Good Sunday morning! It finally feels a bit like Spring – I know, it might snow tomorrow, but at least for today we can enjoy blue skies, ambitious runners, crisp breezes and other markers of that unmistakable Spring fever…it is that itch to be outside, to be active, to start to really soak up life again after a long winter of hibernation and weather-imposed limitations. Today’s 9am Vinyasa class started off with a huge pit in my stomach – the room was totally empty at 8:58, and I thought – “Omg, today is that day. The day when nobody comes to class. The day I am here all alone…” On and on the nightmare played out for about 30 seconds, until all my students were arriving at the same time, and before I could get to the part in my silly mind wandering where I teach an empty room, the studio was full and I had to laugh at my insecurities and fears, and remind myself of my good fortune and incredibly loyal, wonderful students. Thanks everyone for just showing up:)
Before I forget, I am subbing for the fabulous Derek Beres this Wednesday, 4/6/2011 at the Equinox in Soho. Basics at 6:30-7:30, Level 2/3 at 7:30-8:45. Let me know if you would like to be my guest. I would be happy to have you!
Today’s post began in my mind several days ago. I am blessed to have many wonderful friends and loved ones in my life. I have one friend and loved one who stands out among them all, mainly because she is not human. She has four legs, a super-adorable furry face, a wet nose, very slobbery tongue, and a butt and tail that can wiggle forever at the slightest hint of happiness or excitement. Her name is Rosie, and the other day she started her pitter-patter/whimper dance of “There is something under the bed (or under the couch, in the closet, in your hand, that you are about to eat, etc) that I desperately need right this very second!!!!!” As I bent down and peered under the bed, I was not surprised to see several half-eaten tennis balls, a delicacy for Ms. Rosie. What I was surprised to see was how much dust was also under there!! I was horrified! And I thought, I wonder where else there is dust and dirt lurking in places I am not so motivated to look at, and so began the metaphor…Where do we have dust, gunk, dirt, “stuff”, lingering where it does not belong, and how often do we really take the time to look closely enough to see our clutter? When and if we do see/experience/examine it, what, if anything do we do about it? Do we ignore it? Do we look further and ask ourselves where it came from? Do we carry out the brave task of attempting to clean it up? What is waiting for us in that space? Is there freedom when there is less clutter?
Similar to spaces in our apartments are spaces in our bodies. There are places like muscular attachments, joint attachments, connective tissue pathways in the body that all can become cluttered with the leftovers of activity or stress. When we become pre-occupied or busy or just feel as though we cannot handle digging deeper into these places, “clutter” accumulates. This, of course, is not the scientific or physiological phrasing for this. Really in physiology what has become the commonly accepted phrasing is something like a trigger point, or over-activated tissue, or agitated muscle fiber, phrases like that. Suffice to say we can use the word clutter to describe the tightness and loss of space this creates. Today lets talk about one place where clutter can collect, and what we can do about it. It is known as the ribcage.
When we sit all day, or we slouch, or we are carrying around heavy loads of groceries or children or packages or school books, etc, we often end up adding to the compressive force of gravity on our spine and ribcage. The muscular, bone and connective tissue makeup of our ribcage is designed for some amount of compression, as it serves as the structure that protects and houses our lungs. What can happen with chronic compression and a lack of stretching is that we end up taking breaths that are more shallow, based on having less space for the breath to travel. One way to avoid this is to be proactive, and use good postural adjustments when we are doing our daily tasks, which is a great long term habit to acquire or aspire to. Another way is through the practice of yoga. One asana that comes to mind as a great way to open the ribcage is Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virahadrasana). Picture yourself in Warrior II on the right side. Imagine now that you gain about one inch in length from reaching so far forward with your right hand, and so far back with your left hand, that there is a noticeable tingling sensation in your forearms that travels through your upper arms to your shoulder blades and into the center of your back. With that amount of space and length, your begin to reach the right arm towards the ceiling (or sky of you are lucky enough like this woman to be practicing on a gorgeous beach!). Simultaneously you reach the left arm towards the backside of the left leg. The right arm , meanwhile, is reaching so far up and back that there is a perceived amount of opening in the ribcage. From the top of the hip bone on the right side to the armpit and fingertips of the right hand, you have just found, created and indulged in space. Clutter be gone! Breath be free! Once there is space in the ribcage, the lungs can be greedy and gobble up breath after breath after breath, allowing the body to sink deeper, the mind to slowly still itself, the stress response to lessen, and the heart to open. Really? Really.
Sooo…why don’t we do this sort of thing? Well, for one, if you are not accustomed to having space in your body, this can be a jarring, emotionally overwhelming experience. We use clutter and tightness as “storage spaces” for emotional responses that we may not be ready or equipped to deal with. Think about how you present yourself when you are confident -chest up, eyes forward, shoulders back. That is you emulating your emotional state through your physical presence. Now think about another option, perhaps feeling stressed, worried, tense, sad, rejected or lonely:shoulder hunched, eyes cast down, stomach in knots. If we are to take the steps required to untangle ourselves from some of these emotional manifestations, we may be surprised by what we see. And sometimes we don’t have a wagging-tailed Rosie in our lives to tell us “Look under the bed!!!”. We have to be brave to look in places we would normally ignore, and be ready to face what might be lurking there.
As long as we move with love while breathing deliberately, slowly and fully into the tightness, we can clean up clutter, find space and create room. Its only after we peek under the bed, behind the closed door, into the over-stuffed closet, or wherever we try to conceal what we don’t want to see that gives us the opportunity to gain clarity. With clarity we are poised to experience the true freedom that only the process of self-reflection and honesty can bring. That is yoga.
“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.” (O. Hobart Mowrer, 1966)
“Things don’t change. We change.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)