Everything is given. Nothing is promised.
A couple months ago, Yoga Teacher Judith Hanson Lasater said this during an interview with my friend Paula of Crazy Good Grief. At the time, I breezed by it as another great quote for the books. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to contemplate it further.
This week, however, is the week. The week for remembering that while the world is generous, there are no guarantees. And if we want to create the goodness we want to see in the world, we’d better get comfortable with that idea.
Like young, extremely healthy athletes dying of cardiac arrest. Like the ring on a finger and the hope of “til death do us part.” Like becoming a workaholic to get ahead in one’s career, then laid off.
Our yoga practice is so necessary and relevant to today’s troubles. It’s the solace in which you discover that everything is given. In the safe container of our mats or meditation cushions, away from the immediate danger of the world, we practice moving, breathing and thinking our way back to balance.
We find hope in the most unhopeful of situations. We understand that no matter what might be given to us, we are not victims of the world. We are players in it.
What will your life be like in six months? Five years? Who’s to say? Plans and expectations sometimes work out; sometimes, don’t. Yet, like a little kid who’s denied dessert, we petulantly expect to get exactly what we want, even if we don’t think we deserve it.
We forget that we’re co-creating our lives through our thoughts and actions. Most of us worry. Worry that we don’t get what we think we should be promised by being healthy, open-minded, warm-hearted human beings who strive not to harm others and play (for the most part) by the rules of society.
What’s ironic about worry is that you’re hoping to resist or avoid the object of your worry, but by the very act of worrying you’re subconsciously reinforcing the worry object. A much-frequented worry swirls around and around in a dark, indigo vortex until you lose your way out.
Nothing may be promised, but you can promise yourself one thing: When you practice yoga, you’ll regain control of your mind.
Send your worries packing
At all times, two physiological effects are present in our bodies: fight/flight or rest/digest. Yoga and meditation are balms for worry and anxiety, and when practiced with intention and depth they can bring our precious rest/digest system back online. It’s usually the system that doesn’t get enough attention every day, and maybe even not at all depending on the circumstances of your life.
But let’s not forget about the fight/flight system, because it’s not always a bad thing to want to flee just as it’s not always a good thing to rest. Practicing yoga asana and pranayama can stimulate both the active and passive aspects of our body. The idea is not to hinder either one, but to find the balance.
To awaken the courage to choose between them, rather than be ruled by them, is a daily practice.
Is it any wonder that so many love the Serenity Prayer?
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Change in the mind begins by recognizing real and imagined dangers and worries:
- Real danger: Driving on an icy freeway across town to teach a yoga class.
- Imagined danger: Dinosaurs ruling the world. Or, something realistic that’s taken to unrealistic proportions in your mind. (I’ll bet imagined dangers make up 90% of the worries in our minds.)
What if you took one of those imagined worries, right now, and sent it packing?
Some people reach this point when they’ve been pushed too far, had too many disappointments, or finally recognize the painful pattern that has been repeated in relationships or work environments. They do 180’s on their lives because their courage overwhelms their worry. What if you had the courage to change the things you can?
If you could live every day as the most courageous person you’ve ever been, it would mean:
- Total acceptance and readiness for the outcome of your action.
- Avoidance is no longer an option.
- The temporary discomfort, danger or pain is no match for your will.
This is the description of a person who stands peacefully in his or her power. Who moves with intention and purpose to secure a life that’s worth living and unencumbered by drama.
It’s a courageous act just to be alive and to choose joy every day. If you look around your social circles and society, this positivity may not be the norm. So rather than take a grin-and-bear-it, glass-half-empty view of the world, yoga helps us remember that this physical life and its struggles is not all there is.
Maybe nothing is promised. But when you promise to be courageous in the face of fear, you can give yourself everything.
Asana Practice: Handstand, Adho Mukha Vrksasana
Courage on the yoga mat means flipping yourself upside down. Taking the normal orientation of the world and seeing it from a new view. Not that the new view trumps the old, but simply because you have not considered this new view. You’re opening up to possibility, despite the fear of possibility, which is the essence of anxiety.
What view do you want? What needs to change, or transmute or transform? If you can’t think of where you’re going, but you do know you don’t want to stay where you’re at, start there. “I do not want this,” you might say.
A handstand is nothing more than a possibility. It is not a cure-all and it is not the pinnacle of your yoga practice. It’s an option and a challenge. Maybe, one that will someday become effortless.
- Come into Downward Facing Dog Pose with your palms about a foot from the wall. Steady your hands shoulder-width apart and spread the fingers, suction-cupping them into the mat. Rotate your triceps outward and firm your shoulder blades up toward your tailbone. Walk your feet in until your shoulders come nearly over your hips.
- Identify the leg you’ll be kicking up with first. Bend that leg’s knee and reach the other leg straight toward the ceiling, foot flexed. Set your gaze in between your palms. Exhale and hop off the ground, sweeping both legs up to launch hips above the shoulders. To practice and build strength toward handstand, stay here alternating legs, exhaling as you lift up and inhaling as you come down, getting used to the sensation.
- Once your heels reach the wall, draw your front ribs back into your torso and walk the heels slightly up the wall to lengthen your tailbone. Squeeze your legs together, reaching up through your heels. If comfortable, relax the head to gaze into the center of the room.
- Stay for one deep breath, or two, or eventually six or more. To come down, stay lifted through your shoulders as you gently drop one leg and then the other back to the mat. Drop your knees to the mat and rest in Child’s Pose.