Do you yoga? I began back in the fall, a twice weekly practice that has ebbed and flowed over the past several months. When I started I could barely do a downward dog, pigeon wasn't at all challenging but I couldn't stand in mountain pose with my eyes closed, and I wondered if I would ever be able to do tree, as balancing on one leg was honestly a joke.
Six months later, my guru finished our session Saturday morning with a delighted smile. "You just did an intermediate to advanced level class." she said. "You don't even realize how far you've come."
I pondered that statement as I drove home. Without a doubt, I am physically stronger. I've added a solid fifteen to twenty yards to my golf drive, for example, so I know there are more muscles in the somewhere. I dream about poses I haven't even tried yet, much yet mastered. Last week I took an online class that was exceptionally challenging and only pondered quitting twice, because the poses were well beyond my current abilities (balancing poses still give me fits. I blame the top-heaviness.) Each time, I persevered, adapting poses until we returned to a more manageable situation. When I finished savasana, I was pleased with my effort.
Pleased, but not satisfied. Because yoga is more than mastering poses for me. It is about the transcendence that I feel, the peace, the sheer connectedness with my being. It's almost a state of hypnosis. It is somthing I strive for in my meditation as well, which in and of itself is wrong, striving guarantees you won't find what you seek. You must be. Yoga is the same way. That transcendence doesn't happen every time, but it is glorious when it does.
My guru reminds me that we approach our practice as we approach our life. And as I grit my teeth and try to force my body into positions that it most likely was not meant to go into, I think about that adage. I unclench my teeth, soften my gaze, smile. "It's just yoga, baby," my guru coos at me. And we giggle when I lose my balance, and try, and try, and try again.
I can say unreservedly that yoga has changed my life. My perspective. Like writing, days when I don't do yoga aren't good days. Days when I write and yoga are stellar. And when I find myself leaning over my laptop, gritting my teeth, I soften my gaze, and smile, and remind myself that determination is a good thing, but relaxing and letting it flow is always more preferable.
Today, as I march into another year, I look back on the previous birthday and ask myself - are you happier now than you were then? Are you doing what you love? Are you finding ways to make those you love happy? The answers are invariably yes. But this year, I add a new question.
Are you at peace?
And the answer is found in my mantra. Om shanti, shanti, shanti.
Everything peace, peace, peace.