It’s the time of year when this sentence echoes in my head: May we be the head and not the tail.
Lead your life. Don’t follow.
I’m in Tel Aviv with the kids at the moment. We’re here to support my sister on the beginning of her journey as a mother. It has been years since the last time I celebrated Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year’s – translates as The Head Of The Year) in Israel.
We arrived last Wednesday. My sister went into labor that night. I had the honor of being her doula, and witness the miracle of life as my precious, perfect little niece came into this world – head first.
The story of this birth is not mine to tell. What I can share here is that it made me think about, feel into, and experience the space between empowerment and surrender.
In the western world, for generations upon generations we idolized the head.
Eastern traditions on the other hand, tell us to quiet the mind and relinquish thought.
Somewhere along the way, we were made to think of the head as separate from the body.
In some cases our physiology is thought of as something that has nothing to do with our minds.
On the other hand, many of us are made to believe nowadays that the mind is so powerful, we could cure our bodies from illness with just our thoughts.
And in today’s world, it seems as though the body is an idol in a temple, and is worshipped like a god. The young body, I mean.
So what leads – mind or body?
We are such a complex entity. We know so little about how things really work in this body mind system. We are one system with many aspects. I find the separation a bit odd. The mind lives inside the body. How can intelligence be anything but Somatic? How is it possible to look at one without consideration of the other? Look at the human brain – this incredible, complex, mysterious, powerful organ that commands everything – without a beating heart, this powerful commander and all that it commands dies.
I know I’m stating the obvious. But don’t you think this whole miraculous mystery of life is phenomenal? Sometimes I’m overflowing and overwhelmed with awe.
The body’s intelligence is spectacular. The way that everything works together. Every organ. Every cell. Every breath. It’s breathtaking!
The intelligence of the physicality of the feminine – to grow life within it, to nourish it, to give birth to it – all without any thinking involved. Then, without thought or contemplation, without learning, without conversation – to make food to sustain this new life. I mean – how can you not be amazed with this wonder???
This power of life, this wisdom that is inherent in embodiment – this is prana. The goddess. The Mother. Nature herself. (I like to call it the Somatic Automatic).
To be the head and not the tail. For me that means to be empowered – to make choices, to be informed, to think things through, to lead the way. Life has very little flavor and meaning without engaging in it, without making something with it, without leading it. To engage life, to connect to it, to co-create it – that’s yoga.
And there is so much in life that is not up to us. We need to know how to let go, how to surrender, how to flow with the currents that are stronger than our will, when to release, how to allow, and when to follow a path carved by forces other than our own.
When it comes to giving birth, we can empower ourselves to be the head. And then, we gotta surrender. So much of giving birth has to do with how we set our environment, and release our expectations. How we prepare and make our decisions, and how we let it all go into the arms of something greater than us (and I’m not talking about the arms of doctors. Although sometimes, that’s exactly what we must do). How we choose to come to it, and how we choose to walk out of it is our choice – the soil of self empowerment. But how it turns out belongs to something greater than ourselves.
When it comes to birth, we need to know how to be both the head and the tail.
And the more I think about it, the more intrigued I am by how this is exactly the story of a creative, empowered, fulfilling journey of life.
Jewish or not, celebrating a new year, a new moon, new life, or just another day in this miraculous/mundane existence, here’s a little simple practice to do when you want to tap into the magic of the space between the head and the tail:
Take a few moments to simply notice your breath. Watch the inhale as it enters your body through your nostrils – the world coming in to co-create with you. Follow the exhale as it moves out of your body to touch the world.
Make note of how little to do with you this whole process has. The breath is breathing you. Something greater than you pours itself into you, and then receives you as you are forced to breathe out. There is nothing you need to do about it.
When you’re ready, create a tone in the back of your throat and make the passage of the breath tighter. Listen to the breath as it makes this resonant sound – like ocean waves, or wind blowing through trees. Ujayi Pranayama. Feel your power to lengthen the breath, your ability to deepen it, your capacity to direct it.
Life is much bigger than you. And you are in charge of where you take it.
Breathe in through your nose, through the tone in the back of your throat, and direct your inhale to the space behind your heart. Pause there for a couple of moments. Then exhale out through your nose, through the tone in the back of your throat, and direct your breath to a point that is about 12 finger length distant from your nostrils (this is considered in the yoga tradition to mark the boundary of your subtle body). Pause there for a few moments. Continue in this way for as long as you’d like.
Do it anytime you feel out of control, and need to access your empowerment. Or do it when you feel like you’re pushing too hard and the stress levels are high.
Do it for as long as you’d like. If all you have is two minutes – it’s better than nothing! Do it! Do it when you wait outside your kid’s school right before you pick her up. Do it for a moment before an important meeting. At the airport. In the kitchen while you make your coffee in the morning. Before bed. When you can’t sleep. When you’re too tired but you gotta keep going. Do it! Breathe! Receive life, offer yourself, release expectations, and create a meaningful reality for yourself.
Have a wonderful new year if you’re celebrating on Sunday. Have a magnificent new moon. And may you be the head and the tail both, depending on what’s most needed at any given moment.