A little over two weeks ago I started a yoga teacher-training program. It has been something I have wanted to do ever since I started practicing over seven years ago. It was never the right time to dive in – financially, logistically, self-confidently – until this summer when the opportunity fortuitously came into my life. It felt meant-to-be, so I made the commitment and have been on a roller coaster ride ever since.
I made a promise to myself a few months ago to try and be as authentic as possible, and I think that is the reason the yoga opportunity finally floated to the surface. I have been shedding habits, addictions, and relationships that don’t serve me, connecting with my true passion, and being as honest as possible to the people I care about. It has been gut wrenching at times, undoing the work of 25 years of hiding from myself. I have trouble trusting myself and my instincts, sometimes paralyzed by the fear that if I am truly honest, everyone will leave me. Irrational obviously, but powerful nonetheless – now is the time to set myself and my voice free.
I am realizing that part of setting myself free means surrendering. Surrendering to my instinct, surrendering to the lessons that life has to offer, and surrendering my judgmental ego, which keeps tying me down when I want to fly. This particular teacher training has several elements, two of which are attending 5 classes per week and keeping a “svadyaya” journal, or self-study, about what arose for you during those classes. Journaling after every practice has been incredibly powerful and illuminating. It has shown me already that even though I thought I came to yoga egoless, I had been competing with myself and other students all along. Now all of this is being stripped bare and it is time to do some real work letting go.
As one those wonderful soul-healing arts, yoga always gives to you exactly what you need, when you need it. I have been grappling with letting go of my judgment and letting myself paint freely, so of course last night’s class was all about surrender. Sometimes we get a lot in life that totally throws us off balance. It is not what we planned, what we expected, or what we think is best. When this happens our ego freaks out and shouts, “What the heck am I supposed to do now?!”But just like trees whose branches can bend in the wind, we have been equipped with a suppleness that can give us peace during our trial times. It is all about letting your roots grow strongly downward so that your branches can sway in the unexpected gusts.
During class last night we focused on standing postures that ground us down into the earth: Tadasana (mountain pose), uttanasana (standing forward fold), utkatasana (chair pose), virabhadrasanas (warrior poses), and trikonasana (triangle pose). Although each of these look physically different, they all have a similar spiritual flavor of 1st charkra grounding, or nourishing the energy center in your body that connects you to the earth. They are all undeniably powerful and at the core of any yoga practice. Each of these postures derives its energy from the earth as our limitless life-giving source. They are all healing for a sense of groundlessness and powerlessness; they all can help survivors of any kind of trauma, self-inflicted in my case or otherwise, to reclaim their strength and stability.
Each of these asanas works from the ground up, rooting the ball joints of the big and pinkie toes and heels into the earth and spreading that strength up through our legs just like plants and their roots. Engaging the quads, lifting up the kneecaps, tucking the tailbone, tilting the pelvis, pulling the navel to the spine with the core – all of these actions work synergistically to form a supportive base for our torso, which houses our most important organ, our heart. They allow our legs to serve us as delicately and powerfully as the stem of a flower, whose roots into the earth anchor it and draw up water and nutrients from the soil.
When we support ourselves in this way, by trusting in the nourishing strength of the ground and the stability of our own roots, we can survive the most violent hurricane. The trust in our own strength is what allows us to surrender to the gales, to give and lean into the challenges that face us so that our limbs do not snap. I am realizing that I have not been very good at this so far in my life. Most of the time for me it is all or nothing. If I can’t do it perfectly the first time I am a failure. There is little patience or trust in the process. When the pose is hard I feel like I am not good enough; when the brushstrokes don’t fall just how I would like, I don’t know how to paint. All I have been doing with these obscenely critical judgments is hurting and holding myself back from growing and learning. Maybe all of this is actually just a part of the process? Maybe these challenges are gifts, a storm of high winds to show me just how strong and talented I actually am?
There is incredible strength in sweet surrender. When you try and control everything so tightly and try to be perfect all of the time you become rigid and fragile. If you trip and tense up, your bones will break in your fall. If you relax and roll with the punches, your flexibility will allow you to face any adversity that comes your way.
I had always thought about the yoga warrior postures as the ultimate strength demonstrations. Legs spread into a deep lunge, arms actively outstretched, they were exhausting and challenging to me because I never let myself truly trust in the strength of my legs and to let the power of the ground flow upward through them. They are strong poses in fact, but it is a gentle strength, deriving its nutritive power from the intimacy of a bare foot pressing into the ground, like the tip of a plant root absorbing water from the surrounding soil. They are beautifully powerful because they can show you just how strong you are when you actually let go and trust in your own two legs. Your bottom half is strong so that your heart can be soft and open. When we open our hearts in this way we can welcome all of the teachers who show up on our doorstep with humility, grace and open arms: Thank you for arriving; what would you like to show me today?
Growing yet grounded.