Depths of Abalone Diving & Your Yoga Practice
One of my favorite parts of fall is driving to Mendocino for the weekend with my wife, Stephanie, and our dog, Zoey. We meet up with family and then pile into a boat to go to our favorite dive spot. I put on a heavy wetsuit and weigh myself down even further with a weight belt. And then I jump in, with just my breath to guide me, diving deep into the cold, dark water.
I am looking for abalone. And “looking” is perhaps a generous assessment of the situation. There is often no visibility, and no time, as my hands grasp in the dark while my lungs beg for air.
Abalone is a rare, large mollusk, usually found at depths of 12 to 15 feet. The shells have a beautiful pearl sheen on the inside, and when cooked, the taste is similar to calamari (YUM!). In California, the abalone species is so fiercely protected that there is a limit of 3 per person per day and just 18 for the whole season in most areas.
I like the abalone meat, of course, but I also receive a lot of joy and satisfaction from the journey to find it. It takes a great many dives to make a catch.
You will not find abalone on restaurant menus, as commercial catching is not allowed. Abalone diving is a great reminder that the truest, richest parts of our life often require us to go deep and do significant work.
The pearl is in the oyster.
And the oyster is at the bottom of the sea.
Dive deep. – Kabir
Kabir was talking about oysters, but the same is true for the abalone, and also for our yoga practice. We find what we are looking for when we go beneath the surface.
Diving deep requires faith. Out on the boat, it is a rare day when the water is clear and the surf minimal. Despite the murky view below, I know that the cloudy water is an illusion; the abalones are still there.
Our practice is very similar. There are days when we come to our mat with a clear mind and a practice that feels strong and grounded; the ultimate experience of connection. On other days, downward dog can be a struggle, and our monkey mind takes over.
The real gifts of stepping onto our mats can be found as we peel away the layers and go deeper, even in our struggle. There is no sense in waiting for the elusive, perfect conditions for our practice. There is so much more to learn from the days that we meet our cloudy thoughts and feelings and move through them, instead of against them.
Yoga reminds us of our own inherent strength. We can surprise ourselves with what we are capable of, even when it seems impossible. We can arrive at our mat feeling broken and incapable, and we can often leave just a little bit lighter, simply by working with a deeper breath. There are benefits from going deeper that you simply cannot get any other way.
California guards the abalone because they need protection, and this is also true of our yoga practice. We need to carve out and protect the sacred space to explore our own depths. Especially now as the days are increasingly dark, it can be easy to push off going to class or making time for practice.
Like the draw of the abalone down below our boat, many of us come back to yoga time after time because we have found the pearl that Kabir talks about. We have experienced moments of touching the gifts of the practice: a deeper breath, a relaxed neck, a moment of quiet and calm.
These moments are the ones that sustain us. We may not always recognize it in ourselves, but the good stuff is in there, waiting to be found each time we come back to the practice.
We just need to dive in