If you are going to be a chicken, be chicken number six

1...2...3...4...5...where's number 6?

1…2…3…4…5…where’s number 6?

Before I brought home six chicks, nobody told me how noisy chickens were. I knew roosters crowed, of course, but the hens? It starts in the morning with the “where’s that boy with our breakfast?” complaints and builds to the egg-laying announcements that I’m sure echo off the mountains. And at least once a day there is the alarmed squawking that brings the dogs running and at least one human member of the household outside to count chickens.

It goes like this: “One…two…three…four…five…(pause to look around)…where’s number six?”

When you share space with foxes and coyotes, you don’t name your chickens. We’ve been lucky so far and have all six still with us, but you never know. We thought we lost chicken number six to a feral cat last fall, but a day later she showed up at the gate.

You see, chicken number six won’t stay in the yard. While the other five chickens are content to hunt bugs within the fence-line or to lounge under the picnic table, number six is over the fence and scratching in the woods or, occasionally, wandering down the road. We’re not sure if she’s at the bottom of the pecking order or just an adventurous soul, but she’s always somewhere else.

I was watching number six in the woods today and it struck me that she seemed to be the happiest of the chickens. Since she takes the whole “free range” thing seriously, I imagine she is very well nourished. She has the juicy bugs, seeds and fresh greens that grow outside the fence all to herself. She is clearly fearless, having now had more than one encounter with cats that all end in the cat being told in no uncertain terms to back off. And she refuses to allow anything to limit her freedom.

Today number six is out there on her own, but every now and then the others follow her over the fence. Maybe all chicken souls are a bit adventurous, but only number six has the courage to lead the way. When I think of the women who have inspired me to nourish myself, be fearless and embrace freedom, I am grateful that there are number sixes out there.

Which chicken would you be like? Would you be scratching your way through the woods, or eyeing freedom from inside the fence? Who inspires you to test your wings? I’d love it if you’d share in the comments!

False Summits and Forward Bends

The view from one of Noonmark's false summits.

The view from one of Noonmark‘s false summits.

Some of our favorite mountains in the Adirondacks High Peaks region, like Baxter, Rooster Comb and Noonmark, tease us with false summits. They appear when we’ve been walking for what seems like forever, drawing us hopefully on with glimpses of blue sky through thinning trees. There’s relief, satisfaction and, often, a beautiful view, all ending abruptly when one of us notices the trail marker beckoning us back into the trees to continue up the trail.

I thought of false summits while leading a yoga class through a series of forward bends. We were working on moving to the edge of the stretch, lengthening our spines when we inhaled, releasing further forward with our exhales. The edge is uncomfortable and, like a false summit, makes you think you’ve gone as far as you can. Unless you give yourself time and muster up the fortitude to continue on, you’ll never know what the view looks like from the top.

For the false summits of our forward bends, we can thank musculotendinous sensory receptors called Golgi tendon organs (GTOs). Through their reflexive actions, the GTOs help to regulate muscle stiffness. Low-force, long-duration static stretching, felt in the hamstrings during Paschimottanasana, brings on a temporary increase in tension as the muscles lengthen, the first “edge” we discover. Don’t give up there because, after seven to 10 seconds of holding and breathing, your GTOs activate and the muscle tension temporarily releases. Another exhale and you’ll find yourself deeper into the bend.

The muscle quickly reestablishes its stretch threshold and a new edge is reached. You may work through a few before you reach your true edge, provided you can stay patient, focused and breathing smoothly throughout the process. After practicing consistently for a period of weeks or months, the muscles will lengthen more or less permanently, so you’ll be able to go further forward before reaching the first edge. As a result, the true summit of your yoga pose keeps getting further away.

The true summits of the Adirondack mountains keep getting further away, too. The Adirondack mountains are still growing, at a rate of about one millimeter per year. Some days, when it seems like we’ve been walking forever, I’m sure the mountain has gone through a recent growth spurt. Climbing these mountains requires patience, focus and lots of breath.

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Seeking Eagles

Photo of a Bald Eagle taken at the Toledo Zoo.

Photo of a Bald Eagle taken at the Toledo Zoo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taped to the wall behind the yoga studio’s reception desk is a snapshot of a bald eagle, captured by one of our yoga teacher training graduates. Bald eagles are native to the Adirondacks, although they had to be reintroduced in the 1980s after DDT use in the 1960s all but wiped them out. Now they are spotted throughout the Adirondack Park, but, unfortunately, never by me.

I enjoy practicing and teaching Garudasana, known in English as eagle pose. In deference to the presence of America’s bird, it seems fitting to wrap arms and legs into the look of a perched eagle at our Adirondack yoga studio. Exclusive to North America, the bald eagle could not have been the intended reference in the Sanskrit name. There are Indian spotted eagles and short-toed eagles, but it is generally agreed that the name honors Vishnu’s mount Garuda, a massive half-man, half-eagle known for devouring serpents.

Eagle Pose at Split Rock in New Russia, NY

Eagle Pose at Split Rock in New Russia, NY

Here in the Adirondack mountains, surrounded by so much of the natural world including the elusive, at least to me, bald eagle, I can’t help but bring the spirit of that beautiful bird into my practice of eagle pose, despite its Indian origins. As a shamanic totem, the eagle represents access to higher planes of consciousness. Borrowing the eagle’s strong wings and courage, you are free to fly to great spiritual heights.

Being birds, the eagle is associated with air, but they have sturdy legs to walk on the earth and hunt over water, and thus are grounded while seeking spirit and also carry the cleansing energy of water. This is very balanced energy, fitting the balance of eagle pose. Whether on my mat or on a rock, I embrace Adirondack bald eagle energy in Garudasana. Perhaps, after enough practice, I’ll finally get to see one.

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