Just back from another hour of yoga. It’s a morning routine to wake up the spirit and mind, along with the body. As I’ve mentioned in the past, you may also consider it a form of prayer.
Of course, ideally, for much of the crea (set of exercises and mantras) you’re focused. Following your breath, staying in the present, setting everything else aside.
Sometimes, though, we’re encouraged to really let go. Given the chance, my imagination breaks open in the yoga studio, ideas go wandering, and I’m off on my own little mental walkabout. Occasionally my mind goes wandering, even without permission. And that’s okay.
Yoga isn’t competition. It’s about working on yourself and your connection to something sacred. It’s about doing your best, but also accepting wherever you are (though pushing yourself to try harder is healing, too) and gradually improving what you can do with your mind, spirit and body.
Anyway, in kundalini yoga, as in other forms of yoga, there’s a great deal of physical contrast. Muscular tension is followed by relaxation of the pose.
When you exhale the in-held breath and let go of tightened muscles, you notice what happens inside your body. Follow the breath, follow the messages of nerve endings, pay attention. You can create a mental and sensory map of your own body, and learn about your own fitness.
I notice, for instance, that I hold tension in specific places, even after we’re supposed to let it go. My shoulders, neck and jaw remain anxious and knotted. I clamp down with teeth and create tautness in the facial muscles from the back of my ear forward to my mouth and chin.
So I’ve been practicing my own tension and release challenge. When I feel the strain in my jaw, I relax it.
I smile through tough exercises, because it loosens the lower half of my face. Otherwise I’d continue to build the pressure of clenched teeth and tight jaw, until it creeps down into my neck and shoulders, and causes an ache even when I practice relaxation.
Life is about tension and release, isn’t it? We often don’t realize how much strain and pressure are knotted into our lives: family interactions, work responsibilites, school schedules, recreational and self-care routines, faith pactices, volunteer commitments, social obligations. They all require time and energy. Even when balanced, that’s a lot to maintain.
Sometimes, permission to slip away and be spontaneous, to set aside obligations and “must do” lists — play or retreat or try out an activity that stimulates you in a different way — is like the release in yoga. The chance to let go of a pose: relaxation of tight muscles.
For instance, Sarah is traveling right now. So Chris and I are experimenting with life as two adults who have some flexibility, and the chance to be spontaneous. This past weekend, we made a last-minute decision to attend an international event up in Concord, New Hampshire, where the president of Rotary International was speaking. He’s from Japan, and we don’t often have the opportunity to meet or listen to these world leaders.
We also decided, since we didn’t have kids at home, to spend the night in New Hampshire. Hang out. Not rush. This week is our 27th wedding anniversary, after all, but it will be filled wit the bustle of work deadlines and continued projects around the house renovation, and Sarah coming home again. So last Saturday’s sleepover was a stolen moment. Okay, not stolen, but rather an interlude that we “gifted” to ourselves.
After tension, release. We enjoyed the getaway.
Now we’re back in action, with a full week ahead of us. And yet, we can practice ways to extend that relaxation. Oppose the stress through little things. A cup of tea. A 30-minute walk. A prayer. A cat nap. A bike ride. Reading a short story. Doing a puzzle. Starting or ending a day with yoga.
It’s like when I opt to smile, in the morning class, in order to release a clenched jaw. Who can argue with a smile?