Find the Elements of Paradise on and off your Mat

There has been a bit of upheaval in my home and work life over the last few weeks. Both my daughter and my husband underwent significant, but scheduled (and non-life threatening thank goodness) surgeries one week apart. In addition, one of the studios that I have been teaching at for 11 years has unexpectedly closed temporarily due to emergency repairs. And to wrap it all up, Last Friday, while slicing an onion, I cut 50% of the way through my pinky finger which earned me a trip to the emergency room, some steri strips and a stern warning to refrain from Yoga.

I found myself asking the Universe why all of this was happening at once so I retreated back into my current read (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nat Hanh) and realized the answer. Sometimes we are given discomfort so we can appreciate comfort and we are given changes in our everyday so we can learn to both be flexible and to celebrate normalcy.

In my classes this past week, as we warmed up with Bridge pose and transitioned into Cat/Cows I shared my message. Within our suffering lies the opportunity to appreciate the many wonders of life. I shared this quote from the book to help me articulate the message.   “If you have experienced hunger, you know that having food is a miracle. If you have suffered from the cold, you know the preciousness of warmth. When you have suffered, you know how to appreciate the elements of paradise that are present. If you dwell only in your suffering, you will miss paradise.”

As we continued to flow through sun salutes and into a deep shoulder opening flow series, I reminded my students of their true practice on the mat. It is important to acknowledge any suffering in the body but the true practice is also acknowledging and celebrating the elements of paradise… what feels good… what is powerfully perfect within each pose.

In my own practice this week (due to my injury), I had to change things up. I realized I had completely taken my pinky fingers for granted until I had to function on my mat without one of them. I played a bit with seeing what was possible and appreciating the elements of paradise in my practice even though clearly not everything was perfect. I explored fallen angel pose (pictured above) to test my balance with nine fingers and then slowly began to push up into Eka Pada Koundinyasana pose (also pictured). It was powerfully perfect for me to see the elements of paradise in this pose while accepting that which I could not change (my sliced pinky).

Off the mat, this practice works the same. Often we can become so consumed with what is not working in our lives; our suffering, that we miss the elements of paradise around us. Buddhist philosophy states that each person experiences 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows in their life. The sorrows are there to help us appreciate the joys. They teach us that no matter what, even through the suffering, we can connect to the joy.

Back on the mat as we began to slow down and settle into Pigeon pose I shared another passage from the book as a reminder of our true practice both on and off the mat “The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy. When one tree in the garden is sick, you have to care for it. But don’t overlook all the healthy trees.”

From there, students transitioned onto their backs in preparation for Savasana and I shared with them that this is where the true practice begins; the chance to connect to the elements of paradise in their lives off the mat. What we practice in our bodies we bring out into our worlds and Savasana is the time where that transition takes place.

As we sat together for a final moment of seated meditation, I thanked my students for sharing the elements of paradise of their practice with me. It was then that I was reminded that no matter what the upheaval or suffering is in my life I am beyond grateful for this practice and for the chance to share it, because that allows me to connect to the elements of paradise in each and every day. Namaste.