The other day I opened the road atlas to Louisiana in anticipation of our trek through it to Austin. I wanted to gauge whether or not we could make it to the Texas border in one day. Looks like we could if we push it, maybe making it to Beaumont, but it might have to be Lake Charles, Louisiana, which would be just fine. A little more time spent on the bayou would be good for the soul, and for Luna’s developing crush on CCR.
On the facing page of the Louisiana map is the map of Maine, and I was reminded joyously of our time there just by glimpsing the penciled circles around Moosehead Lake, Bar Harbor, Rockport, Camden and Freeport. We visited in late summer and we were there for a long time, until it was simply too cold to stay. Looking at the Maine map reminded me that we had fulfilled a desire to be on the coast, engaging with communities whose lifestyles are drastically different than the ones of our upbringing in the Midwest. We felt connected and we loved it.
During those many weeks of late summer and early fall, the temperatures were just right and the rain very little, so I was able to practice yoga outside almost daily under one of the campground’s great big trees. It was there that an intense desire to increase my practice of inversions, particularly handstands, grew.
One day, I decided to go for a free-form handstand — no walls, nothing to stabilize me, all me. Remembering my fearless inner child and ready to hoist my adult body feet first, up I went. I practiced a few times to stand on my hands as vertically as possible, gently propelling myself into the air with the push-off of one foot and momentum from the other in all of that obstacle-free space. It felt very freeing to have so much room to practice expanding upward: I didn’t have to worry about knocking down a painting or ramming my ankle or foot into gym equipment. So I just kept trying to get up and remain stable. After several attempts, up I went again. But as my feet reached above my body, my mind grew weak and I simultaneously thought to myself, You are going to fall, which I did, landing hard on a root with my left knee, so much so that I would not be surprised to see a bone spur pop out of my patella next year just to say “hello.”
So, I was kind of mad at myself and felt pretty ridiculous, especially because I did it right in front of Scot, who was coding on the picnic table. Urrrgh. My knee hurt pretty badly for the next couple of days, swelling a little just to emphasize my clumsiness. And my apparent fear.
In yoga circles, tackling fear is often a main topic of discussion when it comes to inversions, especially headstands and handstands. Generally, I don’t fear much; I don’t give into it. When in doubt, I have a direct confrontation with my conundrum and massage it, reminding it to mind its manners. Meditation is my medicine. Headstands are not a problem for me, but I’m not sure what I was fearing while practicing handstands the day I fell ass-over-teakettle. It could be that I feared falling down, or I feared that I couldn’t stay up, or it could just be that I lacked sufficient practice and probably a little more expert training to do it properly. Clearly, I lacked patience. Maybe it meant that I needed to be more grounded. I’ve heard many times that handstands can take years to develop, even when one thinks she is already balanced. After that yard sale of a spill, I became more willing to take my time with handstands and continue to delve into any pesky, ambiguous, deeply-hidden fears.
Probably to my benefit, the weather turned in Maine and I ceased doing much of any yoga outside. My feet got cold, which became a distraction, as did the hindering layers required to work outside, especially footies. As we ventured to the Southeast, I hardly was able to practice yoga outdoors. In Virginia, our campsite was super small, leaving no room for my mat. In Charleston, it rained perpetually, eliminating any possibility of expanding upward, outward or over in nature, unless I planned on swamp yoga with a flotation device and galoshes. I had opportunities in Savannah, but there were bugs and it stayed pretty damp. We also made a lot of time for family hikes there, which are always a pleasant and ample alternatives to meditation and yoga. Kind of like group therapy.
But in Florida there were ants — lots of them, fire ants included. Furthermore, we saw all kinds of weather — more rain, intense heat and humidity for a while and then lots of cold. Since Maine, I haven’t been outside as much for yoga of any kind. The aforementioned natural challenges to freestyle yoga could be perceived as excuses to not pursue it, but rather I find that Mother Nature instead nudged me inward both physically and mentally in order to slow down, reevaluate and consider other aspects of my yoga practice. Expansion from within. It has turned out to be really helpful and enlightening.
I gratefully have accepted and resorted to the confines of our tiny camper. There are approximately thirty square feet in which I can practice yoga. It is definitely small; there is just enough room for me to do what I need to do, but it is just a little too small to do anything else more physically — and, subsequently, mentally — demanding without careful consideration of its pursuit and unpacking. I most definitely could knock something off of the dinette table or sweep any magnetized paraphernalia off of the refrigerator door with my feet, while practicing a full twist in Plow Pose. There is no question that the low ceiling means that I cannot fully extend after Mountain Pose, but I do have a clear view of some cleaning that must be done in the AC mesh and vent. And I become one with the stowaway ants retracing the food trails as I hover in Plank or Cobra or Child’s Pose. Ah, yes.
Indeed, I am almost never alone or without the awareness of possible diversions from practicing yoga or to meditate. Often, Scot and Luna are right there with me coding or playing Minecraft. But I pay it no mind, and in fact understand its greater purpose, for there is space — definitely enough space — to do what I need to do generally in yoga. And, of course, tuning out in order to tune in is part of the practice of yoga, especially if it leads to meditation. And anyway, practicing yoga in front of my family creates an atmosphere of calm and flow. It helps everyone involved. Divine Mother is definitely present here.
Heading back into the camper for yoga has been a good thing. Despite its close quarters, it has allowed my mind to expand and consider differently what I’m trying to do with inversions. It also has led to another area of my yoga practice on which I needed to focus — if not more than inversions, then at least in order to work into and up to inversions — and that is advanced backbends.
I can not emphasize the importance of back bends for anyone and everyone. Back bends help with everything from sciatica to constipation, and can reverse the negative affects of slouching. They can unlock underlying emotional issues that generally cause other physical “symptoms,” which often are treated with pills.
Backbends open up the major and minor psoas muscles, which essentially run down the middle of our torsos to the base of the pelvis, and are some of the most important muscles in our bodies. I have spent a long time utilizing backbends to initiate and maintain treatment and healing of the psoas muscles of any physical, psychological, mental or emotional issues that I may be experiencing. Backbends help me after sitting for so long on our traveling days. Backbends help me with digestion and heartburn and lower abdominal problems. Backbends stimulate my thinking as they increase energy and awareness. I sit in backbends as I write and eat. Backbends are my really good friends.
So with the switch from yoga outdoors to indoors, and the shift from going directly from Inversion Point A all the way to inversion Point Z, with a little meditation, my heart was able to deliver the next message: Work on your backbends.
But, of course, it didn’t want just any old backbend. It wants Pigeon Pose. Oh, how I would love to quite literally get my arms around — oh, wait, underneath — my arched body in Pigeon Pose. However, it, too, requires yet more patience from me as I attempt such a feat. Pigeon Pose mandates a super strong core, one that is bold enough to hold oneself steady on her knees as she slowly descends backward, arching ever-so-gently, gracefully, until her head and arms are beneath her body and hands can meet the feet. I dream of this pose. I can’t wait to gain the ability to fully comprehend this pose, but wait I must. There are steps in the build-up that need attention — continued work on my psoas muscles; a focus on steadying my knees, thighs and core muscles; and an increased arch in my backbends. In time, I will reach this goal, praying and meditating all the while as my heart turns the pages of the path. I welcome these steps with open arms.
And it all reminds me of our journey.
Interstate 10 runs the entire length of the southern United States, beginning in Jacksonville, Florida, and ending in Santa Monica, California. It is almost twenty-five hundred miles long, and we will be driving almost all of it in the coming months, until we reach San Diego sometime in the middle of April 2016. It is a long road. “W” for months. So many times we have yearned to teleport (that’s for the Minecrafters) ourselves to Southern California in an oddly selfish and hurried way. But the incremental steps we have taken, such as the extended stays in Florida, and the smaller stopvers in New Orleans, Austin and Tucson that we will make en route are vital to arriving at our SoCal destination. Without them, we would not be sculpting the stone according to the relationship we should have with it. Without them, we would see and remain in only an idea of ourselves that we have created, rather than letting what should be revealed come forth to have its say. Listen, chisel, sculpt.
These are integral and necessary aspects of our travels and our beings, and they mimic my journey through yoga for sure. The arch of the compass and its many directions, the bridge connecting islands. The connecting line between east and west coasts. The solid, anchored pillars and posts of partially submerged marina docks. The variety of grounded trees and their wavering, extending branches and assured leaves. The many faces of a region. The highs and lows and complexities of weather. Inherent in all are steps and processes, evolution and revolution, going on as necessary and often as required — the yoga of direction, the yoga of coming and going, the yoga of round and round.
Now when I practice yoga, especially inside and indoors, I turn all aspects of the motions of yoga into a pose, which will eventually make its way — step by step — to the full handstand, the full Pigeon Pose. Imagine the slow motion of a fall: I actually practice and observe what could have been “falling” so that I can catch myself should I give into fear — probably the fear of hurting myself. Reverting indoors and focusing my attention on backbends and slower, slighter movements have enabled expansions of all kinds. And understanding.
Also, the bathroom door makes for a handy prop for full-blown handstands. Good for practice, good for not knocking over stuff. And for my kneecaps.
So, “W” is for wonderful. “W is for water. “W” is for wait. “W” is for wind. “W” is for ways. “W’ is for watch. “W” is for wander. “W” is for wonder. “W” is for wise. “W” is for wild. “W” is for world. “W” is for welcome. “W” is for west.
Heading West, to that grand old frontier, for some new ideas and with new approaches, including approaching the vast expanse that comes from travel and union with soul and globe, one step at a time.