Sunday, April 3, 2016

Memories V: Tree Pose

Tree pose
One morning, Eli taught me the secret of the tree pose.

We were in San Diego over spring break.  The avowed purpose of our trip was to visit renowned psychopharmacologist Dr Stephen Stahl, but was also took in a couple of shows and the San Diego Zoo.  This was in the early stages of Eli's transition, so every time a server in a restaurant called us "Gentlemen" we got to exchange a secret high-five.

Anyhow, in the hotel room one morning we were doing some stretches and exercises together, and Eli demonstrated the tree pose to me.  I told him I had tried it before, but that I fall over every time.

"The problem is where you focus your attention", Eli told me.  "It's natural to focus the attention on your left foot" (that being the one I was unsuccessfully attempting to balance on).  "Instead, focus on your right foot and the way you are pushing it into your left thigh."

It seems counterintuitive advice - take your energy and focus off the critical point, the point of balance, and focus on somewhere else instead.  But I tried it and, rather to my surprise, it worked.  Almost instantly, I could maintain the tree pose!  (Well, not very elegantly. But at least I did not fall over.)

I think of Eli every time this pose comes up as part of my own exercise routine.  And I remember the key idea of mindfully focusing one's attention.  This is, as I understand, a component of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) practice, and I believe that it is a skill that made it possible for Eli to be present with love and compassion for others, even in the midst of his own pain and distress which clamored for attention. I hope that I am able to follow that path.

Tree pose image by Flickr user Jenni Froedrick, reproduced under Creative Commons license.

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