I want to unfold. I do not want to remain folded up anywhere,
because wherever I am still folded, I am untrue.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
I am currently participating in a two-week yoga intensive at a studio near my house. Monday through Friday for two weeks I arrive for my 8:30 class to commit to another day of my practice and see what I discover. We are moving through the same sequence of poses each day to deepen our attention to what is happening. Yesterday as we began with some quiet breathing, the teacher asked us to “notice what’s true” for us about our bodies, our minds, our emotions. Without judgment, we were invited to just be present to the quality of our experience and claim it as the truth for us in that moment.
This powerful little phrase has been lingering in my imagination even off the mat. I then ran across the Rilke quote above in two different places. One of the truths I am discovering is that I am much stronger and more capable physically than I had believed. I signed up for this intensive with some trepidation as I have been taking only gentle classes these last few years because of health issues, yet before that there was a window of time when my yoga practice was strong and vigorous.
But I have been feeling better in recent months and feeling a pull to challenge myself further. My spiritual director and I have been talking about the old story I am still living in and the new one that is making room for me to step inside. The old story was true for a long while and served me well to help me care for myself. But now it has grown too small and I am discovering there is less and less truth to find there. I am needing to unfold myself, stretch muscle, sinew, and bone into the new truth-bearing story and expand within its luminous borders. This is a hard task because I have become so used to telling myself the old story, the one where I can’t go past a certain edge for good reasons, where I had to build up a protective wall so I wouldn’t be hurt again.
“Notice what’s true.” I sit on my mat and become fully present to my body and its longings. I see the old story and new story there on each side of my mat. Each one looks so inviting for different reasons except the old one is folded over, trying to protect itself still and suddenly I see how much smaller it is. And I see how the physical dimension is only one part of the story I have outgrown, there are many other invitations blooming in me as well, awaiting my willingness to unfold fully.
I was having a conversation with another student in my class who asked me how long I had been practicing yoga. My first respons was 13 years, remembering when my husband and I moved to Woodland, California for a year while he worked at the local parish and I was healing from a serious bout of illness. There I found a yoga teacher who opened up a door for me into the capacity of my body. But as I told this story I hesitated, and realized that it was my aunt who first taught me yoga when I was about six years old. I remember my young body loving the experience yoga gave me of feeling safe, strong, and limber, and having a space in my physical being to stretch and reach both inward and outward.
And so the other thing I am discovering that is true, is that everything I love was present in my life in some way when I was a child – writing, photography, art, nature, yoga. In some ways the new story is also a very old story and I am re-membering my way back to that original unfolding. It is not that the strong and vigorous yoga is somehow better than the gentle kind. It is that the truth I am discovering — this new (and somehow also very old, maybe original) story — about my body being strong and capable also leads me to examine the other places of my life I have underestimated myself, the places where life and my capacity for living is far bigger than I had imagined.
© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts
“Notice what’s true” will be echoing over and over in my head now. Everytime I repeat it, a feeling of peace settles over me like a soft, warm blanket.
Thank you for this post Christine.
“Notice what’s true…” very much resonates with me on many levels.
Thanks Christine. There are an abundance of yoga instructors here in greater Cincinnati as well. I’ve only taken two beginner classes about 5 years ago. What type of yoga instructors do I look for and what questions would I ask in order to seek one that would facilitate the spiritual depth? Could you also recommend some books that might be helpful in becoming familiar with the types of spiritual yoga you’re referring to? Thanks again!
Carolyn, thanks for the beautiful quote, I used it for my email newsletter tonight.
Bette, persistence is good, there are an abundance of yoga studios in Seattle, but really only a small handful of teachers who I find can really facilitate the spiritual depth to complement the physical poses. Keep trying until you find the right fit. :-)
Deb, yes I have been moved by how simply this power is, how transformational to simply name what is the truth.
kigen, approaching 40 has heightened my journey in many ways, I look forward to this next decade with eagerness.
April, Prose and Prana sounds like a wonderful combination. The different arts really help to unfold one another. :-)
Christine what great synchronicity – at a local yoga studio they have been hosting a Prose and Prana workshop.. The idea is to get into certain asanas and then with notebook at the ready, write down the feelings this generates. Unfortunately, I just found out about the workshop – and they ended yesterday, lol.
I will definitely keep my eyes peeled for the next one! What I so loved about your description is the honoring of what was true in the moment. I have been avoiding myself lately… this was just the pointer I needed.y
(the good news is that I made an appt. for a Thai massage – which I’ve always wanted to try. :) )
Christine, A wonderful post, I can feel the growing and stretching of the yoga, the story telling and you! Yours is the second post (the other was actually an article) that I’ve read today about story telling. I need to read both of these two again before I sleep:)
Christine, the age 40 is still young, with much vigor. But the success and joy of your mid-life years may be greatly helped by the loving preparation you do now.
Being honest and aware about what is real and what is imagined, feared, told to me by others or otherwise conjured in my head. There is such power in this kind of truthfulness.
Thank you for sharing this. It speaks to me. How do I find a yoga instructor like the one you speak of? Seriously, there are times I don’t have the strength to know how to unfold those tight creases. I know that ‘time’ and ‘processing’ is key, but to have that Spiritual Director or yoga instructor to help pull it out, is so needed.
There isn’t time nor space to name the ways this resonates ; thank you.
[Quoted in Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender]:
‘Stories move in circles.
They don’t move in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles.
There are stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home.
And part of the finding is the getting lost, and when you’re lost, you start to look around
and to listen.’