Release Hidden Tensions

Neighbors called the rescue squad. There was something unusually quiet about the apartment of the old woman. They entered, found her in distress, and took her to the hospital. She had one hand tightly clenched into a fist. They could not get her to release. Finally, a doctor in the emergency room pried open her hand. Inside was a quarter.

Henri Nouwen tells this story in the beginning of his book “With Open Hands.” It is an image that has stayed with me for many years. The image of someone desperately hanging on to something valuable. So incredibly tensed up. Hanging on.

Jesus told stories about people trying to hang on to things. And he taught about the futility of that. Today I’m told there is a TV series (maybe more than one) about “hoarders” who can’t bear to throw anything away.

I’d like to relate this to the mindfulness discussion I started with this week. And prayer–which is where Nouwen took the story.

Part of being mindful is to open up. Become open to the world around you. Become open to God. You cannot walk around and really be with people if you are tensed up with worry about things which are of no value to God and actually impede your relationship with God and people.

In Yoga, I put people into positions where they hold a pose designed to stretch and strengthen a  particular muscle or muscle group. Then I will suggest that they do a mental scan of their bodies at that time. If we are working the upper leg muscle (say in Warrior pose), we discover often that we are holding tension in our shoulders. We should not be holding tension there. We should only be working the leg muscle. We remind ourselves to relax.

While warming up, I will have the class in sitting position cross-legged on the mat. We sit erect, stretch our arms out straight, then bring the palms of the hands together in front. Breathing deeply, we bring our arms back until we are pinching the shoulder blades together. We put the thought in our minds that we are opening ourselves up to greet the day. Then we bring our arms forward on the exhale and put the thought in our minds that we are releasing all the tensions of the day. Repeat about 4-6 times.

We have our minds and bodies intentionally working together alert to the moment–and only the moment. Now we can pray.

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