Before I started practicing yoga regularly, I wasn't all that attuned to my body. I knew it was there, sure, but tapping into body sensation wasn't something I did on a regular basis (luckily I know -- and do -- better now). Through the years I've learned that I use body tension to protect myself from feeling physical or emotional pain. My poor muscles go on lockdown in an attempt to protect myself. While I appreciate my body trying to protect me and all, it ends up causing chronic tightness and, in the end, it uses a lot more energy (maintaining all of that tension is exhausting) han just feeling the pain in the first place.
Today as I was transitioning from Downward Dog into Pigeon, I noticed that the side of my body that's often tight and feels intensity while getting into/hanging out in the pose felt more open. I had more ease settling into the pose and went deeper than usual. That's when I noticed that the rest of my body was relaxed as opposed to bracing for intensity (sometimes judged as pain). Yes, I could feel some gripping in the hip area, but, overall, the muscles in my body were loose.
Gee, it only took a decade to manage this little trick...Seriously, though, this idea of expending energy on bracing happens on the mat -- and off -- quite often. Don't take my word for it -- do a little energy check the next time you go into a pose that feels somewhat challenging for you or working closer to an edge. Do your muscles lock down or tense up? Are you doing more work than you need to in order to get into or stay in the pose? If so, notice how the extra effort affects your mental and emotional state. Is your practice depleting you or replenishing you?
Off the mat, I suppose you could call it resistance. These days I flow more easily than I used to (oh yes, I'm tapping into the feminine, baby!) but I certainly have my moments. I remember hitting some big resistance last year. I was in a situation that I could feel in my bones was not right for me. My body knew this but my brain rebelled. I had created a sweet little story about this situation and I was holding tight to it. I was like a two year old unwilling to let go of the toy (NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!). Rather than relax into what was inevitable, I muscled my way through it, holding on for dear life (can you say Pitbull deathgrip?!?!?!) when what I really needed to do was let go. I ended up exhausted. All of that holding on and mental justification and muscling to force myself into believing that a broken situation wasn't actually broken tired me out. It made me cranky. I was frustrated. I was tense. And I was angry at myself for bracing against some imagined monster. The truth was that letting the situation go was far less painful than holding on. Yes, the bracing was completely unnecessary. I didn't need to protect myself (except, perhaps, from my resistant self) -- I merely needed to feel and let go.
So, my friends, I ask you -- where are you holding on and giving your energy away needlessly, both in your yoga practice and in your life? Lifeforce is a terrible thing to waste, so don't do it! (I don't think I need to insert an emoticon here to let you know that I'm smiling as I type this.)