Rule of thumb in your practice of yoga: Be comfortable so you can be calm.
If you aren’t comfortable when you meditate, you probably won’t come back. So if you aren’t comfortable, review, modify or adjust. A lot of times people seem to fear making adjustments and have to be exactly like the picture in the text book. There seems to be some concern that if you don’t do it like the picture you aren’t doing yoga. I say don’t worry so much, focus on practising SAFELY to get the maximum benefits that you can at any given point in time. Your body is constantly changing so why wouldn’t your practice evolve accordingly?
The idea is to make practice sustainable so you can carry on practising for the rest of your life. Just to be clear, I don’t mean for you to slouch your way through your set of yoga postures! Ahhhh, so comfortable. NO. You’ll need to be actively participating in your chosen posture: think of every fibre of your being as awake and alert but not tense.
As an example, below are some modifications that you can make in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), a fundamental posture that is the cause of a lot of worry over alignment for many people and can be challenging to sustain for some. Mr Iyengar writes in Light on Yoga, “All standing poses are strenuous, this pose in particular. It should not be tried by persons with a weak heart. Even people who are fairly strong should not stay long in this asana.”
So let’s look at how we can make you more warrior and less worrier here, ok? Ok.
IMPORTANT: I’ll add here that if you are pregnant, you may find that standing postures are definitely too tiring to attempt in your first trimester. That was the case for me, but towards the end of my first trimester it felt GOOD to be in the posture and I absolutely love it in my third trimester now. Alternatively you may be just dandy hanging out here. Be aware of any signals your body throws your way. Your yoga practice may be altered during pregnancy but that doesn’t make it less yogic. Never force!
Virabhadrasana I, here we come:
Start in standing, arms above the head (palms touching) with the legs about 4 feet apart.
Swivel to the right, turning the right foot to face forwards and the left foot slightly to the right (see below).
Bend the right knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor, knee above the ankle.
Keep the left leg engaged in one long line.
Look up towards the palms, letting the head drop back.
20 to 30 seconds in the posture (each side) with normal breathing is plenty but if you find yourself getting breathless, stay calm and exit a little sooner. This is a tough posture so don’t get discouraged! Start with 5 seconds next time and build up your stamina. I used to find this posture tiring, my arms ached from holding them up and my thighs BURNED. Now I don’t even notice such things and truly enjoy the posture. The key was to practice patiently.
If your shoulders seem to be bunching up around your jaw then keep the palms parallel instead of touching (see below).
(The legs are a little closer together here so that you can see the placement of the both feet. But if you find too intense a stretch in the groin, then by all means have the legs a little closer together like this!)
If you have high blood pressure, keep your arms down (see below) – placing them on your hips is a great way to check the alignment of your hips. In Virabhadrasana I the body faces forwards. Women may experience high blood pressure in pregnancy – be aware of this and modify accordingly.
If you feel dizzy, don’t look up but look straight ahead or down instead (see below).
Or don’t look up so high (see below).
If you have neck issues, don’t look up but look straight ahead or down instead (see below).
If the posture is too strenuous to begin with, have the front thigh a little higher than parallel to the floor (see below). Keep actively engaging the muscles in the leg though!
There you go, I hope that helps you to find more ease and comfort as a Warrior.
Let me know if there is anything else bothering you in your Warrior pose and I’ll be happy to make some suggestions! All the best in your practice! x
B and I started a 40 day practice this month. Usually we have our own activities we like to do in order to feel good: mine would be yoga, Pilates, watching old TV shows, and his would be basketball (REAL and XBOX). This month we decided that the New Moon would be the perfect time to start a shared daily practice for 40 days to boost our energy and spirit levels.
We are STILL doing our favourite activities, naturally!
Everyday we practice a set sequence of yoga postures, followed by mantra meditation and we drink a green drink that I labelled our ‘Elixir’. This last part is major because B has never been on board with drinking anything green although I feel like that’s being very picky since he is slightly colour blind anyway? For all he knows it could be pink? SUDDENLY he can tell it’s green. I mean.
The mantra we chant is personal to each of us but I’ll share mine with you below. We chant out loud and with confidence, 11 times and then we sit quietly and let things marinate.
Somedays we do our practice in the evening like last night when we came home from a wedding party. We showered, changed and stepped on our mats. Then we had our green drink. We slept like babies even with both of us recovering from the flu.
It feels wonderful!
To go along with our 40 day practice we also cut out coffee. I typically drink a lot of coffee, alarming amounts even, but I’ve never had any issue with stopping. I never even get headaches if I go without coffee but it’s that comfort factor that I like. I love comfort! So when I want a warm drink I’ll make myself a Coconut Maca drink. I’m having one righttttttt now.
I’m very lucky I’ve never enjoyed soft drinks and I drink a lot of room temperature water. Even warm water in a mug can be comforting. I make a ritual out of heating the water up, choosing a favourite mug (B and I both like to hog the same mugs) and then enjoying the steam puff up. It’s all about the ritual and process! Aren’t humans funny?
We started out as a very small community of just two, but in just over a week a few of our friends have started to join in. One of my girlfriends asked for a shopping list so she could run out and grab all the ingredients for the ‘elixir’ the very next morning.
Which is great! The more the merrier, and slowly little by little we generate more good vibes. If you would like to join us (we’d love to have you!) feel free to come up with your own mantra, or use mine:
To get straight into Compass Pose (after an appropriate warm up), head on over to the the middle bit, we’ll catch up with you!
One of the most helpful lessons I learned in Yoga was how sometimes all I need to do is take another look. Different postures are often the same but placed differently in space. Rather than trying to learn each posture on its own and find comfort on that island, I realised that many of these postures could be grouped together. If I could only find the thread that connected all of them.
A lot of mixed metaphors! Forgive me!
Compass Pose is usually done seated. With the back thigh lifting off this becomes a modified version of the arm balance posture often referred to as ‘Flying Compass Pose’. In the flying version, the back leg is outstretched in the manner of a side plank. Keeping the back knee down makes the posture more accessible as the balance requirement is reduced.
I have also come across the flying version being referred to as Visvamitrasana, Pose dedicated to the Sage Visvamitra. From what I understand, in Visvamitrasana, the top arm reaches up to the ceiling. The posture is advanced by reaching the top arm to catch hold of the floating foot.
Ok, let’s go back to this idea of finding comfort. Asana refers to being comfortable and steady in a posture. But, but, BUT.How does one get comfortable in a posture that is simply not comfortable? You know what would be comfortable in Chair Pose? An actual chair to sit on. Not a pretend chair made of the steam that rose up from my burning thighs. How does one find steadiness when balanced upside down on two hands? Aside from taking the variation of face-planting, which is steady but distinctly uncomfortable, ow my nose.
Different people will have different ways to seek out comfort and steadiness.
A good rule of thumb to check how you’re doing is to ask yourself if you are breathing – slowly, steadily, with awareness or if you are holding your breath.
Another one is to check on your level of attention – are you focused, gazing steadily, or frowning hard at the current task.
You can also check how you are holding yourself – soft, relaxed but actively engaging your muscles, or tensing, hunching the shoulders around your ears, biting your lips and so on.
That last one will give you an idea of how okay you feel with the outcome of your practice. Ask: Do you have to nail this posture today?
Be calm and trust the unknown. For me, finding comfort means being okay with what is going on and feeling comfortable with my body and believing in the ability of it to support me wherever I end up. If I hold my breath I know I am fearful and tense. Knowing that being ‘successful’ in any posture won’t make me a better person, and ‘failing’ a posture won’t mean I am a bad person allows me to practice with detachment. I feel OKAY with the possibility that today may not be the day I get my leg behind my head or fly my compass, or leap like Hanuman into the splits. And I am then free to practice.
Understand the difference between challenge and strain. There may be awareness of some intense stretching sensations or a serious amount of strength being demanded or that, “Do you smell smoke? Because I KNOW my quads are on fire” feeling but through all of that I understand the individual actions I am performing and I am BREATHING calmly. Maintaining a steady and calm breath means I am less likely to exceed my limitations for the day and end up hurting myself, physically and emotionally. It’s so important to practice with compassion! Yoga practice is not a torture practice. If I get my breathing under control, my thought patterns change from scattered, critical, irrelevant, tense to focused, precise, quiet and steady. And I feel okay, fine, maybe even peaceful. Despite the smoke signals.
Learning New Poses, like Compass Pose
I’ve noticed that people learning a sequence like the Sun Salutations would try to hurry through the current posture to get into the next and become breathless. If they are asked to focus on breathwork, they report feeling less frazzled, especially if instructed to allow the breathing to slow down. It’s the same for learning a new pose. This was my personal experience as well.
The first time I saw someone in the full flying version of Compass Pose, I remember thinking, “HOW did you get there?”
The first time I experienced being taught the full flying version of Compass Pose with the body in an extended side plank position, I had forgotten about that person and was thinking to myself, “Where is this going?”
Anyway, once we were there* in the posture (as close to ‘there’ as a first attempt could feel, accompanied by me calling out, “Um, something like this?!”) I didn’t feel great, I just felt awkward, weird, gangly, tired, sore, confused, frustrated, and EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE. All my limbs were crying, “ARGH we don’t belong in this configuration.” My breath was erratic just like my thoughts. I didn’t recognise where I was and I was freaked. I had also forgotten about the idea of comfort and steadiness in my posture. I didn’t fall out of the posture but crashed, backwards on my bum.
You know how sometimes people learn a new posture and they seem so elated? That was not me. I was just bewildered. I couldn’t wait for naptime Savasana and then also lunch.
At the time of that class, I was familiar with side plank and had developed a healthy dislike of it. (I won’t pretend I like it much these days but I see the value in it and I appreciate it.) I had also experienced the seated compass pose. And although I knew how to add I wasn’t connecting the dots between the two postures and my current extremely uncomfortable mess of tangled limbs. I was so suspended in this huge reaction of being uncomfortable that there was just so much disconnect between my body and my mind.
But could I really claim to have learnt that posture that day?
Later on after a day or a week or let’s be honest, more like a month had gone by, I took a closer look at what went down. Ohhhhhhhhh heyyyyy…. that kind of looks like if I did that stretchy side thing with my top arm whilst balancing in a sideways plank.But how the heck do I get into it again? What leg goes with what hand? What does this foot back here do? If I go into side plank, I can’t get the front foot off the floor. If I lift the front foot off the floor, I can’t get into side plank. UGHHHHH.
Over time as I played around with the different shapes, I sort of made friends with this posture. I wouldn’t call us bosom buddies or the kind of friends that need to be together all the time, more like a long distance good friendship. We’re happy to see each other when we can but if we don’t, that’s okay too, maybe another time, we’ll catch up and see what the other is up to.
THE MIDDLE BIT: Finding Compass Pose
Let’s see if we can’t get you two acquainted:
To enter (hover over each photo for detailed instructions):
From here: Gaze upwards, or if that is uncomfortable simply look ahead. In this instance I just gazed directly forwards rather than up as my torso wasn’t revolving as far as usual. What I would go on to do is go back to opening my hips a little more and do you see how that back thigh may want to press forward a little more? I’d work on those and then revisit the posture again and see if anything has changed.
Keep the front leg bent
Float the front foot off the floor and keep the top arm flat against your side or reaching upwards
Feeling really steady? Try again with your back leg stretched out in one line with the rest of your body
Practice the seated version of the posture, back leg bent or stretched out directly in front or half crossed
Stop at whichever step is most appropriate to you and stay there
Whatever variation you take, keep breathing and stay calm!
Inhale, release the foot; exhale, take a moment. Switch sides. Let me know how you went!
Note: I cannot stress how important it is to practice with awareness. The most important tool for me has been to learn to understand my body. Learn about your body, become aware of what conditions it thrives under and what conditions it does not. Do not force. Find a teacher you can trust to guide you.
Take care and be well! x
*what does ‘there’ mean anyway? In the beginning of practice I would think of ‘there’ as the place where I matched the picture in Light on Yoga. I currently think of ‘there’ as where I can go based on who I am on a given day but I don’t know until I start moving where I will get to.
B goes through these phases of having a current word that he loves to use. His current one is ’empower’. Not a bad one to have. He uses it in a work context, empowering this associate, that manager, this director, etc.
We all know that I love myself some weheartit action. Whaddya know, there is an inspiration gallery on weheartit called ‘Empowerment’! Hello, this is Synchronicity calling. Oh, it’s for us! So, this gallery on weheartit is girl-power focused but there’s some stuff in there to support all genders as well. The images that caught my eye the most were the ones that remind me that girls need to support other girls. You know the ones:
One of my favourite comedians is Dylan Moran and he made an observation about women in one of his standups saying we will never have the rights we keep demanding because we keep bitching about each other. You could hear the sucked in breath of the audience, the outright guffaws of everyone, all the head nodding and people going, “Haha! So true!”.
I laughed too but on the inside, I was all, “Dammit, Team!”
A very good friend of mine once told me something when I expressed hurt feelings after discovering that someone I thought of as a very close friend had been talking about me behind my back. He said, “Dom, one of these days you’ll learn that not everyone likes everyone and not everyone will like you.”
Stranger things, hey. What are you gunna do.
I was like “Waaaaaaahhhh I don’t wanna learn” (The sound of me experiencing history repeating.)
Flashback to trying to introduce my different best friends in junior school to each other which felt like walking face on into a brick wall. Very painful. They all hated each other. For no reason that I could see. I liked them, we seemed to like similar things hence the bff-ness, so why didn’t they like each other? At least one of them explicitly stated, “If she’s coming, I’m not coming.” Tea parties and movie outings got very tricky.
My squads were more like Noah’s ark passengers and only came in sets of two. No chance of starting a girl band which is a shame because one of my bffs and I had this great dance routine down ahahahaha cue my #squadgoals gallery.
It was actually a killer routine, ok.
“This could have been us but you hatin’.“
Another odd thing that I observed over time was the refusal of women to accept each other.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Yes but she’s ugly.” as a means to downplay that person’s competence or worth? Or if someone is being praised for an accomplishment, another person says, “Too bad she’s fat.” Or about someone who has the figure of someone who works out alot, “She’s probably bulimic.” Or about someone who is beautifully dressed, “She’s a bimbo.” Or about someone who is just generally a lovely person, well off, doing well in her chosen field, beautiful inside and out, you might hear, “But she’s still single hey.”
This hating thing seems to be something that has really picked up over the last couple of years. I’ve been the subject of some hate too: I have been fat-shamed AND thin-shamed, but then hello, who hasn’t had a little shade thrown at them by this point? There’s so much of it to go around.
I don’t know if it has always been this way and I can’t speak to what guys talk about amongst themselves because I’m not a guy. But it feels horrible to me. This should not be the norm. Where have the compliments gone? I’m not interested in lip service and saying nice things that we don’t mean. But the more I see this sort of behaviour — and I know other people must be seeing this hence all the “Women empower each other” inspiration images — the more I think there seems to be this mindset that there is only a limited amount of beauty, brains, health, wealth, best friends, compliments, success, and other great things and it’s every woman for herself. We need to clear this misunderstanding up. There may be underlying issues like a feeling of lack (self-esteem, worth, value) and we need to deal with that too. Not that having issues is an excuse. We may not even be aware of any underlying issues. Although what kind of perfectly happy issue-free person walks around espousing hate? Happy people don’t kill people as Elle Woods puts it.
Hey girl, what lies beneath?
Dunno, but that won’t stop me from hating on other people.
And “she started it” is definitely not a valid reason, either.
The idea that a person may be deeply unhappy without even knowing suggests a general lack of awareness or cloudiness of mind. One of the Yoga Sutras talks about how to attain clarity of mind. It says, “Clarity of mind is produced by meditating on friendliness towards the happy, compassion toward the miserable, joy toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.” [1.33]
I think of this as one of several keys to ultimate freedom.
What better freedom can there be than to have total peace of mind? To not experience jealousy when one witnesses the success of another but to feel happy? Rather than tearing each other down and belittling the hard work of another we can feel inspired to do more and be more. No, we don’t need to do the old “Girls rule, boys suck” chant either. There is no need for us to put down another gender to feel better about our own. We don’t need to belittle someone else’s life to feel better about our own. True strength doesn’t depend on highlighting the weaknesses of others and we need to be stronger.
True strength NOT brute strength.
All of us are in this together and we have our own challenges to get through. My approach? Well, basically:
For those of us who have been bullied and pushed around: hey, you need to know that you’re a valuable person.
For those of us who have not made the best choice, let’s stop being so shady. I think kindness is a nicer shade on you.
So, if we really want world peace and universal love, let’s give ourselves permission to show each other kindness and find some peace. There are really important things happening out there, tearing each other down simply cannot be the way forward. This behaviour has become a bad habit but habits can be unlearned. It’s never too late to learn new tricks and bring about change. Change your thoughts, change your life.
This is one of the first postures I was taught; if I remember correctly it may even have come before Downward Facing Dog Posture.
It was a long time ago!
But I still get so many benefits every single time I practice it.
From standing, step the feet out to the sides and raise your arms parallel to the floor, at shoulderheight, palms facing the floor. Wriggle the right foot 90 degrees and turn the left foot inwards towards the right. Inhale keep extending the spine long and stretching your arms out to the sides. Maintain muscular activation of the legs. Exhale and lean to the right, taking the right hand down.
There are variations on where you place the front hand:
If you practice Ashtanga, you work towards taking the front big toe.
If you practice Iyengar, the front hand rests flat on the floor outside of the front foot.
Or rest the hand on the shin.
Do what you can.
Gaze upwards, or if that is uncomfortable simply look down.
Extend and lengthen everything!
Inhale, come up; exhale, switch sides.
Benefits (and my personal experience):
This pose strengthens the entire leg, develops the chest and improves posture. Mr Iyengar found it to help any respiratory conditions his students had and indeed it may very well have assisted in the reduction of my asthma. Or made me stronger. Any position which improves posture, strengthens the back and develops the chest seems to assist. The stamina you gain as you practice standing postures can help too. And of course learning to finally breathe through the nose rather than gasping for air helps.
Note: We are all wonderfully different so one person may have a totally different asthma experience to another. I just thought I would share my personal experience in case it is of use. The most important tool for me has been to learn to understand my body. Learn about your body, become aware of what conditions it thrives under and what conditions it does not. Find a teacher you can trust to guide you.
“Your strength is how calmly, quietly and peacefully you face life.”~ Yogi Bhajan
This year has blessed me with a rich bounty of joy, health, love, wealth, success, mistakes, pain, grief, change, challenges and many lessons; somethings I asked for and plenty that I did not. I learned a few things, promptly forgot my lessons, relearned them, forgot some, remembered some. Some challenges I faced calmly and many ungracefully. Some change I accepted and some I resented. This year has been like every other year but I turned to meditation more than ever to learn acceptance. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not at all. I learned just how highly I value peace. I am learning how to be strong enough to always remain at peace within myself and brave enough to trust what I cannot yet know. I am the only one truly responsible for my happiness. So much to learn! I will try harder next year to do better. I could not have wished for a better year.
And you, friend? How was your year? I hope you have a marvellous year in which you meet with unlimited joy.