The Yoga of Living and Dying: When Goodbye Really Means Hello


I’m in kind of a strange place.  I’m feeling extremely sad and scared, but at the same time I’m feeling delighted, excited, and alive. It’s difficult to feel so many contradictory feelings at once.  This damn yoga – it makes me actually feel my feelings and that’s not alway easy.  In fact, some days it’s really fucking hard.

Someone I love is very sick.  She has been sick for a long time.  For years, she wasn’t exactly sure what was going on and life was a strung out lesson in the agony of the unknown.  Now she has a diagnosis and a treatment plan, but no cure.  Certain aspects are improving, others aren’t changing, and some, sadly, are worsening.  It doesn’t look good… to my eyes.  If you ask her, though, she’ll tell you that things look amazing! She’ll tell you that she was so much sicker a year ago than she is now. She’ll tell you that she’s going to be just fine.  She’ll tell you that she’s happy.  She’ll tell you not to worry.  She’ll tell you it’s okay. She’ll tell you that she knows things now and that knowledge is everything!  She’s not delusional.  She’s not in denial.  She’s not lying.  She’s slowly dying.  “And so are you,” she will say.


We are all dying. We start dying the minute we are born. Every day we reduce the number of breaths we will take in our entire lifetime.  Each day the number of cells we will regenerate in our lives is cut.  Each day our hearts grow a little older, our skin gets a little thinner, our bodies and our lives a little … a little … a little more precious. Yes.  More precious. At least it seems that way.  The fact of the matter is that we just never know when we will take our last breath.  We could be happy and healthy and safe and something – anything – could come and take that away.  It could be something as simple as an allergic reaction or something as horrible as a chronic disease or as random as a car accident.  There are no guarantees.  This life comes with no warranty.

My friend gets really excited about little tiny things these days: laundry, salt, kid noise, rice, wool, snails. It’s kind of infectious!  After a talk with her the other day, I had a very difficult time sleeping.  My mind kept wanting to take me to the gloom and doom and grief associated with illness, but somewhere along the lines, my mind jumped tracks and I started thinking about – get this – scrambled eggs.  You should know that I make the best scrambled eggs in the world when I make them the way I like them (with kale and cheese and chili peppers and hot sauce.)  They are amazing and someday I will win an award for them, I am sure.  I eat them a couple of times a week, but my conversation with my friend made me realize that I eat them, I love them, but I don’t often take the time to appreciate  them.  Each tiny bite has not only flavor, but color, texture, temperature, and aroma.  Quite a lot for breakfast, eh?

I woke up the next morning and made the eggs.  I took the time to appreciate all the fine details about those eggs the same way those hideously pretentious wine people appreciate fermented grapes.  I noticed that, if I looked really closely, my coffee had a very groovy looking oil slick like pattern on the top.  I saw that my dog Audrey has a little blueish dot in each of her brown eyes.  I found a new freckle on my arm.  Under the smell of dogs and boys and yoga mats, my van has a faint vanilla smell.  I counted the funny white hairs that are randomly growing on the left side of my husband’s beard.  I woke up. I opened my eyes. I decided that even though I am dying (as we all are,) I am going to live!  I’m going to notice things.  I’m going to be aware and appreciative.  I’m going to Love This Life  (click that or the picture below to read the Manifesto I recite in class often.  My friend is the one who introduced me to it, by the way.)

Someday we are going to have to say, “goodbye.”  I think it would be a damn shame if we did it without saying, “hello” first.

We don’t have to wait for “the big one” to have our wake up call.  It’s a decision we can make to open our eyes and start living.  We get the chance a thousand times a day, each time we take a breath.  We end our yoga practice with Savasana – Corpse Pose – a symbolic death.  We die so that we can leave the mat a new, reborn person.  That, friends, is the yoga of living.  And the yoga of dying.  Let us start now.


Then Almitra spoke, saying, “We would ask now of Death.”

And he said:

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;

And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.

Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.

Is the sheered not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?

Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

~Kahlil Gibran



2 responses »

  1. How beautiful. My 38 year old daughter is terminally ill. She has a jest for life that I don’t have. Vic focuses on life and I wait for her death with fear and trepidation. Your friend is lucky to have you around and vice versa.

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