In 1989 during my first semester at Humboldt State University, I made a conscious yet random decision to sign up for a yoga series. In these pre-Manduka and Gaiam days, my first teacher, Lorna Brown, encouraged us to spread out a towel or blanket on the carpet when we practiced to create padding for bones and protection from the many shoes that had walked across it.
Lorna guided us through movements, asana, pranayama and meditation, until we laid down on our backs and her soothing voice guided us into a delicious period of rest. Each relaxation began with the same words: “Bring your attention to your forehead. Relax your forehead.” After 5 or 6 classes, I realized that as soon as she said those words, my entire body would let go and soften, not just my forehead. How could my forehead change my whole body, I would often wonder? My favorite yoga moments happened when I let go of something that I didn’t know I held, when I discovered how to engage something I didn’t know I had.
One day, she taught us Wheel pose (Chakrasana), and I felt like my whole world found purpose and meaning. Pressing up that first wheel, I felt strong, athletic, competent; really, I felt confident for the first time in my life. From that point forward, at the end of practice when she said, “Is there anything else your body needs,” my wheel would need to turn. One day while I looked out the window at upside-down trees, Lorna said to me, “you really should rest in Shavasana now – it’s the most important part of the practice.” I realized everyone else was already resting, so I placed my body on the floor, and an indescribable magic happened: my body evaporated. My “pitta-full” and rajasic 20-year old mind become still. I experienced an infinite moment of no thought, no word, no dream, only presence.
Early on in my practice with my wonderful teacher, Lorna, I learned that all the doing in our practice prepares us for the stillness that can happen during and after the practice. I learned that if I could relax, soften in one small place, then I could create a little space everywhere in my body, a great lesson for living in our modern world. Not every practice brings me the same degree of presence, and sometimes shavasana just feels like a nap. When shavasana is over, however, I can tell that I am different, that I have let go of something I didn’t know carried.
To this day, when I lay down for shavasana, I can “feel” the sound of Lorna’s voice, encouraging me to soften my forehead. It really is the most important part of the practice, where we can let go of all the doing and the turning of the wheels, when we can integrate “what was” to experience more of “what we are.”. Being available to this integration is what yoga means to me.