Personal Mythos and the New Year


Last sunset of 2019 behind the redwoods

Behold, we have passed into a new year, and a new decade, and whether or not we have readied ourselves with new intentions/goals/resolutions, many of us (at least on the social media front) see this as an opportune time for memorializing the state of our lives ten years ago, as compared to our lives today.

I was touched by the self-compassion that pervades people’s descriptions of their former selves, especially in the midst of challenges. A wonderful way to start the New Year – to witness the narrative of one’s life compassionately, and to be kind and charitable to oneself.

The New Year carries with it a powerful collective wave of intentionality for manifestation of visionary intentions, and it is a good time for affirmation of one’s current stage(s) of personal journeying.

Mapping my own experience onto the mythological and the archetypal has always been fun and illuminating. It gives daily life a real sense of poetic significance. It reminds me that every person has an extraordinary set of circumstances that comprise their own unique mythos, whether known or unknown to me. This practice, really more an occupational hazard of studying Greco-Roman myth for many years, rarely fails to give me a valuable perspective on life situations, regularly assures me of the universally lived experience of challenges that feel difficult to bear in isolation, and gives me agency in re-casting my own story.

One Model of Personal Mythmaking: The Hero’s Journey


I work at an institution that prides itself on its collection of artifacts from Joseph Campbell, the famed comparative mythologist who traced the “monomyth” of the hero’s journey that he claimed pervaded mythological and folkloric traditions internationally. In his book Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell structures the hero’s journey around three key stages, paraphrased here:

  • Call to adventure (including meeting a mentor who guides the hero on the initial stages of the quest).
  • Trials of initiation into a new world of challenges, triumphs and failures, a phase which culminates in a journey to the Underworld and meeting a teacher with a prophetic message.
  • Return to the place of origin with divine knowledge gained on the journey, and the process of integration of that knowledge into “normal life”.

When I taught an undergraduate course on Greek heroism, I offered an extra credit project that invited students to map Campbell’s model of the hero’s journey onto one life situation. This assignment yielded extraordinary stories about challenges met and lessons encountered through travel, second language acquisition, health difficulties, lost loves and friendships, authentic expression of self amidst social stigma, new familial and work responsibilities, and other challenges. One student shared with me that he felt a refreshing sense of personal agency as a result of completing the assignment. In my own life similar exercises in personal mythmaking (including the hero’s journey model a la Campbell) had provided helpful perspectives for years, and I was glad to see that this was helpful to others.

Journaling the Personal Mythos

Having read over some of my own journals from the past year, 2019 presented various Campbellian stages of realization: I found a gut-dwelling, steady voice within myself I had not heard in years. I learned the art of critical discernment in the role of student and teacher. I learned to recognize interpersonal cyclical patterns that repeat themselves as dependably as the tides. I learned to speak up for myself clearly and directly. I learned to be accountable for the pain I caused others. I learned to take care of myself in the ways that suited me, including yoga, cooking, writing and performing poetry, singing old Irish songs, and reading short stories. I deepened treasured friendships. I moved back to my hometown. I took steps further in the direction of financial independence.

Keeping a regular journal, especially during the more difficult times of growth, is helpful, because it reveals the learning process, and allows one to look back at the feelings, the insights, and the self-talk that attend the various stages of one’s journey (or whatever you might call your mythic narrative – at present in the Anglo-American consciousness the hero’s journey is widely prevalent, and this is the one I am invoking here, but this is certainly not the only narrative type).

Looking back at these journals can be quite confronting and humiliating, but the lived experience is there, just for the eyes of the experiencer-turned-future-loving-reader. This is very different from writing the story after the close of its lived experience, which is another good exercise (my students’ extra credit assignment).

Personal Mythmaking and New Year’s Intentions

There are many resolutions, calls to adventure, that await. The sheer number of varied New-Year’s- resolution-oriented invitations on social media is overwhelming.

And so the questions come a-hammering:

  • Which pursuit is really for you?
  • Is this a good time to set out on a new path in this particular aspect of your life, or is there something to be finished first?
  • Are you in the trials of initiation? Is there an obstacle you’ve been avoiding that awaits your attention prior to getting on with things?
  • Are you trudging through the depths of the Underworld? Is there some illumination of the next steps awaiting your sight in the deepest part of the trek?
  • Are you back where you started, integrating what you have learned?

The New Year is a good time to acknowledge your present stance, and to start from where you are. At least that is what I tell myself, speaking from what feels like a hammock of indolence on Calypso’s Island (see below)…

And wherever you may find yourself in your journey, in your work, it can be an interesting exercise to look for the attendant archetypal forces, whether they lie within yourself, others, or situations.

The below categories are my play on themes from the story of the Greek hero Odysseus’ 10-year journey homeward to the island of Ithaca from the Trojan War, as told in Homer’s 8th century BCE epic poem, the Odyssey):

  • The mentor / the teacher / the one who keeps you on track (the goddess Athena for Odysseus); also the one you may mistrust or whose guidance you may ignore at times.
  • The Land of the Lotus Eaters / Calypso’s Island – the place where you tend to get distracted, complacent, and drawn away from your work. In Odysseus’ story, Hermes the messenger god goes to Calypso’s island, where Odysseus has been languishing for seven years, to push the hero to continue his journey homeward to Ithaca. So, if you get distracted, be your own messenger and carry on. Or if you are really in the throes of complacency the messenger might just find you…
  • The Cyclops – the person you are liable to demean, take advantage of, and/or dredge of physical or emotional resources, in service of your work; take care to avoid this, or make proper amends if this has already happened. Odysseus blinds the Cyclops after leading his men into the Cyclops’ cave to steal food and livestock, then endeavoring to claim protection under Zeus as a guest when he was caught red-handed. Yes, the Cyclops threatened to eat them, but still, what bad behavior…
  • The sorceress / Circe – the dark feminine, the mistress of nature, who transfigures men into animals – the one you cannot fool or con, the one whose power you must acknowledge with full awe and devotion before she can help you (or else you will turn into a pig, I suppose…)
  • The Underworld – the dark and lonely place where guidance is present but only attainable through faith, right action, and reunion with the departed.
  • The Phaiakians – the generous helpers and benefactors worthy of enduring gratitude and acknowledgement; the ones who gave Odysseus a banquet, gifts, games, a platform for telling his own story of his travels, and safe passage home to Ithaca in the last stage of his journey.
  • Yourself as the storyteller – are you talking about your quest (posting on social media counts) more than doing it? Does your pursuit need a wider audience? If so, when is the right time to share your work, and whom do you aim to reach?
  • Integration and homecoming – roughly half of the Odyssey features Odysseus’ process of reintroducing himself to his homeland, during which he must live as a beggar prior to reclaiming his role as leader of the community. The process of going back home again is consequential, whether that be moving back in with one’s parents, undergoing psychotherapy and grappling with family-of-origin issues, or deciding to root oneself into a brand new space to call home. It takes time, and some patience and willingness to live in obscurity while listening with one’s ear to the ground and learning about the place and how to navigate it.
  • Penelope – the loved one you say you are doing all this for, but whose needs and personal sacrifices you might be ignoring or suppressing as you forge on. Odysseus’ wife Penelope waited 20 years for his return, fending off suitors and putting their son’s life at risk, while he garnered the experiences in war, travel, and sexual exploits worthy of a “hero” only to come back and tell her that he must go away on ANOTHER quest according to a prophecy (how convenient).

And whether or not you encounter any or all of the above in your pursuit of quests, intentions or resolutions of this year, remember that you are likely playing several of these roles in the journeys of others, and remember that going off course sometimes yields a good story in and of itself…


Caveat: For the record, while I find that the journey of Odysseus is a good archetypal model (especially when things do not go as planned in our own pursuit of life goals) I do not commend Odysseus for his violence, xenophobia, misogyny, disrespect for the gods, foolhardiness, fallaciousness, negligence, and hubris. For a good alternative rendering of this story from Penelope’s standpoint, and the standpoint of Penelope’s 12 nameless maids Odysseus murdered upon his arrival back to Ithaca, read Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad.

A thrilling cloudscape on the last day of 2019, spent in a lazy afternoon at the beach. And now for that quest…

On Reflections, and Divided(?) Selfhood in the Wake of the Full Moon in Gemini


It is days past the full Moon, and she seems to be waning more slowly than usual in my mind, so she is due a treatment in writing, a love letter apt for her cerebral nature…

At the Full Moon, there is always a disclosure, an illumination. But with the Full Moon in Gemini, there are multiplicities of truths and testimonies. There are variants of the same archetype. There are different characters vying to be trusted. Can they all be trusted?

The Full Moon is the imprecise mirror of the Sun, the doppelganger that can reflect solar light to just an intensity that we can behold without blinding ourselves. The Moon shines her fullest light and reveals a new nocturnal world to us that looks like day in black pearlescence.

But while the Full Moon in astrology represents an opportunity for hidden emotional contours and instinctual patterns to be revealed consciously (not in keeping with polite company sometimes), its recent position has made this process far less than straightforward. The Moon had just come from a square to Neptune in Pisces, which would give any such revelations startling, all-encompassing significance, with the caveat that the great meaning illusory. Venus, Saturn, and Pluto are meanwhile bound up in the sign of Capricorn, where relationships, personal and professional, may struggle to operate with customary ease, amidst still-hidden obstacles. And for at least that evening of the Full Moon, while the communicative Moon in Gemini wanted to facilitate collaborative communication and the open exchange of ideas, Neptune was at the ready to dissolve the clarity of the messages, and the Capricorn stellium was primed to leave the more essential truths under heavy guard.

I’ll leave it to you, constant reader, to reflect upon the manifestations of this dynamic you may have met five evenings ago now (Pacific Time, of course 😉).

Gemini Full Moon illuminating the ridgetop below.

One interesting manifestation of this Neptunian/Gemini Moon magic 

At the Full Moon I met a friend for tea and cake, and instantaneously the café transformed into a vortex for those whose company I enjoy: I saw my colleague whose office is next to mine, having an early dinner; I saw my yoga teacher reading and annotating an enormous tome prior to being set upon by an enthusiastic student; then arrived two old friends whose daughter was my schoolmate for several years. The space was dreamlike, and I delighted in seeing the little worlds I have inhabited in this city throughout my life comingling there. And though the one I was meeting was the one I knew the least at that point, the whole scenario was made all the more interesting by the array of experiences and interests we shared (all quite Gemini-themed): books, ideas, humor, and realms of study.

(Unanswerable) question time

Kinship with another in some (i.e. not all) aspects makes us Full Lunar aspects of each other. We reflect the other just enough for them to see a part of themselves more clearly (whether more or less favorably), and vice versa. And the countless other aspects of ourselves we keep latent, bound up, awaiting yet another appropriate mirror…

Or so my current musings go, in keeping with the sentiment in Cicero’s treatise on friendship, De Amicitia (Section 23): Anyone who looks upon a true friend is looking at a copy of himself.

But surely one could say the same about the enemy, the beloved, and the stranger, if one believes that we see ourselves wherever we go, because we are all forms of Self, in essence, or by some other explanation.

And then there are the many questions to be posed: do we see ourselves in another moreso when we first meet them, or after we have come to know them? Or is the image of the person more of a representation of our worldview, or of our past conditioning, than of ourselves in the present moment? Is it both – is our view of ourselves, and our view of ourselves in another a microcosm of the ways in which we view the world? If we do not allow space for others to grow and transform themselves, how can we support ourselves in doing the same? Do leopards change their spots, or is there a stasis in the essential elements of a personality that defy projection? Or perhaps the perception of stasis or change in a person reflects the same phenomenon we see in ourselves.

Or perhaps the more essential question:

Can we look with love, upon ourselves and others? Can we give ourselves the space to run and writhe and rest in response to the fluctuating feelings and life situations that pass through our bodies in subtle and quite unsubtle ways?

Can we be gracious towards ourselves, knowing that these fluctuations are human?

I have a feeling that no matter how much yoga I practice or how many teachers I study with (including the long-dead ones), I will still be spinning in the dramas of self/other. So, instead of enlightenment I am going for emotional intelligence; not the absence of knowing these fluctuations, but the ability to recognize these fluctuations and their effects. To steep myself in the effects and acknowledge this, in all its complexities.

And when I sit with another person, or look into a mirror, I reliably alternate between feelings of kinship, otherness, disassociation, kinship again, attraction, repulsion. And it is curious to wonder, as does the protagonist at the beginning of Simone de Beauvoir’s novel, She Came To Stay, does the world around me take shape because I am looking at it? Do I have a face if I cannot see my face, or touch it? Do I exist if no one is looking? Do I always have to be the one looking at myself?

The kinds of cerebral things that plague one in the wake of the one night in a given year when the teacher (Sagittarius Sun) looks himself in the mirror and sees the student (Moon in Gemini)…

Waning full-ish Moon in Gemini in the morning (same view as above)

Three poems about a mirror, a doppelganger, the self as watcher of the self

I’ll end this post with a digest of poems that have aided the above cogitations, in chronological order of production:

1) Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 3: 339-510: The Tale of Narcissus

Narcissus, a young hunter desired by all young men and women refused all his would-be lovers, the last of whom cursed Narcissus. Narcissus stopped one day by a still, clear pool in a clearing in the woods, and fell in love with his reflection he could not embrace, though he tried ceaselessly. Once Narcissus discovered that he was desperately in love with his own reflection, he knew that he would die of heartache, because he could not physically possess his beloved as desired other.

And so he wastes away, and his body transforms into the Narcissus flower. And in the Underworld, his soul stares longingly at its own reflection in the River Styx for eternity.

2) Heinrich Heine, “Der Doppelgänger”

I do not know what possessed me recently to look back at the work of a 19th-century German poet I had not encountered in almost 10 years.

But I felt good to reacquaint myself. Told in first person, “Der Doppelgänger” is about a man who is wandering empty streets at night and arrives in front of the house of his past beloved, who has not lived in that place for a very long time. He sees a man in front of him, wringing his hands in despair. And then the man turns and looks at the poet-narrator, who is shocked to find that he sees himself in the moonlight (“Der Mond zeigt mir meine eigne Gestalt!”).


I received a beautiful unpublished poem in a poetry exchange, a poem whose author I have never met. The poem was a portrayal of the wasting condition of anorexia from the perspective of the mirror, which sings of its own silence, love, and despair.

And there it all was: the sad futility felt by the family members of the person suffering; the body which is a feared adversary, and a hated prison; the body which works by its own will to keep the soul intact; the body which is always waiting to be loved; the body which is part of the self, and not. And the questions remained with me surrounding the narrator’s point of view: who is watching? The inanimate mirror, or the reflected and disowned aspects of the self that know they are feared when they are looked at, the tender pieces needing the love of the only one whose view matters, the one who looks.


IMG_2038 mirroring.jpg
And now it is the Earth, seeing herself and being seen in the Sun’s burning gaze…

30 Lessons from Yoga Teacher Training

I had said that I would blog my experiences of my first 200-hour yoga teacher training in California throughout, that I would chronicle in glorious detail the dance with the Dionysian, serpentine parts of myself in real time, as they made themselves known to me during the inevitable threshold-crossings, revelations and openings of the heart that occurred in the course of the training.

And now, six months after that initial promise, I am back in the UK, writing my first little series of reflections on this blog.

Perhaps this is not surprising. The wealth of teachings, conversations, movement workshops, musical rhapsodies, ecstatic silences, beatitudes, and agonies I would encounter every week of the training were a lived experience, my impressions of which often resisted immediate recording in words, or when recorded, felt too fragile to be revealed on a public platform.

The integration of some practices encountered in the training will take considerable time.

Overall, I derived an excellent foundation of the nuts-and-bolts knowledge of alignment, anatomy, sequencing of a yoga class, and the major philosophical schools and history of the practice. Every week I taught fellow trainees, friends, and family members. I took lots of notes, in the teacher training sessions and in yoga classes I would attend outside of those sessions. Minutes after a class I would plant myself in the café around the corner and record as much of the sequence as I could remember, including cues and thematic talking points. Then I would write a report of what worked well, as far as I was concerned, in terms of pacing, sequencing, safety, music, and theme. Some days this process would take hours.

Many of the things I learned constitute a personal curriculum of lessons I fancied sharing here. The following, in haphazard order, are the essentials I have derived from the many teaching techniques, stories, songs, wise one-liners, challenges, and other sources of comforting and confronting lessons I absorbed during the training.  These will no doubt change as my practice evolves, and I am certain that even my recollections of the insights gained in the training will shift as life continues to inform them…

Image may contain: people sitting, plant and table
One April night in the midst of the teacher training, I dreamt that I sat on this bench outside the  studio and waited for my teacher. I waited for an afternoon and an evening. I spent a sleepless night in the cold, struggling to curl myself onto the once beautifully quaint wicker bench that had in the painful hours of darkness become a spiky Procrustean prison. The sky brightened, and it was dawn, and my teacher did not show. 
Then the realization hit: I was awaiting no one, because I was my teacher. 
I rose from the bench and began to walk. With each step I became more curious about and devoted to the teachings of ineffable value I could find within the quiet, spacious parts of myself.

30 Lessons

  1. A forearm balance is called pincha mayurasana in Sanskrit, and shortly after the training ended I managed, with kick after hesitant kick up to the elusive wall in front of me, to integrate that inversion into my practice after thinking of it as a posture “off-limits” to me for my fear of falling on my face.
  2. Proprioception, the perception of the body’s movement in space, is a key area of development in a yoga practice, in addition to strength and flexibility. For instance, sure, you can bring yourself into wheel pose, but can you work the adductors of your pinky toe without moving your other toes? So many adventures in fine motor skills to be had!
  3. The physical and subtle bodies store memories, traumas, remedies, stories, images, and quiet spaciousness, and the practice of yoga joins the practitioner in compassionate relationship with the experience of embodied centers of wisdom.
  4. I can accept that visceral insight and instinctual wisdom will not always satisfy my mind’s definition of what is rational or comprehensible.
  5. The mind, like Hesiod’s Muse he invokes at the beginning of the Theogony, is a brilliant, time-honored teller of truths and untruths. It can be loved and accepted as a part of a person, even with its fabrication of illusions and areas of ignorance and misperception (avidyas).
  6. A commitment to a personal daily yoga practice is essential for a committed teacher to uphold, for continuous work on oneself through a regular process of svadhyaya (self-study) experienced through postural practice, meditation, and breathing exercises will inform one’s teaching holistically.
Beach, and garudasana

7.  A good teacher will use intelligent sequencing (with modifications and alternative poses for injuries and differently abled bodies), to forge a sequencing path that is sustainable and focuses on specific muscle groups/areas of connective tissue (hip/shoulder/chest/hamstrings) to prepare students for a “peak pose” that succeeds the final preparatory pose in a natural step, not a giant leap, of challenge and focused attention.

8. Though sometimes a good leap of faith – for instance, the momentum for the transition from a high lunge to a warrior 3  – is well-cued in a yoga class.

9. Music (or silence) can be a powerful way to support students’ development of embodied awareness and self-inquiry. But music also consequentially influences mood, and can inhibit students’ organic connection with their emotions and bodily sensations, so care must be taken in compiling a playlist that supports, rather than defines the students’ practice.

10. I love teaching because I love supporting people in their practice, and allowing time for students to explore intuitive movement within postures and make the practice their own.

11. When I become nervous in my yoga teaching, my instinct is to ground myself, and to read the room. I can readily work off-script (away from the written sequence). I can prioritize maintaining a safe container for students in my class to foster their unique experiences of the practice.

12. My fellow trainees, in their courage, integrity, kindness, support, humility, and inspiring consistency in showing up every week for all the challenges with which the training presented us, taught me time and time again that each person’s yoga is his/her/their yoga. Their work. Their struggle. Their experience of union. Their peace.

13. Guru is often translated as “the one who removes darkness”. I find it useful to understand that the guru can come in many forms: a friend; a teacher; a sunset; a painting; an article of clothing discarded on the sidewalk that alerts you to the literal and behavioral costumes you assume and discard from situation to situation, and makes you curious about what is being adorned; the tree branches, the blades of grass, and the strands of your hair that weave themselves into the fabric of the wind and remind you of interconnectedness at the times when you feel the greatest loneliness and separation; when you catch a stranger’s eye and notice the engage of the simple, consequential message “I see you”; the act of grace that sets things in motion just when you were about to give up.

14. The teachers/authors encountered in the training who inspired me include Lal Ded, T.K.V. Desikachar, Ramana Maharshi, Sally Kempton, Byron Katie, Adyashanti, and Neem Karoli Baba (as transmitted by Ram Dass). The ones who got under my skin are Michael Singer and Jed McKenna/whoever he really is (for the paternalistic tone and contempt for the mind I found prominent in their writing, and for the latter’s anonymity, which I know has a spiritual basis but also conveniently releases him from engaging in critical dialogue about his ideas with students, who take to Reddit to make heads, tails, and innumerable other appendages of his writings…).

15. The ethical principles of yoga, the yamas and the niyamas, are rarely introduced comprehensively in contemporary vinyasa flow classes, yet they comprise the first two of the eight limbs of yoga, found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the foundational texts of yoga philosophy. My teacher Luca taught me by her example the grace of weaving these principles mindfully, humbly, and lovingly into a yoga class, and into the fabric of community. 

Yoga in the garden with Yoga in Practice (ed. David Gordon White, 2012), a reader from which I find passages from the major yogic philosophical texts (Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Upanishads, and others) to inspire my daily practice.

16. Physical posture (asana) is only one of the eight limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras. Posture work, and the outward appearance of postures we often see on Insta and other repositories of “ideal” – and idolized – “yoga bodies”, is by itself not necessarily an accurate representation of a person’s yoga practice. My anatomy teacher Kendall inspired me to appreciate and respect the diversity of bodies in a yoga class, and my own body. From her I learned that my spine’s flexibility is not “something I need to work on”, but is determined by the inherent positioning of my spinous processes, and can be welcomed and accepted with joy in asana practice and in life.

17. The decision to acknowledge another person’s humanity, and the choice to perceive the luminosity of being that rests in the other person and reflects my own, is called namaste.

18. The unifying practice of namaste is only reinforced by creating clear, mutually understood boundaries in relationship that affirm each person’s safety and psychospiritual integrity.

19. The more of another’s joys, sufferings, grievances, loves, and fears I learn, the less defensive I become, and the more willing I am to surrender my judgements and open my heart to another person.

20. The facilitators and trainees who surrounded me in the teacher training over that four-month period were the very teachers I needed, the ones who could show me how to unbind the parts of myself I had held hostage and starved of value, and how to meet them when they raged.

21. I can accept the periods of loneliness and fellowship, community and isolation that add texture to a practice, to a life.

22. I have a sense of humor, a resourcefulness, an intellect, and a strength of character that are ready to make themselves of service to the world when I choose to value them.

23. In my experience, resistance stretching exercises (contracting the muscle as you stretch it) can do a world of good for relieving sticky connective tissue, excessive mental rumination, and emotional quagmires, and are a delightful gift to share with yourself, or a friend or two.

24. It is a good idea to breathe in the sweet scent of fresh jasmine, or good essential oil blends and let the fragrance open windows in the mind.

25. It is a good idea to breathe and move, in that order.

26. Do “play your edge” in asana (postural) practice, i.e. find the limits of your comfort zone and consciously open yourself to the opportunity for expanding them. This requires staying present amidst boredom, the desire to check out/dissociate, and perhaps intense sensation, but coming out of the posture if there is pain in order to avoid physical injury.

27. Do NOT play your edge in pranayama (breath control) practice. Forcing the breath (especially in breath retention exercises) when there is discomfort can cause physical and psychological injury and trauma. If there is any anxiety or discomfort met in pranayama practice, drop the practice and pick it up again from a relaxed and grounded space. Do right by yourself, if that means releasing the breath when the teacher instructs you to hold it, or abstaining from kapalabhati or other vigorous breathing practices if it feels taxing and unsustainable.

28. Each day, and each shape and breath we take brings the occasion for acknowledging the roses, thorns, buds, and withered petals: the gifts, the wounds, the burgeoning adventures, the bygone things that fall in their natural way. Do not stop the petals from falling, for that is an affront to death; nor cut away the growth before it has had a good chance to thrive, for that is an affront to life.

29. Why do we twist? As my teacher Eddie demonstrated for us, props and all, with his accustomed ebullience in our final session with him, it is easier to drain water from a saturated sponge by wringing it out rather than pressing it in between the hands. Hence, we twist. We move laterally, frontwards, backwards, upside down. We stay still. We harness the breath, we play loud music, we pound the floor with our feet and our fists, we trampoline, we slide across floors and up walls. We draw and journal. We scream. We cry. We ask for help when we need it. We teach in the way we know how. We give the knowledge and resources that are ours to give. We feed each other. We give hugs when they are welcome. We deepen the twist. It is from this place where we can ask the difficult questions of ourselves, and prepare to make the tough decisions, to have the tough conversations. All to wring out what keeps us feeling paralyzed and powerless to connect authentically with ourselves and others. So many associated lessons stemmed from that symbol that we each received a sponge in addition to our training certificate, a talisman for the road ahead.

A quiet breakfast with the Madonna at the studio before my final evaluation. Sitting on the bench depicted above…

30. Savasana, corpse pose, is “the ultimate peak pose”, as my teacher Cynthia once elucidated with resonant conviction. Indeed, it is the end and the beginning, the pose that teaches yoga in the oldest way, through total relaxation of muscular tension, mental attachments, and conscious control over the breath. Yoga in the oldest way, in the practice of dying to everything that keeps us from resting in the essence of ourselves. In total awareness. In noticing what we notice, as Cynthia would say. In expanding the awareness to claim all the complex, contradictory human pieces that lie within us, that we use to navigate our world until the moment when we don’t. In appreciating the fact that awareness pervades the pose of death, and is thus a celebration of, and a union with life.

Savasana teaches yoga in the oldest way, for, if we take as a reference point the boon of yogic knowledge given to the boy Nachiketa by Yama, Lord of Death in the Katha Upanishad, an early  textual treatment of yoga that far predates the Sutras, the first yoga teacher was Death.

Nachiketa and Yama