Sitting in the Fire

Sitting in sukhasana, it’s easy to maintain a steady, rhythmic ujjaii breath. If it’s a good day, thoughts melt away in those first few moments of the practice, and you pour your awareness into your breath, into the present moment. It feels good. You are winning at yoga.

Later, in your fourth arm balance of the class, it’s harder; you can lose that focus, hold your breath, tighten up. Even after you release a challenging posture, the breath can be scattered, the thoughts might wander to what you’re going to do after class, or that thing someone said. It is part of our natural makeup to want to avoid difficult situations.

But yoga teaches us to learn to sit in the difficulty, the fire, the tapas, and receive its teachings, because we seldom are transformed by things that are easy. Taking this lesson off the mat can be so hard, but is so important.

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When I was young, I met the eyes of everyone I passed on the street, and smiled at everyone. Over time, I became fearful and stopped engaging those around me. I judged people as worthy or unworthy of my attention. I’ve been trying to let go of these judgments and  sit with that fear, live my yoga off the mat a little more. I can’t say that any sweeping revelations have come, yet, but I can say that it feels good to be recognizing the essential goodness of everyone and everything again. Can I meet the eyes of the elderly woman and the homeless man with equal ease and comfort? No. But perhaps they both have lessons for me, and pushing through the fear might bring me closer to them.

I’m currently doing a teacher training that focuses a lot on the core, cultivation of which is a natural way to engage with that discipline, that fire. We’re constructing the poses from deep inside the body and it’s making me aware that there is so much opportunity still to build strength. I thought my practice was pretty strong until I started thinking about it in this new way and now I’m finding myself shaky and tired.

And that’s just it. In the shakiness, the exhaustion, the fear, lies the pathway to our truth. If we shy away from it, we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to learn. Sitting in those places of discomfort gives us a chance to dismantle barriers and become stronger and wiser.

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