Big Waves, Yoga & Equanimity
As I write this, the ocean is swelling and waves are building as they roll over shallower depths making their way for these Hawaiian Islands—in particular, the shores of Ha’ena and Hanalei on Kaua’i and Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipline and Sunset on O’ahu. It is the first big swell of the season. (That’s the reason for all those vehicles toting surfboards you may see on the road today.)
Although September is a bit early for big waves to roll in from the north, it is not unusual, and it is a sign that winter awaits around the corner. Winter, for us in Hawai’i, is marked by waves and waves translate to surf—in this case, upwards of 18 feet. It’s the surf that brings travelers—surfers—to Hawai’i from around the world. They come on vacation, as well as, for work. These days, surfing is big business.
I can’t help but think about one surfer, in particular. Randall Paulson. I met Randall when I flew to O’ahu to attend the Hawai’i Writers Conference over Labor Day weekend. At the encouragement of my friend—and boss, the publisher of this website—I attended a yoga class at Diamondhead Yoga. I wonder if Randall is headed north to surf Pipeline.
Diamondhead Yoga is located at 3312 Campbell Avenue—just one block away from Zippy’s in Kapahulu. Outside, cars zoom by—people on their way to/from work, rushing to pick up/drop off kids at child care, heading to the beach. Inside, an oasis awaits.
Randall opened the yoga studio in May 2009. I believe it’s the coming together of preparation and happenstance that create opportunities in life. It’s like waiting for the perfect wave. You practice all year and, then, when the first swell of the season hits, you paddle out. Sometimes, you wait just a few minutes for a beautiful barreling wave in which you can ride. Sometimes, you wait for hours. Other days, you wait and wait and wait and the right wave never comes. But you are always alert, ready, and when the time does come, eventually, you paddle, paddle, paddle.
Randall knows about riding barrels. He’s a big wave surfer who considers Pipeline his home surf break. When events on land recently conspired for Randall and an opportunity presented itself, he said, “Yes.”
The young surfer turned to yoga a few years back to help him bounce back from a surfing injury. Soon, he was hooked on yoga but not one particular studio. As he puts its, the crowds, white walls and fluorescent lights got to him. So, one day, when the space on Campbell opened up, he and co-owner Michael Harrison got busy. So, did a bunch of their friends. They installed hardwood floors, painted the walls the color of liquid gold, washed the ceiling in deep blues that either remind you of the wide open ocean or the night sky, and installed easy-on-the-eyes LED lighting.
When word got out that they were opening a yoga studio, a guy named Dorian showed up. He wanted to teach. Randall said yes.
Dorian teaches Power Yoga. He was certified by Hatha guru Brian Kest in Santa Monica, California. When I arrived at the studio one Thursday night, Dorian was teaching.
Dorian doesn’t necessarily look the part of a yoga teacher, at least, in my mind. No long hair and beard. Not a lot of gauze fabric draping his body. He looked more like an athlete than someone interested the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, sitting in Lotus and meditating. What’s more, the man carries around quite a bit of wisdom in that young brain of his.
Yoga starts with the breath, Dorian says—even, balanced, conscious breathing. Five counts in; five counts out. This sends oxygen-rich blood to the cells of the body.
We started with sun salutations, moving with the breath and warming up the body. Did I mention you will sweat in this class? Bring a towel.
When doing the physical practice of yoga, Dorian continues, be completely aware and mindful of every movement, every action. Be in the moment. Practice with intention. Practice dynamic focus. Do not think of the past or the future. Eliminate all mental distractions.
Now, I’ve heard this advice before. It’s easy to say; harder to do. Just hearing someone utter the words, “Eliminate all mental distractions” is enough to get me to remember something I forgot to do that day, is enough to get me to hear the motorcycle roaring by, is enough to make me notice how my nose is no where near touching my knees. Did I mention I am not the most flexible person?
Somewhere about my sixth or seventh sun salutation, though, and I realized I had, indeed, forgotten about life outside that intimate studio. In truth, it wasn’t hard to do. I just concentrated on breathing in for five beats and out for the same five beats. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. That must be the same reason doctors suggest counting backwards from 100 if you can’t sleep. And why they also teach breathing techniques in pre-natal classes. Conscious breathing calms your mind.
Dorian also says that yoga poses combine masculine (standing, lunging) and feminine (stretching) aspects. In the physical practice of yoga, mastering both is necessary to achieve a calm mind. He talked about equanimity—maintaining composure, being centered – as the basis for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Achieving this state enhances insight, wisdom and complete freedom. Controlling the physical body through dedicated practice of yoga can take you on that path. The practice eliminates toxins, creates prana, the mind and body starts to prefer a healthier state of being and you begin to make healthier choices in what you eat (raw fruits for maximum life force energy), how you deal with everyday situations (calmness), how you relate to others (be a smile factory -- radiate a smile in everything you do).
Suddenly, my yoga class transformed into something more: a lesson in life. I could imagine Dorian speaking in front of a group of people on Sunday mornings—that’s how genuine he comes across and, more, how interesting he is. For me, the message that Dorian shared that I think about again and again is this one: “A calm mind is a non-reactive mind. Practice this in class and in every day life when faced with stressful situations.”
For me, that is the goal. And, as the surf builds on the North Shore, I can imagine equanimity is something that helps Randall paddle into waves that are two to three times as tall as he is.
As we moved through our evening practice, Dorian encouraged us to surrender to the pose. And, by golly, by the end of our hour-and-a-half, my nose was on my knees.
Did I mention that September is considered National Yoga Month? If you’re looking for a bit of calm in your life—and who isn’t—give yoga a try. It’s more than good for your body.