Saturday, February 6, 2010

On the mat as it is in life

When my legs begin shaking in utkatasana (chair or fierce pose) I deepen my breathing. I draw my attention to my feet and notice where my weight is resting. I let a little ease open my upper back, relax my shoulders and open my heart with my exhale. The intensity of heat in my thighs begins to scream at me and I take in a longer inhale, pressing out my exhale with deliberate evenness. I might roll my wrists, or lift my toes. The shaking does not stop, but my panic has left me. The shaking does not stop, but my body understands that this is a moment of possibility. I am not hurting myself. I will feel no ill effects. I am simply breathing through the hard stuff, to strengthen and to help release my tendencies to effort where I do not need to exert energy, like in my shoulders.

The gratitude I feel as I fold into uttanasana (standing forward fold) is a combination of amazement at the flood of sensations from the physical change of pose, and a deep rush of joy that I am able to be in utkatasana and to shift into uttanasana.

I can clearly remember that when I began practicing yoga even holding utkatasana for 3 breaths made "fierce pose" an apt name for the asana. Teachers would say, sit back as though you were resting in a chair, and I would reach desperately at the word "resting" and "chair" as if they would save my wildly aching leg muscles. The concept of resting in a posture that is strenuous was quite new to me. It still amazes me, every time. I may feel the shaking after a longer period of time, but I will always continue to have those moments on the mat that ask me to reinvent myself, to investigate how I approach my own life in that moment.

The breath illuminates the moment and brings awareness into my life off the mat. A friend recently gave me driving instructions, saying, "Now remember this is a country road and it will wind, there will be turns and pieces that go off in other directions. It is a simpler way. Just stay on the road and when it feels confusing, just breathe into it, and you will get to where you see the signs. The signs are large and clear."

How well that describes the practice! The fear rises, the legs shake, the worst appears in the mind, the emotions ask for sympathy, the mind doubts and portrays all the obvious shortcomings or devastating consequences. Breathing in and breathing out I can let all that go and see the signs, so large and clear. Yes the path will turn, will twist, will splinter off; and I continue to explore the simpler way.

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