My yoga teacher has arranged our arms in Gomukhasana, Cow Face Pose, with a small looped strap around our wrists. It feels like a straight jacket in reverse, but she starts drawing circles with her elbows in a pattern that makes me miss my childhood Spirograph—the drawing tool/toy with which one could make strange, swirling patterns without thinking, just fixing your pen in a small hole and letting your hand move around the pattern.
Mindful mindlessness, that artwork was, as is this shoulder exercise: “The easiest way to do this is to not think about it at all,” my teacher explains as a prompt for us to follow her lead and let loose the confused expressions on our faces. This movement, “shoulder blade flossing,” makes space in that sinewy alleyway right behind our heart—”the most vulnerable place in our bodies, because we’ll never be able to see it with our own eyes.”
Our backs are a huge blind spot and their ability to told tension, to get rigid and round at the slightest rustle of danger, is a helpful, necessary defense mechanism. We can become like tortoises without having to carry a huge shell around, and we can build metaphorical shells with people and allies who “have our backs” when we are in need. But the low-grade anxiety with which we live our modern lives, the soundtrack of which is the pinging internet boxes we cling to like appendages, has caused that metaphorical shell to become real, and pervasive. We are rigid in the back and in the front, because danger signals are blaring all around, all the time. In the attempt to be modern and efficient, we carry around our lives on our backs. We buy special bags to hold all of our things, things upon which we project our insecurities and sense of worth. Worrying that some sly pickpocket will enter our blind spots when we let down our guard, slip into the backpack and take our precious things—the things who we think we are because we carry them more attentively than we do our physical bodies—the vessel we sought for convenience adds to our anxiety. It’s another layer of the shell we’re not evolutionarily designed to wear. So we hurt, inside and out. We can’t breathe or love—or see what might be hiding behind us.
As we do this butterfly swimming dance, we’re meant to feel a kind of inner light spreading and illuminating the self that’s hiding between our shoulder blades. We heal the emotional body by way of the physical body.
This flossing feels good, I think, I should buy myself a strap so I can do this all the time at home. It’ll help me not round my shoulders when I’m carrying my backpack.
Or maybe, clearing the blind spot is only a matter of removing the extra weight, the impenetrable layers of stuff I can’t even reach when I need it but that makes me feel like prey. This is the shell-blocked blindness with which I think I’ll be able to see myself the world.
No wonder I sometimes feel lost or, always, like I’ve lost something important from my backside when I’m out in the world like this. In relegating all I claim to value to what’s behind me, how can I experience the adventure in front of me? Do I want to live in a way such that my “important” stuff is all I can concern myself with, that which prevents me from enjoying the freedom of dying with each new day?
I close my eyes and floss like I’ve never flossed before. Eventually, we let go of the strap and give ourselves a big hug. Hello, shoulder blades, hello, back, I say to myself. I can’t believe it’s been so long since we last saw each other.