Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me. ~ Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
We were on our mats in a twisting flow at yoga. We’d already twisted in one direction, flowed some more in another and were about to twist in the other. I bent my knees, lowered my hips and placed my hands in prayer at my heart. I readied myself ahead of the instructions and started twisting to the right.
“Twist to the right!” the instructor said.
The class balked. Having already twisted earlier in that direction, everyone had known to go left, except for me. That previous turn wasn’t even in my memory!
“I’m sorry!” the instructor said. “I was watching Anne!”
I’ve been plagued with a questionable sense of direction from the time I can remember. In fact, one of my first memories is that of being lost, back when my sister and I would walk together to Hebrew school.
We were both only under the age of eight; but, at the time, two little girls walking alone on a Saturday morning to the neighborhood synagogue wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Things were different back then. We had yet to discover the fears we know today, and so concerns for our safety never got in our way.
What was out of the ordinary was the day my sister stayed home, and I had to make the trip alone. Per usual, nobody was concerned, especially since my lack of navigational skills had also yet to be discovered!
I arrived at school without incident. I easily traversed all the familiar landmarks, walking along the sandy sidewalk and making sure to turn the corner at the azalea bushes. But the journey home after school was another story, altogether. I unwittingly exited the building with a friend and turned in her direction, instead of mine.
At first, I didn’t know that I was lost, but it wasn’t long before I felt the anxiety rise. Still, I pushed it down and stayed the course, reassuring myself when I saw a sandy sidewalk and later on spotted a corner with some azaleas.
The rest I don’t remember. The story goes that a woman driving by picked me up and took me home, because she knew my mother and thought I looked like her. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I landed safely in my own backyard, doing my best to explain to my family where I’d been. Not enough time had even passed for them to realize I’d been lost!
But a lot of time certainly has passed since then, during which I’ve made more wrong turns than I can count. In fact, to this day, I still have a tendency to go the wrong way! One time, when lost, I actually drove home by purposefully making what I thought would be all the wrong turns. I knew I’d get home that way, and it worked!
Thank goodness for today’s global positioning systems! For me, there’s been no better invention in my entire lifetime. I can now be in the know about which direction to go, just by listening to a voice on my phone, and that’s a powerful feeling!
Currently, I’m enrolled in a yoga teacher training program, and we’ve learned about something called the Vayu’s. Vayu is the Sanskrit word for wind, and it’s used to describe the directional patterns of energy that flow throughout our bodies. They are our bodies’ global positioning systems, and they’re activated by our breath and motion.
In the upper body, there’s the Prana Vayu, where our energy flows inward and upward. In the lower body, there’s the Apana Vayu, where it flows downward and outward. Our energy in the Vyana Vayu flows from the inside out, and, in the Samana Vayu, it flows from the outside in. There’s also the Udana Vayu, where it flows around in circles.
Apparently, our energy has always been in the know about which direction to go! And for someone who’s been lost as many times as I have, that’s a revelation! And it’s not just an abstract concept for me, either. I’ve actually felt my energy coursing through my Vayu’s when I practice, especially in my handstands.
When I’m upside down on my hands, I feel the push-and-pull effect of the Prana and Apana Vayus. I feel the energy pulling upward in one direction and downward in the other. And I feel it travel the other Vayu’s, too, drawing inward from the outside and outward from the inside. Its balances me in my bones, making me feel as if I’ve found my own way home, and that’s a powerful feeling, too.
What’s not a powerful feeling is being lost and not knowing it, and that’s not only something that’s happened to me as a child on the way home from Hebrew school. As it turns out, adults can get lost, too, even if in other ways, and yet our reactions can often be the same as when we were children.
I know that, as an adult, on more than one occasion I’ve unwittingly headed in the wrong direction. And when I have, I’ve found myself pushing down the rising anxiety, as I did as a child, so that I could stay the course. I’d reassure myself with what I thought were familiar landmarks and wind up even further astray.
Yoga has played a big part in helping me find my way back to myself. In the ongoing endeavor of the practice, I’ve learned that my body is actually fully equipped to guide me. In the Vayu’s, I have a roadmap of my own internal energy. And, with just my breath and motion, I can correct course at any time, and that’s the most powerful feeling of all.
The other night, I was at yoga, and the instructor had us flowing in all different directions. As if blown by the wind, we flowed like the Vayu’s: upward and inward; downward and outward; from the inside out and the outside in, and around in circles, too.
After traveling all over the map, we made our way to Savasana, the final resting pose. I lay quietly with my feet splayed out, my palms up and my eyes closed. For me, taking rest like this at the end of the practice is like landing safely again in my own backyard. I’m always relieved to get there, but I’d be hard pressed to explain where I’ve been.
Sometimes, in Savasana, it’s silent; sometimes, the music plays, and, sometimes, the instructor has something to say. Tonight, he warns us about getting lost in the poses. He doesn’t want us going astray in the effort to find their fullest expressions.
“This is a practice of breath and motion!” he said.
It was a good reminder, but it was more than that, too. It was also an explanation that on the mat there is no destination. And that’s why it’s the perfect place for me to be, because where else is there, where it doesn’t matter the way I turn to find the best direction home?