The Atlantic Ocean in Maine is bitterly cold, even in August. The tourists still flock to the beach, with backpack beach chairs and umbrellas to protect themselves against the 85 degree sun. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of those tourists this week.
I’ve dipped my toes in the water a few times but I’d rather do three Bikram Yoga classes in a row that be cold for even a few minutes. My friends both have been going out to their necks in the water all week at the beach.
I’ve been teaching them Kundalini Yoga in the morning and they’ve both been great sports abut both the chanting and some of the unconventional postures involved.
A few days ago they insisted I go out into the water with them. They don’t ask me for much so I decided I should try to go out with them. They both tried to hold my hands to help me. I resisted. I screamed and almost cried and tried to stay in the ankle deep water. I finally found the courage to get knee deep in the water, to show them I had conquered the situation, only to turn around and run to the safety of the shore.
Then one of my friends started clapping the palms of his hands with his fingers just as I had showed them the day before in a very difficult yoga posture.
The posture called for them to keep both arms straight out at their sides at the level of their ears and clap their fingers against their palms. After about 45 seconds or so everyone’s shoulders and arms start to burn. The posture calls for 3-1/2 minutes. I talked them through about a minute and a half. I told them that if they kept their arms up long enough that their brains would shut off the pain (absolutely true). I told them that keeping their arms up in a difficult posture is a lot like getting through difficult situations in life. If they could conquer one they could conquer the other.
When they finally let their arms down I told them not to celebrate. Conquering small things in life doesn’t necessarily call for a celebration. I asked them to just sit still and enjoy the relief.
So, there in the frigid water, neck deep, was my friend with his arms raised clapping his fingers against his hands. He was showing me that he had taken a chance on my yoga, and in doing so he had mastered a difficult situation. It was my turn to master a difficult situation.
I was afraid. I know how powerful the ocean can be. But I knew in that moment that I needed to choose courage over fear. I went back into the water. It took me awhile to get neck deep. I screamed as every frigidly cold wave threatened to knock me over. Step by step I slowly made it out to my finger-clapping friend. He said-
Congratulations, you made it. Now, don’t celebrate. Just be in the moment.
My student had become my teacher.
I didn’t stay long, but I made it. It was terrifying. It was exhilarating. It was totally worth it.