When life gets busy or stressful, I tend to get a little melty. Do you know what I mean? Overwhelm becomes my predominant feeling, and I just don’t feel gathered in to my center.
Instead, I feel a little leaky – sometimes literally in the form of tears but also energetically in the form of scattered activity, procrastination, not enough self-care.
When I’m feeling this way, I know I need something to pull me back in – not together, but in. I think there’s a difference. Together sometimes means skipping a step – moving on before you’re done processing whatever has been going on. To me, in means gathering my resources, shoring up my reserves so that I can hang in with what’s happening in my life rather than avoiding or suppressing it.
Tools to Gather In
Hop up for a second. I know; I know. I hate getting up from my computer (or cozy spot on the couch) sometimes, too. But we’re just going to do a quick experiment.
Okay, so now that you’re standing (or sitting with your feet on the ground if standing isn’t accessible for you), take a moment and close your eyes (unless you’re doing something like standing close to the edge of something you could fall off; in that case, keep your eyes open).
Take 3 deep, slow breaths here. After your 3rd exhale, begin to feel your feet in contact with the ground. Just see what comes up — there is no right or wrong here. Notice if you might be leaning into one part of both feet (or just one) more than another. Or if you’re balancing completely on one foot (I notice myself doing that in the grocery line sometimes). Or if your toes are digging into the ground as though your life depends on it.
From there, move your internal attention up your body, just checking in and noticing what’s going on with your knees (locked, flexed, relaxed), hips (in line, one jutting out), shoulders (one up/one down, wearing them as earrings) and head (tilted to one side, slightly forward or slightly back).
Remember that song “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” from when you were a kid?
That’s basically it.
Assessing Your Results
Once you’ve checked in with these different areas of your body, go ahead and resume whatever you were doing before — sinking into your beanbag chair or hammock (or desk chair on your lunch break).
What did you find?
I was leaning heavily into my right foot — so much so that my left foot was barely in contact with the ground. I also had my left hip jutted out a bit and my shoulders were (as nearly always) tight and just a little bit hunched up.
I realize this description makes it sound like I must look wild to other people when I stand, but really these things are pretty minor to an outside observer’s eye.
But we’re not worried about what other people can see; we’re more interested here in what we can feel.
Because there is something really powerful about standing — firmly — on your own two feet.
Yoga teaches us this — that the poses are a tool for accessing our inner life.
So when we firmly plant our feet down, we haven’t only done a really beautiful Tadasana (or standing pose, Mountain pose, however you may know the name). We’ve also — figuratively but also literally — reinforced some trust in our ability to support ourselves and stand our ground.
You may have heard of muscle memory before — the idea that the body remembers both how to make a certain movement after it has tried it once and also things that happen to us in our life that we experience in our body (which is, well, most things): joy, injury, relaxation, trauma, bliss.
What researchers are increasingly finding, though, is that it’s not just muscles that remember.
The body is so much more elegant than that.
It turns out that our fascia, or the connective tissue that fills our whole body, also remembers. In fact, some people are using the term neuromyofascial web to refer to the integrated system of nerves, muscles and fascia working in concert.
Perhaps even more interestingly, there is increasing investigation into the fact that the fascia is what holds our energy body — the meridians, chakras and/or nadis, depending on how you like to look at it.
So while something as simple as standing in Tadasana often hardly seems like an important pose, it can actually shift not only our posture but also our mood and feelings.
- To come into Tadasana, please stand up again.
- Come into a comfortable standing position with feet however far apart feels good. Sometimes you might hear this instructed as feet together or hips’ distance apart. I find that feet together is actually unsafe for many people, though, because it’s not in alignment with their knees and hips. And many of us greatly overestimate the distance of our hips. So just find what feels good: that is always a helpful barometer.
- From here, lift up all of your toes. Press down under the ball of your big toe, ball of your pinky toes and center of your heels, creating a triangle of support. Feel the inner arch of your feet activate and lift. Then slowly lower your toes back down.
- Moving up the body, check in with the knees. I like to have a microbend here — something that another person probably couldn’t even see with their eye but that you can feel. If you have any tendency to hyperextend, or lock, your knee (which many of us do), the microbend will help you stay out of that, which protects your long-term knee health.
- Moving up again, we’ll go to the hips. You can imagine the pelvis as a bowl (which is actually the literal definition of pelvis, too, which is convenient) full of water. If the bowl tips too far forward, the water will slosh out. The same is true for if it tips too far back. So bring your pelvis into a position where the bowl is in a neutral position.
- Let your arms rest down by your sides, palms facing forward or towards your legs. Your arms are active in this position, fingertips reaching gently down.
- We’ll journey up the arm to the shoulders. Take a deep breath and invite your shoulders to soften on an exhale. Almost all of us carry at least some stress in our shoulders, and checking in and asking them to release — even a millimeter — is a great thing to do any time of day.
- Finally, bring the thumb and middle finger of your right hand to the insides of your collar bones. You can probably feel a little notch where they begin on either side, just under your chin. Then take your pointer finger up and touch your chin. Your finger should be able to reach easily up here, neither straining to reach forward nor back. This little trick is an easy way to tell if your head is in alignment.
From this grounded and powerful position, just like we did the first time you stood up, take 3 deep breaths.
Notice any differences from the first time you stood to now. Feel your breath flow through the lovely channel you’ve created for it — in through the nostrils, down into the belly and back up — running the spine from bottom to top and out the top of the head.
As you breathe, you might like to bring in a mantra, or affirmation. You can use the breath as a friend here: breathing in one word and out another. Or repeating a phrase to yourself over the course of one full breath and then repeating. Examples include:
On an inhale/exhale
- Gathering. In.
- I. Am.
- Self. Acceptance.
On a full breath:
- I stand on my own two feet.
- I am fully supported.
- I trust my internal wisdom.
- Or any affirmation that works for you.
*First published in Wild Sister Magazine, Issue 10 — Reprinted with permission