It's a seated forward bend, easiest to begin by sitting in staff pose, dandasana. Now, dandasana itself is a struggle for me. I have probably the tightest lower back of any yoga teacher in North America, so I need to tuck a blanket right under the edge of my butt for a little bit of support. Then you extend your legs out long in front of you, flexing the feet and pointing the toes back towards the body. The arms come out to the sides and the fingertips can rest on the floor. Then when you're settled in this pose, drawing up on the perineum, drawing the belly button back towards the spine, you drop the chin towards the chest. This engages all 3 energy locks, or bandhas, in the body.
To move into paschimottanasana, you release the chin from the chest, and some folks like to raise the arms up overhead and get nice and long in the torso before hinging from your hips and moving forward, lowering the chest to the thighs and reaching the arms forward, folding the body in half into a graceful sandwich.
|That's about as far as I can get. On a good day.|
I have a couple of anatomical things working against me, here. First of all, in addition to the tight lower back that keeps me from folding into much of anything, I've got short arms. So even if I could fold myself in half at the waist, I would still have a problem reaching my toes.
And despite two years of a daily yoga practice, my hamstrings are still tighter than an Eskimo drum. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, you don't want to overstretch the tendons and ligaments that hold your bones in place.)
When I first started yoga, this pose was a struggle for me. Every. Single. Time.
I would breathe and try to imagine my lower back releasing my upper back down onto my thighs. I would imagine a light attached to my chest, shining forward.
Finally, one day, I just said, fuck it, I'm gonna sit right here where I am and flex the shit outta my feet, press out through those godamn heels, and just be here.
These days, I practice some form of a seated forward bend almost every single day. Whether it's paschimottanasana or janu sirsasana, I sit my ass down on a blanket, flex my feet, and fold as far forward as my body can on that particular day at that particular time.
Sometimes my hands make it all the way down to my ankles. Woot woot!
Sometimes my hands just rest on my knees while I drop my head and breathe into the God-awful sensation running down the backs of my concrete hamstrings. (It's not pain, which is always a bad thing in yoga, it's just a wickedly intense sensation of being stretched like an industrial strength rubber band.)
And then yesterday during yoga class, when I was in what felt like my four thousandth practice of paschimottanasana, I realized something: I wasn't struggling in this pose anymore.
What had changed?
Surely not my body - while I've noticed some amazing changes in the way my body looks and moves in the 2 years since I started a daily yoga practice, my ability to fold forward while seated is not one of them.
What changed was more important - my attitude towards the pose.
Instead of launching into a full-on war of the worlds in my mind, I just sort of followed my breath downward as I folded forward as far as was comfortable. And then I just sat there in it.
No struggle. No pain.
Yoga is just as much a training of the mind as it is of the body.
I was giddy when I left class yesterday, feeling like I have another tool to use in my management of stress and anxiety. Because surely, if I can change my attitude towards paschimottanasana, there's something else in my life that I'm struggling with that could use a little help from an attitude adjustment.
What if today, you picked something that you struggle with. We all have shit in our lives that we struggle with, whether it's a relationship or work and career or money matters. What if, just for today, you decided not to struggle with it? What if you decided to just let it be as it is?
And that, my friends, is how you begin to practice santosha. Acceptance. Contentment.
It goes a lot deeper than my seated forward bend.