The why of Yoga: Being Alive

My grandfather passed away yesterday. Calvin ‘Papa’ Denney lived a good life. Standing well over 6 feet he was #PUREMAN with a voice like Rhett Butler (born and raised Alabamian) and a wit like Johnny Carson. His infamous phrase was (when it was hotter than hell in Alabama) “it’s hotter than a boiled owl.” You would ask him after this profound claim, “well how hot is that?” He would reply with a furrowed brow,”the hell if I know!” I am in deep debt and gratitude to this man for much of my humor, mannerisms, stellar singing voice (#HUMBLEBRAG) and entrepreneurial spirit.

He owned a very successful business, had 4 children, was married for about 400 years, travelled the world, called me his Doodle Bug and laughed effortlessly through it all (he had such a big laugh that his belly would undulate vertically like personified waves of joy). He died peacefully with all his children standing around him at the ripe age of 90. I can only pray for the same exit for everyone else.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. In fact, after I let my cries out, I am at peace with it. He lived a long, prosperous, beautiful life and I am privileged to have been able to call him my Papa. I’m sharing this with you so you will take a moment and pause. Death provides us perspective and reflection, and for me it was a paramountly timed reminder and comment on life.

Papa was a doctor, as are most of the people in my family. For years I have felt ‘less than’ because they are all in the business of saving lives and I am in the business of… stretching? It wasn’t until I opened Practice Indie that I began to understand that I am in the business of giving people ownership of their lives. I may not save lives, but I am giving people permission to save themselves, to find themselves, to be themselves and to explore themselves. It is through my own yoga practice and teaching that I have found the why in Yoga: to remind us what it means to BE ALIVE.

So what does this have to do with you? Everything. Abhinivesha is the klesha of the ‘fear of death’. If you see no other similarity between yourself and other beings, well… check into rehab first, and then note that our common denominator is life and death. You simply can’t escape the cycle. Rich, poor, gay, straight, male, female, black, white… whatever you reduce your existence to being about, we all end up the same way- dead.

JEEZ CHRIST SHAN THAT IS DARK. I know, I know. You say the words,” you are going to die,” and everyone freaks the fuck out… but it’s the truth. Face it now, or face it when you get there… you’re gonna die, and so am I. Circling back, the why in Yoga: Being Alive. Let’s first take a commercial break from our dear friend, Stephen Sondheim:

“Being Alive”

Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep.

Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell.

Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.

Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who’ll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive,
Make me alive,
Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, let me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!

Whether you practice asana, pranayama, pratyahara, power yoga, ashtanga, kundalini, buti, yoga on the tops of mountains or while you are gargling salt water… yoga is the art and science of the human body and mind coming together with the spirit. It is the unification of the three elements that make us US. It is the practice of being present in the human experience.

With the understanding that we will all die, why not live EVERY second as deeply and as fully as we can? I know my Papa did. Our yoga practice helps us bring awareness to this. Without something, once a day or a week… or hell a month, to say HEY, SLOW THE FUCK DOWN AND PAY ATTENTION! You could die today, tomorrow, in 90 years… but it’s coming… so tune into this body, this mind, this spirit for two seconds/ 60 minutes/ 2 hours so that when you emerge off of your mat you are ALIVE. You are PRESENT in each moment with everyone around you. Our practice gives us awareness of this moment and every moment after it. We cannot squander these moments worrying about the little things, the domination of the ego, but rather the things that really matter. What those things are is totally dependent on you.

So my Papa didn’t practice a formal yoga practice… but I don’t think he needed to. My experience of him was one of a very present being. He was very alive and very present in every moment. He was more yogic than he probably new (let’s be honest, he probably didn’t know what yoga was). I hope that, with time, I can get there. I won’t need my mat because it will be so engrained in me that I unroll it in my mind every time I feel caught up in the minutia. I unroll it when I’m answering emails instead of being with my family. I unroll it when I am on my phone instead of watching the sunrise.

I’m not there yet though, I still need my physical practice like a Horcrux (#HARRYPOTTERREFERENCE) to anchor me back when I get swept up in my own manifested chaos.

So to my Papa, rest in peace. Thank you for being. I love you more than words can say, and while I miss you, I think I’ll see you again :). For everyone reading. Get on your mat and then take it with you. Discover the why of Yoga, and then go out and fuckin’ live. Life is short, even at 90 years long. My prayer for us all is that we live EVERY day of our lives.


Doodle Bug

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