If your yoga practice wrote you a love letter, what would it say? Would it be pithy but eloquent? Would it be a missive, a piece of poetry, a single word? Or would it speak through music or interpretive dance? Or, is it that posture that just gets you every time you come to it?
These thoughts have been tumbling ’round my head. Lately I’ve seized on the notion that yoga is a love letter to our selves – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Thinking of it as a love letter shifts my focus: rather than seeing yoga as a kind of challenge on the path to self-improvement, I see it as the opportunity to cultivate radical self-love and self-compassion. Yoga becomes more about self-fulfillment and acceptance as the person I am at any given moment. A way of caring for myself – holding myself – in the same way that I might my children or my partner. And I’m curious to explore the dimensions of these thoughts in community and through different projects. I’m calling it the “Love, Yoga” Project with the first installment beginning this November.
November’s project – Dear Adri – is one near to my heart. My friend Adri is remarkable: vivacious, humorous, present, generous, and kind. She forgives me my long silences, coaches me on parenting and mindfulness, and provides all of the right kinds of joy and support in my life. I’m lucky to know her and call her my friend. It’s just unfortunate that she lives across the country from me. At our last and very brief gathering in August l promised that I’d send some yoga help her way. Her yoga requests aren’t that far from what most of us crave after a long day of sitting, driving, and working – simple, easy postures that release tension in her body, especially in her upper and middle back.
Once a week I’ll post a restorative posture here and on my Facebook page. I’ll be sharing in such a way that, were you so inclined, you could string the postures together and form a yummy sequence for your back. Use the props you have available. A bolster is nice if you have one; blankets and pillows can work as well. And let me know how it goes. Adri, this project is for you. I love you.
Dear Adri…Love, Yoga #1: Thoracic Opening with a Blanket
This little opener is a beauty. The blanket provides just enough of a lift behind your heart to help thaw any rigidity or kyphosis in your thoracic spine. Spend some time here with your breath and feel the ease move through your body.
It’s also simple:
- Find a blanket. Look for one that is cotton or has a light weight and that folds easily. Make a rectangle by folding it in half; depending on the blanket you might need to fold it in half again. Your blanket should be about 3 feet by 2 feet. Now fold your blanket into thirds, taking the shorter edge 1/3 of the way in. Fold the longer edge over the part that’s been folded already.
- Lay down over the blanket. Line the top of the blanket with your armpit: the blanket should be below your shoulders (not under your shoulders), mostly above your lumbar spine, or lower back (not under your lower back), and solidly underneath your thoracic spine. Feel the full breadth and length of your back ribs press into the blanket.
- Bend your knees. Imagining that the face of a clock is resting on your lower abdomen – 6 o’clock towards your pelvis and feet and 12 o’clock towards your belly button – begin to rock your pelvis from 12 to 6, 12 to 6, and again. Stop the pelvic tilts and bring your pelvis level so that it is an even plane from 12 to 6. If you had something balanced on your lower abdomen it would be level, neither tilting towards your feet nor your bellybutton. Without shifting the pelvis, imprint your sacrum on the ground.
- Walk your legs out if it’s comfortable for your lower back. Notice whether your back ribs lift, your lower back flattens, or your pelvis shifts. If any of these happen, bring your spine back to neutral (back ribs pressing, lower back holding its natural curve, pelvis neutral).
- Extend your arms out from your body like a “T.”
- Breathe here.
- After a few breaths, bring your arms into cactus arms. Bend at your elbows – upper arms parallel to your feet, back of your hands pressing on the ground, and your palms opening towards the sky.
- If it feels ok for your back and hips, bring the soles of your feet together and bend your knees, creating a diamond with your legs. Slide blankets or bricks or pillows under your knees if they feel unsupported and start to “speak” to you with stabbing, sharp, or pulling sensations. Check in with your back and pelvis: Has anything shifted? Bring it back into neutral if yes.
- After a few breaths, straighten your arms and bring your arms alongside your ears. Thumbs pressing into the ground and your palms facing each other.
Stay here for as long as it feels good in your body. As you inhale think of sending your breath into tight places and expanding those spaces. As you exhale soften from the inside out. See if you can watch your breath. If you find yourself thinking, label it “thinking,” let it go, and come back to your breath.