Being the oldest of four, I’ve had to keep playing the Santa game long after the fateful day I stumbled upon my hidden presents days before Christmas morning. (They were in a coat closet… in winter… really Dad?!) It wasn’t so much a shock, just validation of my suspicions that in fact Santa and my mom didn’t have similar handwriting, but were the same force responsible for the lovely assortment of gifts under the tree each year.
What has been much more of a shock, is watching my little sisters slowly stop believing. One year they are insisting we put out carrots with our best-decorated cookies because the reindeer’s have to eat too, and the next they barely have time to throw a few chips ahoy next to the tree in the name of tradition. Maybe I just miss the production we used to put on to keep the young ones in the family enamored with this mystical overweight elf, but the waning of this belief has been pretty sad to witness. The inevitable maturity of my sisters isn’t what makes putting their Santa days behind them disheartening, it’s really that this new perspective of Christmas is devoid of the same sense of magic.
Childhood is such a magical time because we’re more likely to believe in things we can’t see. As we grow, we start thinking we’ve been around long enough to know what to expect in our world. We stop looking for wonder and obviously stop seeing it. We get very well-versed in how to navigate through society on the physical plane, focusing on our appearance, acquisitions, and title as our culture makes us believe these things give us worth. The same temptation is there in our yoga practice.
I used to invest so much in muscle power and flexibility because superficially they seem to be running the asana-show. Yes my teachers emphasized the importance of breath, but I didn’t believe them. How could such a subtle, invisible part of my body be more important than the physical, dense, obvious components? Truthfully, 13 years of practice later I don’t have an answer, but it’s become clear that if you have any hopes of progression in yoga, the breath is where it’s at.
When I focus on my physical body, sure I’ll get the job done, but it’s the breath that can give my practice an almost magical, lighter-than-air essence. The quality of my breath always informs the quality of my movement… how I’m able to animate myself. It has taught me that no matter what is happening on the surface, there is some internal, unseen structure to my body that the physical stems from. It’s the special sauce that creates the strength and grace visible on the surface.
My experience with breath, where something relatively intangible has given me wings, has done more to build faith in my life than anything else. Finding refuge in the idea that there is a guiding force under the chaos of the physical world, which appears so urgent and real, becomes easier when I first felt that something unseen is operating within to inform how I operate the somatic part of my being. The more I realize subtle things have power, the more I can believe in things that aren’t so blatant. I may never believe in the red-suited Santa Claus again, but I see how our culture has allotted this time of year for giving and the spirit underneath that could easily be labeled “Santa Claus.”
Sensing the world of energy, and how this energy converges and instigates other forms of energy underneath the people, places, and customs of our world has been the biggest shift in perspective my yoga practice has provided. A sign that the awareness I hone in asana and meditation is making me a more sensitive antenna, more able to trust in the unseen, and thus a more faithful person. Without the gift of this perspective my practice probably wouldn't mean as much. Learning to better cope with the ups and downs of daily life definitely validates the effort of a daily discipline, but if the desire is there, it can enable a hunt for magic in even the most ordinary of things.