When Yoga Gets Real

Its 9 a.m. and I’m standing in line at the Oakland, California, post office. The line is long and filled with people just like me, worried about parking meters and bristly post office employees. I’m about to send seven 50-pound boxes of books to myself, as I embark upon what feels like the biggest adventure of my life. I have decided to leave my comfy home in the Bay Area, where I have a beautiful community of yoga students and friends, in order to travel the country teaching Para Yoga, a Sri-Vidya based Tantric practice pioneered by Rod Stryker.

As I wait my turn, that all-too-familiar feeling creeps in. My heart is beating, my nerves are a little frayed, and my mind relentlessly reels out an endless fear-spotted to-do list. The pre-meditation version of myself may have barely been able to cope with the upheaval of change, and yet somehow, within the nervousness of my body, I feel my practice holding me like an internal lightening rod. I notice that I am aware and OK with the uncertainty of exactly how things will unfold as I step out into the world in this new role.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m scared, excited, and emotionally whirl-winding. And yet, somewhere underneath the spin of change, I find a deep joy arising out of being simultaneously blasted open wide while tenderly and safely held. It’s a feeling I want to put on repeat. Forever.

You see, Tantra Yoga is an ancient practice that views self-knowledge and the cultivation of our innate power as a path that allows us to unfold our fullest potential. It also shows us that one of the best ways to gain access to your soul is to tap into spanda, or the vibration that is shakti, your internal power. It may sound kind of “out there,” but it’s actually sitting right here, inside of you. If you close your eyes and get really quiet, you can feel that power starting to reveal itself. No, seriously, close your eyes. Put your hand on your throat. Feel it? There is a pulse there. That’s spanda. Keep going. There is a wave-like beat in the belly. There is a secret rhythm sitting on the heart. There is a gentle internal movement that, if accompanied by a sweet attitude of just watching, opens up inner chambers previously unvisited.

The concept of spanda is absolutely accessible for all of us within our daily practice of yoga. The next time you are in Downward Dog, try to explore all the ways in which you are pulsing. Notice the recurring cadence of the breath. Take some time in between challenging poses or during a flow sequence, to actually stop and feel your heart’s meter. With time, you may begin to feel more and more delicate pulsations that are hard to even describe. You may also start to feel a subtle presence, or pulse, in the spine. These are all signs that you are beginning to relate to your own unique spanda. The more you can relate to this internal pulse, the more likely it is that your life will also begin to expand in a way that still feels grounded. Life’s experiences, like long lines and heavy burdens, will start seeming less “good” or “bad,” and more as properties of the pulse. In this way, they begin to hold less power over us.

Luckily, spanda behaves in a truly predicable way. Like our DNA or the way a shell forms, this power naturally wants to grow big from its anchor point. The ancient yogis found that with a quiet mind, they could find the way to the very center of spanda, allowing them to discover the stability of the inner being. In other words, the inherent changeability and pulse of life were the very things used as the object of meditation. And the more they sat in the spanda, the more blissful life became.

Back at the post office, I finish up, still bubbling in my own bliss, and run out just in time to catch the meter maid slapping a fat ticket on the windshield of my car. My heart sinks momentarily as I dip back down into the contraction of daily life.

“Did you think you could just be here forever?” she snorts.

“No,” I say with gratitude. And with my parking ticket and my happy heart, I head out of town.

This article was originally published in the Yoga Journal Blog on December 2, 2011.

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