In reality, I kind of suck at yoga. But I’m getting better in both mind and body. Each time I practice I become a bit more flexible and more capable of centering myself on command. At first I could only achieve a simultaneous centering of body and mind during shivasana, the final pose at the end of yoga practice, in which full relaxation ensues. (Shivasana actually means “corpse pose,” evoking a metaphor that I don’t want to explore right now.) But lately I’ve come to find that centeredness in tadasana, or mountain pose. The root of the word comes from the Sanskrit tāḍa, which means mountain, and āsana, which means posture. It is a foundational pose that is meant to align the body and center the mind in order to prepare for the next pose. (For a photo and more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tadasana.) For me, tadasana is at the same time strong and calm. It is standing still, but with muscles activated, at the ready. It is in that momentary space of active calm that I become prepared to take on whatever comes next.
This is very appropriate today. I received my final Herceptin infusion in the Carle chemo suite, and this Friday I will have my chemo port surgically removed. When I first had my port inserted in December 2013 and soon after began chemotherapy, I viewed my treatments as a necessary and even oddly welcome process--a brutal series of bitchslaps meant to subdue the cancer and send it packing. But these treatments have also felt like a series of invasions, from the surgical implanting of the port itself, to all the needle pricks for blood draws and infusions, to major surgery, and even the radiation, which, although painless, penetrates you. Even the cancer itself felt a like an invasion, despite that fact that it consisted of my very own cells gone awry—the ultimate treason and betrayal. These invasions have been both physical and mental, breeding moments when I felt as if I was losing both body and mind. Decentered and unglued. And yet…
There is also something about a nasty process like cancer diagnosis and treatment that is centering. I’ve often heard people say, “cancer changed me,” and even, “cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.” That last one seems like a stretch, doesn’t it? But I know where those sentiments come from. They come from a sense that things are now different, or perhaps from an altered vantage point from which everyday things seem to take on subtly different qualities, becoming just a bit more beautiful or inspiring. Nevertheless, the notion of perspectival change—viewing the world through new eyes—doesn’t quite do it for me, and I think that’s because it’s calm without action. Don’t get me wrong—the ability to see things in a new light is not easy, and it is not to be dismissed. Indeed, I have experienced a shift in perspective, and it’s awesome. But you know me: I also want active. Tadasana.
The way I understand it, tadasana doesn't give people a generic strength (or calm, or grace, or whatever). Rather, it prompts me to summon my own strength, in its own form. It doesn’t center me. I use it to become centered. In other words, it is both calm and active. Tadasana is an agentic stance.
In some ways, tadasana (whether it’s an actual yoga pose, or a broader metaphor for how I now feel) triggers my internal GPS, sending my thoughts simultaneously inward and outward to engage the multiple points of love, care, and goodness that ground me, that let me know who and where I am: Craig, with his warm touch, smiling eyes, always-good heart, and endless love—my ultimate passion. Mom and Dad—always there, on the sidelines and in the stands, in my genes, and in my heart—true bridges over troubled water. Patricia and Vernon: magical combinations of parent/friend, and also there for Mom and Dad because they need those bridges, too; I am a better daughter because of them. Evan and Nate, my thoughtful, creative, bright, and healthy boys who rock my world; who have already made the world a better place, and who will surely continue to do so. The rest of my family and all my friends: You lift me up, pure and simple.
This will be my last post on this blog. I’ll keep the blog live for any folks who wish to revisit it, but I’m done with this pose and ready for my next challenge. Tadasana. Bring it!
I couldn’t work this excerpt from my favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver, into my post, so here it is for you in it’s own glory:
Last May, I saw a dragonfly as long as my hand—longer than average-sized songbird. She circled and circled, flexing her body, trying to decide if my little lake was worthy of her precious eggs. She was almost absurdly colorful, sporting a bright green thorax and blue abdomen. Eventually she lit on the tip of the horsetail plant that sends long slender spikes up out of the water. She was joined on the tips of five adjacent stalks by five other dragonflies, all different: an orange-bodied one with orange wings, a yellow one, a blue-green one, one with a red head and purple tail, and a miniature one in zippy metallic blue. A dragonfly bouquet. Be still, and the world is bound to turn herself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. The choice is draw the blinds and shut it all out, or believe.
What to believe in, exactly, may never turn out to be half as important as the daring act of belief. A willingness to participate in sunlight, and the color red. An agreement to enter into a conspiracy with life, on behalf of both frog and snake, the predator and the prey, in order to come away changed.
-Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson, p. 268