"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Necessary Marriage

We stand at the end of triangle pose, the one that "works every muscle, joint, tendon and internal organ of your body." Faces are red, bodies glisten and drip, breathing can be heard throughout the studio like runners at a finish line.

"This posture is a marriage between your heart and lungs."

I get the analogy as I'm focusing on breathing in and out through my nose while my heart hammers away, and I'm pretty sure I can feel the blood coursing through every artery, vein, and capillary. The working together that creates a force larger than either is able to produce separately. The struggle that leaves both partners stronger. The interconnectedness of need and benefit.

What strikes me on this day, however, is which two organs are married, and which big one is left out. And as I follow that thought I realize it's a consistent pattern in yoga. We're told to breathe, to listen to our bodies, to feel our hearts. We're asked to listen and follow instructions as exactly as we can and to give our attention. We are never asked to think.

The closest is at the beginning of a class when we're asked to set our intention, which, I'm discovering, is only part mental. In a way, it's asking the brain to step aside for a while and to allow the heart and lungs to have the stage.

I spent most of my earlier life in my head. I learned early in childhood that it was the safest place to be. The one place I had control, where I couldn't be hurt. Because I was a good student, with a quick and curious mind that teachers appreciated, my brain became one of my best features. "She's got a great smile." "Look at all those adorable freckles." "What a smart girl she is."

A wise friend reminded me recently that a strength overused becomes a weakness. A brain allowed to believe in her own undisputed power becomes tyrannical and does not willingly give up her independence or her crown. There is never talk in yoga about the brain being married to any other body part. In fact the unstated focus is getting the brain to be quiet enough that other parts can have a say.

"The marriage between heart and lungs" – it's a beautiful picture and feels like a necessary wedding to counter the habits and force of thinking. The gentle constant rhythms of pulse and respiration joined together, made conscious in the extremity of triangle, insisting on their balanced share of being.

Triangle is a particularly challenging pose. It hurts. There are a million things to remember and try to do. Sometimes the instructor will get us in the pose, then spend time helping a new student, which extends our time in the pose. My brain helpfully points out which body parts hurt, how long it's been, how impossible it is to stay a second longer.

"If you're struggling in triangle, find your breath." And when I do, I realize my mind's voice becomes still - or at least I can't hear it as well through the ocean waves of my breathing and heartbeat.

It's a matter of trust and changing allegiance. Allowing myself to believe the open and vulnerable wisdom of my married center over the protective intelligence of my head. It's time to give her a well-deserved rest.

photos from Flickr


scarlethue said...

I live in my head too much too-- thanks for the reminder to listen to my other parts!

Deb Cushman said...

Looking at this unusual marriage through your eyes is an inspiring experience. I come to your blog to find encouragement and joy. I am never disappointed.

Wanda said...

"And when I do, I realize my mind's voice becomes still - or at least I can't hear it as well through the ocean waves of my breathing and heartbeat."

Oh, man....

I know that one.

Jerri said...

"We are never asked to think."

This is simple brilliance. Even after all the yoga I've done, I had never recognized this.

I love your yoga pieces. They teach me so much.

Cheryl said...

Thought provoking as always. I personally believe this constant use of the brain, in our busy world, is the central cause of all our stress. I go to a wonderful yoga class weekly and try to complete at least two relaxation exercises a day and I just know my whole body is better for the brain break.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

NECBM of this post. And I think you can go even bigger with the symbolism of the triangle when you publish this piece in your upcoming book.



Erin said...

Oh, how I wish I were more adept and turning off my brain! Especially at the end of the day when I lie awake and worry if I've done my best. I guess I'll have to take up yoga; you certainly make it sound both challenging and appealing!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Yes....yes. I understand this post.

For some reason,lately, triangle pose has become easier for me, but I think it has to do with running until I am sweated and my body is more fluid and not as stiff. But, I could also be doing it all wrong - however, then again, if I am enjoying the pose more, maybe that is the right way :)

Anonymous said...

"Strength overused becomes a weakness." I never thought of it before but it feels true.

My brain seldom shuts up, it's a struggle.

Tabitha Bird said...

Mmmm! Love this. A brain allowed to believe in its own undisputed power becomes tyranical." Yep. Agree!

I gave you a shout out on my blog today (monday)

patricia said...

Never was there a message more written for the likes of ME!! Though, I'm sure you know that. Turning off the brain, letting go of the powerful dependence on it, is one of the more challenging feats that I face several times daily. Thanks for the reminder!!

Niki said...

What an interesting post, I've never tried yoga, nor any meditative exercise, other than prayer, and being able to still your mind is the toughest challenge for me when I am praying. hmmm...yoga might help my prayer life, not to mention my stress level.


fullsoulahead.com said...

If you're struggling in ANYTHING, find your breath.

Thank you for reminding me to breathe.

Carol............. said...

The hardest thing for me is to keep my brain from constantly interrupting my intentions!

I like the way you wrote this post...it is indeed something to give more thought to.

patti said...

WOW! Great images!!! Sigh. I am ALWAYS in my head!

MISSED THIS BLOG during my time away.

Also missed yoga. There was never a place to spread out and exercise!!!


Amber said...

"The working together that creates a force larger than either is able to produce separately. The struggle that leaves both partners stronger. The interconnectedness of need and benefit."--

Love that.

And the whole rest of this post just makes me say to myself, "are you getting this, Sunshine? Helllloooo...?!"

You are no accident in my life, lady. LOL


kario said...

How did you ever live without yoga? And how did we ever live without your yoga insights?

I spent a few mornings doing yoga on the beach in Hawaii and one of the instructors reminded me that the most important thing I could do was not a pose, but was to let my mind step aside and simply observe my body. "Breathe, Align, Relax." Was his mantra. He said he takes 90 seconds every hour to do that. I'm trying!

From another little girl who found it safest to live inside her head, I can say that the most impactful part of this was when you reminded me that a strength overused becomes a weakness. NO kidding! That's what I'm working on most.

Thank you.