Learning from Icarus (Yoga Challenge: Day 27)

I felt a little bit weak today. But something neat happened.

I came to my mat feeling a little bit tired, for no particular reason. I struggled to want to practise today, but went to the studio regardless. The last time I wrote about feeling this way was on Day 2 of this challenge. In that post, I wrote about giving in to the weakness and being tender with ourselves. “Otherwise, we are like the tragic hero that believes he can somehow avoid the consequences of his overestimated sense of competence,” I wrote back on January 16th. “The word in Greek is hubris. In one famous story, Icarus flies too close to the Sun despite warning. Sometimes by pushing too hard to deepen each posture, I might be flying too close to the Sun.”

The Lament For Icarus, by Herbert Draper. Let Icarus remind you of how to hold back, even in your pursuit of freedom.

Poor Icarus. Such a tragic story and yet, there is something so touching and so human about his hot-headed demise. Really, the image is beautiful – Icarus, his wings outspread, soaring higher and higher, beyond where any man had gone before.  If you know the story, he is seeking freedom from imprisonment, escape from a life of shackles. But in his giddiness in the freedom to fly away, he flies too high and ends up in the sea.

Lesson from Day 27

What I gather from the story of Icarus is that in our quest for freedom from any shackles in our life, we need to push ourselves to new things while still erring on the side of reason and caution. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. There is no freedom in pushing too hard and hurting ourselves more.

What was different about today in my practise is that I didn’t need to push. Thirty days of yoga has made certain movements more intuitive and more natural than before. I am stronger – even on my weaker days  – than I was at the beginning. I didn’t fear flying too close to the Sun, or trying to go too hard in a time of weakness. The strength just came on its own and I didn’t have to think about it.


Incredibly, the card my instructor gave me at the end of class today was the exact same one as Day 2: “Strength: Be powerful in all you do.”

Sometimes being powerful means holding back a bit.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.

Finding Aliveness in Our Breath (Yoga Challenge: Day 19)

Have you ever noticed the moment at the end of an exhale before you inhale again?

Today our instructor brought our attention to not only our breath, but the space between breaths. For most of the day, we don’t think about our breathing. It just happens, like blinking and swallowing. But, our breathing is our lifeline – a sure sign that all vital signs are alive and well. Have you ever stopped to think about what this means?

Without the next inhale, we are done. Dead. Kaput.

The line between this life and the next one is as delicate as that.

In yoga, we stop to focus on our breathing and by doing so, we acknowledge our own, mortal existence. Try it: exhale all your breath and in the space at the bottom of your breath, focus on the few moments that you can get away without inhaling. Eventually you will have to breathe in again, but hang out in that space between the exhale and the inhale. What happens?

I find I become completely focused on my presence, my “aliveness” in those very moments. And I must be fully present in order to resist the body’s natural urge to breathe in again.

How might you live your life differently if you were more aware of how miraculous it is that you’re alive in the first place? How would this affect your practise?

Lesson from Day 19

With Ujjayi breathing, we are voluntarily controlling our breath, matching our in-breath with the out-breath. But there is still that space at the bottom and top of each breath, like the silence and nothingness between musical notes in a melody. In those short few moments we can find some stillness. And if we are really moving with our breath, we can find new power with every inhale.

Imagine how your practise will change if you consider that each breath in brings you this expansive power.


I’d love to hear what you have to say, what you’ve gotten out of these posts, and for those of you doing the yoga challenge as well, how the challenge is going for you! Feel free to comment below, post a comment on Facebook, send me a message through Twitter or send me an email.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2011.