learning big things from small gestures

There are a lot of reasons people practice yoga. It is somewhat simplistic to say so, but it’s also true. Some people practice to push their physical limits. Others come to find a reprieve from the pressures of daily life. And others come to find an even breath or a clear mind. I love all of those things about yoga, but the more I practice, the more I realize that I most enjoy some of the less glamorous little kernels of the practice: the silent moments before class starts, a slow, controlled entry into a posture, and the feeling of my breath moving in and out of my nose. Sometimes I am simply happy to not speak for a whole hour or more.


And when I am not in a class, I often find myself returning to some of these small gestures because they can happen anywhere. My favorite posture is like this, too. It is quiet, soft, and small. It doesn’t require open hips or flexible hamstrings. It doesn’t require a mat, towel, or water bottle. It doesn’t even require much space.

So here it is – you can do it right now. Put your right hand out in front of you with the palm facing up, elbow touching your body. Let your right shoulder relax down. Feel your chest lift slightly. Now turn your arm so that your hand is out to your right side, palm still facing up, elbow still against your body.

And that’s it. Notice your breath moving in and out. Stay there.

It’s beautiful in its simplicity, isn’t it? So many people imagine yoga as something only thin, flexible people practice and they say, “I can’t do yoga.” But this – this is yoga.  I call this a posture because it has form and depth, but most of us know it as only a paused moment of transition before moving into standing bow pulling pose.

So what does it do? You might ask. Is it a shoulder opener, a heart opener, what? I think it is a little bit of both, but I think of it more as a spirit opener. What I appreciate is that it reminds me of so many foundational philosophies of yoga. For example, when else might we hold a hand out in front of us? To either give someone something, or receive the thing we are being given. Whether that thing is car keys, an ice cream cone, or change for a 20, the palm is wide – so the hand is not grabbing or holding on; instead it is open and held away from the body, unprotected; my eyes remain forward. In this way I release the last bit of control. I am not watching.

This small gesture says so much. It says to give freely when we give. It says to remember that so many times in life we don’t know if we are the giver or the receiver (even when it might seem obvious). It says to remember that we have to be open to what might happen to us, and that if we can welcome what comes it is often much easier to carry. It says let your guard down, do not even look at the palm. In this small transitional moment, the pose tells us to just be still and quiet as though some feathered and beautiful thing might alight ever so gently, and perch for even a moment upon us.