Humbled by Tumbles
I’m a mover. I believe in the ability of movement to heal the body. The impact yoga has had to heal me on both a physical and spiritual level is what inspired me to learn to teach after a brush with death back in my late 30’s. I have experienced the healing power of movement throughout my life, so after conservative methods failed and I made the decision to undergo some major reconstructive surgery on my foot, I knew that I would be eager to get back to my mat as quickly as possible and get moving.
BUT PRACTICE MEANS SOMETHING VERY DIFFERENT NOW…
It’s been illuminating and confusing and confronting. For the last 6 weeks I’ve needed help with the most basic activities. I need help showering, taking out the rubbish, making the bed, getting up a flight of stairs. And I know that in the bigger picture my experience pales in comparison to what it must be like for people who are profoundly and permanently disabled. Being in a state of dependence and non-doing, I’ve realised that I have come to define myself by what I can do. What I can do for myself (independence), what I can do for others (service). Even what I can do on the mat (self-worth). I know that these external ways of defining myself have nothing to do with who I really am; yet without them, I’ve felt adrift. I’ve found it both embarrassing to ask for assistance and heartening to realise that there are people in my life who care and want to help. The challenge for me has been actually letting them help.
For someone who makes a living being ‘in’ their body, it has been humbling to have to navigate a completely new way of being. I went from reasonably coordinated and agile to completely awkward and ungraceful literally overnight. My crutch slipped and I landed flat on my back in the produce section of the grocery store and at the beauty salon. I crashed my knee scooter on the river walk and had to be helped by strangers. I’ve slipped, fallen and bruised both my body and my pride more these last six weeks than I have in the last 15 years. I can’t move, I can’t serve, I can’t teach, I can’t ‘do’ yoga. But as difficult as it has been, removing the very things that have defined me for so long has made me go back to the heart of the practice. Who am I when I’m dependent? When I’m being served rather than serving? When I can’t teach? Who am I when I can’t ‘do’ yoga?
I’M STILL LEARNING…
In yoga circles there’s a lot of talk about your ‘off the mat’ practice. This refers to the subtler nuances of yoga that the physical practice is meant to lead you into. I know this stuff, I’ve been teaching it for years. Yet here I am, back in the crucible being transformed by the fires of refinement as I experience this concept in a whole new way.
There’s a difference between asana and yoga. Going to a class and making shapes with your body can amount to anything from cross training to stress reduction, exploring your inner landscape, pain management, or a way to increase your capacity to enjoy life deeply. But so often these days, we experience asana as a stand-alone event, where progress is measured more by what poses you’ve mastered and how many Instagram followers you have than by the quality of your relationship with yourself, with others, and with your world. Going to yoga solely for a workout is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it doesn’t automatically help you gain access to what Christina Sell calls the ‘something more’ of yoga.
WHAT IN LIFE IS NOT YOGA?
The ‘something more’, the thing that makes yoga more than just movement and shapes on a mat tests our perceptions, our sense of who we are and our place in the world. It’s surrender, an opening to the grace of each moment that happens when we let go of all of the ‘doing’ that can keep us separate from our source of unconditional love. It isn’t getting into a new pose that takes you to a deeper place in practice; for me this spring it’s been not getting a new pose that has taken me there again. When you are a yogi who is addicted to movement and unable to practice asana, the chaff is cleared and you remember that everything is yoga. Yoga is engaging skilfully with all of life and its challenges and obstacles. Ultimately, everything you do is a kind of pose. Every person you engage with, every thought you have, every word you speak, both silently and aloud.
As a movement junkie I’m keen to continue exploring how to use the physical practice to learn about and bring together all the luminous, effervescent parts of ourselves that we’ve either forgotten or wrapped away for safekeeping. Everything in life gives us an opportunity to practice deeply, whether we can do perfect poses or not. In the end, in the truest sense of what yoga is, what in life is not yoga?