I had a dream recently that I was in a small boat, moving up and down in rough, dark waters. In the dream, I knew that if I could get across this last stretch, the water would smooth out and I would sail without effort.
I've written this before, but I do not teach yoga as a cure-all to the trials of being human. It's not an antidote, or a ticket to paradise. Rather, the systems of yoga coalesce like a Road Atlas. Remember before GPS, the thick books of map we had to trace our fingers along in order to find our way? I took my early road trips as a teenager and young adult relying heavily on these books to travel coast to coast. I could turn the page and see each coming state. Having the maps did not prevent me from driving into a hail storm, or hitting traffic, or experiencing heartache halfway between Oregon and Colorado, but they showed me, with some perspective: ahh, there you are.
I spent this past week studying the Bhagavad Gita with my teacher Noah Maze. Through our studies I learned more about Bhakti yoga, which I previously understood to mean devotional love. This week I learned that the etymology of the word bhakti makes it actually mean to separate, or apportion. And then the practice of 'bhakti' as a yoga is the uniting of those disparate ends. The devotional force required to bring two opposing parts so wholly together is where the love factors in.
Is this not what we do each time we practice asana? Every action in each pose has a balancing, or countering, action. Where there is excessive this we push back at it with that. Poised somewhere in the center is the constantly moving, bobbing, impossible to capture and effortless in the ideal...heart of the pose. Or...maybe the push and pull is the heart, is the essence, is what we're actually after.
We also talked, this week, about destruction: the great creative potential of death of the status quo (whatever that may be for each of us) so that we return ultimately to who we are and who we are meant to be. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna questions his dharma. He comes face to face with the battle he must fight and...falters. He doubts his purpose, and his path.
I love the invitation for violence in yoga. I appreciate the recognition that death is a gateway to birth. I find this reassuring. And I don't really think it's an exaggeration to say that we face brutality at many turns in our lifetimes. We each experience deaths, of layers of ourselves, of relationships, of loved ones, of chapters of life, and so on. The destruction of the previous self lays fertile soil for the coming (re)birth.
In one of the practice rooms at Wanderlust Hollywood, where my week of study was held, there is an enormous statue of Nataraja. Here Shiva is depicted as the Lord of the Dance, poised gloriously in a ring of fire, balancing on a demon, snakes coiled round. Showing us that destruction and creation belong together in one unending dance.
We practiced the pose Natarajasana this week toward the end of an intense and long practice. The mythos strong in my body, I felt the paradox of being contained, but also unbound. How can we feel both of these at the same time? Where do the two ends meet? How can what is separate be brought together in one shared moment?
In my dream, moving through the storm at sea, waiting for the still waters ahead, I realized all was dark around me and I couldn't see where the boat was headed. I knew that other boats were nearby and I wasn't alone, but I couldn't reach them. To cope as the boat rocked and swayed and bobbed, I relaxed my body to move with the rhythm of the water. And as I did, the rough seas did not calm down, but my dream closed, and I forgot the rest.