Every Monday evening, I do yoga for 90 minutes with my yogi, Lark Paulson, and two other beautiful yoginis in the intimacy and privacy of Lark’s home. I’ve been practicing yoga with these women for nearly a year, and I cannot imagine my life without it or them. Here’s what I love about my yoga practice:
-it gives me a chance to reconnect with the wisdom of my body
-it reminds me to be deeply compassionate toward myself and others
-it allows me the chance to remember the importance of full acceptance in my life.
Yoga strengthens my body, it nourishes my spirit, and it humbles my soul. YOGA IS POWERFUL…and I was especially reminded of this as I was practicing my downward dog pose last week.
Near the beginning of each yoga session, after a bit of a warm up, Lark reminds us to allow an intention to arise for our practice that day. An intention is simply an inner statement of purpose or focus for one’s practice on that particular day. I typically do not go into a session with any sort of pre-meditated ideas about my intentions and, instead, allow one to arise (i.e., I go with the first thing that pops into my head). This past Monday, the intention that arose for me was this:
I want to focus my practice today on letting go of my ego.
My ego causes so many problems for me. When I engage my ego, the results are never good. Ego trips me up. It knocks me off focus. It artificially inflates me. It pulls me away from my true essence and inner self. It invites and allows feelings of guilt, anxiety, and fear. My ego causes me and those around me NOTHING but pain. So, on this day in yoga, I intended to “let go” of ego. Ha! If only it was that easy. Ego has a stronger hold than I thought. Here’s what happened.
Picture it: it’s a late afternoon in early July. The temperature in Lark’s home is about 80 degrees, and the humidity is high. We have a fan going, which keeps it comfortable in her flat, but I cannot disregard the beads of sweat rolling down my arms as I flatten back into my first downward dog pose of the day. I’ve laid a hand towel on the floor at the top of my mat to catch the sweat as it drips off my wrists. My palms are moist. I gently hoist up into downward dog and then do my mental checklist to make sure I’m doing the pose “right:”
Wrist creases parallel with the mat. Check.
Hips and sitz bones back and upward. Check.
Head down, neck relaxed. Check.
Elbows soft, no hyperextension. Check.
Hands and feet in position to flow through to Plank and Cobra poses. Check.
Eyes closed, relaxing into the pose. Check.
And then, without warning, provocation, or invitation my hands sweep forward out from underneath me, off the mat, and onto the hardwood floor, as if propelled by a motor. I feel my wrists and lower arms hit the floor, followed closely by my chest and then chin. BA-BANG! I am DOWN, DOWN, DOWN! Flat as a pancake on the floor. Gives a whole new meaning to the pose “downward dog” for me. Within a split second, I recognized that I was not hurt, and my instant response was laughter. Knowing there was not much else I could do, I simply surrendered to the moment, laid my arms and legs out flat on the floor, and I belly laughed. I stayed that way for a good ten seconds. Then, I looked up, saw Lark’s gorgeously warming smile and heard her chuckle as she said “are you okay?” amidst giggles from the yoginis on either side of me. I picked myself up, dried my hands on the towel, and I resumed the pose.
So what’s the lesson here?
Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, writes:
“To become free of the ego is not really a big job but a very small one. All you need to do is be aware of your thoughts and emotions – as they happen. This is not really a ‘doing’ but an alert ‘seeing’. In that sense, it is true that there is nothing you can do to become free of the ego. When that shift happens, which is the shift from thinking to awareness, an intelligence far greater than the ego’s cleverness begins to operate in your life.”
Perhaps, in falling down in downward dog, I was being reminded to stay PRESENT, to experience my thoughts and emotions as they are happening and not worry so much about getting ready for upcoming postures or how “well” I’m doing the current one. Perhaps I was being reminded that it’s important to simply be AWARE of yourself in the moment, to take in what is RIGHT THERE in front of you and celebrate the power of being in the NOW. Perhaps I was being reminded that when we really do attempt to free ourselves from ego, a shift in fact DOES happen—literally! Whatever the lesson at hand, I know one thing for certain: I left Lark’s yoga session that day feeling emotionally and spiritually changed. If nothing else, I learned that there are forces at work greater than myself, the “I,” my ego, and the sooner I really assimilate that information, the freer I will be.