Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Posture metaphors and Handstand

One of my favorite metaphors that many yoga teachers offer during Warrior 2 relates to not only obtaining balance through good alignment in the posture, but likening that balance to how we position ourselves in our lives. So, if you can picture warrior 2: front leg with your knee offering a right angle between the thigh and calf, thigh bone parallel to the earth, back leg with the pinky toe side of your foot offering your anchor into the mat; head, neck, and torso perpendicular to the horizon, creating a plum line from the crown of your head down through your groins dropping into a spot just about equidistant between your feet. Arms are at shoulder height spread out with the front arm in line with the front leg, back arm in line with your back leg. Warrior’s gaze is forward, looking out over the front arm, while your torso is in the side plane of your body. Hmmmm…. I should figure out how to import a drawing of it. It sounds much more complicated than it is. Warrior two is a very solid stable posture. The language that I love that teachers use refers to the back leg representing our past, and all that is behind us, our memories, all of what we carry with us, good and bad; it brings us to where we are today. The front leg represents where we are heading, our goals, the future. And the torso, where the balance of the posture is kept is the immediate present moment. The dynamic of this posture is held by the solidity of the core, being totally present while at the same time there is no escaping the attention that must be given to past and future, because the stance holds it’s foundational footing in both of these, while the core reminds us that to be balanced, we must keep our core, our center, focused and centered, very present. It is a beautiful metaphor. Especially as a teacher, as you bring your gaze around to a room full of yogis and yoginis taking the posture, and observe how people find their “balance” in various gestures of imbalance. Understanding the metaphor, and watching people leaning into their past or future, I get a tender feeling, that I am in a room full of sacred beings mindfully accessing themselves. Watching a class as each of the participants focuses and draws themselves into the posture, witnessing the introspection as it finds it’s perfectly imperfect solid stance, holding sacred lives in the balance is extraordinary and humbling.

What does all of this have to do with handstand? Handstand is one of my challenge postures. It frequently feels like I have a love hate relationship with it. Though, I will generally speak of handstand very fondly. And yet, as I think of the Warrior 2 metaphor, I begin to have an even deeper appreciation of why handstand offers the challenge that it does. There’s no back leg or arm, no front leg or arm, just straight up pure and solid. And, Upside down. And then we balance on what? The smallest flat surface available…. our hands! All yoga postures bring us to challenge by finding balance through some combination of strength and flexibility. If there is not enough flexibility, the necessary alignment in order to create balance will not be found. If there is not enough strength, we will not be able to hold or sustain our balance in the posture. So yes, even handstand which is a very powerful posture requiring a lot of strength, must keep it’s delicate balance through a stance of being totally present in the here and now. The power of understanding that and the contrast that handstand offers in comparison to any of the warrior postures has been very striking to me recently. So when I take the three elements that are required to achieve a posture: balance, strength, and flexibility, and then I humbly observe myself as I fumble intermittently with something that I know I basically have what it takes to kick myself up into (at a wall mind you, you will not see me doing handstand in the middle of a room without another human being spotting me in this life time!) again, I witness myself and draw the metaphor into my present life, and realize: Yes, I should be practicing a little more deeply, and a little more diligently. The ah-ha comes however, from realizing, that despite the growth I have achieved over the years in my practice, I can still easily slip out of being able to access a posture that I know is a lot stronger than what it was the first time I kicked up into it. And, it doesn’t have anything to do with how strong or how flexible I am. It has everything to do with my getting purely balanced and keeping my focus present. Maybe, just maybe if I brought some more due diligence to meditation, I would have the presence needed to balance the strength and flexibility that I know are available to me.