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.
If you are used to doing Yoga asana in a group setting, it’s a common pitfall to compare your progress with the people around you. But there is no end goal in Yoga asana. No matter how long you have practiced, there are always new steps and levels to reach. If you are focused on trying to get your hips as open as the next person or do sun salutations with the most flair, you’re not honoring your personal journey. Progression in asana is something that comes over time and with dedication. Rushing into the full expression of a pose runs counter to the teachings of Yoga.
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?
The world exists in a balance of the subtle and physical; it’s up to us to notice all parts. It’s easy to be in awe of the powerful energy of the sun, but don’t forget how much the silver glow of the moon can teach you about the softer side of light.
Just like on the outside, it’s easy to focus on the heaviness of your body and forget about the lightness of the energy within it. Ardha chandrasana, or half moon, is a great pose to get in touch with all aspects of being. As you ground into the earth on your standing foot, notice how prana flows into parts of your body you may have been ignoring. If you struggle to extend your leg, notice the way your ujjayi breath makes it effortless. As you hold this pose, you are working with gravity, yet you can enjoy a lightness in your body and the full experience of living.
Movement is what defines Yoga asana, yet its purpose is to bring about stillness. When you move your body in the right ways, you can grow comfortable enough in it to sit for meditation. Making time for the stillness of meditation is how you will learn to master the impulses of your mind and meet the wonders of the world within.
Some poses are designed to cultivate that stillness directly. Siddhasana, or accomplished pose, is one. Add this pose to the beginning or end of your practice (and include the mudra and mantra we’ve outlined below) and you’ll discover Yoga’s true beauty – connecting with the divine within.
Beginnings, endings and times of transition can be challenging. When you are filled with uncertainty, you may question if it is possible to even make it to the other side. During these times, use your Yoga asana practice to connect to the grounding energy of the earth.
The power of the earth element is its strong foundation, one that allows you to walk confidently forward despite uncertainty. In a forward fold like prasarita padottanasana, or wide-legged forward fold, you bring in this grounding energy by fixing your feet and hands firmly on the earth. As you engage the muscles in the inside and outside of your legs and buttocks, you will feel the strength of the earth from your feet all the way up your spine. Surrender and let these breaths remind you that with commitment to yourself and your practice, the stability you need to follow your truth through times of transition is always available to you.
There are times in life when it seems easy to allow your heart to collapse. Perhaps you feel tired, overwhelmed, agitated or out of alignment with Self. But these difficult times are when the heart is meant to shine. Choosing love over fear will always result in the highest good for everyone. This is a lesson that garudasana, or eagle pose, can teach us.
When you study the world around you from an Ayurvedic perspective, it’s easier to use your Yoga practice to create balance and harmony in your life.
For instance, whenever there is movement, such as in the transition between seasons or the transformation of food to energy, vata dosha is involved. Vata, made up of the ethers and air elements, provides the space for movement and the push of wind to take something from here to there. In the body, it allows your digestive organs to guide food from the mouth to the colon, your blood to circulate the nutrients throughout your body and your legs to walk as a result of the energy from your food.
By Myra Lewin
Health is found in a place between extremes. It is a place of not too much, not too little. It looks like eating enough simple food, getting enough movement in your body, devoting enough time to spiritual development and spending enough time with positive community. What is “enough” depends entirely on your unique needs – there is no other guide than the one within to identify your limits.
Finding your place of balance is easier when you cultivate a regular meditation practice. Think of it as a training ground for your mind, a way to experience your stillness to allow your inner voice to speak. Follow your breath consciously and do nothing but be. With a regular practice, it soon becomes easier to make choices that lead to greater balance in all areas of your life.
One of the most revered ancient texts on Yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, has 196 sutras, or small threads of wisdom, about the practice of Yoga. Did you know that only four of these talk about asana, or the physical postures that most people associate with Yoga?
Pregnancy is a time for going within, a time to build a soft nest in your body to nurture a new life. A Yoga practice of meditation, pranayama and asana can be a great ally along this path. As you deepen your connection to Self through your practice, you’ll also grow closer to the spirit that is growing within you.
Building time in your dinacharya, daily routine, for Yoga practice can help you stay balanced, flexible and pain-free in the mind and body. It’s important to create a practice that will promote a safe environment for your baby and evolve with you as you change. We’ve put together a sequence below that is wonderful during all phases of a healthy pregnancy.
At the beginning of each Hale Pule Yoga teacher training, we take photos of the students upon arrival. At the end of the training we take a second picture. After one month of immersion in the teachings of Yoga, the differences are striking. They see how their posture changes as they break through limiting patterns in other areas of their life. For instance, a forward head position can signal fear and distrust (on the lookout for danger), or slouched shoulders can be a sign of insecurity or self-judgment, which is tamas, darkness and inertia. As the students clear fear and distrust by pointing rajas (activity) toward sattva (light), their energy flows and alignment becomes more natural. This is a good reminder of how Yoga affects every aspect of life.
One of the beautiful aspects of Yoga asana is that regular, sattvic practice allows us to live free of pain or discomfort. That freedom applies to all forms of being – as pain in the body is connected to mental, emotional or spiritual pain.
One area in which people often experience the connection between body and emotion is in the hips. If you live from fear more than love, prana in your hip joints becomes stagnant, leading to tension and tightness that can diminish your range of movement and ability to enjoy life. Poses like baddha konasana, or bound angle pose, allow both physical and emotional release in the hips by inviting prana to flow freely and sweep away pain and stuck emotions.
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.
The power of the trinity is recognized in cultures around the world. The number 3 represents a perfect balance, and has been used in mantra and divine representations in the Yoga tradition for centuries.
Your body can mirror this divine representation in trikonasana, triangle pose. Aligning the natural triangles in the sacrum, sternum and skull as you create triangles with your legs and body, and building from the three anchor points of your feet and front hand, this pose offers a beautiful flow of prana through your whole being.
If you want to enjoy a lifetime of comfort and mobility in your body, it’s time to revisit something you do every day – sit down and stand up.
As most people age, a common complaint is the loss of mobility. Pain, stiffness and popping can increase in the joints, especially in the hips, the important connection between the upper and lower parts of the body.
But this doesn’t have to be destiny. In fact, your body can actually improve with age. The key is maintaining proper balance of strength and flexibility in your muscles and bones, especially your hip joints.
If you want to practice Yoga for life, be kind to your joints.
Your skeleton is a complex structure, made up of interconnected muscles and bones that provide the strength you need to hold Yoga poses. The joints are simply spaces where two bones come near each other, where tissue exists to prevent the bones from grinding together.
Far too often, yogis develop a practice that appears to be strong, but it actually relies too much on leaning into the joints. Over time, this weakens the joints, creating instability. This is easy to see with hyperextension of the elbows in bhujangasana, cobra pose, but one pose where you might not think about misusing the joints is in virbhadrasana B, warrior II pose.