Lightening Your Load
On Monday, in the space left behind by the thousands of yogis who attended Wanderlust, my friend and I decided to climb a mountain. (You can see it in the background in the picture below.) OK, it was more a civilized trail than something I'd need a rope and rock shoes to tackle. But let me tell you, it was pretty darn challenging.
The high altitude makes it harder to do even simple things, like breathe, much less hike. I was a little daunted thinking about scaling a steep path for an hour, especially since I haven't done any other exercise besides yoga for a decade, unless you count climbing the stairs to the 9th floor walkup I lived in for a year in Manhattan.
Yoga prepared us both for the adventure of doing something new with our bodies, and though the air was thin, and my heart rate was about as high as the hill itself, I felt strong, capable, and, finally, grateful for all those long-held Warrior poses. When we reached the pinnacle, a pyramid-shaped outcropping of flaking shale, my friend had the idea to pick up a large piece and heave it over the side. It bounced and skipped until coming to rest among another pile of rocks farther down. I felt so inspired by this that I got up from my serene perch overlooking a mountain waterfall and stream and start throwing rocks too. It felt like every rock I tossed was a heaviness I was deciding to release, lightening my mental, physical, and emotional load.
There is a parable I love, about a monk and his master stopping at the bank of a wide stream. There they encountered a man dressed in fine clothes. This man looked at the master and asked, "Will you carry me across? I don't want to get my nice clothes wet."
The monk volunteered to take the man across, as his master was older, and, well, the master. But the master said, "No, no. He asked me. I'll take him." So the master put this perfectly strong, healthy guy on his back and struggled across the stream with him, getting his own clothing all wet so the man could stay dry.
Once across, the man went his own way, without any word of thanks. The monk and master continued on, with the monk indignant. He mumbled under his breath and cycled back into a dark and stormy state every few minutes. Finally, after about two hours, the master said, "Brother, what's bothering you?"
The monk exploded: "I can't believe he didn't even thank you! I mean, you're a master, and he was capable of getting himself across. The nerve of this guy! What a complete jerk!"
The master looked at the monk, undisturbed, and said, "I put that man down on the other side of the river--and two hours later, you're still carrying him."
We all tend to carry unnecessary baggage around with us. Whether it's regret for what could have been, anger at a past experience, or even tension from a stressful job that builds in the shoulders or low back, it ends up as extra weight that prevents us from engaging with and enjoying the present moment.
Sometimes we might feel that punishing ourselves for past actions or keeping them alive by dwelling on them over and over again will keep us from repeating the behavior. But this is a toxic attitude that will slow you down as surely as carrying someone across a stream. Instead, just as you enter a challenging practice with the intention to shake up and dissolve areas of restriction in your body, use your yogic tools to shake up and dissolve those stories or habitual "truths" you tell yourself that diminish you instead of lighting you up. Through mindful practice, we realize that we can remember the lessons we've learned from our experiences, but drop the weight of living them over and over again in ways that erode our happiness.
When, with arms overhead and with all my might, I threw the last rock, I did the following pose. This is a wonderful, instant way to release any negativity that's following you around. Do it regularly, to ensure that you're not gathering tension or destructive energies on any level, and watch your body, mind, and heart lighten and move with more freedom.
Take a deep breath. Imagine it traveling from your lungs to your belly, and all the way down to your toes. Really gather up any inner negativity you can find. On the exhalation, release the breath up and out through your mouth as you stick your tongue way out and roar like a lion: "HAAAAAAH!"
Repeat this 1-3 times, or until you start laughing. That's a good sign: As you lift the energetic stone of whatever has been weighing you down, you'll uncover the joy that is your right--and birthright--that's within you at all times.