The Illustrated Man

You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.
                                       – Rilke

“Today we will practice emotional yoga. Sit, relax, and think about something very emotional. A person, a situation, whatever. Concentrate on it, let whatever comes up, come up. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to hit the pillow in front of you, hit it.”

I called faces, one by one, apologizing to some, forgiving others. I faced myself, apologized, and forgave.   

For the past year or so, it has become apparent that I have work to do in terms of accessing my emotions. While I excel at intellectualizing and thinking critically about my feelings, I’m not as good at, you know, actually feeling them. So clearly, in a situation like our philosophy class where I’m being asked to produce on demand, the tears of release were not flowing.  I’m not a robot- I feel a great many things, and I think about them and share them quite frequently. And indeed, I have done good work this past year to grow in this regard, but for me the emotions need to be triggered organically to flow. 

Cut to yoga class this evening. Teacher told us that we were going to focus on opening up our pelvis. It’s not the most comfortable I am in yoga, but I’ve done plenty of work to open my hips as I face my lack of flexibility on a daily basis. If your pelvic region is as tight as mine you get used to being uncomfortable in these positions. As such, I’ve surrendered to the process of opening my hips, one that I had assumed will take many more years of practice to make any significant headway. My teacher, however, proved to be dismissive of this approach.

Allow me to paint you a brief picture…

I’m on all fours, facing away from a wall that the bottom of my feet are resting against, toes out. I am instructed to push my knees out until they are perpendicular to my ankles. At this point, I was getting a good stretch and had gone as far as I could without assistance. My teacher naturally came over to give me a careful nudge and gently push my back towards the ground. And by that I mean he placed a pillow on my back and sat on me as my knees splayed out to the side. I swear to god, I thought my groin would spontaneously combust. It was absolutely terrifying, and one of six hip openers equally as intense and terrifying. 

As I was recovering my breath, I reflected on the trust that I have for this human, probably 10 years my junior, but who studied for three years what I have been studying for three weeks. In that three weeks, he now knows my body as well as I do, but without the fear. He still relies on me to tell him when I’ve reached my limit, but he knows how far I can be pushed in a way that I did not know. 

This experience was my emotional yoga. I was brought to the brink of tears, consumed by fear, exhaustion, vulnerability, shock, and triumph. I have heard that some people hold their emotions in their hips. I have frequently reflected on the connection between my struggle with feeling and how intensely tight my pelvic region is. Today’s practice was a small, yet monumental step towards opening up- both my hips, and my heart. And this is what yoga is. It is the Union (yoga, or yoj in Sanskrit, means union) of the physical, the emotional, the spiritual, and it pushes me harder in all three aspects than I have ever been pushed. Yet, while the breakthroughs are the exciting stuff, the real beauty is in the process, the practice. I didn’t become Gumby or someone who can cry on command in a 90 minute class. Ahead of me is a lifetime of constant reflection, and of patience; of opening my depths, and plunging into them.

Gange Arti, spritiual ceremony asking Mother Ganga to remove our sadness
The calm before the storm


3 thoughts on “The Illustrated Man

  1. Thanks Brandon. As I sit and read students’ work today I will reflect upon the role of the teacher and the student, and how the teacher can learn from the student and appreciate their stretching beyond when trust is built. I appreciate your words, they offer much food for thought. Miss you and thank you for sharing your reflections.


  2. Brandon, me’ man! Thank you for sharing part of your journey. Makes me feel loved. I’ve been thinking ’bout you and wondering where and what you were experiencing. This sounds so wonderful and fulfilling. Take care always, Pam


  3. So beautifully described and experienced, Brandon. You are achieving what most of us will spend a lifetime searching for. Thank you ,as always, for sharing …
    Xoxoxoxo, Mom


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