Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On love and loving

This week is Valentine’s week and when I think about love (in yogic terms at least!) I think about Hanuman, the half-monkey-half-man-Demi-God from the epic Ramayana, who is the pure  embodiment of love and devotion.  I love this story because it is a story of the love of friendship, of he and his comrade Ram. I am particularly celebrating that aspect of love as a dear, beloved friend is coming in to visit for the weekend, helping remind me that there are so many aspects of love to be grateful for.   I think it’s important to note that in the story of the Ramayana, Ram is an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.  Vishnu is known as the Sustainer in the mythological Hindu trinity (along with Brahma, the Creator, and Shiva, the Destroyer) and he comes into human form when things are falling apart (as Rama in the Ramayana, and Krishna in the Mahabharata as we have spoken about recently as well).  So why is Vishnu the one who appears when chaos is reigning?   Because when things get crazy there is a lot of fear…and what is the antidote to fear? Love, of course.  And what is the force that sustains the universe?  Love, of course.  So Vishnu appears as Ram and….

As the story goes, one day as Hanuman was walking through the forest, he meets Ram and there is an instant connection. Think of someone in your life whom you have that connection with.  Who, from the first moment you saw them, it was like the whole of your life was leading up to that moment.  My friend Michelle wrote this last week about her son who was turning 17: “(giving birth to my son) ignited inside of me a strength and a primitiveness that I’ve embraced in this journey with him. If we are lucky, at some point in our lives, that fire, what makes you a fighter, a force, that something inside of you that everyone knows better than to mess with, that warrior becomes as much a part of you as your teeth or your hands. It keeps you fighting and swinging and spitting and it keeps you so strong and your heart so full that it aches inside of your chest for no reason. It makes you laugh so hard that you surprise yourself. It’s the first time you really love something more than you love yourself.” That was the connection between Ram and Hanuman, and that is the connection I want us to draw on in our practice this week. 

I feel so grateful to be so surrounded by love in all aspects of my life. I am the oldest of four children and I remember feeling that kind of love for each and every one of my siblings as they came into my life. The first time I saw my husband I felt it, and I am lucky enough to feel it every day, every time I look at him or even think of him.  The unmistakable knowing that our two souls were already joined, and we just had to embrace it.  I felt it the first time I saw each of my children, a recognition of part of my own soul and being reflected back to me.  Like a part of me that lives outside my body, but is so inextricably connected that each of them might just as well be an extra limb.

When I talk this way with people I often hear “You are so lucky”.  Folks, I don’t believe in luck.  Have I been born into privilege?  Sure, the fact that I was born free in the USA means that I have.  But I believe, with all my heart, that love is the essence of all things.   It surrounds all beings all the time.  We need only to open to it.  So I will venture to say that “luck” doesn’t have much to do with it.  Open yourself, seek it, expect it and I guarantee that love will come to you.  Who or what do you love like that?  Who or what loves you that way?  How can that inspire your yoga practice, both on and off the mat?  Like the image above, inscribe the picture of your love into your heart for all to see.

Love has the capacity to both break us open and to heal us.  To crush us and to lift us up.  It often happens simultaneously.  If I’m being honest, I will tell you that I can sometimes push people away from me, ironically usually those who are closest to me.  I think I do this because I am capable of feeling tremendous love, and it feels so big, so much bigger than me, that I almost feel like I can’t contain it.  That it will break me open.  But the times that it has, and believe me it has, have caused tremendous shifts in my life in the most amazing ways.  So I’m here to say, let love break you open this week.  Embrace it, invite it, receive it and along with it the blessings of loving and being loved.  Like the great Leonard Cohen says: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything - that’s how the light gets in.”

Off the mat practice:
Eknath Easwaren says it like this “Love is a skill, a precious skill that can be learned. There are many other skills that are useful, even necessary, but in the end, nothing less than learning to love will satisfy us. The saints and mystics tell us that life has only one overriding purpose: to discover the source of infinite love and then to express this love in daily living. Without love, life is empty; without love, life is meaningless. The only purpose which can satisfy us completely, fulfill all our desires, and then make our life a gift to the whole world, is the gradual realization of the Self within, which throws open the gates of love. We cannot dream what depth and breadth of love we are capable of until we make the discovery that this divine spark lives in every creature.” 

So how do we do that?? This one is simple – make this your mantra this week:
“Let love win today”.  In whatever way it can.

On the mat practice:
This week on the mat we are practicing Hanuman’s pose. Those of you who practice yoga know that it is a challenging one (a full front split, with many variations).   Sometimes the reason poses get their names is obvious, but as I practiced it this week I realized at least one of the reasons this pose is named for Hanuman.  It is a pose that requires us to dig deep, to dedicate ourselves fully to our practice in order to practice it safely and exuberantly.  Just as love does in relationship – it’s not easy, but the rewards are many.  Here are some tips to make it easier:

Open to Grace: Feel the love that surrounds you in this room and in your life.
Open to the love that is offered to you willingly – where is love being offered that is hard for you to accept?

Muscular Energy: Draw in the devotion that others have for you.
(As you feel the love that surrounds you) open every pore of your skin to draw it in through the muscles to the bones, into the very marrow and cells that make up the bones, giving you a strength you didn’t even know you had.
Feel your muscles hug the bones like your beloved embraces you.

Inner Spiral: Widen your sit bones and widen your experience of love.
Broaden the base of the pelvis to make space for more love in your life.
(In split leg poses – like Hanumanasana) Expand and widen the inner back thigh to open and receive love from those who offer it to you.

Outer Spiral: Scoop your tailbone down and affirm your love for _____________ (whatever you love/dedicate your practice to).
(In split leg poses) Scoop the front leg sit bone under and offer your devotion through the whole leg back out to the world.

Organic Energy: Let your pose be your best expression of radical self-love.
Offer your love energetically out from every bone, through muscle and skin, radiating out to all those you love.
Make your pose an offering of devotion to _______________ (who or what you wish to devote it to).
Let love pulse outward with every beat of your heart to all those you love and beyond.