I’ve heard the cues in hundreds of yoga classes, and have loyally anticipated and obeyed them like a prized show dog. Every day, I put down a dry mat and plant my feet firm upon its center. Then we “begin.” Take the posture, breathe, and fall into the pose with strength, balance, and focus. “Change.” Let the posture go, gracefully return to stillness, and observe the tension as it subsides. Sometimes, we “release” instead of change, but it means the same thing.
Last week, I heard the cues for the first time again. In the absence of instruction about leveling hips to the floor, pulling angel blades down-and-back, and lengthening the spine, I heard a message about living well in two simple words.
Many treasure the release from postures like ustrasana, or “camel” pose, and eagerly count the seconds until they can put their hearts back into their chests following the ultra-vulnerable, wide-stretched chest-to-the-sky pose. Not me. I particularly like camel because in that posture, my heart beats with the vigor for which it was designed, the hallmark of excitement.
Philosopher Alan Watts wrote the following in The Wisdom of Insecurity: Where do I begin and end in space? I have relations to the sun and air which are just as vital parts of my existence as my heart. The movement in which I am a pattern or convolution began incalculable ages before the (conventionally isolated) event called birth, and will continue long after the event called death.
If that is true, Watts contends, then constant motion—not a set of stills placed in quick succession—is the perfect characterization of life. There are no still moments, just movement, the very definition of change.
Begin, change. Begin, release. Begin, change. Begin, release.
To change is to begin again; to release is to begin to change.
Even stillness is movement, although not of the body, but of the spirit. Every day, I spend 90 minutes on my mat going through this metamorphosis, ending on a once-dry mat that drips with sweaty change.
I’ve wondered why change is often so difficult. While it’s not always as acutely physically strenuous as, let’s say, natural childbirth, it is often as profound. Like the anticipation of welcoming a new life to the earth, ought not change incite at least some of the same anticipatory excitement, wonder, and delight? Releasing the old is equivalent to welcoming the new, and in the strain of holding on to what is worn and familiar, we enjoy what has been called comfort. Comfort, insofar as we understand it, that is. Maybe that’s the big trick we play on ourselves. While we spend significant energy planning for comfortable futures, natural forces are changing the future, the ecosystem of time and space from which comforts derives its meaning. The starting point moves at the will of the universe, but we don’t see the movement because our eyes are fixed on our own fallen selves in our past, present, and future states, as if we are set apart from the universe within which we exist.
Lately, stepping onto on my yoga mat is a reminder that I am also perched on the precipice of potentially drastic change, not micro-movement that takes years to launch a surprise. Instead of watching sand fall gently through the protective choke of an hourglass, I imagine smashing the hourglass into slivers, and gathering the sand up to build a castle on the beach, where the tide rises and falls at the will of the moon.
Yeah, I want to build something on the beach—something amazing. I want to change … to begin.
Kat, thank you for teaching my last hot music class in just two words. Love you, sister.