When I was a young girl, my family lived in Tuscany for a year during my father’s sabbatical. It was a wonderful, formative time for all of us, traipsing around after our Dad to examine forgotten frescos in remote villages, or playing in the olive orchard behind our house. In the spring, we traveled to Greece during easter. I remember the overwhelming grace of the ancient temples, the sorrowfulness of the slaughtered lambs hanging by their feet in butcher shops, the loneliness of the Greek widows, shuffling home with their daily purchases, their dark clothing in sharp contrast to the bright morning sun. My most poignant memory from this trip, however, is not of the destination, but of the journey.
We had traveled south to take the overnight ferry from Brindisi, Italy to Patras, Greece. Once we got on the boat, it was a beautiful, starry night. Standing on the deck with my father, we looked up into the night sky, looking at constellations and talking about early Greek navigation. What I really saw, though, was the vision of so many stars and galaxies that they seemed to layer back to infinity. The night sky was so vast and so deep, it was beyond anything I could fathom. Having spent many months looking at Renaissance paintings showing the hierarchy of heaven and earth or ceilings adorned with chubby puttis floating among clouds, for the first time in my life, I felt a different sense of the universe. This Aegean sky was so big, so mysterious, and so beautiful – it was inexplicable beyond any religious or scientific way. Shifting my awareness, I understood less, but felt more, a deeper connection to this magnificent universe that we were all inextricably part of. It was an AHA! moment that I’ll never forget.
Years later, I was backpacking across Southeast Asia and visited Borobodur, a 9th century Buddhist temple in Java. I was enchanted by this ancient site which mimicked a mountain, with countless platforms and stupas, places to scramble up to and explore. The next morning, a group of us woke up before dawn to climb another crest – this time to the top of Merapi, an active volcano. In the cold moments before sunrise, we lay against the warm surface of the earth to stay warm. As we lay pinned to the ground, fiery sparks shot up from the active caldera below us, flashing light into the blackness like fireworks. Then, with absolute steadiness, the mighty sun crested over the mountain and rose into the sky, warming and lighting every surface within moments. Another glimpse at something sublime.
Feeling a connection to nature and the sublime
Almost all of us have felt a deep connection to the grandeur of nature at some point in our lives. Cross country skiing in the snowy woods on a sparkling winter’s day, standing out on the porch on a summer night and listening to the crickets, or gazing down at the perfection of a baby in our arms. All this is the experience of yoga – the feeling of being connected to something more powerful than ourselves, the comfort of belonging without question, the intuitive knowledge that all we need to do is to allow ourselves to experience what is here and now. Accepting this feeling of connection to each other and to the universe allows us to relax just a little bit more, to be less judgmental, and to just be. To me, this is yoga.
Yoga opens doors in so many ways. The physical practice of yoga is wonderful as it encourages alignment in our skeletons, flexibility and strength in our limbs and in our spine, and greater mobility in our joints. The more we do yoga, the better we feel, both inside and out. We breathe better, we move better, and we feel re-energized. Gradually, our practice allows us to feel these wonderful attributes not only in our bodies, but in our souls. We develop a sense of peace and well-being as we begin to expand the awareness of our own interior space, to allow ourselves to be fully present, and to withhold judgment about ourselves – and others. We start to tap into our intuition a little bit more, and to stress a little less.
Making it your own experience
It doesn’t really matter how flexible we are, or how beautifully aligned our asanas are compared to anyone else: it’s the process of practicing yoga, and cultivating mindfulness while doing it, which helps each of us to reconnect with our innate being and with the universe. Practicing yoga allows us to intuit AHA! moments even while on the mat: we begin to find expansiveness in the movements of our body as well as in our mind – and this is what makes the practice of yoga so wonderful.