A mid-June Monday utitta trikonasana (triangle pose) in a Yoga Basics class was the one that brought down my world. I thought to myself, ok, how hard can this be? I’ve done this one a gazillion times before. I started to make my way into the pose by reaching forward with my left hand. I continued reaching forward, landed my hand onto my shin, and prepared to “pull the bow”. Today, though, was one of those all too frequent days where my mind and my senses started drifting off into the ether. That happens occasionally, and like a good yogi, I let it pass and waited for the next thought. I remember that I paused, and unintentionally recycled a conversation I had with a colleague earlier in the day. I remember it was personal and not related to work. That conversation played for what seemed like an eternity before it left me to move onto my next distraction. Now my breathing is starting to suffer from not paying attention to what I’m asking the rest of my body to do.
I tell myself I should be able to get that right arm nice and tall, and supported by a cooperative right shoulder, and touch the nearest star. The final conversations I’ve had with friends and relatives who’ve left my life in the past year start to reverberate in my ears. Kind words being exchanged. Lots of stories. And of course, stories that were painful to exchange, and sometimes regret having heard. My cousin Mark and I exchanged these stories regularly during the final year of his life. He died Memorial day weekend from pancreatic cancer, the silent killer that also took my father. Now the chatter between the left side of the body is unnerving my right side as my right hand tries to bravely stay afloat. It doesn’t, so I rested the right hand on my back to try and experience more chest rotation. This lasted maybe for about 30 seconds before I was again trying to shove that arm up towards one of the knots in the ceiling panels. After all, I need to make sure that the sequestered region of the body where the pancreas lives gets some fresh circulation. I don’t want to die at 59 like mark and my father did. Maybe a hernia is a small price to pay at a chance of delaying or preventing the big C? Oh the foolish things that come through my head.
Some days, it feels like I own triangle pose, and some days it’s difficult to even maneuver into the hip opening that I need. Monday’s trikonasana started out okay but then quickly devolved into yogaFAIL. I knew something was wrong because it felt more than just a physical struggle going on; I have been doing this pose for years. I foolishly let my left hand creep down my shin, like it knew what it was doing, like a puppy or child acquiring life experience by testing everything. That left hand knew what to do, but why did the rest of my body insist on following? My hand tried get to the floor to grasp that big toe. My knee seemed to be along for the ride and actually felt good, but that right shoulder had other ideas, and I knew it was time to retreat the hand back to the shin. Meanwhile, I had compromised all my stability and rooting.
Jennifer noticed from across the room that yogaFAIL was going on.I was still out to lunch and letting my chest collapse towards the floor. Jennifer reassuringly asked me “what’s going on here?” and like a calm emergency responder, took charge of my struggling trikonasana. With a gentle but firm adjustment, she guided my heart upward and at that moment I realized I was sinking to the floor, like a stone. With that adjustment, I realized that the sorrows and dramas of the past couple of years had manifested itself physically, and that it was time to let it go. Even my psychiatrist, many years ago, acknowledged that emotional and mental stress can have physical manifestations. In many other styles of yoga, letting your heart “fall” to the floor is a disaster waiting to happen. Anusara yogis recoil in horror! And, after all these years of practicing and teaching, I still needed to be remind of this.
In experiencing the different stages of grief swirling around me, it felt reassuring that I am still open to getting gentle nudges from different people from time to time; the constant conversation I have between mind and body is clearer and getting stronger as I take my yoga practice with me through the various stages of life. Now I am in middle age, where people around me are starting to take diverging paths. The past year of losing friends and family to neck cancer, pancreatic cancer, alzheimers, AIDS, canine euthanasia has been difficult.
Ah, now to inhale, rise up, catch my breath. I tell myself to breathe a couple of times for my well being. When the sensation of gentle heat has distributed evenly through my extremities, I take some deep breaths as my way of remembering all of them. Then the next challenge: there is still one more round of triangle, on each side, to do. I can do this, I thought. I made it through the rest of class, albeit a little wiser than 78 minutes earlier, and before I knew it, I was in my car headed home.
The physical sensations in response to prolonged emotional ones were starting to revisit me. It’s amazing, though, how just that small adjustment in a basic triangle pose from a caring person helped me to realize that it’s time to lighten the load on my heart. Grief has a place, and it needs to express itself, and then we need to move on. If we’re fortunate, we will revisit it a few times, and treat it more like an old acquaintance before we move on again.
After that yoga class, I started feeling better immediately, and later in the week, my boss, a very caring and great human being, noticed a remarkable improvement in my demeanor. Gosh, even Mom said she was proud I pulled through yet again!
I thought more about how my yoga practice has helped to evolve the never-ending dialog I’m having with my mental state and the constant need to physically challenge my body. The following Saturday I told my own class of mixed level yogis about this recent experience in my own practice, of some of the recent conversations that are going on inside. Sure I got some blank stares, but I got some warm smiles, too. I hope at least one of them walked away with just a little more enthusiasm for discovering themselves through yoga than when we started today’s class.