Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a multi-dimensional sacred text that offers spiritual truths in a way that keeps me playing in Wonderland each time a read a passage. My inner-child knows how to wander through imaginary nonsensical lands and make up my own rules.
On the other hand, as a yogi, I have always found the stories of Hindu mythology far too complicated and confusing. Their epic mythologies are, well, just that, epic. I cannot relate to the carnage and dragon slaying of the Mahabharatha. To me, the imaginary world of a hookah smoking caterpillar and a Mad-Hatter’s tea table are far more intriguing than the endless wars and battles over morality of Hindu mythology.
In 2012, I re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and every year since) and found myself writing copious notes in the margins detailing my thoughts about the symbolism of the creatures and characters in the novel and their parallels to concepts I learned on my yoga mat.
My 2012 yogi’s log entries marked a turning point in my home yoga practice. That was the year I unlocked the tiny door to my own personal Yoga Wonderland. My practice shifted from a mundane daily to-do task to something I ABSOLUTELY LOVE AND CRAVE EVERY DAY! YOGA WONDERLAND is such an amazing place where every practice I discover out-of-the-way-things and where never-expected-occurrences happen. IT. IS. SO. MUCH. FUN!!!
Down the Yoga Rabbit Hole
Practice with Yoga Teachers
Falling Down the Yoga Rabbit Hole
Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.
In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.
I was nine years old when I tried my first yoga pose, not much older than Alice was when she followed her White Rabbit. My body was still limber enough to put my foot behind my head and stick my tongue out at my parents while pretending to be a turtle. Yoga was a game I played on the family room floor in the mid 1980s, looking to a simple black and white picture book as my guide. By the time I hit adolescence, I outgrew the game and shelved my copies of The Children’s Garden of Yoga and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, picking up Carrie by Stephen King and Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews instead.
Fifteen years later, I fell down the yoga rabbit hole once again. My White Rabbit, masquerading as my cardio-kickboxing instructor, invited me to try her yoga stretch class that was scheduled after my favorite Wednesday night cardio-kickboxing class. Twenty minutes after punching and kicking an invisible opponent, I found myself playing like a dog, soaring like an eagle, and standing atop the world’s highest mountain. I tumbled, quite literally, head over knees over shoulders, down the yoga rabbit hole. Less than halfway through that very first yoga class, I knew I couldn’t climb my way back out, nor did I want to. Yoga was far more fun than right hooks, upper-cuts, and roundhouse kicks. I wasn’t fighting anymore. I was playing!
The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.
For me, chasing a White Rabbit down the yoga rabbit hole was a swift fall into a lifelong passion that is now so deeply knitted into the threads of my bone marrow that it is now a part of my being.
Very quickly after my first class with my kickboxing instructor, a second White Rabbit came hopping through the tunnels. I followed that second yoga instructor to my first class in an actual yoga studio to a world where upside-down is natural, left feels like right, and backward is the same as forward.
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything: then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book- shelves: here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs.
Presently she began again. “I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards!
As Alice felt the hole might not have a bottom, I wondered if the ninety-minute class might never end. Like Alice mused about the various oddities on the shelves of the rabbit hole walls, I mused about the strange atmosphere of the yoga studio: the statue of the man with an elephant head, the unique scent of nag champa incense, and the foreign sounds of Sanskrit chanting.
But most of all, I was fascinated by the colors.
That first yoga class in a yoga studio was like the White Rabbit took me down a tunnel that led to the yellow brick road of technicolor dream world. Perhaps it was the delirium from the over-hot room, but I remembered something else about being a child, I remembered a sight I’d had that I’d spent most of my grow-up years ignoring.
Around the time I was playing with tortoise pose on the living room floor with my parents, I discovered I had a rare ability to see auras. My parents had been taking a series of intuitive development self-awareness courses. When my dad described to my ten-year-old self that people have colors dancing around them as expressions of their moods and thoughts, I laughed and described his to him in great detail. For much of my teenage years, long after I’d given up yoga after being teased about my passion for it at summer camp, my dad and I played a different game. A game of “what color do you see.” Throughout my adolescence, I practiced and developed this third eye sight as just something fun I did with my dad. But once I got to college, I put that game on the same shelf in the back of my bedroom closet with a handmade ouija board.
In that Bikram yoga class in 2001, for ninety-minutes of twenty-six poses, each performed twice, I watched a laser light show of auras beam around the room like a kaleidoscope. With each pose, the light show changed. I watched bubbles and arrows escape my instructors mouth and float around the room landing in and on the students, changing their colors into clearer images. My yoga instructor kept prodding me to look at my own eyes in the mirror, but I was having too much fun chasing the light beams through the looking glass to pay her much mind.
. . .when suddenly, thump! thump! down she came upon a heap of stick sea dry leaves, and the fall was over. She was close behind it when she turned the corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen: she found herself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof. There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again. She came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!
What makes my tumble down the yoga rabbit hole unique to most is that while I initially followed a White Rabbit down the hole, my rabbit disappeared quicker than I could follow. And finding another rabbit to follow was more difficult in 2001 than it was in 2005 or 2015 or even today. The nearest yoga studio was a two-hour drive away, and I couldn’t get there more than once or twice a month. I yearned to take class every day, or even twice a day. The more I made that two-hour drive to class, the more excited and more frustrated I got.
I wanted MORE!
While I loved the classes and the laser light shows they brought to my third-eye-sight, I quickly tired of the teacher reprimanding me for looking around the room too much and not paying attention to just myself. I bored of the same monologue coming out of the teacher’s mouth every class. I wanted a teacher who could explain to me what I was seeing in the auras. I wanted someone to show me the deeper spiritual wisdom of the practice.
I took class from all the teachers in the studio, and none of them had my sight, nor did they stray far enough from the prescribed monologue to offer me the spiritual insights I craved. All of the teachers I met spoke only of the mental and physical benefits of yoga. Honestly, I didn’t entirely love my White Rabbit, or the couple of his friends he introduced me to. Where, oh where, would I find someone who could see what I could see AND teach me yoga?
Like Alice, and any yoga practitioner who has committed to a several-times-a-week practice, I was far beyond the point of no return. I couldn’t climb back up the rabbit hole and go back to my world as it was before. I couldn’t unsee what I saw. I couldn’t close my third-eye and put it back to sleep again. I couldn’t un-do the poses I had done, or the effect they had on my system.
I found myself without a yoga teacher, facing a hall of locked doors, and there were no other White Rabbits to be found. Besides, I really wouldn’t be content chasing an occasional White Rabbit through another dark tunnel. I had to find a way through one of those doors.
If I learned anything from my childhood play in The Children’s Garden of Yoga, I learned that there is a whole wonderland of yoga. My inner child yogi knew that no White Rabbit yoga instructor or rabbit hole class could show me the wonderland that existed on the other side of the tiny door behind the curtain.
The White Rabbit
Once upon a time, you wanted to try yoga, something you’ve never done before. Likely, the first thing you did was find a teacher. Like Alice’s White Rabbit, your first yoga teacher took you down a dark tunnel to a place you’d never been before. She set the pace, and she sometimes got annoyed when you didn’t keep up. If you did as she said, in precisely the same way that she instructed, you were sure to succeed.
but what were you succeeding at?
a complex game of follow the leader?
At some point, your White Rabbit might tell you that you learned everything she had to teach you, and either she hands you off to another more experienced White Rabbit, or she sends you to find one yourself. In time, some White Rabbit might even give you your own rabbit suit and waistcoat with a timepiece so you can become a White Rabbit yourself, teaching others what you have learned from your white rabbits.
This is how things work in the world of learning. There are teachers (White Rabbits), and courses (rabbit hole tunnels), and rules (waistcoats), and parameters (timepieces). They expect you to trust them to be your guide. They tell you what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. They explain to you why you are doing something and how it serves you in the future. They have completed extensive trainings and certification programs to hold their AUTHORITY.
The Yoga Rabbit Hole
Millions of yogis have followed White Rabbits down the yoga rabbit hole. Over the years, yoga teachers have multiplied, like . . . well. . . rabbits! As a yoga practitioner, whether you accidentally-on-purpose found yourself in a yoga class like I did, or you went sliding down the slippery slope with arms up screaming “wheeee” all the way down, you have likely encountered many different White Rabbits (yoga teacherss) along your path.
Inevitably, in any journey, circumstances change. You may lose a favorite teacher, or many teachers. Schools close. Teachers move away, or fall off their pedestals. Or, you simply grow bored because you have learned everything they have to teach you. We are conditioned through life to seek a teacher, an authority, to show us how to do things we don’t know how to do. So, when we lose our teachers, the natural response is to go in search of another one. New teachers may take you down some different tunnels, but those tunnels are their tunnels, not your wonderland. I ask you, how many white rabbits have you collected as authorities on your ventures? How many tunnels have you explored with teachers as your tour guides?
Somehow after years of schooling, we lose the curiosity and wonderment that comes with childhood exploration, adventure, and imagination. When we chase and follow white rabbits, we forget the wonderment and curiosity that comes with exploring unknown territory on our own. After awhile, those tunnels start to feel confining, and those authority figures feel oppressive. And those timepieces and their pace feels really, well. . . limiting.
When you find yourself in that place where you don’t have a teacher anymore, you have a choice, find another rabbit to take you down another tunnel, or find a way through that tiny door. I hope you choose door number one instead of rabbit number six, or tunnel number sixteen.
psst. . .come over here. . .let me show you. . .there’s MORE!
Take a peek through this tiny door behind this curtain. . .
The Loveliest Garden You Ever Saw
You took a leap of faith when you followed a White Rabbit to teach you something you didn’t know before. I’m here suggesting you take a completely different kind of leap. Stop following the White Rabbit yoga teachers (they run too fast ahead of you anyway). Don’t go looking for another one. They just keep you in the darkened rabbit hole tunnels with them, following them through complex labyrinths. You can thank them for their service, honor them for the excellent foundation they offered you to accept out-of-the-way-things to happen. Then, let them hop away.
Venture on your own into Yoga Wonderland.
On the other side of the tiny door is the loveliest garden you ever saw! That garden has zillions of flowers and colors and plants and creatures unlike anything you have ever seen before. That garden has all kinds of wide open paths and trails and adventures you can follow to places that live beyond the perimeters of your wildest imagination. Heck, you can even build your own paths and trails just by imagining them yourself! In this place, there are no rules, no time structures, no parameters. You get to go where you want to go, do what you want to do, and play how you want to play. And when you do, the most amazing magic happens, you come to expect the unexpected. Here, in wonderland, you access your most infinite resource, your imagination. Once you turn that on, the possibilities within your world become limitless.
The deepest and most profound wisdoms cannot be accessed through the guidance of a guru. Those, you must find on your own.
Shutting Up Like a Telescope
But first, you have to take the initial step and get yourself through that tiny door. I know, that door looks teeny-tiny, and it doesn’t make sense that you can fit your too-big-body through. I invite you, be like Alice, allow yourself to shut up like a telescope and expect “nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen.”
The way to shrink yourself to a size that will fit through that tiny door is to shed your ego and get on your mat, by yourself. Turn off the podcasts and the videos, and DRINK YOUR BREATH. Do a pose. And then another. And do one more. Keep breathing, and see what happens.
When you get on your home Yoga Wonderland practice mat, you will fan yourself with the White Rabbit’s tiny fan. The fan of your breath makes your ego shrink, as well as the things you think you know and all the things your White Rabbit teachers taught you to know. That’s when your imagination grows. When you just get on your mat alone, you get to make-up-the-rules-as-you-go, like the Queen’s Croquet Game.
Just do it. Get on your mat.