I thought I was going to have a (thankfully metaphorical) heart attack in class the other night. Not because I was pushing myself too far, certainly not because the teacher was driving us hard, and not because I’d stepped up to face my inner demons and taken myself (and the demons) along to the weekly advanced class, moving so far out of my comfort zone I can no longer see the path I’ve taken to get here, to this surprising place.
No, it was simply because my teacher was encouraging conscious movement, movement following the breath. “Don’t go on autopilot” he urged us. And he followed this up with his usual warning that a breath taken unconsciously, a movement made without full awareness — that’s a breath lost, a breath that you will never have again!
And that’s it. That’s always my nemesis moment in class, the moment when my whole life suddenly catches up with me and trips me over, floors me with a sudden wall of emotion. I have to stop, take a shuddering gulping breath of air and grab a hold of anything that will stop the vertiginous feelings, pressing hands into the mat or even taking hold of the edges of it squeezing the rubber as a tangible connection to physical existence.
So yes, I used to HATE this line of thought. That something is past, gone, lost for ever, squandered away. Such guilt, such regret. Lost moments and lost opportunities, my whole life suddenly speeding past me as my brain fast-forwards into a possible future where I’ve wasted everything and where my last moments are filled with nothing but the sure knowledge that I woke up too late, just before the final eternal darkness. I hated it so much that I actually felt my heart would just stop dead in that moment. The ultimate wake-up call would actually signal the last thing I ever did. Some deep irony from the universe! […or maybe this is why there are those weird debates about whether a Jivanmukhta is possible… but I digress].
But in this particular yoga class…. Something had changed. Yes, I could feel this fear arising, suffocating me, panic starting to rise. And then? No, I didn’t have a heart attack or even a panic attack. Instead I smiled. I could see the chain of cause and effect, the words prompting a habitual response. And I was able to choose not to react that way. I don’t need to feel like this any more. Each moment is still precious but I feel a bit less terrified of squandering it.
Because you know what? I was in an advanced yoga class. I was spending 100 minutes revelling in stretching my body any way it wanted to go, I was exploring my strength, I was realising that the weird stuff my teacher talks about has come to make some sense in my body. Ha ha — look at me!! I am doing this stuff and loving it! It might not look fancy on the outside, but it’s sure real to me on the inside; it might be terrifying, but it’s also liberating. I am an advanced yogi you know 😉
So hello there, bakasana to tripod headstand transition, I know really you’re just a breath or two away.
So all those weird instructions this week about not hanging out in tendons, sucking femurs into their sockets, lifting knee-caps — yeah, yeah, I get it: this is how I move now.
And so also those exhortations to maintain consciousness: yes, that’s how I live and breathe. Not EVERY moment — give me a break! — but many more moments than before. And more all the time. And that’s all I can do.
My first meditation teacher used to encourage me towards compassion and faith, looking forward not backward: “each inhale a new beginning, each exhale a letting go”.
I have no idea how one accomplishes that while exploring uḍḍīyana bandha as we were in class — ha, not so much an advanced yogi after all 🙂 — but in those moments in class I started to allow myself to be wrapped in the positive embrace of these words.
Time to let go of some abhiniveśa.
Each inhale a new beginning, with myriad possibilities
Each exhale a letting go, a releasing of fears and regrets