All last week I prepared to become a bird perched in my nest. Seemed like every class I took at the Yoga Sanctuary was focused on the peak pose Bakasana, sometimes called ‘crow’ or ‘crane’. My teacher Kris was very specific; each limb and each miniscule and gross muscle within each limb was purposefully and clearly articulated and involved. Master (Mistress? Madam?) Yogi Teacher Rachael also had us preparing to nest. Rae Rae led us there. “Root to Rise,” Rachael repeated over and again. Kris led us there. Kris spent time, lots of time on shapes and postures and asanas that activated and brought our awareness to our hamstrings. These huge muscles that live behind the thigh are key to bringing the feet up and into a rounded ball of human form that is then capable of perching on top of our upper arms.
I did my best to stay focused. I did my best to follow my teacher’s verbal instructions and physical demonstrations. I mentally ‘saw’ myself perched upon my own upper arms; feet drawn up and in, like a bird in a nest. My fingers were spread wide with my thumbs relaxed, and yet with a strong grip onto my mat. My inner thighs were pressing fully upon my outer-upper arms. My belly button engaged my abdominal muscles by searching for my spine. My drishti gaze remembered to look to the front of my mat. Don’t look straight down! Look forward towards the top of my mat. Remember this. The body will follow the gaze. Warning: look down, you will go down.
There is a nifty little trick to prepare for Bakasana that I learned in my second 200-hour teacher training. I begin by placing a purple rectangular block of opportunity in the middle of my yoga mat and tippy-toe stand on top of it, while bending over and touching the ground in front of me. This elevates me about 3 inches from the ground, so there is less effort in pulling up my legs. With my big toes touching one another, my knees spread open; my inner thighs find my outer-upper arms.
My knees search for my armpits. Thighs and arms squeeze each other. They connect and become like glue. Beginning here, big toes touching, drishti gaze forward, thighs and arms connected, belly button searching for spine, breathing even and audible, I practice over and over again. By the end of the week I could raise my right foot up about a millimeter off the block. Then I could raise my left foot up about the same small distance. Keep in mind, I can’t actually see my feet, I’m looking at the top of my mat. It’s a feeling thing. I can feel my big toe leave the block. How far up it travels is unknown to my conscious mind. For a nano- second I lift both big toes off my block at the same time. Wow! I’m so thrilled to find this moment. It lasts less than a second. At the end of class, I linger to share with Kris how awesome her instruction was and how I lifted up for the very first time. I’m feelin’ good!
That was last Thursday. Yesterday (Monday) I went to Sherry’s class. Two of the regulars were returning to class after 6 weeks of rehab, following a knee and a wrist surgery. I, however, was feelin’ good! Sherry was great, using lots of verbal cues to pay attention to our own bodies, our injuries, our internal messages. As I practiced on my own mat, I was aware of how mindful she was being of the injuries in the room. This is a sign of a very good teacher. Class progresses and here we are preparing for Bakasana! Perfect.
I’m just in the moment, not thinking about my favorite prop, my purple rectangle of opportunity. Nor do I decide to first place my blanket in front of me to soften the earth before me. I simply fold over, place both hands on the mat and spread my fingers wide. My elbows and knees bend and I find that kissing place where my inner-thighs become glued to my arms. My gaze goes forward to the front of my mat. There is nothing else. I lift up both big toes at once and then almost immediately come down into Balasana, my resting child’s pose. I breathe. Again, I repeat the process and lift up for a brief moment. Then down into Balasana. I’m aware that I’m tired. I’m also aware that my body is going again for a third experience. In that third nest, with both big toes lifted off my mat, my monkey mind suddenly gets involved and starts the citta vrtti chatter, reminding me that my hamstrings need to be flexing to lift up. (I didn’t realize I was already up.) My hamstrings flex and as my butt lifts up even higher, I crash onto my face. Ouch!
My cheekbone might be broken. My bottom lip hurts like crazy as my ‘Bucky-Beaver’ upper tooth penetrates my lower lip. I roll over and Sherry asks me if I’m OK. I might need some ice, I reply.
Class continues and I follow into the resting postures with the ice pack on the left side of my face. At the end of class the rehab regulars come around my mat and hope I am OK. They offer words of support, experience and an aspirin. The first block of driving home feels odd and I pull over and spend 15 minutes breathing and collecting my senses. After all, I did fall on my head. I fell hard, with nothing to break my fall. Sherry calls me later that afternoon to check on me. My husband gives me a loving lecture on how old I am and how I need to be more careful and should not be trying to compete with the 30 year-olds in my class. My lip swells and I look like I’ve just had the left side of my mouth injected with silicone. My lip is black and purple and looks even worse on the inside. My left eye socket and cheekbone has rug burn and is a similar color to my deep magenta red yoga mat, complete with a waffle design.
I’m strangely elated. I tried something new. After practicing, I did it. I flew up into my own little nest. Yes. I fell. But think about it. In human development, little kids fall all the time. This is how we learn. Keep learning, keep growing, keep living or the withering and the dying begins. It’s subtle. I want to grow. It’s OK to skin my knee and have a big juicy scab right next to the varicose veins. It’s the sthira and sukham; effort and ease. It’s the in and out; inhale and exhale. It’s the ebb and flow. I want to remember to approach my practice with the mind of the beginner. I want to embark on my retirement and my 64th birthday by doing things and going places I’ve never been before. Been there, done that. What’s next? For today, it’s a big beautiful fat lip and a shiner! And, for these, I am grateful.
by Cari Lyn