One of my biggest challenges is child’s pose. Sounds simple, right? Child’s pose is one of those ‘resting’ poses often used in vinyasa sequences, meant to counterbalance more athletic poses and rapid movements. Balasana. A beautiful name.
But child’s pose is hard for me.
It’s a question of hamstring and knee tension. When I ease into the pose–slowly, ever so slowly–I can feel the ripple of tightness in my muscles. The backs of my thighs just do not want to sit fully on my calves. When I began yoga, I couldn’t get my calves and thighs within four or five inches of each other. They just would not go. And I knew better than to press too quickly. I am, if anything, a tentative yogini, teasing out the communication between my muscles and mind, listening for signals: does this hurt? Can I move this way freely or am I fighting myself? Is this fun? Or has my neck gone tight with concentration? In some contexts, it’s great to challenge yourself. But not necessarily your knees, much less with your full body weight.
So, I have made gradual progress in getting my calves and thighs reacquainted; Iyengar yoga tells you to use blankets for support. But for me, it’s a question of getting closer by fractions of an inch for brief periods of time–blankets aren’t necessary yet. I’m not resting in the in most extended form of the pose I can manage for more than 60 seconds at a time. I’m gentle with myself. I listen to what my muscles tell me. Isn’t that what child’s pose is supposed to be about?
I am always intrigued by the notion of being ‘in touch’ with your body and whether Americans–as a broad generalization–are disconnected from their physical selves. Shiva Rea wrote an entire MA thesis about the mind-body connection and yoga as an opportunity for Westerners to re-establish that connection, which is available here. Are we disconnected? I don’t know. I do know that it is difficult to live up to the standards of our culture: having health, beauty, constant energy for a variety of projects and so on. Perfection. I had a conversation with a friend this year about a needed medical treatment; she has been through several serious illnesses as an adult. She knew, intellectually, that this new situation was relatively minor and that she would be–in the cool, abstract language of medical culture –‘just fine.’ That knowledge wasn’t terribly comforting at that moment, however:
“I just keep thinking, why does this keep happening to me? Why does my body do this to me?” For her, I think, it felt like grief.
That is a pretty common feeling I hear among my female friends. We all joke about how we’re “getting old” or our bodies are “falling apart.” We don’t really mean it, of course. It’s the conflict between everyday life and expectations, expressed for laughs. We have to come to terms with the Perfect and sometimes the solution is the Joke. But what about those times when the grief makes it difficult?
For me, yoga is an opportunity to think about those ideas. And my mat is the place where I try not to care about perfection–even in balasana–and focus on listening instead.