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Something pretty awesome happened in Gretchen's Yin Yoga class this evening. It wouldn't have looked like much to a casual bystander, but it felt miraculous to me.
I was in a wide-legged seated forward fold. You know, that really basic sort of stretch where you're sitting down and you spread your legs wide and bend forward. In high school, in dance class, that was my jam. I could stretch the crap out of that stretch, put my nose to the floor all show-offy and everything and then roll myself right into the splits. In yoga class at age thirty, not so much. Not my jam. I've noticed my tightness and uprightness in that stretch felt vaguely annoyed about it; I've even made little TV-watching rules about it occasionally: Self, you will sit in this stretch until the scene ends, or the leading lady leaves the frame or the commercial ends or whatever. But I hadn't noticed much improvement until today.
As instructed, I took my wide-legged seat and propped a bolster, well... in my crotch is the best way to say it I guess, so that I could lean and rest over it. And that's what I did, I leaned. And the lovely Gretchen said, as she tends to, pause at your first point of notice and breathe there. I love that. Breathe at the first point of notice, the place where the body stops naturally due to resistance. So that's what I did. I paused at my awkward, almost-upright first-point-of-notice angle and breathed. I'm afraid the tension and suspense might not be coming across fully here. It wasn't maybe a moment for the movies. But if epiphany and progress were fireworks, I'm telling you this would have been a spectacular show.
Instead, the magic was not a ball of fire. It was gentle. It was release. Not just in my lower back or my tight hamstrings, but in my hips and my arms and my face and my brain, too. They just let go a little bit at first, and then gradually, with breath and very little thought, they softened and released further than I knew was possible.
Draped over the soft bolster, I realized there was no issue at all with my body's ability to bend in this way. The problem was not the tightness of my back body, it was fear of release. It was a volitional, muscular avoidance of letting go fully, a fear that literally resided deep down in my ligaments and bones--fear that I'm not built for such full expression maybe, or concern that I'd let go so fully I'd never be able to return to my comfortable seat.
It wasn't a conscious fear until it was, but that's another thing: I didn't know that it was fear and resistance holding me upright when I wanted to bend. I thought bending was something I needed to will to happen, or wait for. And sometimes, in the metaphor I'm making here, will and waiting may be exactly the right tools for the job. But in this case, all it took was some focused breathing into the tight place, and then conscious, fearless release. And ta da! I was flopped right over that bolster. My nose wasn't quite on the floor, but it was, I kid you not, a solid eight inches lower than I'd managed to get it during any diligent commercial-break practice.
It makes me think, of course, beyond my yoga mat. What else am I holding on to? What else am I trying to will or skill into place when the right strategy might actually be an intentional letting go, a surrender powered only by breath and gentle attention?