In persuit of passionate life, I do backbends

80C44111-BCF5-4117-B4B0-CC3B072F99F1For various reasons, I don’t do yoga classes. I don’t have the time or money, but more truthfully, I love living instinctually. ‘Instinctual life’ is a phrase I use allot- it highlights yet another intellectual debt I owe to Winnicott. Having decided martyrdom and duty are soul deadening and often lead to boring ways of being in the world, I try to organise my life around appetite, pleasure and instinct as often as possible. It was a relief to realise, reading Magdalena’s book, that I didn’t need to go to a class if I wanted to take up a yoga practice, I didn’t need someone to watch me and instruct me. I found I could sense my way through the positions myself. It turns out daily practice at home makes it easier for me to turn my attention inward and tune in to my body. I often feel self conscious in classes, getting lost in the welter of words and (imagined?) scrutiny. Early morning yoga in the playroom makes it possible to dive inside, close my eyes, get out of my head and lean into the world of sensation and breath.

I love feeling my way through a pose and shoring up against my own limits. Where am I stiff today, when am I tempted to come out of a seat? Limits make me feel grounded because they remind me I have a particular body with a particular shape and a particular history and particular abilities. In contrast, I also love feeling my cravings for certain poses because they tell me where I am at the moment emotionally, what capacities I have for relating to others or myself.

For some months now, I can’t get enough of backbends. The sensation in the small of my back as I lower myself into Camel or Saddle or Sphinx is intense; sometimes it feels like my spinal cord is going to shoot through my abdomen. I love how these positions open my chest and shoulders and lungs. It has taken years and years of therapy, but I have begun to live increasingly open – heartedly, and I wonder if the deep desire I have to bend like this is a reflection of this shift in my psyche. So much work has been done to lower my defences so I can connect to others: I used to worry that anyone I was emotionally intimate with could see through me, that they would see all my faults and sins and pathologies. I felt exposed. Quite the opposite of moving through the world open-heartedly, I spent the first 25 years of my life being rather evasive or ‘sneaky’ as I came to call it in therapy. Nowhere was this dynamic more heartbreakingly present than the first raw weeks after birth, when my son was a newborn. I remember feeling relieved when he closed his eyes as he fed, or when we nursed in the small, quiet hours after midnight when it was dark and he couldn’t gaze at me. I was reluctant to gaze into his eyes, to linger too long or let him see my face because I didn’t want to contaminate him with my own grief and shame and despair which I was sure my face betrayed. I didn’t want to overwhelm him with whatever angel of death haunted my own soul.

Since then, I’ve traversed the badlands of my psyche. Now that I have walked those swamps and set up sacred caves in my own Saharan deserts of loneliness, I feel a little less guarded, a little less in danger of being exposed or leaching my badness into another. I know what is there. It is mine. Instead, I have the sense I have something to offer, something that is unique to me because of my radicalised soul. Maybe like the way a mutant superhero has a dark backstory.
I have decided to live a passionate life: perhaps having backbone is necessary for this project. I want to live wholeheartedly. I want to be frank and make slightly too much eye contact. (I already do this most of the time.) I want to take in my life the way I take in breath. I want to follow the contours of my desire and wear my heart on my sleeve. I want to be vulnerable and not guard against inevitable disappointments. Perhaps it is even more useful to have not only backbone, but a flexible backbone, the ability to bend, to tolerate or even welcome intense sensation, and most importantly, to stay open if I want to live passionately.

Copyright Diana Smith 2018

Serenity Yin by Magdalena Mecweld

Donald Winnicott ‘Babies and their mothers’

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