Having Jim Kallett come to the studio this last weekend was a little above the norm when it comes to the specialness of a visiting “senior” teacher. I took so much away from his teaching, workshop, and discussions, but even more from his “Talk”. Jim came in Friday to teach Saturday morning, and then that evening he unloaded his enormous knowledge of yoga wrapped in the context of one of our “BYSJ Presents” lecture series. This new venue kicks off with an interview process to warm us up as a connecting body, and then off we go together on whatever wonderful journey the topic has in store for us. This time it was “Yoga is Life”. Whoa! Talk about a challenging statement to back up! But Jim did, delivering story after story, with dates and names and concepts and perspectives that had us traveling back to the days when yoga began, and then bringing us up to current times in how yoga is taught today. If you were listening carefully, you might have heard between the lines as I did: regardless of time and circumstance, yoga is a lifeline that makes life “Life.” Let me explain further.
There were two shockers for me that I sat and pondered for quite awhile. The first was his insight on the 1920s. I never really saw that period of time in America as being so insanely crazy with the pioneering of countless things relevant to how we lead our lives today: the start of automobiles and airplanes, the beginning of jazz, theater, and television, the movement for women’s right to vote, post war depression, and the new age in art and psychology with Freud and Jung. And too, this is the very time Pramahansa Yogananda came to the United States to introduce yoga to the western world! Wow! I can’t even imagine the growth in our country at that time, and yet how fitting to have yoga – our lifeline – rise up in the midst of that creative explosion! Jim’s talk clearly showed how ripe a time it was to plant the seed, as everything was changing! My second “aha” moment was the pivotal turn yoga took in being accessible to you and me when it was introduced as a class! In India yoga was always prescribed one-to-one, using poses as therapy to help with imbalances in the mind and body. The thinking was, “every body is different, so how can yoga be prescribed to 7 billion people?” According to Jim, it took over two decades to come up with the sequence of poses and the idea of a scripted dialog we now have which created the convenience of a safe and useful class – making it available now to everyone! Aren’t we grateful!
There are so many worthy ideas about our practice that Jim shared which I know will be touched upon as your teachers bring them to your attention as they are relatable in class. But in keeping with the theme of this essay, let’s highlight those concepts that Jim mentioned several times in several ways that reinforce how Yoga is Life. Ready?: “We like to go where it’s comfortable,” “The approach is key,” “If you stretch little by little, nothing will tear,” “It’s the process in how you are trying that brings the benefit, not the result of a good pose,” “The attempt will build a new neural pathway, and in time and repetition, you will create the change you are intending to make,” “Every cell changes every 7 years,” “Right action leads to right results,” “One gram of mass has so much power – we already possess so much energy, enough to light up southern California for 10 years; we just don’t know how to use it,” “Every article, journal, and seminar talks about the mind-body connection but no one is telling you WHAT it is – it’s the spine,” “Yes, yoga means Union but it’s also balance, equanimity of strength and flexibility, sun and moon, yin and yang.” Do you get the sense that we are doing more than physical exercise here, and that just maybe it’s addressing “your life” too?
And there is a more specific concept that I’m still mulling over, too. Jim was talking about our levels of discomfort we feel in the room: a posture that is hard to balance in, and feeling like you may be hurting a part of your body if you have a strange sensation doing it; trying to breathe when you are compressing the throat; anxiety doing a backbend; trying to stand still, lie still, or hold still in a room that is unusually hot and humid; and the list goes on. All these scenarios lead to the body’s fight-or-flight response, which causes the body and mind to panic, react, and results in a choice that works in opposition to the result you are after. You’ll pass out, you’ll get pissed off, and you’ll carry FEAR.
BUT, as Jim so eloquently put it, over time these situations -when repeated over and over- diffuse the fear and instead a familiarity sets in, and the fight-or-flight response recedes. In a big yet subtle way, you’ve conquered fear. You start to push past thresholds and inch by inch move into not just higher levels of awareness but higher levels of consciousness. Just maybe Familiarity = Facing Extreme Acts of Reality! Now there’s a riddle in our definition of fear.
Prince died. I’m a huge nut for Prince. I grew up in a time when his popularity was in my college developmental days in Michigan. I appreciated his edginess and liked that he tested boundaries, as those my age were doing the same. I saw him in concert, and over the years, you could see that he was a master musician, a smart and passionate artist, and he challenged the norm to make you think for yourself. He found God and yet seemed to have a mysterious side. I’m not sure how much of that is media hype, as for the most part it seemed that he was more introverted and preferred to live a small town life outside his public persona. Regardless, man we lost a good one. I cried – a lot. I just felt loss – again. When I get “this” way, I go into a bit of a “traumacose” as I will call it. It’s not bad really, as I wake up more and heighten that part of me that appreciates life, where I am in the present moment, and all that I have outside of material things. But like Jim explained so well, becoming familiar with loss diffuses fear, and for me in this example, my “facing extreme acts of reality” assists me in crossing over to new thresholds and gaining higher levels of consciousness as it relates to my life.
I had the amazing opportunity to “marry” Jill and Chris on April 23rd. Yep, our wonderful teacher Jill Rencher is now Mrs. Jill Lyman. It doesn’t take much to get a license: $80, fill out a few short forms, and make sure some mandatory words are included in the ceremony. The rest is up to you. I took it pretty seriously – kind of the biggest compliment to be asked and kind of the biggest day of their lives. So I read and became familiar with love, marriage, and the union of man and woman as written in books through the ages. My study provide me with a better understanding of what I wanted to say, and allowed me to face this extreme act of reality. As I became more comfortable with the tall task at hand my fears diminished. In fact, I launched right into a threshold of joy, presence and awareness, acquiring a newer, more conscious meaning of Marriage.
I’m celebrating another birthday soon. Interesting as I caught myself looking at my hand the other day and noticed that it was looking older. It was odd in a way, as I don’t feel any different with this hand than probably the hand I had 10 years ago. I’m aging and becoming familiar with it – facing extreme acts of reality – and finding some higher levels of consciousness in my awakening to the beautiful aging process.
Loss, marriage, birthdays, are all on Life’s agenda for each of us – several times. With a tool like yoga, we can allow the repetition of these events to diffuse the fear that might surround them, and instill instead a familiarity that has us comfortably crossing over a new threshold into a place that enables us to see it all a bit differently. Just like in class and as Jim stated, our fight-or-flight response disappears, and higher levels of consciousness emerge there instead to help us grow and blossom, experiencing life in heightened ways. Yoga is our lifeline. Now given to us in class form, it’s a place we can always go to make sense, center, and regroup, as we awaken more to our precious time here on earth. So use it every day!
Years ago, Mitch Albom wrote an incredible book called, Tuesdays With Morrie. In it is a poem about a wave bopping in the ocean, rolling along until he sees the sand ahead and realizes that he is going to crash and die. He attempts to talk to other waves yelling, “Oh my gosh, we are going to crash.” A wiser wave behind him says, “You are not just a wave, you are part of the ocean.” How fortunate to become more familiar and thus less fearful of the ebb and flow of life. And, with yoga as our lifeline, we can honor, enjoy, and make bigger contributions to it.