I have known for decades that the word “yoga,” loosely translated, means “union.”
But I have to say it didn’t really sunk in until just recently.
Perhaps this is because I was winning spelling bees when I was in elementary school. In my world, learning new words and memorizing their definitions is just what I do.
But taking that newly-learned word and its definition one essential step further into personal meaning and application – well, either I slept through that lesson in school or the topic never came up.
Either way, it has been somewhat of a revelation of late to realize I haven’t really grasped that something is getting unified when I practice yoga, let alone what that something might be or why it matters so much.
Luckily, I have found the best yoga mentor, teacher, guide, inspiration, on the planet to help me sort all this out – my YouTube teacher Adriene Mischler. She has truly revolutionized not just how I understand the purpose and benefit of yoga practice – as in the poses she performs with such effortless fluidity each morning while I take tumble after tumble down onto my (now sensibly double-padded) yoga mat.
What I find so interesting is that Adriene doesn’t even really focus on the poses, actually. This in spite of the fact that her instructions on how to do them and her suggestions for small adjustments to improve are so intuitive I think she may be secretly staring at me through my little laptop webcam.
But otherwise, she mostly focuses on the breath. She constantly reminds us to marry the movement with the breath, to inhale and exhale in specific ways at precise moments to support ourselves through each posture.
I will be honest. With some (all) of the postures, I need all the support I can get.
And yet even though taking regular deep, focused, precise breaths in and out offers me extra support both on and off my yoga mat, instead I often discover I am holding my breath!
For example, I hold my breath when a pose gets difficult. I hold my breath when life gets difficult. I hold my breath when my mind gets distracted and wanders off to think by itself while my poor beleaguered body is trying yet again to master a yoga pose or clean the bath tub or tie my shoelaces.
In other words, I am definitely not unified.
I try to muscle my way through pain, grief, challenge, even opportunity. I look back over my life and my work to date and see so much muscling. I see myself doing things the hard way again and again, which I suppose is better than not doing them at all, but certainly still leaves much to be desired.
So these days, and especially in the aftermath of being diagnosed with thyroid disease a year ago last November, every morning like clockwork I make it a point to open up YouTube and find Adriene and do another yoga session so I can remember to breathe, to marry my movement with my breath, to try again to unify me with me.
I recently completed Adriene’s new series “Dedicate,” a 30-day journey which includes a daily email. One day, the email included this gem of a poem, which I find myself returning to again and again to ponder its instructions.
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.
…Clearing, by Martha Postlewaite
The idea of not having to “try” or to “do” my life, but to clear space and wait and to have that trust I will recognize what is meant for me when it shows up in that space….oh the relief. I can’t even express it in words.
But in order to recognize my song – my life – I need all of me, all my physical strength, all my mental acuity, all my emotional sensitivity, all the hope in my soul.
I need union.
Union of movement with breath.
Union of body and mind.
Union of heart and spirit.
Union of me with me.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever found yourself holding your breath or trying to muscle your way through a difficult challenge – even when it was one you wanted and welcomed into your life? Have you been able to shift so you can remember to breathe, to be kind to yourself, to move in supportive, unified ways as a whole being through the challenge into the opportunity it is offering? I’d love to hear what works for you!