Note: Some of what follows is an excerpt from my upcoming You Again Yoga 30-day program. You’ll practice this concept during meditation (audio not included here because, surprises!).
Few of us begin with the middle in mind.
We’re quick to jump to how we’d like things to end. The perfectly planned event. The best friend we never had. When our bodies will be flexible enough for that yoga pose we really want to do.
We bypass the middle because the middle gets in the way of our dream of the end. And in the end we’re happy, successful, loved.
What you may not realize is that what you’re doing now — the in-between time — defines everything. This is what determines whether that dreamy ending will come or not.
Beginning with the middle in mind means wading through the discomfort. It means creating more okayness and contentment with what’s here now. Because if the middle feels good, the end will be good.
There’s a great deal of trust here, too, that if you do the work now, the end will be exactly as you’ve imagined… or even better.
It all starts from the middle
Happiness starts in the mundane moments that won’t be so mundane when you look back at them and realize all of a sudden that there is no real “goal” and that your happy ending is now. That every breath is a miracle.
Each breath has a beginning, middle and end. In Sanskrit, samana is the middle breath. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic yoga manual, calls it the most important aspect of the breath.
It is samana that carries the breath through the base of your spine to the crown of your head in what’s known as Sushumna Nadi. (Stay with me…) This is the central energy channel of your subtle body that, when awakened, results in deeper meditation and bliss. (Worth it, right?)
This central channel is the portion of you that you’re always striving to align in yoga asana. Pelvis tucked, navel in toward spine, chest open, shoulders back and down, crown of the head tall.
Back to alignment
For today, notice how many times your shoulders hunch forward or you sway your back or your chin gets lonely when it’s jutted so far away from your neck. Notice what you’re doing during these times.
Then, gently realign your middle. No matter how many times it takes. No questions asked. No judgments made. Because when you’re somewhere between starting and arriving, this is the constant work.
Finding the middle ground in your body helps you hold your ground when you’re challenged. It helps you realize that not all things have to be comfortable and perfect for you to be content.
Maybe living in the middle is just the happy ending you need.
Try it: Cow Face Pose, Gomukhasana
I will never forget this pose because of how my first yoga instructor cued it. “Go-go-gomukhasana arms!” he’d say. To a child of the eighties, an obvious reference to the cartoon “Inspector Gadget.”
And the pose feels a little like that. You wish you had arms that expanded and contracted at will and bent into all sorts of shapes. But you have your arms and your shoulders, which may not touch behind your back on one or both sides. Or maybe they do, in which case you can inspire the rest of us with your go-go-gadgetry.
It all hugs to midline here, an appropriate pose to practice for better posture.
- Sit on your mat with your feet planted in front of you and knees up. Thread the right foot under the left knee until it reaches the outside of the left hip. Stack the left knee on top of the right knee, bringing the ankle to the outside of the right hip.
- Readjust your sit bones so that both hips are firmly planted into the mat. Imagine a dotted line running from one foot to the other, and bring your feet onto that line, with heels snugging toward your hips.
- Reach your left arm straight out to the side, parallel to the floor. Rotate the thumb down so the palm rotates up to the ceiling. Bend the elbow and bring the arm behind you onto the back. If accessible, reach your right hand behind you and grasp hold of the left elbow, moving the left forearm higher up the back (only if there’s no pinching anywhere). Ensure the left shoulder is rolling back, and not hunched forward.
- Inhale your right arm up overhead, thumb pointing behind you. Exhale and bend the elbow, attempting to grasp the fingers of the left hand. If not, you can use a towel or strap to make the connection with both hands, or take a handful of clothing. Without craning your neck forward, spiral the right bicep in toward your ear and reach the elbow up higher so that the arm is right alongside your face.
- Lift from the lower belly and move the navel in toward the spine. Keep the chin parallel to the floor, head neither hunching forward nor leaning back. Take huge breaths into the area you feel this stretch most, staying for 8 rounds.
- To come out, release the arms. Plant the palms behind you and unwind the legs in front of you. Notice how you feel (no judgment) before switching to the other side.