The World Turned Upside Down

Last week I had walked into a Big Lots for the first time in a long time. I was in need of some paper plates and dog poop bags. As soon as I entered the store, Christmas smacked me in my whole face. It was everywhere, from candy to decorations, to Christmas kitchen items to dog costumes. I immediately felt bad for Thanksgiving. It just gets the shaft, rushed over and forgotten.Agreed that Thanksgiving has transformed into a holiday that is buried in commercialism; stores don’t even close anymore, forcing  employees to miss the entire weekend with their families not just a Friday. And yes, Thanksgiving is a holiday with somewhat of a contentious history, but then again, what part of the United States history isn’t contentious. But I still felt bad, Thanksgiving had been reduced to a distant clearance corner inside Big Lots and it hadn’t even happened yet. With everything that has happened already this November, I can’t imagine rushing to the end of the year, freely falling into the unstable and unknown.

My fear of falling into the unknown followed me all the way to my yoga practice and has been taunting me for some time. In order to conquer this fear, I took the day off of work and participated in a yoga workshop given by a teacher that I take on a regular basis. During the opening sequences of our practice, the class focused on opening our chests and strengthening our spine; breathing intentions and focusing on our fears. The world is becoming unbalanced enough, my teacher had explained which is a vibe that has been a haunting theme in the everyday. He then mentioned the recent attention to this unbalance when the cast of Hamilton called out Vice-President Elect Mike Pence during a curtain call following a performance.It was the only political comment of the class, and it was taken with a passing laugh. In order to overcome that fear of being unbalanced, we had to adjust our “sunskaras” which is a sanskrit word for mental impression or habit, the order in which  you automatically cross your arms for example.In order to do that, we had to become aware of when our fear took over and adjust our reaction to that fear. Physically, this meant that as soon as we felt we were pass center we should bend our knees and land on the balls of our feet essentially in a wheel position.

When we focused back on finding balance while upside down,he went on to tell us that our spine has to be strong enough to find this balance; but subtle enough to adjust to the shock of falling. Our spine is the center of everything that is happening while trying to achieve an inversion. We spent a better chunk of the class flipping upside down and trying to hold various inversions including headstand, handstand and forearm balance. The ultimate goal, my teacher explained, is to not be afraid of falling out of an inversion, but to get frustrated that you did so. The goal, is to stay upside down, balance and be strong, getting over the fear of falling is just the first step.

By the time the class got to savassana I was exhausted. My arms were sore, my quads were screaming and I could not wait to lay down. Our savassana was extra long since our class was both extra long and hard on the nervous system. Once I had opened my eyes after giving gratitude for being able to practice that day, I felt light but grounded. I felt open and ready to be strong and stable in an unstable world.

Finding Center and Building Strength

Four years ago I was working at a restaurant at the Santa Monica Pier when a guest had left his book at the table. We kept the book behind the bar for at least a week and no one had claimed it.My fellow co workers (knowing me all to well, like a person addicted to rescuing animals, I was addicted to rescuing books). When I came in for my shift the following week, I could only think about the lost book sitting behind the bar waiting for a home. That is a serious statement, I had a dream about that book before I went into work the next day, I take it as an indisputable sign from that dream on. So, I snuck behind the bar and snatched the book from one of the bartender’s buckets.

“I knew you were gunna come in and snatch that book!”

Whatever now the book is mine.

The book, if I haven’t mentioned the title was The Bhagavad-Gita. And I’m not going to lie that book made a home for itself on my every protruding bookshelf for a solid year before I picked it up, but then I did.

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, I read some sections at a time; so I can really think about what the text is saying. I’m must disclose that I am not a religious person at all much to the dismay of my Italian mother & grandmother. And I don’t take the Gita as religious text. I let my eyes take the words in and my brain interpret the meanings as it pleases.

But what I did discover was the practice of Yoga.

And yes, many people start yoga for many different reasons.

But maybe I needed a push; maybe I needed a sign to tell me it’s time to start. Maybe I have a flair for the dramatic.

I started going once a week to get my body better, and to get myself out of the house. Until I found myself in Anthony Benenati’s Hath 1 Yoga class, and then I never wanted to leave.

After practicing yoga for a solid month I noticed the benefits my practice was having on my body. My arms jiggled less, my thighs were always firm and my stomach…well it was getting there. And after a month I pretty much stopped worrying the classic newbie worries one has when they start something new. ‘Am I breathing right? Does the teacher think I suck? My boobs are sweating. How do people sit here for 15 minutes and have a clear mind? I hope I don’t fart. I have to get milk later.’

But I was waiting to feel something, something that connected me to “my practice”. An enlightened moment when I could say, “OMG I am a true YOGI!”

But that doesn’t happen, that’s not realistic. Yoga’s whole philosophy is to take it slow, use props, build your way to a pose from the Earth up.  And I found the belief in my practice that way. When I started yoga not only was my body weak, but so was my spirit, and gradually from the ground up I learned how to build strength.

I have now been practicing yoga for a a few years and I continue to find solace in the hard wooden floor, brick walls and humming ceiling fans.