When just breathing isn’t enough

Towards the end of the Shadow Yoga sequence I’ve been practicing, we do a deceptively simple inverted pose. It’s a preparatory move for shoulder stand, which is something I had been doing for a long time, I thought, without any trouble.

I don’t know the sanskrit for this mind-fuck of a pose, but it goes like this:

  1. Lie with your back flat on the ground, and then lift both legs straight up towards the ceiling with your feet flexed and hips still pressing into the ground.
  2. Keep your knees straight and legs at a 90 degree angle, no more or less, to your torso and the floor.
  3. Then without arching your back or lifting your hips, meet your palms in a prayer position straight over your chest and raise your arms towards the ceiling until your hands and arms are also perpendicular to the floor, while keeping your elbows straight and shoulders still pressing into the ground.

Got that? Okay, now stay there for another minute, breathing steadily. So far so good?

  1. Okay, now without changing the rest of your body’s position, lift your head, neck, and upper shoulders off the floor and reach your arms past your legs. Are your legs still straight and perpendicular to the floor? Are your feet still flexed and your hips pressing into the ground? Is your stomach concave? Are your neck, shoulders, and eyeballs relaxed? Okay, now breathe (don’t forget uddiyana banda, if you know it) for the next 30 or so seconds.

During my last class, I was trying to feel as natural and relaxed as possible while entirely holding my breath, when our teacher Scott Blossom walked by and said, “Like a potato chip.”

Suddenly, instead of picturing my abdominal muscles straining to hold my two halves in proper position, locking myself in place by popping my neck muscles, and depriving myself of the thing I needed most, I pictured the golden curves of a sour cream and onion Pringles. It made me laugh and then suddenly my stomach almost magically seemed to pull in towards my spine and my upper half relaxed.

As your slacker best friend always says, it helps not to take every challenge in life so seriously. Sometimes it’s good to distract yourself so that you can refocus without those unhelpful emotions, fear and anxiety. Also, even foods you would never eat except if you found a cache of them in an abandoned 7-11 in the waning years of the apocalypse, can still make for great analogies.

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