I have been taking yoga classes for the past two years with Bob Whittinghill, an amazing Iyengar teacher in Chicago. I admit to only really feeling like I have been “studying” yoga for the last year or so. The first year I spent just trying to stay upright or supine or whatever the asana required. It took me over a year to easily get into shoulder stand (sarvangasana). I tried to not be distracted by how much my muscles were shaking or how intense the muscle extension was.
The Yoga Tree studio is in the community building of a beautiful old church. The room has a movable wall in dark, multi-paneled wood. There are glass “windows” in the ceiling, and it is clear that the old light fixtures have been replaced with standard fluorescent fixtures. The windows to the alley and courtyard are old, lovely casement windows, with arched glass and real divided lights. I like the room, and we all try to get to class early enough to get a spot by the real wall, as many of the asanas get the support of the wall. I remember some of those first classes, lying in supta padangusthasana (reclining big toe pose) and looking at the barrel ceiling of the room. When I should have been focusing on my leg muscles, I was wondering what the light in the room looked like before the church replaced the old fixtures. What kind of light had they shed on the room and its occupants?
I have conquered my fear of shoulder stand, and I recently switched to Bob’s continuing yoga class. I now have a new fear, headstand (shirshasana) and the class is in the evening instead of the morning. This means that by the time the class is over, the evening light has waned and it is all but dark outside. The first time I attended a continuing class, it was the last of the four week cycle and focused on restorative poses. Much was new, but nothing that was totally unfamiliar. I had had a terrible day at school, so this was exactly what was needed.
The next class began with us all in a seated pose, eyes closed. Across the hall a choir was practicing the Haydn Creation. This was merely intriguing until Bob began to chant an invocation – Aum, it began. I knew that part – but the rest was a complex melodic call and response that was completely unfamiliar. Not knowing the meaning of what I was chanting, I participated by replying with the notes and not the sounds. The complex Sanskrit call and response in counterpoint to the German of the Haydn was very interesting. The next few classes all began the same way, with the chanted invocation, although we have not had the Haydn as part of the experience again.
Stay with me – I’m going someplace with this
So this past Wednesday was as restorative class. Bob left the lights off, preferring to have class with the natural light coming through the windows and having it slowly darken as the evening deepened. We did not begin the class with the invocation, and I thought to myself – well, maybe restorative classes don’t need it. We spent almost 90 minutes in serious work (restorative is a relative term) and after savasana the room was quite dark. We finished class in a supported seated pose, and Bob explained that we would end the class with the invocation. As we closed our eyes, he reminded us to look inward toward our sternum, the place that is the seat of the soul. Bob led the invocation.
Point of Light
As the last aum faded I opened my eyes. I looked down, getting ready to stand, and there on my torso, focused right on my sternum, was a spot of light about the size of a dollar coin, irregular in shape, but distinct. I looked to the window – no street light shining in. I waved my hand in front of the light – and it moved, so it was coming from outside, but I couldn’t see the source. Okay – no one is going to believe this, I thought. I looked at the light again, and as everyone else around me was putting away their props and mats, I got up. But I keep thinking about that light.
At the right place
I love the Sufi mystics, though I am skeptical of the mystical in my own life, but I have a healthy respect for being at the right place at the right time. I guess that I was. I’m still thinking about what that light might mean for me, though I don’t want to overstate its importance. But it was a wonderful convergence of place, time, and effort. If it is nothing else, it is that.
So I will end with my own wish –
Aum, shanti, shanti, shanti, aum.
Photo by flickr member peregrine blue.
5 Comments Add yours
Are we skeptical of the mystical because of the assurance that science provides? Science may not have all the answers…A beautiful tale of light.
We may be skeptical because of the assurance of science or the empiricist’s need to see. We may be skeptical because we think we are not important enough to experience the profound or the mystic. But I have given birth to three daughters who every day show me the profound power of the unknown. I can’t dismiss the light, though I can’t say that it has ultimate meaning for anyone but me. Thanks for stopping by, Paul. I’m sure that it won’t surprise you that I am thinking Emerson again.
Science hardly provides assurance to anyone paying attention. That’s not to say that a healthy view of the natural world, looking for patterns, learning how to predict, is not a useful tool–it is phenomenally useful.
Skepticism is healthy, cynicism is not–I suspect that a lot that passes for the former is really the latter. It is easy to dismiss the mystical because that’s what “smart” people do.
I suspect that when people learn to think for themselves, skepticism can lead to mysticism.
But of course science and skepticism can solve the puzzle of the light, why then and in that specific spot. But it is the element of kismet or mysticism of course that I was exactly where I was when it happened. The moment had magic, most interestingly because I was as connected as I ever am to the natural world after 90 minutes of yoga – when I am paying the most attention.
Peace, peace, peace. And dancing!
And I’m just saying, Bob – that it doesn’t matter that YOU think I’m going up into Shirshasana next week (with the wall no doubt) I am still afraid.