January 23, 2017Compare: to examine the character or qualities of especially in order to discover resemblances or differences Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Hot and cold, hard and soft, tight and loose, dry and wet: these are just a few of the many contrasting sensations that abound in our every day life. We humans, in the face of contrast, are notorious for judging these differences. Admittedly judgment is sometimes needed to evaluate or discern a particular situation, or to ensure our safety. But often judgment occurs as a reflex, a bad habit that unnecessarily highlights differences and obscures similarities. In our faith-integrated yoga practice we work to replace the knee-jerk habit of judging, especially judging our own bodies and effort, with comparison-- observing differences, but without the value judgment.
Side bends are great poses in which to practice replacing unnecessary judgment with observation as the muscle elongation in the pose is neither better nor worse than the shortening on the opposite side of the body; here the differences are both necessary for the asana to occur. Yet how often do we practice the asana focusing on the stretch, without noticing the companion effort of the contraction, closing ourselves to experiencing the pose in total?
Our faith encourages us to walk in the light, and we long for a life of continued lightness. But we will all have periods of darkness—for darkness is as much a part of being human as is the light. Light and dark, holding these opposites simultaneously, invites us to see the total. In doing so, we may find that we have something to learn in the darkness as well as from the light. In doing so, the path of light may become clearer.
Additional Pose Focus: Neck Side Bends
Our poor necks! A life of sitting pushes our heads forward so that our heavy, bowling ball skulls no longer rest comfortably on top of the spine but instead are held in place by straining neck muscles. Begin all neck stretches by first aligning your ears over your shoulders, returning the skull to its spine-supported position, allowing the back neck muscles to take a rest. Sit up tall and bring your awareness to the axial extension of the spine by elongating from the tailbone to the crown of your head. As you do so let the shoulders drift down from the ears, heart center open. Keeping the shoulders relaxed and level, begin the neck stretch by slowly dropping one ear to its companion shoulder; observe the shortening of neck muscles on one side of the body with the elongation of the neck muscles on the opposing side. From this position, explore the asana further, perhaps lifting the opposite arm to feel the stretch move down the elongated scalene neck muscles through your shoulder to your arm. Breath deeply and slowly in the held pose. Compare.
During this week's Practice of Being Light, you may find it helpful to explore darkness too. One of my favorite reminders of the gift of darkness is found in the following prayer.
Lord it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
What has not been done has not been done;
Let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and our own lives
Rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and
All who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
Night Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book