What is it about standing on your hands that's so fun? (Hmm, you're skeptical about the fun part? It comes once you get over the fear part, which happens through falling, and figuring out that it's not so bad after all. Sounds like climbing.) At a recent workshop with Tiffany Cruikshank she talked about her love of handstands and inversions due to their ability to snap you into focus on the present moment. There's no way your mind is going to be wandering to that to-do list, or that worry, or that email you need to send, right in that moment where you're trying to reach that delicate balancing point upside down. All of our sensations seem to bemagnified. I love the automatic twitching calibration that happens through your hands as your body unconsciously does it's utmost to stay upright. It's the same feeling through your foot in ardha chandrasana (half moon pose) or virabhadrasana III (warrior 3).
Personally I've always had this desire to be able to go upside down, it's what I love so much about acroyoga, and I was reminded recently that as a kid in swimming pools all I ever did was somersaults and handstands, no front crawl for me. For some reason though, I never persevered enough to be able to actually hold that balance point on stable ground.
I love TED talks, and I thought this one might be particularly interesting for those of us interested in yoga and mindfulness. Amy Cuddy doesn't mention either by name, but her findings support the advantages of an improved posture and an ability to become aware of our own holding patterns, and then change them for our benefit. Amy says at the beginning that she is specifically interested in studying non-verbal expressions of power and dominance, which is what this talk is mainly concerned with. However she mentions that our non-verbal expressions extend to all emotions. When we smile it is because we feel happy, but also if we smile we can make ourselves feel happy.
It may not be new to some readers to learn that our body language affects how other people perceive us. Yet, perhaps more importantly, our body language also shapes how we perceive ourselves. "We are also influenced by our non-verbals." Exploring some other examples further, it also means that if we develop a habit of constantly having rounded shoulders and a tense neck, which can be seen as an expression of fear, feeling threatened and under stress, subconsciously we are telling our mind to feel that way. Conversely, if we can have a wrinkle-free brow and shoulders that feel light and loose, we might go about our day feeling that bit more calm.
Practicing yoga and mindfulness improves our posture. We undo old patterns of tension by stretching into these tight areas of our bodies. We develop the ability to relax, even when under stress. Like when you're trying to move into that really challenging pose, and then the teacher says smile and you're thinking 'seriously?!' and then the whole class manages to laugh out loud. In our practice we also learn to develop our 'witness' or 'observer', and from this place we develop the ability to respond thoughtfully, without reacting unthinkingly. Becoming aware of our unconscious reactions allows us to undo these patterns and develop new ones that will be more helpful. This is useful for all of us, as a personal example I'll relate it to climbing. As climbers, we need to be able to recognise fear as it takes hold of the body, noticing that it increases the breath rate and causes us to become tense, over-gripping and restricting our movements. By slowing the breath (as in yoga) we can consciously release that tension and relax, allowing ourselves to continue to climb smoothly and efficiently. This is just one example that relates to activities in my life, but reversing our old fear responses and changing them into something good can help us all cope better with daily stresses.
So, wonderwoman-asana anyone?