Monday, November 2, 2009

Dia de los Muertos

Today is Day of the Dead. It's a predominantly Mexican holiday, with origins that date back to the Aztecs and pre-Christianity. Having lived in rural Mexico (where I adopted the Aztec Warrior Princess) through a harvest season, and then having spent 9 years in CA, this holiday has held special meaning for me for a long time. The Latino community is very small in Paris, so November 2 passes with nary a drum beat or sugar skull to be found. Suffice it to say, I'm homesick.

It is essentially the celebration of death; and of the dead. It is held in deep autumn, when the harvest is complete and the natural world is taking its last breath before going into a nice long svasana.

It is the time when living relatives celebrate those who have left the material world in body, but whose souls are very much alive. Beautifully ornate altars are built as offerings, showcasing the deceased favorite things in hopes that the gap between the material and spirit worlds becomes smaller for that night. Through this reverence and ritural, eg, performances, music (Drums! Lots and lots of loud drums!), dance, poetry, and many, many candles, they hope the two worlds can directly communicate on behalf of the fundamental things most of us pray for: prosperity, health, peace, and love. They believe these souls are our spirit guides.

The sugar skulls and dancing skeletons give an almost cartoon-like representation of the physical body, which is believed to be nothing but a temporary form we inhabit for a short while before moving on, supporting the yogic notion that we are not our bodies.

Day of the Dead is also a celebration of rebirth; of the innately regenerative qualities of the natural world. Plants are dying, but they're also going to seed. The leaves are falling from the trees so that new buds can form in the spring. Celebrants of Day of the Dead believe that a full and beautiful life cannot exist without a willingness to accept the inevitability - and indeed beauty - of death.

And what is death really, other than matter and energy just changing form?

After a 90 minute yoga class, if we've practiced with a clear intention and conscious attention to the breath, our energy shifts. Stagnant energy awakens and begins to move. Cells die and others cells are produced. We sweat and cry, detoxifying our organs and our emotions. New oxygenated blood flushes our system as we rise out of poses. Our minds become clearer, quieter, more focused on the moment; the breath. We make space where there was constriction and softness where there was rigidity. We begin to let go calmly where we were holding on tightly.

And then...we go into Corpse Pose. We die with grace.

When we rise out of svasana, we are rarely the same being we were when we went into it. Old layers have died away, allowing us to live a more spacious, peaceful life.

Build an altar or just light a candle today, celebrating those who have left their bodies before you. Maybe even utter an intention of or request for guidance.
And in your next yoga class, let yourself die a little. You'll be glad you did.

(*The photo is Greg's bucket drumming brigade that performed for Day of the Dead SF 07)