Camel terrifies me. The yoga pose, not the cleft-footed, cleft-mouthed desert beast.
The first time I ever tried it was about eighteen months ago in my favorite yoga class. I was feeling pretty jazzed because I had been coming two to three times a week for about a month and was beginning to notice some subtle changes in my body shape. I was also pleased that I seemed to be able to hold some poses longer or get into them easier and deeper. Camel hadn't been a part of this class, but I had seen it demonstrated and illustrated in yoga magazines, and I was pretty sure I could do it without looking silly.
I moved my knees to the top of my yoga mat, shins flush against the floor along with the tops of my feet. Knees bent, I faced the instructor at the front of the room as he asked us to sit up straight and tall. So far, this was good.
"Rise up through the crown of your head and expand your lungs, shining the beacon of your heart to the front of the room. Now, pull your shoulder blades down and together, letting your chest rise up even more. Gradually begin to reach your hands back to the small of your back and arch into it. If you can, reach your hands to your heels and rest them there, shining your heart up to the ceiling."
I had my palms to the small of my back for less than a millisecond before I had the sensation of not being able to breathe. My esophagus slammed shut and I literally flung my upper body forward into a neutral position. What the heck? I shook it off and tried again. It took three attempts like this for me to accept that if I pushed myself into this pose I was going to have a full-blown panic attack right here in front of everyone. Tears knotted in my throat and I slid into child's pose.
Back at home, I did a little research. Camel pose is aimed at opening up the heart. Nearly everyone gets an endorphin rush after being in camel pose and it is supposed to help with lymph drainage, massage the internal organs, and strengthen the spine. I am apparently not the only person who gets emotional or experiences difficulty performing camel. According to one site, LexiYoga, camel pose, "represents the ability to accomplish the impossible and to go through life's challenges with ease. If you feel disconnected from the world, family/relationships or are struggling with forgiveness, practicing camel pose can help you express your feelings and find compassion towards others."
The thing is, I don't feel disconnected. In fact, I feel more self-aware and compassionate than I ever have. Even without my antidepressant (woohoo - going on three months, now!!), I feel centered and grounded and pretty joyful. So WTF?
I began to think about the poses I do enjoy. The ones that feel effortless. The ones I feel strong and accomplished at. Like Happy Baby and Pigeon and Warrior 4. Oh. Those are all hip-openers. Happy Baby is great because it releases any tension in my sacrum. Oh. What about that?
As someone who has been molested, I personally find it a little disturbing that, despite the years of therapy and the absolutely honest belief that I have forgiven the boy who perpetrated the abuse, I prefer a hip opener to a heart opener. Poses that, while not remotely sexual, have the potential to open up my hips and "offer" that part of my body more readily.
At yoga today, I was dreading the possibility that the instructor might have the class do Camel Pose. I had my excuse ready, "It scares the sh*t out of me." 'Nuff said. Only she didn't include it in today's class. And I was relieved. I got into Full Pigeon Pose and reveled in it. Imagining the tendons and muscle tissue in my hips releasing with the breath and relaxing into extension.
And when I got home, I decided to try Camel Pose on my own. In my bedroom. With the door closed. As always, just before my hands settled on top of my heels, the bile rose in my throat and I began to hyperventilate. I quickly pulled out of the pose, breathing heavily, and felt tears build just above the notch in my throat. A tingle in my nose was all it took for them to begin falling in a torrent. I feel utterly out of control in Camel. Utterly helpless. Utterly useless and worthless.
I am beginning to wonder whether my issue with this pose has less to do with my connection with others than my connection to myself. Perhaps my heart can't shine that way because I don't feel as though it is worthy of letting its light out into the Universe. I don't know for sure. But, once again, I am grateful to my yoga practice for showing me the way to the next hurdle.