to consciously flip my thinking, my long-term life vision has changed. If you had asked me a year ago what I wanted my life to look like, I would have told you that my desire was to make a living entirely in the field of movement–to be either teaching yoga, offering massage or getting paid to dance. I believed that my dharma was to take my skills from a lifetime of professional dancing and use them to help folks live a more healthy and embodied life. I still saw yoga as a way to take the reins on my busy brain–like Arjuna in a runaway cart slowly reshaping my mind to be less poisonous and more loving. As I’ve continued to show up for my yoga practice, that mental shift has often manifested–but to my surprise, my perspective on my own dharma has continued to change.
Last summer, I started dreaming of a new dance company, vîv. I would get together with a group of powerful women and find a new way to bring beautiful and joyful dance into the world. Creatively this project has been everything I had hoped and dreamed…a pathway into dancing that allows me to mature and ripen as a professional. But the shock to me was how much pleasure I also got out of the organizational side of creating the company. The work that I did behind the scenes was actually as satisfying as the dancing itself. Dare I say even more satisfying?!? Acknowledging this was yet another shift for me–flipping of my life yet again!
I had thought that I wanted to make a life in movement and dance all day every day, and there I was sending logistical emails to producers in Southern California and loving every minute of it! It was a realization for me–that I didn’t need to be practicing asana all day long to feel like myself.
I’m sure this is not news to most of you–I’ve watched so many of the glorious spirits that I shared yoga school with find the right balance of practicing/teaching yoga and working at another interesting job—but I have always had to learn things through experience. At this point, the idea of being a yogi/teacher with another largely unrelated career who also makes art is beginning to feel like a victorious homecoming.
I’ve heard time and time again that “consciousness changes everything”. Rather than deciding in advance what’s happening in any given moment, becoming more aware and awake is slowly leading me to a life that is a better fit for me. Anxiety and worry seem less urgent. Goals shift and change altogether. What was once seemingly important becomes a distant memory and what’s interesting and beautiful about THIS moment is easier to access.
You might ask, “What does this all have to do with doing a handstand?” Well–who decided that doing a handstand was the goal in the first place? I just want you to put your hands on the ground and start kicking. Who knows where you might end up?!? It’s sure to be different from where you started. We’re here to learn, feel, experience our lives more fully and understand our bodies more clearly. You might pass through adho mukha vrikshasana, but we’ll all end up in the same place–sitting in hero’s pose and saying my mantra: That was awesome!
I recently spent a full day in a high school. If you haven’t had the opportunity to step back into that beautiful chaos, it’s a potent experience. My last hallway roam was nearly 25 years ago, but I met the adolescent girl in me immediately. Flooded with memories, excitement, sadness and a wild array of thought and reflection, I felt the need to ground myself so I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. I could feel it in my bones and skin, the tactile sensations of youth desperately seeking identity, self-worth, direction and confidence. I heard the crackling of fearful voices, uncertain of themselves, overshadowed by the boisterous voices asserting themselves provocatively. And then I felt the energy of those communicating in their painful silences, those particular beings that seem to yearn for something even more basic, the feeling of safety.
I was there to teach six periods of meditation and breathing. My only goal was to facilitate an enjoyable experience, and perhaps cultivate (did I dare hope?) a desire to sit still again. These were teenagers! Do teenagers actually sit still? I had no idea what to expect.
Seated in the traditional desk/chair contraption, we organized ourselves in a circle. My partner and I shared the 50-minute session. She began with a short inquiry to find out what they knew about words like awareness, meditation, relaxation, emotions, doing and being. Pleasantly surprised, I heard responses like, “awareness is knowing what I’m doing,” and “meditation is when I am relaxed and calm,” and “I love when I can just be me!” This was a start I thought. The vocabulary was kind of there. It seemed promising.
As we entered the meditative experience, my words drifted into a quiet, slow and
d-e-l-i-b-e-r-a-t-e pace. With a gentle and warm tone I invited them to “feel the feet squarely on the floor and let your eyes close.” I love this part as it shifts the energy instantaneously. “Let yourself breathe in and out of your nostrils and allow the breath to expand your two lungs…make space for yourself to be just as you are.”
And here’s where I met a flurry of fierce resistance. Teenage eyes began rolling, uncontrollable giggling was permeating the entire room and their youthful bodies, despite sitting in the desk/chair contraptions, began to slither and squirm in protest of something I had just said. I drifted into a deeper calm, and I noticed their agitation amplify big time. And yet underneath all this opposition, the energetic presence of intrigue and a desire to surrender was there. It was very there.
So I continued.
I stayed with the protocol of Yoga Nidra, an ancient guided meditative practice for deep healing and relaxation. The protocol is this: meet and greet everything that is arising in awareness. So I greeted what wanted to be met. As the meditation deepened into feeling the body, the sensation of breath in the chest, belly, hips, legs, feet, fingers and toes, their protest grew like a hairy monster. And I was called to greet the monster of resistance. I just let them be where they were at, loving everything that was happening in that room.
It sounded like this, “I am aware of your laughing, and I love your laughing. I am aware of rolling eyes, and I love rolling eyes. I am aware of squirming bodies, and I love squirming bodies. I see shaky knees, and I also happen to love shaky knees. I hear voices of judgment and I love judgment.” It lasted like this until there was no longer anything left to resist. Resistance was petering out. Into the desk/chair contraption their bodies softened, and a soothing silence saturated the room. Eyes and mouths stilled. They were sitting still and we were in deep meditation. This was a profound moment.
It might sound Pollyannaish, but there was so much love in that room, and it felt so good. There was something tender going on, as we allowed each other to be exactly who we were, in every moment. Everything allowed naturally falls away. What’s left is love. And without resistance, a peaceful calm was remembered.
The teachers who sat in observance were speechless at first. Later they told me they could not believe their eyes. They were stunned to hear the meditative words of acceptance and love for the very behaviors they typically oppose, judge, try to change, squash, ignore and re-route. And when the meditation was over, the students asked to do it again. This made me smile inside and out.
The practice of meditation created safety, compassion, strength and love on that day, and I’m grateful for sharing the experience with Logan High School students in Fremont, CA.