Fear is the cheapest room in the house
I would like to see you living
In better conditions ~Hafiz
Listening to an Oprah podcast interview with Brene Brown on Shame, I heard her quote a therapist friend who said, “Keep your shame up front because it can only take you down from behind.” I heard this podcast just three days after attending the Trauma Informed Yoga weekend for our advanced teacher training during which I taught Hanumanasana, the pose in English known as Full Split. The story of this pose is connected to shame and fear, and the availability for flight that comes when we’re not being taken “down from behind” by these strong emotions.
With birdsong all around, and the desire for lightness and renewal tugging at my body and mind, I can’t help but be pulled toward flight this time of year. Spring is nature’s New Year, my friend and teacher Katherine Berger reminded me, and truly it always feels like the true birth of the year to me. As I work to shed the wintery, dark places in me, I begin to notice all the heavy parts that keep me from trusting myself to make this leap forward. I want flight, but do I also hold myself back from it? Donna Farhi writes, “Unfortunately, what we want is what we most fear: we yearn for a larger life, but we’re not so sure we want the consequences.” It is easier, after all, to keep falling back toward all that keeps me tethered–old habits, patterns, thoughts, shame and fear.
So in my deep contemplation of Hanumanasana I’ve begun noticing how, for me, I don’t come to the pose with my body willing to make this great leap all at once. I need small, incremental movement and shifting, mindful, and slow exploration, that allows me to make enough space, little by little, to explore this leap that feels like flight within me. I will add that I have only, in over twenty years of yoga practice, moved into Full Split position without any props twice. Twice. That’s once for each decade of practice. But now, no matter how close or far I am, I feel that sensation of flight that exists as a promise of revealing who I am when I am my most faithful, devoted, mindful self.
The ancient story of this pose is one of my favorites. In the Ramayana, Hanuman, born to Vayu the wind god and Anjana, has the ability to fly. His given name is Anjaneya and one day, mistaking the sun for a bright mango, he flies to eat it. Surya, the sun god, is enraged by this and strikes Anjaneya back to earth, knocking him dead. Vayu can not stand for this and a fight between he and Surya ensues, Vayu insisting that Surya return his son to life. Finally Surya agrees, but under the condition that Anjaneya comes back with no memory of his abilities. Returned to life with a broken jaw as a shadowy reminder of his mortality, he is renamed Hanuman (meaning broken jaw) and sent to live in the land of the monkeys, no longer raised by his mother. Hanuman doesn’t realize again his full potential until he feels the wings of two great qualities–his great devotion to Rama, who is the embodiment of human perfection, and the courage he gains from the encouragement of his teacher who reminds him that he must face the shadow of his past. Because Rama needs someone to make a giant leap across the ocean separating each side of the continent in order to find his beloved wife Sita who’s been kidnapped by an evil king, Hanuman must reconnect with his strongest self. Buoyed by his deep devotion and the courage of now having faced his past, Hanuman does indeed make this great leap, finds Sita, providing her with the assurance that Rama is coming for her and returning to provide Rama with the knowledge of where to find his wife. During the fight that ensues, Hanuman makes one more great leap back across the ocean to the Himalayas to gather a rare medicinal plant that is the only thing that can save Lakshmana who has been struck by a deadly arrow. At the end of this battle, Rama attempts to reward Hanuman, but Hanuman declines reward, telling Rama that the devotion that gave him wings is the greatest reward in his heart.
This story is a favorite of mine, in part because Hanuman’s ability to fly comes only after he faces his own brokenness and the shadow of his fallen flight, and with the faith he has in something more than his small self. I consider all the times I stepped on my mat to do this pose and struggled and fought against myself because it is so easy for me to focus on my brokenness here. I can easily go to story: my hips are too tight, I’m not good enough, this pose is ridiculous. All of the stories of imperfection come spilling out. But if I pause to make space slowly in the pose, and to hold my “broken” places with compassion instead of fear, I start to feel there is something greater than all of these stories that I’m holding, and that’s holding me, in this pose.
Consider all the ways you are already making great leaps of faith. I consider just two of mine: the leaps it takes to continue building a yoga community and the even greater leap it takes to send my children into the world to live their own lives. Fear is where I live when I forget that every day I am already making these leaps. When instead, I live with faith in something greater than me in my heart and the courage to hold all of my shadows. I realize that it’s the stories of fear and of my imperfections that “take me down from behind.” Those shadows don’t go away, but if I hold them in front of me and move with presence instead of a hurried rushing to arrive, I sense that I really can leap into flight. In fact, over and again, I already am.