Die a Thousand Deaths

Teaching yoga, for me, is the gentle management of a streaming flow of energy. It’s a balancing act on my corpus callosum where I’m constantly walking the line connecting verbal expression with visualization and attempting to meld the two, with varying degrees of success.

In other words, there are times I have no idea what crazy shit just flew out of my mouth.

Wat-cat-meme-t-shirtIf my mental foot slips to the right and visualization takes over, there is simply no quick way for me to find the right words. For example, one common cue I give in a standing forward folding pose is “gently rock your weight into the balls of your feet”. But if I picture the class doing that instead of focusing on my phrase, words don’t work and it’s come out as “gently rock your weight into your balls”, which to a room of mostly women, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Do WAT?

Trust me, I’m not visualizing scrotum; I just couldn’t translate what I actually did see in my head (the correct physical image of the cue) with the appropriately corresponding words at that moment. While it’s common to have a few of those slips per class, they aren’t usually that entertaining.

Every once in a while, though, this mental highwire act works in my favor and some phrase pops out with no premeditation that makes extra sense. Like yesterday, we were at that point in class where the warm-up was over and the first round of the vinyasa flow sequence was underway (in the sequence, we go through a combination of about 12-16 poses twice on each side – left/right).

Things were starting to get tough for some of the yogis and it showed. Sighing, trembling, holding breath, coming out of poses early, flinging in transitions – all of the telltale signs of facing a physical challenge in a practice.sweaty-yogi

I’m going to pause here briefly to let those of you know who aren’t familiar with this particular studio that these amazing, strong, dedicated yogis are moving their bodies through various poses for an hour straight in a crowded room that hovers far over 100 degrees no matter how long I leave on the overhead fans. They are working hard and it’s no wonder it began to show.

As an instructor, it’s part of my job to notice this and remind students to focus on the real yoga – their breath – and to honor their bodies no matter what ego tells them to do. Slow down transitions, match movement to breath vs breath to movement, close your eyes to refocus internally, and if you need to then go into Balasana (child’s) or another resting pose until you’ve recentered.

And also this: let yourself shake. Don’t be embarrassed of or disheartened by your trembling. Be grateful for it. That shaking is telling you where you’ve been holding onto something, and this practice is telling you it’s time to let it go, open your flow of energy in that space, and allow your body to become stronger in that area. You’re only fighting yourself.

So as I watched students give in to the tremors, I could see the shaking get worse at first. But when you do this, a beautiful thing happens; yogis get back into their breath, and when that tension has physically left them they get a rebirth of power and strength and balance and flow. Energetically, I had the honor of watching the death/rebirth cycle of the phoenix in these open-hearted people on their mats.


And then I heard myself saying this to them: “In your practice…and off of your mat…let yourself die a thousand deaths.”

I have no doubt that I’m not the first person to think of or say that, but I was grateful it came to me right then and felt relevant. In that moment it was pure in its spontaneity. Whether or not it made any impact whatsoever on anyone else in the room, for me it marked in time when I was having the honor of watching a room full of fellow yogis let go of what held them back and grow.

On and off our mats, how much in life do we resist that really boils down to us fighting against ourselves, every day?? When we can get ok with dying a thousand little deaths each day (or a million….or five…whatever!) imagine all of the tension we can release, all of the rhetoric we can loose from our minds and hearts, all of the relationships in which we can truly become present…or know it’s time to leave.

We set ourselves free when we clear out the junk, and sometimes that means an energy in our life just needs to die – our unbalanced ego, our fear, our intolerance, our overly-judgmental side, our ingratitude, our selfishness, our overindulgences, our apathy. Maybe we can become fine with letting ourselves shake and quiver and tremble through the release and death of those things that don’t serve us and know that there is a fuller, fresher breath waiting for us on the other side.

Some of us need a fight, an opposing situation, or a challenge to give us the wisdom, freedom, and permission to let go. That can be a yoga class, the loss of a job, the dissolution of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the birth of a child; anything, really.

Bells_Shakespeare_Julius_Caesar_titleI googled the phrase “die a thousand deaths” to see where it came from culturally and found it originally in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as:

“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”


It’s in reference to letting fear rule your life and living with a thousand inner “deaths” or regrets versus living life with courage and perseverance, experiencing the inevitable human death whenever it comes as the only true impediment in life. The unavoidable literal death, in fact, being the reason to live life devoid of fear.

What “die a thousand deaths” means to me is choosing in life to be strong and courageous enough to allow the deaths around you of things that no longer serve you, all of which stem back to fear. It is embracing courage in both the masculine (exerting) ways as much as in the feminine (receiving) ways.

Before the bodily death we’ll each experience are thousands of figurative ones that aren’t in any way about building regret, but rather lining our path to a fuller life and filling our journey in the present with acceptance, expansion, and love – both on and off of our mats. Letting go to move on, letting go to become stronger, letting go to stay in balance.

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