By Sarah Halweil, August, 2012
Sometimes I am annoyed by much around me. I say things that could be offensive, and then regret it. I wonder why I even left the house. (“I love mankind—” the American cartoonist Charles Schulz said, “it’s people I can’t stand.”) In my work as an integrative therapist, I was yelled at by a doctor after helping his patient. At home, my kids whine, and demand a third course at dinner when I haven’t even eaten my first. My husband and I often find ourselves arguing about something that is pointless.
And then, at other times, everything seems to flow. I successfully help someone. I have an exchange with another that warms my heart and inspires me. My kids are sharing and picking up after themselves and saying brilliant, thoughtful things. The people that seemed annoying are actually entertaining characters and teachers. The present moment is just right and I am in it.
When opposing feelings and thoughts settle together and there is peace, that is yoga. How do we spend more time feeling content with whatever surrounds us?
Richard Freeman writes that when yoga poses are well-aligned, they feel so good internally that the mind is practically stunned with awe, and the breath flows right up the front of the spine into the spacious radiance of the body’s central axis. The experience is beautiful and sublime. But, he admits, this is rare, and a challenging experience to attain.
To find this place in your practice, explore beyond your comfort zone. Do something out of the ordinary. Pema Chodron says, “Do anything that’s against your usual pattern.” I have been rollerblading, which not only makes me feel like a 1990s throwback—it makes me laugh and sweat and see spectacular Sag Harbor views until someone blasts a horn and I almost fall off the road. It is staggering how quickly bliss turns into annoyance.
One of the re-patterning techniques that is helpful for me is observing the pause at the end of the exhale; another is lying in constructive rest and feeling the whole front body—which usually leads us forward and hardens with fear and determination, giving us neck, back, and hip pains—soften and release into the cradle of the back body. Recently, I saw a sunset from the beach dunes. I still feel the beauty from that in my body and it is settles me.
Through asana, breath, and meditation, our hang-ups, obsessions, stories, and coping mechanisms are revealed and evolve. We may see the humor in the tricks we play. Isn’t it fascinating that as soon as we start judging and criticizing, we are usually guilty of exactly what we are blaming another for?
Of course, it’s not easy, staying open and relaxed during times of turbulence and difficulty; at times it seems impossible. But it is during the hardest of times that our practices can be most profound. I work with sick people in the hospital. I am constantly amazed by the fact that some people can smile and find an element of humor in their predicament, while some are simply bitter. There are events in our lives that can close us, make us angry and numb, or they can teach and inspire us.
Why do we spend so much time being irritated and afraid instead of radiant and sublime? What is the point? We know how it all ends. To be sure, some events seem impossible to weather, but they are coming. So, practice now, practice well.
And, as Pema writes, “Don’t make such a big deal. The seriousness about everything in our lives—including practice—is the world’s greatest killjoy.” Find lightness and humor when you are thrown off. How else do we want to spend our sweet, precious, who-knows-how-much time on this planet? Recently, I heard a great modern yogi respond to why he practices yoga. His response: “So I can still have compassion and humor when I am dying.”