Inspiring health and happiness in body, mind and spirit

Standing Tall

July 15, 2008
It is time to stand up straight again! Ten months of hauling around a roly-poly baby, ten months of nursing, several years huddled on the floor with the baby's not so roly-poly big brother, and five years of sleep deprivation have conspired to leave me slumpy, slouchy and generally de-verticalized.

I'm trying to recover my anti-slump, my yogic tadasana, my loft. Just in case you someday find yourself fighting the pull of gravity - because you're carrying babies or hauling boxes or just sensing aging's pull - I'll fill you in on the details of my 10-point program to stand tall once again.

1. Backbends, of course. I sneak little backbends like sphinx and cobra into our on-the-floor play sessions. I slip into a few big backbends whenever I can snare the yoga ball for myself. And each night before bed I lie on the floor for a few moments with my son's stuffed earth pillow behind my heart.

2. Full arm balance. I sneak one in every time I pass an empty wall. If I make it to the end of the day without standing on my hands for at least a few breaths, I do it before slipping into bed. Full arm balance strengthens the upper back and therefore reduces one's slump-a-bility, I suppose. But I do it because I feel stronger, happier, and re-energized by the pose. And less likely to collapse into my own cup of tea.

3. The Butterfly. As I move throughout my day, I imagine I have a beautiful butterfly perched on my breastbone that is yearning to spread its wings (my butterfly is brilliant blue). I lift my sternum and spread my collarbones to make room for the butterflly to shine.

4. The Back Clasp. In rare moments when my hands are free, I clasp my wrists behind my back, spreading my front rib cage and opening my heart. This feels much better than the adolescent hands-crossed-in-front-of-the-chest alternative way of standing.

5. Standing Forward Bend. Falling forward into uttanasana - with my legs straight and my spine releasing toward the floor like a rag doll - always sends me into a long, soul-satisfying exhalation. I imagine the little beads of my spine dangling downward as they surrender to gravity's pull. I envision my back regaining its rightful stretch and suppleness. Inevitably, when I stand back up I feel so tall that I fear my head will bump the ceiling.

6. The Rucksack. I toss my baby into a sling on my back, and let his weight remind my shoulders to soften and release downward toward my hips. You may not have a baby, in which case a backpack (or the old strap-wrap, if you've ever taken a yoga class from me) will do the trick.

7. Warrior Pose. This yoga posture (virabhadrasana II) has never been one of my favorites. But standing with my legs so strong and steady, and spreading my arms so wide helps me feel open, expansive and powerful. I feel bigger and brighter after filling out every inch of myself in this pose.

8. An Upward Glance. I try to look up as much as I look down, especially since I've been living a pretty earthy, lowdown and on-the-floor sort of life these days. When I can, I look up from the eyes of my heart, which feels much happier and integrated than just craning my chin upward.

9. The Back Walk. At night when I settle on my back into bed, I imagine I have little feet on my shoulder blades. I walk those feet down toward my waist, to help release my shoulders and realign my upper back.

10. The Boys. I study my young sons and am inspired to emulate the beautiful, upright posture of a happy child... the open heart, the relaxed shoulders, the head that floats effortlessly above the spine. My sons are so light, so inspired, so beautiful that they seem to float through their days. I invite little sparkles of their youthful energy to fall from them like dust, landing on my feet, my hands, my heart, as I trail behind them in their wake.