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From the top of a bluff

October 4, 2010

Today I decided to go hiking with my almost four-year-old daughter. I was an avid hiker before she came along and did some hiking when she was still small enough to be carted around in a carrier, but it’s been about three years since my last hike.

And Devil’s Lake probably wasn’t the best choice for our hiking experience. But, as we scampered up and down the face of a bluff (“Hey, Mom! Let’s go (in kidspeak: RUN!) to the edge”), it also reminded me of the power of my practice of yoga.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t plan well. Here’s where I went wrong:

  1. I assumed. We went to the park’s south shore and having hiked some treacherous, rocky trails on the north shore in the past, I presumed the south shore had more kid-friendly trails. And it did, but…
  2. I failed to read the fine print. I grabbed a map, found the trail that was the shortest, and we took off. About 30 minutes and a few hundred vertical feet on the Balanced Rock trail, I looked back at the map and found a short description of the trail. It read something to the effect of “steep, difficult trail.”
  3. I forgot that what goes up must come down. Really. I don’t know, but I didn’t dawn on me until I was doubled over at the top of the bluff that there was no elevator back down to the parking lot. And anyone who has white-knuckled saplings and skidded on their seat, even once, knows that going down is a real treat.

The hike up wasn’t all that bad; my daughter is a strong, surefooted little thing who refused to stop to rest. While I held her hand for nearly two hours and watched every step she took, I was elated to share this experience with her.

Then we had to start down. The trail down wasn’t as well-marked as the trail up and was also much steeper. My daughter probably only hiked 50 feet on her own on the trek down. For the other .299 miles, I either carried her (eek!) or where it was particularly treacherous, I would climb down a few steps, reach back up to grab her, swing her down another step or two, repeat, repeat, repeat.

While each step was taken with trepidation, the old me (as in pre-yoga) would have started a mental game of blame and doubt. Curse words mixed with dear-god prayers would have hung thick in the air. Each slight imbalance, wobble down to the next step, would have sent my mind into visions of our bodies dashed on the rocks.

But today, I was just sweaty and hot. And I was really excited for the pizza I’d promised my kid.

That’s the power of yoga. Well, minus the pizza.

Through a regular yoga practice, we cultivate three things, all critical to living a life free of doubt, sorrow and unhappiness: patience, perseverance and presence.

Patience comes from learning (or relearning) how to move and be in your body and be at peace with your mind. Patience comes from noticing and honoring the gains, however small, from practice to practice. Patience comes from believing in the intangible transformative power of your practice and taking that off your mat and into the world.

Perseverance comes from nudging the edges of your ability, while honoring where you’re at. Perseverance comes from unrolling your mat, time and time again, not allowing it to collect dust in a corner. Perseverance comes from doing poses you never thought were possible, but at least giving them a try.

And then there’s presence. Presence is about noticing the experience of being in your body and breath. In Mindful Breath pranayama, my classic cue is to not “worry about the pace or depth of your breath, but notice the air moving in and how.” That’s presence. In Savasana, when I encourage you to “forget about the things you’ve done or the things you have yet to do,” to “clear your mind and sink into the mat,” that’s presence. But it’s also about going outside yourself and noticing, in a caring, aware, but non-hypervigilant way, the people in your life and your surroundings. It’s about minding your steps and taking in your life and the world, but arriving at your destination in good time.

What should have been a terrible, gut-wrenching, hand-wringing near-death hiking experience (and would have been to most people) was an absolute blast.

I’ll admit that this wasn’t the most well-thought-out excursion or even terribly safe, but my daughter said she can’t wait to do it again. Neither can I.

And I have yoga — and a lot of patience, perseverance and presence — to thank for that.

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