STEPPING UP TO YOGA
by Jana Daisy
I find myself travelling a lot these days for work, becoming increasingly well versed in the safety features of standard aircrafts. Like many good things in life, it is both exhilarating and exhausting. The opportunity to visit new places, encounter new people and situations is a genuine gift, as it forever forces me to actually live the yogi mantra of be here now. Home routines can become habitual and at times mundane but when travelling the dishes left undone in the kitchen sink at home are a world away and we can only be present with what is before, us right here, right now.
When new environments are challenging and timing is tight I pull from my pranayama practice, drawing in deep belly breaths. I soften the space between my eyebrows and consciously unclench my jaw and toes. Noticing the minds grip on the body is often the first step to releasing tension. On more than one occasion, I have led myself through a series of breathing practices while rushing to the airport, hustling to an important meeting or juggling many tasks simultaneously. Lifting off the back foot to find yourself balancing, hovering, flying ‘super hero-style’ in virabhadrasana III, hips squared over the mat, tiny micro movements in the standing leg we are embracing ourselves fully—perhaps feeling triumphant and fearless, perhaps feeling terrified and trying it anyway. Yoga turns out to be the perfect training ground for this nuanced, high performance modern life. Setting a sounded ‘om’ aloft in my car while driving through gridlock traffic changes the expression on my face and the vibration in my body. I draw out this sound to calm my own mind/body and to connect with the hum of the universe. It feels like recalibrating an instrument with a universal tuning fork.
Being away from home is a mixed blessing. It is easy to feel isolated, alone and estranged even in friendly environments. It is glorious to seep in the shared sense of humanity and gain worldly perspective. We are all seeking happiness. On the road alone, I find myself quietly drinking in a sense of shared commonality, smiling often at strangers and gravitating to join yoga classes in new places whenever I can. Greeting myself palms spread wide on the earth, feet planted hips distance apart, tailbone soaring skyward, heart open in any city, any state I can at once, for a moment feel at home. One of the many beautiful gifts of routine yoga practice is the ability to meet ourselves over and over with humility and travel inward on the mat. Here we can leave behind the activities that came before, the responsibilities that will follow and open to explore both what we can offer and what we are in need of.
On the last flight home, at the end of a long journey, the stewardess advises that in the case of emergency we should secure our own oxygen mask first before helping others. As a mother of young children this always struck me as a counter intuitive message, how could I put my needs before those of my children? Surely securing their breathing first should be priority. As the years have passed and my practice (and hopefully wisdom) has deepened the logic of this instruction has become increasingly clear. If I become unconscious while attempting to secure the oxygen masks of those around me, how can this be helpful? In other words, how can I support others if I am not helping myself? How can we give the best of ourselves to those we love and the work that we do if we are not cultivating self-love and caring for ourselves? I remind myself of this often, as yoga has become my metaphoric oxygen mask, the deep breath that keeps me grounded and moving with grace and kindness through the world. I strive to bring this intention to my daily life and into the yoga classes I teach, working to inspire a sense of self love in students that can help us to greet whatever life brings.