Thursday afternoon I was taking one of my favorite Hatha classes. It’s not a class where we focus on tricks or obscure poses, but a class where we deepen our practices. As we moved into Vrksasana (tree pose), and opened our hands to the ceiling, our instructor, Jillian Balzer, invited us to take on spontaneity. “Create some movement in your branches,” she percolated, and we all began swaying our arms in the imaginary breeze. Falling in and out of balance, snickers lifted around the room like budding hope. I couldn’t stop the giggle that escaped me as I wobbled around on my right foot. My leg felt unsteady beneath me, and my arms did not flow gracefully. Instead, I know they jerked around like a toddler’s as she simultaneously tries to move forward and stay upright. It’s not a sensation most adults actively seek out, but in that moment I was thankful for it. I saw a lesson that had been dormant for some time.
Vrksasana is one of the first poses I really understood. It’s my comfort pose. When my writing students are nervously taking their quizzes, I sneak behind the podium, raise my left foot up along the right inseam of my slacks, find that “sweet spot” halfway up my femur and press into my supporting leg for a minute. I ground myself. I don’t let their nervous energy take over the room. When the grading becomes particularly grueling, I kick off my shoes and hop over to the meditation space in front of my window. I watch the needley tips of the spruce tree’s branches and draw my breath into my opening hips. A few breaths with my hands at heart center and compassion returns to my palms, stability is restored in my feet and aspirations for my students return to nest in my third eye.
There are few moments of home for me, nowadays. Even my daylight hours feel like a whim on the wind sometimes, and my bed, less a place of comfort than a piece of furniture to fall upon on my way into a dream. But when I am on my mat, returning to the poses I’ve been studying and deepening for almost a score, I remember myself at seventeen, at twenty-five, at thirty. I remember the ways I was naïve and the moments when I learned wisdom. Sometimes, I’m caught off guard by the lessons I’ve known so well and forgotten. I try to bring those teachings back into my consciousness, but lately, the way our culture is changing socially, I’ve felt more and more unsettled. I’ve found myself drawn more toward the comfort of my poses than their challenges.
I know I am not alone. Our culture has been shaken up so badly in the last ten years. The lessons we’ve taken for granted have uprooted us. I have so many friends who have relocated because of their financial situations; who have taken the kinds of jobs they can get, not the kinds of careers they wanted and who’ve put their relationships and families on hold so they can make just one thing feel solid in their lives. They are sad about it for moment, but then they ground down, find subtle ways to put their talents and dreams to work for them. They create beautiful lives out of thin air.
It’s not easy, though, and sometimes they are caught off balance. Sometimes, so am I. It’s more than just a wobble. When we fall these days, we fall harder than ever before. The safety nets have been pulled out from under us. Even as we look outside of our social circles, it doesn’t seem that there is much to hope for. There are few stories on the news that promote the resilience of the human spirit, and many popular books and movies are too dramatic to relate to. And I don’t know whether it’s because it’s an election year, because our economy is unsteady or because our culture is becoming more hateful, but it seems to me that we take our frustrations out on each other more than we used to. I don’t remember these levels of road rage in my twenties. I don’t remember seeing servers and hosts dressed down so frequently (even when I worked in restaurants). It feels like strangers are reaching out to whoever is standing closest and announcing: “If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me.” It makes our losses all the more difficult because we are experiencing the sensation of being attacked from every angle.
We have been trained that if we gather the supplies that we need, it will all be okay. However, when the supplies are too expensive or out of reach and when our loved ones are busy putting out their own fires, it’s easy to panic. For me, it’s easy to want to give up, crawl inside of myself and try to wait it out until the winds change.
Being in Jillian’s class, and swaying my arms in the breeze, it was uncomfortable at first. Vrksasana isn’t a pose I often fall out of anymore, and I’ll admit that my ego wanted me to stand quietly with my hands at heart center like I have done so many times. I wanted to feel confident in the pose in the way I’ve come to know it: with subtle depth. I was nervous to move outside of my comfort zone. I was afraid of what would happen to the way I saw myself—my home base—if I fell. Then, that moment of spontaneity and uncertainty reminded me of something: the very first time I lifted my foot onto my femur and
I remembered that even though it didn’t feel steady, my supporting leg had a lot more muscle tone than I had ever stopped to think about. Until then, I had never known the ways in which I had been holding myself up and moving myself forward every single day. I hadn’t known how strong I was; I hadn’t even stopped to think that strength was an option.
I’m happy I had a chance to remember it, though, because as I am embarking on this new yogic journey, I’m a little frightened of what might or might not happen for me. I know that inevitably, I will flail my arms a bit, but I don’t have to think of it like that. I can look for moments of grace in the uncertainty.
I can send my roots down, remembering that I have one foot firmly on the ground and the other, rising.