When we were little, my brother, sister and I loved watching magic “specials” on television. David Copperfield was our favorite. Even his “small” tricks could blow your mind. He would turn a chick into a bunny or pull dozens of scarves from his seemingly empty fist. His grand finales were fodder for endless hours of discussion. We would go on and on speculating about how he could saw through the box without hurting the woman inside. Or trying to wrap our heads around how he could make something big and heavy and so very real – like a safe or an actual person – disappear into thin air.
These shows inspired my brother. He was determined to do magic tricks of his own. He would practice for hours on sleight of hand feats with coins, learning to make them disappear and reappear in the strangest places. He learned card tricks where he could pick the exact card you’d chosen out of an entire deck. In the trick I liked the most, he would put a rubber ball into a cup. With a flourish of a scarf, he would “transform” the ball into a tiny toy bunny.
While I was happy to be my brother’s audience and even his assistant, to me magic was a spectator sport. I liked to watch it and I liked to think about it, but I had absolutely no interest in working magic of my own. Which is why it’s so amazing to me that I have spent the past decade and a half learning to do something so magical.
Yoga is magic, you see. It can change something into something else. It can make things disappear. It can help you manipulate the future and even to read minds.
While you won’t change into a bird or a bunny while on your mat, you will change. Yoga is, at its very essence, about transformation. You can see this within five breaths as you hold a posture. As you breathe in a forward fold, you witness your hamstrings lengthen beyond what was remotely possible when you first stepped on your mat. You can see this over months and years, as you look back and recall that the posture you now move into with ease and grace was once entirely out of reach. And that’s just the physical.
As we show up to practice day after day, we witness changes happening in more important places than our bodies. We notice that we’re braver. We notice that when we’re afraid, we are less likely to turn and run. We notice that we’re more accepting of our own failures. We notice that we’re more likely to choose to focus on what we like about ourselves or our practice rather than on what we’d like to change. We notice that we’re more loving and much gentler with ourselves than we ever were before. We notice ourselves extending this same, soft acceptance and powerful, uninhibited love to others. One day, we notice that the way we’re experiencing our lives and our relationships has completely changed. And this transformation is better than the greatest grand finale of any magic show ever.
As we practice day after day, we notice things disappearing. Pain. Weakness. Inflexibility. And this is just what you can see on the outside. Deep within you other magical disappearing acts are happening. Lethargy, laziness and doubt in ourselves are vanishing into thin air. Like the best magic tricks, that which disappears is replaced by something else. In our bodies, yoga leaves us comfortable, strong and flexible. Within, yoga leaves us filled with energy, will power and confidence.
Daily practice leaves us with the ability to read minds and to change the outcome of our days. Seriously. As we spend time observing ourselves as we move and breathe on our yoga mats, we develop a heightened awareness of our tendencies, our habits, our thoughts and our emotions. So heightened is this newfound awareness that we start to get pretty good at managing our reactions. We get better at choosing our responses to challenges and successes rather than getting carried away by waves of emotion. Yes, we may only be able to read one mind (our own), but that’s enough. It’s such a powerful skill, that, with it, we can change our own future – finding peace within chaos, finding compromise in the midst of disagreement, finding a way to love across vast differences.
Like the magic done on stage or television, the magic of yoga requires staggering amounts of practice. Developing the skill to work magic on and off the mat is hard. You must be patient. You must be persistent. The magic of yoga, however, requires one thing that magic tricks do not. For the magic of yoga to work, you must believe in it. You must believe in its possibility (and your own) so thoroughly that you will keep practicing and keep working against all odds. This faith, mixed with all your hard work and practice, will yield transformations in your life that would leave David Copperfield, himself, in awe.
Now let’s get to work. Abracadabra …