There are five basic directions that we bend our bodies in yoga class. Forward, Backward, Twist, Lateral (sideways), and Extension. Sometimes the direction is completely obvious, sometime not. If we move with great care and attention, we can usually find elements of at least two directions of movement in any given asana.
Extension is straight up, but there’s a down in every up, if you know what I mean. Practicing extension postures strengthens our back as well as our core, all the way around, up and down. In dedicated extension postures, we aim to create the maximum space between each vertebra and integrate our spinal curves. I like to think of extension as filling up my whole space. I engage toes to the ground, my fingertips to the sky, and feel as much of my spine as I can. I use everything I’ve got. It’s the lift of the ribcage, the inhalation, elongated. And it’s a real challenge. Extension will show you your weaknesses, test your mettle, and, in the long run, make you grateful that you did.
As much as I love a challenge, it’s important not to over-extend. Everything that goes up, comes down too. Over-extension eventually leads to strain. It is crucial to pull back in, exhale, stretch, and feel compact, safe and strong.
Extension postures feel good this time of year. We’re often bent, crawling through the tomato patch, squatting along the bean rows, scrutinizing whatever task lays before us. Though the work bends us, this is the time of the growing year when we’re at maximum extension.
Spring crops are finished, and we’re still wrestling their beds back into order. Summer crops are bursting their seams. The second planting of squash isn’t coming on yet, but we can see the way ahead. We’re collecting seed from the first planting of cucumbers, tagging the best eggplant, peppers, okra, melons, to ripen. Corn is tall and tasseling. Squash reach and vine and flower. Beans make delicate blossoms and swell into fruit. Melons shine. Growth is rapid and strong, and we match it in order to keep up.
Each moment that we are not in the field working the weeds and harvesting, we are preparing food, either for another excellent meal, or for winter storage. It’s a limited time opportunity and we make the most of it. It feels like a marathon, a race with the season, of sorts. But there’s no real winning or losing, only running.
Just today, we roasted eggplant to freeze, jarred a batch of summer kraut and put another small batch in the crock. We started cooking down a half bushel of apples for sauce and put the finishing touches on a canner load of ketchup. We also ate three meals, did the dishes, and washed a load of laundry. Tomorrow I’ll cut up more tomatoes and make room for the next harvest. They need to be picked again, along with the peppers, squash, beans, and cukes, I’m sure.
Each day begins already full to the brim. The kids are busy before they hit the floor, and we follow suit. After dark, I often drift off putting the littlest one down (he’s the self-proclaimed ‘widdle kitty that can’t sweep’). My Fellow Man wakes me gently and I get up to stir a pot of blackberry jam or tomatoes for a while before settling in for the night. While we sleep the crickets and katydids work all night long. There’s always something going on. Roosters and other early birds take over where the night bugs leave off, the sun trickles green down the hollow and we’re off into another day.
Our bodies, our hands, our minds, are completely engaged in the middle of Summer. Please don’t think that I’m complaining. Goodness knows there’s no time for that right now. It’s a wonderful effort and worth it every bit. We’re not over-extended, but every bit of ourselves in reaching into the season with everything we’ve got. If I look tired, it’s because I am. If I don’t answer the phone, just know that I couldn’t quite reach it that day. I was fully extended.
But there is an end in sight. In the midst of all this, the Fall seedlings have been planted and now there are beautiful trays of sprouted seedlings. We tend them with care and hope. It seems vague right now, the idea of falling leaves and short days, but somewhere inside, we know it’s coming. We are working towards that time – the time when we will cease this strenuous engagement and enjoy the feel of cold wind moving through the thin trees.
Then, when the tomato and bean vines are sunk back into the ground, we will bend low to find a dark green leaf of kale to eat. We will lean back on the jars in the pantry for our family meals. We will rest in the fullness of strength we’re gaining now.
Oh, sweet counterpose.