Words by Maryl Baldridge
When I started practicing yoga, the experience of so fully inhabiting the space of my inner world felt like a journey through Wonderland.
There was such emotion in my body as I moved – every lift of my chest or stretch of my legs carried my mind through waves of memory and emotion, I felt I was traveling through lifetimes and galaxies in every hour of practice – there was such adventure and mystery! Where WAS I? Tracking or visualizing the movements of subtle energies and breath through my limbs was one thing, but linking those movements to my physical form within material space was a new experience.
Despite an athletic background, inviting the layers of my being to dwell within my body was not my usual way – one of my favorite skills had always been to float away in my mind to far away places, no matter where I was physically – through reading books, my own imagination, through dreams… time and space were not boundaries that had ever contained me, so sometimes it took quite a while for me to find my own feet on my mat, while also staying consciously connected to my spiritual worlds.
The practice brought me a sense of euphoria. I floated through life listening for guidance, and in direct communication with Spirit. Each person, place, and experience that entered my life was meant to be, and the mysterious sense of connection that was forming within my own being was also becoming clearly obvious in the world around me – there were so many souls on their journeys in sacred body temples walking around everywhere!
Many miracles found me through this awareness. For example, one day someone stole my purse. I was a study abroad student and my purse contained my survival in many ways – my phone, identification, keys to my apartment… upon realizing what had been taken from me I reminded myself this must be a blessing.
I skipped up to yoga and moved through my practice with a new sense of freedom – thank you sacred soul who stole my purse for reminding me I don’t need THINGS! And who needs a phone to communicate anyway? I sent mental messages to my family that I’d call them later. Why bother with keys when home is in our hearts?
I la-dee-da’d my way home, where I was again reminded of the Grace of God as a stranger let me into my apartment building, and my roommate came home only an hour or two later to let me in! I got to sit in the hallway and meditate until she arrived. I felt like this most days – the luckiest person in the world.
Even my yoga teachers had to intervene with my enlightenment that year when I announced I was proud to have finally failed classes for the first time in my life (a sign of liberation from my attachment to external goals, obviously) and realized I wanted to drop out of school and move to India. They sweetly and patiently encouraged me to finish college, among other Earthly tasks they felt might be useful for my life – like washing my feet before coming into class after wandering the greasy alleyways of the city in sandals all day – sometimes they had to whisper that one a few times before I caught it with my Spanish skills,
“Maryl, please go wash your feet … your feet! No, go wash your feet …”
I just thought the yoga mats would magically and non-violently kill the germs.
Twelve years have passed since that time and I’ve been missing this younger version of myself recently, wondering sometimes where she went. I know there are things she lost that felt too big to be blessings as she continued on her spiritual path; absences that grew too deep to be reached with invisible words.
Moments of pain that made her heart feel less like home, and days as she continued her journey down to Earth when it became harder to see beyond it, and she felt at some points forced to disconnect if she was going to survive…
Still, none of that explains the missing – she was never dependent on circumstances, but on faith; and it seems our connection to a sense of Spirit is ultimately the difference between her and me now.
All people can relate in their own way to this pain – the pain of losing faith. And again, I’ve noticed as I sit with this contemplation that I’m not the only one who feels she’s missing something lately. Of course none of us is ever the only one, but whether it’s the political or cosmic energies of this time, or my own faith-losing magnetism, I’ve heard more people engaged in this struggle recently, straining to find the connection that helps them make sense of their inner and outer worlds.
As one of my students put it simply as she reflected on her recent experiences in her political career, “I feel everything I’ve ever worked for… is gone.” Her voice landed in me as a collective sound echoing a loss of hope.
So I come back to my practice. Yoga prepares us for this pain– expects it, even, and builds the concept of Isvara Pranidhana into its philosophy as an antidote. At the bottom of the list of all of the other guidelines for inner and outer disciplines (Yamas and Niyamas) of the practice, comes this final branch of these two limbs: Surrender (or devotion) to God.
I am always amused when I read through Yogic texts and feel the contrast of the previous branches, which provide active guidance we can grasp, actions we can take in our lives, rules that infuse us with a sense of control over it all … and then arrive at this last piece: you have to believe in something bigger. And you have to dedicate all of your life to that belief. Even in the most awful moments, somehow, you have to come back to that belief and not only think about it or abstractly imagine it, but you have to embody it.
This is what it means to practice Yoga – it’s not an optional, mood based, circumstance based faith. It’s a grueling, confusing, painful battle-against-all-evidence-to-the-contrary faith.
And it’s also not a blind faith. It’s not faith that allows us to look away from the realities we don’t want to see, the feelings we don’t want to feel, the bodies we don’t want to be. . .we have to be fully present in the lives we’re in and STILL believe, all of the time – our minds anchored in God! I think that’s crazy, and I love it. An all encompassing, fully conscious, in-the-moment-you’re-in faith – this is what you have to do when you say,
I’m going to yoga.
There is no chance we will fall apart.
There is no chance. There are no parts.
Maryl Baldridge is the co-owner of Dupont Circle Yoga and Georgetown Yoga. She believes yoga is a profound and healing practice that supports a conscious and courageous life. Through her interdisciplinary perspective, she works to make the practice approachable and available to all students. Maryl has been teaching yoga for ten years, and currently practices within the Ashtanga tradition. Beyond her own dedicated practice and extensive yogic training, Maryl incorporates her studies in Somatic Experiencing, Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling, and experience as a Licensed Massage Therapist into her teaching.