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The Alchemy of Yoga

 

What I love about yoga is each practice is a microcosm for life. Each time I show up on my mat, it is a journey.

 

So often, I feel like I am bare on my yoga mat—the ideas I came in with and my ideas about my body often break down in the midst of practice. I find myself vulnerable, present, climbing mountains as I move my body, a body which rides my breath. 

 

You cannot hide from yourself in yoga: between the breaths is a space of pure emptiness—of a deep and soulful pause that draws us into communion with the universe. Because there is nothing else in that space but universal energy—cosmic star dust. 

 

We cannot control what will arise in us in yoga class; that is what is most scary and, yet, most exhilarating. Because yoga carries us—inspires us—into the present moment, we stand on our mats in rare form, unguarded. As we get deeper into our practice and begin to allow more—to sink into our practice—all else within us drops away into silence, and histories once held tightly in our bodies break loose, rising to the surface of our conscious minds. 

 

When we are that open, we cannot shove these rising histories back down—we must see them, greet them, look them in the eye. To look away is to deny the experience of yoga, of svadhyaya, self-study. 

 

In these moments when histories emerge, it feels not like we are on our yoga mats, but that we are thrust into an arena, the main stage of our journeys. And, sometimes, it can feel like an epic battleground. “Do I have the fortitude to take this on?” I think, as something uncomfortable rises in me. Sometimes, I feel like it takes all my attention—sweating, twisting, moving, fiercely holding my ground and rooting down into the floor beneath my feet—just to battle through, to dig deep and find the courage and strength to withstand the emotional and physical calisthenics. I ebb and flow through my practice, rising to mountaintops and crawling through valleys.

 

Finding ease amidst uncomfortability and using your breath to expand into it instead of tightening up is the essence of yoga, and it is not easy. But it is thrilling.

 

What else can you do in an hour and 15 minutes that allows you to practice setting sail, going out on the undulating sea—one moment, quiet. The next—a rock, a heave, a soar. How else can you so safely come so close to yourself, so in tune, that you can journey and, physically and spiritually, hold the space for yourself to transform?

 

Because that’s what’s so magnetic about it: to practice yoga is to open yourself to metamorphosis, to literally use your own body and breath and being as fuel to transform. Yoga is existential alchemy. 

 

I go back to my mat over and over again because, each time, the journey is unexpected. Because I delight in the surprise, especially the surprises that ask everything of me, the ones that carry themselves in me for days and weeks and years afterwards. 
* * *
Someone asked me recently what my favorite word was. “Revelation,” I said, before adding, “and metamorphosis.”

 

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Yoga 101: Just Show Up.

When I found myself on my yoga mat this morning, it was because I needed to be there. I had been walking for days on end in tightness, tension, frustration & sadness and when I arrived at class, I still felt like the last thing I wanted to do was break out of this shell of armor. 

So I pulled my mat into a dark corner and laid there, waiting. I was early so, as I waited, my heart called to me: “I want to open.”

Trying to stay small, in my shell, and not attract too much attention, I pulled myself on my knees and leaned back, grabbing my ankles. But it still didn’t feel like enough; I had built such a wall around my heart. So, this time, I pushed up with my legs and my hands, expanding into a full wheel, a deep, heart-opening backbend.

Suddenly, I could find my breath, again. So I lifted my toes, relishing the feeling, pushing back & opening my shoulders, rocking back & forth, lifting my heart. 

And that’s when I heard it, two women watching me, lamenting that they weren’t as flexible as “that young girl in the corner.” How it was “so easy” for her to just flip herself into any pose she’d like and how, for them, it was never so easy. 

What I wish they knew was that I didn’t show up this morning to show off my flexibility—in fact, the only goal I wrote down right before I left for class was, “Show up.”

Show up as you are.

Show up despite your fears.

Show up and lean in instead of running from your feelings.

I wish they knew how hard it was for me to show up today, that just being there was a personal triumph.

That I am in process, just like they are, and I come to the mat to practice—over and over, again—what it means to dare to be seen as you are & to explore what it means to move in my body, to breathe into my body. To let my exhales not be small, but loud, heard—visible.

“I am not afraid of being seen as I am”—that is my practice.

I hope that, the more I show up in the fullness of my process, in a journey that is always on the verge of arriving before rolling over & beginning anew, again, that these women feel it, too, and this frees them to open themselves more.

I believe we deserve to feel safe & liberated in our bodies, a mix of terms that, for me, cannot be separate. May all beings who practice with me feel safe & free & worthy as they are. 

And may we remember and practice compassion for ourselves and each other. Everyone faces a challenging journey & their own mountains to climb. It’s when we welcome others to walk arm-in-arm with us—to belong as they are—that we all rise higher. 

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