One of the areas I find important during my practice is my legs. I like the idea of having a strong foundation as well as the ability to move freely. During practice the legs are taking part whether standing, twisting, balancing or seated. Strong, flexible legs, both front and back are important to our everyday movement. However during our practice we discover where we lack free movement, where our muscles are holding on and tension resides. For example, often we find our forward fold hardly folds at all!
You can easily check in with what's going on in the legs. Spend a few moments and get quiet. Imagine a very happy memory, something very motivating, then check in with your legs. Now, open your eyes, then close them again and imagine something very stressful or undesirable, and check in again. Often we feel how, when we don't like something, the tension builds in the legs, we may even see as well as feel locking of the knees. If you find this exercise difficult try this, remember when you were young and your friend was behind you telling you to fall backwards because she/he would catch you? Yeah, do that, pair up with someone and let go and fall back trusting them to catch you, if you pay attention to what is happening inside you will immediately discover where you are holding on in the body.
What is really going on? Ken Dychtwald mentions in his book Bodymind "The legs develop as a result of the way they are used both physically and psychoemotionally." During one of his workshops he asked his participants to perform both exercises above and nearly all of the group offered that undesirable thoughts and falling back brought tension to the hamstrings, these thoughts were regarding self-control, difficulty in letting go and fear of falling, "falling over" "falling in love" "losing consciousness" "loss of self", "being taken advantage of" and "loss of support". From this information he concludes that psychosomatically it is here that we create tension that relates to how we "hold on for dear life", our sense of control. He adds, "With the ever-changing moods, styles, tempos, and passions of our contemporary society, it is no wonder that we are all a bit afraid that the floor is sliding out from under us. In response to the accelerating motion of our human ground, we grasp tightly with our legs, forcing our hamstrings to rigidify and shorten thereby interrupting our connection with the earth even more."
When we experience poses throughout our practice we meet ourselves, we have the opportunity to see how we experience control. Our legs not only take us through the world but also stops us from moving forward. It brings our experiences of control, letting go and trust into our consciousness. As we notice how tight our hamstrings are in our forward fold we can be sure we are holding back, creating tension to prevent us from moving forward, all this happens through repetitive thoughts and feelings. Building self trust and developing a balanced perception of what we can and cannot control will help as we move in and out of poses. Ask yourself as you in and out of poses "can I let go"? Perhaps the intention for your next practice could be "I trust myself, I move through life with grace and freedom as I free my legs of tension and holding on."