I’ve large feet, but apparently not as large as they should be (anatomically speaking) for my height of 179cm (or 5’ 10.5”). They are an Australian size 9½ which is a 41 (European) and 8½ (US).
They are my father’s feet: weird squiggly toes and plenty of calluses that I get smoothed down whenever I have a pedicure.
They’ve carried me to many places around the world: Egypt, Chile, England, Wales, Orkney Islands, New Zealand, America, Bali and Thailand. They’ve trekked through dessert sands, snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef, climbed dormant volcanoes, skied many an alp, belly-danced all over Sydney, walked dogs, taken part in the Sydney City to Surf, swum thousands of kilometres… they’ve done a lot for me, these feet.
And yet, it seems I do not trust them as I should.
Have I taken them for granted? Have I assumed limitations for them that do not exist? Am I wary of what they can and can’t do, and am I afraid to find out?
It’s true; they’ve let me down in the past. Or perhaps it was me that did the letting down? There’s been two broken toes in their history (both on the left foot – little toe, then the one next to the big toe), one bone graft (see photo), and several sprained ankles. They’ve suffered abuse as all dancer’s feet do. They’ve coped as well as they could given my high instep.
And actually, they still make awesome ballet pointed feet, even today. Which was always a bonus as a synchronised swimmer, back in the day…
But now I understand that I don’t have complete faith in my feet. Which, when you think about it, means I don’t have complete faith in myself. But of course!
Last Sunday in Shadow Yoga we began to learn another part of the Balakrama form. You can see a little bit of the series in the video of Emma Balnaves, below…
Unfortunately it cuts off just before you get to see Chakri. Which is performed with the legs in horse stance, and requires you to rotate your upper body in a revolving circle. Dipping the upper body forward and down, between the legs and back up again. All the while, keeping the legs in horse stance.
In case you’re wondering, it’s not easy to get it right. But it is far easier than I thought it was. At first, I relied very much on my upper body and core strength to complete the circle. I don’t think I was the only one.
Our instructor corrected the class with words we hear often in Shadow Yoga: Plant your awareness in your feet.
Then perform Chakri! And oh, the lightness in the body! The smoothness of my circles compared with how they had been!
All I had to do was allow my body to rest in my feet completely. Doh!
More evidence is to be found in my attempts to perfect Vahni, which is in the opening sequence of the video clip. Here’s a screen grab so you can get a better look…
In Vahni, you are sitting on your back heel. This is what anchors the pose. Thus far, it’s the hardest part of my Shadow Yoga practice (of course, what we each find challenging varies with our different bodies, strengths and flexibility).
Sometimes I can do it and others I find I’m still holding onto a block either side of my body as I struggle to find my balance.
But I learned something last weekend: I don’t have a balance problem at all, if I allow the weight of my body to sit more fully on my back heel.
Right now when I do that, it feels almost like I’m going to fall over. But then I don’t fall; instead I’m sitting on my heel. And Vahni (the flame), is steady.
While it feels as though I’m leaning back, really, I’m just becoming more upright. My weight shifts onto my heel and I am vertical.
But a lifetime of leaning forward has pushed my sense of vertical off-center. I’m perfectly fine with standing, of course. But balance poses (as I’ve mentioned before) have always been a bit vexatious for me.
It’s been both a physical and emotional leaning forward. Physically, because I was always head and shoulders above my friends from age twelve. And because I got very busty, very quickly: something that’s caused many back problems over the years. Emotionally, because the first instinct for someone in pain is to curl up in a ball. Our shoulders hunch forward and we seek comfort by making ourselves small and round.
Shadow Yoga is fascinating because it seems like the “under the hood” version of yoga. Like how a boy with his new bike will take it apart so he can see how to put it back together. This is my experience of Shadow Yoga thus far, in all its primal and intense expressions.
Its true, my balance has improved this year, and really, really improved in the last couple of months… since I started Shadow Yoga.
Still, in Vahni and Chakri I have troubles. Because they are looking through the magnifying glass at tiny details, and absolutely it breaking down. So I can see.
And what I see is that my balance issues are directly proportional to the faith I place in my feet and myself. Do I trust myself not to fall? Do I believe in the strength of my body and mind?
These kinds of realisations are one of the many miracles of yoga. And its amazing how such a light bulb moment can change your entire practice instantaneously. And then, how your practice then extends out into your life!
As has been said many times, yoga was never meant to be solely an ‘on the mat’ practice…
P.S. Pun fully intended. 😀