I am here in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities, learning to relax. Or rather, to learn restorative Yoga poses for my own practice and to teach to others.
It’s challenging to be in a busy city and to try to find ways to attain and keep the peace we all long for. We rest in a cocoon of trust and comfort all morning and at mid-day the quiet of our practice space gives way to the cacophony of weights clanking, people grunting, and loud dance music from the Cross Fit studio below. We then step out into the world, blinking our eyes in the bright glare of day-to-day city life. And although I am here on a vacation from work, there is still stress. Why did the number seven bus not come for 45 minutes and am I going to be late for yoga now? Is it safe to walk past that homeless guy who is yelling at the tree? Life rudely intrudes upon my inner sanctuary of peace. I will defend my damned bliss with fisticuffs if need be!
Even these moments of stress, though, present an opportunity to drop in and breathe. The sanctuary still exists; it’s just sometimes harder to reach. And now, with the additional anxiety of the approaching holiday, it’s even more crucial to access the quiet place within. To feel the breathe ebb and flow, the heart beat, the prana fill the body.
Cities are astonishing places; networks of nooks and crannies that possess secret treasures around every corner. A cute coffee shop, a great hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, a colorful mural painted on a brick wall. These little surprises are there to delight anyone who is ready to be delighted. But of course there are many sad sights too: so many homeless people in this very expensive city, piles of garbage, and sad single women lamenting the dearth of available decent men.
Perhaps, to apply an awkward metaphor, our bodies are also like the city, waiting for us to discover all the joys and challenges we each hold in the hidden corners of our amazing selves. We each have wonderful strengths we can nurture and celebrate, as well as sweet weaknesses we can examine and send our compassion and understanding to.
In class one day we practiced assembling ourselves into a side lying position. We had blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows for our support and comfort. After class I walked up 15th street and saw two men, a few yards apart, in this exact position, minus the blankets and bolsters. It’s hard sometimes to reconcile the unfairness in our world.
And still we soldier on, each of us facing a unique combination of circumstances, yet united in our existence on this beautiful wounded planet. The techniques we have learned for relaxing, snatching moments of peace in a hectic world, and passing them on to others through our own teaching are a welcome toolkit. Maybe they are even a passport to deeper understanding and acceptance of our own human tendencies. In feeling this tender connection to self and others, we hope to start the ripple of compassion that will unite us in creating a better world for all.
photo credit: Caramia Tambornino