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Day Twenty-What?!?! February 1, 2011

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, 40-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Health, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Super Heroes, Texas, Twin Cities, Yoga.

Day 22

My housemate has a way of saying, “What?!?” that embodies more astonishment, amazement, and awe than an adult male should be capable of mustering. It is incredulous. It is not, however, a childlike exclamation. It is one that can only be expressed by a person with a certain amount of knowledge, experience, and – yes – delight. It is the sound I hear when I think of Day 22.

During the 3rd week of the Yoga Journal 21-Day Challenge, I made several allusions to continuing the practice. After all, I had done 40-day challenges before and, as my housemate recently reminded me, 42 is “the answer to life, the universe, and everything.” So, on that level, it makes sense to do another 21 days.

Today was suppose to be a day off, but I had planned to sub a 50-minute class at the Y. It was a departure from the classes I normally teach, a super SPY class: Silent Power Yoga. In some ways it felt liberating to forgo music and my usual preparatory practice. I knew it was going to be a refining and aligning sequence; a tuning, if you will. After completing my 5-minute morning meditation and the Morning Sequence with Kate Holcombe, I knew today’s theme was going to be more super hero than super spy.

Able To, edited by Neil Ellis Orts, is an anthology of stories about people with super powers. These people, however, are not your typical superheroes. They’re more Zen then that. Like the girl whose words become flowers, some of these people have really cool powers for which we can all strive: being able to extend loving-kindness, compassion, to any one and everyone – in any situation. All of these stories make me think: what else could we do, if we tried?

In his book Power Yoga, Beryl Bender Birch refers to a zen koan that sounds like it was written especially for modern day yogis: Only when you can be extremely soft and pliable, can you be extremely hard and strong. Think Plastic Man, without the acid and the history of crime.

In today’s world, we sometimes think of being soft and pliable as being a bad thing. We imagine that bending will lead to breaking. In fact, the opposite holds true. Think of the way a palm tree and a pine tree react to strong wind. Both have strong roots, but the palm tree can hold up the longest, because it bends with the wind. The same thing is true in life: sometimes the only way to withstand the pressures around us is to give a little, bend a little. Being flexible, literally and figuratively, can be a super power for which we can all strive.

There are plenty of times in a yoga class when I see people struggling to hold or get into a pose. I encourage them to slow down their breath, and to relax…something. Sometimes I’ll even remind them that finding a deeper expression is, quite literally, finding a way to smile in the pose: inhale the corners of your mouth up to your ears, exhale and relax your jaw. See, instantly, you have a “deeper expression.”

Take a moment to consider a difficult situation in your life. Take a moment to consider how you react to even the thought of this difficult situation. Does your jaw clench? Do your shoulders move closer to your ears? What’s going on with the space between your eyebrows? What about the space between your fingers and toes? What about your breath and your heartbeat?

OK, now, consider how all these expressions of power serve you.

Take a moment, in the moment, to see what happens if you find a deeper expression, whatever that means to you. Maybe you relax your shoulders. Maybe you take a deep breath in, a deeper breath out. Maybe, just maybe, you soften your brow and smile.

Today, and the next 20 days, for me will be about finding ways to be more flexible. The funny thing is, on New Year’s Eve, when I was told (essentially) that I needed to be more flexible this year, I thought it was the most ludicrous suggestion in the world.

Little did I know.

Which is one of the great things about doing challenges like this. Not only do you give yourself the opportunity to embrace change and create space for change in your life, you also discover things you never knew you could know.



1. Melissa - March 16, 2012

You teach me so much through yoga, especially about mindfulness – and just like you remind us to relax our shoulders and smile during class, thank you for reminding me here to carry it into my life!

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