This is a photograph of me working on my handstand in front of the beautiful mural at davannayoga (where I trained, still practice, and now lead a few yoga classes) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is an amazing yoga shala, if anyone is looking for a place to pursue some formal yoga training. I HIGHLY recommend it.
Anyway, I love this photograph for a number of reasons. First, the mural is just so breathtaking. It is funny how many traveling students come through the shala and want to take a photograph of it. It was painted on the wall there by another one of davannayoga’s teachers, who is a beautiful soul and a very talented friend. The mural depicts the 8 limbs of yoga, as originally described in the seminal text on yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I’ll talk more about the 8 limbs in other posts, and in some videos once I get them uploaded. But I love the mural, as it so beautifully arranges the different components of the 8 limbs of yoga, making them easy to visualize and study. As I suspect is true for many, there are certain limbs (or parts of limbs, such as individual components of the yamas or niyamas) that are easier for me to contemplate, or that resonate with me more strongly than others. The mural serves as a good reminder of the other limbs, and helps me remember to study and focus on each of them.
I also love that it utilizes the lotus flower theme, which is one of my favorite images. As you probably know, the lotus flower is an aquatic plant native to India and other tropical locales, and is referred to commonly as a symbol of purity, beauty, and growth or transformation in many religious and spiritual traditions. To me, the image of a lotus flower growing up through murky water, to rise above the surface and blossom into these beautiful, colorful flowers, couldn’t be a more perfect symbol for navigating the breast cancer experience. Just as the muddy pond is dark, ugly, dirty, and difficult to traverse, so too, can be the treatment for our cancer. However, like the muddy water, which provides needed nutrients to feed the lotus seedling on its path toward the surface and toward its blossoming, so too can our difficult experiences in treatment provide fodder for growth and evolution, if we allow them to. “Grist for the Mill”, as Ram Dass calls it in his beautiful book of the same name. While I’m not saying I enjoyed chemotherapy, or the ongoing crummy consequences of surgery or radiation, I do truly believe that those difficult experiences made me a better person. I know it sounds corny, but I learned big lessons in patience, in humility, in acceptance, and in surrender (among many others that I will surely come back to in other posts) that have made me a happier, more content, more compassionate human being. While in no way have I arisen from this cancer experience a perfect, pure, beautiful flower, I do think I transformed in some very positive ways.
Finally, that leads me to the handstand in the photo. While it is in no way perfect, and I can’t hold it for very long, nor do any other fancy shapes while holding it, I am proud of and grateful for the progress I have made. Obviously, handstanding isn’t the goal of yoga and isn’t, in and of itself, going to make anyone happy or a better person, but I have seen it as a challenge I wanted to tackle for a long time. I started working toward handstand a couple of years before I had breast cancer, but of course treatment affected my progress while I was sick and weak on chemotherapy, then while I was recovering from surgery and not allowed to put weight into my arms, and now dealing with imbalances in strength and flexibility in my shoulders relating to my treatment. But much like everything in yoga, I realized that the good stuff isn’t in the final product or the accomplishing of some perfect goal, but rather in everything you learn on the way there. So all of that falling out, crashing to the floor, rolling over, getting back up and trying again, learning new ways to improve my balance or my alignment…. all of those things are just more grist for the mill. They taught me important lessons like patience, humility, persistence, and that I can, with enough effort, eventually accomplish things that at one time seemed impossible. I don’t expect to ever be able to scorpion handstand (bending back and touching feet to the top of your head while balancing in handstand) like some of the famous instagram yogis that I follow. But who knows? In the meantime, I sure am enjoying the journey.
As they say, the jewel is in the lotus. Thanks for joining me along the way.