The Shapeshifter

From the Medicine Cards:

Crow is an omen of change. Crow lives in the void and has no sense of time. The Ancient Chiefs tell us that Crow sees simultaneously the three fates - past, present, and future. Crow merges light and darkness, seeing both inner and outer reality.

Early in my practice, I would hear my teachers say things like ‘and now, hop forward, coming into bakasana,’ as though the pose were a foregone conclusion. Obviously we could all just come into it, cruise on into BKN, the international airport of asana! With hundreds of flights arriving daily!

After sitting on my mat and watching others, frozen by intimidation, I learned that there were building blocks to each pose, connections, muscles that had to be turned on, bigger concepts that had to be incorporated and refined, pieces that had to come together in a particular way to create each asana.

Crow, though seemingly simple, was no exception. One night, I awkwardly came into a standing forward fold (this I could do). I widened my feet on my mat (good so far). I placed my hands on the ground (I have shockingly long arms) and bent my elbows. As I bent my knees to match, placing them as near to my armpits as I could manage, and began to tip forward, I felt the edge come rushing up at me - and the floor reaching out for my face. I didn’t come into crow, so much as I held my breath and prayed to Shiva that I wouldn’t break my beak.

All the other girls in class flew forward, knees landing ever so gracefully on their triceps. I could not seem to find my gate, and I did not get my feet off the floor that day (mostly out of fear that it would be in exchange for my face). However, as I looked away from my toes and toward the front of my mat, I saw the infinite possibility of a pose that would grow to be the touchstone of my practice. I saw the pieces and knew that they would someday fit together.

All at once, I felt accomplishment, fear and possibility. I had made it there, to my mat that day. I had made it onto my hands, into a pose that had terrified me. I saw, for a brief moment, the void of possibility that lay within the confines of a piece of rubber smaller than my bed.

This is it, I thought. This is Yoga. 

At that moment, and to this day, bakasana held me in a place where I can examine where I’ve come from and explore where I’m going.  As I touch the earth in this, or any pose, I find my midline and pull my whole self, my past, the days I have lived, the poses I have embodied, the lessons I have learned, into the center of my body, and find the courage to pick them up, to carry them with me, and to not let them weigh me down.

It is different every time. I tweak bits and pieces, but I must always be willing to accommodate my current state of self. Some days are heavy, but I look, often toward the shadow, sometimes into the light, seeing both and playing with the truth in each.

When you stand on your hands, you have pulled your past up to the present. You have fixed your gaze on the future and you have crystallized your whole practice, your whole life, into a moment, your breath whispering a kiss to the now before it is gone. From this place, it is your choice where to go, how to live. The black bird shows me where I am, looking at me first with one eye, then with the other, inviting me to see both inside and out, opening me up to evolution.

I no longer tip over the edge into the abyss of a pose that may or may not hold me. I become him. I establish my hands. I pull my arms in, supporting me as strong as legs touching the earth. And then I squeeze harder, closer in to myself, and my toes become my tail, every step that I’ve taken behind me, pushing me forward, and I lift, up, into a moment that can only be this one. I take a breath and look forward, seeing me, now, how I got here, and not only where I can go, but how I can get there.

From this pose, the lessons are endless. How I practice crow is how I practice yoga. It is how I practice life.

Let the past be your teacher. You cannot change it, but you can look into it and recognize those beliefs that have caused you suffering, so that you can now discard them. The present is the only true reality, for it is in the Now that the Future is created and fashioned. Change your thoughts and you change your future. Crow urges you to make more effective use of the present moment, and let the future be an inspiration.



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