“When the body takes a new position, resistance is the first response. Relax as much as you can in the pose without losing the shape of the pose.”
~ Jacquie Hansen*, my yoga instructor at Rancho Margot in Costa Rica
A yoga class in Costa Rica: rain is falling steadily on the platform roof. There are no walls so we can both watch the downpour and hear the rushing river below. Birds sing and pop in to see how class is going. Occasionally, a lizard darts across the floor. Often, there are mosquitoes.
After some standing postures, we transition down onto our mats. Jacquie moves us into a simple twisting pose with knees falling to the side. Oh yeah, I thought, I know this pose. I’ve done it a thousand times. But with Jacquie, we did it s-l-o-w-l-y and we held it for a long time. No rush to the final expression, just hang out and pay attention. The first thing I notice is that I am holding my breath. The second thing I notice is that the muscles in my hips and low back are holding on for all they are worth.
“Just stay with the pose and keep relaxing, while staying in the pose,” encourages Jacquie. “How much can you relax and also hold the shape?”
I let go of my jaw and slow my breath. As I do, I can feel a small unwinding in my top hip. I take another breath and feel my low back unfurl just a little. I find it fascinating to observe the microadjustments in breath and body — catch and release, shallow then deep, tense, let go. I also observe my skiddering mind hustle around to assess everything, then rest, then poke its head up to check in again.
“Relax as much as you can in the pose without losing the shape of the pose.”
Relaxing can be seen as something I do when I’m not doing anything else. Floating in a pool. Watching TV. Swinging in a hammock. And for sure, we can relax while doing those things, but somehow I think Americans think that’s the only time we can relax. Mindful practice shows us that we can relax into everything – even if it’s intense or strenuous. Chopping wood. Running a half marathon. Having a difficult conversation with your child. Dancing all out.
In Jacquie’s class, I love the yogic experience: the union of my body and mind, the connection between what I am consciously choosing, what I am noticing, and what my body is doing on its own. It reminds me of the Nia concept of dynamic ease: using just the amount of energy needed for any movement – no more and no less. It reminds me of Leela in a yoga class years ago saying, “Take it easy, but don’t be lazy.” It reminds me of Amy in yoga class last week saying, “Try easy.” It also reminds me that we can do this in any activity, any situation, and in our lives as a whole. Relax, but stay in it.
Relax as much as you can while retaining the shape of what you’re doing. Relax as the axe swings over your head. Relax as your feet steadily strike the street. Relax as you listen to your struggling kid (even to the hard bits) and soften your eyes (even if you’re angry). Relax as you dance with your whole self.
What can you do in any moment, in this moment, to relax more while staying fully engaged in what you are doing? You might be surprised at what tenses over and over and at what unwinds and lets go.
* Jacquie teaches yoga in Seattle, so if you’re in that neck of the woods, go take a class with her! http://www.every-bodiesyoga.massageplanet.com/