Moving into the Unfamiliar

I bend in the cold space and stretch out my yoga mat, listening to the voices of my classmates inquiring and preparing along side me for this day's practice, wondering what it will bring. What lessons will I be blessed with today? And why must I look at a yoga class as an experience of either triumph or defeat? My ego-mind is busy examining all the possible outcomes as I say hello again to my yoga mat.  With these things in mind and a happy yet nervous level of tension sitting in my cells, Yogini Janice begins her lyrical greetings and I feel something in me surrender to what will come: physical challenges that I doubt I can handle, which flood in very much like the doubts I experience about how or whether I can handle life and what it brings. I relish the metaphor -- how will these yoga moves that push and stretch me serve as empowering metaphors for the challenges of daily living? I see that I’m looking for inspiration in the room too.

In that moment, I the need to control begins to fill me up and I actually notice more about what that feels like, raised from my sides, palms open in welcome, overhead, and down into Namaste at the heart chakra: WE begin and are all connected in the yoga dance.

I have not taken one of Janice’s classes in many years, and this is a new setting. Morning sunlight flows in through welcoming windows as golden leaves flutter in the breeze outside against a crisp, clear blue sky. We can imagine hearing the leaves, as our own bodies move indoors and we feel our hearts flutter more rapidly in our chests with each posture. We are each alone in our own moment, yet together sharing space with a unified purpose.

A series of flowing, breathing bends and stretches leads into the inevitable Down Dog -- a place I rarely look forward to being at this point in the practice I also call life -- and I suddenly see the journey ahead of me, through the lens of this class and the purpose it has just revealed, as a deep moving into the unfamiliar.

As it would happen, I really don't recognize my life in general right now. It is not what I expected it would be. Yes -- expectations cultivate disappointment. I am, however, more surprised than anything. And so tell me: how or why is it that each time I land on yoga mat in class, it takes on the character of my life at that time?  Yes, that is a rhetorical question.

My experience tells me it is because I now see yoga AS life. I have been so very separate from my body when in fact it is a powerful spiritual tool, just as conscious as any part of my brain, and path to great and endless self-realization, which for me is really where it is at. And so in terms of surprises, I can really say that yoga has been one of the greatest in my life, because I truly didn't ever expect to find myself on the mat given the challenges I had faced.

There was a time when yoga was the last thing I would turn to, and it perplexed me. WHY, I would think, had people ever been so enamored with what seemed like torment to me? This must sound like sacrilege Granted, physical injuries made my life miserable in general and so yoga was overwhelming in that sense. My greatest obstacle though, was my thinking.

Yoga is a journey and one that takes me deep within -- not a place I wanted to be many years ago when I hadn't yet learned to eliminate the torment of my thoughts. The last place I wanted to be was IN my body or my mind noticing what was going on, and certainly God Forbid – I did not want to FEEL my emotions. There were too many things I was not able or willing to accept about myself that would glare at me during a pose that would then seem doubly unbearable.  Down dog always left me defeated.

Yet persevering over the years with meditation and various studies that now include more yoga mean that when I am in what still seems rather hateful -- side plank, and no; I can't do one very well -- I can see my inner victim show her face while holding and breathing into that discomfort and I can welcome her into that moment. My "victim" becomes a path to strength when honored or acknowledged because I can prove to her/my-self that YES, I will do my best to learn more about staying here in this difficult place. And still breathe. And still work harder to improve the pose. And smile as I acknowledge this move as metaphor, knowing I will try harder to be better at it and at my life. I KNOW in that moment that I am capable of more, a direct experience of myself that I can turn to in the face of other challenges.  In side-plank today, I saw my need to be perfect again, and I didn't let it stop me from trying even though I knew my posture would be anything but. In fact it was really damn shaky; yet I somehow felt a bit brave. What does THAT tell me about life? That I can be brave, even if I feel a bit shaky.

Yoga challenges give me courage in other areas of my life. The improvements any of us create and see in ourselves during a yoga class are new truths about ourselves we can carry into our day.  I am not alone in needing inspiration but over the years my heart has taught me that the ultimate in empowerment is when we learn to inspire ourselves.

Any yoga students and practitioners who are fortunate enough to learn from a master will naturally and inevitably move into greater capability, courage and curiosity even within a class and I was delighted to experience this during my attempt at a shoulder stand. ME! Trying a shoulder stand. OMGoodness, I was delighted that I could make it happen at all given the fear I have lived in due to spinal injuries and self-judgment regarding a perceived lack of physical prowess. By the time we got to that point in the class, I was so engaged by the challenge that I couldn't resist trying a full one and it was so highly rewarding! It reminded me a bit of scuba diving. I have trouble keeping the regulator in my mouth for all the blissed-out smiling I do. Janice offered me a block during my attempt to support the pose, but I was having SO much fun testing my body to see what "she" believed she could do. I said "no thank you" to the block because I was having so much fun.

And as I write this I think "no block". I did something I did not think I could do on my own without any support. There was NO block in that moment -- only the unstoppable curiosity of the moment and the challenge. I landed in a place of wonder that I wished wouldn't end.  Does having fun remove blocks and barriers I thought? I now wonder what solutions it can offer us – in fact, playfulness suddenly seems like life blood.

It was also the case with the closing half-pigeons we did and the resting moments of a very insightful savasana she moved us through that meant I didn't want it to end. It always does.  I moved out thankfully into a bright and cloudless day, wondering how I would take that practice into the following moments and sit here now in reflection. Gratitude flows, and I smile. For many moments, there is no need for words, no capacity to generate them. It is in this stillness that my eternal self begins to show up more.  Yoga has calmed the storm and I am able to move forward with equanimity.  There is so much more space inside to cherish myself right now.

I can move into the unfamiliar as a more peaceful woman today who has learned some new and valuable things about life...

Guest Blog By Alanna Prather

Meg Stevenson