Transition with Grace — On and Off the Mat

Colleen Saidman by Colleen Saidman | November 23rd, 2012 | 12 Comments
topic: Green Living

Yoga at summit

In 2006, Rodney and I had the privilege of taking a few classes with Mr. Iyengar. When it came time for Headstand, I informed the yoga master that I didn’t do them — I have a seizure disorder that I always felt was aggravated by Headstands. He told me, in no uncertain terms, to stand on my head now! And I did. I stayed up, and only came down when he said it was time.

By then, the rest of the class had moved on to Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose), and, trying to be a good student, I came down from Headstand and sat right up to join the rest of the class. That’s the point at which he slapped my back and said, “That is your problem, not Headstand: You transition too quickly and mindlessly. I am sure that you do this in your life as well. You never let anything settle in.” Wow, what an acute teaching for a chronic issue!

Needless to say, the post-headstand seizures have completely stopped. I now stay in Child’s Pose for the length of time that I have just spent in Headstand, and I focus on my exhalation. I dwell and bask in the sweet residue of the pose, and when I move onto the next pose, I am fully there. I feel that loving slap every day when I come out of Headstand. More importantly, I also feel that slap during other transitions, both large and small.

From mindless to mindful

We are all in such a hurry, but for what? We move from one thing to another so quickly that absorption is almost impossible. Richard Freeman says that the “residue” — what’s left just after one thing but before another — is a large part of our lives, and an amazing opportunity. In fact, it could be that it’s during the time of the residue that the mind is most free. But instead of free, we are usually simply mindless, and the moment is wasted.

There is the quiet transition every morning from dark to light as nature begins to stir. The residue of the night still hangs in the air, and the bright daylight is not yet here. The masters say that this is a perfect time to practice pranayama. Instead, though, we mindlessly drag ourselves out of bed, into the shower, and then onto a cup of coffee. We grab our keys and still don’t realize what a blessed gift this breath is.

The maha transitions

If we sleep through the transitions, we will spend most of our life asleep. It is funny how fast we can transition from Savasana to road rage, from chanting lokah samasta sukinoh bhavantu to gossiping. Can we all hit the pause button and tune in during these precious in-between moments? These are practice for the “maha transitions.”

The maha transitions can be anything from marriage, to divorce, to menopause, to losing a loved one, to children leaving the house, to retirement, to becoming a mother and then a grandmother, to our own death. The list goes on. How can we transition with grace? How can we dwell mindfully in the residue? How can we use the in-between times to focus on our breath? How can we show up for our life instead of just speeding through it?

Can we pause this holiday season and allow the residue to settle in, and the bubbling of gratitude for this breath to surface. Lama Marut says: “Those who cling to the past are doomed to repeat it. I renounce toxic nostalgia, and vow to replace clinging with fond gratitude. Now is the only time we have.”

I humbly bow at the feet Mr. Iyengar, and thank him for the slap that created some awareness in me. I also bow to Roshi Joan Halifax for compassionately passing the same message along as she chants to us:

“Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken. . .
. . . awaken,

Take heed. Do not squander your life.”


  1. Thankyou

    Alicia | November 26th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  2. Thank you, Colleen for the poignant reminder. As I am going through a transition right now I have been so focused on what will come that I’ve been unable to savor what “is”. Who would have thought that passing on a slap to others would be such an act of kindness?

    Nancy D | December 14th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  3. Colleen that was beautiful & so meaningful to me; especially at this time in my life. As both my parents sink deeper & deeper into the depths of dementia, I try each day to stay present to the transitions that come along with this disease. I take the time to breathe, meditate & I look for the grace in this trying situation. Perhaps my parents are still trying to teach me one last thing?
    Have a beautiful peaceful holiday. Namaste

    Sheri Glick | December 14th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  4. Almost the first thing I did this morning was to check my Facebook, so am guilty as charged straight away. Except today unlike most days where there is not really anything interesting on my FB newsfeed, I clicked on the link to this. Thank you Colleen, I feel good having read your words and smiled when reading another good story about Mr Iyengar. You are privileged to have met him.

    Mark in UK | December 15th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  5. Thank you for this reminder…sometimes moving at the speed of light – the small intermissions are zoomed over and lost.

    LisaM. | December 16th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  6. Thank you Colleen, for this reminder. I have to be honest, I was speed reading through this post as I had a few other windows/articles waiting for me to get to. Reading through your words a second time, I can say that I completely understand your point. Ironically, I make it a strong point to transition in my Asana practice… why is there a disconnect outside of the yoga room? something to practice and practice, and practice! Thank you for the reminder!

    marina | December 24th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  7. It really moved me that you would share your experience with BKS Iyengar in such vulnerable detail. It caused an instantaneous feeling of respect in me for both of you. It’s hard for many of us from different backgrounds to understand that teaching style and yet knowing his mastery, age and cultural background, we can accept it and try to understand it. So even though you were treated in a way that I would think may have been challenging, you learned such a vital lesson – not the least of which was how to be able to safely keep a powerful pose in your practice – and then also passed it on with such egolessness. I find that impressive and moving and thank you!

    Shelly | November 8th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  8. Thank you for sharing this! I am grateful for learning mindfulness this weekend from Rodney and Colleen at Yoga Shanti teacher training and from Mary-Beth, Kirtan, Keely and Sergio at Urban Zen Integrated Therapist Training! It is wonderful to learn from all of you!!

    Joy | November 11th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  9. What a beautiful post and reminder to slow down and pause in the transitions and in the breath. Namaste.

    Kael | November 20th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  10. Colleen, Your experience with Iyengar left me wondering why you allowed him to make you do a headstand when you told him that you did not want to. You had a valid reason with your seizure disorder and I wonder what would have happened if you had in fact had a grand mal seizure. I do not think this is a good example for yoga students. This does against basic ahimsa principle of yoga that you allowed a teacher to override what you felt about your own body. I feel certain you would not have request that of your own students.

    MIchaelle Edwards | December 15th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  11. Colleen, your story is a sad commentary about how yoga students give their power away to authority figures and allow themselves to be mistreated in the name of respect. Your story is a sad representation of how yoga has become a cult; do anything “the master” says, no matter what, and you will advance in your practice. Followers drank the koolaide and died. Have you researched the risks of a regular headstand practice? Even without a siezure issue, headstands are dangerous. What about a headstand is natural or normal, anyway? If we were all meant to do headstands, we would have an innate draw to do so. Have you researched the risks of child’s pose? This position overstretches ligaments and tendons in the ankles, knees, hips and back. Joints need to be stable, not stretched out. So what is your regular practice of headstand and child’s pose doing for your body? You have convinced and diluted yourself to believe that your great yoga masters know best, and any mistreatment toward you has resulted in you becoming so beautifully mindful that you are able to embrace the transition periods of life. That thinking is twisted and unclear, so it leaves you in the delusion of being abused and thankful for it. The spiritual ah ha’s which only serve to cover the abusive treatment you allowed has you believing that your asana practice is doing you good. Bio-mechanics says differently. To disregard your inner wisdom in order to obey a “master” and to convince yourself that this is a good practice of surrendering ego is nothing more than allowing yourself to be victimized. I am sure that you are not wanting to do this, however, that is exactly what you’re doing. You are being duped by the yoga culture into believing that everything a master says is true, right and good. That is not healthy and it only serves their egos and hurt you. It takes courage to listen to your inner guide; I hope you can begin to do that.

    Elizabeth Klarich | December 15th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  12. So sorry you felt you had to do something you knew you shouldn’t do based on your health issues. As a male teacher, what Iyengar did to you is unacceptable. If I did what he did to you, you would have pressed charges against me. No human being deserves to be slapped from another human being, especially your yoga teacher. You deserve an apology, and are very lucky you didn’t have seizure. Peace.

    Joe Sparks | December 15th, 2013 | Comment Permalink

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