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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Warrior Sequence to Honor the Earth

Last Saturday was Earth Day, but really every day is Earth Day. Without our beautiful blue planet, we would not exist. Our Earth provides air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat and endless wondrous materials with which to create. We always have everything we need.

Many people marched on behalf of science last weekend or will march for climate change awareness this weekend. Perhaps you are called to summon the warrior within to honor both the power and fragility of nature. As you contemplate your relationship to the Earth, flow through this short warrior sequence. Use it to gather strength and energy for your commitments to the environment as well as to generate inner peace and gratitude for our planet’s innumerable gifts.

Begin in Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana A). Start standing in Mountain Pose. Breathe deeply, then exhale and take a big step backward. Bend your front knee so you can see your toes. Stretch your back leg straight behind you on your tiptoes, then turn your back heel down while keeping your hips facing forward.  Widen your stance if you need more stability. Breathe in and reach your hands high in the sky with your thumbs pointing backwards. Make yourself tall like a mountain.  Lean back just a little. Breathe deeply and feel the energy drawing up through your feet from the Earth.

Flow to Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana B). From Warrior 1, keep your knee over your ankle and breathe out while you turn your hips and shoulders to the side.  Stretch your arm forward over your bent knee and reach the other arm behind you in a straight line. Your palms face down. Press your inner legs apart. Look over your front hand. Breathe deeply and surf the waves of strength.

Fly into Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana C). Inhale back to Warrior 1. Lean forward to shift your weight to your front foot. Ground your front foot then breathe out as you lean forward to balance with your back leg stretched out behind you. Point your toes down. Reach your arms forward, hold them next to your body or stretch them out to your sides like airplane wings. Breathe deeply while you imagine all the places you will fly. Fly high above the clouds like a grateful superhero.

Transition to Peaceful Warrior (Parsva Virabhadrasana) L/R. From Warrior 3, bend your front knee and gracefully return your back foot behind you. Inhale to Warrior 1, then exhale to Warrior 2. Turn your front palm up and reach forward just a little.  Breathe in as you gently see-saw your arms by lifting your front arm to the sky and sliding your back arm down your leg.  Make sure your front knee stays over your ankle by pressing your inner legs apart. Look up at the sky and breathe. Feel your side ribs stretch open. Breathe deeply and feel peaceful inside.

To finish, inhale to Warrior 1. Breathe out as you step forward into Mountain Pose. Repeat the sequence stepping your other foot back. Spend the same amount of time on the second side. Once you feel confident with the flow, move through the sequence in time with your breath, creating a rhythm in time with the ebb and flow of life. Namaste!

Photos and video by Robert Oakley featuring K. Mae Copham in New Paltz, NY on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. Check out the video here.