Like a Bird Sighting, Yoga Can Offer a Glimpse of Something Rare and Beautiful
When my girls were small, much time was spent in nature. My oldest, Emily, would guide her younger twin siblings. “See the bluebird, Paige?”
“Oh, they have a nest!” Paige would exclaim. Blythe would often be distracted by reflections in the water or insects in the bark of the tree.
“Look, you’ll miss it!” Emily would say, gently taking Blythe's chin in hand and turning her face to see the nearly missed moment. Delight would spread over Blythe’s face when she spotted her favorite birds.
Only their own insights can give them the ability to move forward
As someone who offers yoga, my time is spent this way; people come into training, or classes, or therapy sessions expecting a set of poses, a predictable script to offer to others or heal their own ills. Instead, what we can give them is an arrow, a whiff of a fragrance, or a tilt of the chin that allows each of them their own moment of awareness. Only their own insights can give them the ability to move forward.
In observing the students going through our yoga school, it seems that this often occurs around the 100-hour mark of a teacher training. The vastness of yoga strikes them, and they start noticing the interconnection between all aspects of the practice—the limbs, the paths, the koshas, the vayus, doshas—and the utter hugeness of all that is yoga. And often, there is a sense of overwhelm. “I can’t teach this! I may have to drop out of training!” That's when I know they have seen the bluebird. The ego has taken the necessary hit, and perhaps the teacher-in-training sees their new role: a humble tour guide pointing out the attractions with which they are familiar. A good tour guide need not know the underlying geological formation of the Royal Gorge, or be able to recount the biography of every Renaissance painter in Florence. Having a deep, joyful connection with and enthusiasm to explore the area is what makes an effective tour leader—one who will stimulate other minds and hearts, and, when needed, point them in the direction of teachers with more understanding. (I call this the “Billy Goat Gruff” process: “No, don’t eat me, my brother is much bigger!” is somewhat akin to "Go study with my teacher.")
In a public class, the "bluebird moment" often comes halfway through the class when we have thinned the exoskeleton of stress, and a moment’s pause arises. ”Listen to your breath, notice how clear?” There are half smiles or nods. “How’s your shoulder feeling?” we might ask as the student departs. The student's expression says, “What shoulder? I felt what yoga does.” Aloud they say “Better.” In the context of a yoga class, or even a single asana, the recognition of just one breath can open a student's eyes to the rasa, the underlying juice of practice. Maybe they came for fitness, but they got a peek at something much bigger.
In yoga therapy sessions, expectations for results are particularly high. The therapist’s role is to uncover the body's habits and movement patterns that are at the root of the issue, and to then help the client unwind these old familiar patterns. The client's eyes are opened when they realize that all of their movement is yoga—not just what they do on the mat. One client of mine recently laughed, “When I wanted a private session, I thought you would teach me how to perform full king dancer pose, but instead I learned to walk!” Every client has to understand for themselves what subtle movements, breath patterns, and life skills can change their course.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Sri Krishna, “Tell me of the man who lives in wisdom, ever aware of the Self, O Krishna; how does he talk, how does he sit, how does he move about?” (2.54). Arjuna has become aware of the deep layers and wants to see more. He has tilted his head to the perfect angle to see the goal, to walk around in a wise way, to be aware of the higher Self always. Arjuna wants to live in the state of understanding why he came to this point and to behave wisely at all times, not just have the momentary glimpse.
The Sanskrit word smarana, or remembering who we really are, describes the sighting of the illusive bird, the clearing of the water, that thing we are looking for.
The bluebird is fleeting for most of us. You see it, and clarity is yours; the threads connect and you see what work lies ahead. Then you leave teacher training, and initial discouragements like small class attendance or lack of payment darken your perceptions. You leave the public class vowing to start a home practice, to attend class regularly, and to hang out with people with similar goals. And then your children get the chicken pox, or you lose your job, and simply making it through the day becomes the top priority. Or the "aha" moments of a great yoga therapy session are lost when, in the midst of daily life, you forget the breathing or subtle alignment cues that previously served as a guiding light. But you saw the bluebird, and you aren’t going to forget that. You looked at yoga and saw into its bottomless depths briefly, an ocean of knowledge so deep that it will take lifetimes to explore, but something changed. The Sanskrit word smarana, or remembering who we really are, describes the sighting of the illusive bird, the clearing of the water, that thing we are looking for.
With regular practice, bluebirds become a familiar sight and they show up everywhere: in a breath at a stoplight, in a late evening walk, in the smile of a friend. And they are still present in the midst of illness, a messy divorce, or the death of a loved one—perched on top of our deepest fears.
Sri Krishna responds to Arjuna:
”He lives in wisdom
Who sees himself in all and all in him,
Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed
Every selfish desire and sense-craving
Tormenting the heart. Not agitated
By grief nor hankering after pleasure,
He lives free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments,
He is not elated by good fortune
Nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer.”
The word "seer" hits a resounding note. One who sees. Sees without prompts and reminders, without tilting their head at an angle, or squinting just so. Seeing the underlying meaning, the beauty of the hidden bluebird, we need not look any further since we have found the source of joy.