The Space Between

This post was originally published on my Surya Yoga Blog in August of 2013 on the eve of offering my first ever workshop. 

Tigers Above, Tigers Below

 Pema Chodron

There is a story of a woman running away from tigers.  She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer.  When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines.  Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well.  She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging.  She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass.  She looks up and she looks down.  She looks at the mouse.  Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.  
Tigers above, tigers below.  This is actually the predicament that we are always in in terms of our birth and death.  Each moment is just what it is.  It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we'll ever eat.  We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.   

 This little gem has been inspiring me the past couple of days.  The savouring of the sweet strawberry conveys a beautiful image of being fully in the moment that is in front of you,  rather than fearing or anticipating what lies ahead or regretting or longing for what has been.  My last post addressed my own practice of trying to be fully present even if the moment I am encountering is uncomfortable.  

We look forward to things.  And we hold on to wonderful memories of the past. Like in the movies, where the high school football star always longs to return to his moment of glory as though that moment were a definition of his identity.  His life never really lived up to that moment again.  


He meets the woman of his dreams.  Or lands his dream job.  Or gets an opportunity to mentor another young football star.  

Our lives are made up of these great moments of full expression.  Moments of pure joy, and moments of wretched sorrow.   And then a bunch of other really awesome stuff, and really crappy stuff.   We look forward to vacations, holidays, birthdays, parties.  We remember weddings, first kisses, the birth of a child.  We fear pain and death.  We miss those who have died or left our lives.  

The moments between these expressions, however; are the moments where we are engrossed in the living of our lives. The space between the great events, the ordinary stuff. The routines we practice day in and day out.  Sometimes we do this stuff on auto pilot.  As we daydream.  We may approach these times with a sense of boredom or disinterest.  I mean, how interesting is that drive to work?  or vacuuming the house?  or cooking dinner? Yet, between the tigers - between the great expressions of our lives - are the sweet strawberries of life.  The poetry of the ordinary.  

We see this on the mat as well.  The vinyasa practice, like all yoga practice, can reflect our approach to life.  We carry ourselves, all of ourselves, on to the mat.  And our habits follow.  Our boredom with the "space between" as we look toward that next great expression, or in other words, the next killer bound side angle pose.  

Don't get me wrong.  Rocking out a sweet bound side angle feels amazing.  It could very well be the great moment of our practice that particular day.  But, what about the space between the postures?  The moment we step our foot forward moving into the lunge as our foot touches the mat, and we feel our toes spread onto the earth.  The earth receives us and graciously returns her energy as we bow down to take the bind then begin to open our heart to the sky.    What about the poetry of the ordinary during our vinyasa practice?

Often our practice, particularly the vinyasa practice, can feel as though we are on auto pilot.  Inhale, reach up.  Exhale, fold over.  Inhale, halfway lift.  Exhale, jump back. Inhale, up dog. Exhale, down dog.  

Shiva Rea talks about the breath in three parts.  Beginning, Middle, End.  We initiate our movement as we initiate the breath.  As we draw the breath in, or move the breath out we move through the posture.  As we complete the breath, we express in our posture.  She talks about synching with the "natural pulse".  The natural pulse of the breath, an expression of the flow of prana (the life force),  should guide each movement of our practice.  

Meghan Currie talks about flowing through our practice as if we were flowing through honey.  Taking each moment, with it's inherent sweetness, and slowing it down moving through the slow liquid drag of thick honey.  

Just as the poetry of our lives is expressed in the moments between our greatness, the poetry of our practice is expressed in the moments between the postures.  The moments where we touch in on the the breath, on the movement, on the ordinary and the extraordinary beauty of our being.