My yoga training couldn't have come at a more perfect place in my life- a place where I finally had time to reflect on myself, my relationships with others, and improve my patience and presence. It has been the first summer where I haven't had to think about AP assignments due at the high school next year or focus on golf so I could make the team in the fall. All those pressures I felt compelled to do for the "college Gods" are now finished.
And so I'm practicing something we learned in our yoga training. I might have explained this in my last post, but I'll do a refresher anyways. Pantanjali was a very old, ancient sage a few thousand years ago who created Ashtanga Yoga. In Sanskrit, Ashtanga means 8-limbed and it is a path one follows in their life, not necessarily in order, to find ultimate fulfillment. Now before I move forward, don't get this confused with Ashtanga VINYASA yoga-- this is merely a type of yoga that Pattabhi Jois created in the early 20th century just like Bikram or Iyengar or Forrest yoga types. Pantanjali's eight-fold path includes 4 tenets that focus on the physical plane first (and yes, an established yoga practice is one of them= asanas in sanskrit), and the last four that focus on the spiritual or inner essence since the physical being has been conquered.
The second limb of Ashtanga Yoga is called the Niyamas. There are 5 and they each focus on refining the self. The last Niyama is Ishvara Pranidhana, which means surrender to self and ultimately God. Now when we say God here, the meaning can take many manifestations-- it can mean life force, the Universe, the Oversoul (from Transcendentalism), any greater force that we feel operates through life and flows like a current through all beings.
I still have a long way to go, but I am really trying to practice self-surrender or surrender to God. Much of my life is driven by my ego-- I want to have control of events, outcomes, my thoughts, etc. But as I've been practicing yoga more, I realize that this just sets us up for disappointment, frustration, and impatience. So I've been trying to follow this yoga sutra that relates to the last niyama: "Through wholehearted dedication, we become intoxicated with the Divine. Sutra 11.45".
For me that dedication meant I wasn't going to leave my practice, even when I travelled. So against the utterances of my family I packed my yoga mat (it's 1/16th of an inch and perfect for travel because it folds up and fits right into a suitcase-- mine is from Jade Yoga if you are looking for one). I practiced at a studio in NYC with my father and then when my family was sleeping I took a cab by myself to a studio in London called Fierce Grace. They have a Bikram style class except with a combination of asanas from many different styles of yoga. I enjoyed the change from Bikram and the heat, of course :). Then when we traveled further to Italy I didn't have the opportunity to take a yoga class in Italian, but I did practice outside on the balcony or in the room when I could. It kept me refreshed and free of pain, especially after all the walking we've been doing. And it kept me present and calm.
Today I am in Greece and I decided to practice yoga outside. I am in a small village known for its dry heat and endless sun. I started my practice during nap time when there's a blanket of silence over the town. About 30 minutes into my practice some thunder started and its rumbling got darker and deeper as I continued. I was debating whether or not to continue or just go inside and skip savasana, but the words of my teachers kept ringing in my ears that the whole purpose of our asana practice is to get to savasana, the final resting pose. Many teachers repeat the cheesy quote that it is "the most difficult asana in the practice", but there actually is a lot of truth to that statement. Many people think shavasana is a time to let the mind wander to their agenda for the day, but it is a place of surrender. A place of surrender to the practice that we just committed, and a place to feel the sensations of our body from top to bottom.
As soon as I took shavasana the rain started pouring all around me. It was such a symbolic experience-- rain is purifying and cleansing. It was like some of my past was being washed away by my current presence in the moment. It was so wondrous to me that the rain waited until I got to shavasana to start pouring and that the rain even happened at all in a place where I haven't seen rain ever in the last ten years here. And the stranger thing is that I didn't even get wet because the exact place where I placed my mat on the balcony was somehow blockaded from the raindrops either because of the angle or the wind or some superior force unbeknownst to me.
As I exited shavasana I noticed the water everywhere else around the balcony except on my body. And so I felt that I should write a post about it. A post about the power of surrender to God and not our thoughts. I took the shavasana, pushed myself through the desires to go inside and experienced a surreal end to my practice. Sometimes, especially in yoga, we have these certain desires that come up and out as we start to open up different energy centers in our bodies. Backbends are a place where a lot of people have an emotional release. But if we push through that tension, not pain, but tension and just breath, breath, breath, we can feel a great relaxation as we wash away some bad energy (karma) and realize that we don't always have to follow our minds. We can just listen to our breath, engage in simplicity, and let the universe take care of the rest.