When we roll out our yoga mats to make various shapes, breathe with conscious intention, and rest to integrate the new information, the cocktail of chemicals we invoked during our practice often leaves us rolling up our mats feeling great. We are note quite sure why, but it feels good and has us coming back for more.
If we start to practice a few times a week, that great feeling we have has quite an effect on how we start viewing ourselves and the people in our lives. It is as if we put a new pair of glasses on our eyes and we can see things with a little more freshness and clarity.
When we roll out our yoga mats, not only are we moving our body around in ways that feel good and get all the stress knots out, but we are also learning how to build sustaining relationships. First and foremost, we learn a lot about the kind of relationship we have with ourselves. This first experiential relationship with ourselves will generally entail and propel us into a place where we desire a new paradigm. We may experience a felt sense that we do not want to re-build ourselves from how we came to the mat, but we deeply desire a new standard.
Many of us because of classical cultural conditioning are disconnected from our bodies. We are not familiar with the language our body speaks and we go years ignoring it before something ruptures – either physically, emotionally, spiritually or a combination of all three. The practice of yoga helps us tune into a way of knowing we have forgotten and/or been put off from for reasons that are not in our conscious awareness.
We learn how to love and respect our needs and desires in a way that re-connects us to wholeness. Then what we learn or re-learn about ourselves, we extend out to others. Sometimes the shifts happen in small steps and sometimes these shifts happen in giant leaps, but what is happening on either level is that we are learning about building relationships in a new way from our asana practice. How do we do that?
Let’s look at a few categories of poses so we can put some of this in context.
Standing Poses/Warrior II Pose
Standing poses work the legs, a lot. Warrior II pose is a fundamental basic pose. It is a foundational standing posture. This piece is not about the proper alignment in Warrior II pose, but about the feelings that come up when we are in this pose. Besides the feelings that may come up, which we will discuss in a moment, Warrior II is a power pose and it puts us in a physical and energetic position of power that carries with us long after we leave the mat. Warrior pose is an incredible thigh-burning pose. If we have the proper alignment with the bent knee and actually have our thigh parallel to the floor, we will feel this intense heat within a few breaths. Our natural tendency after an intense contraction with our muscles is to give up and let go and/or get our mind on anything else but the actual moment of heat and intensity. If we have some energy shifting around internally, usually noticeable by that infamous thigh shake in this pose, we really start to get wondering upstairs and lose the integrity of the pose.
So, what happens if we focus on our intentional breath, feel the contraction, feel the slight vibration in the thigh, but we do not let it tell us what to do. We get curious about it, breath more deeply, and stay with it. Most of the time (not all), we will forget about thigh burning and shaking and open our conscious awareness a bit more. In that moment, we took an old habit and starting chipping away at it and in place of it we start building a new paradigm by staying focused with our intentional breath and getting really curious about the feeling of the intensity.
Now, back to our relationship building. Maybe our old habits tell us to run away from things when it gets too intense, like intimate relationships or relationships with new projects or diets. So instead of sticking with it when things are not working out like we thought, we just give up. But, perhaps next time you come to this crossroads, you will remember what it was like to get really curious about our feeling states on the mat and when we stayed steady with our breath, we experienced in the safe space of our mat that we could modulate our old habit and start building a new one based on a more expanded awareness about how to respond to life’s difficulties instead of running from them. We learn mainly that we can stay uncomfortable, that it will not always feel that way, and that after we do get past that feeling, we feel stronger and have clearer vision of mind.
What exactly do balance poses teach us about our relationships? A lot. Balance poses require commitment to the pose, intentional breath, and a steady gaze on one point to fully express the pose at whatever stage we come to the pose. If we are missing one of these elements in the formula, we will not be balancing in the full expression of the pose. We may fall out, we may grip at the balance so much we forget about our breath and fall, or we may start to move our eyes around and cause our bodies to respond by wobbling out of the pose. If we are off on one of the elements in the formula, we will fall. Of course, there may be other reasons why we fall due to health reasons that are beyond the scope of this piece.
So, how do we maintain the balance in the pose? We chip away at our old habits and start building new ones right here, right now on the mat by employing each element of the formula. When we stop applying all three elements in the pose, we notice, do not be hard on ourselves, and try again. When we are engaged in this process of practice we are already building a new healthy paradigm with ourselves.
So how does this start to transpire in our relationships? We start using the formula in our lives. When things get off course in our lives, as they will do, we come back to the groundedness we felt in the balance pose along with our breath and gaze. We do not have to get in a balance pose when things get tough off the mat. What we can do is stand up with our feet on the ground, spread our toes, root down through our heels, and engage in intentional breath while gazing towards a focal point. Then we can take note of how that body movement and awareness made us feel. Many times it can pull us from chaos to calm instantaneously. We are always seeking some kind of balance in our internal world and our external world. When we learn a little more about what our internal state is saying to us through the language of sensation, we can employ the tools we learn on the mat more readily and quickly to come from a place of hyper arousal or frozen feeling to a place of balance.
Forearm stand, handstand, and headstand are a few of the most common inversion poses that bring up fear. Meeting fear head on in the safe space of our yoga mat is a great way to learn about our relationship to this unique challenge in our lives. Many times there is not much to fear at all, but there is a perceived threat that feels very real and rules our thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Inversion practice requires us to have a steadfast commitment to overcoming our fear. In order to overcome fear whether it is a real threat or perceived, we must walk through the fear whole-heartedly. This means we cannot maneuver or dance around it. This process is not fun. When we take one more breath and one more kick up into an attempted inversion, we are shaking our fundamental structure of how we live and deciding to build a new paradigm each time we lift the heavy weight of our legs up off the ground and define a new relationship with gravity. If we keep practicing going upside down in the stages that best fit our level, we will begin to notice that we kick up without hesitation, that our heavy leg load no longer feels heavy, and one day we get both feet in the air and it feels exhilarating.
That feeling of exhilaration may mean different things for all of us, but likely a common thread is that our exhilaration extends from overcoming our fear and realizing that we really never had anything to actually fear. It was the fear paradigm that kept us from this incredible exhilaration for way too long. Yet, this perceived threat shows up in all kinds of ways in our lives. We could fail to start a project for fear of not being accepted, or we could fear leaving a relationship for fear of change, or we could fear being our true selves because of loss of community that is attached to the image of who we think we are and without the safe space, like our yoga mat, to walk through our fear, we are likely to stay stagnant and allow fear to rule our thoughts and behaviors. When this happens we are not fully enjoying life as we are meant to live it.
When we cross that threshold of, “Hey, everything is actually ok”, we build up resiliency and new shifts happen for the way we view other “fear driven” decisions in our lives. We gain more courage, more wherewithal, and fundamentally a more loving and expansive way to walk through fear based challenges that ignite our spirit instead of stagnate our spirit.
We may roll out our mat and appreciate moving our bodies in various shapes and breathing with steady intent, and in the end feel good and refreshed at the close of our practice, but once we stay committed to a weekly practice we start building new relationships in our asana practice that promote a sense of health and well-being that is stable, purposeful, and authentic to ourselves, our families, and our communities.
We change the paradigm of our lives, not by theorizing or intellectualizing the shifts, but by getting into a new relationship with our feeling state and building healthy relationships from that standpoint in our asana practice. Then what we do on the mat and off the mat becomes a seamless transition.
Om Shanti Om ~ Athea