A few weeks ago I was recovering from a cold and had many teaching sessions on my calendar. Oddly enough, this heavy level of activity seemed to actually help me feel better, seeming to speed my recovery. The first thing I noticed was that it was not hard to get up as early as necessary, even though I was congested and tired. My awareness began with the quality of the predawn light. Noticing my breath was quiet and somewhat constrained, I relaxed my throat and shoulders, right there in bed. Most of this was a new pattern, almost unconsciously taking care of itself. The underlying shift had already taken hold, that of not feeling sorry for myself, for what was on my plate for the day. I enjoyed my hot tea, putting together my various props, reviewing my schedule, making coffee for those rising after me, and bundling up for my walking commute. The day was happily underway. I was awestruck by the beauty of the changing light as I went through my day. Of course I was tired by evening, and even that felt deserved.
Make no mistake, I have had my share of resentful, frustrated, and woeful attitudes! I, too, have been ruled by negative feelings: blaming others for the situations I found myself in, reviling my own decisions and judging myself as inadequate, even desperately hoping that someone else would come along and take charge of the situation, what I call the "knight in shining armor" syndrome. I've also taken positions of being so very right that no way could someone else be right unless they fully agreed with me! Yes, I am a totally human being, full of hubris and anxiety.
Can it really be so simple, that the awareness of my own breath could start such an enormous shift? Yes, it has been so. I have discovered that on the yoga mat I can exist in a new way that enables me to see the range of possibilities available to me, without being swept away by circumstances. The reality in that moment is that of sitting on the mat. The strength of my sense of self rests in the inhale and exhale. The awareness of the cranky hip or the constrained shoulder is a reminder that I am open to possibilities and full of compassion for myself, and everyone else, for the visible and invisible suffering in all of us. The happy hip and functional fingers remind me of the grace and blessings that each of us carries.
This frame of reference exists in me most of the time. The sense of foundation, breath, possibility, and compassion are always available. I may be waiting for a subway with an appointed time looming ahead of me, yet I can relax into just standing on the earth, breathing the air, waiting and being among others, or simply enjoy the marvelous structures of the station. I might be in the midst of putting together a complicated family meal for people with different food requirements, checking and double checking that I've covered all the intended bases, improvising where the gaps appear. Or I might be waking up very early in predawn light to organize myself for a day of teaching and busy schedules.
I have found that I do not have to analyze why I might have previously felt sorry for myself, dragging out of bed, wishing I could back out of something. I can simply let go of it without giving it anything other than its name: self-pity, judging, fear, grasping, lying, laziness. Yoga practice has gradually taught me a vast amount about myself as a human being functioning in the world. I've learned that all the possibilities are there if I am open to noticing them. I now trust that my heart is wise enough to know when I need help and understand that it is not shame or weakness to ask for that, as well as accept that I can handle something. It has become clear to me that by choosing to do something I am free to do it with ease and pleasure; and if it is difficult I can bring my full breath and grace to bear on it. Just as I would in a class if a teacher asks me to stay in Utkatasana (chair pose) five more breaths, I've learned that I can breathe and release unnecessary effort; I can explore the interaction of releasing my weight to the earth and feeling my own rising energy; I can let go of the judgmental mind that chatters at me about how hard this is, or what I can and cannot tolerate.
Part of our freedom comes in knowing that we will do what we can, and that we will not do what we cannot do. This seems simple, but think about it a minute. How much of the resentment and anger, weariness and self-pity comes from imagining that somehow we've been asked to do something that we cannot do, or that is too hard for us? Who asked for this? Who agreed to this? How did we get ourselves into this? Turning this around is surprisingly easy. Smile at the critical mind, acknowledge that mistakes are a normal part of the striving for the illusion of perfection, find your breathing supports everything you are actually doing in the moment. In a profound way, return to fully being yourself.
Yoga is an integrating practice, and this combination of the breath, body and spirit brings all one's energy into the equation, but it is the postures of the mind that often change the most through a yoga practice. Yoga is not psychotherapy, nor is it physical therapy, but yoga practices allow space for physical and psycho-emotional awareness. This can change the patterns that often trap us in recurring cycles of behaviors and experiences. Letting go of that old idea of who I am has brought a new way for me to be fierce without clutching, to be determined without grasping, to be responsible without gritting my teeth.
We can let our choices include the choice of happiness with being ourselves and doing that which is in our day or on the calendar. It is our choice to grump or stay loose, and it is our choice to judge or stay open. Notice your choices, including the choice of accepting ease and being okay with your choice, and see what happens.
Just as the solstice begins to turn towards the sun a little longer, we can still enjoy the darkness of the night and all its stars.