Last week, my yoga instructor Lindsey began our 6 am glow flow class with a simple observation. On her drive in to the yoga studio that morning, she noticed the air felt crisper than usual. The taste of autumn was in the air. She explained that this time of the year is a time of beauty, renewal, and transition from one season to another. As such, it is important that we stop and take stock of these vital transitions in the natural world so that we may also notice the sometimes very subtle but important transitions that occur within ourselves inside and outside of the practice of yoga.
Lindsey quickly set the focus of our asana practice on the importance of transitions between poses, balances, and most of all, in our breathing. With this increased attention and awareness on my breath in between these transitions, I challenged myself to slow down my practice and focus on sinking deeper and longer to reside in between poses with a focus on the tripartite breath: inhaling to fill the belly first, then the chest next, and finally the shoulders. Then, exhaling as though a slowly deflating balloon. In this space, I felt more than simply my muscles growing stronger. I felt truly empowered in the moment.
Now, I’m by no means suggesting that I no longer struggle with these transitions. I certainly do. But, what I have learned through the practice of yoga is that in these places of pain, conflict, anger and fear (because let’s face it, it all comes bubbling up at some point in our practice!), our true nature is revealed. That is to say, we can conquer all of these emotions – as Pema Chödrön teaches us – by casting aside the “story lines” that we tell ourselves and instead giving ourselves over (surrendering non-judgmentally) in these transitional moments to the natural feel and sound of our breath.
Indeed, the lessons we learn in yoga about mindful alignment,about awareness and focus, about breathing and intention – these are all lessons that are equally applicable to our daily lives outside the studio. They provide us with very practical tools to ground us in times of unexpected change or transition – in times of fear, anger, stress, doubt, and anxiety.
This past weekend, with a focus on transition and change, I attended Edmonton’s Bloom 2015 festival at the Francis Winspear Center for Music which brought together hundreds of devoted yogis of all stripes and banners (and also non-yogis) together to share in our journey as followers of the yogic life. If there could have been a theme for this
event, I think it would have been love as the only real thing that can effect meaningful change, transformation or transition in the world.
All around me this weekend, I met inspiring human beings who share a love not just of yoga, but of mindful living. People who seek to nourish their minds as much as their bodies by living intentionally in the present moment, with an acute awareness of the transitions/changes in the physical world (most recently the Blood Moon), and an attitude of non-judgment.
Garth Stevenson’s “Flying”
One highlight for me at Bloom was Garth Stevenson. He’s a cellist who has inspired many yoga classes with his stirring and deeply resonant and meditative songs invoking nature and the yogic life. He and Andrew Misle (Yoga Loft) led an inspiring Ashtanga class to many of Stevenson’s songs featured on his latest album “Flying”. I could not help but think of all of my inspiring yoga teachers who have helped train me this past year in mindfulness and the practice of yoga. It was a truly humbling experience.
Click below to listen to “Flying” for yourself:
Marianne Williamson on Love
I found the keynote address by Marianne Williamson (best-selling author of A Return to Love) particularly apt on the subject of mindful living to harness the power of change and transition in our lives. Williamson spoke of two types of human beings – those who operate with an enlightened or “awakened consciousness” (exemplified by the mindful yogi i.e. individuals in attendance at Bloom) versus those who operate with a “malignant consciousness” (exemplified by those who are “asleep” or who “self-sabotage” by living in fear of the present moment because of their inability to detach themselves from the past or the future). She spoke of how each of us has unlimited potentiality but are impeded from realizing that potential because of one thing: fear. We fear wanting to know just how much good we can do in this world because it requires us to undertake an examination of the self in an honest, humble, sober and non-judgmental way. It requires us to be still so that we might stand as a shining lighthouse when the storms of judgment, fear, and self-doubt are raging.
For Williamson, we are at a transitional period in human history – a cross-roads if you will – in the trajectory of humankind. Either those who dwell in “malignant consciousness” (i.e. those who dwell in addiction, fear, anger, judgment, etc) will be victorious, or the only one real thing that has ever been will prevail over it: love.
Of course, I am only paraphrasing Williamson’s thesis here. She certainly did not take the time to fully marshall the evidence or rationale underlying her thesis of love (except to say much of it is found in something called the “Course of Miracles” which I profess I have never heard of until this weekend!) as the antidote to the destructive path that we are heading down as a global community. There wasn’t much by way of prescriptive reasoning as to tangible, concrete action items each one of us could take away from the talk and apply in our daily lives. I’m not sure that was the point of the talk in any event (since she expressed that we are supposed to already know what she was planning to say!).Suffice it to say, Williamson has a huge following around the world, and also an ally and supporter in mega celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey.
Also, in my humble view, it is difficult in general to argue with someone whose basic message is one of compassion for your fellow man. How can one quarrel with that?
Harvest Moon Festival
Next weekend, I will be spending time with my family catching up as we welcome the Harvest Moon Festival. It is customary Chinese tradition for all family members to make the journey home to celebrate this time of transition, harvest and bounty with her family. This is one of my favorite times in the Chinese calendar. But, this year will be particularly special for me as it will likely be the only time I see my family this month before I am off to Spain in just over three weeks to start the next chapter in my yoga journey.
I can safely say that in the last fourteen months, I have embraced periods of great change, transformation and restoration in my life – all for the better. And yet, I am still in many ways the same person I always have been, but with a heightened sense of living in this moment to the fullest. I owe this to a lifestyle predicated on mindfulness and the yogic life.
May you be blessed with an open heart to the changes and transformations that surround you. May you be blessed with the bounty of the autumn harvest. May you be blessed above all with love, happiness, hope and wonder. Always.