sublety in the spine

The other day as I was lying in final savasana I recognized that, for the first time since I started doing yoga, my lower back rested completely on the ground. As a result, I was able to further relax my muscles and feel a sense of total grounding to the floor. Such a subtle change may not seem nearly as exciting as mastering an inversion or an arm balance for the first time. Yet, I feel in awe of this slight difference in my body; it marks a major milestone in the flexibility of my spine.

Ever since I started doing yoga in high school, I’ve experienced a significant amount of tightness in my lower back. In the classes I would take at CorePower Yoga in Minneapolis, we would consistently end class with the series: shoulder stand, plow, ear pinning pose, happy baby, final savasana. I would struggle to keep my legs in the air for shoulder stand and then grip my back as my feet dangled well above the ground for plow. Ear pinning pose was hardly different from plow except that I gripped my back harder as my legs bent awkwardly over my head before flopping down to the ground, sending spasms of tightness throughout my back. Happy baby did little to relax my muscles before we quickly moved into final savasana; I would lie there vaguely trying to clear my mind while acutely aware of the tight wad of muscles resting several centimeters above my mat.  After the closing namaste, I would leave class with the knowledge that, while most of my body felt great, my back felt notably off.

In a class that was focused on mastering arm balances and inversions, little attention was placed on the alignment and modifications that can make shoulder stand and plow a comfortable experience for differing levels of flexibilities. After dozens of classes, I finally worked up the nerve to ask the instructor about the uncomfortable feeling I was in experiencing in my back at the close of class. She told me simply that I probably needed to get stronger. In the years that have passed since, I have grown stronger, although I have yet to master many of the arm balances and inversions that came so easily to my fellow students at CorePower. Yet, if I am warmed up enough, I can rest my feet on the ground during plow, around my ears during ear pinning pose, and then bring them back slowly over my head to rest comfortably on the ground. I’m thrilled, in this change in my body, but see it as only one step. I have a new long-term goal: chakrasana! When I teach yoga, I want to help others pay attention to their spine; to help them move comfortably through back bends and their modifications within an understanding of the patience needed to build flexibility in strength. I want to rejoice with them, not just in their learning complicated postures in their learning the smaller steps, both on and off the mat.

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