yoga: the fire in my thighs and the cooling boundary of compassion

by rebecca on April 26, 2010

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       Recently I set fire to my property. I also burned some things up in a fiery yoga class taught by Cate Stillman. She said the heat of yoga would burn up the gunk I had in my body just as completely as the fire I’d lit to my fields.  

       This offered me a good spring cleaning for my insides. To ignite the heat, Cate had us holding poses for extended periods. Something happens in my mind when I am in Warrior I for ages and ages. My mind wigs out. I can’t do this! My body will give out! I’ll implode!

       But this is the very reason to set the fire; to clean out panicked voices like these that are a ruse in my life. Holding poses a little longer than I might want forces me to call in extra resources. My breath is the first to arrive.

       By inviting my breath I realize I have control over the fire raging down my right angle thigh which is now shaking maybe not so slightly. Breath allows me to surrender to the fire and open to the cleansing work it wants to do. Miraculously, the shaking subsides.

       This is just how it was with the fires on my property. As they were first burning, I felt a panic at how far they would go, would I be able to control them? Stop them? Intellectually I knew we had taken appropriate precautions, but those voices tend to rage. And so I took a deep breath. Suddenly I was able to open to all the nitrogen rich air the fire was making.

       There is a freedom in the midst of fire. Toxins and trash from last year are burning away. On my land, I could see gobs and gobs of grasses disappearing. The fire, though smoky and full of soot, was cleansing.

       I feel this same cleansing burn running up my thigh. At first the burn makes me want to scream. It’s hot! But then my breath comes, I know I can contain it, I open and there it settles; simply smoldering. It burns up the gunk right there in my muscle tissue and gives me strength to grow something new this spring.

       With the fires at our home we took great care to wet down the perimeter. Not wanting the fire to escape and run wild, we drew a line with the hoses where we wanted it to stop. It was fascinating to watch the big flames burn right up to those lines, then surrender.

       I have these same boundaries in my body. They are my alignment principles. Shins in, thighs back. Side body long and shoulder blades draped down my back all help to frame the core of my body where I feel the fire ignite, but it cannot escape.

       This is critical to my yoga practice because yoga is hard. Were I to simply make shapes and let the fire of engagement run willy nilly wherever it pleased, I would get burned. By figuratively wetting down my body with alignment principles so that I contain every fire I set, I am free to spring clean myself without getting scorched.

       Burning without boundaries is never a good plan. Fire to delight a pyromaniac’s glee is haphazard and causes rampant waste. But a controlled burn can allow for a greater harvest every year.

       The field where I burned two weeks ago is green, green, green. It looks healthier than it’s been in years. I want my body and my mind to have the same shot at a cleansing burn. I want them to taste the refiner’s fire.

       The larger the fire I wish to set, the more I need to wet things down. In yoga this means more attunement to alignment principles; a stronger core. In my life off the mat it means cultivating compassion. I am not afraid of a heated discussion, I simply want to bring the refreshing water of cooling compassion with me each and every time I’m tempted to point a finger.

        What would you set fire to in your life that needs a bit of burning cleanse? Are there relationships that, once wetted down at the boundaries could use a fired up conversation? Is there a corner of your house that needs you to burn through it  to feel cleansed? What boundaries would you first need to establish before simply tearing into the garage, then at the end of the day feeling a bit scorched by the larger mess you’d created?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen @ Motherese April 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Thank you so much for this powerful and poignant description of the fire you experienced in your yoga practice. I know exactly what you mean and could feel your words in my body as I read along. (And I think the fates are trying to tell me something today: this is the third time yoga has come up in conversation or online. I think it’s time to reignite my own practice.)

Thanks too for the thought-provoking questions. In a space that houses a baby, a toddler, and all of their stuff, I often feel overrun by things. My epic clean-up sessions are usually doomed to fail because I often forget that, for now, this place is meant to be messy. So the boundary I need to set for my own daily practice of home maintenance is one of respect for childhood and the creativity, chaos, and confusion that come with it.


rebecca April 26, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Kristen, I know this frustration of toddlerhood! I lived with a zillion stuffy friends, playdough newbies under the kitchen table and milk stains constantly peppering my life.

Looking back, I wish I had let myself relax into it more. (Like those ridiculously tangled yoga poses) I know that is just about the most difficult thing in the world to do because I wanted to give them (and myself!) a clean environment…but this was just one season of my life. I felt like it would last forever because I didn’t see how it would end. But footballs and outdoor play quickly replaced all the legos and hotwheels cars that zoomed about my feet and tripped me up.

I have wonderful memories of all those toys…and the chaos that goes with them. Because that is what the imagination of a toddler is: abundant. Abundant “why” questions, abundant observations, so no wonder they need plenty to keep themselves stimulated and have trouble cleaning up.

There’s plenty of time to clean up later; years from now in another season of life.
And, in the meantime, yoga if you can…but take a flight or two with friends who drink adult coffee! And don’t listen to anyone who tells you you shouldn’t.


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