Bent, Unbroken, and Free By Alison Riazi
I didn’t realize it at the ripe age of 10 in Ballet class that every time I leaned back into a Port de bra I was developing an ability to open my heart. The sweep of my arm by my face while I leaned back gracefully, a ballet bar supporting me, was so familiar that it became second nature. A dance class is very in line with a yoga class, especially at Laughing Lotus, where we build from the ground up from the first chakra to the seventh.
In dance, from the first Plié, we start with the feet and legs to build strength in our foundation. Moving deeper into a Grand Plié, going all the way to the floor, we open up the hips, our second chakra. While one hand is gently grazing the ballet bar the other is extended out to the side to create a sense of balance, awareness, and steady frame. In comes the Port de bra, an arcing backbend to open the heart and move through the space. We create this build up with structure in the body, whether we are at the ballet bar or on our yoga mat, so that we can be free, let go, and learn about ourselves. For me, the progression of these movements created an artistic expression in its purest form that truly showed who I was and still am.
For most of my life I’ve been gifted with a bendy, mobile spine. The space to lean back into camel or press up into a full wheel has always been expansive. As a dancer I am fluid, unbroken, and seamless with sporadic moments of pause. I wouldn’t have a preparatory thought before bending my back into a dramatic arch – until one day, the range of my mobility started to shorten.
A couple of years ago my lower back started to lose its wide range of motion, causing lots of pain in any backbend. Having never dealt with this, I was first in denial, then angry. I’ll admit that I still can be angry about it. Losing the freedom to throw myself into an expansive backbend felt was like losing a part of myself. Diving deeper into my personal practice, and learning from my teachers, I discovered a few things that kept me moving forward: patience, nurturing myself, and even more space in my heart to transform.
Maybe I can’t fly back into a camel the moment I jump out of bed anymore, but I’ve learned to warm up intelligently and visit the pose in a new way. Building from the ground up, we always remind ourselves that our foundation is what keeps us steady and gives us strength to move in unimaginable, magical ways.
These shapes we explore in our bodies are the purest translation of expression. To open ones heart can be so intimate and slow growing. Without a strong foundation it can be difficult to open the heart and express joy and love. That’s why we build from the ground up, physically preparing the legs and centering ourselves to support leaning back and opening up. Emotionally and mentally, a safe environment and smart sequencing can give us the space to grow, move, and truly explore more about ourselves.
Explore the keys to heart-opening poses and learn safe techniques for your spine with Alison at her Bhakti Backbending Workshop on February 8th (register here). And, continue heart-filled and mindful exploration in Lotus Flow with Alison in both NY and BK studios (check schedule here).