Posted by: Bruce Black | April 1, 2014

My Yoga Mat

The mat that I carry to my yoga class each week is falling apart.

It was my wife’s mat originally. She bought it when she started taking classes, and then found a thicker, sturdier mat when she became serious about yoga.

Using her old mat, I feel close to her when I practice, even if she’s not beside me.

I take it to class even though it’s a pale purple, the color of lilacs, because it’s lighter and smaller than the mat that I use for my home practice.

I know that I could trade it in and get a new mat, a mat of a different color, but I hold onto it, as if the mat itself holds much of what I’ve learned from my practice over the past decade–insights gained from various poses; banished fears and anxieties; restored hopes and faith.

The mat is almost ten years old, with pockmarks and divots up and down its length, and each time I draw my foot back going from Lunge to Plank, I notice how its rubber surface wears away a little more, and yet the sight of it beneath my feet gives me a sense of peace and security.

Its erosion reminds me of the passage of time, the spilling of sand in an hourglass, the moments that I’ve spent on it learning something new, moments that I treasure even as they melt into the past, replaced by new moments.

The mat is so pliable that the rubber holds the imprint of each toe, as well as the heel of each foot, for a few seconds after I move out of one pose into another. It’s almost like magic the way I move my foot yet can see its imprint remain, evidence that I am here, on the mat, in this body.

Practicing on this mat helps me remember all the years that I’ve spent moving into different poses, and the memories fortify me (like a multivitamin) during class as we practice the poses again.

I know the mat won’t last forever. Every day the lilac color seems to fade, and more and more of its surface erodes away.

If I’ve learned anything while practicing on my mat, it’s that nothing lasts forever.

But I’ve also learned to treasure what we are given in this life for as long as we have it.

So, I’ll keep carrying the mat to class for as long as I can.

I want to feel it beneath my feet and breathe in the scent of its mysteries for as long as possible.

The mat that I carry to class helps me stay rooted in the present, even as it offers me the chance to see where I’ve been and where I might be going.

Practice Journal: Is your mat a prop that you forget about once you begin your practice or does it help you notice where you are and what you’re thinking as you move from pose to pose? Take a few minutes to notice the mat that you carry to class or unfurl at home. Describe the color, the thickness, the way your toes feel when you step on it. Then contrast that feeling with the way it feels to walk across a hardwood floor or along a forest path strewn with pine needles or on a sandy beach. Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | March 1, 2014

Sitting With Sadness

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” – Carl Jung

“Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.” – Khalil Gibran

Even my practice of yoga, as wonderful as it is, isn’t always enough to send the sadness that I feel at times scurrying away.

But the gentle twists and forward bends, the breath work and mindful attention to the way my body feels in each pose, can help me sit with sadness.

This sadness has a way of worming its way into my heart on some days. It’s not just fatigue, the kind of tiredness that comes after a hard day of work or the morning after a restless night, nor is it the byproduct of the major surgery that I underwent almost a year ago (though at times I think it is related).

I’m talking about a feeling of sadness that’s deeper and darker than fatigue, a feeling that reminds me of life’s fragility, finitude, and imperfection. The missed opportunities. The mistakes. The resistance to change. The reluctance to opening up. The days of stubbornness and frustration and pain.

This kind of sadness brings with it a deep sense of powerlessness and loneliness, an excruciating awareness of my mortality and how much of life is out of my control. It makes me feel as if life itself is like a steamroller, preparing the inevitable crushing experience that has the power to steal away the very breath of life.

It’s a sadness that is pervasive. It is everywhere—in the kitchen, the office, the backyard, the yoga studio—and it can siphon all the air and joy out of a room in the blink of an eye.

It’s numbing, paralyzing, perplexing.

In the midst of such sadness, though, I can step onto my mat and begin my home practice, and the sound of my breath or the movement of my body can help dissipate the feeling of sadness and remind me of my connection to something larger than myself, a river of energy flowing not just through me but through everyone and through all of life.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of waiting patiently for the sadness to leave on its own. Like the fog. Like storm clouds that gather overhead obscuring the sun and then float away to reveal a bright blue sky.

My practice can help me sit with sadness rather than run from it, and, in sitting with it–actually exploring it in my poses–I may be able to find a way to accept what is with gratitude and bid sadness goodbye.

On my mat, if I lean forward in Child’s Pose or recline in Bound Angle, I may gain the ability to see through the fog to a distant memory, a person who I love deeply or someone who is no longer alive but whose life once touched mine and whose spirit can still inspire a sense of worth (and worthiness) that I seem to have forgotten.

If I listen closely to the sound of my breath and feel the beat of my heart, the pulse like the rhythm of the sea, I may notice how the fog has tiny fissures in it, cracks through which I can catch a glimpse of a bright blue sky.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of closing my eyes while lying in Savassana and finding the courage to let go of sadness, and then rising refreshed, the sadness only a memory.

There are different levels of sadness, of course, some deeper and darker levels than others (and in some extreme cases life-threatening). Sometimes you can’t sit with sadness alone. You need help.

The thing that yoga has taught me is this: I may not be able to avoid sadness, but if I sit with it in my practice, I can remind myself that sadness is simply another part of life, impermanent, like darkness or clouds or fog, another way to experience the full variety and depth of life’s always changing offerings.

If I learn to sit with sadness, rather than seek ways to avoid it, I may find a path that will lift me out of sadness back to gratitude and joy.

Practice Journal: How do you deal with feelings of sadness on and off your mat? Do you try to run from these feelings? Or do you attempt to understand them? How does your yoga practice help you sit with these feelings. And how do the poses help alleviate sadness? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | February 1, 2014

The Gift of Time

During an ordinary day—though, really, who can say a day is ever ordinary?—I often forget that time is a gift that is given to us. 

So much of my day is spent rushing to perform a set of seemingly endless tasks. Pushing a cart through the supermarket, driving a car, folding laundry, typing at my desk, putting up a pot of coffee, washing dishes. I may be aware of the simplest movements required to accomplish these tasks but I lose sight of the time—the gift of minutes or hours—that it takes to do these things.

For moments, if not hours, of a day—even when I’m talking on the phone with my brother, or when I’m sitting in a coffee shop with friends enjoying a conversation—I can forget that time is passing, the seconds slipping through my inattentive grasp.

This isn’t about memory issues or being forgetful. It’s not about forgetting my name or where I live or what I do for a living. No, it’s not that kind of amnesia or dementia, thank goodness. It’s about being unaware of the moment-to-moment ecstasy of living. How is it possible to be unconscious of the joy that each moment brings? And yet that’s exactly what happens.

Every day, it seems, I can fall into the trap of seeing each day as “ordinary” instead of extraordinary. And seeing each day as “ordinary” —losing sight of the gift of time— leads to other traps, as well, such as the trap of telling myself that I’m not working hard enough or earning enough or caring enough. Or the trap of believing that I should be reading more books, composing more letters, writing more blog posts, meeting more people, learning more things, making more friends on Facebook, doing more than I’m doing.

Only when I step on my mat do I remember the gift of time, the moment-to-moment ecstasy of life, and savor the opportunity to stop doing and simply be.

On the mat I can hear my breath for the first time all day and remember that the seconds of life are passing through me right now.

I can stop berating myself for not doing enough, for not doing what others (including myself) think I “should” be doing. In each pose I can remember to slow down and let myself feel each heartbeat, each breath.

I can stop grasping for a foothold on my climb up an invisible mountain, and, instead, I can let my feet sink into the level earth and stand still in Mountain Pose, just breathing.

The sound of my breath restores the memory of the gift of time, the wonder of the moment. By listening closely to my own inhalation and exhalation, and to the breath of other yogis on the mats beside mine, I can experience life’s moment-to-moment ecstasy of living again and again.

Yoga offers us this gift of time. It helps us learn how to slow down long enough to hear our breath so we can catch a glimpse of the moment-to-moment ecstasy of life.

Practice Journal: How does your yoga practice remind you that time is passing, that each moment is precious, that time is a gift? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | January 1, 2014

The Gifts of a New Year

Today is the first day of the New Year, a fresh page in our journals, an empty mat inviting our bodies to explore new poses, new ways of being.

On this day of the year, as on each day of the year, we are the recipients of many gifts, if only we take a moment to notice them.

Look around as you open your journal or step on your mat today. What gifts do you see?

Each time we move and stretch, twist and bend—even the simple act of stepping on our mat to begin our practice—we are receiving gifts.

The muscles and bones that support us, even when we are unaware of the foundation they provide, are gifts.

The gift of our practice, which helps us strengthen our foundation and gives us the gift of strong, healthy muscles.

Mindfulness, too, is a gift, a skill that practice helps us cultivate so we can appreciate our lives more deeply, and feel gratitude for all the gifts that come our way.

The days themselves, each hour, each moment, are gifts, offering us the opportunity to choose how to live our lives or simply listen to our breath (another gift).

All of these choices—the simple ability to make choices—are gifts.

Each breath, a gift.

Our senses—the ability to feel, taste, hear, smell, and see—gifts.

The ability to move our toes, blink open and close our eyes—gifts.

The ability to use our mouth and tongue to speak, to kiss, our hands to hold a pen, to touch and express love, our fingers to type—gifts.

The chance to meet new people or find the courage to say hello, to break through the wall of isolation and step outside our own solitude, to make a new friend or study with a new teacher—gifts.

Even changes in your life—both the changes that you desire and those that you wish didn’t have to happen—are gifts, bringing awareness and gratitude to each moment for what you experience now.

Your practice can help you learn to change, to let go and welcome change rather than resist it. What changes will you choose to make in your life today and in the year ahead?

What gifts will you give yourself, as well as those you love and the strangers who you’ll meet, this year?

What will you give yourself in this moment so you can fully enjoy the gift of your life?

New Year’s Day is a gift, a blank page waiting for your first words to appear.

May your words—and the days ahead—bring you the gift of awareness to experience your life and your practice more fully in this moment and in all the moments yet to come.

Practice Journal: Close your eyes, inhale deeply to welcome the New Year, and exhale slowly. Then open your eyes and let your pen dance across the page, taking you to a place that you hadn’t expected to go. Give yourself the gift of a surprise as the New Year begins. Start writing and see where your pen takes you as the year unfolds. (If you’re stuck, think about a time when a surprise opened your eyes to the beauty in your life.) Write: 15 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | December 1, 2013

What Comes Next?

As the year comes to a close, I sit on my mat between poses wondering what will come next.

It’s an impossible question to answer, I know, yet as I move from pose to pose I keep wondering.

What new poses will I learn? Who will enter my life unexpectedly and become a friend, and who will leave it without saying goodbye?

How will my life change in the months ahead? What new books will I read? What new words will I add to my journals?

Who will be my teacher? And will he or she be able to help me grow as a yogi and as a human being, expanding into a new version of myself?

As the year comes to a close, I shut my eyes in Savasana and gather in my mind all the teachers who helped me reach this stage in my practice.

Their faces hover near mine, their voices whispering in my ear, encouraging me to have faith in a future that I can’t yet see.

They urge me to explore new poses, new ways of being, and inspire me to push a little farther past where I think I can go.

They tell me to keep practicing, to listen to my own voice, and to become my own teacher.

Without their support, I doubt I’d have been able to come to the mat after surgery earlier this year with the same enthusiasm, curiosity, and wonder that I felt before the surgery.

With their help, I learned how to recognize little miracles: how when I fall out of a pose, I can enjoy falling; how when I bend forward without reaching my toes, I can take pleasure in the experience of bending forward; and how when I sit and breathe, I can release my breath and watch it return, and remember the miracle of life.

As the year comes to a close, I realize no one can know what comes next. But we can offer heartfelt thanks to our teachers for encouraging us to keep looking for miracles.

I hope you’ll discover miracles on your mat and in your life at this season and throughout the year.

Practice Journal: What miracles have your teachers taught you to look for in your life? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | November 1, 2013

Twists (and Bumps) in the Road

Over time life’s path can get bumpy and twist in unexpected directions, and it’s easy to lose your balance, as well as your sense of direction, as you try to get through that bumpy patch of twisty road.

Surgery a few months ago was one of those unexpected twists and bumps in the road. Sending our daughter off to college this past August was another sharp turn. Turning the page soon on a new decade is yet another bump ahead.

These kinds of transitions and changes in life can be unsettling and disruptive of the routines that we so treasure and cling to in our daily lives. But transitions and change—the bumps and twists in the road—can serve as life’s way of awakening us to the moment-to-moment beauty surrounding us and can remind us to be grateful for each moment.

I came to realize how transitions and change aren’t so much problems or “bumps” but rather gifts comprising the fiber of life itself as I took a road trip with my wife this past month.

We travelled through thirteen states—from Florida to Michigan and back again—as a way of coming to terms with a new stage of our life that seems full of transitions and change.

In the back seat of our car we threw our yoga mat, the pale lavender mat that my wife had purchased a decade ago when she first started taking yoga classes.

Each night we took the mat into the hotel room along with our suitcases so that in the morning my wife or I could use it to practice.

Some of the hotel rooms were cramped and narrow, others spacious with lots of room to unfurl the mat. But once I sat down on the mat, I didn’t notice the hotel room’s features. My practice drew me inward, each pose revealing a new perspective, just as each twist and bend in the road on our way north through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana revealed a new perspective on the landscape as we steered toward a new destination each night.

As I moved from one pose to another, I could see something that I hadn’t seen before—how I stayed longer in Downward Dog than a month ago, how I recovered my balance in Tree Pose more easily while moving my arms as if they were branches, how I bent my knees and opened my hips a little more in Happy Baby—and I began to understand how the road that I was on since my surgery in April keeps changing… and will continue to change.

Each time I set foot on the mat, I felt as if I was venturing into new territory, not just into a new state like Missouri, Arkansas, or Mississippi, where I’d never been before, but into new emotional territory as we traveled through the countryside without our daughter for the first time in eighteen years, a couple again.

Stepping onto my mat and practicing yoga helped me enter this new landscape, as bumpy as it might feel, with a greater sense of security, a sense of confidence that my center could hold, that I could find what I needed and help my wife find what she needed, just as we used to help each other before our daughter was born, regardless of the bumps or twists in the road ahead.

Each morning, our travel mat, the mat that has seen so many changes in our lives, reminded me that the changes and transitions that we encounter in our life aren’t “bumps” in the road but the road itself, and that, as we practice and live our life each day, we become the mat, just as we become the road that we journey on.

Each choice that we make, each action, creates a trail of our moment-to-moment adventure. It’s a trail that serves as a bridge connecting us to our past, even as it points to an unknown future—in our practice, in our lives—that we can discover only by taking the next step.

Practice Journal: Have you faced a change in your life recently, a transition that shook your balance, your confidence? Did the change involve you alone or someone close to you, as well? How does your yoga practice help you keep your balance and find your way on roads that feel bumpy and may twist in unexpected directions? Write: 15 minutes.

Posted by: Bruce Black | October 1, 2013

The Smallest of Changes

This is the time of year in Florida when the air loses its heaviness and becomes lighter, drier, and the clouds float higher, and the sky turns a deeper shade of blue, more intense, cooler than the sweat-stained, pale blue of summer.

Lately I find myself noticing the smallest of changes—the caress of cooler air each morning when I go on my walk; the playful wave of palm fronds turning yellow at the tips and fading to gray; the subtle shift in the light’s color as each day the sun moves lower in the sky.

Flocks of birds are flying overhead in elegant, long V’s that unfurl like scarves across the sky, the birds calling to each other—“We’re back! We’re back!”—and soon snowbirds, Florida’s part-time residents, will return, too, clogging roads and beaches.

I notice the slight changes in my body—the way my head no longer throbs from surgery five months ago, and how the feeling of pins-and-needles, though still present, has subsided to a dull ache, no longer so intense a pressure behind my ear.

In the mirror I notice new wrinkles on my face, tiny lines etched beneath my eyes, signs of aging that I never saw before, eye close upand I can feel the dry patches of skin that have formed on the back of my legs.

I notice how I can twist a little further when I sit in Marichi’s Pose and bend a little lower, almost touching my toes, in Uttanasana, Standing Forward Bend. I notice, too, that I can turn my head toward the sky with less strain in Utthita Trikonasana, the Extended Triangle Pose, and that my hips feel more open than a few months ago.

These changes may seem slight but they are the stuff of life, the essence of our days, if only we take the time to notice them.

As daylight fades and the nights begin to cool, I am grateful for the ability to notice these small changes and to feel life’s fullness in them.

I’m grateful, too, for the ability to practice yoga—to touch my toes, to bend, to twist—and to keep a journal.

My practice invites me to stay alert, to notice these things, and to take pleasure in recording these small gifts in the pages of my journal.

From day to day, I never know what I’ll find there after I finish writing. Its pages are an ongoing reminder of the possibilities that life can offers us if we give it our full attention.

Practice Journal: What are some of the small changes that you notice at this time of year as the seasons flow like poses, one into another? Write: 15 minutes.

Posted by: Bruce Black | September 1, 2013

Welcome Each Moment

cyberknife maskLast month I had a plastic mask made in preparation for Cyberknife surgery. When it was placed over my face and head a few weeks ago before starting the radiation treatment, the technician secured the mask with screws to the table so that my head was immobile, and the mask felt so snug that I had trouble opening my mouth and could barely part my lips.

How could I stay present in the moment and welcome it, as well as the moments that would come after it, while undergoing the radiation treatment?

The treatment itself wasn’t painful, thank goodness, but it was daunting to walk into a large room and view the machine that would administer the radiation—a tall, thick, cream-color cylinder with a collapsible arm—and realize that my fate lay in the accuracy of the machine and the care and attention given to the treatment plan by my doctors. As long as I remembered to breathe, just as in a difficult or challenging pose, I told myself, I could stay centered and hold my balance.

Earlier, moments before the mask had  been placed over my face, I was asked to lay down on my back and set my head on a block of Styrofoam with a shallow cup hollowed out for the back of my skull. I’d felt almost like I was lying down on my mat in Savasana, even though the table was two or three feet above the floor. In Savasana, I’ve learned to check my body for tension and stress, and so, as I inhaled and exhaled beneath the mask, I mentally scanned my body—working my way up from my toes to my head—for stress or discomfort. After a bit of squiggling and squirming, I found a comfortable position, inhaled through slightly parted lips, and exhaled in an attempt to relax using the breath-work that I’d learned on my mat.

Between the mindful breathing and body scan, I felt at ease, and that made it a bit easier to accept the mask’s pressure on my chin and on my forehead. After a few minutes, I didn’t really notice the mask at all. And once I was carefully strapped in around my chest, my hands and arms relaxed at my side, I didn’t have to do anything except listen to pleasant piano music, daydream, meditate, or sleep for roughly 90 minutes. Of course, I didn’t sleep. I wanted to stay alert and try to understand what was happening. So, I watched with great interest as the robot’s arm zoomed in and out, twisting and spinning as it aimed a tiny pin-size hole at my head. I might have felt some fear, but I imagined the arm as a magic wand being used to heal me, and it didn’t seem quite so threatening.

The machine itself was practically noiseless, except for an occasional creak, and that made the treatment even more mysterious because I couldn’t tell if anything was happening. In and out zoomed the arm. I could read different numbers on the end of the cylinder–15mm, 25 mm, 50 mm—which, I found out later, indicated the different doses of radiation delivered during the treatment. After a while, instead of imagining the robot’s arm as a magic wand, I thought of it more as the limb of a robot-physician, a caregiver who I could actually confide in. It was very strange, and I felt as if I’d stepped into a sci-fi novel, but I accepted these thoughts as they arrived, one at a time, and then let each thought go, just as I learned to let go of thoughts as I do in my yoga poses. One thought, then another… just as on my mat.

After an hour or so, I started flexing my fingers and feet to reduce the stiffness in my hands and feet. But there wasn’t anything that I could do to relieve the pain that was pushing at the base of my skull where my head lay on the Styrofoam block. What had looked like a soft cushion and hadn’t bothered me in the initial stages now felt like a steel bar, and the edge of that bar was cutting into the base of my skull. It wasn’t painful so much as uncomfortable, much as my head sometimes hurt when I used to balance upside down in Headstand on a hard floor. Of course, in this instance, I didn’t have a choice to come out of the pose. But knowing how to breathe into the pain and disperse it, knowing from my experience in challenging poses how to approach the pain and pull back, approach it again and pull back again, made it easier. Without my yoga practice, I might have had trouble making it through the end of the session.

In another twenty minutes, the machine’s arm stopped moving and returned to its original position. A voice over the speakers announced that I was done. It took a few minutes longer before I was unstrapped and unmasked and could rise off the table. It wasn’t quite like spending 90 minutes in my yoga class, but it felt as if I’d managed to welcome each moment rather than let fear pull me out of the moment. That had been my intention, regardless of the discomfort of remaining immobile for so long: to welcome each moment. Thanks to my yoga practice, I was able to savor life fully, even in a challenging pose.

Practice Journal: How does your yoga practice help you learn to savor each moment, even though the moment may be challenging, painful, or uncomfortable? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | August 1, 2013

Carving a Path Into the Unknown

How do you carve a path into the unknown?

Stepping into the unknown—whether it’s a new pose or a new stage in our lives—is a challenge precisely because there are no handrails, guidelines, or previously trampled paths to point the way. You have to carve your own path.

The first time that I left my hospital bed after surgery a few months ago, I realized how much my yoga practice helps me learn how to find a path where none exists.

That morning it felt like I’d never stepped out of bed before. But, turning mindfully to drop my legs over the edge of the bed, I realized that I was doing a twist and could turn without discomfort because I knew the principles of doing a twist thanks to my yoga practice.

And standing for the first time I found my balance thanks to the principles of balance that I’d learned in Tree Pose.

Our life, whether we’re healthy or recovering from surgery, gives us a chance to practice yoga every moment, and our yoga practice can help us step into the unknown poses of our life if we remember the principles that we learn on our mats.

It’s easy to forget that once poses like Tree Pose, Easy Dancer, or Handstand were poses that I’d never done before.

How did I step into the unknown of Handstand, a pose that looked so far beyond my ability that I never thought I’d be able to balance upside down on my hands at all?

I used what I knew to move into an unfamiliar space. I knew how to set my hands shoulder-width apart because I’d learned how to do so in Downward Dog (which is, in many ways, a prelude to Handstand).

And then it was a matter of learning how to kick my legs over my head. I couldn’t kick up all at once, but I could kick up a few feet off the mat with each attempt, barely able to stay aloft for more than a second or two. The more I practiced what I knew, the longer I was able to stay aloft.

I learned to do what my teacher, Jaye, calls “hang time.” From Downward Dog, I kicked one leg up into the air so that I could “hang” in the air a moment with both feet off the ground, kicking with each effort closer and closer to the vertical position required for the pose.

With each kick, I learned how to “hang” in the air a little longer and increased the strength in my shoulders. I learned how it felt to move toward the vertical line of handstand with both legs in the air at once. And eventually, using the wall for support, I was able to kick my legs over my head and balance upside down.

From there—from a place that had been unknown but to which I’d carved a path—I was able to gingerly push off the wall with my toes and stand on my hands without using any props. It may have only been a fraction of a second that first time, but I was doing a handstand. I had carved my own path into the unknown.

Carving a path into the unknown is like building a bridge over a wide river.

Whether you’re trying to learn something new (like handstands or dancing or sailing), or going into a challenging place (like the operating room for surgery or to give a speech to a group of strangers), you can apply the same principles that you use on the mat to step into the unknown.

You build on what you know and, once you feel secure in your foundation, you extend yourself over the river, adding to what you know bit by bit, until you reach the other side.

Journal Practice: Notice the next time that you step into a new pose on your mat. How do you learn how to carve a path into the unknown? How do you find your way? And then, off the mat, notice how you step into a new pose in your life—a new job, a new relationship, or something that you’ve never done before? How is it similar to learning a new yoga pose? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | July 1, 2013

The Frangipani Tree

The other day, sitting on my mat doing a gentle seated twist (Marichi’s Pose), I noticed how the young frangipani tree on the side of our patio had blossomed, its narrow green leaves framing delicate pink-and-white flowers at its center.

Frangipani blossoms

The sight of the tree reminded me that after returning home from the hospital two months ago, I’d sit on the patio and gaze at the thin leafless brown stick that was the frangipani’s trunk and wonder if it would ever blossom or if I’d ever have the strength to practice yoga again.

Each day, as the spring air grew warmer, I’d sit watching as the frangipani’s trunk, barely two feet high, grew a fraction of an inch taller and its tiny buds began to push out leaves and then, one by one, the folded petals of flowers.

Now, weeks later, I’m able to practice gentle twists and easy stretches, and I gaze across the patio and watch the frangipani’s leaves caress the air while its thin trunk bends and sways in the breeze. Each day the blossoms at its center unfold, growing larger and more beautiful.

After watching the tree grow for weeks, I now believe there is a frangipani tree growing inside me.

I’ve learned to trust that it’s there, its buds full of hope, its blossoms full of faith.

Each day, hidden from view, a leaf or bud unfolds a little more.

As I practice on my mat, I can feel its leaves lifting my heart, its blossoms giving me strength.

And I can feel its tender stem, like the needle on a compass, pointing in the direction that I need to take, showing me a path that I can almost see.

After weeks of watching the frangipani tree change and grow, I believe that there is the seed of a frangipani tree growing inside each of us.

It starts as a tiny mote of hope and, day after day, it grows oh-so-slowly into a thin, fragile twig of faith.

Then one day its unfolding leaves and blossoms spring forth and serve as a reminder of the beauty hidden within each of us.

Journal Practice: Notice the beauty surrounding you as you practice your poses, and, once you step off your mat, notice the beauty that surrounds you as you go through your day. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty that is part of your life. Take a moment to contemplate the beauty that is growing within you. Write: 10 minutes.

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