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From the ground up

P YS ii.46 Sthira Sukham Asanam The connection with the earth should be steady and joyful.

When building a structure, most experts would agree that a strong foundation is paramount. From this perspective, the architecture of a human form is no different than a traditional building. Allowing the feet to find the earth by surrendering to gravity’s pull is one of the most essential ways we can provide a solid support for our body while standing. Of course, human beings are different in many ways from the bricks and mortar buildings of the past and present. At the forefront of our divergence is the miracle of the breath that enables us to grow and change organically, as is our ability to self regulate and potential for cultivating awareness. With our innate ability to find a natural sense of balance and expansion through the feet and lift through our many diaphragms, the whole body engages in the action of plugging down and lengthening up through the core of the body beyond the cranium. This unity of opposition offers both freedom and extension as we find harmony in earth-bound presence and spiritual existence.

So often though, as life takes us into her clutches and opens doorways for the mind to venture into past story lines and future speculation, our footing can become dismantled and our framework jarred. Hips become misaligned resulting in knee and lower back pain, jaws clench as we mentally propel forward or hold ourselves back. Shoulders, neck and head become dense with thought as we tense to weather the storm, protect our fragile hearts, or aim to control something.

I lived in Amsterdam for many years, a beautiful man-made city built upon a swamp. The house I inhabited was on one of the four ‘grachts’ encircling the old city dating back to the seventeenth century. While living there, one of the owners on the ground floor was undergoing renovation work which led to the discovery that the pillars beneath the house had rotted away. Almost overnight, our home was literally beginning to slant and crumble. One morning as I exited the imposing, heavy door, I looked down and behold (!) – where the marble stairs in front of the house once had been dangled a makeshift wooden ladder exposing the moist land sliding sands beneath the building. Overnight, the builders had literally dug their way under the five-story marble facade to prop the house up with metal rods while they replaced the old wooden pillars with new ones. Returning to my second floor apartment that evening, I surveyed the cracks in the walls and ceiling and bulges and splits in the ancient wooden floorboards. While there were no new signs or erosion, it was if I had been exposed to a bleeding heart; the poetic life story of this decrepit building long past her heyday of the Golden Age cried out for attention, for mercy. Through this building I was reminded of the marks of time we all bear, the temporal nature and fragility of all of life.

In times of chaos and uncertainty it can feel like the foundation pillars of life have been uprooted, pulled out from under us. Whether it is the loss of a job, a loved one, an environmental change or a sudden change in health, without a steady foundation our minds become untethered and seek to cling on to what we know – namely, past events or future anxieties and expectations. Our instinct is to assume a fetal position – to curl up and hide behind the deconstruction as we pray and hope for the best but fear for the worst. There is another way to confront uncertainty, one that involves less clenching, less holding, less fearing. When we bear our most vulnerable self to the inevitable, it can be freeing and beautiful. Like the 400 year old canal home in Amsterdam, when we expose our true nature with all its flaws and transience, this simple act of surrender can become stabilizing and powerful. The act of bowing down is seen in many cultures and religions as a humbling act; not a sign of weakness but a sign of respect and integrity. When we bow down and touch the earth, not only do we expose our human-ness, we have an opportunity to reconnect to the roots of the earth and all sentient beings. We reestablish a steady, ease-filled foundation. When chaos dismantles what we know as reality, finding support from the solidity of the earth helps us to rebuild a new reality; one that is focused on being honest, open and present in our body, whatever form that may take.

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