Yoga is magical. Because of my practice, I’ve finally learned to fly.
I’ve taken a lot of leaps of faith in my life. There was the time when I moved to North Carolina without a job or a plan, just a trusting husband and a hopeful heart. Then there was the time when I left a challenging, exhilarating teaching job to pursue my writing full-time. But with all of my leaps of faith, I’d never really flown.
Yes, I’ve been in an airplane, many times, and I love the feeling of flying to a new destination. But I’m talking about really, truly, physically flying. No, I’m not crazy; I’m just falling crazy in love with my deepening yoga practice, and I’m learning how to defy gravity.
In preparation for my upcoming yoga teacher training this summer, I’ve deepened my practice both at home and in the studio. As part of my homework before the training begins, I was asked to attend a handful of different yoga classes. This is meant to give me a wide exposure to the many styles of yoga and of yoga instructors, and I am also taking it as an opportunity to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
Despite my best intentions, I can fall into comfortable routines as easily as I change into yoga pants at the end of a long day, and it’s rare that I seek challenge. I’ll face it when it comes, of course, but I usually inhabit a familiar world with familiar wants and needs. It’s safe, which is refreshing after my major soul leaps, but sometimes, that safety needs to be shaken a bit. Exploring the amazingly diverse yoga studios in my area is helping me do that.
The first time I felt myself flying, I was at my regular yoga studio in my regular yoga class. As often happens in the course of the flow, the instructor offered us the opportunity to experience Crow Pose. This pose requires you to support the weight of your body with only your hands, and I’m always too terrified of face planting to really commit to the pose. Sure, I’ll try it each week, but I don’t stick with it and I’m always relieved when my feet are back on the mat.
But last week, something shifted. Perhaps my practice is making me feel stronger, or perhaps I’m just learning to let go of my type-A perfectionist urges, but for whatever reason, I found myself balanced awkwardly on my palms, lifting both feet gingerly off the mat. Instead of the usual fear I felt when attempting the pose, joy rushed into my heart, and I had to fight back the urge to laugh. The smile plastered on my face was as bright as the sun as I finally let myself fly for the first time.
That feeling of joy stayed with me, seeping into my week and empowering me. In a burst of bravery, I decided that I would finally try out a local aerial yoga class at a studio I was vaguely familiar with. It had always sounded fun and exciting, but I hadn’t been ready to break out of the comfortable bubble of my vinyasa practice. Flying off the mat in Crow gave me the courage to try something new, with the added bonus that this experiment would add to my teacher training homework. Even if the class didn’t fit me, I reasoned, it would be a win-win.
Nervously, I got ready on Friday morning. The open, airy studio space set me immediately at ease, and I sat down in a patch of sunlight to ground and center while I waited for the class to begin.
Despite the studio receptionist’s assurance that the class usually had five or six people, I found myself the sole practitioner. Usually, that would make me nervous and self-conscious, but the aerial instructor was so warm and the silks were so strange that I didn’t have time to get nervous: I just dove in.
If you’ve never experienced the strange, slightly addictive experience of being safely cocooned by aerial silks, find a studio somewhere and hoist yourself into the air! The yoga silks were hung like swings, with both ends securely fastened to a beam across the ceiling, and one of the first pieces of the practice involved lifting ourselves into the dangling silks and getting a feel for this strange, beautiful, adult-sized swing.
Think back to the weightless, giddy sensation you felt as a child dangling upside-down from the monkey bars or pumping your legs to go higher and higher on the swings. That sense of joy and freedom is the closest thing I can think of to describe my first aerial yoga experience. For the second time in a week, I was flying, but this time, nothing connected me to the ground.
It was a heady, powerful hour. I worked hard (my abs haven’t been used like that in a long time, if ever), but I also laughed and flipped over and felt my heart open with tremendous joy. The most magical moment of the practice came when we were doing an airborne variation of tree pose.
Hovering there over the studio floor, bathed in the golden light from the skylight above, I think I truly understood the depth of the word, “Namaste”; we are all divine beings, and we all have the power to take flight. All it takes is a moment of risk, and a joyful practice.
How will you take flight?