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?
Yoga asana is far more than a form of physical exercise. While asana provides your body with movement that builds strength and flexibility, it is not the primary goal. The practice of Yoga, including asana, is a system to bring about spiritual connection through the union of mind, body and spirit. This spiritual union is facilitated by a regular meditation practice that allows you to come to understand your true self beyond any connection to the external world.
If your body is painful, stiff, or generally uncomfortable, it can be difficult to sit in meditation. Regular asana, especially hip opening poses like butterfly, will make room for openness and suppleness in your body. Suddenly sitting in meditation becomes easier, and eventually comfortable.
Butterfly pose is held for 1 to 5 minutes, so it is a great preparation for meditation. While sitting in the stillness of this pose, you become more aware of your breath. You can see your mind, including any desire to back away or push harder into the pose, and choose to turn away from that desire and stay present. And in the solitude of your time in butterfly, you can experience a sense of calm. This is what you need to cultivate to stay with a meditation practice and discover the true meaning of Yoga.
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.
Butterfly pose from the ground up
This pose works primarily in the ligaments of the hips, as opposed to the muscles. Your own body weight offers the only opening you need. Avoid bouncing or pushing your knees in butterfly. Instead, find a spot that is right for you and let gravity do the work.
1. Extend your legs about 2/3 of the way out in front to form a tall diamond shape. Place the heels and balls of your feet together and keep them there for the duration of the pose. Open your knees and thighs, but keep them relaxed. The aim is not to get your knees to the ground, but to let them fall gently open to an appropriate level for you. Place your hands beside your hips on the mat and fully extend your spine.
2. With your spine extended, bring your belly, pelvis and torso forward. Let your hands move gently forward to a comfortable place.
3. If your belly and pelvis are not at least halfway to the ground, maintain an extended spine. If you are halfway or further, invite an even gentle curve into your spine while continuing to bring your belly and pelvis forward. Move your hands forward as needed. Hold for 1 to 5 minutes.
Modification: If your thighs and pelvis are tight, you may not be able to sit with an extended spine as in step 1. If so, place your hands behind your hips and lean back until you can fully extend your spine. Then simply breathe and work toward bringing your belly and torso upright.
Common trouble spots
Rounding the back without bringing the pelvis forward. The tilting of the pelvis is what keeps the focus on the ligaments of the pelvis and hips and less on the muscles.
Feet too close to the groin. The foot placement in butterfly is meant to be a long diamond. This is different from baddha konasana, where the heels are close to the body.
Balls of feet apart. While this is a passive pose, be sure to keep the balls of your feet together. They can fall apart at any point in the pose.
Hands on the body. In butterfly, we keep our hands on the mat to avoid any tendency to pull or force the body. Keeping your hands on the ground is grounding and will support an approach grounded in sattva, or balance and harmony.
Excessive curve in upper back. Be sure to curve the spine evenly. If you are curving more in the upper back, back off and move forward from your pelvis.