The Yoga of You (and Me)

June 29, 2014 - Ralph Cissne

What moves you to your edge, to that place where you meet – and move beyond – your limits? Waiting in line at the post office? Holding utkatasana (chair pose)? Asking for help? Swimming against the tide of malignant narcissism? One of my favorite quotes is by B.K.S. Iyengar: “The yoga begins when you want to leave the pose.” The challenges to our consciousness are ever present so our intention may as well be to enjoy them.

Standing on the edge of my yoga mat I recalled a childhood moment on the high dive board staring into the deep end of our community pool. I felt the summer sun on my shoulders and the breeze contest my balance. I was up there on a dare, a childhood rite of passage. In that moment I faced my fears: a possibly painful belly flop and the ridicule of my clutch of friends that waited below. Against those odds you dive headfirst.

After the Summer of Love, in the fall of 1967, The Beatles released the Magical Mystery Tour. Waves of consciousness reverberated around the planet and rushed into the corner of my teenage life. I did not hesitate when faced with the opportunity to trade faith for knowledge, righteousness for acceptance and dogma for transcendent experience. My aunt and spiritual mentor introduced me to yoga. Those photographs of contorted yogis (wearing what appeared to be diapers) practicing asana both amazed and amused. I developed a fondness for candles and incense. Staring into a dancing flame became my spiritual Cape Canaveral, a scented launch pad for my imagination. Beyond the constraints of convention, I experienced why the Buddha beams. The joke, I learned, was on me.

Ten years raced by and I am waiting in a surgeon’s office to discuss an impending spinal fusion. Through the window I watched clouds roll and build in the afternoon heat. A red Mercedes pulled into a reserved space in the lot below. A man emerged smoking a cigarette then tossed the butt on the pavement. This was my surgeon. How ironic. I was relieved when he advised the surgery was risky and optional as either way I’d have physical restrictions for the remainder of my life. I chose the path of yoga. Decades later I still cannot touch my toes, however, I play golf with age-defying balance and flexibility. And that is one of many reasons why I continued to practice.

Today yoga is pervasive. Everybody is doing it. Many yoga classes are the spiritual equivalent of a Zumba class: music with a familiar beat, a healthy sweat, in and out in an hour. Not that you can’t have a spiritual experience in a Zumba class. Spirit grants universal access wherever we are and whatever we are doing – even at the post office. On social media yoga instructors tout a “killer play list” for their next class. The music I appreciate is the intention and wisdom behind their voice as they lead the class to the edge of experience, to moments when we realize the purpose of practice.

An intense thunderstorm erupted in the early morning hours and stirred me from the wonder of a lucid dream. I swung my feet onto the floor and felt my way into the hall toward a dim nightlight. Bright lights would void any chance of return to that place beyond the reason of my waking mind. That is how this writing began, in the wee hours before dawn with nature’s guidance. She has her way with me. In the dimness I scribbled notes well aware how easily dreams are forgotten. My body, mind and spirit converged into a unifying force with a fine point and a softened edge. The remainder of my dream was like the illusive flame of a candle dancing in the dark. It is a sacred bond, a trust, this twilight bridge we cross each day that brings us closer to ourselves. Namaste.