By Tammy T. Stone
**Disclaimer! I’m not advocating doing what I’m about to explain below, or equating it with the more spiritual aspects of yoga—this is a story about an asana (yoga posture) I’ve felt compelled to do lately, within my current capabilities and limitations—I hope you will find it useful.
I can be a very “yang” person, my thoughts flitting here and there like a mad wind, creating an overwhelming and to me, perceptible weight in my head.
Because of this, and because I live in a very yang city at the moment, I have been doing a lot of yin yoga lately.
The more I practice, the longer I can rest and go deeper into relaxation, as I allow my mind to surrender into the folds of my body and enter the dusty corners of my psyche. Sometimes, once I get the noise levels in my head down, I feel like I can hear the actual cells within me breathing a sigh of relief, and sometimes the sigh is a cry that catches me by surprise, every time.
Our sadnesses can be so ancient, our releases so sudden and profound.
I am on the computer a lot these days, and while I’m an avid city bike rider, I’ve started to feel restless. Almost jumping out of my skin, I need to use this body I’ve been given. The tension around my upper back, shoulders and neck has been building for a long time, and for some inane reason, I’ve been letting it.
I’ve been telling myself that I can sleep it off, or that my body will naturally restore itself to its natural state. This, of course, flies in the face of logic, reason and my own personal history with back and neck pain, so naturally I’ve reached a critical mass of achiness and malcontent.
I work from home and have a fair amount of control over my schedule, but while my yoga mat is very close by, my mind has crumpled in conjunction with the tension my body’s been feeding it, and this somewhat defeated mind has chosen inertia over eagerness to get on the mat.
Luckily (?) we all have breaking points.
A few days ago, in the middle of working, I tore myself away from the computer screen and went—stomped, really—into the other room, dragged my pleasant green mat into my work-space, and rested it inches away from my work area.
Now, I literally can’t look at my computer screen without the promise of yoga in my peripheral vision.
Every so often, my back threatens to revolt against me, which I notice first as an emerging frustration that has every potential of bordering on rage. When this happens, I catch it, stand up, step over onto the mat, and I just… fall…over.
Forget sun salutations—my body’s warmed up from the summer heat pouring in through the windows and to some extent, from the yin yoga I’ve done the evening before for a long time now. Forget yoga sequences. I need the big guns now, a quick and rather unenlightened fix.
For me, my go-to salvation is uttanasana– standing forward bend.
I place my feet firmly, parallel and fist-width apart. I lower from my hips and not from my poor, strained back, and slowly drop.
I clasp my hands at the elbows, but soon lower them to the ground, mindful of placing no pressure whatsoever on my hands or arms. This pose, as I’m doing it now, is all about hanging, creating much-needed space between my vertebrae, and elongating my crammed neck. I visualize myself as an upside down pelican, with legs strong and grounded like a tree.
There are other ways to do uttanasana that engage more muscles and work toward bringing the torso toward the thighs, the hands back behind the feet or on the calves, and I enjoy these very much in my regular asana practice. But right now, I just want to hang.
I can usually hear a few crackles and pops that tell me something good is going on, and my neck starts to lighten, which makes me sigh and cry even more.
How did I let myself get so tight and twisted out of all decent proportion?
For someone who likes to feel in control of my life, and who is usually the one “with her head fixed on straight,” I all too often become caged in by pressure of my own self-perceptions until it shows up clear as day on my body, and I can’t ignore it anymore.
Hanging, then, is an intense rush of release, of throwing caution to the wind, falling and learning to trust that the world doesn’t end when everything turns on its head. Instead, it’s exhilarating, and necessary.
I’ve always loved this pose, along with sitting forward bend, probably in direct proportion to how much surrendering is part of my life’s mission. It excites me to think of how much letting go there is to be done, and what lies on the other side.
I think of the Tarot’s Hanged Man, a figure who is upside down, maybe a little stuck and confused and indecisive, but who looks positively serene hanging there, knowing that the very act of hanging out and waiting—and the sacrifice and surrender this entails—can be a liberation, a move away from the static, stuck status quo.
It’s as simple as this: you can’t hang upside down and see things from the same eyes.
I count on that every time I step onto the oasis that is my mat to fall over, give in to the ground, and give in.
Editor: Sherrin Fitzer