I had recently become overcome, once again, by the ever-popular epidemic -- Woman Feeling Overwhelmed. All the usual symptoms presented: noisy brain busy with this, busy with that, busy, busy, busy. In the past, when afflicted, I've found embarking on a perspective-changing experience to be a helpful palliative. So when a friend told me about a yoga fundraiser that involved doing 108 Sun Salutations, I was in.
The Sun Salutation, Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, is a well-known series of yoga postures that flow into each other. Yogis often do 108 Sun Salutations upon the change of seasons. It has also become a popular way to "yoga for a cause." In this case, the cause was the Give Back Yoga Foundation's Yoga for Veterans program, which supports teachers and programs focused on addressing the unique needs of those returning home from active duty.
Could I even do 108 Sun Salutations? Would it feel like running a marathon or a 3K? Would the shoulder-stressing downward-dogs become unbearable after, say, round 36? Or round five? And, most importantly, would it quiet my mind?
The day of the 108 Sun Salutations, I was (surprise!) overwhelmed. And I was leaving early the next day for Colonial Williamsburg with my middle son who wants to be a battle historian. Or a shepherd. Having this one more thing on my calendar was too much, and I thought of 108 ways to back out. "Just do it. You'll be so happy you did. It's an experience," my husband told me, pushing my "life experience" button, when I called to complain.
So, convinced that when we, when I, leave my comfort zone, wonderful things happen, I fluffed my aura and drove the 45 minutes to the beautiful Kaia Yoga in Westport, CT. After a bit of mat maneuvering and a brief overview by our instructor Stan, we began. We just began.
Tadasana, mountain pose. Stan announced that the first 10 Sun Salutations would be dedicated to eliminating suffering. Urdhva Hastasana, upward salute. I thought of the wonderful cause I was doing this for and of the incredible men and women who sacrifice everything for our country. Uttanasana, standing forward bend. All I could focus on was how unattractive my bare feet were. Ardha Uttanasana, standing half forward bend. "Stop thinking," I demanded of myself. Dandasana, plank. "Stop thinking about not thinking!" Chaturanga Dandasana, four-limbed staff pose. How many more of these? Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, upward facing dog. I remembered that breathing would help. Adho Mukha Svanasana, downward dog. Stan told us to pause in down dog for five breaths. Uttanasana, forward bend. I can do this. Tadasana, mountain pose. And again. 107 more times.
We continued: 10 for gratitude, 10 for peace, 10 for unity. But after 40 Sun Salutations I was a little annoyed, and somewhat concerned, that I was still "thinking." That I hadn't been able to become meditative with my breath and go with the, er, flow. Then Stan announced the next 10 would be in honor of clarity.
I often try to remember to give myself permission to stop sweating the small stuff. To stop caring what other people think. To live my life authentically. To be well. To be who I really want to be. And on Sun Salutation number 41, when gentle Stan told us to consider clarity, I gave myself permission yet again.
This time it was permission to allow a little noise in my brain and not judge it. To realize that being a thoughtful, energized, curious woman with a full life requires a little noise in the brain. And, more importantly, to realize that's a good thing. Because the opposite of a noisy brain is not a peaceful brain. It's a brain that's too damn empty. I decided at that moment to give the noise a small place and fill the rest with forgiveness. I was tolerant of imperfection in all other aspects of my self and my life, so why couldn't I be tolerant of a little imperfection, if I chose to look at it that way, in my mind?
I began Sun Salutation 41 with this new zeal. I didn't want to waste a minute more of this experience angry with myself for thinking too much. I remembered to breathe. It started to work.
10 for connection, 10 for dedication, 10 for happiness. I was in a blissful groove as we finished number 80. It's amazing how something could start off so slowly and before you know it, you've done 80 Sun Salutations. Kind of like how it takes your baby forever to get to his second birthday, and then all of a sudden, he's 13.
10 for health, 10 for family. As I dandasana'd and uttanasana'd, I focused on those two concepts. And how everything, everything, truly hinges on good health and family.
There was a palpable energy in the room when Stan announced we had finished 100. And that the final eight would be in honor of love. I smiled through all eight of those Sun Salutations. I smiled for all the love I have in my heart, in my life. I smiled because I felt so exhilarated and so proud of how strong I was physically and so grateful for the good health that allowed that. And I smiled because I was moments away from Savasana, corpse pose.
Corpse pose, the end to every yoga practice, is a time of rest and reflection. And as I lay on my back, feeling energy course through my body and tears release from my eyes, I reflected on this experience I had just added to my life. I made a pact that I would be more patient with myself. That I would embrace my busy life and my noisy brain. That I would remember to breathe. And I thought of the wise words a friend had once told me, "You can do everything you want to do in your life. Just not all at the same time."
P.S. If you ever decide to do 108 Sun Salutations, make sure that on the following day you put your Icy Hot on AFTER you put in your contact lenses!
Susie Orman Schnall is a writer and author who lives in New York with her husband and three young boys. Her award-winning debut novel On Grace (SparkPress 2014) is about fidelity, friendship, and finding yourself at 40. Her second novel, The Balance Project: A Novel (SparkPress 2015), is about work-life balance and is inspired by her popular interview series The Balance Project. Visit Susie's website for more information.