Last night when we walked out of William Penn House from the Tuesday night yoga class onto East Capitol Street, we could see a convocation of police cars in front of the Capitol — presumably in preparation for the President’s speech. Karen asked, “where are the helicopters?” “Maybe, Obama doesn’t need them,” I replied, “maybe he is choosing not to live in fear.” There weren’t any army or police helicopters all night. This was the first Presidential speech in eight years where helicopters did not relentlessly drone overhead, calling people to be afraid and to act from a place of fear.
Patanjali’s yoga sutra II.3, says: avidyha asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah. BKS Iyengar translates this sutra as follows: “The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of ‘I’, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life.”
The world is far scarier now than it has been for most of the past eight years. In some ways, though, at least in my neighborhood, it feels less frightening because the signs of being afraid are not being emblazoned everywhere to call all to share in the fear.
We can practice choosing to turn to a place of strength rather than fear on our yoga mats. When we choose to do the difficult poses that are at our edge that bring up fear and aversion, we can notice the fear and aversion, but not become fully engaged in it. By using the Anusara principle of opening to grace, we can accept fear and aversion as part of human being, but then soften and open to the full range of being, and not just cling to the fear. Instead of avoiding the poses or beating ourselves up for being afraid, we can choose to use the yoga principles we know to invite a full experience of the moment and the possible poses. Remaining open to witnessing the full range of our being through the pose, we next engage muscular energy (strengthening by embracing the muscles to the bone, hugging into our center [midline], and drawing from the periphery into our core). Having found our strength, we expand more fully (expanding/inner spiral). We then have space to draw more deeply into our core power (contracting/outer spiral). With this balance of embrace and expansion of ourselves, we then can fully embody strength by reaching outward (organic energy) and making offering. This pulsation of principles in poses has led me to discover physical and energetic abilities in my middle age I had not dreamed possible.
Off the mat, the same principles can lead us to move from love and strength instead of fear and clinging. As I got into bed with the peace of the night uninterrupted, I pondered how these principles can manifest and gave a profound thanks to whomever decided the harbingers of fear — the helicopters — were unnecessary.