Coming Home: Practice Gentle Yoga & Vipassana Meditation with Elizabeth Shelhart
What does coming home mean to you? Sometimes it’s the simple pleasure of standing upright with awareness that is the pinnacle pose of your yoga practice. “Fancy” poses can be fun but aren’t always accessible to everyone. My knee injury has taught me this. As a yoga teacher with over 16 years of experience, I have found that all abilities can find joy in the aliveness of their moving and breathing bodies. Actually, awareness comes first. The thrill of asana is simply icing on the cake of presence and love.
Tonight a student joined my yoga class who hadn’t consciously moved her body in 12 years. After multiple spinal surgeries and an autoimmune condition, she stopped doing anything except the necessary- walking from car to door, sitting at work, etc. As our gentle yoga class progressed, I could see her fear melt, connection grow, and softness settle in. Her tears of joy were my gift as her teacher and guide. She arrived in her body and returned home. It can be that simple.
I used to be a hyper-bendy yogini that others in class would steal inquisitive glances at during practice. I felt like my body had no limitations. I would trail run or mountain bike for hours without so much as a trace of soreness or fatigue. I was a disciplined gymnast before becoming a yogi. Once I hit the mat at the ripe age of 18, I could twist, jump, or lift into just about any pose I tried. One armed handstand. Fun! Drop backs. Smooth as silk.
However, my practice now with some pretty major physical limitations is richer and deeper than ever before. Why? I am connected to the moment in an entirely different way. My full presence, at least on most days, lands with my body on my meditation cushion or yoga mat. My forced slowing down has also beautifully tuned me in. I am fully aware of how I’m moving now, not simply what I’m aiming toward. This creates immense pleasure and fulfillment in my daily practice. I would dare say even more joy than in those earlier years of trying to get into that elusive full lotus handstand.
I don’t want to live with knee pain for the rest of my life, but for now I am grateful. As my knee continues to heal, I now see this injury as a wise teacher who has shown up at the perfect time to open the door to the subtle layers of yoga. I view my practice in a whole new light. It’s an absolute privilege to have this body even with its pains. The emotional and mental aspects of each pose and each breath are more alive than ever before.
Where I used to push, now I soften. I wait for my body’s invitation to deepen or back off when practicing asana. I see and feel these very real boundaries and honor them. Just like my student who came home to her body after so long, I have come home too. What began as struggle has culminated in greater freedom. This is after all the ultimate fruit of practice.
Please join me next weekend for my Quiet Mind, Peaceful Heart workshop on Saturday, Oct. 28, 3-5 pm. We will explore the Four Foundations of Mindfulness to assist in deepening our meditation as well as gentle yoga practices. Give yourself this gift and come home.