HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (8/16/13) - Three years ago today, I dove into a month of living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires of western-Massachusetts, training to become a yoga teacher. I made this choice sight unseen. I landed at the Albany airport, got on a shuttle with a handful of other people from all across the world—most of whom also looked slightly shell-shocked and equally nervous—and an hour later I was lugging a month’s worth of yoga clothes, toiletries, and instant coffee into a dorm room I would share with 20+ people. (Yes, I said instant coffee. The literature Kripalu had sent said we had to be on the mat at 6:30am, six days a week, and there was no coffee in the dining hall, which didn’t open until 7:30am anyway…you better believe I was ready to eat Starbucks Via like a pixie stick on my way to practice!) It was a huge leap of faith, took almost all of the courage I could muster, and I had absolutely no idea—not even an inkling—as to how powerful and transformative the next month would be.
You know those split-seconds that are actually vibrant sparks on the continuum of time, where a simple choice can dramatically shift the trajectory of the entire story? Those seemingly mundane moments you can look back on in hindsight and see as defining, revelatory, a step onto a new path, a choice that would impact every single day of the rest of your life? I think of other moments with similar reverence: my first day at my first job at Block’s Hot Bagels when I was 16-years-old; my first day at summer camp in Maine; and my first day of freshman orientation at Kenyon College, an undergraduate community that would become a intellectual, creative, and spiritual home. It was that brand of split-second. Arriving at Kripalu felt like landing. Becoming a yoga teacher felt like a calling. In a thousand tiny, awesome ways, it was a coming Home.
I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with that month of my life.
And I miss it. I’ve been bathing in nostalgia as of late—swimming in thick pools of memory—caught between that extraordinary month at Kripalu and the present. I’ve been missing the way life smelled and tasted and was three years ago, the way I felt physically and emotionally, the people who were cheering me on from afar and the people I met in the Berkshires, and the place itself, right down to my bunk bed in that dorm room. I’ve been elbow-deep in the photos and the music, reaching out to the people who share a similar brand of experience, and generally longing for any connection to that month.
Anniversaries are an obvious time to remember and honor the past, and sometimes an easy time to sink so completely into remembering that you start to feel as though you are living in a highlight reel, longing for something you will never get back. Nostalgia is a strange beast. Inevitably, the pain of missing becomes greater than the joy of remembering. Don’t misunderstand; I think there is a purpose in remembering. Memory is a gift. I believe that honoring the past is innate to human nature, and a powerful practice. But dwelling in the past can cause all sorts of problems.
In yoga, we are taught to be present, to stay present, to come into the Now breath by breath. This is easier said than done. The question becomes, then, how to maintain your connection to your story while being fully present to Now, while simultaneously looking ahead toward a future that is in no way guaranteed. Indeed, this is the practice.
Have you been there? Maybe it is an experience that is over: summer camp, your vacation, a wedding, a college reunion. Or maybe it is a person. Someone you loved deeply who passed away, a friendship that came to an end, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe it is an old way of being you have had to shed as you have grown. Whatever it is, that spark—any of it, all of it—deserves to be honored. It deserves the energy and respect of your memory. It deserves to inform your Now in some way, shape, or form. And then you let go. You can always remember again later.
This is an asana (yoga posture) practice designed to help ground you during times of nostalgia, times when the past is desperately trying to get you stuck in your head and disconnected from the present. This practice gives ample space for allowing integration of the trip down memory lane and, ultimately, garners the power and gift of memory to create strength and intention in the present.
PHOTO: Child's pose.
1) Begin in Child’s Pose (Garbasana), knees the width of the mat, inner edge of big toes just touching, dropping the bottom toward the heels, hands above the head, elbows slightly bent to take any strain out of the shoulders and upper back. Notice your breath. Slow and deepen the breath, inhaling and exhaling completely. Count five rounds of breath as you allow yourself to look back to whatever you are feeling nostalgic about. Allow any and all thoughts. Notice how you feel. On the fifth exhale, release the breath with a sigh through the mouth, letting go.
2) Practice Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to create a rooted connection to the present. Stand with feet hip-width apart, inner-edges parallel to one another. Lifting and spreading the toes, press firmly into the three corners of the feet—the ball mound under the big toe, the pinky toe, and into the heel. Feel your foundation and connection to the earth. Draw energy up the legs as you inhale deeply and engage the upper thigh muscles. Feel the lower belly draw in and up, and as you exhale, tuck your tailbone under and lengthen from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Feel the upper body buoyant, lifting and lengthening, even as the feet ground into the earth. Feel yourself fully present, at home in the body. Count five rounds of breath. You may choose to chant five rounds of OM instead, being present to the vibration and sound.
PHOTO: Tree pose by the Crabtree kids.
3) Practice Tree Pose (Vrksasana) to continue rooting into the present as you balance the inevitable wobbles and falls both in the pose and on your path. Rooting into your right foot, lift your left foot off the ground. Externally rotate the left hip and press the sole of the foot into the right upper thigh. Aim for five consecutive breaths in the pose, letting go of judgment if you lose your balance and have to put your left foot down. Simply pause for a round of breath and come into the pose again.
4) Practice a supported chest opener on a rolled blanket or blocks to integrate past and present, and to physically and emotionally make room for the future. Lay back on a rolled blanket, a bolster, or yoga blocks with the soles of the feet together and knees dropping naturally to either side. Allow the shoulders to relax completely as the spine lengthens. Breathe into the open space of the body from the floor of the pelvis to the crown of the head, and garner the strength of your past and your personal story as support to allow for deep release. As though you are sweeping out cobwebs, allow each inhale to clear out space and each exhale to affirm your experience of each moment in its fullness, as enough.
5) Take Corpse Pose (Savasana) for 10 minutes or longer. There is nothing left to do and nowhere to go. Allow the body, mind, and spirit ample time for integration and rest.
6) As you slowly, gently, and mindfully release Savasana, come into Sukasana or any comfortable cross-legged seat. If your lower back rounds, sit up on a blanket or cushion. Float your hands to heart center. Drop your chin to your chest, a gesture of gratitude toward the self for taking time to practice.
As a stand-alone or complimentary journaling practice, consider what the memory you are feeling nostalgic about brought out in you. How did it serve you? Many times we fall in love with an experience, a person, a thing, or even a time in our life because something about it allowed us to feel safe and comfortable in our own authenticity. To put it simply, you were able to truly be you. What could you do in the present moment to give yourself permission to fully embody your truth? Can you find it within you instead of in a memory?
These practices become an inquiry into optimal living. They encourage active participation in designing the tapestry of your life and are a means to weave fluidly in and out of the linear with an awareness of the greater scope, the bigger picture, the now and the not yet.
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Writing/Photos by Hilary Lowbridge