Today I went back to my old-haunt yoga studio to take a class with a yoga instructor who is unorthodox and life changing in small but substantial ways. I have a history with her, but hadn’t been there in so long that I recognized not one individual taking the class. When I was going regularly, people tended to come on the same day so it was a social event as well as a physical workout. The environment provided the perfect distance between fun banter and personal space. Her schedule hadn’t changed, mine had.
Vanessa is a young, no-nonsense, old soul. I connect with her on a multitude of levels which might seem odd considering our age difference. She intersperses humor with serious conversation – always to some end – as we stand in poses longer than we think we can, but repeatedly manage to do. She doesn’t judge, she simply reminds us that we are capable of holding a posture for 90 seconds, to relax our jaws (mine is continually baring down), and to remove our ‘active (as opposed to resting) bitch faces’.
I sway to her ipod’s music choices which are eclectic, some from back in the day, some new age, some in Sanskrit, the result of which makes the time I hold difficult poses, less difficult.
She speaks about being present to our lives, the challenges and the opportunities. She focuses and relaxes us with Pranayama breathing. She brings attention to the moment with demanding stances and controlled inhales and exhales. As she does so, she shares life stories that are universal connectors. We are reminded that while we cannot always control external circumstances, we can control/alter our perspectives on them.
I first met Vanessa some years ago, after my parents’ passed away. She was a knowledgeable and mindful instructor, but it wasn’t until she performed, and I yielded to, a ‘death meditation’ shavasana, that my perspective changed. I had never done one before. In the years I’ve known her, and the classes I’ve attended, she did it only that one time.
The meditation lifted me from my head and dropped me, heart pounding, into my body. The experience was as liberating as it was painful. I was brought to a deeply visceral sense, from this side of life, of how death could feel, and more personally what it could have been like for my parents’ as they exited the world.
Tears rolled down my cheeks, unimpeded by inhibition or thought or fellow yogis to my left and right. I was fully engaged yet I cannot adequately put the experience into words. Something within broke open – in the best possible sense. I felt an aliveness that had been dulled by the sadness of losing and missing my mom and dad.
The experience of returning to life was so compelling that I wrote about it in my memoir, The Moon To Play With – A Daughter’s Journey (http://tinyurl.com/oazqzug). If you’ve never experienced a ‘death meditation’ or even if you have, I recommend reading the paragraph that describes it in the epilogue of my book.
It sounds horrifying, something you’d prefer to run from than toward. But there is a reason the Buddha considered it the supreme meditation. Because in a safe place, at the right time, its power to transform is tremendous.