Photo: Ingvar Kjøllesda
Yoga for a strong back, energy and power
Integrity is the relationship of energy and power. The way we embody that relationship is who we are in the world. It’s our truth.
If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. – Will Rogers
Years ago when I was in teacher training, the first order of the day wasn’t Sanskrit, breath work or warrior two. It was sitting up.
We spent hours – lots of hours every day – sitting independently, sitting up on the floor. Intentions were good, yet many of us were quickly sore, tired, and daunted by our inability to do this one simple thing and stay at it. So we did what people do when they lack commitment: we equivocated. “It doesn’t matter,” “It’s not what I came here for,” and best of all, “I’m trying.”
Trying is putting energy into something without getting any power out of it. The only way that can happen is if we’re actually leaking the energy, and not turning it into what we’re trying to do. Sincere trying is simple ignorance putting itself in the path of whatever experience can teach it. Sincere trying evolves. If there’s never any innovation we ought to be suspicious – of ourselves.
It’s time to stop digging.
Once in a workshop, I had been trying for too long to do urdhva dhanurasana, getting nowhere with it. An assistant came by, “Push,” she said. “Harder.” She showed me where, thus relieving me of ignorance. As I popped up into wheel, I felt my own grip release in just the area where I’d really had to work the hardest. I realized I’d been fighting myself all along. I was giving as much energy to being the obstacle as I was to doing the posture.
Most of what we say we want will come to us if we are committed to it: a good relationship, the job we want, inner peace. When we come up short we get all down in our “acceptance” – “It just isn’t meant to be,” or, “The Universe has something else planned.”
You have to wonder who has something else planned. The problem usually isn’t that we want “wrong” or impossible things, it’s that we aren’t committed to what we say we want.
Asana demonstrates that to us every time we practice.
Integrity is the relationship of energy and power. That relationship is essential to life. The way we embody that relationship is really who we are in the world. It’s our truth.
Getting clear on that, developing integrity, is fundamentally why we practice yoga.
When you practice commitment there really isn’t anything that’s failure, there’s only the state of working on something. Without commitment, though, every effort leaks away energy at the expense of power.
Sitting up isn’t something we can make a commitment to once. Like everything else, we have to make the decision to stay in the relationship over and over again. Nothing in yoga is more fundamental than returning to the focus without tangling up in the lapse.
Waking up isn’t just some ethereal state
that flies down from the sun: it’s attention, and the only thing that can develop it is commitment.
Each day of my teacher training the muscles along my spine got stronger through use. The contraction of the muscle was more efficient and lasted longer, the neuromuscular connection – that of my muscles to my brain – maintained its clarity, and my emotional life grew steadier as I experienced the rewards of commitment.
It’s not just that my back got stronger and all of my posture work got brighter (my blood circulated more freely, my organs regained tone and function and my oxygen levels improved). Those were the little things.
What I found was a kind of physical confidence that I was not at the whim of the past and I felt less attached to those habits that had long defined me and what I thought I was capable of. Amid the noise of inner chatter and requests to do something distracting, I simply chose to return my focus repeatedly to my posture. I had decided not to accept anything else.
Integrity is our commitment to bring ourselves, our responsibilities, and our values into equal participation in our lives. It’s bringing things into relationship so they function as a whole.
The stronger my back became the better I noticed its position; and the stronger my attention to my posture became, the stronger my back got. These two strengths were the same strength really, as far as the mind of my body was concerned. They were the same thing, whole. And that wholeness was me.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.