This week, I had a lot of “oh shit” moments.
At the top of the list was hurtling down a steep, slick mountain face and realizing that if I so much as acknowledged the thought of losing control, I would.
Skiing for me is a mixture of flying, freedom and fear. There’s an immense amount of trust involved in one’s abilities after you graduate from the bunny hill. Let yourself down and there’s a potential big price to pay, including a hospital bill.
Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m speeding across snow with no worries. Losing my balance, fear and falling down live in the 1 percent. But I got sick of falling and sick of getting hurt, so here’s what that half-second inner voice now says to fear:
Oh shit… No! Caren, you’ve got this, you’ve got this, YOU’VEGOTTHIS.
I pull through every time (and yes, I use 3rd person and all caps).
I pull through because I believe I can, and because I’ve laid down the law energetically. Our bodies need a champion in order to mobilize from falling.
The actual work to get back on course is much simpler once you think you can.
When you’re all alone on the side of a mountain, it becomes abundantly clear that you’ve got to get your act together because no one will for you.
A lot of us recreate this sense of immediacy on our yoga mats. We think we’re not “doing” yoga if we don’t perform the poses like the pictures. Then, when our bodies don’t respond to our expectations, we perceive a deficiency.
We see something to work on or work toward, rather than something to let go.
On the yoga mat our “oh shit” moments are much more subtle. Thankfully, we get more than a half-second to decide how to react. Often, the falling down isn’t a face plant — it’s the opposite: a deep unraveling of all the emotions that strive to hold us together.
In other words, the yoga mat (not a mountainside) is a safe place to fall apart, if fall apart you must.
Which brings us to the most obvious emotional falling apart: When’s the last time you cried?
‘Oh shit’ mat moments
I cried today. I hadn’t for a while, and I used to think that not crying was a measure of how happy I was. Of course, this was when depression had the tears flowing on the daily, so any prolonged break from salty cheeks didn’t go unnoticed.
So, I cried.
And maybe you cried or have cried recently.
An interesting thing happens when we revisit feelings or memories we spend so much time trying to avoid. We realize that these things don’t just live up in our heads. They manifest in our bodies.
Few yoga asanas make this connection clearer than backbends and hip openers, especially when combined like Half Bow Pose, a prep for Bow Pose. No wonder: It’s vulnerable to open your heart and hips on oh-so-many levels.
When “oh shit” happens on the mat, tears absorb into rubber. Sometimes we don’t even know what they’re for or why they’re present.
It’s difficult because none of us like to fall apart. But if we don’t, we’d never get to practice how to be our own champions.
Your yoga practice is about blanketing yourself in hope so that when you feel overwhelmed and like you’re losing it, you have a sacred space that reminds you everything is going to be okay.
YOU’VEGOTTHIS starts on the mat.
How to: Half Bow Pose variation, Ardha Dhanurasana
For many of my students (and often to me) Bow Pose feels unattainable and effortful. It can feel like you’ve already fallen down and are powerless to get back up again.
To prep for the full thing, try this version of Half Bow Pose. Mini successes, such as capturing your foot with your hand and even lifting the chest in a slight spiral (rather than traditionally keeping your shoulders square) can help instill the confidence your body needs to open up.
- Come into Sphinx Pose with your elbows beneath your shoulders, tailbone tucked and legs actively extended behind you, anchoring with the tops of the feet.
- Inhale, bend the left knee and reach around with your left hand to capture the inside of the foot or the ankle. Exhale and press the foot or ankle into the hand. Keep the knee in line with your hip.
- On your next inhale, energetically lift and firm the right upper arm into the shoulder socket, rolling the shoulder blades together on the back. Gently engage the right fingers and forearm on the mat to maintain your backbend and keep the right foot active and reaching back. Relax the back of your neck.
- Allow your left shoulder to open to the side and the upper body to twist as you continue to press the left foot into your hand. Lift the belly button into the spine, but keep the abdomen soft to breathe deeply.
- Take five breaths here and gently release your foot on an exhale. Return your left forearm next to your right and pause, or release down to your belly for a few breaths, before switching to the other side.
Solidarity time: Have you fallen apart on your yoga mat?