Six Postures to Lean into Support
Do you know how to ask for help when you need it? Do you know how to let other people pick you up when they see you falling down? As the world becomes increasingly collaborative, understanding how to utilize support has become an incredibly valuable skill. The yoga practice has a lot to say about translating the message we learn on the mat into every corner of life. Feeling resistant to support? Try these six postures below.
Frog Pose - If we all spent 20% of our emailing time in frog pose or pigeon pose (see below), I posit that we'd be much happier humans. Yup, this one is intense - not in the same way as a standing balance or twist chair, but it requires just as much focus on breath and body. Frog pose opens the inner thigh. If you are working on a straddle, add this pose to your practice.
I use a blanket as a glider to get into this posture. Set up with the inside of one knee on the mat and the inside of the other knee on the blanket, feet flexed perpendicular to the shin bone. Slowly, begin to slide the blanket-knee out to the side until you reach the appropriate depth for you. Either the hands or the forearms can rest on the ground.
Because of the intensity of this posture, tension creeps into the shoulders, face, and even the inner thighs themselves. This form of bracing is meant as an act of protection. In some way, we fear surrendering completely to gravity, receiving the support of the earth. Use the breath in this posture as a way to encourage a sinking into the support. Mindfully exhale and soften the part of the body and mind that are resisting.
Half Pigeon Pose - Another pose whose physical benefits alone are enough reason to practice every day. Pigeon pose releases the tension in the glutes and back hip flexor. These areas of our body are constantly contracting to accommodate our modern lives. Hips are the first responders when our body receives a stress signal. From millennia of evolution, whenever faced with a stressor like a tiger trying to eat you or a looming deadline, the hips contract as part of the fight/flight/freeze response. Now that our stressors appear more frequently as mental and emotional rather than physical, the body has a harder time realizing when to let go. Pigeon pose places us in a state of letting go.
Supported Child's pose - If you ever need to take some time to curl inward in the softest way, look no further than supported child's pose. Place three bolsters on top of on another, straddling them in your child's pose and allowing your hands to rest on blocks. This pose asks for complete surrender. Can you trust that this softness is enough? By allowing the bolsters and blocks to take all of your weight, child's pose becomes a symbol of allowing the self to be supported.
Supported Fish - This is a yum supported heart opener. There are many different ways to set up with blocks and bolsters depending on the openness of your heart (thoracic spine). The most common is it place one block in between your shoulder blades down the length of your thoracic spine and another block under the head to support the neck. Sometimes it can be just as hard to cultivate energy as it is to settle. Supported Fish softly coaxes the heart open. The blocks encourage an opening across the heart and stimulate the nervous system.
Headstand - Though I recognize the importance of restorative postures, they don’t come easily to me. I am a pusher, a doer, a constantly-in-motion-er. Because the world I live in necessitates these qualities, I find myself easily sinking into "super extra" when it comes to doing. I constantly revisit the lesson of ease in work, or how to lean into support even when you are required to try and do and be. The easier lesson: how to be supported when you are giving your whole weight over to something. The harder lesson: how to receive just enough supported to encourage ease. Enter: Headstand Practice. I practice Sirsasana A with my eyes closed as I pike up. I want to stimulate my ability to feel the ground beneath me and let that translate into a engagement in my core and legs. Inversions also ask us to do just one thing. Even if you have to do, can you focus solely on this task of holding your body upside down? Can you feel how the ground is offering support so that you don't have to muscle into the shape, but rather balance in it?
Legs up the Wall - Do you spend a ton of time on your feet? As a runner, a teacher, and a city dweller, an incredible amount of my time is spent standing on my feet. Legs up the wall reverses all of the hard pounding into the ground. When I enter this posture, I feel the pressure finally releasing from my legs. I feel my heart and breath rate slow down. This posture is exactly as it sounds. Come to sit close to the wall. With your back on the ground slide your legs up the wall until they are flat against it. You can also opt to separate your legs wide into a straddle and work on flexibility for inner thighs. Spend at least five minutes here. Notice if there is any tension in your quads or hamstrings that doesn’t seem to release. On your inhale, focus on the part of the body that continues to hold. On the exhale picture a soft cloud sipping the tension in your body away little by little.
There was a moment in my practice where I realized it wasn't just about the shapes I was taking on my mat, it was about the way I entered the space, and then it wasn't just about how I entered the space, it was about how I lived my life. The yoga practice has never been about only the asana and pranayama and meditation restricted to a yoga mat. Articles titled similarly to this one (ten poses to detox after thanksgiving, five poses for a killer core, six poses to destress during the holiday season) make an attempt to bridge the gap between going to yoga for an hour and the other 23 hours of the day. But how many of us actually integrate the practice into our daily lives? The practice happens when you wake up, when you interact with you boss or coworkers or family, when you ride the subway. The practice is consciously choosing every moment, every breath, every reaction. We learn those things on the mat in a controlled environment so that we can take what we learn about who we are and what we need into every other facet of our life. Learn how to let others hold you up when you need assistance. Lean into support.