The nervous system has what I call the Idiot Override Button. I imagine several mustache-sporting, paunchy dudes in pleated khaki pants sitting in some command station located somewhere central in my nervous system, all very serious, reviewing clip boards, radar screens and other data. They only speak in one-liners, like "Not on my shift, he ain't." Their only job is to make sure that while I'm working for that major endorphin hit trying to release tension from muscles, I don't do anything to my body that it might regret, like tear a muscle, pull a tendon or pop a ligament. If I crank on my body, this weighty group of guys hit the aforementioned Idiot Override Button and my muscles actually start to freeze up and get tight so that I won't get hurt. Plus, no endorphin hit.
Okay. If I know that everybody needs to go out for break and a bevvy once in a while, including the serious central command, and that these guys will only be alerted to anything that comes across the radar as a red alert, I can skillfully work my way under the radar in a better way than if I just tried to crank my way there. What I mean is that if I put myself into a pose and crank, pull and grunt like I'm some ruddy Olympic weight lifter from an eastern bloc country, then the Stretch Cops in my nervous system's central command will put the kibosh on that right away. My muscles will freeze up and I'll actually get tighter by trying to stretch rather than getting more flexible. But, if I take it a little easy, if I back off from anything really intense and hang out at what I call comfortably intense, especially in tensions releasing poses like stretches, my body will relax into the pose. The red alert never goes off and consequentially, my mustaches in central command go out for a doughnut and a Diet Coke. I follow my breath and listen to my body which begins to release me bit by bit, still in the comfortably intense place, deeper and deeper into the pose. I never get to the red alert stage and at the end of the day find myself much further along my path toward tension release than if I had just cranked. After all, I'm trying to release tension from my body, not add more, right?
Then after a few moments in this comfortably intense place I do something unprecedented: I relax and back off a bit. "What?! He is MAD!" the eastern bloc weightlifting coach screams as sweat rolls down the throbbing veins in his temple. After a few solid breaths in this easy place of backing off, I could look at the security cameras at central command and all my dudes are laying paunch-up in their office chairs, eyes closed, sawing logs, completely checked out. Then, like Mission Impossible, I move gently further back to comfortably intense, a little deeper to that place of "hurt so good" and feel the natural mechanism of my body release endorphins all through my system. No wonder yoga makes you feel good. And at the end of the day, nobody got hurt, nobody got their knickers in a pinch, and I was able to release adequate enough tension from my muscles that I was able to get that major endorphins hit. It's about paying attention and going easy.
In the sacred text, the Yoga Sutras, the yoga scholar Patanjali says that the way we get to this place is by negotiating every pose with steadiness and ease. This week, I invite you to listen to your body, to sneak under the radar of your Idiot Override Button Controller Squad and get that major natural hit of endorphins by taking it easy. Let's find comfortably intense. See you in class.