“From Chair pose bind your arms and intertwine your legs…” Your arms are twisted around your chest, constricting your breath. Your legs are not twisting quite as much as you want them to. Your foot is cramping up around your calf muscle and to top it off, the teacher tells you “stay clam, suck your belly in, breathe easy, sit deeply and lift your heart higher.”
Meanwhile I'm thinking: What the hell does all that mean anyway? My limbs are in a knot for crying out loud!!" Talk about world's most frustrating posture!
Yet you have heard that somewhere amongst the entangled war of breath, frustration and body parts, Eagle pose can become serene and strong. It can become the epitome of yoga’s literal translation “to yoke” - which means to pull in all directions at once, and that doesn't just mean physically, although for obvious reasons this posture might feel like a calamity of contradictions which demonstrate “yoking” quite well. It is also a reference to the internal juggling of emotions that make this posture both unbearable and beautiful.
“Sit even lower, lift your finger tips higher…”
Let’s face it, if you can breathe to get through Eagle pose steadily then you could probably breathe through most of the tricky entangled situations that happen in life’s random split seconds! Car accidents, someone hanging up on you angrily, confrontations that you weren't expecting - you know, modern day human interactions.
Yoga is about letting go of frustration as much as it is about tying yourself in knots- in fact probably more so!
So we are 4 breaths in to Eagle pose and maybe you have mastered staying up on one foot with your arms and legs tied in knots. So far so good….(As long as the teacher stays over by little miss “expert-yogi-short-shorts” over there! Maybe wearing shorts will help me get deeper!? No wait, i’m not distracted… I am super intensely focused on that speck of dust…go back to the breath…)
“Take another big inhale…”
You are busy smoothing out your facial expression and ignoring the cramp arising from your standing foot into your twisted calf muscle and up to your weight bearing thigh. (Will this pose ever end?) Your shoulders feel as though they may explode and the anger monkeys are knocking on the door. Pretty soon you might just give up and let your limbs splay apart with shocking force. But you don’t.
Finally you begin to steady your breath. Determination sinks in and you relax your shoulders so that your heart feels lighter, and maybe the teacher knows what she is talking about after all because when you do this, your spirits rise! You feel better, happier, less angry!
A big piece of yoga is about putting your body into stressful and weird situations (no offense Eagle pose - but what the hell?!). We take that sensation of constriction and frustration, and we physically work through it so that when you're in a real life tricky situation, you can use that same technique to step back, breathe and think clearly.
“Release slowly (without face planting)…”
I’m not saying next time someone rear ends you in traffic that you should get out of the car and take Eagle pose in front of them (pause to picture this…), but when you start to feel that familiar exploding chest sensation, you can begin to calmly collect your thoughts, bring yourself out of the panic, shock and upsetting experience, and come back to the cool cucumber you are in real life as fast as possible.
Next time someone hangs up on you mid-sentence, try to remember struggling for balance with your legs wrapped tightly about each other. Recall staying balanced and smoothing through the hard parts. Try to remain balanced in your body while the other person is bouncing and flailing. Take a breath and suddenly that incident won’t fill your day. You can bounce back and find something else to focus your energy on. Something good.
”Inhale, reach up to extended mountain. Exhale to swan dive to forward fold…”
And now thanks to working through Eagle pose on your mat, when the person driving past you flips you off for no good reason, you can take a big breath into your belly, sit deep in your seat and lift your heart. This is the real Eagle pose.