I went to Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Pope-Leighy House with an architect friend this week.

We stood in the entrance to the house, where the overhang was a mere 6 foot 8 (plenty of room for the vertically challenged, such as yours truly, but I could picture some of my buddies crouching awkwardly).  Our tour guide said that the height reflected Wright’s use of the “compression and release” principle.

You make entrances and hallways narrow or short and then release them out to rooms that were higher or wider and give them the sense of expansiveness (or in one person’s patriotic analysis “freedom”).

For example the hallway to the two bedrooms is quite cozy — “the width of a Pullman aisle” — and then it opens up to two bedrooms, which are light-filled and feel like lovely nesting spaces, despite being small by today’s McMansion standards.  (The closets are also very modestly proportioned.  Wright didn’t believe that people should accumulate a lot of junk, so his home designs did not include basements, garages or attics; kind of like built-in hoarding prevention.)

When I teach yoga, I use the same principle, particularly when asking folks to hold poses for a while (yin-yoga style).  Compression is determined by the architecture of our bones, if you will.  Where you can’t go any further, where bone meets bone (or rather, bursa meets bursa), that’s compression. It’s not bad to compress — it actually stimulates bone growth.  When you hold gently in places of compression for a few minutes and then release (AH!!!!!), you can get all sorts of good juju going, including spinal and synovial fluids (the latter of which helps keep your joints juiced up).

Compressing and releasing physically also has great benefit energetically, as it allows for more of what can be called prana, chi, ki or life force, to flow more freely in the targeted area.  So if you’re low energy, trying to get pregnant, or to finish your novel, you might want to affect the kidney meridian and could do a pose that entails some lower back compression such as sphinx or seal.

Too much of anything, including compression, is not recommended, as it’ll lead to irritation and inflammation.

It’s not unlike stretching your muscles:  a good stretch will cause micro-tears, breaking the tissue down so it can build back up.  Too much and you’re sidelined and forced to do all sorts of interventions to make yourself feel like yourself again.)

So then I got to thinking about how this principle might apply psychologically and spiritually.

2009 was a year of compression for me.  Most of my income comes from nonprofit and foundation clients, who were slammed by the country’s economic woes. So, my work slowed down to a small trickle.  Obviously, that wasn’t great for me financially — and my life choices have meant never having had a job with a decent salary and benefits like health care and a retirement plan.  (Not that I’d switch it up — living creatively has its own rewards.)

Coinciding legal issues meant I couldn’t travel at all.  Now, I love DC, but if I don’t get out of it at least every other month for a few days, I start to go batshit.

The result?  I was jumping out of my skin, feeling seriously grounded: stuck and restless and beyond bored — the deep existential boredom that can’t easily be alleviated with the occasional trot to the museum or day-long work gig.  And I had more drama in my personal relationships than I’d wish on anyone.

The slow, delicious release has come in 2010.  Thanks to generous friends, I took trips to Florida and California,  where I got to hang out with aforementioned awesome human beings and get recharged doing things like hiking and camping under the stars and canoeing in the Everglades and lead workshops to very eager students and just enjoy.  My work started to get back to normal, and I was grateful that even leaner times, I do love what I do and who I do it with.  And lots of other good things happened:  getting my first book published, becoming a Reiki master, starting a fellowship at the GW Center for Integrative Medicine, to name a few.

Still, I’d rather be the one to play with my edges of compression, rather than have it done for me.  So no plans to compress in 2010 in order to feel joyous in 2012.

With the colder weather upon those of us in the Eastern U.S., I think I’ll just make some time this week for yin, as I think about those slender, cypress  lined foyers and the wide, open spaces they deliver us to.

Would love to hear how compression and release has played out in your own life!

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