When I was a beginner yoga student, I despised cobra pose. While it was one of the basic positions taught every week, I mightily struggled with it for more than three years. Ironically, arching up into cobra made me feel as though I was choking, even though my throat and neck were lengthening upward, supported by my hands, arms, shoulders, and upper back. Yet practice after practice, I became more aware of how incredibly challenging it was to lift the front of my body off of the floor and extend the pose upward through my head.
I was stuck in my throat…literally.
Over the years, I tried every variation, every modification. Sometimes I pushed myself to do it. Other times I skipped it altogether. Even now I prefer to practice sphinx, or baby cobra, instead. It’s much more stable to prop myself on my forearms and while my neck is in neutral position, I’m still able to stretch without feeling strangled.
Having practiced for more than twenty years, I’m not surprised at all to recognize that my neck and upper back were incredibly tight, having held on to unspoken words for almost three decades. And it’s not really a revelation to realize that through diligently working with a host of healing modalities, my ability to speak up for myself has been transformed. While I’ve always been able to bang the drum for the underdog or any child in my care if I knew they needed a strong support system, I’ve not always been forthright in speaking my own truth.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I became a writer.
Still, for a while now I’ve been practicing honesty…with myself and with others. Not that it’s been a cake walk. I’ve lost friends who couldn’t understand my reasons for setting boundaries. I’ve lost work because I was outspoken enough to ask that my business policies be respected. Like struggling to make peace with cobra pose, I’ve often grappled with the knowledge that, for me at least, it’s a risk every time I open my mouth to say how I feel. To be really truthful, sometimes I have to push myself to find the courage to speak. Other times, I still keep my mouth shut out of fear.
Conversations that begin with my saying to someone, “Can we talk?” are always like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates. I never, ever know what I’m going to get.
A few weeks ago I noticed several crows circling over my neighborhood. It had been a while since I had seen more than one, and that was years ago when a brazen bird angrily chased an unsuspecting cat out of my yard. For days, three crows flew into the tall treetops across the street and silently sat there, fluttering their wings, surveying the territory. One Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on my porch next to a friend with whom I had recently argued. The spat ended quickly, but because I needed time to sift out my angry emotions to get to the heart of what I was feeling, a day later I was still a bit bruised and didn’t know what to say.
So, like the crows, I said nothing.
They nestled together, not moving an inch the entire time we sat on the porch. As the person talked about the plans we had made earlier in the day, I listened, but I also noticed the crows and their silent, stoic posture. Moments later, just as I was getting up to cut the grass, the crows instantly flew away.
Later that evening, I pulled Animal Speak from my bookshelf and looked up “crow”, remembering that the feisty black bird had shown up in significant moments in the past. I read in part: Crow’s voice is a notable characteristic which reminds us to listen for the ways creation is continually calling out to us. Wherever crows are, there is magic, for they are symbols of creation and spiritual strength.
The next evening my friend and I were sitting on the porch after having hashed out the better part of our disagreement. As another round of conversation started, I noticed the three crows sitting in the treetop, but this time, they were cawing loudly…over and over again. I don’t remember exactly what I said to my friend, but I do recall firmly saying what I needed to say, even though it was incredibly difficult. For a long while, the cawing of the crows echoed around us as we talked past twilight, finally creating some common ground.
Oddly enough, since then I’ve not seen or heard another crow, and these days I’m counting humming birds, robins, and rabbits.
I believe that everything in nature continually speaks to us, and if we know how to truly listen, magic can be a constant presence in our lives. While I was jolted to discover that a group of crows is called a “murder”, it doesn’t really surprise me, for whenever they show up in my life, I know that a part of me has to die in order for another part to be born. This time around the trio of messengers reminded me that while my truth might not always be the same as another’s, I no longer need to stay silent out of fear or apprehension...and that miracles spontaneously arise when I’m being my most authentic self.
In the fall, I’ll be re-introducing preparatory work for the crow pose in my yoga classes. While I’m still not able to hold it for long, I have found that being in it, even for a split second, arching my neck upward toward the sky has never made me feel more alive and free.