Uttanasana, I’ve Missed You!
This morning I made it to my first “Level One – Gentle Yoga” class since I was sidelined in the late summer by a fall on my bicycle. I have been going to class and doing yoga, but not standard poses. Instead I did a class called “Yoga Therapy” at Tara-Yoga, which used modifications of poses in a chair. It was very basic, very gentle, and very healing. It’s been good to be aware and nurturing, and yet I’ve missed the classic poses I’m used to doing.
So today, with permission and enthusiasm, my body entered into the yoga pose “uttanasana” for the first time in several months. The pose, if you don’t know, is a deceptively simple one, also called “forward bend.” You stand tall and then bend at the waist, slowly lower yourself into the pose, keeping your back fairly straight and, while you may touch the floor, you keep most of your weight in your feet.
As with any yoga pose, I made the effort to tune in to subtle elements such as the placement of my feet and the weight of my body as it moved down through my feet into the ground. I made an effort to evenly distribute my weight between the front and back of my feet, as well as between the inside and outside of my feet. And for good measure I remembered to lift and spread my toes to have a nice wide space to make contact with the ground. And that’s just the feet! Breathing is important, too, and there are several other areas to focus on that I won’t get into now.
I’ve always enjoyed uttanasa, maybe because it is one of the poses that my body took to naturally. I have fairly loose hamstrings so I can pretty easily touch the ground with my fingertips. When I’m loosened up, I can usually even extend my arms and fully press my whole hand flat onto the floor. I really love the process of folding forward, too, because I find it akin to a prayer motion where I bow my head. Only it’s even more intense, because instead of just bowing my head, I bow my whole body. I find peace in this release; great peace and also a kind of simple but deep joy.
When I settled into the pose this morning, it was as if I was seeing an old friend after a long time. The intimacy of knowing a yoga pose, of being “in relationship” with a yoga pose is difficult to explain to someone who has not had the experience. I suspect it may be similar with other kinds of spiritual and physical practices. You can describe them in words all you want, but you’ll not truly “know” them without trying it out. And by trying it out, I don’t mean just one time. Or, doing it a couple of times, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Meet the Fockers,” who had been doing capoiera for “a few weeks” and was really into it. To really “know” is to know the pose in your body over an extended period of time. To have done the pose on good days, on crappy days, and on those middle-of-the-road days when nothing special seems to be happening. There is an understanding that comes from an amalgam of those days, of the pose in multiple frames of mind. You find wisdom in the overall experience by connecting the days together. To me, this is the path to “knowing” the pose.
Just as a relationship with a friend might have ups and downs, moments of joy and frustration, and an ebb and flow of giving and taking, so the relationship to a yoga pose can change. One day I might find it super easy to go into the pose deeply, while another day I might be extra tense and tight, and have to try not to fight myself. I have to remember breathe and be patient – both with myself and with the pose. Patient, yes, and determined with a soft and even kind of strength.
So today, as I sunk into the gentle, self-aware and self-respectful state of being I find when practicing yoga, I noted the joy I felt at doing this pose. Like coming back to a familiar place and looking around. Like finally meeting up with an old friend and finding out what we have to say to one another. It really hit me that I’ve been in relationship with this yoga pose for over 20 years and I plan to continue that relationship until I die or am no longer able to practice it. I’ve become aware that the pose is a friend for life. Uttanasana, I’ve missed you!
Important Note: Laurel Isbister Irby has practiced yoga for 20 years, always under the supervision of a professional yoga teacher. She is not trained to teach yoga and any description of yoga poses is intended to share her reflections on her own experience as a student, not to teach others how to do yoga. If you are interested in learning yoga, please get permission from your physician and seek out a trained, certified teacher who can help you get oriented to the practice of yoga.
Photo courtesy of GNU General Public License via Wikimedia Commons.