E-x-t-e-n-d a Little

Today’s pose, extension.

I need e-x-t-e-n-s-i-o-n. The word sounds good, doesn’t it? Cindy Dollar, my yoga teacher, says it is crucial for creating space between one body part and another. At fifty I am having a harder and harder time separating body parts so yeah, today it is all about extension.

Extension is a forward bend. It can be standing poses or sitting poses. I’m pooped after a night out and a day of work, so I’m opting for the sitting pose of Janu Sirsasana or Head to Knee Pose.

Head to Knee Pose is number fourteen in Cindy’s book (she wrote a book called Yoga Your Way, but as my teacher, she never really lets me do ANYTHING my way–don’t tell her I said that.) Head to Knee Pose is listed right before Headstand Part 1 pose, or Salamba Sirsasana which is also considered an extending pose. I find it very intimidating. It’ll have to wait for another day.

I begin Head to Knee Pose by sitting on the center of my buttock bones. They are actually somewhat hard to find, I am embarassed to admit. My legs are extended on the floor in front of me. Cindy says to pull one leg in, bending it at the knee while keeping my other leg straight. Ultimately, I will e-x-t-e-n-d over my straight leg, back concaved, sacrum drawn in, while pressing the bent leg down to the floor. The focus is on elongating my sides (really?) and the goal is reaching my straight leg’s foot while having my head on my chins and my abodomen in line with my straight leg.

Wait a minute, you say. I did that “pose” in gym in grammar school. Why is it special? Why does it get some groovy Sanskrit name? Remember, people, it is yoga. Yoga always surprises me. Let it surprise you too. No expectations here.

And, I am surprised. Who knew my sides were tight? I knew touching my toes never came easy to me, and that my shoulders stay tight, but my sides? I never really thought about them at all.

Seems they need me too. Stretching my arms up over my head, lifting them as high as I can, and then slowly leaning forward over my straight leg while keeping that lift, and therefore the stretch in my sides, feels like a massage. I groan in sheer pleasure, the kind of sigh you let out when you first step into a hot bath.

So, I e-x-t-e-n-d-e-d my five minute time and went for ten minutes, repeating the pose three or four times. Cindy recommends two minutes per side. I set the timer for two minutes but then tossed it aside and just enjoyed the feeling of e-x-t-e-n-s-i-o-n. It is good. It deserves the Sanskrit name.

camels yoga

How do Camels Breath?

I’ve never seen a camel. I’d like too. I’d also like to breath more. You know, breath in, breath out. But mostly, I’m too busy to do that. I know you know what I’m talking about.

Cindy, my yoga teacher, teaches me a pose called Camel pose or Ustrasana.  It’s a funky, little back bend. When I was a kid, I watched TV from the position of a back bend on the living room floor. It was easy. I popped right up, wrists turned backward, feet pushing me higher into the bend, and my chest rising. It felt so good. I could stay there forever.

It was so easy to breath after doing that. I don’t do that anymore. Now, I watch TV lying in bed.

Fortunately, Camel Pose does not require this complete back bend stance. Instead, I am on my knees, with my legs extended behind me, hands reaching for my ankles, neck dropping toward my feet, my spine coiled into my back, my chest open wide. The total time Cindy allows for this pose is thirty seconds. Thirty seconds, then come out of the pose (carefully) and then thirty seconds again. It is enough.

camel pose breath

Cindy Dollar doing camel pose with props. Thank the Lord, yoga lets you use props. This picture is from her website, no photographer is noted.

Cindy gives you reminders when you’re in the pose. She instructs that while your body is bent backward and your arms are trembling with the weight, to press your legs into the floor, and press your hands into your heels, then lift your sternum higher. There is a reason for this. The action between my legs and my arms creates a stronghold, a structure which supports me in the pose. Once supported, I am free to lift my sternum, coil my spine, and the reason for all this contortion: Open my chest, and you guessed it, breath.

Here’s what I discover in this pretty awkward position. I’ve got to breath to stay here.

My breath comes rapidly at first. I’m afraid my arms will give out before my timer does and I’ll be in a heap. So, I breath. The breathing stabilizes me. It slows down the panic and allows me to concentrate, to press my hands into my ankles, press my legs down and be strong again. For thirty seconds.

I have another friend, also named Cindy. She works in the medical field. She doesn’t advise smoking, but she does advise doing what smokers do. “Smokers,” she says, “take breaks to breath.”

Camel Pose is a breathing pose. That’s what I accomplished today, breathing. And, here’s why that is important: I’ve got to breath if I’m going to stay here. I mean that literally, but also, not. Life is a haul, and pacing myself requires breathing.