Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Power of Dancing Shiva

Natarajasana – also known as King Dancer, Dancing Shiva, or Lord of the Dance – is an amazing yoga pose that helps us deal with one of our most fundamental fears: the fear of change. Its power lies in challenging us to use faith to confront two fearful actions: the action of balancing and the action of opening our heart.

Shiva is a Hindu God who plays the cosmic role of the Lord of the Dance. With a drum in one hand and the dancing flame of enlightenment in the other, the Dancing Shiva crushes ignorance and extinguishes the poison that separates us from the divine source of life. Shiva slowly beats his drum to usher in the destruction of one age in order to allow for the birth of the next. He is an equally beautiful and terrifying image. It teaches us that destruction is part of creation, and death is part of life. Rather than resist, we learn to surrender, to find our center and open our heart to change.

To practice Natarajasana, first find your center in Mountain Pose. Plant one foot, then bend your other knee to lift your foot behind you. Hitchhike your thumb back and grab the inside of your foot or your big toe. Lift your other arm by your ear like a graceful dancer. Press your foot into your hand and allow the isometric force to move your body. Your leg will naturally begin to rise. Breathe deeply and lift up your torso a little more. Feel your chest muscles release so that your heart can open. If you fall out of the pose, try again. Remember to spend the same amount of time on each side. Bravo!

Images: “104 King Dancer / Dancing Shiva” coloring by Michele Palumbo, Bay Shore, NY. From Yoga Teddy Bear’s Big Little Coloring Book of 108 Poses. Picture of Yoga Teddy Bear creator K. Mae Copham practicing Natarajasana by Robert Oakley.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Flowering Lotus in Honor of Mothers Everywhere

This week’s pose is dedicated to mothers everywhere. Vikasitakamalasana, or Flowering Lotus, is a wonderful balancing pose that opens your hips, strengthens your core and improves your sense of balance.  The Lotus is a pure and beautiful flower that grows and thrives in murky waters like ponds. Weathering droughts and time, the seed of the lotus can survive for hundreds of years and still sprout anew. Like the flower it's named for, this pose cultivates resilience and inner harmony - two things every mother needs.

To practice Flowering Lotus, first find Boat Pose. From a seated position, bend your knees and hold the backs of your thighs. Sit up super tall and lift your feet but don’t rock the boat backwards. Inhale and with control bring the soles of your feet together. Exhale and gently thread your arms under your knees. Open your palms to the sky like a flower opening to the sun. Sit up as tall as you can. Your body resembles a beautiful lotus flower floating on the water. Breathe deeply and see how long you can balance.

Close your eyes and feel gratitude for mothers everywhere. Include our Mother Earth. Consider also the mother that lives inside you, feeling compassion and offering intuitive protection toward the child within you and within others. Mothers give us life, nourish us and help us grow. Thank you to all our mothers!

A special thanks to Harry Hayes for sending the coloring page to inspire this week's blog, as well as to Robert Oakley for taking my picture in Central Park in October 2016. Coloring page from Yoga Teddy Bear's Big Little Coloring Book of 108 Poses. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

How to Fly in Astavakrasaha (Eight Angle Pose)

Today’s pose begins with the story of Astavakra, who was born with a crippled body that was bent in eight places. Inside that broken body lived a great sage. Using a stick, Astravakra journeyed very far to the king’s court where he was determined to learn even more from the wise men studying philosophy there. But when he arrived they all laughed at his condition. He laughed with them, but he was actually crying. When the king asked for an explanation, Astravakra said that he had wasted all his time and effort, because all the supposedly wise men were actually only shoemakers. They focused on the quality of the skin rather than the depth of the soul. The philosophers were ashamed and realized the truth of his words. Over time they learned a great deal more from Astravakra about the depth of the soul and the interior life.

Eight Angle Pose is a pose to honor effort and overcoming obstacles. It is a pose that looks hard, but can be surprisingly easy when you put forth the effort and have faith that you can do it. When I first saw this pose I just assumed that I couldn’t do it. I tried it about a year ago and by incorporating two important steps, I was able to fly.

First, warm up with a few sun salutations. Hip openers like Pigeon Pose can help too.  When you’re ready to try Astavakrasana, begin seated in Stick Pose. The first important step is to lift one leg up and sling it over the back of your shoulder like a backpack. Get it as high on your shoulder as you can. Place your hands on the ground next to your hips and bend your elbows slightly. Draw in your free leg and cross it over your raised ankle. Next comes the second important step: lifting your heart. Shift your weight onto your hands and fly! Straighten your legs as much as you can while you keep lifting your heart area.

This second step – lifting your heart – is probably the most meaningful aspect of the pose and Astavakra’s story. What lives inside you is infinitely more important than the quality of your skin. Are you cultivating love, compassion and respect, both for yourself and others? Are you lifting your heart to the world and letting it shine?

Story adapted from Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij. Video of K. Mae Copham in Central Park, NYC, April 28, 2017 by Robert Oakley. Coloring by K. Mae Copham from Yoga Teddy Bear: The Big Little ColoringBook of 108 Yoga Poses.