The Change You Practice For

by Steph Creaturo

I’m having one of those yoga moments where any mention of yoga philosophy, especially around death, induces eye-rolling and is the energetic equivalent to putting on my Black Flag t-shirt and lighting a Marlboro Red. Very mature, I know.

“White hot on your shit” is one of my favorite expressions. It makes no sense at all until there’s a fire poker with a heavy dose of reality on its tip, bursting the bubble of faux-reality you’ve constructed. Then it all makes sense.

This is all happening because we have had the kind of death that shifts things at your fundamental levels of being, knowing, and doing. As in, how do I explain this to my toddler because he’ll ask to call her. As in, things like bereavement fares and scrambled travel arrangements. The kind of change that you practice for. It’s that sort of change.

When the call actually did come, I realized that I could never have practiced enough for it. The framework that’s been created through years of practice, the framework which is now foundational to my thoughts, words, and deeds, is the what holds me up as I weep uncontrollably at the news. I note when I dash towards the eject button, because anywhere is better than here. Of course it is. ‘Here’ is filled with pain and suffering on many levels. I want to be anywhere else and yet I know I cannot be. I will not be. My framework’s too rooted for me to even slip out the side door early.

As yogis, we learn to be warriors of change, no matter the emotional pallor it may cast. I hate being sad, but there it is. My loved ones are also really sad, and they’re different sad because they lost their mom and sister and grandma. I’m attached, I admit it – not just to she who passed away, but to the way things were and I’m not happy with the way things are post-death. I’m digging deep these days and trusting that I can – and will – accept this change. Because while it’s a gonzo change, it’s a change. Big or small, the practice doesn’t differentiate when it teaches us to deal with, engage in, or have a relationship with change.

Emotions run amok in the face of a death in the family. As individuals and as a unit, we’re learning to integrate and work with this big change. In the midst of all this, it is the simple power of the most basic of all western yoga instructions that continues to resonate: watch the breath. Nothing more, nothing less. Find the strength and focus to stay with the breath. When life is engaged in levels of free-fall, such a simple tool seems maddeningly trite to employ. Really, I say to myself, that’s going to make things feel better? Watching the breath? That’s not going to bring her back, make anyone less sad, or get dinner on the table?

Knowing and doing are two totally different things. I know to watch my breath, but the act of doing is a different thing when one’s paradigm is shifted without consent. Can I practice when it is really time to show up? From the breath, other mat-learned, life re-enforced lessons tumble into place like Tetris pieces moving way too fast. They’re the yogic bitch slap back to that awareness of when I practice and when I don’t – and that murky grey area in between of I know how to practice and say all the right things, but this is what I really feel deep down in there.

It takes the deftness of the head/heart relations to be aware of any undercutting of our – and the constant tending to those relations. That’s why time on the mat is essential. How we change stepping the right foot forward a lunge pose or learning to take a child’s pose instead of another vinyasa – the tools we cultivate on the mat are the ones utilized in our new patterns and frameworks. Yoga practice can teach us how to go with the cycle of change in a way that’s fully engaged.

These days, I’m most grateful for the foundational elements of the practice. It’s the simplicity of the instructions and the power of the corresponding action that lets me dwell in the pause, lets me strip the attitude that used to accompany the Black Flag t-shirt, put out the cigarette, and, from there, I’m on even ground to wrestle with the bear of my feelings as opposed to ducking for cover.

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