When my back is really bothering me I immediately think of two soothing stretches to relieve tension. One is a basic runner’s stretch: front leg firmly planted, knee at a 90-degree angle (knee and ankle stacked) and back leg fully extended, balancing on the ball and toe of the foot. I sink down low and hold for at least 30 seconds. Our hip flexors are connected to our lower back and this stretch acts as almost immediate relief.
The other stretch I like to do, especially if I have a little more time on my hands, is legs up the wall. It’s a yoga pose and it requires only a bare wall and 20 minutes. Lie on the ground and scoot your butt as close against the wall as you can and let your legs rest on the wall, feet pointing straight up. I like to have a pillow under my head, and you can also keep one under your bum if you are new to this stretch. Again, I can feel the relief begin along my lower back, and you have the added benefit of re-energizing your circulation.
I mention this because whenever I’m in legs up the wall I like to bring a book and I usually find myself laying there longer than 20 minutes. Sometimes it’s closer to 30 minutes and I only start to move because my feet begin to tingle and I know it’s time to get up.
Last week I finished White Tiger in this pose and it was a book I really didn’t want to end. I haven’t enjoyed a narrator this much in quite a long time and I was so entertained by his fantastic tale. Balram is feisty and entrepreneurial (a very important part of his story and identity) and I developed a love/hate relationship with him.
Balram is writing a letter to the Premier of China, explaining the self-made man in India and why he is essential to the country’s structure. He tells about his life in the Darkness, the extreme poverty and servitude that characterized his upbringing. He describes working as a driver for a rich mobster family, and why he had to murder his boss.
Initially I was charmed by Balram, then disturbed, and then sympathetic. He’s a complicated character living in an unforgiving world, a world which is hard for many of us to imagine. Aravind Adiga’s writing is precise and similarly unforgiving in its close examination of the corruption and blackmailing that keeps India churning. It’s a world of greased palms and extortion. But it’s also a world of close family ties and loyalty; it’s a world of gumption and confidence.
Adiga was a journalist for a long time before writing White Tiger, which is his first novel. It won the biggest, most notable prize in literary fiction, which is incredible when you remember that it was his first major effort. The novel was funny and sad but mostly very thoughtful. I’d highly recommend it.
And I’d highly recommend finding yourself in legs up the wall next time you’re looking to zip through a couple chapters or soothe a tense lower back. Let me know how it goes.