Awake and Alive Asana
I believe that we find the yoga practice when we need it the most. Some of us are looking for healing. Some of us are looking for safety. Some of us are looking for a sense of belonging. Some of us are looking to wake up and live. Perhaps we don’t know the why when we begin, but through the guidance of teachers and the support of the community, we find it. The yoga practice stirred up a passion in me to live a life I never thought possible. This life is one that is full of compassion and connection and empathy and goodness. I didn’t know what I was looking for but my body did. It knew that I was ready to wake up. Ive experimented with different styles of asana from restorative to yin to kundalini to forrest to vinyasa. In their own way, each practice awakened in me something new by letting me encounter reality with fresh eyes. Any mindful asana practice can act as a guide on the journey towards a full and feeling life, but over time I’ve found a few postures that draw me into being here, being now, fully feeling and living, with both ease and speed.
Supported Fish - There is nothing more yummy than starting practice off in supported fish. There are many many many different ways to set this shape up; it all depends on the props you have available. For the most simple set up, use two blocks. The fist block tracks along the line of your spine right in between your shoulder blades. The second block goes on a lower setting to support the skull. For a more intense opening, place both blocks on the highest setting, running perpendicular to the spine. One rests under the skull, the other near the shoulder blades. Heart openers are naturally stimulating to the nervous system. In this supported heart opener, because there is minimal effort to hold the body up, it becomes simpler to focus on the heart beating.
The postures are the physical way in to understanding the energetic. So let’s go deeper into the layers of the self. Because the area around the heart, think pectorals and shoulders, often play a part in the way we protect ourselves from big feelings and thoughts, asking this place to open can bring a torrent of resistance responses. Those sound like: I can’t do this. It’s too much. I need to move. I need to wriggle out of this. Why am I here? When is this going to be over. I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I can’t breathe. When you find yourself inside of those resistance response, pause. Find your heartbeat. Find your breath. Ask yourself why do I not feel comfortable? Am I holding my breath or my body because I don’t trust that I’ll survive the opening? The wonderful thing about a supported opening is that you have something to sink into when this resistance reaction comes up. Feel the props underneath your body and ask yourself to sink into them like you would the ground.
Reverse Table Top, Lion’s Breath - I love a good lion’s breath. To set up this experience, sit on the ground with feet hips distance apart. Take your hands behind you all ten fingers facing forward. On the inhale, lift your hips up to the sky. On the exhale, allow your head to fall back, stick out your tongue and exhale loudly. I usually cue this in sets of three, each time letting go of the constraints we place around ourselves and the way we show up.
When I first encountered this breathing technique, I was still in acting school spending everyday all day breathing loudly and making some crazy sounds. Lion’s breath gives us permission to be loud and weird, less careful, and less inhibited. This vigorous breath helps to illuminate the ways in which we make ourselves smaller. Part of being asleep is making ourselves and the experience of this life smaller. We only give ourselves permission to live in emotional spectrum that feels safe. This actually risks the very lives we try to protect. Compressing our existence, compressing what we take in from the world around us, translates into goin through the motions of living. Live your full large life. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. We do not get to selectively numb. when we cut ourselves off from large “bad” feelings, we also cut ourselves off from large “good” feelings. Lion’s breath is one way into feeling more, seeing more, living more. With this permission to exist in a larger way than we normally do, we also give ourselves permission to feel in a larger way.
Prayer Hand Twisted Lunge - Prayer hand twisted lunge is not easy. It is not comfortable. But it is a great way to access the fire inside of our hearts and bellies. To get into this shape, start in high lunge. On the inhale, bring the hands to prayer heart center and lengthen the crown of the head up to the sky. On the exhale, hook the opposite elbow to the outside of the thigh. Keep engaging the legs by kicking through the back heel, lifting the back quad up, and committing to the bend in the front knee. Every exhale, press the palms together to twist deeper, aiming chest up to the sky.
Turn up the fire. This prayer hand twisted lunge is all about feeling challenged and instead of running away, engaging with the fire. By now, most of us have experienced challenges. They show up in every aspect of life: interpersonal, professional, inside of the mind and heart. Because challenges are such a normal part of life, if we ignore them or try to go around them, we are cutting out chunks of our life. My old way of dealing with things that were challenging was by saying, “everything’s fine. I’m okay”. To a certain extent, sure. I’m alive and I’m still trucking, so, yes. I have found more value in challenges when I name them though. Seeing them for what they are gives me the ability to learn from them. In that way I find the patterns in my life. Have I been inside of this particular challenge before? What do I know about it? How can I learn more about myself and the people that I care about from the way I deal with this? We practice this on the mat in a very controlled and safe environment. The stress that is placed on the physical body evokes very similar responses as the stressors from situations or feelings. When we find our minds running away, our bodies squirming out of the fire, why?
When I think about my physical practice, I recognize the wealth of knowledge that lives in the body. It holds everything: all of the trauma, all of the joy, all of the stifled impulses, all of the fully lived experiences. This practice is mean to stir it all up. Find your breath. Find your heartbeat. Fully live inside of each experience.
Supta Baddha Konasana
Supta Baddha Bridges
Windshield wipers knees to twist right side, left side
Cat and cow
Wide low lunge
Inner thigh press open and twist
Urdhva Hastasana Stand up
Surya Namaskara A
Straight leg tap
airplane arms, optional bind
Side Lunge, optional side bend and arm variations
bent knee pulls through to Figure four Chair
utthita hasta padangusthasana, optional airplane
Half moon back of mat
Side angle, half bind or full
Knee to tricep
wide low lunge
Side angle, half bind
Wide legged forward fold
Half Pigeon Pose
Supta Baddha Konasana