Scripture: Exodus 14: 1-14
The Israelite people in our scripture are refugees, fleeing from slavery in Egypt. They are camped in a sandy, gritty place on the seashore. They’ve got sand in their hair, sandals, and clothing. They are sunburnt and hot. They are scared, sleep-deprived and hungry, or at the very least, really wanting some leavened bread. The Israelites are, admittedly, not going to be their best selves in this moment. They probably don’t have the resources to go to a calm, inner place when things get crazy.
Things get crazy. They look in their rear view mirror and see the army of Pharaoh, the best military in the world, advancing upon them. Clearly, they are doomed to die. So, they get reactive. The Israelites yell at Moses for dragging them through the wilderness to a sandy grave. They are livid and terrified all at the same time. Utter chaos reigns. Their whole lives swirl around them, a sandstorm of hardship, regrets, dashed hopes.
Into this crazy chaos, Moses speaks the words, “Don’t be afraid, stand firm, see the deliverance the Lord will accomplish for your today. The Lord will fight for you. Only stay still.”
Standing still in complete stress and chaos seems not only counterintuitive, but downright impossible. The Israelites don’t have any idea at this moment that they are on the cusp of a miracle, that the sea before them will part. They are only envisioning their death. Yet here, in the potency of the moment, Moses calls for stillness. It’s like a yoga break in the midst of one of the greatest dramas ever told. “Take a breath,” Moses is saying. “Stand firm, both feet on the ground, hip distance apart. Don’t be afraid. God is with you.”
It’s a good reminder for our own lives, when we feel surrounded in chaos and we can’t even imagine a miracle happening. When we are tired, sleep deprived, hungry, scared, and not our best selves. When we get reactive because death in whatever form is encroaching on our lives. Moses says to us, “Stand firm. Don’t be afraid. Take a breath. Despite all evidence to the contrary, God is with you.”
When we don’t know that a sea will be parted, when we are tired of sand in our eyes and grit in our teeth, standing still and taking a breath seems unhelpful. Yet, if we can do this, if we can practice a moment of stillness in the chaos, the chaos itself might recede. We might feel God delivering us from our own stress and angst. We might just see a way forward that we had never dreamed possible. At the very least, we will have a strong stance and a steady breath. . . and know that we are not alone.
This yoga practice works on standing firm with a series of standing poses, but also some stress reducing asana like the two below.
Succhirandrasana or Eye of the Needle pose: On your back, bend both knees, keeping the feet on the floor.Place your right ankle below your left knee. Open the right knee out. Place your hands underneath your left thigh, lift your left foot off of the ground. Press your right elbow into the right knee. Connect to breath. Repeat on the other side.
Viparita karani: sit as close to a wall as possible, with the hips against the wall. Swing both feet up onto the wall as you extend on your back on the floor. Remain for several minutes, enjoying the release of the blood flow. You may add variations by bring the heels of the feet together for a form of baddha konasana on the wall.