“It’s a plague” said a panicked Haitian being interviewed on the news this morning. “I pray God will open the love for Haiti. I don’t know why…why He do this to us?”
The earthquake in Haiti was shocking. Sheer devastation to one of the world’s top 3 poorest countries. I watched the news footage from a very comfortable bed in a hotel room. At the time of writing it still isn’t clear whether the international rescue crews will be able to get through easily as the planes can’t land properly, unload and even rescuers are dying. We can send money but it’s not even clear if it’ll make any difference. In the meantime perhaps we can at least appreciate, bless and be thankful for the freedoms we have and the comparative stability in our own world. Today’s Kosher Sutra is about three steps to freedom.
The Book of Exodus is a Bibliyogic bonanza and this week there are three different tools for spiritual and physical liberation. We have all felt the sensation of being restricted at some stage or another, whether it is through having tight muscles and a sore back or just feeling emotionally squashed by another person. How do we break free?
Yogic practice is so much more than just exercise, as we use asana (postures) to identify points of pain and begin to heal. Rather than just stretching a muscle to feel better, we consciously meditate through it, employ breathing (pranayama), focus (drishti) and energetic awareness (dharana/dhyana). These days I’m working on my splits, stretching the iliac-psoas muscle and healing through a mild hip injury to enjoy a deeper and more satisfying posture. More than just a stretch, a new and deepened posture signifies moving beyond prior restrictions, going further than before, increasing personal potential and pushing the boundaries of achievement.
Our Kosher Sutra takes place amidst human catastrophe and plagues. A corrupt ruler is bringing pain and destruction onto his land. “Haiti has no discernible government” said a news reporter this morning, “and the people are in serious trouble”. Our scene takes place in Egypt amidst plagues. “Pharaoh hardened his heart” we are told. The ruler suffers from a lack of love and absolute conceit that will eventually bring extreme pain on his household, but in the meantime he must suffer.
FREEDOM TOOL #1 – HEART-SOFTENER, HEART-OPENER (BODY)
What is the easiest way to overcome a hard heart, to train ourselves to the pain of others, and to become more sensitive to their needs? To open our heart. The physical posture is embodied by non other than God, who is described as having “an outstretched arm”. When we reach out our arms in a high arch or any open pose, we create more space around the internal organs, more room for blood to flow around the heart, and more freedom around the thorax.
FREEDOM TOOL #2 – THE GIFT OF EMOTIONAL FLEXIBILITY (MIND)
Egypt is symbolic of restriction, tightness, reduced potential and it is embodied in the image of a staff. Moses approaches the Egyptian ruler with a firm staff in his hand. If we sit in dandasana, the physical staff pose that involves rooting your buttocks on the ground and sitting a stiff 90-degree angle, we can experience this sense of restriction and held-back-ness. What is the way to free the spine of tightness and to experience a sense of freedom? By doing a counter-pose that will release the spine. This is epitomised in next step of Moses, as he turns his staff into a snake. As we move into cobra pose we can really loosen tightness in the back, address any issues of physical restriction and experience a pose. Cobra pose is about literal flexibility and we can use it as a metaphor for emotional flexibility.
FREEDOM TOOL #3 – DEUS EX MACHINA (SOUL)
There was a Greek theatrical convention called Deus Ex Machina, which referred to the way that a play’s plot could be easily solved when the Olympian gods popped out of the sky (literally ‘out of a machine’ when the set allowed it) and fixed the human problems. Nowadays the phrase is a kind of short-hand for lazy playwrights and novelists who come up with weak solutions to plot problems (ie “I woke up and it was all a dream…”). The Bible was a revolutionary document because it recognised that true spiritual accomplishment involved work, commitment and belief. Visual idols were banned because of the idea that a true God cannot be confined to a block of carved wood, a machine or a picture. God was freed from the machine. The god of Egypt was embodied in the Pharoah (and do check out the amazing Tutenkamen exhibit if it passes through your city to see how this was played out). When Moses asks God how he should be represented, the answer was simply; “I will be what I will be” (Exodus 3:13). In other words, ‘don’t try and restrict me to the moment, to a confined idea. I’m God. I’m bigger than that. Bigger than you can possibly imagine. But trust me’.
i. Today’s pose is Cobra. Lie on your front, place hands beneath your shoulders and straighten your arms, lift your hips off the ground and keep the tops of your feet flat on the ground.
ii. To increase the challenge, try pushing back to downward dog, jumping through to staff pose (legs straight out in front, buttocks on the ground and hands on the ground by the sides of your hips with the fingers facing forward.
iii. Go back to Downward Dog, lower yourself and come up to cobra – repeat this a few times and really focus on deepening the sense of freedom and liberation.
Hatha Yoga begins on the mat but is only successful when we can stay truly liberated and open on a moment-by-moment basis. To truly ‘be what we will be’. To remain open to others, sensitive to the suffering of the world and to do whatever we can to positively and impact the lives of those around us.
Our thoughts and prayers go to the innocent victims suffering in Haiti.