For a long time I wanted to be an entomologist. Specifically, I wanted to study butterflies & moths, which if you’re being specific would be a lepidopterist. But this week I discovered the origin of Tummy Butterflies, and it wasn’t in a biology class!
I’ve had the chance to do more yoga than usual this week. For me, this is wonderful. I’m a very kinesthetic learner, so not only is it a way to exercise and to relax, but during yoga or dance I often have thoughts and ideas come together and make more sense. On Monday morning (yes, I went and woke up early!) I was at a class that’s only going to be available this month and next month. It focuses on light during the darkest months (here in the northern hemisphere, anyhow), and is taught by a woman with a lot of experience in yoga and dance who has a strong presence in the dance/yoga/art community around here.
When I got to class and started my warm-ups I realized two things. One, I LOVE the room we’re in. It’s in an art museum and currently it’s featuring lit panels on the walls with different circles and rays that softly change colour. It’s a beautiful installation, and it’s the reason for the class. The other thing I realized was that I felt just a bit scared, and I didn’t know why.
I knew what I wasn’t scared of. I wasn’t afraid of yoga. I wasn’t afraid to look weird – and if I was, I was toward the back, and with the dim lighting and changing colour on the walls it wasn’t easy to recognize people unless you knew them well. I didn’t feel uncomfortable in the room, or like anyone was going to harm me, or that there was anything actually dangerous. But I still felt anxious, and I tried to dismiss it and focus on the class.
Toward the middle of the class we started a series of movement to work the psoas muscle. The psoas is the one (well, two – one on each side, or it can be seen as one half to each side) and only muscle connecting the spine to the leg. That’s it. All those core muscles in the abdomen, all those big muscles in the hips and thighs, and there’s one muscle deep in each side sticking you all together. Naturally it’s a pretty big deal in dance and exercise and massage to make sure the psoas is warmed up and stretched and relaxed. One of my dance teachers shared once that he thought for months that his instructor was referring to the “so’ ass” muscle, because if you don’t warm it up enough, yeah, your tushy (among other places) gets tight and achy after too much work!
For those who don’t do a lot of dance, yoga, or other body-centered classes, this isn’t as odd as it may sound. Many instructors give descriptions that make a lot of sense when you’re moving, but aren’t found in anatomy textbooks. You’ll hear instructions like ‘come on, I want you to move those smile muscles’, or ‘squeeze those wings on your back tight together’. The medical world doesn’t call the muscles on the face ‘smile muscles’ or refer to the space between the shoulder blades as ‘wings’, but it makes sense when you visualize and try to move that way. So it’s not too out there to warm up your so’ ass.
So I’ve been working, warming, stretching, and soothing my psoas for quite a while now. But on Monday, my instructor told us ‘if we’re anxious, we tend to carry the fear in our psoas’. That was new! And it makes perfect sense, because when under stress, people tend to clench muscles. Tight shoulders from feeling rushed, pushing our feet to the floor just in case there was an invisible accelerator when riding in a vehicle and running late – yeah, we all so it. So we did gentle lunges and stretches and worked the psoas.
And suddenly, I knew why I’d been anxious. The instructor is a fairly big deal, at least locally. She knows a LOT. The class is open to anyone, any instruction level. I’ve been doing different varieties of dance my whole life. I’ve taken various martial arts classes. I’ve done yoga for the last 13 years and counting. I’ve performed and I’ve taught and I currently offer dance & movement therapy. I don’t think I rank nearly as high as this lady does, but one of the things I love about yoga is it’s not competitive. You don’t even compete against yourself; you do what you’re up for on that day at that time. (I really dislike the concept of ‘yoga competitions’. Yes, they have them, and it makes no sense to me. How can you compete in something that’s about being with yourself where you are? If you’re competing to see who does the movement’s best, then it’s an odd form of dance, not yoga. Okay, rant over.)
So I didn’t want to be the ‘best’ in the class. But I didn’t want to have someone assume that I needed more help than I really did – or that I knew enough that didn’t need any help. Neither is true. Because it’s a dim room, she wouldn’t even necessarily be able to see the small signs of a student doing well or needing help, like being just a touch off balance, or getting just the right angle of movement. And I do like it when my instructor says I’ve got it, or I’m getting better. I know I just said I like that yoga is not competitive. I really do. But I also like knowing that I’ve done something well.
That was what I was afraid of. I relaxed my psoas muscles and my butterflies flew out of my tummy and up to deposit information in my mind. I was afraid someone who I consider really good at all this wouldn’t think I was good enough. I understood it, and I could compare it to what was actually going on, and to the instructor carefully walking through the class to be sure we were doing things right and not hurting ourselves, and I felt better.
I know where the butterflies come from, now. They fly around the whole nervous system giving information, and when the psoas is too tight they start to congregate there, fluttering in that agitated dance that we refer to as ‘so nervous’ and ‘butterflies in the stomach’. If we calm down enough, we relax the psoas and they fly somewhere else. But if we need to know, or they keep dancing, there are some neat exercises. They’re pretty easy, too. Ask a yoga or dance teacher to show you. Ask me if you’re in the Colorado Springs or Fountain area! They aren’t hard, and they just might release those butterflies.