Cat From The Mat

Basking in the Blossom

Back in the day, when yoga first began with the Indus Valley civilization, there was ritual.  In order to transact with the rough environs, these rituals were a way of participating in keeping the world going.  There was no meaning to the ceremony.  The focus was the process itself.    

Ritual is defined as "a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone."  Today, every culture has ritual, known as "puja" in Sanskrit.  Whether we attribute meaning to it or not, it still continues…like making coffee in the morning, the way you get to work every day, removing your shoes at a threshold, reading/writing a monthly blog, or placing your yoga mat in a specific way.  In doing so, like the ancient yogis, you are propelling the narrative of life.

This spring, I was fortunate enough to experience rituals of two very different cultures, both embracing nature.  In March, I held a weeklong yoga retreat in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.  We were taken to the edge, where the paved road ends and Mother Nature begins.  It was tropical, not tranquil.  Forget about blaring car alarms at 4am, when you have howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, and deafening cicadas to wake you up.  Welcome to the coastal rainforest containing 2.5% of the world's biodiversity.

We pushed our edges by climbing a 70-foot tree barefoot to see as the monkeys see, by rappelling a 150-foot dry waterfall trusting the support of ropes over empty gravitational space, and by exploring our inner obstacles on the yoga mat.  My visit was book ended by staying at my friend's wall-free jungle home.  Talk about transacting with the natural world!  Who needs walls when you can have 24/7 free entertainment by all walks of life entering and exiting your humid domain!

In contrast, one week later, I arrived in Japan just in time to witness cherry blossom (Sakura) season, which delineates the beginning of spring as well as the national school year.   The Japanese are known for their customs, from pristine presentation to pride in whatever they do.   As Bruce Feiler decribes in his book Learning to Bow, "the Sakura is the national flower for this reason: the blooms come and go, tantalize and evaporate in a single moment of brilliance that transcends time."  As we walked through the various cotton-candy arcades of cherry blossoms, we observed locals taking pictures to document the concurrent beauty and elegy.  In such an urban environment, there is an admiration of nature, with elegance as fleeting as any text message.

Rather than trying to prolong the inevitable floral demise, the sakura season represents the practice of savoring the fullness of life now. This Japanese observance basks in the fact that nothing lasts.  The snowflake flurry of petals that fly in the air and fall to their death on the ground are equally celebrated as part of life.  Endings bring beginnings, beginnings mark endings, and the middle, which connects these two contrary compliments, keeps life going.  In any given moment, we are always in one aspect of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yoga invites us to become aware and fluent in this simultaneous cycle.

Summer is here, which punctuates the end of spring.  The longer days will begin to wane on the Summer Solstice.  The end of June also signifies the closing of Virayoga, my yoga home of twelve years in New York City.  This studio has been my anchor since its inception.  With the support of my Virayoga family, I ventured off to help rebuild the yoga communities in my hometown of New Orleans and the gulf coast region after Hurricane Katrina.  Since then, my yoga travels have expanded across the globe.  It's been the nourishing cord back to that studio that has fed me and kept me going.

Like the sakura, Virayoga has blossomed and now some of its petals are releasing to the ground.  With gratitude for this rite of passage, I embark on an exciting new chapter.  As one says before and after a meal in Japan, "Itadakimasu" (I humbly accept the food) and "Gochisosama deshita" (That was a feast).  My heart is deliciously full.  Thank you for the ritual of the feast.  Happy Summer Solstice! 



Cat From the Mat

June 2014 blog