Engaged for Life

Yoga practice can be like a microcosm for what you’re experiencing in life, says yoga teacher Meredith Bailey. She explains how, when change makes her world new and foreign, sometimes it helps to look at it upside down. 

Recently my partner of six years and I made the decision to get married. In the swirl of congratulations, wedding planning and celebration we both began to feel very alone. The idea of marriage began to take on a life of its own and the permanency of it felt overwhelming. My parents divorced in my early twenties and that dose of reality had challenged any teenage ideas I had about romantic love. I decided that when I chose to get married I wanted to enter into it with presence and curiosity. But wedding magazines, advice from friends and family and reality shows about big-budget weddings can be confusing and doubt and fear about exactly what we were saying “yes” to crept its way in. How would our relationship change? Would we become stingy and mean and stop being friends? Would our vows feel heavy and permanent and impenetrable?

I brought this swirl of doubt to my yoga practice. As a long-time practitioner, I find that my yoga practice is often a microcosm for what I’m experiencing in my life. On this particular day, while practicing in my bedroom, I was struck with a bolt of awareness about the kind of marriage I wanted to create for myself. It was a headstand day.

My headstand is an exercise in trust. It’s scary to turn everything upside down. It’s new territory. I can’t hold the shape of an ideal headstand, as there isn’t one. As I grow and age and change it will adapt with and evolve with me. It’s the same with my relationship with my fiancé. After six years together, we want to continue to grow and in order to do that we need to continually release and refresh our assumptions about each other. It’s surprising to know him so well but also notice his growth and change. It’s scary to not only recognize this fluidity but recognize how vital it is.

My headstand is exciting. It’s an expression of child-like play and the gleeful energizing connection to my physical body. It’s an exercise in delight.

It’s also a reminder of my own boundaries: I can’t remain present and connected to my whole self without being fully connected to my core. Not only the muscles that support my core, but my inner-strength, the part of me that is steady and resourceful and defined by my breath. In the full expression of headstand my mind is quiet, the past or projections of the future have no space in the necessary present. It’s from this connected place that bravery comes, the willingness to turn upside down and sit in the unknown.

On my mat today I move from wide-legged forward fold into tripod headstand. I shift my weight into the top of my head, my heels lift and I stand on my tippy toes. Here in this moment the parallels between my upcoming marriage and my inversion practice are clearest. In order to shift my feet off the floor and into the air I have to take a risk. I don’t know what will happen. I have to surrender to my body’s wisdom and release any expectations of what should happen. The moment before I invert is a razor edged balance between wanting to control and the necessity of release. It’s an intimate, dynamic relationship.

Mark Whitwell, a yoga master from New Zealand and author of Yoga of Heart,writes that yoga is the practice of intimacy. “It is intimacy that is the point not meditation, not consciousness, not awareness, not enlightenment (…)” he says. “The great classical definition of Yoga is to choose your direction and go in it with continuity. Then the mind becomes clear… So when you find someone make a promise with him or her, the promise to do your Yoga.”

Whitwell also says, “Yoga is not about self-consciously trying to realize anything… It is surrender participating in what is already true.”

My headstand is a reminder of what it means to say “yes” with presence and curiosity. On my blue yoga mat, tucked in the corner of our bedroom, the swirl of wedding doubts stills. There’s no room for doubt when it’s time to take a risk.  My yoga practice is practice for life.

Meredith Bailey is a graduate of the University of King’s College journalism program and a recent intern at Mindful.org. She’s taught yoga for several years, and has made her practice portable, from the roof of a sea-side condo in the Dominican Republic, to the tiled floor of a bathroom in an upper-west-side New York hostel and a flat rock in an alpine meadow in the Rocky Mountains. 

Photo by Jim Harper