In yoga, many poses are named for living creatures. Downward Facing Dog, the infinitely balanced posture used as a transition pose to move in and out of Vinyasa, or flow style of yoga; Camel, a backbend possibly named because it looks like a big humped camel's back; or Locust, the pose begun face down, with arms stretched back, thumbs pointing downward, legs lifted up. I could possibly see a skinny-legged locust here, flinging its legs through the air as it lands on the next leaf it wants to devour. How I hate them in my garden! So destructive and hard to catch.
Each pose has its challenges, each its refinements, and all are valuable. In doing yoga, we are forced to pay attention. One of the things that makes yoga different from other forms of exercise is that it is virtually impossible to watch CNN as you are doing it. Yoga, unlike walking or running on a treadmill, is meant to be done quietly on its own, mindfully; was created many hundreds of years ago to prepare the mind for meditation. The seekers who created yoga knew that before anyone could sit in meditation, the body needed to be challenged first by an activity that required physical work and thought. Yoga is meditation in motion.
In anatomy, a joint is defined as the space between two bones, and the space between the scapula and the back ribs is a gliding joint. Locust pose begins lying face down, which right away makes it seem vulnerable. When it starts, the head is centered, the forehead touches the ground, the tops of all the toes press down into the ground, the shoulder blades press against the back ribs. The expression, "She fell on her face," denotes failure, as an actress would fail at a part, or someone giving a speech didn't hold the audience. Locust, staring face down, is a vulnerable position, where the breath becomes part of the movement, and when I lead my classes in that pose and look out over the room, people seem vulnerable. There is no one “covering their backs,” so to speak, but the end result—the strengthening of all the back muscles—shifts that vulnerability to one of power from behind.
The pose begins alert and prone, legs activate in their readiness; the neck lengthens as the shoulder blades pull down using the muscles that surround the bone and attach to the ribs in the back. It appears that nothing is happening, but in the tension of stillness, a world of muscle contraction is going on. So much so that if attention moved away, everything would collapse and you would fall in a pile of disorganized matter. It is so graceful when the exhale comes; the arms and legs move simultaneously, both reaching, graceful and strong, like the steady purity and form of a hood ornament.
We don't often find ourselves in a face-down position unless we have fallen. Yet, when I have asked my patients over the years how they most like to sleep, it is face down, usually curled up small like a baby. In Locust, rather than being curled and small, the body reaches, forward and back, balancing on the curved lines of the front hips as though they were toes. It looks like you are flying, and if the ground were not there, perhaps you could be. But the reach of the arms and legs, the lift of the torso, are activated by all the muscles of the back, the ones we don't see, the ones that keep us upright. Without them, we would collapse to the ground. They are hidden behind us, with a huge job to do.
While I was hiking that spring day in 2011, I was oblivious to the event that was about to occur—the event that changed me, scared me, and gave me such empathy for those who have suffered traumatic injuries and pain. That day in April, I climbed up a rocky canyon in Westlake, noting how much like desert it seemed with its painted red rocks. My neighbors’ enormous, wild golden retriever ran ahead, happy to be out of his lonely house. What happened wasn’t his fault; if we’d been on flat land, I may have been able to dodge out of his way. Instead, he flew through the air and landed on me—one hundred pounds of wild dog—and down we tumbled. He got up quickly as we hit the bottom of the canyon and shook to steady himself; I was not so lucky.
I had been strong, active, and healthy to that point in my life. Perhaps because of this, my recovery from the fall was faster than it might have been. I am also grateful for the knowledge I have about the body, which certainly helped with my recovery. As a chiropractor, bodyworker, and yoga teacher, I had the tools to guide me through the process of healing, allowing me to walk again without support more quickly than otherwise would have been possible.
I remember someone telling me once that she didn’t understand why we needed the muscles in the back. Tell that to someone doing Locust pose, or someone with a fractured pelvis and ribs. We are such forward-looking and thinking creatures, we forget about what is happening behind us. Everything we don’t want to see is behind us, stored deeply in the ridge of muscles that line the spine, the kite-shaped trapezius muscle, and even the hamstrings in the back of the thighs. The muscles behind us are the antagonists to the front and, because of the tension between the front and back, we are able to stand upright. That tension is a significant part of our evolution as humans, and, as luck or knowledge would have it, a great part of my own recovery and road back to being able to walk.
More to follow...