Welcome one day late to Day 16 of my floundering blog series based on Judith Hansen-Lasater’s “A Year of Living Your Yoga.” We have 14 days to go and by golly, we will get there.
After I share the randomly chosen quote, I try to keep these posts to less than 500 words.
Here is the quote:
July 19 — Which do you want: the pain of staying where you are, or the pain of growth?
I am a day late and was just saying this morning to a friend over chat that I could really use a break from trying to Be Mindful all the freakin’ time. Sometimes I want to let my id run absolutely wild and take hostages.
If you told me one year ago, a week before I left for my yoga training retreat, that I’d go on an amazing week away with a cousin to North Carolina, that my mother would drop dead of cardiac arrest, that we’d have another dog, that I’d be teaching yoga, that we would endure the bullshit of crazy friends, that my father-in-law would succumb to complications of pancreatic cancer and the other thing I’m experiencing in my family (that I can’t talk about at the moment), that my son would would surround himself with truly amazing young men for friends (whom he met because he DIDN’T make the high school soccer team!), that my other son would be rational about confronting the backwards choices he’s made, that I’d grow closer with new people, and that I’d grown emotionally and spiritually in ways I could never have imagined through it all, I’dve told you to get your head examined.
I’d think: I don’t court this kind of energy, I don’t court growth in such extreme measures.
Apparently I do.
So which is it, dear reader?
Do we yearn for the duck-and-cover, wait for the “all-clear” from someone else to emerge into the dusty, hazy tormented remains, step out onto the shattered glass and shrapnel in our bare feet and grow that way?
Or do we watch the forecast, see what’s coming, do our best to fortify against it in order to experience it: put on battle gear, to withstand and grow?
The best yoga pose, as far as I’m concerned which exemplifies confronting, withstanding, maintaining and empowering is Virabradrasana II, “Warrior II”:
The reason this pose is so evocative to me, and to countless others, of empowerment is because it’s hard to do and also because every action in the body in that pose is all about steadiness, power and strength and awareness.
It’s hard to know where to start talking about what’s “most” influential in this pose because like all challenges and opportunities in life, each one affects each person differently. I’ll start at the feet and then bounce around: the position of the feet is established from mountain pose, when your feet are a comfortable hip-width apart and the line between the feet is parallel. From there, one foot goes back — at that same “gait” width apart so the balance is assured, and the big toe of that back foot is turned about 30˚ toward the front.
Pause a second: People ask, “how far apart should my feet be?” a lot. I like to say, “as is comfortable for you.”
For me, I usually place my ankles directly below my wrists as my arms are extended. But as you lunge forward, the wrist will extend beyond the ankle.
Shoulders engage, squeezing toward one another. Why? Ask any warrior if they have a better chance of being ready if their shoulders are loosey-goosey. Doing this with the shoulders starts to activate the core. Then you pull the navel in toward the spine, again bringing awareness to the core, the back straightens up… it just does. Then you turn your head toward the direction of the forward-facing hand (the one that is above the forward facing foot) and the fingertips are reaching behind you and in front of you. I like to say to the kids I teach, “pretend you’re shooting lasers from your fingers.”
As you exhale, bend the forward-facing leg to a lunge (keeping the forward-facing bent knee either within or above the front toes, not going beyond them and the tracking of that knee above the foot, not caving in toward the inner thigh or wrenching out toward the outer thigh). All of this is fruitless of course, without pressing the outer side of the back foot into the mat, raising the arch of your back foot which activates the calf of that back leg.
Next, you turn your head to stare beyond, but set upon the direction of your forward hand’s fingertips. Both palms are facing the floor.
What’s your torso doing? It’s not leaning forward, “like a hood ornament” (snort!) as my teacher says. It is ready, not on the offense, not on the defense either: just saying, “HERE I AM. Let’s do this.”
THERE’S A LOT TO YOGA!
Now here’s the ironic part of this pose: while you’re looking all bad-ass, facing forward, eyes steeled for the storm, the POWER of it all actually comes from that foundation foot and leg in the back. If that back leg is “all whatevs” about this pose, you’re toast and you’re not ready for growth.
There is no “all whatevs” in this pose. Not in the least.
If you start to think about other things, you will lose the integrity of the pose. So, Lasater is right in terms of growing. Do you want to grow in Warrior II as you experience it: monitor your legs, check in with your breath, feel any tension in your jaw (which absolutely happens) or do you want to take longer to grow, lose the pose, lose the power of it and the lessons it teaches you about endurance and your own character and end up trying again and again to get it solid?
So you just hang out here for about five or so steady and deep breaths to start and add more breaths as you gain strength. You will gain strength quickly with this pose (mentally for certain). Soon your front thigh will start barking.
To come out of the pose, on an exhale: gracefully lower your hands, straighten the front leg, and bring your BACK foot up to meet your front foot. Take a couple breaths and then reverse to the other side where the front leg now goes back and your gaze extends beyond the fingertips of the opposite arm.
This was a long post. It’s hard for me to talk about Warrior II and not get a little carried away by it; it’s my go-to, check-in-with-myself asana; I suspect that’s because I’ve learned to be ready for anything these days.