Friday, November 27, 2015

The Echoing Green: Yoga Practice for the Holidays

The Echoing Green: Yoga Practice for the Holidays

I am writing this the day after Thanksgiving, November 27, 2015. There are 28 days until Christmas and 34 days to the New Year. I like counting and to be sure, the years are adding up. I have noticed that somehow the passing of the years is not working like math. It isn’t a simple addition-- this year plus the next and the next. Something more than math seems to be happening.

I have been through almost 50 holiday seasons. Throughout those years, I have taken many forms- baby, toddler, child, adolescent, and college student. I have known Christmas day as an angry daughter, forgiving daughter, and humble daughter. I have held my own daughters’ hands and stroked their hair as they struggled to sleep on Christmas Eve. I have held my mother’s thin hand and read her stories during her last Christmas here on Earth.

In all these years of change, there are these echoes.

I am reminded of William Blake’s poem, “The Echoing Green.” Here is an excerpt.

The sun does arise,
And make happy the skies.
The merry bells ring
To welcome the spring.
The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around,
To the bells’ cheerful sound,
While our sports shall be seen
On the echoing green.
William Blake (1757-1827)   

The echoing green takes the form of a holiday canvas upon which we paint our memories. Each one begins with the penciled sketching of our family, religious, and cultural traditions. There are broad, thick painted strokes of tree-decorating day, the slow carefully detailed aggregation of packages under the twinkling branches, and the painful waiting for the paint to dry and the big day to come. There are sharply scratched-in arguments as family pressures build negotiating details and tensions arise around silly stuff like shopping. There are the added accents of parties dappled with laughter and run through with tears as we embrace the people we haven’t seen and miss people we will never hold again. In this way, the memories layer like the strokes of a paintbrush or the notes in a song.

Photo from

And so it goes, year after year this orchestral arrangement of the holidays unfolds. I watch the refrain repeat with slowly aging eyes and a wiser, more softly beating heart. I want to linger over each rich note as the song seemingly speeds by- sometimes too quick to catch.

Over the years I have found that to fully hear the echoes, I must be present.

I owe whatever presence I have to my yoga practice. I have learned how to breathe through unbearable sadness and ground my feet during overwhelming joy. I have practiced opening my heart when it wants to close and closing it when it needs to rest. I have learned to balance when the floor seems unsteady as if only on foot and to use my very core to hold what I know is good. I can stand as a warrior for what I want for my daughters and my husband. More, my warrior can take the form of a steady fighter, one with an open heart, and a warrior for peace. Because of my practice, I can face all that comes my way and still rest at the end of the day, breath and heartbeat steady. I am able to truly hear almost any song these holidays bring no matter its depth or potency.

Right now, late on this day, I welcome the echoing green of the holidays. It is layered handsomely and oh- so much more than math. If I am lucky, I will see and hear what these days hold-- the artistry of a grand painting and the brilliance of a symphony each comprised of the rich texture of what I know to be true.

My yoga practice has allowed be to hear the lesson of the echoes as they wisely repeat what matters- love, peace, and connection- Catherine- that is all you really need.


Catherine Cook-Cottone

The Yoga Bag

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