August 5 will be three years since Chris Canevaro, BYSJ’s former Manager, had three surprising seizures which required three subsequent surgeries and various treatments for the next 22 months. Chris was in a fight for his life, dealing with Stage 4 Glioblastoma, an incurable terminal form of brain cancer. Chris lost that fight and passed away in June of 2015.  No doubt, it was a really tough time for everyone. He is sorely missed. But as I look back now, the sincerity at that time granted us new energy with a new management team, as well as new strategies to re-create BYSJ post-Chris. For me personally since August 2013, I’ve changed homes twice, broken off and made new relationships, opened up to new routines from how I eat to what I wear, and created a deeper relationship to God. I’m in shock as I sit here and write this. Who would have thought: all this change in three short years! Facebook reminded me of this with their “Memories” with photos from several years past. There was one photo from just four years ago that had me do a double-take. It wasn’t so much the people I was with in the photo, as it was the person I saw in me – honestly it felt as if I’ve come out from behind a curtain.

Bikram has this great quote, “If you don’t want to change your life, don’t start yoga.” It’s so true! It’s been 18 years of yoga for me, with most of those years doing it everyday. The regular and cumulative self-examination I do just in coming to my mat everyday is now a natural part of my surroundings in every class I take. A good friend of mine once told me, “Michele, you’ve been a fish in the water that can no longer see the water.” My fish tank is a hot room that enables me to breathe better and see myself more accurately. I’m so adapted to discomfort and self-inspection that I’m lost without my needed daily dose. If you have no idea what I mean here, don’t worry, and if you do, then you are a yoga junkie like me! The point however, IS significant – doing yoga equals self-inspection, and self-inspection brings adaptability.

Recently, a friend of mine started sharing with me all these great characteristics of a well-known athlete, Laird Hamilton. If you surf, you surely know him, and even if you don’t, you still may have heard of him. I hadn’t, but wanted to after hearing all these phenomenal and altruistic things this man has done and continues to do. I jumped on Google and found a super fantastic interview with Laird on “Inside Quest” with Tom Bilyeu. Laird is married to Gabrielle Reese, volleyball pro extraordinaire, and they have a gorgeous family of three kids. Laird, despite his striking good looks and infectious smile, had this humble presence. Tom, the interviewer, was in awe of Laird, and wanted to know right off the bat how Laird overcomes fear. After all, Laird surfs waves that are the size of small skyscrapers; the kind that you need to be towed out to surf, and crazy enough to do alone just because you want the experience and not because some award awaits you after having done it. Laird responded by saying that being scared and being in fear are two different things. He explained that at age 3 or 4 when he was in the water alone and lost, he was scared and in fear. Each wave was a new experience and many times, says Laird,“I was lost out there and lucky enough to be found.” But after you do that a few times, he continued, you aren’t scared to the point of “Oh my God, what am I going to do.” Instead, you feel fear but you say to yourself, “Alright I’ve been here before”, and that makes things feel familiar, and that familiarity enables you to tap into your intelligence and experience and thus take the next good, right step.  Laird continued by explaining that that’s how he’s grown to handle such big waves. Each one, each time, a little bigger and a little tougher than the last one, changing his interpretation to one of being scared to one of fear, but fear imbued with familiarity and control. Laird has adapted to the discomfort he might have felt and empowered himself to know himself better in these tight, tough situations, allowing him to be more coordinated, present, and able to enjoy the challenging experience.

Lately, in teaching class, I’ve noticed how many members seem to come out of Camel Pose almost as soon as we start the posture. I know each of us has our own story, our own reasons, but because it’s been happening with quite a lot of students, I’ve started to wonder why we can’t hold on just a little longer, trusting that it might ease up and NOT get worse. It takes me back to Laird and the difference between being scared and being in fear. What if Camel pose was much like Laird’s wave, and one by one each Camel pose became a more familiar wave with a comfort level growing in the midst of the fear that you felt? And each time the experience gets a little less scary, empowering you to become a little more accepting as you stay in the fear with control and presence? Over time, you would start to move in the posture with more coordination, riding right alongside the fear that’s still there but no longer paralyzing you. What if Camel started to become a stronger posture, enabling you to become more aware of what’s happening in the pose – enough to make a snap decision to slow your breathing, to push a little further, or to just be still and notice?  And then one by one, like waves, each Camel pose becomes your empowering, self-inspection “ride” because you’ve adapted! 

Class in Camel pose

BYSJ class in Camel pose.

Now you can hang out in the posture, no longer panicky but instead calm and ready for what it brings up physically, and maybe, what it brings up emotionally, too.  Wouldn’t that be cool to know that Camel pose represents the curtain you’ve hung behind, but then carefully – with repetition and adaptability – made into a best friend, one who reveals to you something you’ve tucked away,  something you’ve need to see? I’ve been there: pain, shame, guilt, worry and even overwhelming joy – locked!

Lately, my mind and my heart have been more consumed by the violence stirring about everywhere in every way. It’s nonsense. Disheartening. Necessary? Our tendencies are to talk about why it happens and go for the justice we see fit. But before we go out there to excuse, can we get in there and start to self-inspect, adapt, and possibly heal so we might never encounter these tragedies in the first place? You might not ride a wave like Laird, learning and earning fear attributes, but you can do yoga. Anyone can do yoga and start a journey like I did (and you have). Yoga, in my 18 years, has been both punishing and freeing (coming out from behind a curtain), helped me to own and use my fear, adapting to honor and enabling me to discover my most authentic true self.

–Michele Vennard