Transition in Yoga Mirrors

Transition in Life

“Life is one big transition.” -Willie Stargell

For R. J., my fellow yogini.

Going through transitions in yoga, is like going through transitions in life — we are doing our best to keep our balance and not to collapse.

I love to practice yoga on the beach by myself. Typically, I will go to the beach early in the morning just as the sun is rising, and before too many people are out and about. One time, in the middle of my practice, another yoga practitioner made his way to the beach and began his routine not too far away from me. I know, in general, that yogis should not look and compare themselves to other practitioners, but this time I could not resist. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see how smooth this man’s transitions were between each pose — he was gliding effortlessly from pose to pose with such ease and grace that it mesmerized me. I could not stop watching him; even after I went back to my hotel room, I continued to observe his moves from the window. I truly admired his incredible skill.

Yoga teachers often say that the way you practice yoga on the mat reflects how you deal with events in your life outside of the studio. If this is the case, this man probably moves through life with ease and grace.

Not many practitioners are as skillful in transitions as the man I saw at the beach. Transitions are hard for everybody both in yoga and in life. In yoga, transitions require focus, total body and mind engagement and continual practice. In life, we go through many transitions. We move from becoming a parent to having an empty nest; we say good-bye to people we love, we move from job to job, get promotions, change places we live and transition from being young to being old. Transitions, even happy ones like weddings and birthdays, can be stressful. They conjure up mixed feelings and often bring anxiety and sometimes even despair. Whatever the circumstances, navigating this gray zone of transitions can be difficult, putting us into awkward emotional spaces where we have cut ties with what we know but have not quite settled into what is new. During these times, when everything seems to be in flux, when our old patterns have collapsed, we may feel unsteady. This is the time to explore and proactively make decisions on where you want to head in your new situation.

When I was a novice yoga practitioner, transitions were not on my mind. I would focus on putting a lot of effort into simply staying in a pose without losing balance. Progress at that time was judged by how long I could remain in a given pose without faltering. Now, my practices often include a more advanced and focused practice during which one of my teachers keeps the class in a plank pose for a long time while saying, “That’s how transition feels like in life — it is trying, shaky, and can be unstable. You can lose balance if you don’t breathe and don’t keep the entire body together by engaging your abdomen, pressing your front thighs upward, and lengthening your tailbone toward your heels.” One might think this is a lot to remember while you are trying to keep your balance. Who cares about transitions at that moment? Not too many people do, including me — all I care about at the moment is not to break the pose and collapse for rest on the floor.

During transitions, we tend to overly focus on one thing and feed our insecurities and fears causing anxiety and uncertainty. Instead, we should try to shift our focus to something else. For example, during real-world stressful moments of transition, we may help somebody in need. Doing so helps us remember that everyone struggles at times. Having a support system of friends, family and colleagues is important for any transition.

In yoga, we also have a support system that helps us to go through transitions. It consists of breath, body, mind and community. When I practice yoga, I first focus on bringing my thoughts internally, and then I take a deep slow breath in, lengthen my spine and move my body with a long exhale into the next pose. In class, while I am moving into the Upward-Facing Dog, my teacher will often remind me to “inhale, open your heart and look in front of you, then on an exhale, round your upper back, then middle back, then lower back, engage your belly and push your hips back into a Downward-Facing Dog.” I follow these instructions and transition into the new pose and with each new breath I feel like it is the next step into a new me.

All I need to do is take a deep breath, open my heart, face the situation and on exhale embrace it — step by step. When I follow my breath by moving from pose to pose, I feel like I am gliding with ease and steadiness into a new transformed me.

“Step back in perspective, open your heart and welcome transition into a new phase of life.” ― Linda Rawson

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Bonus Exercise

When confronting change, use this exercise to remind yourself that only through change are we able to evolve. Kneel in Child’s Page and visualize yourself as a seed deep underground. Imagine the effort of pushing up through the hard ground, followed by the delight of emerging as a bud into the brightness and warmth of a new day.