Midnight of the new year found me sitting in a hotel room near the Chidambaram temple at festival time engaged in intense conversation while listening to wild music and chanting and the cracks and explosions of fire crackers. Quite a change from my long-standing practice of making a healthy meal, doing a long yoga practice, taking a hot bubble bath by candlelight and going to sleep well before midnight so that I can start the year rested and refreshed (an excellent way to spend New Year’s Eve if you haven’t tried it). Though I did not start this new year well rested, I wouldn’t have traded the experience I had for the world. Sometimes we need to radically break out of our old patterns to discover how much we can expand.
One of the practices at the temples we visited on the India Pilgrimage with Douglas Brooks is to take a coconut and break it open. The coconut symbolizes your head and all the preconceived notions and rules we set for ourselves that bind us into our old habits. The symbolic act of breaking open the coconut is to remind us that we sometimes need to break ourselves open in order to get at the true meat of our existence and to drink the sweet nectar of life.
Many times during the trip I thought about my first experiences attending “Advanced Intensives” with John Friend. I, like many others I know, showed up at my first Advanced Intensive wondering how I got there, asking myself whether I was worthy, and worrying that I was in way over my head and would get injured. Though I have now been to a number, each time I still have had to practice with both an absolute willingness to be open to the possibility of expansion while being impeccably mindful of my own limits. It is a subtle dance of consciousness, and part of the learning is finding the exact balance point where we can both break out of our preconceived limitations and still honor that we in fact have some.
I approached going to India with much trepidation. A friend whom I met in Peru and who I later visited in South Africa, having seen my emotional reactions to the deep poverty of developing nations had warned me off of India. As one who likes things to be quiet and clean and thrives on healthy meals and regular sleep, I knew India would be physically and emotionally challenging. But I wanted the visions. I wanted to see and experience its very “otherness,” its beauty, and the source of the yoga teachings. I packed my bags with emergency supplies, some of which I turned out to need, some of which served others on the trip, most of which I ended up donating to a village that the trip helps to support. I had to ask people to help me (one of my hardest practices) by being close when we were in dense crowds. I confess that I wore earplugs when it got really loud in the temples, which it does. And having prepared and taken care, I was exhilerated. I experienced radically more with my heart getting fuller and fuller in a short time than I thought ever possible for me. Like discovering one can do a wild yoga pose that one thought totally out of reach and then sensibly stopping before blowing past physical limits, I broke myself open and was able to drink deeply of the nectar. And yes, I did actually hurl a coconut to the ground to break it. And yes, it took two tries.
I was lucky. This time, I got to choose when and where to break open the coconut. Sometimes life does it for us and then we have the choice either to despair or to rise to the occasion. This year, I invite you to the yoga to find where you can break open and find ever more sweetness, nourishment, and delight than you ever dreamed possible. For me this includes not just the exhileration of advancing the intensity of poses, but the deepness of meditation, the precise use of alignment for therapeutics to better experience life, and the emotional depth of a long restorative practice.
Come join me as regular classes continue at William Penn House on Tuesdays, invitation group house practice for charity on Wednesdays, and gentle/therapeutics at Willow Street on Saturdays at noon in Takoma Park. All info on the classes page of the web site. Mark your calendars, too, for:
Finding the Warmth Inside: Relax Into Optimal Alignment with Anusara Restoratives, Saturday, February 25 2012, 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM, Willow Street Yoga, Takoma Park Studio, $35.00, click to Register Online or download a paper form to bring to Willow Street in person. After a little gentle stretching and self-massage to bring awareness to the breath and body, we will enjoy the exquisite application of Anusara’s Universal Principles of Alignment to restful and supported restorative postures to release old patterns and invite in the new to find greater ease of body and mind. A great workshop and practice for all levels.
I have been sharing photos and experiences of India on the blog (if you have missed them, do check them out and enjoy). Some of you have asked how you can subscribe to the blog in addition to the newsletter. Please just click here and follow the instructions to get the blog posts by email.
I look forward to seeing you through the new year and sign off expressing my ever growing love, appreciation, and gratitude for all of you and the deepening and expanding connection through the yoga, neighborhood, and all that life here in DC and in the greater yoga community brings us.
Peace and light,