Never in my living memory have the days been so long while the months have rolled by so quickly. I don’t know about you, but there are times during the day when I catch myself clenching my teeth or tensing my abdomen and I need to consciously make an effort to ease these restrictions and simply let go.
When we hold on to (or are held in states of) chronic stress, the body pulls into itself, contracting as if to make itself small and invisible (freeze), or prepared to bolt or battle (flight or fight). We might notice this contractive state when we ache in specific places, like around the neck and shoulders or hips; at times, it’s less obvious in the physical layer of the body and more present in the subtler sheathes, percolating in aggressive or depressive moods and depleted energy.
Of course, we know that regular exercise, meditation and positive self-care habits can alleviate the accumulation of tension. I also believe that the time on your mat can help you to abide in a more physically expansive state and broaden your perspective. When we are stressed, we over-think, ruminating until we become overwhelmed, panicky or chase away sleep. Focusing on the breath and, if you need another tool, the movement of the body, mantra or images, allows the space between thoughts to increase. Then you can witness the widening mind-space and silence with curiosity, and allow yourself to explore your expanding spirit.
In Cat/Cow, for example, the arched spine of Cow when the sit bones and chin lift and the hands charge towards each other, allows us to lengthen the front line of the body, widening the chest, broadening the shoulders and inviting a deep breath. The scaredy-Cat pose brings awareness into the lengthening line of the back body, stretching the spinal extensors that insert right up in the skull and brings space into what may be a chronically constricted low back. High lunge, Warrior 1 or Anjenayasana (knee-down lunge) with arms reaching skyward can express the yearning for expansion that radiates from the heart of the earth-bound human to the heavens. And the whole experience of forward folding changes when we hold onto a sense of spacious, unfolding and unfurling into the pose rather than jamming oneself into a pleated shape. When we allow the breath to lead movement and stay present as we sustain poses and immerse ourselves in transitions, we create space between thoughts, decluttering the mind by eliminating repetitive mind-chatter and banishing judgment. In Savasana, as we allow muscular energy to roll away from us, unclenching the jaw and softening the eyes, we pull our awareness into a self that isn’t bound to the body, investigating the inner landscape that expands like the cosmos itself. We peek through a window into limitless possibility, and awaken to a more liberated and spacious post-corpse pose existence.
During your asana practice, ask yourself: how expansive can I feel? how much space can I occupy? From an engaged and grounded body, how can I radiate outwards and then reabsorb the energy around me? As you breathe, move or meditate, investigate the growing spaces between the thoughts that preoccupy you.
Try this sequence to encourage a corporeal and inner space exploration:
Cat/Cow: notice the lengthening lines of the front body and back body.
Downward Facing Dog: Bend knees and take the hips back for greater space through the side body. Take right leg up, bend knee and press foot to the left to expand through the right side and hip flexor. Repeat to left.
Star Pose – Facing the long side of the mat, open legs wide, place feet parallel to each other, open arms upward in a wide V and take a few deep breaths, feeling your energy radiating from inside you, like the sun’s radiance.
Warrior 2, Triangle, Half Moon Poses (one pose to each side or link all three together on one side then on the other for greater challenge): Continue to remark on your inner light pushing outwards to your skin. Take a few breaths in Star Pose between poses/sides.
High Lunge or Warrior 1 to Side Plank Pose: Conduct energy from earth to sky, feet to fingertips in the first pose, as well as fingertips to fingertips in side plank.
Seated Forward Folds (wide legged then legs close together): concentrate on the lengthening on the spine no matter how deep your fold.
Reclined single leg twist: keep both shoulders on the floor and extend the arm (opposite extended leg) above the head for longer lines.
Meditation/Savasana: envision your inner landscape as a dark, star-filled universe with pinpoints of starlight that move further apart from each other in gentle waves of silence.