In 2006, Rodney and I had the privilege of taking a few classes with Mr. Iyengar. When it came time for headstand, I informed the yoga master that I didn’t do them—I have a seizure disorder, and I always felt it was aggravated by headstands. He told me, in no uncertain terms, to stand on my head now! And I did. I stayed up, and only came down when he said it was time.
By then, the rest of the class had moved on to supta virasana, and, trying to be a good student, I came down from headstand and sat right up to join them. That’s the point at which he slapped my back and said, “That is your problem, not headstand: You transition too quickly and mindlessly. I am sure that you do this in your life as well. You never let anything settle in.” Wow, what an acute teaching for a chronic issue!
Needless to say, the post-headstand seizures have completely stopped. I now stay in child’s pose for the length of time that I have just spent in headstand, and I focus on my exhalation. I dwell and bask in the sweet residue of the pose, and when I move onto the next pose, I am fully there. I feel that loving slap every day when I come out of headstand. More importantly, I also feel that slap during other transitions, both large and small.
We are all in such a hurry, but for what? We move from one thing to another so quickly that absorption is almost impossible. Roshi Joan Halifax says that the “residue”—what’s left just after one thing but before another—is a large part of our lives, and an amazing opportunity. In fact, it could be that it’s during the time of the residue that the mind is most free. But instead of free, we are usually simply mindless, and the moment is wasted.
There is the quiet transition every morning from dark to light as nature begins to stir. The residue of the night still hangs in the air, and the bright daylight is not yet here. The masters say that this is a perfect time to practice pranayama. Instead, though, we mindlessly drag ourselves out of bed, into the shower, and then onto a cup of coffee. We grab our keys and still don’t realize what a blessed gift this breath is.
If we sleep through the transitions, we will spend most of our life asleep. It is funny how fast we can transition from savasana to road rage, from chanting lokah samasta sukinoh bhavantu to gossiping. Can we all hit the pause button and tune in during these precious in-between moments? These are practice for the maha transitions.
The maha transitions can be anything from marriage, to divorce, to menopause, to losing a loved one, to children leaving the house, to retirement, to becoming a mother and then a grandmother, to our own death. The list goes on. How can we transition with grace? How can we dwell mindfully in the residue? How can we use the in-between times to focus on our breath? How can we show up for our life instead of just speeding through it?
Can we use this new year’s reflection to pause and allow the residue to settle in, and the bubbling of gratitude for this breath to surface? Lama Marut says, “Those who cling to the past are doomed to repeat it. I renounce toxic nostalgia, and vow to replace clinging with fond gratitude. Now is the only time we have.”
I humbly bow at the feet Mr. Iyengar, and thank him for the slap that created some awareness in me. I also bow to Roshi Joan Halifax for compassionately passing the same message along as she chants to us:
“Let me respectfully remind you, Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken… Awaken, take heed. Do not squander your life.”
Let’s hold hands and brave this beautiful, crazy life together with a sweet smile and a calm breath.
Happy New Year!