My recent weeks are a blurry wheel of chaos. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. However, it has had an effect on my yoga practice. I haven’t been to a proper class in a shamefully long time and no amount of home practice is a substitute for that. At some point around the second great freeze I came to peace with this failing of mine. I have honed my yoga practice to a maintenance level and it’s my life raft during the ocean wave fluctuations in my mind.
By far, one of the most effective beginner poses is baddha hasta uttanasana. Recently, I uncovered new depths to this asana. When I discovered the extension element it felt like a correction to my approach. This time I feel as if I’ve discovered another layer to a puzzle. The part of uttanasana everyone likes, when you let go of the concave back and just let your head hang, is one of the easiest things to do incorrectly in yoga. In a beginner Iyengar class, it’s often used between standing poses to give everyone a rest. The shape of the pose is different depending on the person, but the goal is the same – to relax your mind.
So naturally, in a time of change (no matter how embraceable) it’s good to have a simple change in posture that relieves depression. In Light On Yoga B. K. S. Iyengar actually says, “Any depression felt in the mind is removed if one holds the pose for two minutes or more.” And I experienced it. In a moment of panic about something unimportant I just stood up, grabbed my elbows and flopped into the asana. I know, not graceful.
I retrospectively adjusted my feet, legs and chest and then went into the pose again. The second time I felt sure and relaxed. The floor was solid under my feet and the energy of that grounding extended up through my legs and out the tops of my femurs. From that strength, I internally watched the muscles along my spine relax a little at a time until I got to the middle of my scapulae. That’s the center point of all my stress.
Little knots of tension surround my shoulder blades like embedded pebbles. When my mind hit that point I suddenly realized that the only thing preventing relief of that stress is me. I focused my eyes on the gap between my knees and began to wait. Around a minute, the death throes of the knots sent signals to my brain, “This hurts, stop it!” Usually this is where I put my hands on the floor. But this time I didn’t. Giving in to gravity, I pictured my shoulders flattened and serene. And like ocean waves disintegrating a beach of sandcastles, my tense spots smoothed away with gentle encouragement from my intention.
By two minutes I was so comfortable I didn’t want to move at all. Alas, the muscles in my legs started to complain about the unfair labor distribution so I slowly unfurled my spine to reenter the upright world. I arose smiling and calm. My mind felt lighter and my back stronger. My chest came up so lifted I swear my collarbones grew an inch. The imprint on my shoulders is still there and the fact I’m writing this indicates I’m getting back to what’s important. I may be MIA at the yoga studio, but not all the work happens there. It’s good for me to remember that.
The real key to my breakthrough in this asana is the arms. In this case, when my shoulder and neck muscles complain it’s not a bad pain. It hurts because tension is my normal, so it feels strange and scary to let go of that. I placed my hands on the floor in this pose to avoid dealing with my neck and shoulders. The different positions of the arms effects the way our shoulders are utilized. Keeping hold of my elbows the entire time forced my body to change its old habits. As I explored all this in 2 minutes, my mind let go of some stuff too. Letting go is a magnificent feeling and I suggest it for everyone.