Spring. Being alive.

Spring is a beautiful time to be alive.  Emerging from the last late snows, with memories of frigid mornings and aching fingertips slowly fading, you might feel a bit more awake, brighter, and refreshed after a slower-paced winter.  The days have become longer, everything seems to appear more vibrant, colorful, and you can almost feel the growth all around.  When you bask in the warm spring sun, relaxing on the patio or running on a trail, the simple feeling of pure aliveness can be overwhelmingly pleasant and immediate. 

Does this remind you a bit of yoga?  That feeling of pushing your body, building internal heat, stretching the joints and muscles, attention to the movement of breath, the sensation patterns in the body, and eventually the release and absorption of savasana.  When you practice yoga, you are alive, awake, ever changing and growing, and again – the simple feeling of pure aliveness can be overwhelmingly pleasant and immediate.  Just like spring.

Last year, I spent much of the spring far away from Colorado, up on the Greenland ice sheet, camping in unthinkably cold temperatures in the middle of a vast white ocean-like nothingness, traversing by snowmobile, and somehow staying alive and doing good science.  When I returned to Boulder, the transformation was complete, and it felt absolutely tropical with all the lush green vegetation.  This year, instead of doing fieldwork in the Arctic, I am thoroughly enjoying the spring:  The scent of blossoming trees, morning birdsongs, spring skiing, trail running, sunny afternoons in the hammock on the patio, fresh pesto and salads, challenging asana practice and powerful pranayama.

Sometimes you feel most alive after a close encounter with death or catastrophe.  Last weekend, after a day of skiing and a lovely meeting with a yoga teacher-friend, Eli and I narrowly avoided a catastrophic accident on our way down from the mountains.  I was driving, and as we reached the Veterans Memorial Tunnels on eastbound I-70 (just east of Idaho Springs), suddenly the cars in front of us stopped still.  I had what is usually comfortable stopping space ahead, and slammed on the brakes, but the anti-lock brake kicked in (I’m not sure if it was because we were sliding on ice or skidding on pavement).  Hurtling toward the cars and a truck stopped ahead in the tunnel, I couldn’t stop.  I had the clear thought that I needed to aim the car around the obstacles, but there were cars in the other lane to my left and no obvious gap to fit through.  By some unbelievable stroke of luck (or divine intervention?), as I steered into the left lane (still sliding/skidding) the cars melted out to either side in the tunnel and we somehow flew through the space without hitting or being hit by anything.  I don’t know how many cars were involved in the accident (and I hope there were no serious injuries or casualties – I couldn’t find any news or report of the accident, which is probably good news), or what happened initially to set off the chaos, but I am still in awe that we made it unscathed through that tunnel, and immensely thankful that I could reflexively find the clear mind and steady hands that I did for those few seconds (I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear celestial chimes and see flowers falling from the sky as we emerged…).  The outcome could have been very different.  We don’t typically know when we are going to die – it could be any day – but that was not our day.  It is beautiful to be alive, and not just after close calls or in remarkable situations.  This constant appreciation and wonder of life is what yoga teaches.

As you rejuvenate in the warmth and get stoked for long summer nights and adventures, don’t forget the joy of pure consciousness and simply being alive.  I highly recommend incorporating some basic yoga into your daily routine:

  • Even if you can’t commit to a full practice or make it to a class every day, try a few flowing sun salutations in the morning to wake up the central axis of the body, and a few rounds of nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing technique) to create a sense of balance for the day.
  • If you feel distracted during the day, relax your belly and take 10 breaths, softening and deepening with each one, just feeling the movement patterns inside to re-center and refocus the mind.
  • Practice some seated stretching poses just before bedtime to wind down and bring your attention inward to help you sleep soundly.
  • A little bit can go a long way.

When you are alert, clear-minded, and comfortable in your body, this affects every decision you make, every interaction – and your presence as a person in the world has more influence than you probably imagine.

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