Our body is our emotional signature and how we are physically is a reflection of our inner mental and emotional states. If your body is closed up and tight, chances are that you are tensed and not relaxed mentally. I once knew someone who kept on falling over and that was such an accurate reflection of his state of mind which was totally out of sync with his body and the world: his mind was like a flickering light, unstable and was forever running in all directions like a headless chicken, lacking in any stability or strength, leaving his limbs like a drowning man’s uncoordinated flailing. This jumpy nervous disposition as illustrated by his physical state did result in a complex chronic illness which straightforward medication by well-qualified doctors could not resolve permanently. Our mind, body and soul are so very interconnected, there is no doubt.
I posted a photograph in an article of myself doing this pose and though this pose was not the subject of the article, it elicited quite a lot of response.
This pose is the Bikram Yoga version of the classical uttanasana. In Ashtanga yoga, it is similar to padangustasana or padanghastasana, depending on whether you grip the big toe with two fingers or step on the palms of your hands. The principle of the pose is the same: stretch. The stretch starts from the Achilles tendon right to the muscles of the neck, and it stretches the longest nerve in the body, which is the sciatic nerves.
For this intense stretch, you start with bended knees. Then:
- For uttanasana: place your hands flat on the ground on either side of your feet, thumbs alongside little toes;
- For padangusthasana: grab hold of your big toe with two fingers like pinchers;
- For padanghastasana: step on your palms with your toes touching the line of your wrists;
- For this version, grab your heels with your hands, stepping on all fingers.
Keep your body glued to your legs with no gap at all between legs and body. Then slowly try to straighten your legs but maintaining that 100% connection between body and legs. There must be no gap between body and legs.
As a serious runner (I run 35kms a week), I struggle with this pose. My quadratus lumborum (shown) is strong and tough as it needs to be for running (to give me core stability to protect my spine). However, it does make this pose difficult for me. Damaged hamstrings do not help my case either.
But I soldier on instead of running away.
And here’s the piece that is related to the title of this article: you learn to manage your challenges in life through yoga…through this pose! You grow strength of character by staying committed to doing something you don’t like, to giving time to something that the you previously thought insignificant. You learn to find comfort in your discomfort. You learn that the only real clock is your body rather than the one you live your life enslaved to. And you learn about being still which is important, for it is on stillness that wisdom and innate knowing come through.
When I am doing this pose, I don’t think about how much it is challenging me nor how boring it is. Instead, I try to find that sweet spot in my discomfort where I can hang out and slowly move deeper into my practice. That sweet spot could be the feel of the my skin of my legs against my face, the trickle of sweat running down my brows or the sound of my breath. I focus on finding that sublimity and from here, a gratitude for my body, my practice and my life emerges.