The lady who asked the question I blogged about last week, “Yoga is meant to calm me, so why do I feel so nervous?” asked another great question yesterday. Gosh, I love students who give honest reflections and ask questions! Thanks, honey bunch.
After class I noticed that her face wasn’t 100% bliss. Quite the opposite. So, unlike a YouTube video would, I sat next to her and asked her what’s up. She said:
“I couldn’t do some of the simplest poses. It made me feel old.”
Ouch. And yes, yoga does that. You see, if you give someone a workout routine like Crossfit or marathon training, it is very normal that they will find, at first, themselves not able to do it. But because it is hard, challenging, perhaps unattainable, they are quite happy to just thrust away at it for a long time until they reach the goal. To not do something hard on the first go is quite normal and acceptable for the ego.
But when we are asked to do something simple like lie on our backs and stretch one side of the body and breathe deeply, and find that there is pain, discomfort, we say “hold on a second…what is happening here?”
What is happening here is that our bodies have aged, have adopted fixed patterns, have held onto thoughts and emotions and stored them in our abdominal muscles, our hips, our necks, and we have become unable to make those muscles do our bidding. We try to move the ribs with the breath, and we can’t. Upon finding that we can’t do something so seemingly simple, we reflect on how, once upon a time, we could. As children, we were all free and loose and easy. But time, and life, and blows, and ailments, and all that, steals our childhood from us and we become adults, then middle-aged and then, if we are lucky, old. The body ages but so does the mind. We swap physical agility for mental wisdom. Or that is the idea, anyway. There is concept that I love in yoga that goes like this:
Why do we do âsana? We do âsana to keep the body strong and supple and youthful so that we can live a long time. And why do we want to live a long time? So that we can gain wisdom.
Doing yoga is like holding a mirror up to our true selves and being forced to look. Mostly, we won’t like all that we see. The mirror as a symbol is powerful and appears all over in the popular culture. In Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Movie Orphée, the mirror is the portal between two worlds, the living and the dead. And in fact, a very eerie reflection uttered is :
“Les miroirs sont les portes par lesquelles la Mort va et vient. Du reste, regardez-vous toute votre vie dans une glace et vous verrez la Mort travailler commes les abeilles dans une ruche de verre.” (Mirrors are the doors by which Death comes and goes. You have only to look at yourself in the mirror every day and you will see Death at work there, like bees in a glass hive.)
Yes indeed. When we look at the mirror every day, we look at the face of Death. Our own death. This is getting heavy, but the Yoga Sutras are very clear about all this, in the first 5-10 aphorisms of the very first Yoga Sutras book, Patanjali identifies the Kleshas, the mental patterns that cause the vrittis, the mental fluctuations that assail us all. And right up there in spot number five is fear, abhinidvesa. Principle fear? Death.
We are all aware of our mortality but none of us wants to admit it, to face it. When we do, we cringe and shudder. This is normal. I love to ruminate on the human being’s awareness of the passage of time. We are, I believe, the only animal that marks time with such precision. We are time-obsessed species. Why? Because we are all unconsciously counting down the seconds of our lives. And this is wildly uncomfortable. Because what this forces us to do is to admit that our time is limited, that we must live fully in the present and create from our meagre and humble little lives the best and brightest creation that we can. And any abstention from this duty, whether through fear, intransigence, obstinance or fakery, is a negation of our duty to grow and gain wisdom and be the best person we can be.
Uff. All that at 8 in the morning. I think a lot. That is why I do yoga. So, I will leave you with a Joy Division song with footage from Orphée. Enjoy it, and live this day fully. And get on your mats, and breathe deeply and feel the love. It is there, all the time, and there is enough for everyone.