Upward Facing Girl


The morning’s steady rain was both sweet and ironic.

We had just spent four days on the northwest Washington coast with nary a drop of precipitation. If you are familiar with that area of the Olympic Peninsula, then you know just how unusual that is. It tends to be, well…moist.

I like the rain. Just not on vacation. But now, back from the coast with a brain full of jumbled thoughts, complicated feelings and operating on a fitful night’s sleep, heading out with the dog into the drippy woods seemed like the perfect welcome home.

A steady rain in the summer woods is different than in the fall or winter. With a thick canopy of foliage overhead, much of the trail doesn’t even get wet. Once in the trees, I took my hood down. I listened to the raindrops as we made our way through. Not unlike the waves rolling in and out on the coast, the drops built a soothing wall of ambient sound. White noise. My brain began to clear.

And I began to think about backbends. Because I do that sort of thing.

Some people’s bodies just naturally lend themselves to backbending. Most–including mine–do not. Through years of yoga practice, I have developed the strong legs and core that are necessary for bending backwards but it can still feel scary. Dropping back into the unknown, heart and belly exposed and lifted—vulnerable–to be sure. It’s bloody uncomfortable but I do it anyway. I do it anyway because I know what lies ahead of me after I come up. Exhilaration. An unmistakable head rush. Feeling affirmation that I have built a strong enough foundation in my practice, in my legs, in opening my chest, in my core to support falling backwards, heart open, into the unknown.

It is heady stuff.

And much like yoga, opening up into the unknown in life requires the same sort of foundation. When we’re young and unsure, dropping back into the ether is risky. Without that sense of grounding, identity, and confidence, exposing our hearts and belly bare to the sky (or others) will likely land us in a messy, shuddering heap if we’re not careful. I know this to be true. I’ve been there.

Boom! It hurts like hell.

One of my most favorite poses is called Wild Thing. Camatkarasana for you Sanskrit junkies. But I prefer to call it Wild Thing. It’s not for beginners because it requires both upper and lower body strength, flexibility and keen body awareness. You are supported mostly on one arm and one leg and drop fearlessly backwards into a beautiful, dancer-like arc. I often cue my classes to “go back, go back, go back, fearlessly go back as if you might just bite it!” When I’m in the pose, I remember to press through my supporting leg and tuck my tailbone under to extend through my spine. I draw my core inwards and squeeze through my shoulder blades to support my heart lifting up. And at the last moment, I drop my head back.

I exhale. God, it’s good stuff.

Back on the trail, the dog and I are in the park now, away from the protective trees and exposed more to the steadily increasing rain. Even the park rangers are inside today. My hood is still off, my hair now plastered to my head like a skull cap, stringy and wet.

I don’t care.

I run in the rain because it makes me feel alive. My entire body is soaked to the skin, my feet making a squish-squash-squish sound as I stride. This is how I choose to live my life now. Not as an unsure young girl, afraid of looking foolish, drawing inward and self-conscious. Today, I insist on bending backwards because it reminds me of just how strong I am. Strong enough in my foundation to play that tenuous edge of comfortable discomfort. Gamble a little. Strong enough to risk exposing my open heart to the sky and to others.

Strong enough to live out loud. Come what may.

Once back home, I towel off my dog, who, just twelve hours earlier, had been freshly shampooed and brushed when I picked him up from the boarders. Now, he is a beautiful, sopping mess. His freckled white legs now grey, his belly caked with mud and bramble. I look in his eyes and see reflected back joy.

Pure joy. Exhilaration.

And that’s all I need.