Today’s 4-hour core session was power-packed physically, intellectually, and psychologically. (And to think that people believe yoga is just some exercise to increase flexibility – whatever! Today’s teachings blow that myth right out of the water. *smile*)
We started the class with an hour-long discussion/exploration of the pose downward facing dog. Poor, misunderstood down dog; I feel bad for the old gal. Many people think that down dog is all about getting one’s legs to be stick straight, with their heels touching the ground. A smaller percentage of folks (but still a semi-large contingent) think that down dog is about pushing one’s arms against the floor as FFFFAAAARRRR [hard] as possible, stopping only when they feel tension [pain] in their shoulders/neck. In reality, down dog (like most [all?] of the physical poses in yoga) is about the spine. In this pose, the “goal” should be to create length in the spine (so that energy can more easily flow up and down the spine; but if you don’t believe in energy, you can say so that you can sit straighter/taller, or so that you can avoid osteoporosis issues later in life, or whatever else you need to say; whatever else helps you treat your body better and with more kindness). So down dog isn’t really about legs, or arms, or shoulders; though all of these pieces are important, the poses’ intention is about the spine. Ah ha…..
After our physical exploration of down dog, we spent the 50 minutes of class in a mental/verbal investigation of the yama “asteya”, which translates into “not stealing”. Asteya is about more than just “not stealing”, though. In Christianity, one might associate the spirit of asteya with not only the eighth commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”), but also the tenth one (“Thou shalt not covet.”) In Buddhism, the spirit of asteya is expressed in the second precept (“I undertake the precept of refraining from taking that which is not freely given.”) As a class, we discussed the “fine lines” and gray areas of possible realms of stealing, including borrowing, copyright infringement, plagiarism, tardiness, acceptance of unmerited praise, and so on. It was a very intriguing conversation for me, and it definitely got me thinking.
After a brief break, the final two hours of our class session were focused on the general category of poses that include some element of a backbend. (So, poses like updog, bow, wheel, locust, etc.) However, the main chunk of our time (90 minutes) was spent face down on our mats, perfecting our cobra pose. Basically, all categories of poses have one foundational pose – and if you can get the foundational pose as close to “perfect” as possible, that’s your best shot at being able to do all of the other poses in the category correctly and well. For example, for standing poses, the foundational pose is mountain. For seated poses, the foundational pose is staff pose. And today, I learned that the foundational pose for backbend poses is cobra. So, time to get intimate with my yoga mat.
Lying on my stomach, forehead touching my mat, arms and hands next to my body at my sides, the teacher instructed us to extend our right leg back as far as we could. Go far. FAR. FAAAAARRRRR. Boy, I had my right leg back just as far as I could get it, I was trying so hard. Then, our teacher said, “Now, activate (engage) your hamstring, and then push your leg back again.” So I did, and I’ll be damned – it felt like I gained INCHES in my right leg! What the…? How is that even possible? But, it IS what happened; it was crazy cool! For thirty minutes we practiced activating our hamstrings, and getting our legs as long as we could; and while this may sound boring, for me, it was anything but. It was kind of like my meditation practice: what may seem “boring” to an observer is actually ridiculously fascinating to me as the participant. And at the times when I may not overly fascinated, I am still learning. I’m always learning. And I think that (the constant learning), and the deeper, better understanding, and the surprises that learning sometimes yields, all of that is what is so “satisfying” to me.
After our legs were sufficiently lengthened and strengthened, we moved to the spine; and again, we tried to lengthen our spines and open our chests as much as we could on our own. Then, the instruction: “Now, breathe in and lift the chest up”, and bam, somehow, somewhere, more space seemed to magically appeared in my back. But apparently I had only begun. The teacher saw that I had more space available, that I wasn’t going as far as I could; so she provided a few adjustments to my pose, and a few seconds later I found my chest and heart OPEN, open like it had never been before. I was the tallest, longest, most open and spacious I had ever been; my eyes literally opened wider, and my face filled with a surprised look. I truly felt something shift inside of me, deep in the core of my being, that place where one may say their soul lives. I felt a very physical and a very mental movement in that very deep place; it was unreal. Only, it was very, very real.
At the beginning of the class, the teacher informed us that, “Backbends are all about trusting what you cannot see.” We lean back, trusting that the ground will be there when we arrive. We push up, trusting that our spines are strong enough to support our weight. But today, I absolutely got to see the place that had been previously hidden from me. It is an amazing, wonderful place. My body knew it was there; and today, my body surprised me – no, informed me – of what it is capable of, of what *I* am capable of, if I push, then relax, and open, and allow.