01 Jan The Power of Practice
I ended the year yesterday practicing with Patricia Walden, online of course, with my friend Sarah Montross (thanks Sarah for sending me the info to sign up!) Patricia was my first yoga teacher. Funny enough, my first practice with her was also on a screen, via a VHS tape called Yoga for Beginners.
I’d “borrowed” it from a friend of my husband’s bookshelf at a party the night before—is it borrowing if you don’t actually ask? I didn’t have a yoga mat, so I just moved some furniture and took my first child’s pose on our living-room rug. Her voice was kind, and her instructions were clear and relatively easy to follow.
I was about 20 minutes into this first yoga practice when I was introduced to Warrior Two. This is a strong pose, active work in the legs, a wide stance, and arms stretched open from side to side. Once my teacher had me established in the pose, she said “Feel the strength and confidence of Virabhadrasana Two.”
Those words landed in a place so much deeper than my mind. She wasn’t sharing a concept, she was connecting directly to a felt experience—this is what strong and confident feels like in your body. I knew it to be true. Sometimes you have to feel something in order to know how much you’ve been missing it. I was dumbstruck by how long it had been since I’d felt strong and confident.
It was a wake-up call—one I could not ignore. Things had been rough in my marriage for quite a while. As I lay in savasana my mind felt spacious, and drifted back over memories, looking for the last times I’d felt strong and confident. This single moment of awareness opened a door that I could not close—that I did not want to. I crossed a threshold that day, from a world where how I felt was something I’d gotten good at ignoring to a world where whatever it cost me, whatever I had to face or let go of, I would do it to get back to myself.
That was over 22 years ago. So much has changed since then (more of the story to come) but moments of clarity on the yoga mat have remained constant. I woke up yesterday morning feeling the weight of the world, heavy in heart thinking of people I love who are suffering in their own individual ways. I lit a candle, prayed for them and me, chanted a mantra for peace and sat for meditation—but as I got up from my seat, I still felt a bit lost and unsure how to move into the day.
Luckily, I’d made a plan to practice. Patricia guided us to bring awareness to the sternum, a place her teacher BKS Iyengar, said was the doorway to the spiritual heart. I felt some peace arrive. We are physical beings with a capacity for wisdom—-understanding grows when we move beyond thinking about things to feeling them and acting on them. One of the great mysteries and gifts of embodied practice is to experience words like confidence, compassion, centered in our bodies, and for our actions to be directed by that experience.
As we moved further into practice yesterday, Patricia guided us to a horizontal awareness of our ribcage as support for our physical selves and a vertical awareness through the ribcage as a connection to the spiritual heart. To move awareness from the brain into the heart brings wisdom. As we moved from pose to pose, I moved from thinking about my friends and family to being with them in this heartbreaking and heart-opening journey that is life. I felt my own capacity to engage the journey and remembered theirs also. I moved into the resiliency of my body. In the process remembered every human I know has this same capacity. If anything, the best I can do is reside in mine and when the chance presents itself, to remind them of theirs.
On New Year’s past, I’ve participated in and led so many visioning exercises and intention settings, and I’m grateful for all of them. This year happened organically, yesterday on the yoga mat. I think at times we work from the outside in, and those times are important. But there are also times when our inner strength and resources rise to support us if we will allow them to.
Wherever you find yourself today, know you are on your path. If you are feeling all the goals and dreams of a New Year, wonderful. If you are feeling none of that, it’s okay too. Breathe, move, listen inward, and trust the resilience you are to carry you forward. Have a blessed year.