Today we mark the the occasion of the spring equinox. A distinctive time of year when the length of day and the length of night become equal. Along with the autumnal equinox – it is the only period when we reach a point of true balance.
This is an auspicious time for tuning in to your surroundings. Think of it as an opportunity to become more modulated with nature.
Listening to the new bird songs of spring this past week has already set the stage for me.
It’s the perfect time to do some “garden meditating” or maybe a restorative posture on the patio. Even if your climate isn’t ideal right now, try to spend some time outside today to take advantage of this portal and attune to the harmony of nature.
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Last week I revisited the island of Oahu in Hawaii – a place I have held dearly in my heart since living there in the late eighties/early nineties.
During my trip, I was reacquainted with the ancientness of the land and its rich beauty. Despite the fact that there were more high rises and roads than I remembered, the nature of the people on the island was just as dynamic and compassionate as years gone by.
The root of these virtues can be traced back to the Polynesian heritage of the Hawaiians. A prime example is the ancient culture of Samoa. Its foundation was centered around the principle of vāfealoa’i, the relationships between people. These relationships were based on respect, or fa’aaloalo. This sense of respect continues today in the way the islanders show admiration for their land with all its gifts and the kind treatment they bestow on each other.
As ancient warriors, Hawaiians valued compassion as well as powerfulness. The most revered chiefs were those that held the wisdom of healing in as much esteem as the knowledge of war. This balance between power and humanity was their most treasured quality and has been carried down to the present time.
Your challenge this week is to evoke the ideal warrior character in yourself. To master the art of inner peace while practicing the robust qualities associated with Virabhadrasana or Warrior I.
Points of Action for Virabhadrasana I
Bend the forward leg deeply while keeping the knee aligned with the ankle
Extend the back leg strongly, pressing into the outer heel to secure your base
Lift the torso firmly, drawing upward from both sides of the chest
Draw the upper back forward, extending the sternum proudly
Rotate the upper arms externally to fully project the arms upwards
There can be conflict within this pose as you experience extension vs compression, twisting vs backbending and internal vs external rotation. However, the non-harming nature of yoga should lend a peacefulness to this fierceness. In order to balance the two qualities, locate within yourself a sense of triumph for the spirit within – be mindful that the breath is your support as you yield to the true warrior who is both harmonious and powerful.
After a couple of months of restoring and purifying, we begin afresh as we enter the month of March and the start of spring. It is a clean slate for building our strength, our sturdiness.
The month of March was named after the Roman god Mars who was known for his strong, warrior like quality. Although warrior honors were bestowed on many ancient figures, Mars was known for achieving his strength through levelheadedness and discipline.
Acquiring strength in yoga is founded on discipline as well. In Sanskrit, we use the word “tapas” to define discipline but not in a severe or stern manner. For myself, yogic discipline or tapas can be explained by one word, passion – the heat within our hearts formed from exuberance. Good, disciplined action should lead to a sense of purpose or empowerment; it’s what we encounter in a really great yoga class – a feeling of soaring above all else.
So, our challenge for the week is to try and generate more tapas (heat) in our lives – on and off the mat.
Select a pose that you are avoiding or may find difficult, then practice it. Apply compassion, however, and don’t go beyond your comfort zone. Begin slowly or practice a variation of the pose first.
Strive for consistency. This can be in any area of your life that you feel is lacking. Maybe it is your regular yoga practice or even the time you lay down to sleep each night. Pick one thing that you feel is erratic and get it on a steady track.
What are you afraid of? Do the single thing that you most dread or feel that you just aren’t trusting yourself to achieve. Choosing this more challenging path is definitely fuel for the fire. Maybe it starts with a telephone call or visit that you have been putting off.
“As the trials increase, the errors become less. Then doubts become less, and when the doubts lessen, the effort also becomes less… direction will come, and when you go in the right direction, wisdom begins. When wise action comes, you no longer feel the effort as effort- you feel the effort as joy.” -B.K.S. Iyengar (The Tree of Yoga)
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All students of yoga should periodically check in with their alignment. Although consistent yoga practice would dictate that our bodies are perfectly in line, poor postural habits can develop along the way at any time. It is only when we are aware of these deviations that can we work back towards neutral spine.
This week’s challenge is to check your alignment. Here’s a good test to practice each day this week:
Stand with your back against an unobstructed wall. Your feet should be hip width apart and parallel to each other. The backs of your heels, glutes, shoulders and possibly your head will touch the wall. Try to tuck your pelvis under while still maintaining a slight space behind your lower back (lumbar curve).
Over the course of this week, make the following observations:
How close is your head to the back of the wall? You can measure this by placing your hand behind your head to identify the amount of space that is there. Is there enough room for one finger, two fingers or more?
Which parts of your shoulders are touching the wall?
Are your calves touching the wall?
Are you able to maintain a small space between your lower back and the wall?
Don’t dismay if you are finding some discrepancies here. Remember the challenge is to create awareness.
Check back in on Friday for some ways to improve your body’s organization.
This week’s Year of Living Yogically Challenge is: Invite Yourself to Practice.
Each time you get on your mat, formally mark the start of your asana session with an awakening. Whether you are in class or alone, you can call on your heart, mind and body to stand open in order to receive all of the benefits yoga can bring to you.
An Invocation to Practice
Now is the time to be clear again. Put aside all tasks and concerns, relinquish your grip on any ideals or expectations you may have about your practice.