Balance is not so much a point of absolute stillness as it is a dance, one that requires strength and flexibility in body and mind. On the mat and in the rest of life, balance means moving within your current capabilities and accepting the expansion that comes from there.
Natarajasana, or king dancer pose, is a celebration of this dance. At once a backbend and a balancing pose, natarajasana offers many ways to appreciate the journey of your body and mind. The best starting point for most people is using both hands on a strap with the foot lifted behind and away from the body. When you are comfortable there, you can let go of the strap and move into holding your foot with your hands. Eventually you can do the pose with the strap overhead. After that, you may be able to bring your foot and your hands together overhead. Let all of these progressions be part of the journey. Don’t rush or you’ll miss out on the experience.
Our Yoga teacher trainings have a mix of students at many levels of practice. Some people have been practicing for decades. Others, just a few months. You might think that the students who have put in more time would be the ones who go the farthest in asana, but that is not necessarily true. Sometimes, those who have been practicing the longest have been pushing themselves beyond their body’s limits. Or they have been practicing out of habit, leading to stagnation. These students need to walk back to their true starting points to build a solid foundation. Sometimes that point is farther back than expected.
Your Yoga asana practice doesn’t have to be complex to have an impact. Some of the most powerful poses are the ones that challenge your body and mind in the simplest ways.
Utkatasana, or chair pose, is one of these. It may look easy, but the simplicity of this pose is its true power. This pose engages muscles from your feet through your arms, all the while allowing you to practice mastering your mind. As you hold still for 15 to 20 breaths, you calm the mind’s desire to move, the urge to walk away from the challenge, or the chatter that tells you that you should be doing a pose that is more flamboyant. Who knew that the process of sitting down could make you so strong?
Life offers many choices. Some of them move you along your path, others are just distractions. Be open to anything, but don’t feel pulled to follow every left turn that appears before you. You’ll end up moving in circles.
Sometimes, you reach a crossroads where it’s unclear which direction you should follow. Before you take a step in any direction, seek clarity. Go within, practice matsyasana, or fish pose, and find the trusted guide of your higher self.
Kapha dosha makes our bodies and minds strong and sturdy. A daily Yoga asana practice builds on kapha’s natural strength and reduces the tendency toward weight gain that can come with excess kapha.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time -- even 15 minutes in the morning will combat the effects of sedentary living and create enthusiasm for life that will reach far beyond your Yoga mat. Just set your wake up time a bit earlier (start before 6:00 a.m. and you’ll get the bonus of the increased energy that is present in the vata time of morning called brahmamuhurti) and make the commitment to asana as a part of your morning routine.
To balance kapha’s heavy nature, focus on invigorating poses, such as strengthening standing poses and backbends, as we have outlined in the two sequences below. Hold each pose for 10 to 15 breaths if you are feeling sluggish to awaken kapha. If you are feeling fearful, scattered or other signs of vata imbalance, hold each pose for 20 breaths.
The practices of Ayurveda and Yoga were given to us to work hand-in-hand. Understanding how the three doshas work in your body will help you tune into the changes that result from changes in diet, how you live and the environment around you. This information is meant to guide you in your practice of Yoga, including asana, so that you can feel your best on and off the mat.
We often use the phrase, “body, mind and spirit” when we talk about Yoga. This is because the practice of Yoga – both in asana and as a guide for daily living – cannot be limited to just one level of existence. Yoga allows us to see that every experience we have affects all three levels of being. To deny any one of these is to deny our full essence as human beings.
When we talk about spirit, we are referring to the subtle body – the energetic level of being. Few people these days are aware of this body, which is made up of the aura and chakras, but we all experience life through it regardless. If you want to connect to your subtle body, try ustrasana, or camel pose, preparation. This gentle, yet energizing, backbend can be an introduction to the full expression of ustrasana or a way to open up the front of your spine to prepare for other backbends. It’s also a beneficial pose by itself. As you lengthen and open your spine, you activate the seven main chakras, the energy centers that start at the base of your spine continuing to the top of your head. As these centers of energy open, you can release old patterns and create space for clarity in your subtle body.
Can a warrior practice ahimsa, or kindness, consideration and respect? The answer is yes – a spiritual warrior can. Everyone can become a spiritual warrior; it just means finding the strength and courage to shave the edges off of your ego so your divine spirit can lead you in life.
Our breath is one of our greatest teachers in Yoga. When you find yourself in a challenging asana, tune in to your breath. Is it short or long? Quick or steady? Has it stopped entirely?
Ujjayi breath, a central part of Yoga asana practice, is an even inhale and exhale through the nose with a slightly contracted throat so that the breath is audible (like the sound of the ocean). Ujjayi breath focuses and strengthens the mind while creating internal heat to purify the body. When we push ourselves too far or practice without mindfulness, the breath becomes labored, uneven or quick. That is our cue to back up, reset our intention and come back to the essence of our Yoga practice – to master the mind so that we can gain freedom from it.
Everything seems to be communicating more in these early days of spring. Birds chirp with the sunrise, beckoning the flowers to open. Seedlings rise from the soil yearning to talk to the abundant sunshine. We, too, find ourselves in conversation with the world as we take joy in the changes around us.
As nature awakens and begins to share its teachings, we can respond in kind. Setu bandhasana, bridge pose, helps us open our communication channels by balancing vishudha, the fifth chakra.
The cold of winter draws us inward. The sky darkens, the air grows chillier and we enter a period of greater introspection. During winter we find rest and rejuvenation in savasana, corpse pose, or supta baddha konasana, reclined bound angle pose.
But the transition to spring is now upon us. Just as the buds will soon begin appearing on trees it’s time for us to move into life more fully. This is the time to open our hearts, release old perspectives and integrate what we have learned during our time inside. This is a great time to emphasize backbends, which truly open the front side of the spine.