esther m palmer

I never imagined identifying beauty would be on the bill of an Ayurvedaworkshop I attended recently, but ever so casually, the endearing Vasant Lad, yogi and Ayurvedic teacher extraordinnaire, slipped it in there. Very simply, the moment of awareness of beauty is an experience "of yoga, of stilling clarity beyond the individual self."

This makes perfect sense to me because, as Lad explained, it's a moment without definition. Knowing it (defining it, creating it, going to war over it, and so on) through perception is something we do with our identity, the self that moves through life relating and connecting to others. In Sanskrit + yoga, that identity is ahamkara, and it is the perspective from which an individual moves through life.

The seed of ahamkara, your jiva atman, your little self, the part of you that is unique even as it is connected to the entire universe, is said to be housed in the heart center, anahata chakra.

It is tempting to take this information and run in all kinds of mushy, touchy-feely directions drawing connections between identity and heart, self and love, etc etc, or one could simply acknowledge that the connection exists and is a powerful one. I'm not one to tend to share my innermost thoughts or feelings, but I have in the past year been struck by a rather intense awareness of my sternum (i.e. at the front gate of the heart center) and a radiating energy that emanates from underneath it.

My tendency (postural habit) is to let my sternum bone (manubrium! #anatomygeek) fall in towards my center body. When I pay attention to it, when I'm indulging in the action, I should say, it can feel like I'm squishing my heart. If I do as yoga advises to open the heart center and go in the opposite direction (into a backbend), my back muscles contract to pull my (thoracic) spine into extension (arch back), and it feels like my heart is being pushed up against my sternum, also in a manner of reducing the space around it. Either action feels good to me because it offers a strong sensation of extremity, of reaching into myself and beyond myself.

When I instead practice allowing my sternum to float and my back to widen (and my neck to lengthen so that my head can be easily supported on top of my spine... these are all Alexander Technique terms here, and my study of it (with the lovely Amira Glaser) has become essential to my understanding of human anatomy and movement and is infused in my approach to directing my yoga students to find their best alignment), I make space in my chest and torso - for breath, for the movements of the heart, for the movements of the internal organs, for movement to reach into the rest of the body.

The sensation is terrifying.

All that room for little ol' me to be me.

That's beauty, too.

And it's also the extent of my mushy for the week. Take it as you need it and go find some space - literally! - for your own jiva atman to shine.

Then come back and tell me about it in the comments! I would love to hear your stories of back bends, forward bends, and finding your heart center.

hari om, om tat sat.


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