Friday, February 27, 2015

Quality Preferable to Quantity

The old saying a young man with a stiff spine feels old, while an old man with a flexible spine feels young has captured my imagination of late. As my body has aged, I’ve found that there’s a lot of truth to this adage.

Over the years my practice has shifted and evolved. For many years, I was enthralled by the outer limits of flexibility, as I believed that flexibility and freedom were related. I spent hours opening my shoulders, spine and hips, and came to enjoy a great deal of flexibility. While my joints could move every which way, my mind seemed to become more rigid as I doggedly pursued flexibility. In my experience, being Gumby-flexible didn’t translate to a more flexible or resilient mind.

I ultimately let the uber-flexibility experiment fall away, and focused more on joint stabilization. This focus on stability helped heal my chronic back pain but I found my spine becoming more rigid in the process. And as my spine felt stiffer, I started to feel older and creakier.

Of late, I’ve been spending more of my yoga time exploring a balanced mobility in each and every segment of my spine. While harmonizing flexibility may seem like a foregone conclusion in the practice of yoga, balanced mobility can be surprisingly difficult to contact.

Most of us tend to move our spine from the points of least resistance, and in general, we tend to avoid moving from the places that are stickier or stiffer. In spinal flexion (a front bend), I find that my thoracic spine is abundantly willing and able. And in extension (a backbend), my lumbar spine is an enthusiastic co-conspirator. But if I ask my thoracic spine to extend, or my lumbar spine to flex, all bets are off. Only by paying close attention can I access the stiff places, since the points of least resistance are where I’m more likely to overstretch.

This afternoon I spent some time exploring the old standby, Cat/Cow pose. By paying attention to flexing more from the lumbar in Cat pose, and extending more from the thoracic in Cow pose, my spine felt nicely steady, supple and invigorated. A very simple practice, yet the results seemed outsized to the effort expended.

Have you found simple practices that provide outsized benefits?


Julia Siporin said...

Do you have a red light in your town that seems to last so long you could knit a sweater before it turns green? In Eugene, Oregon that light is at the intersection of Agate & Franklin. At times it has been my nemesis- especially when I'm running late.
I read an idea offered by Thich Nhat Hahn which continues to benefit me on a regular basis. Perhaps others may find this useful too: When stopped at a red light, embrace it as an opportunity to truly stop for these few precious moments to breathe and be grateful.. To reflect within.... I feel so "fortunate" that this light is only a mile or so away from my house; it's almost inescapable. Like a mirror, it reveals my state of awareness with complete dispassion - Oh, look... rage. Oh look...thinking about the future. Oh, Regardless of my state, I have trained myself to follow this status check with a return to breath, to contentment, to gratitude.
Now, if I can only get myself to do this at the light six blocks further down the road! - Julia S.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that great suggestion. I will try to put it into practice, as well.