The Arms of the Ground

Picture by foshydog, creative commons license.

Lately, I’ve been going to classes by a new yoga instructor, Lisa. I love experiencing new instructors because each has her own language. Yoga instructors love to use imagery and metaphors to help students find the pose. I love listening to the imagery.

In the beginning of class, Lisa has us lying on the mat with a blanket below our heads and necks and a bolster under our knees. After a moment, she asks us to remove the props and relax fully against the floor without props, feeling heavy against the floor. Usually, when I remove props, I feel more space in my body and it just feels nice.

“Feel your weight against the ground,” Lisa says. “And feel the arms of the ground cradle you.” The arms of the ground. Right. Here is Lisa’s yoga language personifying the earth. The earth can’t really cradle you–sand on the beach maybe, but not a hardwood floor in a room on the second story.

Lisa continues talking, telling us that as much as we relax into the earth, the more the earth would hold us.

So I feel my weight against the ground. I feel my shoulder blades against the mat, sinking. I feel my legs, flopped out to the side like a cat in the sun. Then I feel tension in the muscles around my low back, and realize I’m trying to hold myself up, even when lying down. “We’re lying here,” my back muscles say, “but we don’t have to like it.”

“You’re being silly,” my mind says back to them. “You have nothing to hold up! Relax. Let go. Give into gravity.”

Back muscles resist for a moment, and then, tentatively, they release.

Ah, mind says.

Suddenly, I’m lying on a trampoline. As I relax, the ground moves up, just a bit, like a cushion. The arms of the earth.

Maybe it’s not just yoga language. Maybe the ground does have arms to cradle me. It feels protective in some way, even though I know rationally that my mat lying on a hardwood floor has not changed one bit. My body’s perception of the environment changed.

After class, I realize–again–that my behavior on the mat mimics my real life.

I usually try to hold myself up: to keep my life neat and tidy, to hold my job, to maintain my relationships, to keep my house in tiptop shape–and this is not to say that those things aren’t important. If I don’t vacuum, cat hair WILL take over the living room and all our clothes. But the fact of the matter is: if someone uses my bathroom and there’s toothpaste in the sink, the guest will not die or think ill of me. Control over how I act in my job, yes. Control over the state’s funding to my university? no. Control over whether there will be room in the budget for my job next year? no. Control over my cat’s hair shedding? no. Control over how much laundry piles up? well, okay…  I concede–the analogy only works to a point.

The point is: I want control. I want control over my body weight. I want control over the extra skin that developing on my hips. I want control over my days, my time, and my frame of mind. I want control over how other people drive on the roads. I want control over my salvation. I want control over everything so much so that I want control over how I lie down on a yoga mat.

The point is: There are many things that I just have to relinquish. Just let go. I have control over some things, and I don’t have control over a lot of things.

These worries and anxieties are God’s. Not mine. And the more I relax, the more I let go…  the more I feel God’s arms around me while it all happens. While the world turns–which it can do without me.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

-Reinhold Niebuhr

God, grant me the serenity to experience rest.

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