Monday, August 29, 2011

reminder: yoga is saving my life

Today was a day. I think I may have spent two-thirds of it crying. Reasons aren't important. I was hurt. Sad. Feeling lost. Scared. Lonely. You know, normal reasons for crying.

Interestingly enough, my class partner and I had to present on Santosha in yoga study this evening. Santosha means contentment. It goes further than just being pleased with things. It's about finding joy in everything. Every little, tiny thing. Finding joy in rush hour, in the DMV, in heart ache, in death, in divorce, in finding out someone lied to you, in being screamed at by a stranger, or worse yet, someone you love. It's about finding joy in e v e r y t h i n g. I have a tattoo that says, "Just be." Santosha means just that. You can call it coincidence, but I find it pretty amazing that I was given that topic, especially during this time of my life. It is single-handedly the hardest thing for me to do. And I've yet to meet anyone who has mastered it.

Based on the way my day had gone, I was certain I wouldn't make it through this presentation without crying. When I got to class, I could barely control my breathing. Everyone could tell I'd been crying. I got a few sad looks and a couple wordless back pats. Everyone knew. How was I going to do this without making myself look like a fool?

Before we presented on Santosha, a classmate presented on the two yoga poses she was given. After that, our teacher asked the class to chime in and direct her into the pose. Somewhere along the way I took over. Step by step, I put my teacher into extended side angle with verbal cues. I stopped halfway through and I said, "Someone else should do this, too?"

"No!" the class said collectively. "Keep going!"

And I did.

And I did really well. The whole class clapped and my teacher beamed at me. I'd never talked someone through a pose without also doing the pose myself. I found myself using words and ideas that I'd heard during classes. I might not be good at a lot of different things right now, but I'm good at this. And it feels really good. In nearly every class, I surprise myself.

Soon enough, it was time to present on Santosha. I was sure I wouldn't make it through this without crying in front of my class. My partner and I asked the class to sit in a circle and I read a meditation to them. A meditation about smiling. Then we spoke about our personal experiences with Santosha. The class was so engaged. There were no awkward pauses. Everyone wanted to discuss this. My partner and I had successfully stimulated the class and it felt so good to be talking with this group of people about the concept of contentment.

Then it was time to learn Sanskrit. The language of yoga. I picked up on it really quickly. I'm going to go buy note cards tomorrow and I can't wait to make flashcards for myself. 

Six hours ago you could have handed me a million dollars and told me that I could do anything in the world I wanted, without consequences and I still wouldn't have been able to stop crying.

And by reminding myself that I'm allowed to cry and feel like crud about things, I'm also allowed to smile in that moment. I have that choice. And now, I can't stop smiling.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

But Master? When will we get there?

Like any good midwesterner, I've got a lake home in my family tree. It's a simple house in northwestern Minnesota with plumbing, heat, and a rarely used air conditioner. It's the one house that still exists in my family that I have visited since I was a baby. Everyone else has moved from the homes they had in my childhood. Every time I visit my cabin, it seems like it takes eight hours to get there instead of four. Whenever I go, I fish, I shoot the BB gun at cans, I swim, I eat good food, I sleep like a baby and I giggle with the purest form of happiness. It's the closest thing I have ever had to "going home."
When I was a kid, my brothers, cousins and I would ride up to the cabin with my grandparents in their van. We'd get antsy as soon as we got to this road that was very hilly and we'd start asking our grandpa, "Are we there yet?" And each trip, he would tell us the same story:
A donkey and his master went on a journey, they went over the hill, under the hill and around the hill, and the donkey stopped and he said, "Master? When will we get there?" And the master said, "Patience, patience." So they went on. They went over the hill, under the hill and around the hill, and the donkey stopped and he said, "Master? When will we get there?" And the master said, "Patience, patience." So they went on. They went over the hill, under the hill and around the hill, and the donkey stopped and he said, "Master? When will we get there?" And the master said, "Patience, patience." So they went on.
The story continues in a loop, without ending, and eventually one of us would yell, "GRANDPA!! WHEN WILL THEY GET THERE?!?!?" And he would chuckle and say, "Patience, patience." We did this every trip up to the cabin, because we loved hearing Grandpa tell the story. We would try to see how long we could listen to it before shouting. We loved the way his voice was the same each time he told the story. Same inflection, same volume, same chuckle. It was almost as fun as being at the cabin.
Now, when I bring friends to the cabin, I tell the story when we get to the road with all the hills. Some day, I'll tell my children and grandchildren this story. And I still, to this day, ask my grandpa to tell me the story. It hasn't changed.
The story itself has a pretty powerful and yogic message. The donkey is spending all this time waiting and anticipating the destination, while the master is riding along, enjoying the journey over the hill, under the hill and around the hill. Granted, I'd have a patience problem too if someone was riding my back the whole way, and it might be a little easier to take it easy if I was just riding along in a beautiful, hilly landscape. But sometimes you're the master and sometimes you're the donkey. That's life. In either situation, it's important to recognize that you're on a journey and be present in each moment (even the ones where you're sitting in rush hour or waiting in line or, heck, even using the bathroom). Life is full of destinations and departures, but if we all focus on where we wish we were - past or present - and how we just want to get there, we're going to miss out on over half of our lives. The opportunity for growth is in the journey. If you just spent the whole time being anxious to arrive at wherever you're headed, once you get there, it won't be nearly as rewarding as it would have been if you had taken in the whole ride.
This is, for me, like rocket science. I'm a list maker, I'm a detail oriented person, I like to plan my life down to the minute. But right now, during this particular experience of loss, financial and emotional struggle, and extreme change - I find myself excelling at taking in the journey. It feels safer this way. To take in this moment as it is and be thankful for it. If I start trying to figure out where I'll be and what I'll be doing in six months, I start to panic because so many things have to come into play before those goals can be reached. It's ridiculously overwhelming. So I acknowledge those goals, grateful that I have them, and let them hang out.
This idea can be experienced physically in yoga as well. For me, when I'm practicing yoga, as soon as I hear an instructor tell me which pose to move into, I race into it. I want to show my brain and my body I can do it, and then I sit in the pose for as long as I'm told and then race to the next one. In the last week, I've slowed that way down. I've used my breath to link one asana to the next, slowly, feeling my hips shift, my shoulders engage, my glutes tighten, my ankles wiggle. It has created one of the most intense experiences for my body and mind. I find that I'm able to stay in poses longer, my breath is deepened. When class is over, I feel like I'm buzzing. 
So, take a couple minutes this week, when you're in your car, waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting through a really boring part of your work day and be present in your journey. Move a little slower than you usually would and try to remember what that feels like. It'll save your life. I promise.