Student Highlight: Don Byington
As a logical yet open minded, intelligent IT engineer and a survivor of heart disease, Don is truly an inspiring testament that yoga is for everyone. It is not just a box that only a few fit into, rather it is a practice that is truly unique to the individual with infinite benefits for the mind, body and soul. The way Don participates in yoga is filled with a quality of care towards the mind-body connection, while also allowing himself to be imperfectly perfect. “Yoga is yours and you do what you want with it,” Don explains, “In a regular practice of soul searching through yoga it really does help center and cleanse the mind and the soul.”
His practice and understanding of yoga was a breath of fresh air to hear. “Many asanas put the body into contention with itself. You're putting the body into a position where it needs to do one thing for support while encouraging it to go in another direction to create openness and possibly ease in the pose. Take adho mukha svanasana; pressing down on the fingers with straight arms requires the shoulders to be pressed "up" toward the ears, but we want to root the shoulder blades down to open the neck while still providing solid support in the arms. And we rotate the hands and elbows medially (inward) while protracting (spreading) the shoulder blades to create space in the back, while still providing a stacked structure for support. These actions require a great deal of concentration to fire the correct muscles appropriately. This purposefully applied contention increases the neuromuscular activity to greatly enhance that mind-body connection. I'm sure that many people will also find that it is great for toning muscles and building stamina.” I admire his ability and focus on the mat when it comes to the way he bridges the gap, that we all tend to create, between the mind and body. His focus off the mat is also remarkable as he shares some of his experiences and wisdom of life.
Don candidly shared that at one point in his life he wasn’t sure where he was going to live after being laid off. However, through the power of choice Don found strength and courage within the present moment to endure the obstacle at hand. “I always had the nonchalant outlook that things will work out, things will be ok. I don’t find myself stressing about it. Things will work out if you believe in it. Some people would call this having faith, he said, “I’m not sure what I would call it yet as I’m still trying to understand the higher power thing. I have a very logical mind. I can’t deny that some things do come across as divine intervention that helps tip the scales. And I am open to it.” Don’s willingness to be open minded is a beautiful gift of his. Speaking with Don I realized that as we navigate deeper within ourselves we start to peel wide open and the lines between mind, body and soul soften. We experience life differently by detaching ourselves from labels and letting go of things that we can’t control. Don points out that, “We have this reason to label things so we can call it something, but that something is not that label and so labeling is kind of an empty concept. We all have to make the conscious choice to be open to whatever is. And not try to put it into some sort of package that gives us the identity of what it is. Sure it makes it easier not talk about things but getting to tied up into those labels causes’ troubles.” Yoga comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s not just the practice on the mat, but also the frame of mind you encounter throughout your life, as if almost seeding a glimpse of your true self throughout the years.
As life goes, and our days aren’t always clear and focused, Don audaciously shared a story that depicts the courage it takes to navigate hardships with peaceful warrior strides. “In 2007 I was more depressed and gaining weight because I didn’t know what I was capable of. In 2008, three years after I was diagnosed with heart disease, I decided to join up with a Mazamas Mountaineer Club. I eventually did their basic mountaineering school and a year after I was in for a heart stent, I climbed Mt Saint Helens, which in late winter into early spring meant a longer approach and more of an elevation gain. I didn’t realize it at the time, but at about 1500 feet from the summit I was cramping in one of my quads and every time I put weight on it my leg my muscle it would just seize. It was extremely painful and I was thinking ‘I just can’t do it’. I could see the summit and I could see people there. I chose to limp my way to the top. Even though it was hard work and as I was on the side of a mountain I had a thought, ‘What the fuck am I doing here? This is madness, but it is an incredible place to connect with nature.’ It is VAST. And I enjoyed it.” This story makes my heart skip a beat, and brings me back to the realization of how gifted we are. Walking and talking, in this case hiking, miracles of life filled with immense opportunities and cosmic capabilities. Don went on to vulnerably tell a story of a time when he had to choose the opposite end of the spectrum and it is equally if not more impressive. “I went with a group to do a winter mountaineering skills seminar with white out conditions and about 9000 feet I swear my heart was going to jump out of my chest. So I turned around. It was a bitter sweet experience and it taught me a bit about myself for turning around. No matter how much you spent or time you spent its ok, because it gives you an opportunity to come back another time to try again. When in doubt take the prudent road. I’ve came to the point that if your no longer having fun question if it’s really worth doing. Something I try to apply to life. Really take time to think about it.” We are so much more than our limits, our failures or our successes. We are exquisitely our experiences and these experiences our uniquely our own to grow from to form a higher understanding of ourselves.
As Don put it, “yoga and the philosophy are all encompassing.” As we work within our yoga asanas we slowly begin to unveil layers of our self and begin to experience life with all its beauty and its entire blunder, both extremely important and nourishing for the soul. We connect mindfully and deeper to ourselves, others and our surroundings. Just like Don, the practice of the niyama Ishvara Prandhana encourages us to let go of the struggles of the mind and ego, “At times I would have a hard time of letting go of things that affected me or that I thought affected me. Things that frustrated me and I wanted to know the WHY. Yoga has helped me to a point where I can let go of that sense easier and much quicker. Ask the question why go ahead, but then ask does it really matter, its over, it’s done with, move on, Don reveals.” He gave me a glimpse into his life sharing the experiences that brought him to this present moment, the moment where life exists. He captured and conquered the lessons through each shape shifting experience, each one unique with its own hand sketched message. That is true inspiration. Turning the cracks of existence and living into gold bits of wisdom and soulful growth.