Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yoga & Metaphor

Last Sunday, I went to a wonderful Yoga workshop by Rocky Heron, called "Journey into Bliss." The workshop focused on back bending poses which Rocky wanted us to look at as heart opening postures.

I've always been intrigued by the body/mind connection that is intrinsic to yoga, so I particularly like teachers who help me see how a pose is connected to the way that I think and/or hold my body. For instance, Rocky spoke about how much of our day is spent slouched forward with our shoulders curved so the chest cavity encircles our hearts. To bend backward is to open and expose the chest area and therefore the heart. Metaphorically the heart is the seat of emotional experience, so opening that area is to make ourselves vulnerable to feeling.

Back bends are my least favorite pose while I adore forward bends. It probably comes as no surprise then that I'm also much more comfortable with thought than I am with feeling. But I knew what the workshop was about, and I was willing-- in fact eager-- to expand my chest along with my interest and skill in these poses.

Rocky is a very fine teacher, moving the class gradually and expertly into deeper more expansive chest opening postures. I was really enjoying myself, and about 2/3 of the way through the class, I experienced one of those physically transcendent moments. My chest filled with fluid warmth and the room seemed bathed in sea green light. I felt a smile come to my lips. I knew that I had discovered the joy of backward bending poses. I left the class confident that I had a new relationship to chest expansion and perhaps even to emotional vulnerability.

This confidence glowed all the next day. When I dove into the pool for Masters swim practice, I was thinking about how I might apply chest expansion to swimming. About halfway through the workout, I crashed into another swimmer as she was pushing off the wall. Her head hit me full force in the sternum. The pain was excruciating. Somehow I finished the workout, showered, and drove home. But by then, breathing had become painful. Bending forward was nearly unbearable.

Now almost a week later, the injury is only about 50% improved, and I'm learning about chest expansion from a different point of view. To avoid pain, I have to keep my shoulders back and lead with my heart. Forward bends haven't been fun this past week. Pushing anything away from me (be it a wheelbarrow in the garden or the floor during chaturanga dandasana) is nearly impossible.

And so the metaphor of opening the heart invades my body in a deeply physical way. I wish I had listened more closely to how Rocky explained the Sanskrit word meaning bliss. I suspect it included the pain of my injured sternum as well as that of sea green euphoria.