For years, many of my students have told me they considered my yoga classes very challenging. At first, they said, the challenge lay in the brass tacks of loosening locked knees and hips and spines that had been shuttered down to withstand hurricane force winds. Today, as we focused on a mere handful of the seemingly easy postures for our 90-minute class, what emerged as the challenge of practice- and the opportunity- was far more subtle.
As morning came up in St. Barth, FWI, I asked my group of yoga students and friends what they would like to experience for their farewell island practice. They thought a moment, then placed their ‘breakfast orders’. ‘Quiet’, they answered, ‘Space’, or ‘Just the ability to go slow’. They talked about the challenges of time, of feeling compressed, pushed to wedge in slivers of intimacy or meaningful conversation or non-commercial exchange into impossible schedules. They talked about getting humanity squeezed out of them by the relentless pace of city living. They hungered for something different. They hungered for something kinder and sweeter and more able to sustain peace.
So, we closed our eyes, and as the sun came up, we willingly moved, deeper and deeper into the quiet and the space and the time to witness it all, until we could get to what I have come to refer to as the living, breathing membrane of things, the backbone of the moment. As you would expect, the work was different for each student. One student tracked down the fear that had settled in her forehead, with no plans of moving out. And she confronted it. She fed it space and time and going slowly, little by little, came gently, willingly back to the present, ready to leave behind the past and the recent health trauma that had chased off trust and safety. Fear, however powerful and convincing, was so much paler than what she had fought her right to live for. She had earned a second chance, fair and square. Feeling how it beat, in her heart, in her breath, understanding broke through the tension in her face, and dawn came.
Another student went hunting in his rib cage and found that since he had last looked, he had grown into a man, and a man that he respected, liked and was proud of. The only lingering trace of the lack of confidence that had once so mercilessly kept him from his true feelings was a tendency to compress the lungs and the upper chest, or contrarily, to puff out like a peacock and go anaerobic. But with time and space and slow attentive breath, his lungs once again remembered they were lungs, staking their flag into his rib cage , now opening, now blooming into his beautiful face.
Another woman found the emotional awkwardness she has tried so hard to suppress by always being strong, in control, together. As she breathed into her practice, she found the teenager inside her that had been forced by life events to grow up: far too quickly, far too soon, far too breathlessly and far too brusquely. This was the one she had judged. The one that was not polished enough, or accomplished enough…As she moved closer to the adolescent, her voice quaked and the blush of her cheeks emerged and there was space, once again, for discovery, for not knowing what the future held, and being ok with that. She found the courage to look at the unknown and shake its hand. She also found that the awkwardness was part of her beauty because it was so able to be truthful, to be raw, to be real.
Another man found that genius lies in sharing breath, or stars, or planets or presence. It is one of the most powerful, intimate and life-affirming things he or any of us can do. As he shared his breath, he felt how glad he was and how grateful to be alive , to simply be. To simply be. As he went farther and farther into his exploration, he found his place in the universe, and knew that it could not be threatened, overshadowed, bartered, sold or minimized.
On this day of Armistice, yoga practice was about letting the war really be over and finding that unless we take the time to look at our deeply ingrained habit patterns and thoughts, we miss the opportunity to find our sacred heart or the energetic realities that create our universe.
It can be challenging, going back to the places where war was waged. If you and I can brave it, though, we find that the blood-stained fields of yesterday have become steadfast reminders, memorials of how critical peace is, how welcome and necessary. Peace is as critical to a neck, to a heart, to a rib cage or a shoulder as it is in our living rooms, and bedrooms, and boardrooms and playgrounds.
Going slow, going in, taking it deep and staking a truce flag in the places we once avoided, the ones so laden with history, this is our work.
Today, everyone joined the peace march. And if victory is anything, it is that. A breath filled with life and the hope, joy and freedom that sustains it.