Friday, March 31, 2017

Rise












Come with me. Leave yesterday behind and take a giant step outside your mind.” ~ Take a Giant Step, The Monkees

It’s been a long day.

I arrive home from work and grab a quick bite and am about to go upstairs to my room in order to change into my yoga clothes for my evening practice.

But to leave the kitchen and get to the steps, I have to pass the most comfortable chair in the house. It’s big and soft and green, and it fits me perfectly. I often sit with my feet propped up on its matching hassock, or, more often, I sit sideways with my shoulders propped up on one side and my legs hanging over the other.

Needless to say, I don’t quite make it to the steps. I sit down in the chair instead and cover myself with a quilt, thinking I still have a few minutes to watch a little television.

I get good ideas when I sit in this chair, and, immediately, one comes to mind. I think what a good idea it would be to whip up some mashed potatoes! This dish has been my vice since I was a little girl, and, for all the healthy eating I do, I always keep a stash of instant mash in my cupboard. 

I return to the kitchen and pour some flakes into a bowl and then stir in some hot water, butter, salt and pepper and zap it all in the microwave. And then I carry it back to the green chair, where I settle back under the quilt and flip through some channels.

It’s going to be hard to leave for practice. With each bite, I think of all the reasons why I should stay home tonight. The practice is far. It’s dark and I’m tired. Besides, I don’t want to get back in the car.

But I have to admit that I’ve gone through all this before, and from past experience I know that staying home will feel good for about an hour, by which time I’ll be rested and wishing I’d made it to practice. In fact, by the time I’d be wishing that, I could already be at the studio and on my mat.

And so I rise from the chair, climb the steps, change my clothes and leave the house. The drive is never as bad as I think it will be. I turn on my music and talk on the phone, and, before I know it, I’m parked and at the studio.  

The instructor calls us to the tops of our mats for the start of the practice. Here we always start with some Sun A’s and then with some Sun B’s. It’s a gentle beginning that slowly builds heat, and I’m always glad for it, especially on nights like these, when it’s taken all I’ve got to get here.

Still tired, I pull myself through the Sun A’s, moving into a Low Plank, or Chaturanga, and then pulling myself through to an Upward Facing Dog and then pushing myself back to a Downward Facing Dog. And then I hold for five breaths. The music fills the room, and I do this again and again, until the flow gets easier, and my day falls away.

And then it’s on to the Sun B’s, where I take my first step forward into Warrior One.

“Rise with grace!” the instructor says.

I rise from my Downward Dog, stepping my right foot through my hands and lifting my torso up and pressing my palms overhead. And then I hold here for a few breaths before lowering back down and moving through another vinyasa.

I do this again and again, too, until we’re at the end of our Sun B’s, and that’s when it suddenly hits me that every step we take is a chance to rise with grace. All it takes is just one step forward, and that’s something we do all the time in yoga. In fact, that’s what keeps me coming back, because it takes faith to rise with grace, and that’s a practice in itself. 

I’ve come to believe that there is something Divine in any kind of forward motion. For me, every step forward leaves a footprint of faith, and this is especially true of those I take when I’m not sure where I’m headed but choose to step forward, anyway. 

And even the small ones count. These steps don’t always have to be big ones into Warrior One. Getting up from the green chair counts. So does practicing on too many mashed potatoes. Anything counts as long as I’m taking the next step, which for me can sometimes be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep or having something nourishing to eat.

At one point, the next step for me was practicing with an instructor who was a young man of very deep faith. He taught power yoga in the heat, and his faith was so much a part of him that his instruction would take us to church. We’d flow through our Sun A’s and then into our Sun B’s, where we’d take our first steps forward into Warrior One. I’d rise from my Downward Dog and step my right foot through my hands, lifting my torso up and pressing my palms overhead.

Religiously moving us through the flows without even a mention of religion, this instructor instilled in us the value of faith and even told us his secret to rising with grace.

“Every day I wake up and put my feet over the edge of the bed,” he said. “And then I put all ten toes down on the floor.”

I’m a pretty visual person, and his words painted an immediate picture in my head. I could actually see his feet touching down on the ground in a conscious effort to step forward into his day. And this hopeful image has stayed with me, and I’ve actually conjured it at times when I’ve found myself headed toward destinations unknown. 

I had no idea where I was headed when I first signed up for yoga. Back then, it had been a long time since I had signed up for anything, and my faith had long since faltered. But I had decided it was time to exercise and get fit.

As soon as I started practicing, something hooked me. And so I kept coming back, because I wanted more of whatever that was. At the time, I didn’t know that I was practicing my faith and learning how to rise with grace. All I knew was that practicing made me feel as if I were on my way somewhere, and it got me out of my green chair.

And now several years later I’m still at it. And just the other day I was on my mat at the same place where I had signed up for that first class. Earlier that morning, in a déjà vu of sorts, I found myself cozy in the green chair with a cup of coffee, contemplating whether or not to practice. 

With each sip, I thought of all the reasons why I should stay home. It was early. I was tired. I could practice later. But having gone through this sort of thing before, I knew that soon I’d be rested and missing practice, and so I rose from the chair, climbed the steps, changed my clothes and left the house.

This studio is close by and in minutes I’m there. I roll out my mat and faithfully walk from its front to its back. And then I pace up and down a bit like that, because what’s a few more footprints of faith on my mat? And then the instructor walks in and turns on the music and calls us to attention. 

Here we don’t always start with the Sun A’s and Sun B’s, but ultimately we always step forward into Warrior One. I rise from my Downward Dog and step my right foot through my hands, lifting my torso up and pressing my palms overhead. We do this now and again and move in a flow that only the instructor knows, and by the end I’ve taken lots of steps with all my ten toes. 

And after, when we lie back to rest, the instructor has a little something to say about all of our steps. He says that when we step forward, we don’t always know what we’ll get, and that sometimes we’ll get what we don’t expect.

“We come to yoga because of something we want,” he says, “but the practice gives us what we need.”

I guess that means I’ve needed some faith. And maybe it’s working, because when I get up, I rise with grace.

Anne is the author of Unfold Your Mat, Unfold Yourself and is published on Huffington Post and Elephant Journal. Connect with Anne on her blog, Facebook.and Twitter.

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