I am grateful. One cold, snowy night in March of ’99 in a tiny Colorado mountain town called Lake City (elevation 8,700); I went flying out the back door of our kitchen. Literally. Two steps out the back door with my lame-ass, slip-on shoes (sans tread) and I was airborne. I landed on the edge of the concrete steps smack-dab in the middle of my back, bounced down the remaining steps until I came to a stop in the snow where I lay for several minutes simultaneously screaming for help while watching myself from some distant place and silently screaming at my body to move my toes.
Now, I have only given birth to what I think are brilliant ideas, suggestions, and the occasional Current article; but never a child. Having said that, if the pain felt in breaking one’s back is anything similar to that of childbirth…I’ll stick with my three hairy children – Gilda, Louie and Pema.
Why am I grateful? It was due to the back injury that I was initially exposed to yoga. After a year of enlightening and debilitating pain (and with much encouragement), I hobbled in to my first yoga class. A total bust! I found myself in a very physically challenging, demanding and unbelievably intimidating class to which I never went back. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…
About a year later, I found myself open to giving yoga another shot. Needless to say, this time around it stuck, and for that I am grateful.
This month is a reminder to locate, cultivate and nurture gratitude in our hearts. Talk is cheap, so let’s actually do something that physically creates that expansion for a gracious, generous and compassionate heart.
Here’s a simple move that you can do if you’re sitting in a chair right now reading this article while you should be working. Sit up tall on those tubers (tubers = sitting bones), reach your hands behind you and clasp your fingers together. If you can’t reach your hands, use your belt or necktie. Now take a deep breath in and extend your arms straight back and slightly up reaching your knuckles to the back of the room. In this action, your rhomboids contract, drawing your shoulder blades in towards your spine. Notice how this movement gently presses your sternum forward, expanding your ribs and making more space for your heart. Be mindful that you’re not over-arching the lower back, but drawing the tailbone down and the pit of the abdomen in. Oh yeah, and breathe. Stay here for five deep, steady breaths then release your arms to your sides.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath in. Notice the difference in your chest cavity and your overall psyche. As the saying goes, “Move a muscle, change a feeling.”
If you’re mobile, you can try this on the floor. Lie down on your belly, pointing your toes and pressing the tops of your feet firmly in to the floor. Engage the legs so that the knees lift up off the floor. Press the pubic bone down, draw the pit of the abdomen slightly in and up and visualize your tailbone lengthening (this creates more space in the lumbar spine, a place of constriction and irritation for many people). From here, with your forehead on the floor so the neck is long, bring your arms behind you clasping the fingers together – again, use a belt or necktie if need be. On an inhalation, send your knuckles to your heels lifting your chin and chest off the floor. Be mindful that you are using strength rather than momentum. Notice how the more you press in to your feet, the more lift you achieve through your heart. Work the feet and legs – the foundation – to cultivate and nurture a heart buoyant with gratitude.
People who are full of gratitude tend to be happier and are more pleasant to be around. Imagine the overall effect on your workplace if everyone in the office did this twice a day. Might make for an interesting experiment…
Everyone has a story regarding how/why they took up yoga. I was just 30 and found myself so achy and doubled-over in the morning that it took the amount of time walking from my bed to the bathroom before I could stand upright. My joints were stiff, my spine was immobile, and my heart was heavy thinking I’d live this way the rest of my life, only getting worse as I grew older. I am humbled to say, that’s no longer the case. The practice of yoga has taken a broken, unskilled, and sometimes unwilling body and has taught me to take up residency in my body in a way I never imagined. These days, there is freedom in my joints, movement to my spine and a certain helium-effect in my heart.
To my teachers who continue to show me the way; I give a deep bow of gratitude.
Lisa Bracken teaches at The Yoga Barn at The Canebrake (www.TheCanebrake.com) and at NSU. “Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a songbird will come.” ~ Chinese Proverb