Yoga: Fed-Up with Fear

Tripod Headstand
Tripod Headstand

Inversions, or going upside down, are key postures in the physical practice of yoga. Headstand, shoulder stand, handstand....going upside down where your heart is higher than your head has known physical benefits to the endocrine, immune, and lymphatic systems.

That's good stuff.

In a recent yoga class at Tranquil Space, the fear I have with inversions hit me full force.

I'm afraid I'm going to fall over. I'm afraid I'm not strong enough. I'm afraid I can't do them "right." I have the strength. I have the balance. I'm just afraid.

In this recent yoga class, I was in a wide leg forward fold. This is a pose that sets the invitation to go into a tripod headstand.

I consistently avoid that invitation from the teacher like the plague: "for those of you who can do tripod headstand, this is a time to get into that pose." I instantly retreat into myself, reluctance raises its ugly head, and I just stay in my wide leg forward fold telling myself that I'm fine just where I am.

True---I am fine where I am.

And I'm fearful of going into tripod.

So there I was, in the forward fold, and the invitation was set again---time for tripod for those who want that challenge!

I heard these words in my head: "I'm fed up with fear." Well, look who I started paying attention to in yoga---GOD.

Within seconds I started to create obstacles to avoid tripod. My blocks are in the way. My water bottle is in the way. I'm too far away from the wall. I'll need to move my mat to protect my head.  [Insert other bullshit that takes on the form of an object].

Funny. All those things can be moved out of the way....so.....I moved them out of the way.

And up I went.

Fear stayed with me as I went upside down and I pushed all the #()$*#)( aside and stayed in headstand.

A few postures later tears came down my face. Not surprisingly. We had been doing a lot of hip openings in the class and hips are considered to be the place where emotions are held. Ignore the hips and you ignore emotions.

The tears felt like a release, my own witness to moving through a posture I've clouded-up with fear. I felt a shift in myself in the postures that followed my tripod---body felt more open and I felt stronger. What I love about yoga is how I can feel these shifts in my body, knowing that I carry with me this breakthru experience into other aspects of my life.

Fed up with fear. Thank you, tripod and God, for bringing this to my attention.

Yoga: Vulnerability and My Yoga Teacher

My yoga teacher, Dave Kidney, started off class on Wednesday sharing this story: I don't know if you've heard the news from this morning, but there was another violent incident at a school. The school is in my hometown in PA. This is my nephew's school. We've talked to him. He's fine. Many students are not. 

Dave was referring to the 22 students stabbed by Alex Hrbal at Franklin Regional High School outside Pittsburgh, PA.

Dave went on to share his wonderings about Alex, his brokeness and woundedness and how that's been inflicted upon others.

As Dave shared, he was on his yoga mat in front of the class, in a modified yoga squat. His head was turned towards the window, eyes fixed on nothing yet holding a deep, profound gaze. Dave's words were soft and gentle, even as he talked about Alex.

Dave invited us to set an intention for the class. This is typical at Tranquil Space. He offered the invitation to go beyond us--to his nephew, Franklin High School, and Alex.

Dave closed saying, again, his nephew was Ok. I wanted to call out from my mat in the way back of the room, with my eyes seeking to make a connection with his, "How are you?"

There are lots of unwritten rules when it comes to yoga classes:

  • Don't step on someone's yoga mat.
  • Avoid "cross talking" to your neighbor during class.
  • People generally don't ask questions (out loud!) about poses during a class.
  • Don't start chatting it up with your yoga teacher when he/she comes over to assist you. "Hey! Great earrings, Kimberly Wilson, where did you get those?"

Yoga invites vulnerability in my physical body yet the class itself is quite contained as far as extending that vulnerability "across the mat."

Dave infused vulnerability in his sharing and I felt it all the way at the other end of the room. Before Dave even sat down to share, he made small talk with people in the class. Checked in with someone on their injury. Greeted a new person. He was present and available.

This is quite different than another class I took earlier in the week. The yoga teacher came in just minutes prior to starting. Announced she would be teaching the class only a few more weeks (ok, she's checked out). Her assists felt like air brushing against me. These assists make me wonder, "are you committed to my body or not?" The tone of her voice throughout the class made me think, "are you bored? Do you even want to be here?"

Dave's sharing lasted a few minutes. He made a choice to share and release that story in order to send healing out of the room and to the traumatized community of Franklin. He made me realize, yet again, that there is more at stake doing yoga than me nailing crow pose to tripod headstand back to crow pose. The planet's well being is at stake. Our well beings are connected and yoga is one healing modality to "get at" that healing.

For my physical practice, it meant I trusted Dave more because I saw more of him through his sharing. When he came over to assist me, I gave him all of me, and I found myself in a twist practically staring up at the ceiling. In that moment, I was able to experience more of me.

Dave, I've been thinking about you all week. I hope your heart is well.

Yoga: Rajas, Change, and the Month of March

Rajas is one of the three qualities (gunas) that emerge from the primary elements of nature--matter, energy, and consciousness.  The other two qualities are Tamas and Sattva.  In the world view of yogic philosophy, these three basic components are the fabric of creation and impact the choices and behavior of living things.

  • Rajas represents action, change, movement, birth.
  • Tamas represents dullness, inertia, non-moving, and inactivity.
  • Sattva is the quality that represents harmony, balance.

All three are present at all times in living beings, they ebb and flow with each other As humans, we have the conscious ability to make choices that impact the level of gunas in our bodies and minds.While the yogi's goal is to cultivate sattva, the ultimate goal is  to be unattached to both the good and the bad, the positive and negative qualities of all life.

I get really annoyed looking up yoga poses and only finding white people.
I get really annoyed looking up yoga poses and only finding white people.

That being said, it's been a "rajas" kind of month.

At Tranquil Space, where I spend a lot of my yoga time, "rajas" is the focus for the month of March.

We've been focusing on "revolved side angle" as a body shape/pose that gets at rajas---it's a deep, deep twist that creates rings out the old, dull energy of a long winter and gets our juices going for spring.

But life in general has had strong rajasic qualities for me.

  • Lent at Pilgrims, and our focus on the body,  has involves new experiences like inviting people into simple yoga poses, using a thurible, and generally more "out of our comfort zone" experiences. The first Sunday in Lent, right before worship, I was feeling rajasic energy and the sensations that come up for me with change is right there about to happen, minutes away.
  • My  nephew continues on with his journey with Leukemia ALL. Good news came for him in March.
  • I co-lead a workshop at PCUSA's "Compassion, Peace, and Justice" day at New York Avenue with Ruth Farrell who heads PCUSA's Hunger Program. The original co-leader couldn't make the conference and I was asked if I could step in. Sure! Soon enough I found myself knee deep in trauma theory to unpack the workshop on "Land, Trauma, and the Bible." I had to stand up, with confidence, and explain the structural impact of trauma, colonization, and the Psalms. Thank you, Holy Spirit.

After a few weeks of feeling like I was in the final spin cycle of a washing machine, I got on my mat for one of my favorite classes of the week and found myself finally releasing this rajas energy.

After we were done with the twisting and ringing out that comes with revolved side angle, I found myself almost collapsing on my mat. Releasing. Thoughts came to a standstill.  Tears started to fall down my cheeks. I wanted to be in child's pose the rest of class-that's one pose I go to when I want to touch the place inside of me where I feel safe.

Eventually I was in corpse pose, dying to my old self and rising to my new. More tears came as my body released the spinning motion of change.

I was able to change the configuration of the rajas element inside of me. I found rest and ease. New beginnings. And gratitude for the power of my body to re-shape its interior self.

Want to ring it out and try revolved side angle?