Monday, February 27, 2017


Practice may not make us perfect but it sure helps to keep us in the game.

One of the reasons I love yoga so much is  that it gives us (aka me) the opportunity to practice navigating the cycles that life finds us (me) in. We can cultivate grace and ease by moving our bodies to become more fluid and flexible. We can find an appreciation for the great teachers that our bodies really are by simply becoming aware of the breath, each round a cycle in itself. We notice when we try to hold onto the breath at the top of an inhale, there is only so long that we can do it before we must surrender and release. At the bottom of the exhale we can also pause to reflect on the quality of the last cycle before we prepare for the next inhale. And on it goes. 

Through the asanas (the poses) we can practice the larger cycles of life; birth, life, death and rebirth. From happy baby pose to Savasana in corpse pose, we rehearse so that when we move through the natural cycles and fluctuations of life we are prepared to sail smoothly from one to the other with a smile, knowing that each one will eventually end and transition into another.

“To focus solely on endings is to trade conclusions for the very beginnings that created them. And if this cycle should persist, we will likewise miss the beginning that will follow this ending.

It can be a great comfort in an uncertain world to know that these cycles repeat and continue, that all is really impermanent, as the buddha suggests - in the physical anyway. But why do we humans find the endings so hard to move through? 

Death being the biggie, when will we learn to gracefully navigate this one? In the middle ages with plagues and wars and mortality much more prevalent on the minds of the people, death was a regular topic of conversation. 
According to Christian tradition, the very purpose of life was to prepare for the afterlife by avoiding sin, performing good works, taking part in the sacraments, and keeping to the teachings of the church. Time was measured out in saint's days, which commemorated the days on which the holiest men and women had died. Easter, the holiest feast day in the Christian calendar, celebrated the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The landscape was dominated by parish churches - the centre of the medieval community - and the churchyard was the principal burial site. 
Even as recently as the late 19th century, the standard of life being much lower, people died at earlier ages. Our time on the planet was limited. Average life expectancy was just 48. During that era people talked much more openly about death. Queen Victoria influenced many with her obsessive grief over the loss of her husband Albert. 

Nowadays people can expect to live into their nineties and higher. Contemporary culture is not so apt to be sitting around a table talking about their mortality. But why not if it’s such a big part of this great life cycle we are all experiencing?

Think about the last time you had a conversation about death. I know, me neither.

In my Happy Healthy You! podcast with Marilyn Schlitz about her documentary Death Makes Life Possible with Deepak Chopra she posits that life is greatly enhanced by embracing the idea of our eventual demise. She studies different cultures where death is not such a taboo subject and each portion of the cycle is embraced with equal reverence. This mindset requires a certain spiritual appreciation of the mystery of the cycle itself, she suggests. 

We do not know where death awaits us, so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.

Practice death you say? I know this sounds ridiculous, but stay with me here. If we are to live life to the fullest it is important to embrace every part of this great cycle that we are all in together. Here’s one idea. Take, for example, the past several days of beautiful weather we have been experiencing. How many of you wished for those 75 degree days to never end? 
I know, me too.

They were hard to let go of. I found myself outside most of the day last Friday. I became aware that I was practicing just what I am talking about. I knew this cycle would eventually come to an end so I was determined to be in every sweet, sunshiny, gorgeous blue sky, slightly breezy moment. My face got a little burnt that day but I did appreciate it right up until that sun tucked back in for the night. It was glorious and beautiful and spiritual. It was a practice of being in the moment and of letting go with grace and ease when it was over. Now, I am not saying I did that part perfectly. I did a little metaphorical kicking and screaming. But that’s why I practice.

Practice, whether yoga or meditation or mindfully appreciating a random gorgeous day, keeps us living full lives and reminds us to let go when it’s time, trusting that what’s coming next (and it’s a great mystery) is a part of a larger cycle that is bigger than we can conceptualize or ever attempt to control.

So take a deep inhale now and try to hold on for as long as you can. When it’s time,  gently release the breath. Pause here to reflect. Allowing the wisdom of the cycle to inform you, decide when it’s the right time to inhale again. Do it slowly and mindfully, with gratitude and awe and love.

Join me for a yoga practice this week. Here's where:
Find my book Back to Happy here.
Look for the upcoming film Nothing to Do about making peace with death later this year. (I am in it!) Like it on Facebook here.