(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Once upon a time, I knew nothing about chakras or energy or any of that stuff. And, if I had known, I wouldn’t have believed in it.

Now after taking yoga for nine years from the same instructor, I realize sometimes you can believe in things you don’t understand. Though they don’t always make sense, often they just are.

Years ago I was in a book club where the month’s hostess chose the book for the night and any associated themes. We were all so cliché—I would choose the small town or chick lit books, someone else would choose a current bestseller you could never find in a library or in a paperback version, and another would pick a genre book, etc. For the most part it was good for us—it stretched our limits.

Good-hearted Angie always chose woo-woo books, which were really enlightening for the skeptic in me, even if I didn’t believe. One time we read this book by Michael Crichton (the Jurassic Park author) where he detailed all sorts of spiritual experiences. I had heard of chakras through yoga, but had no idea that even a person such as I could feel energy from another person’s chakras until I read that book. Not that I thought it was true, until I tried to do so. Call me shocked and amazed.

Around the same time, I experienced one of the more physically difficult yoga classes we would do—working with a tennis ball on each side of the spine and moving them throughout class from the pressure points in one chakra to the pressure points in the next. Reaching all that deep tissue was really painful, but I had no idea that accessing those areas would also bring out the corresponding emotions for each chakra. When those tennis balls reached the heart chakra, all of a sudden I was in tears, crying not because of physical pain, but because of buried losses—my father’s death a few years earlier but also a death twenty years earlier, a friendship too soon ended, and all sorts of losses of the heart. It happened just as the instructor had explained even though I didn’t expect it to happen to me.

In order to benefit from yoga in a more than physical way, you have to develop a trust for your instructor and give in to the process. There is a reason many yoga instructors are called gurus—I respect and follow my other fitness teachers, but yoga asks me to surrender control in a way that goes beyond that.

At the same time, yoga is this ancient practice that requires a whole lot of knowledge. The more I learn about yoga, the more I understand that this practice can harm me if not guided by someone who really understands anatomy and how the body (and mind) works—and does not work. Faith in my instructor’s knowledge is also a big part of how I can feel comfortable enough to give in to the process and trust that what hurts me in the moment will heal me in the long run.

We in our community have been blessed with an instructor who not only knows much of what the ancients knew but also keeps learning much of what modern times can teach. She comes to our classes, aware of many of our chronic personal aches, asks what we need that day and modifies and/or designs the class to meet our needs in that moment. She is genius at changing her plans for us and yet still keeping a class on a timely schedule and running as seamlessly as if she never varied it. Her classes are like stepping into a river—different each time.

I have practiced yoga when out-of-shape and hurting, fit and improving, in pain and while working through serious injury, through my mother’s journey deeper into Alzheimer’s and her subsequent death, as my precious dog sickened and died, during my daughter’s intensive treatments for her health needs, and so on. Yoga has shown me how to find joy in my days and helped me survive despair in the night.

Yoga has taught me to how to breathe, improved my always bad posture, changed my outlook toward what I can and cannot control, and moved me back toward health when painfully out of alignment.

I have learned focus and patience, two attributes I most definitely do not possess naturally. Now when stuck waiting, dressed only in a flimsy gown, for some doctor who breezes in thirty minutes later, I can rest and breathe and feel gratitude for the pause in my day.

For these nine years, I have worked my schedule around one person’s yoga classes, never missing signing up for a session, even if I have had conflicts for individual classes. While pursuing moving from self-employment to working for someone else, I have been considering how I might be able to switch to my guru’s weekend classes.

Though I continue grounded by the practice I have done over the years, my heart hurts to discover that the facility I love and the guru who guides me have parted ways. Suddenly, the earth as I’ve known it has shifted beneath me. By now I know enough to believe that what beats in my fourth chakra is more than a physical heart—it is also a sense of loss for what has been and what has now ended.

If you’ve never taken yoga or only see it as another exercise class, this probably seems more than a little melodramatic. I can only assure you that a yoga connection can grow your heart, much in the way the Grinch’s heart grew from love. Tonight while my heart grieves, I will practice deep breathing, aiming to keep that fourth chakra from shrinking so it can still remain open to harmony and peace.

This I have learned to believe: so often all you can do is trust in the process.