What Happened When I Held Hands With Death

I held hands with death today. The grip suprisingly strong around my hands which were closing so gently around skin, paper thin and velvet soft. In the yoga sutras, Pantanjali tells us that the one suffering no human can escape is a fear of death, or a clinging to life. This hand to hold, clinging to life, I felt that desire in waves not only from a wizened hand – but shuttering throughout my whole body. Tears sprout and I cannot be sure if they are for the fear of death in a loved one, or my own fear of death that lives within me. The hand holds mine and I feel a soft caress, in the repose, I know we connect.

United in this moment, there is love, anguish, and a sharp flash of ego, which haunts the end of a life. Not the ego of the dying, but the ego of the left behind. Ego telling us to hold tight, complete that bucket list, time is short. That’s not it either. There is a space to live between clinging to life and letting it go. The saying is, “You only live once,” but that’s not true.wpid-instaquote-20-03-2015-23-16-45.png

You only die once. We receive life every day we open our eyes and in that moment, opportunity to fully awaken presents itself.

In yoga there is the practice of dying called Savasana. At the end of every class, we allow death for our hurt, our pain, our suffering, and then we reawaken into our potential and possibility. B.K.S. Iyengar says:

Savasana is about shedding. We have many skins, sheaths, thoughts, prejudices, preconceptions, ideas, memories, and future plans. Savasana sheds all of this….threads of tension…like Gulliver imprisoned by the threads of the Lilliputians…to cut tension is to cut the threads that bind us…to find out who we are not.”

Savasana can be scary in this way too. No one is clear on what happens when you cut all that binds you from the material, physcial world. There is a thread of tension that will always linger, tying the soul to the body here on the earth. Since no one can know what happens after death – there is fear in the letting go, slipping into the void. Many master teachers will agree that the practicing of many little deaths, many letting go’s, prepares for the ultimate letting go, the body death.

I find Paramahansa Yogananda’s quotes on death to be helpful in times of death awarenss, I espeically feel drawn to this one on this day:

Natural death—that is, in old age, or whenever the soul is ready to change its mortal form—is just like the falling of ripe fruit from the tree, of its own accord, without the resistance that green fruit exhibits when being pulled down by a storm or other great force.

Final Rest and Relaxation, Practice for Death, Art by Felipe Ikehara

We can use the little deaths of savasana to allow us to release the ties that bind us, then tensions of living, so that we can float through our life aware of the experience, never missing a heartbeat. In that, Savasana is the most important and the most difficult asana in our practice.

I give thanks and honor to the many teachers in my life. Without the shared practice, the shared wisdom, and all the shared love – I cannot hope to progress in yoga or in my life. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. May the peace of the practice shine through my teachers, through me, and into you dear reader. This one light may and must shine in all of us – Namaste.

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The Dark Night of the Soul and Your Yoga Practice

**Please Note** This post contains a swear word.  If this would offend you, please don’t read further.

There comes a point in your yoga practice when you have to stare at yourself and you might not like it.  This is a dark little secret in yoga that some don’t care to discuss, with all the love and light and joy memes.  Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras does it say that all of your life will be blissfully happy – that’s something the marketing gurus selling you a yoga butt invented.

It is OK if you feel rotten, depressed, angry, bored, indifferent, or some sense of negativity in your yoga at times.  Read that again – IT IS OK to be upset.  Yoga opens up things within us and what needs to be taught is that it is NORMAL to not be cloying sweet and happy all your yoga life – you have to process the negative to become more positive.

You have to get deep in that muck and then like the lotus, you will emerge happier, healthier, and open to life – but first comes the mud and sometimes it smells rotten.  No Mud No Lotus

 

This point in your life practice is lovingly referred to as, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”  Basically, you have to get real about your problems.  You have to face the reality of all the actions you’ve taken up to this point of practice, you get to take a very real look at your Karma and sometimes that is ugly, especially if you are a human that has made mistakes (all of us!).

 

You may go through a depression or an increase in anxiety – don’t worry about it (haha and roll eyes).  This is actually a sign that you are clearing up.  You can’t clean what you can’t see.  Yoga shines the light in our darkest places; that can be very uncomfortable.  Those memories you worked so hard to suppress, they bubble right up to the surface and you have to deal with that shit.  And that’s why people sometimes quit on their yoga.  This part can be more painful than falling on your head in crow pose.

In the Dark Night of the Sould, Brightly Flows the River of God

It is at this point in your practice when you need to find yourself a highly experienced yoga teacher that is living this path, that has pushed past this very issue in their own psyche and body. This is not the time to focus on a yoga butt, but the time to enter into the deeper practices of Sense-Withdrawl (Pratyahara), One-pointed focus (Dharana), and Meditation (Dhyana). 

A good teacher can lead you through this valley of dark and shadows in a safe way and illuminate the more important teachings of yoga for you.  Seek out a teacher with years of experience and who still has a teacher of their own.  Be picky, don’t get distracted by shiny pants and tiny tops with great abs – remember that The Buddha had a belly and was never depicted with his foot behind his head – but rather in meditation and mudra.  Sometimes your best teacher may not be a yoga-lebrity, especially when you enter the dark stages of your practice.  10843791_345959338923369_1679910113_n

When people complain that they aren’t flexible enough or strong enough for yoga asana, consider that this is just a mental blockage – you do the asana to build the body strength and flexibility so that the mind becomes more pliable as well. Once you clear up the self-judgement, you start becoming a more compassionate, less judgemental person – that’s how you share your practice to make the world better.

It is true that the world has dark places – you cannot ignore the reality of death and destruction that permeate our planet, nor should you.  But you can remember that out of darkness comes the light and they both exist together.  G.O.D. – Generator, Organizer, Destroyer – rinse and repeat. 

Ask yourself:

Have you been the person that says, “I can’t meditate, I can’t be still, I can’t get quiet.” – yeah, me too.  That shit is hard.  You have to literally stare yourself in the soul and get open to what comes up.  But stay a while longer, Practice and All Is Coming.

The Dark Night of The Soul by St. John of the Cross

Upon a darkened night
The flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
And by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
While all within lay quiet as the dead.

(Chorus)

O, night thou was my guide!
O, night more loving than the rising sun!
O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one!
Transforming each of them into the other.

Upon that misty night
In secrecy beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
Than that which burned as deeply in my heart.

That fire ’twas led me on
And shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where He waited still
It was a place where no one else could come.

(Chorus)

Within my pounding heart
Which kept itself entirely for Him
He fell into His sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave.

From o’er the fortress walls
The wind would brush His hair against His brow
And with its smoother hand
caressed my every sense it would allow.

(Chorus)

I lost my self to Him
And laid my face upon my Lover’s breast
And care and grief grew dim
As in the morning’s mist became the light.
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair.

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Alignment Authenticity Anatomy Junkie Spiritual Flow Mantras Mudras Continuous Education Practice What You Teach Progress Not Perfection Guiding Teachers: BKS Iyengar Pattabi Jois Shiva Rea Daren Friesen (Moksha Chicago) Marinda Stopforth (Prairie Yoga - Lisle, IL)

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