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.
When you regularly connect to your energetic essence on the mat, it will become second nature in the rest of your life. You can become aware of the response your subtle body has to certain people or situations. You may notice this as a physical sensation, you may “see” it or you may just have a sense of what is happening. Make it part of your daily practice to grow your intuitive abilities with poses like ustrasana. The more often you practice, the more you’ll understand who you are on all levels of your being.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Ustrasana preparation from the ground up
Many people believe they should tuck their toes under to bring their hands to their heels, but that modification takes away a large source of your strength – pressing the tops of the feet into the mat, which engages the legs and buttocks more fully. Keeping your toes tucked can also lead to collapsing into the lower spine. Practice this pose with the tops of your feet flat on the mat. This invites you to engage the backside of your body to protect your spine and allows you to push into the ground for leverage.
1. Begin in a kneeling position with your hips over your knees and shoulders over your hips. Keep your knees, lower legs and feet hip width distance apart. Point your toes straight back.
2. Sit down, keeping your heels up and feet pointing straight back.
3. Lean back and place your hands flat on the floor behind you – don't think about where to place your hands, just let your intuition guide you. Spread your fingers evenly and point them toward your heels, the back of your mat or the sides of your mat. If you point them toward your heels or the back of your mat, be sure they are not turning in.
4. Engage neutral spine by extending your tailbone and 1/8th inch or ½ centimeter toward your knees. Using the strength of your buttocks and legs, pressing the tops of your feet into the floor, lift your hips forward and up. Your shoulders should line up directly above your wrists. If they don’t, lower down, adjust your hands and try again. Keep your elbows straight (but not locked or hyperextended) and press away from the earth with your hands to lift up and out of your shoulder joints. Actively lift your upper back and sternum toward the ceiling.
5. If you have any pain, weakness or injury in your neck, keep your chin on your chest and face parallel to the wall in front of you. If your neck is strong and healthy, extend it and gently release your head back. If you take this expression, let your head go fully back (when you hold your head halfway back, you risk creating tension and straining your neck). Press the tops of your feet into the mat and hold for 15 breaths.
6. To release, slowly lower your hips and buttocks back to your heels. If your head is back, let it come up naturally as a result of lowering your hips; it should not lead. Sit up and breathe normally.
Common trouble spots
Knees wider than hip width. Keep your knees aligned with your hips, not wider, to avoid strain.
Feet pointed in. Be sure your feet are facing straight back and separated so they can act as an anchor for the pose.
Fingers together. Evenly spread your fingers so your hands and fingers can support your upper body. Be sure your hands are open on the mat and participating in the pose.
Hands turned in. If your fingers are turned toward each other when you try to face them toward your toes or the back of your mat, turn them to the side until your wrists are parallel with the short edge of your mat.
Hands too close to or too far away from the feet. Keep your hands aligned directly beneath your shoulders to avoid straining your shoulders, wrists or elbows.
Head halfway back. This will cause significant strain on your neck. If you cannot release your head fully, keep it upright.
We work with a life-changing set of tools to connect with and heal your subtle body. Download our free meditation with an introduction to this work and join us this December for Pranic Awakening: An Immersion in Intuitive Energy Practice.