~.~ I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear ~.~ Nelson Mandela
The posture of fear
When we are scared, physically we cower and round our shoulders to protect the most vulnerable part of the body – the heart. The muscles in the body tighten and lock up and you look away from where danger is. Breathing becomes shallower and faster. The natural physical and emotional reaction is to curl up and hide away until the situation disappears.
The posture of courage
Courage too has a posture.
A lifted chest, relaxed shoulders and shoulder blades drawn down the back, strong legs and arms, stable torso, focus. This physical composure allows us to breathe more deeply and this reverses the emotions of anxiety and fear.
The warrior posture – Virabhadrasana – illustrates courage perfectly. Virabhadrasana is composed of:
- ~ vira – vigorous, warrior, courageous
- ~ bhadra – good, auspicious
- ~ asana – posture
The pose is named after Virabhadra, a powerful mythical hero created from lock of hair torn from the head of Shiva, the god of destruction. Shiva’s ‘destructive’ power symbolises the courageous breaking down of the ego personality and letting the divine light shine through.
Backbends such as cobra, bridge and wheel poses also open up the chest and the upper body and stimulate the heart chakra. Backbends are invigorating and strengthening.
Moving into backbends forces us to open up and expose ourselves. That requires being fearless and being courageous.
Backbends allow us to open up more fully off the mat in our interactions with the material world.
Examining the postures of courage
The postures of courage require a solid foundation. Depending on the pose, press firmly into the mat through the hands and/or the feet. Keep the legs and arms strong. Engage the core so that it supports your back by pulling the lower abdominals in and up and the tailbone pointing down. Release the shoulders down your back and work the shoulder blades in towards each other. Keep the collar bone wide. Keep the neck long, chin slightly tucked and no weight should be felt in the neck. Maintain the natural curve of the spine.
Be careful not to compress the lower back or neck or put too much pressure on the knees when getting in, staying and coming out of these postures.
Work on building up these postures patiently and only going as far as is comfortable for you every time you practice.
Eleanor Roosevelt said “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” We work this phrase on the mat during our yoga practice and carry that experience and application off the mat too.