Nov. 15, 2011 — I recently took part in a three-day yoga workshop in Truckee called “The Yoga of Possibility and Purpose.” That might sound odd to some of you.
But one of the underlying precepts of yoga is that you can take what you learn on your mat off the mat and into your life.
Here’s an example: say you feel out of balance or maybe downright uncomfortable in a pose. How do you respond to that?
Do you force your way through it?
Do you chastise yourself — what’s wrong with me, I should be able to do this?
Or can you bypass those reactions, pay attention to your body and breath, and thereby find some equilibrium in the pose? It’s a recipe for working with difficult emotions and situations off the mat.
One of the workshop sessions focused on arm balances and inversions (going upside down in, say, a headstand or handstand).
This session explicitly addressed issues of fear, courage and risk taking, finding and playing with your edge.
It also required a sense of humor and playfulness, quite necessary when you fall out of an arm balance and onto your face.
The off-the-mat application was the question of how you deal with challenges in your life. How do you pick yourself up when you fall on your face, literally and metaphorically?
The instructor, a woman out of the Bay Area named Kerri Kelly, talked a lot about courage.
She said courage does not have to be a rush-into-a-burning-building kind of thing. It can be small and incremental, quiet and unassuming. Without self-aggrandizement or ego.
The workshop concluded with a session focused on backbends. In yoga, backbends are seen as heart-opening and energizing poses. They are inherently courageous; your chest is lifted and your heart open — and therefore vulnerable.
Yoga poses, or asanas, have an emotional component. Exploring both the physical and emotional components of a pose is what yoga is about for me, not whether you can wrap your foot behind your head. I can’t.
Backbends are also an antidote to what I call the slump-and-hunch.
In our increasingly sedentary culture, it is easy to slump in your chair and hunch over your computer.
Such a position constricts breathing, digestion and a number of other bodily processes.
It’s bad for your spine and your organs. Someone who slumps and hunches is in protective mode, closed off, unapproachable. It is the posture of defeat.
If you’re back bending from your knees or from a standing position, coming out can be as challenging as going in.
For most of us, the impulse is to get our heads back up. But if you raise your head first, your torso will collapse and you will likely land on your tush.
Coming out is really a slow sequential unfurling from the pelvis, the abdomen, the chest, the throat and finally the head. It takes poise and equanimity.
After three days of yoga, I was pretty loosey-goosey by the time I got to the backbend session.
I was also tired. But sometimes fatigue can work to your advantage. You tend to drop your defenses and stop resisting.
As I opened into a final ecstatic backbend, I was struck by a sudden realization.
I see courage all around me.
I see it everywhere. Every day, everyday people do everyday things that make the world go around.
These days they work harder and make do with less. But they keep getting the kids to school on time, and they keep punching the time card.
Some even find the faith to start new businesses, expand existing ones or launch new programs.
For some, just getting out of bed in the morning is an act of courage.
It’s all recorded in these pages: a man helps victims of a vehicle accident out of the river; nurses at long-term facilities, although worried about their jobs, continue to give their patients attentive care; emergency services workers respond to calls big and small …
In other words, I see Plumas County doing a lot of back bending.
Yes, the news, from the local to the international, can be disheartening. Maybe our personal circumstances are reduced. But don't slump and hunch. Now more than ever, Plumas, keep your chest up and heart open. That's the only way forward.
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