On a fairly normal Tuesday a few weeks ago, when the cloudy morning daylight was beginning to lighten the bedroom windows, Darby crawled out of bed to awaken the girls for school. The girls' bedroom is off the hallway, tucked behind a secret door and up a flight of stairs in what we call The Birds Nest. The room was once an attic, now a cozy space littered with colorful tween clothes, glow-in-the-dark stars, and books. It has a birds-eye view of the backyard, and the moon often shines through the big picture window as we go through our bedtime ritual of stories and back rubs. The night before, after reading our latest chapter in the Anne of Green Gables series, we'd turned out the lights and had a big snugglefest. On Tuesday morning, though, when Darby stood at the bottom of the stairs calling that it was time to wake up for school, we heard an angry grumble from Little E.
"Grrrrrr. I don't wanna," our little 4th grader growled from the top of the stairs.
Darby was compassionate. A few minutes earlier he had probably also said something like, "I wanna stay in bed." Any day, I'll agree. I'm a morning person, but it's a rare 6:30 a.m. that I spring out from the comforts of our flannel sheets.
"I understand, boo-boo," he called back up the stairs sweetly, "but it's time to wake up and get ready for school."
"Grrr," came the angry response from the top of the stairs. And then the soft sounds of blankets and clothes, and two girls getting ready for school.
Darby came back into the bedroom a few minutes later with steaming mugs, and as we sipped our coffee (sugar, black for me; sugar, vanilla soy milk for him) Little E poked her head through our doorway.
"Introducing... the Grumpasaurus who lives with the troll under the bridge!" and with that, Little E bounced into our room, giggling as her arms flung wide and she flopped on our bed.
Where a few minutes earlier we had been dreading a difficult morning, now there were smiles and laughter. We all cheered Little E's transformation. How many times have I held on to a bad mood on principle. Here, Little E, not even in her double-digits, flip-switched her way out of a grumpy state by calling on the oldest trick in the book - laughter. This is a skill I feel that I am just learning, and she's already a master. And she did it before 7:00 a.m.!
I was reminded of the Grumpasauraus again last weekend. Both our girls have been riding horses for several years now, but we recently switched barns where they take lessons. The new barn - Shadow Hills - is a slice of serenity. The property is tucked in and around shady foothills, and is the home for many interesting animals - two miniature donkeys, a parrot, a potbelly pig named Bacon (which I don't find funny at all, but that's me), llamas, several dogs and cats, and of course horses. On a small cliff above the main arena where the girls ride there is a quiet sitting area and a shaded gazebo for visitors to observe the lessons.
On this particular day, Darby and I were sitting in the gazebo watching Little E take her second lesson with the new teacher. Big E was off at the stables getting her horse ready for riding. Maybe it was the new teacher, maybe it was that Little E was still getting over a cold that had kept her out of school earlier that week, but midway through her lesson she stopped her horse in the shade of a nearby tree and began to cry. We could see her from across the arena, her head turned downward, little gloved hands wiping at her eyes.
The girls have both told us how they love their new teacher, and we still aren't sure why Little E was upset that morning, but like yoga and running is for me, sometimes horseback riding shines a light on an internal struggle. The teacher let Little E rest under the tree for a few minutes, and then instructed her to start riding again -- but this time, to sing Happy Birthday while she rode. The teacher jogged alongside the horse as Little E trotted the perimeter of the ring, the two of them singing Happy Birthday together. Later, as Little E untacked her horse, the teacher explained the reason for the singing. While I can't recall the exact term she used, this is what I call it: pratipaksha bhavanam.
Pratipaksha bhavanam is a term that comes up in the Yoga Sutras. It means flipswitch. Yoga was a practice developed to ease the suffering of the mind, something that we humans tend to do naturally. The Yoga Sutras distill the human tendencies that cause us to suffer down to their very essences -- how we can suffer when we mistake one thing for another, when we attach our egos to temporary identities, when we become attached to past pleasures or build our life around avoiding our dislikes, and how we suffer under our fear of loss.
Luckily the Sutras do not only explain where suffering comes from. They also illuminate some techniques on how to relieve suffering. Breath. Meditation. Moving the body. And pratipaksha bhavanam. It means "reframe your perspective". Take another view. Pratipaksha bhavanam is the practice of substituting a positive thought in order to quiet a negative one. It is the very act itself.
Despite my years of yoga practice on the mat, and my years of teaching the yoga practice in my classes, I must admit that some of my greatest lessons have come in the early morning hours before I've even gotten out the front door. Also, my guru is not an aging teacher in India. My guru - one of them - is simply counting down the months till her 10th birthday. She begs me to measure her inches on the kitchen door frame. She tells the same joke nine times in a day -- "I'm so good at sleeping I can do it with my eyes closed" -- and then begs for another bite of chocolate.
Also, when my guru wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, she laughs and sings her way back to joy. She teaches me how to do the same. I try to remember how a nine-year-old master can do it, so that I can do it too. Yoga is not really backbends and pretzel poses. It is not Lululemon or a particular body type. Yoga is bouncing out of your Tuesday morning blues with a joyful laugh and a flop on the bed. And it is also being non-reactive and allowing the flipswitch to take place.