Embraced By Joy And Bliss
In the yoga room, I’m part of an ongoing play and privilege. The yogis practicing next to me appear almost fierce, almost divine. I see my classmates fired by heat and cultural restlessness willingly move into the challenge. At the same time, they are soothed by the wisdom of an ancient culture become flesh. I say “inhale,” and watch them root down and arch up into asana. I hear them breathe out, folding into a shape that welcomes the push and pull of opposites.
At our best, we are present to discern the moment as the equal but opposite forces of hatha push us into starting anew, challenging us to synthesize contrasts. Quickly, I glance around the room and see the imprint of global and spiritual energy. These yogis are part of my new congregation.
I want to be with those who are led by faith and breath, seeking a pose as if they were nimble dancers, humble warriors, or stony, worn sphinxes. I want to be with those who ask of joy and bliss: why not us?
This new congregation of yogis is not like the old congregations I use to inhabit. I was surrounded by souls too timid to ask for ecstasy, as if joy were bad. Those congregations were made up of private coroners, hungry priests, and rigid elders forming a delegation of the disapproving; stubborn penitents who refused to tell me something good. In these new communities, they tell me something good. When I hear, “listen to your breath,” I am refreshed by goodness.
The new community is not stuck in repentance for what was, but boldly asking for joy and bliss. Joy and bliss answer all of us with the time-worn law of humanity; you will find joy to the degree with which your hearts open to one deep breath and one true move; you will find bliss when you let gratitude light your journey’s path.
I’m a Midwest son of snow and cold. I wonder how I ended up here – in an Arizona hot yoga room – lying on my stomach as my spine arches up in the discipline of ancient Indian mind/spirit/science. I reach, lift, and ease into directions given by my guru – the dispeller of darkness – for 60 rich minutes.
I see others stretch into camel or cobra even though our culture is disconnected from the lived experience with cobra and camel. In yoga, below the surface, we are cobra and camel. Within each pose is a beautiful story of organic movement; it starts with the heart, the sacred center of every offering and gratitude, the locus for every decision.
In yoga, we listen when the dispeller addresses us in power whispers, giving directions that are clear and precise. “Breathe and lift, palms flat, elbows hugging your side, forearms on the mat and forward, fingers wide, stretched to the mirror.” I follow a multi-shaded curriculum whose objectives are unique and universal; its perspectives are marked by internal integrity and external consistency.
Ushered into the mystery of a pose, each of us gaze into our image in a mirror. I imagine never moving, as if I were turned to immobile stone. I follow the illusion for one near-transcendent moment, and briefly the mirror shows that I am stone.
I rise into sphinx pose and remember the Great Egyptian Sphinx displaying Pharaoh’s head and lion’s body, or the Greek sphinx, which adds eagle wings and a woman’s head to the lion’s body. These sculptures provoke curiosity, and I’m aware of the irony in being led to greater flexibility by the image of a massive, unmovable stone figure.
I arrive back to the beginning when I hear, “Where is your breath?” I tune into my breathing with more awareness; I turn attention to my gaze and listen to my spine. I hold and then release the tension when she says, “Let it go. It’s in the past.” My breath accompanies relief and I am the thirsty man who’s been given water.
I’ve been taught to lift and hold and I become still. I’ve been taught to rise up, and I become the cobra defying gravity and matter. In firmness and ease I practice, teach, and open my heart. This transformational curriculum deserves both command and care. I pray to bring it as a teacher and yearn to live it as a student.
The studio I attend and teach is a great melting pot of diversity and energy. The objectives are unique and universal because they are defined by an internal integrity and an external consistency. Around me, I hear others ask for joy and bliss. They don’t use these words, but in the pure sound of breath – as the soul’s motto – their fevered desire is clear.
Yoga brings me to discernment in the moment and when hatha, equal but opposite yoga force, pushes me to a fresh synthesis my story begins with rich possibility. One writer noted that an ancient text spoke of 840,000 asanas. That’s impossible, but the idea of 840,000 asanas helps us imagine joy and bliss as two prominent shades in every pose.
I do yoga to feel good, and I do more yoga to feel better. It’s the best part of my day, and when yoga becomes me, I am embraced by shades of joy and bliss.
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