Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Benefits of Yoga - Found in the Grand Canyon

Looking back over time, I ran across some musings from years ago. Some I now disagree with and others still ring true. Following is an article I wrote in 2003:


After a grueling 9 hour hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, with a 23 pound pack on my 5’1” body, Bright Angel Campground didn’t look so bright. My trapezius ached, my quadriceps quivered and my feet felt as if I had been walking across hot coals. This life-long dream, of staying at the bottom of this wondrous place, was definitely NOT what I had expected.

Sure the views were truly spectacular. The sun cast eerie and mysterious shadows at every turn. The sounds of the creek rushing over rocks to empty into the Colorado River filled the air. Only 10% of the population can see the Milky Way in the night sky. We were part of that 10% while camping at the bottom of the canyon.

But tell all this to my throbbing body. Every muscle tingled. Walking on flat ground brought on moans of agony. I thought I was in shape. I thought I was the “rugged, outdoorsy type,” as my partner, Mike, would say. This should have been a breeze. What was wrong with me? Instead of awe, happiness and joy, I felt disappointment, sadness and shame. And we had only come down the canyon. In 2 days, it was going to be time for the 10 mile ascent! The park rangers say to estimate the climb up to be twice as long as coming down. Let’s see that’s…18 hours! What was wrong with me? I’m only 39. I hike all the time. Why was I not fit enough, not strong enough? Disappointment filled every cell in my body. This is when I turned to yoga.

Many times students have expressed disappointment with their practice—they say they lack the strength for chaturanga (yoga push-up), the balance for garudasana (one-legged eagle balance), the flexibility for halasana (plow), or the discipline for meditation. At this moment of despair at the bottom of the canyon—dreading the imminent climb—my own words that I’ve told students again and again came to me. Words passed down from yogi to yogi over the years, “Start where you are today. Do not judge yourself. Don’t start from where you were yesterday or where you think you should be. Start where you are today. Accept yourself today.” As Donna Farhi, famous yogini from New Zealand, said at a recent visit to Chicago, “See what is. Embrace it.” Don’t get caught in these feelings, but accept them until they are ready to leave.

When we started the long climb back to the rim two days later, I began to feel the fear and welcomed it in. I didn’t grasp onto it nor push it away. I simply allowed it to reside in me. Thanks to Donna Farhi for this fabulous insight. After accepting—no longer struggling and fighting—these “negative” emotions, I was able to go beyond them. This is where sukha (contentment; joy), sthira (balance), and tapas (heat; enthusiasm) came into play.

Sukha—how could I find joy and pleasure in this experience? By accepting myself and my fear of returning to the top. Sthira—how could I find grounding and balance? With every step, my new focus shifted from pains in my muscles to placement of my feet. Before our ascent, I asked Mike what he thought about as he walked. I was expecting something like, “getting to the top,” “a good movie,” “a warm shower,” you know—something distracting to make the aches less noticeable. Unexpectedly, he wisely said, “I think about walking, where to place my next step.” As many great spiritually enlightened beings have said, “When I eat, I think about eating. When I sit, I think about sitting. When I walk, I think about walking.” So simple, and yet so profound. Tapas—how could I find enthusiasm while feeling so weak? By focusing on each step, one at a time. Not by dreaming of the end, not by fretting over the time. Simply by taking one step at a time. While I walk, I’ll think about walking.

In the end, with sukha, sthira, tapas and a lot of water, we made it to the top in only 6 hours—3 hours less than it took to get down. I felt physically exhausted, yet strong and vital. Yoga, Donna Farhi, Mike and the Grandest of all Canyons helped me to find an inner strength that I didn’t even know I had. It just goes to show, a little tapas can go a long way!

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

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