~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Yoga in Paradise

February 13, 2012
I rest on my back in a spare and simple room, the sunlight dimming through the windows. My eyes are closed, but I hear others enter the building, greet their friends and find their spots. I'm surrounded by strangers a thousand miles from home, and I’m as happy as can be.

This is the first yoga class I've taken as a student since my first son was born nearly eight years ago. I'm able to sneak in only because we're on vacation and my indulgent parents have coaxed my sons into a dinner out, so that I may enjoy a few precious moments of peace.

Class hasn't even begun and already I'm smiling. Stepping away from the outer world for just a little while - turning inward and letting go - already feels so good, so right.

Our teacher Patricia Schneider, whom I've known for years as a friend but never before as a teacher, begins class with a reclining restorative sequence. We rest back over a folded blanket, first positioning it under our upper back, then under our mid-spine and finally under our lower back.

Patricia guides us gently and with care, encouraging us to move slowly and with ease. We take our time, lingering over the support in each position, breathing, feeling and settling. Patricia's soothing voice expertly guides us inward. A feeling of deep peace washes through the room as she encourages us to let every last ounce of tension slip away.

 "Grow tension free," she reminds us.

The room darkens with the coming night, and grows even quieter as each of us is pulled farther inward, toward quieter places within. Every cell in my body whispers yes as I linger in each pose, gently twisting here and stretching there, and then wiggling away a kink in my hip that I hadn't even noticed was hurting.

I think to myself, this is why I practice yoga, this is what it's all about. This unraveling of long-held tension, this cleaning house within, this waking up to bright vitality within. I wonder why everyone doesn't practice yoga every day. We should all should spend an hour each day quiet and alone, I decide, nurturing those quiet and tender spaces within.

The group moves into a simple vinyasa, slowly slipping back and forth between child's pose and cobra pose. Patricia's instructions are deep and subtle, with just enough talk about bones and muscles to anchor us in the body but with deeper emphasis on the subtle energy circulating through us. Her guidance is gentle and open enough for each of us to find our own way, tapping into our own intuitive sense of how the energy would like to flow within.

I feel like a cat stretching out in the setting sun, moving quietly, languorously, deeply. A catch in my throat releases and I feel a stream of vitality bubble through my neck. A few moments later another knot releases within my heart, and then another deep in my belly.

I wonder, why do we carry such tension within? Why do we hurtle through life at breakneck pace, carrying all this tired old baggage in our muscles and bones? Do we not see how tough and knotted our lives have grown? Who wants move through life wound tighter than a spring?

The class moves on to a slow and meditative exploration of dying warrior pose, one of the world's great twists. I smile when I see this pose coming, anticipating the deep tugs within, the slow and steady releases that guide us deeper and deeper into an almost unfathomable twist, ever closer to the earth. By now I can almost feel tension rolling off of me, leaving easy breath behind.

Eventually Patricia's partner Andrew Junker takes the helm and invites us to stand up into mountain pose, where we explore the subtle energy in our hands, our heads, our hearts and our bellies. Just when I think I've unraveled all the tension within me, I soften again, amazed that there's anything else to let go of. I imagine layers of tension strewn about the room like tired old garments no longer needed or wanted by those who have unraveled so deeply.

My inward musing continues. Even when we do finally see that our fingers are clenched and our throats are tight, why don't we let it go? Are we afraid to slow down and feel? Do we keep ourselves busy to avoid the tender life within? Are we simply victims of our habits, imprisoned in a fast paced, over-caffeinated world?

Or maybe we simply don't know how to release the tension we carry, and we need guides - like Patricia and Andrew and all the other expert yoga teachers of the world - to help us find our way back toward a place of inner peace.

For the last few moments of class, Patricia queues up a song and invites us to find our own yoga flow. My eyes are closed but I sense that those around me are finding their own ways to move and breathe in beautiful and meditative flows. The crescendos of the song's hallelujahs carry me into deep and soulful backbends that I love so much, and then sail me forward into deep folds that whisper surrender.

And then finally the music grows quiet, and we settle into savasana. The quiet soothes me. Resting on my back in the dark, I feel empty, unwrinkled and deep. I feel as though my body has been rinsed clean. I know that I have been handed a precious gift, one that leads me right back home again.

Yoga may already be within you, and, if so, you know exactly what I mean. This practice has the power to transform us in just 90 minutes from a tight ball of tension into a living, breathing stream of happiness and vitality. Yoga offers us a road map, a guide to help us find a way to soften and let go, to unknot the dams within us so that we can be bright and beautiful containers for the energy of the universe that longs to play through us.

The end of class draws near and my mind drifts toward my beautiful children, who so kindly yet reluctantly let me go long enough to reclaim my inner ease.

And suddenly I am seized by joy. My soft heart wants to leap out of this room and right into the arms of those bright boys of mine who already have what I've just reclaimed: that inborn sense of freedom and vitality, that natural sparkle and shine.

As soon as the closing bell rings, I rise, offer my thanks to those around me, and head off into the night, feeling as full as the moon above. I hear my children calling me from the parking lot below. I smile and head back to them with a clean and happy heart, having left nothing but tension behind.