We often times take for granted each breath we breathe that is drawn into our lungs. We forget how we are able to feel through our skin the thousands of different textures that shape and distinguish the world around us. We look over our ability to wonder and reason with ourselves, and set aside the fact that our bodies are all driven and directed by the three pound organ in the center of the nervous system. Occasionally, we see life as just something that happens, or something that is almost certainly going to be there tomorrow despite not having a clue if you are actually going to wake up the next morning. We are reminded, however, of life’s fragility when we face its opposite in sickness and death.
A small group of yogis waiting for their usual teacher to return for class one morning was also reminded of how easily the line between life and death can be crossed. An eighteen-wheeler barreling down a highway off-ramp near 29 Palms and Desert Hot Springs had totaled the vehicle of my yoga teacher and left her with just a taste of death. She had taken some time off from instruction for a while, and she let us know that she was not able to fully demonstrate all of the asanas (or poses) for the class, due to her injuries her first day back. We then continued our sun salutations on our spread out mats and practiced our mindful breathing to get through some of the tougher positions.
It wasn’t until we ended our practice for the morning with a bow to the teacher and a “Namaste” that we were hit with the biggest example of mindfulness in that classroom. In places, such as India and Nepal, Namaste is a traditionally preferred valediction or salutation, and it is used widely used throughout Asia and beyond. Namaste is said in accompaniment with a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. This single gesture represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in our heart chakras— I bow because the light or soul in me sees the soul in you.
Our yoga instructor had bowed all the way to the floor that day with her arms stretch out in front of her and let out a quiet stream of tears. She thanked the universe for letting her see her students in class again, and told her students that she loved them and missed them in the moments she thought she had crossed that thin line into death. In that instant we all were given an image that both shocked and reminded us of how easily it could be to leave this earth never to come back again—never to breathe a breath into your lungs, feel the world through the tightly packed cells of your skin, or to use the three pounds of tissue that controlled every fiber of your body.
My memory rewound back to the day I nearly crossed the line into death due to a speeding eighteen-wheeler truck turning into my lane on a two-way street. The only thought rushing through my mind was, “I haven’t finished writing my novel yet!” My heart clung to life in that moment like iron to loadstone as I swerved my vehicle just in time out of the way of getting hit. I took that day as a reminder of how precious life is and how I should cherish the days I do get in life because the next day isn’t promised, just as my yoga teacher was reminded in a more terrifying way. We recognized the light in each of our dark events, and were reminded of life’s value. Once life is gone, and the final breath of air leaves your lungs, you can never really exist in the same way again and you miss out on life’s many joys.