As our gentle yoga class warmed up on Monday, my teacher Dawn instructed us: "Breathe in through the souls of your feet and carry your breath to your knees. On the exhale, let the breath move from the knees back to your feet, and exhale out of the soles of your feet. [Pause, as we lie there pretending to have done this.] This time, breathe in through the souls of your feet and carry your breath to your hips...."
As I lay there, I continued to inhale through my mouth and exhale through my nose (as I must do because nose muscles that no longer work don't allow me to inhale through my right nostril.) So far as I can tell, my breath went down my throat into my lungs. It even continued to my diaphragm, a relatively new experience for me. I definitely didn't inhale through the soles of my feet. I couldn't even imagine that.
I assume that the instruction was not literal, but intended to give us an idea of moving the breath through our bodies. Something that I almost always realize in yoga: my imagination is limited.
Dawn's instructions reminded me of previous teachers:
My yoga therapist Anna said, "An arm is never just an arm." Yes, she really said that. She even wrote it down for me so that I would remember.
In one of the first classes I ever took, my first teacher, Denise, instructed us to "Soften the backs of your underarms." You try.
It's been twenty years, and I'm still trying to imagine how I might soften the backs of my underarms.
Much of the spirit of yoga, I am learning, is about surrendering to the unknown, relinquishing the idea that I am in control.
I used to think I was in control: all I had to do was to try my best. Sometimes I was successful and sometime I wasn't, but I was always trying and I was always exhausted. This was not the way that I wanted to live my life, but I didn't know a better way.
In this lesson of surrender, perhaps brain surgery and my disabilities have been my best teachers. They're a bit rough on discipline. (So you think you can walk in a straight line, do you? Watch this.... ) I have at last learned that I will not be able to balance walking down steps without a handrail even if I want to and even if I try really hard.
Perhaps I am learning to surrender, in my walking and in my living, to the greater force of what I call grace in my life.
I have just finished reading Claire Dederer's excellent memoir on the topic of surrender: Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses. The memoir is about learning how to grow out of being a child, and out of trying to be the perfect mom or the perfect wife. The memoir is amusing and sometimes irreverent, as most anything that's wise is.
I wonder if Dederer knows how to inhale through the soles of her feet. Or how to soften the backs of her underarms. I doubt it. She's not such a goody-goody as that, but she does teach me about yoga's soul which is perhaps surrender.
I'll bet she knows about the peace that passeth understanding, and about namaste, translated best, I think, as "I bow to the sacred in you."