Monday, January 17, 2011

Courage in the Heart!!

Courage: to act in accordance with one's beliefs, esp. in spite of criticism.

the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc.

Origin: 1250–1300; ME corage < OF, equiv. to cuer "heart"

For some reason, celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day always brings me into reflection and back to this blog. And for some reason the passed two years during this week of celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I have found myself teaching Muscle Energy in my yoga classes, both at North Idaho College and at Garden Street Yoga.

One little difference is that in this current session of my all levels classes at Garden Street Yoga ( , I am teaching the Universal Principles of Alignment more specifically with a focus in the upper body, and even more specifically, with a focus in arm balances (and even more specifically today with a focus in handstand!!). This week we happen to be, once again, in Muscle Energy!! One of the heart qualities of Muscle Energy is COURAGE!!

I love that the origin of this word is "cuer" meaning "heart". How appropriate for "theme building" since arm balances focus on plugging into the heart focal point with Muscle Energy! I can only speak from my own experience, but this was an important lesson to wire into my own body before actually being able to kick up into handstand.

My journey with handstand began almost 10 years ago at Garden Street Yoga with my teacher, Karen Sprute-Francovich. I can't remember the exact date that I first attempted handstand in class, but I can remember what I felt:

fear, insecurity, uncertainty, frustration and discouragement!

I think the key word here is "discouragement"! (the feeling of despair in the face of obstacles) I do believe that is the opposite of courage!! For me, it was not enough to just pause and think about not being discouraged about not being able to kick up into handstand. For me, I had to really break it down into the elements of alignment, specifically Muscle Energy, because my first handstand attempts (and mind you I'm talking about my first whole year of handstand attempts!!) were coming mostly from a flailing about in the periphery with momentum, hoping I could get my legs up to the wall, and were totally lacking a plugging into the heart!! This, from my experience, required some time wiring it into my body by learning how to plug into the heart with courage, with muscle energy! (and also a lot of encouragement from my teacher Karen, over and over and over again!)
The first part of muscle energy, after having established a strong foundation and and openmindedness in Grace, is to hug your skin to your muscle to your bone! For me, this was achieved by spreading my fingers brightly on the mat and flexing the muscles in my arms while bending my elbows slightly, which i noticed was brighter mostly in my forearms. Then, to draw to the midline, I would try to move my hands towards each other against the resistance of the mat and noticed that this brightness in my arms started to engage more into my upper arms. Finally, I would imagine drawing from my fingerpads and even the mound of my index knuckle, all the way up my arms, through the shoulders and into the bottom of my heart at the level of the sternum. Although this was awkward at first to really feel, I noticed if I tried to draw my hands towards my feet in downward facing dog, I started to actually feel the wiring connect from my hands to the bottom of my heart! This is what is known as drawing from periphery to focal point. After having established all three of these parts of muscle energy in my upper body, I felt more stable, more courageous!!! I mean I really felt connected to the courage in my heart!!
I also noticed that this didn't necessarily get rid of the fear and the insecurity and the uncertainty, but that feeling of despair in facing my obsticles was gone, that feeling of discouragement was gone!! So for a while I would practice holding steady this courage and kick my leg up without the expectation of getting to the wall. I just practiced holding steady with courage and allowed this to wire into my body, especially wire all the way to the heart, not just halfway there. Then I would practice this feeling of expanding this feeling of courage from my heart back into my hands, back into my periphery. I found that if I would do this on an exhale and really shine down from the heart and into my foundation as I kicked up, I was more successful. (This would be Organic Energy, but we will talk about that in another blog!)
So, for me it took a while to kick up into handstand (two years to be exact!). And it was much more than just wiring muscle energy to get it. It required wiring all the Universal Principles of Alignment as well as all of the secondary principles! But I had to start somewhere. Opening to Grace and setting a strong foundation in my hands was becoming willing to allow this wiring to happen over time. Learning to plug into the courage of my heart was next. And no matter how many years pass in this amazing journey of yoga, I noticed that I can always take this a little deeper in myself! Maybe so much so that someday I will kick up without the wall!!!