I slouch too much.
At times – pecking away on my laptop, eating a meal, relaxing on the couch – I’ll catch myself and try to fix it.
Lately, I’ve noticed another habit I’ve developed over the years: frowning. Well, maybe not frowning exactly, but holding a tense face.
Opening the yoga practice, I am sitting with my legs crossed mid-shin. The teacher tells the class to close our eyes and place the back of our hands on our knees with our palms facing the ceiling. Then she tells us to relax our face.
“Relax your jaw,” she says.
“Relax the muscles around your eyes,” she continues.
“Relax the space between your brows . . . your eyelids . . . and even the skin underneath the eyelids.”
She tells the class that relaxing the face is one way to help quiet the brain.
As we continue the practice – sun salutations, standing poses, and core exercises – she gently reminds us about the muscles in our face. And every time it feels amazingly nice to relax them.
I glanced at a weather map of the United States today and it’s orange, darker orange, and red all over. In other words, it’s hot.
I tend to have a high tolerance for 90 degree weather, so I revel in it, but my yoga teacher says the heat makes a lot of people irritable.
She thought we should focus on cooling poses in class today.
We worked on variations of Downward Facing Dog – using a chair, then a wall, then the regular way – and then spent some time in Child’s Pose, Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend*).
“Forward bend poses are great for settling you down when you’re feeling agitated,” the teacher said. “You may sweat while you’re in the pose, but they’re calming on the nervous system.”
I must say, it is amazing how as the class continued I felt myself grow into silence as I streeeeeetched out, my heart resting peacefully inside.
So if you find yourself snapping at people (including yourself) or not tolerating the traffic or noticing that things that you usually don’t mind are bugging you, take heart. It might simply be the heat. Try breathing a few times . . . and don’t forget to bend.
*In Seated Forward Bend, I have to sit on two blankets and lasso a strap around the balls of my feet to hang onto and pull myself forward because I can’t reach my arms to my toes. The teacher looks just like the lady in this picture when she’s in the pose, but she mentioned that 18 years ago she had to use blankets and straps too. So. By my calculations I should be able to do Seated Forward Bend without props in 15 years. I wasn’t discouraged by this. I was excited. The human body is amazing. Anyway, I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to think about those things in yoga class, but sometimes I can’t help it!
Remember Mr. Men and Little Miss?
I was a child of the 70s and loved those characters. I think Mr. Funny was my favorite, but last Sunday I was reminded of Mr. Forgetful.
It was mid-morning, and my husband and I were exiting a crowded parking lot. The pavement was packed, and cars were bumper to bumper as everyone tried to work their way out onto the main road. A couple policemen were directing traffic and one waved us on. Two seconds later a second policeman held up his hand indicating we should stop. Confusion ensued as my husband rolled forward then hit his breaks as he tried to follow the directions. Cars honked. A red truck squealed his tires and raced around us, cutting us off and running over a couple of orange cones.
Guess where we were leaving?
We had just finished listening to a sermon about treating others kindly.
How quickly we forget (and I’m not just talking about the guy in the red truck…I found myself feeling annoyed with the traffic too!).
At times I’ve noticed Mr. Forgetful making an appearance in yoga class. Here’s what happens: we spend 90 minutes stretching and meditating and bowing and OMing, but as soon as class ends we’re all shoving our blankets into the shelf (each one folded in different ways), tossing our blocks in a disorganized fashioned into a bin, and then racing out the door as we reach in front of others to grab our flip-flops.
I hate to admit that I’ve been guilty of this before. But I guess I’ll be Little Miss Confession today. After one of my yoga teachers suggested people should put their props away more mindfully, I really began to pay attention. Blankets should be folded and stacked the same way to prevent the pile from tumbling. Blocks should be stacked to maximize space. Straps should be hung without tangles.
And it’s really that simple.
Lately, I’ve been giving them a lot of thought.
First, my yoga teacher is always including toes in her instructions. Lift them off the ground (one at a time). Spread them. Plant them back on your mat (one at a time). It takes awhile to learn to control them – they’re so often ignored. Second, I was reading a book about a woman who had a stroke and was paralyzed on her left side, including all her toes. She was explaining the rehabilitation process and talking about the fact that she realized – once she could no longer use them – how important toes are for balance and for pushing off of when walking. Third, I just so happened to be reading the book passage while I was getting a pedicure (a gift from my husband).
So toes were on my mind.
For most of my life I didn’t pay attention to them. And when I got older I would shove them into cold, hard pointy shoes. In turn, that led to foot cramps. The cramps would attack in the middle of the night and hurt so bad I’d cry. But when I started practicing yoga, I noticed my foot cramps disappeared. I decided to give my feet the love they deserved. In addition to yoga, I began wearing comfortable shoes. And from time to time, I’d get a pedicure. I stopped painting my nails awhile ago (to avoid the harsh chemicals), but today I made a special exception.
I picked a color – Dutch Tulips – in honor of spring.
When they were red and shiny, I wiggled them and smiled. Thankful for my toes.