Saturday, April 11, 2015
Holding the Pose
One cannot hurry yoga. Breathing must flow steady and slow, down to the bottom of the lungs. Breathe into the pose. Inhale. Exhale. Again. And again. All the while, my bad shoulder shakes underneath me in side plank. My thigh screams after several minutes of holding various warrior poses. My mind wanders to the next event on my schedule or the child who has climbed to the top of my worry list for the day. "You must reach equanimity," my instructor reminds me. "Calm your mind. Approach tension and allow it to release."
Brilliant idea. Find the tension. Breathe into it. Focus my vision. Allow my mind to calm, my face to relax. Sometimes I actually achieve a measure of equanimity. I flow from one pose into another, and it feels natural. I feel my spine realign itself as I open into side triangle pose, sternum and face reaching toward the ceiling. Ah!
And then, I reach a pose like upward bow pose, a pose that requires me to hold a back bend, surrendering my head and shoulders to gravity. For some reason, the bow pose makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. On days when equanimity proves elusive, the pose almost frightens me a little, although I doubt I could pinpoint the root cause of the fear. Failure, perhaps? Certainly not bodily harm, as extricating myself from the pose is an easy task. Something about relinquishing control of my head and neck makes my breath quicken and my heart rate increase. Pride comes to my aid, and I complete the pose once, twice, three times in the course of today's workout, refusing to give in. My muscles are up to the task. My back is flexible enough. Only my brain balks at the exercise. So I count my breaths, focus on a spot on the back wall and try not to think about the fear.
Life feels a little like bow pose sometimes. There is nothing inherently dangerous about my life. We enjoy good health. We pay our bills. Our cars run most of the time. The kids generally make good decisions and live exemplary lives. And yet, occasionally I have a day like today when I wake up feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty of life. We continue to take steps in the dark, not yet sure of the right path for our family. People I love struggle with problems I cannot solve. I find myself needing to surrender control to the choices of others, to the will of God, to the vagaries of life.
"Live in the present," I tell myself. "Breathe in and out. Relax into life."
Because here's the secret. Yoga isn't about becoming more flexible. It isn't about finishing the workout and moving on. It isn't about being stronger and twistier than the girl on the next mat. Yoga is all about the pose, about finding calm in tension and focus in distraction. And life isn't really about knowing where I will live next year and what mission will give my life purpose and direction. Life, like yoga, is all about the pose. I take stock of where I am right now, stretching what needs to be stretched, finding center, and breathing through the movement from one phase into the next. When I feel the fear rise, I acknowledge the tension. I approach it, taking what steps I can, and then I focus my vision, count my breaths and surrender, all the while searching for equanimity.