Saturday, October 5, 2013

Loose knees sink hips (and harpies)

I had another minor epiphany during a yoga class last week.

We were doing a straight-leg stretch -- (Parsvottanasana -- don't ask me how to pronounce that) which I usually really, really hate because my ankles are always screaming, not to mention my hamstrings and I never feel like I can relax into it at all because it's not at all relaxing. 

My instructor is forever reminding us that our knees can stay loose in various positions -- especially when we're practicing balancing poses where a locked knee on your base leg will probably result in your tree falling over. She reminded us again during the straight-leg stretch to loosen our knees and take breaks to help deepen the stretch. 

In my vision of a perfect straight-let stretch the front leg is always board-stiff and straight-edge straight so as to make an isosceles triangle  that would make Pythagoras want to take up yoga. Also, breaks are for the weak! But I have no place having a vision about how things are supposed to be. I've only been doing yoga for six months, so what the hell do I know anyway?

So in the class, I threw Pythagoras to the wind and loosened my knee and hallelujah! I Parsvottanasanaed the shit out of my leg. Instead of fighting gravity, I kept sinking until I was almost kissing my knee. I don't imagine I looked much like the picture -- but that wasn't the point. I was doing what I needed to be doing and it felt really good.

And more importantly, it got me thinking about all the other areas of my life where my metaphorical locked-knees cause me unnecessary frustration and aggravation. There are so, so many places where if I just loosen the hold of rigid expectations that I might be able to dispel anxiety and just let go. 

As evidenced by this tantrum Lily threw on the garage floor --
things have been a little tense around here lately.
I think the most immediate candidate for knee loosening is in childrearing. When there is a 3-year-old perpetually testing the boundaries you create for her in the name of love, discipline or a misguided desire for cleanliness it becomes clear pretty quickly that certain mandates are going to have to be a little more amorphous. 

Like how many stories we read before bedtime, who gets to dispense the toothpaste ("I can do it all by myself!" she says. And, as it turns out, she can), or which outfit can be worn for the third time in a week. 

Cuz sometimes a girl has to gnaw on a leaf
 without her mom freaking out.**
Don't get me wrong -- there are still hard-and-fast-life-preserving rules: No bludgeoning little sisters, for instance, and no running across streets or juggling flaming swords (at least until they've had the proper training, of course). But does it really matter if she wants to take off her shoes so she can dance like "Happy Feet" in the sandbox or handle feeding the cats ("All by myself!")? I think the answer is no. 

Because while boundaries are important, feeling competent in your ability to, you know, live life and stuff is pretty critical, too. 

So I'm going to loosen my mom knees a little in hopes that next week I feel a little less tyrannical and shrill and a little more flexible.

*For the record, I never intended to be this annoying yoga cheerleader. It's new to me -- on many levels. I'd never taken group fitness classes, never considered myself to be particularly graceful or coordinated, never thought much about how my emotional, spiritual and physical health are so tied together, and definitely never thought I'd be that mom. Wearing the yoga pants. Lugging around a mat and kids. Namaste-ing. But I think that skeptical/sarcastic/judgmental part is me is a voice I've been living with since high school -- the one that sees me doing something kinda cliched or mainstream or, you know, the thing and I laugh at it in a belittling way. (the same way I laugh at others for, say, eating kale chips or growing giant beards). But I'm a grownup now, and more importantly, I'm a parent who needs to set a positive example for self-fulfillment and self-expression. So I need to acknowledge in a non-skeptical, non-sarcastic, non-judgmental way that practicing yoga continues to help me grow as a person -- making me both physically and mentally stronger. And that's that. 

** These are oak leaves, and I just read that if consumed in large quantities they can be poisonous to humans and livestock. There's no need to be alarmed though, I can barely get Lily to eat one edible green (or formerly green) form of plant life. Nibbling on the tip of an oak leaf stem (or even just dangling it from her mouth) might be the closest thing she gets to ruff age all month! 

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