One of the things I look forward to in every yoga class I attend is the message that the yoga teacher conveys to the class. Sometimes it is just a few inspirational messages as we go through a vinyasa flow, and other times it can be a beautiful story or poem. These messages bring alive the spiritual power of yoga and are a big part of what I take off the yoga mat and into my daily life.
As a yoga teacher, I’m always looking for inspirational quotes and readings for my yoga classes. I like to deliver something yummy to my students either while we are practicing breathing exercises at the beginning of class or as we are winding down and coming into savasana.
I was delighted when I recently found Poems of Awakening, An International Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, edited by Betsy Small. This book is a collection of poetry that will stir your emotions and take you on a spiritual journey with words, vivid imagery, and a few lessons on how a beautiful day is spent (that is one of the chapter titles by the way!).
Betsy Small, the editor of this collection, is an avid yogi, yoga teacher, and professional musician. Like me, she was deeply moved by the messages read during her yoga classes, especially the poetry that was read to her as she lay down in savasana during her yoga-teacher training. Betsy feels that just as yoga is a journey of meditation and awakening, poetry as a spiritual practice can nourish and inspire, leading to a sense of freedom and self-discovery.
In Betsy’s words, the book is full of optimistic poetry and one that she hopes will inspire a broad range of people, from those with little patience for poetry (hello, that would be me) to seasoned poetry lovers. Yes, I have to admit, I’m not always the biggest fan of poetry. I tend to get too literal with translations, and sometimes poetry leaves out a few of the dots I need to put it all together. In this book there were a few poems that I just didn’t get, but I found just as many moving poems that spoke to my heart and my yoga journey. The entire collection will take you through different kinds of awakenings, from awareness of the body, communion with nature, slowing down the pace of one’s life to experience the moment, finding your “true-self,” healing and renewal, love, and encounters with grace.
The anthology includes ancient as well as modern and contemporary works of acclaimed poets like Kabir, Hafiz, Shih-Te, Anna Swir, Walt Whtiman, e.e. cummings, Wendell Berry, H.D., Mary Oliver, May Sarton, Li-Young Lee, Jane Hirshfield, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Naomi Shihab Nye.
I couldn’t wait to start sharing some of these beautiful poems, and just last week I read the poem below to my yoga class as we moved into savasana.
“Waiting” by Leza Lowitz
You keep waiting for something to happen,
the thing that lifts you out of yourself,
catapults you into doing all the things you’ve put off
the great things you’re meant to do in your life,
but somehow never quite get to.
You keep waiting for the planets to shift
the new moon to bring news,
the universe to align, something to give.
Meanwhile, the piles of papers, the laundry, the dishes, the job—
it all stacks up while you keep hoping
for some miracle to blast down upon you,
scattering the piles to the winds.
Sometimes you lie in bed, terrified of your life.
Sometimes you laugh at the privilege of waking.
But all the while, life goes on it its messy way.
And then you turn forty. Or fifty. Or sixty…
and some part of you realizes you are not alone
and you find signs of this in the animal kingdom –
when a snake sheds its skin its eyes glaze over,
it slinks under a rock, not wanting to be touched,
and when caterpillar turns to butterfly
if the pupa is brushed, it will die—
and when the bird taps its beak hungrily against the egg
It’s because the thing is too small, too small,
and it needs to break out.
And midlife walks you into that wisdom
that this is what transformation looks like—
the mess of it, the tapping at the walls of your life,
the yearning and writhing and pushing,
until one day, one day
you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn
and the dusk of the body,
just as you are.
from Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections © 2011 by Stone Bridge Press
I know this poem resonated with my students because, after class, they asked me about it and who had written it. I was happy to share the author’s name—Leza Lowitz—and also to tell them about Betsy’s wonderful collection of poetry, which is now available through Amazon.
If you have a great book or poem that you utilize in yoga classes, I would love to learn about it, so please share a comment.