It is phenomenally interesting to take a deeper look into the places we feel compelled to go – both physically and emotionally. On a purely physical level, we may feel drawn to a particular pose. Often we look at this only on the surface. We can see the physiological benefits: it stretches, strengthens, or tones. But, it could be just as possible that the pose is needed on a completely different level. Psychologically, poses can trigger emotions. They can release tensions, ease anxieties, or in some cases bring on a feeling of dis-ease.
In this case, being human, our flight or fight response springs into action. We either avoid the poses that bring up fear and discomfort, or we take the polar plunge. When we jump in, we become immersed as our muscles, glands, organs, connective tissues, skeleton… every component and every atom of our body is stimulated. Though challenging emotions arise, we stretch into them. We bend before we break, coming out of the pose before it is too physically and emotionally draining. And then, there are the rest of us. Those that ponder the why’s and the how’s. Our aversion to a pose is obvious, and often we choose to go in a different direction. Maybe we retreat into the safety of balasana, childs pose. Or, while everyone else is enjoying the therapeutic effects of shavasana, we curl into the fetal position prematurely – back into the security of our mothers womb. It is even possible that we leave class or our practice to preserve our own version of sanity.
Taking this into consideration, it seems of particular importance to discuss the fine line between acceptance and rigidity. In my personal journey, there has been many a pose that I have disconnected from, at a physical or emotional level. As a child, I experienced (what I came to label as) profound pain. At first this challenge posed a threat to my presence. I became rigid, needing a sense of control over my world – thoughts, emotions, and actions. As a young woman, the pain subsided for a brief time and I was able to experience a freedom. A sense of inner peace and connectedness. When the pain returned, I believed that I had a fresh outlook. I was prepared and in control. But instead of accepting it, I was actually denying. I never gave the experience the room that it needed. I never accepted my body for its perfectly imperfectness. And then one day, I did. I found my roots and dug deep. I became grounded, connected, and more at peace.
Some poses, like Extended Triangle, remind me of this one segment of my life’s journey. When I was introduced to Utthita Trikonasana, I approached the posture with rigidity. I began at Point A, and dove mind-first to Point B. I denied the lack of physical or emotional engagement, and falsely nodded my understanding as instructors guided my body into better alignment. Unable to release the hold on my idea of what looked and felt “good,” I failed to engage the parts of my body and mind that were integral pieces to the Extended Triangle puzzle. And then, just last week came about my sankalpa, an intention that I submitted in honor of this winter solstice and the emerging new year: to practice acceptance as a pathway to living a life of peace, or on an even deeper level ahimsa – living a life of absolute non-violence, in ever sense of the word. If I am to practice acceptance as a path to peace (ahimsa), then I must dig deep once again. This time incorporating this walk into my postings as it presents itself both physically and emotionally.
On the physical level of acceptance, I have begun to work through challenging new postures, focusing on the benefits of proper alignment and what that looks like through my body. And on the emotional level, I am working through the psycho-physiological connection between acceptance and asana, or poses; concentrating on what feelings each pose brings about and how I can best share this experience to benefit both myself and others.
In the spirit of sankalpa, today I share with you new practices for body and mind, poses and intentions – ones that I myself am working on this week:
Try Extended Triangle today. Give yourself room in this demanding posture by aligning your seat against a wall or cabinet (below a ledge or counter top). Placing your top hand about the surface edge and draw your bottom hand down to a comfortable place on your thigh, knee, lower leg, or on a block. Use the ledge or counter top to assist in lengthening your spine and stretching out the outside of your hip. Set your gaze forward. Tip: Check out Yoga Journal for in-depth step-by-step instructions on how to perform this posture. In step 4, do not extend your arm overhead if you have had any neck, disc, or back pain. Instead, use the modification as listed above. During Pregnancy: This is a great posture for women in their second trimester, decreasing common back pains. Balance is oftentimes not at its best during pregnancy, so only try this with the above modifications.
Submit a (your personal) sankalpa for the new year. Offer up an intention that can only bring with it positive energy, love, and light. Do not look at this past years for your greatest challenges, but instead areas that you might be able to enhance.