Breathe,” my teacher said, as my arms flailed and I tipped to the side, releasing my foot from my calf just in time to step hard on the mat before I fell into the person next to me. When had my gracefulness left me? Was I too old for this? I was a beginner in Yoga, but standing on one leg I didn’t think would be so hard. As a child, one of my habitual postures was almost the same: my mother called me “the stork,” because often I perched a foot on my knee while standing.
But this was “tree pose,” and I was no longer 7, but early forties, among some lithe younger women, a newcomer, in a place that was welcoming but somewhat alien. I did, however, keep coming back; yoga fit my body and my mind in a way nothing else had, and I grew to love it, to study it, and eventually, to teach.
Balance, neurologically speaking, is an amazing thing. When we balance, on one foot or two, the body both anticipates and responds in milliseconds. Neurons fire from the part that is grounded, to the brain and back again, hundreds of times a second, so that the body shifts, adjusts, catches itself, corrects, and finds its center again and again. The difference in someone who is wobbling and someone who appears still is that those neurons are simply moving more rapidly, and the adjustments become smaller, faster, and more subtle.
In fact, we never really stop balancing. Each movement we make has an element of balance. I often tell my class, “Ride the wobble,” letting the breath and body move through, softening instead of holding on, letting go instead of gripping. And it helps to keep a steady gaze, keeping your eyes on a fixed point. “Breathe,” I remind my class.
How apropos for the life of the Spirit. In my journey as chaplain, pastor, yoga teacher, focusing practitioner and spiritual director, following God’s call has meant stepping out, often unsteadily, and with plenty of flailing.
Last March, when I ended my time as pastor to a beloved congregation after thirteen years, in order to pursue a call to minister to clergy, life was chaotic: I had to refinance my home and take on a housemate. I had no steady income, and the insurance would continue only for another month. I was presenting to NEXT Church. I wrote and received a grant to start a new program of ongoing retreats for clergy. My mother went into the hospital for major cancer surgery.
Many times I woke in the night. I prayed. I wept. I found miracles of grace. And in that time, in the chaos and the unbalance, I felt the steady eye of the Beloved on me, reminding me to let go, to soften. I learned to keep my gaze steady on the One who called me and calls me still. And in the love of that gaze, I can breathe.
Leslie Mott ministers in the area of clergy care and nurture and is Spiritual Director and Yoga teacher.