Working for Rest

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After some traumatic experiences a few years ago, I was feeling very disconnected from my body. It had started to feel like something I was dragging around rather then something I truly inhabited. I’ve never been particularly aware of my body but this was a new feeling of estrangement from myself.

I had always been curious about yoga but had never tried it. I’m not athletic or coordinated and photos of yogis’ contorted poses on Instagram intimidated me. After many recommendations and reading articles on integrating yoga into mind-body-awareness therapy methods, I finally decided to give it a chance. I figured I would make it through a couple poses and leave.

As I stepped into my first beginner class though, I was surprised that the first thing we were asked to do was to sit quietly and breathe. To listen to the air filling our chests and bellies and then slowly leaving again. I don’t know how long we stayed there breathing but when I opened my eyes again, I felt more embodied than I had in a long time.

The instructor then gently and smoothly talked us through a series of poses. The language she used to direct our positions made sense to me in a way that all my years of P.E. and high school sports never did. She spoke of the body lovingly. I was used to physical training that spoke of the body as something to be whipped into shape. Something we struggle to tame. Instead, she directed the transition to a new pose using descriptions that made sense to me like, “Your legs are heavy like earth and rooted. You cannot pull them up on your own. You must reach down with your arm which is light and free and pull them up that way. Let your arms teach your legs how to move toward the sky.”

Correcting and re-aligning that was not a rebuke or chastisement but an encouragement toward a better and more freeing way. By the time we got to savasana (“corpse pose”) at the end of the session I think I cried. I was so overwhelmed with this new way of thinking and talking about my body and movement.

I started practicing yoga more regularly. Learning new poses and new ways to think about how different parts of my body hold and release stress. How different parts affect other parts. My balance and posture has improved slightly but I’m still working up the courage to try any upside down poses. Some fears take more time than others to work their way out of my body. I quickly realized that savasana – the last pose of every session – is the most personally rewarding but also often the most difficult.

In English it is referred to as the “corpse pose” because you release all tightness in your muscles and just lay limp. Most people practice it by laying flat on their backs with legs outstretched and arms long by their sides with their palms facing up. It is a moment of surrender and also of rest. It is a reward for work completed and also a moment to refresh before heading back to real life.

In one particularly rigorous session, the instructor saw we were all getting tired and our poses were getting weaker. In an effort to encourage us to keep going she said, “You’re almost there. Remember we’re all just working for savasana.” The whole class laughed and found the strength to move through a few more poses knowing that rest and surrender was just a few minutes away.

That phrase stuck with me long after class mostly because it’s easy to see how it’s an encouragement for so much of life. Working hard on a seemingly never-ending creative project? It’s only Tuesday and you wonder how you can possibly make it to Friday? Trying your best to be a faithful friend, spouse, parent, colleague? We are working toward rest – whether that rest is a Saturday morning sleeping late or 30 minutes of quiet in the middle of the day to let your mind wander or finding the time to just enjoy the relationships we put so much work into or the Eternal Rest we are all working toward everyday.

I think we all long for surrender – when we can lay down our work and responsibilities and burdens and efforts and fears. For the moments we can open our palms to the sky and release control. It is not easy. Sometimes it takes everything within me to release control and surrender. To allow myself to rest and be refreshed rather than to keep working and pushing and forcing. It’s hard to believe that everything really will be ok if I stop moving forward even for a few minutes.

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