Have you noticed the way that babies easily fold up their legs in a combination cross-ankled, knees-to-chest “fetal” position? As I’ve been practicing yoga and especially hip-opening positions this spring, I’ve become more and more amazed by babies’ effortless flexibility. Of course, they were cooped up in a tiny spot, gradually growing (and growing more) crowded, it makes sense that the most efficient space-saving position would be oft-repeated and most-familiar.
A friend of mine has an almost-18-month-old who just started walking. It was as if we could almost see his leg bones straightening out as he worked up his standing muscles and started putting his weight on his two feet. I suspect that over the next few months, he’ll cease folding up his legs with quite so much ease, as his body adapts to a new normal with the new skills his legs have learned. It seems like sacrificing some hip flexibility for walking (as opposed to crawling one’s entire life) is at least an even trade.
But what kinds of trades do we make with our bodies all the time, and are they good trades to make?
Sometimes when I have a hard time falling asleep I’ll try to focus on my shoulders or my neck or my stomach, noticing how those muscles feel. Recently, when I ask myself how my body feels laying awake at night, I realize that I’m all tensed up. My jaw is unconsciously clenched, my feet are flexed, my shoulders scrunched. “Tense” has become my body’s new normal. That sounds–and feels–horrible. Without paying attention, I’ve traded calm, loose, open–relaxed–neck and hip and stomach muscles for a tight, defensive stance that not only makes me lose sleep, but is exhausting and painful.
That’s not a good trade.
The good news is that it’s a reversible trade. We can choose whether to keep distracting ourselves, allowing fear, anxiety, and depression to seep deeper into our bones and
bodies, or to pay attention to the attacks from the gnawing, dark panic that threatens to latch onto our muscles and minds and simply tell them “No.” It takes time and determination, but it doesn’t take long to see little shifts in your mood, attitude, and fears. While I practice relaxing yoga poses (teaching my body and mind to un-scrunch pose by pose), I keep encouraging verses in my mind during the day (Psalm 20:7 is a current fave), and I pay attention to things that I know will heighten panic or fear (trying to avoid them).
“Tense” is an unnatural resting state, though it’s become common in our transitory and anxious day and age. It’s not worth being ready to react at a moment’s notice if we’re not open to new opportunities and experiences or having a relaxed state of mind to ponder questions. I, for one, move too fast as I’m focused only on my mind and the virtual world, glossing over important signals the physical world is trying to send me for my own good.
Slow down enough to notice what kind of state your body and heart are in, and take a moment to consider what kind of trades you might make to respond with more peace and grace.
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