This was my ‘studio’ today.
It was beautiful. It was peaceful. And it took grounding to a whole new level!
Grounding myself and my feet is not one of my strengths. Let me start with that. It’s gotten better. And, while I’m slightly afraid to admit it, I think wearing Vibram Five Fingers has actually helped strengthen my feet and improve my standing balance postures. Still, I struggle.
And, today, with the wind blowing, balancing took on a whole new challenge.
Here are a few things that helped me:
1. Being present. The more my mind wandered, the more unsteady I felt. Funny how that whole concept is so much bigger than just the benefits it has in a yoga practice. Being present steadies not just a balance posture, it steadies your mind. Think about it. When your mind is scattered, everything about your life feels off balance. It’s impossible to feel steady in life, if your mind is scattered. As we know from yoga, going back to the breath, really deep thoughtful breaths, can help calm the mind, bring you back to the moment, calm the racing mind, and bring you back into balance.
As my favorite author/interviewee Paul Pearsall (may he rest in peace floating on a rainbow) said, “I’m not saying work less. I’m saying, when you’re at work, be at work. When you’re home. Be at home. We are unproductive at work because we want to be home. We are ineffective at home, because we’re thinking about work. Just be where you are.
The work will be there when the rainbow’s gone, but the rainbow won’t wait for you to finish your work.
2. Reach for the sky with the crown of your head. Lengthen the spine and open that seventh chakra toward the heavens while focusing on the four corners of the foot being grounded. It helps keep you from collapsing into your hip. This also has more wide ranging benefits. Standing tall, lengthening the spine allows the energy to flow freely through the body and opens up everything. I know I, personally, tend to collapse into my hips when I’m just standing somewhere. I’ve witnessed plenty of friends to who tend to sit hunched over. Both of the these postures keep energy from flowing freely, which impacts our entire way of being.
Keep in mind, the feet are also part of the mulandara chakra and part of what needs to be balanced for optimal physical and mental health.
3. Open the feet. We are not nice to our feet. Especially women. We keep them cooped up in shoes that bind and squeeze and just plain hurt! Yesterday, though, I decided to open up my feet. I started with a tennis ball and then moved on to the foot massager I got from my chiropractor. I relentlessly worked the fascia on the bottom of my foot to help open it. It hurt like hell… but it worked! (and a potential side benefit that may be connected and may just be coincidental. According to a reflexology chart, a spot near the arch of the foot corresponds to the stomach. My stomach has been bad lately and yesterday, after working that spot on my foot, I ate and my stomach was significantly better! All I’m saying is, it can’t hurt to keep trying that approach!
4. Finally, another beautiful thing about Ashtanga is the idea that each pose builds on a previous posture. We start with tadasana and return to tadasana often throughout the series. Rather than just standing at the top of your mat without any attention, make tadasana an ‘active’ posture, starting with the feet. Engage the four corners of the feet as you stand there. Engage the legs. Draw shoulders down the back. Engage the bandhas. Then, when it comes time to uttitha hasta padmotanasana, your legs will be ready for it.
Remember, build from the ground up.
You don’t build a house starting with the roof. You start with the foundation. In this case, your feet are the foundation. Without a solid foundation, the rest of your temple will be off balance and even the slightest breeze will blow you over.
I admit it. I’m an ashtanga snob. I love Ashtanga and no other style really matches up. Once in a while I’ll do yin or hatha, or even anusara online, but nothing really measures up on a consistent basis.
Ever since the first time I walked into White Orchid Yoga and and took my first class with Ally Ford teaching the primary series, I’ve been hooked. No other style of yoga makes me feel quite the way Ashtanga does.
If you’ve never tried Ashtanga, you might wonder what it is that makes it so unique. Allow me to get on my ashtanga soapbox for a moment.
First, there is the long history of ashtanga. From Krishnamacharya first creating the sequence in the early 1900s then passing it down to Sri Pattabi Jois and then him passing it on to Sharath, the role of the teacher is pure. Unlike many styles today, Ashtanga’s basis is in the beauty and benefits of the practice, not just a way to make money as it seems so many styles out there today are based on. (We’ll just ignore the whole John Friend drama that came out a few weeks ago…)
Then, there are the are eight limbs that are the ingredients of Asthanga:
1. Yama – the moral code
2. Niyama – self study
3. Asana – postures
4. Pranayama – breath control
5. Pratyahara – sense control
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Diyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – Bliss (ahhhh… at the end, there is a bliss; absorption into the Universal)
I find that so powerful. It’s not just about getting a ‘workout’. It’s about eventually being so pure in one’s way of being that they become one with the universe.
And then there are the postures that make up the series, each with its benefits as described in Yoga Mala, each building on a previous posture to help cleanse and detoxify the body to prevent disease (or dis-ease as is really the case). Some work the organs, some burn fat, and some, well, let’s just say some make it easier to remove waste from the body and help the organs involved in those function.
The other beauty of Ashtanga is the consistency of it – well, sort of. No matter where you are, an ashtanga practice is relatively universal. There is the opening chant that is so beautiful and sets the stage for the practice. Then there is the sequence which, assuming it’s a traditional practice, is going to be the same postures, in the same order, all done the same way (I’ll get back to why I love this so much in a moment) and then, like most other yoga practices, there’s savasana to seal it all in. But, again, Ashtanga, unlike other styles where the teacher generally shares his/her thoughts or reads from the writings of another yogi, ends with a closing chant. The vibrations of the sounds are felt deep within the practitioner and unite the energies in the room like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Yoga is intended to be a moving meditation, and ashtanga’s consistent sequence allows that to happen in a unique way. Unlike typical “flow” classes where the students are waiting with baited breath to find out what position the teacher is going to instruct them to move into next, which makes focusing on each pose slightly more challenging, at least for me, with ashtanga, the sequence becomes habit. You know where you’re moving next, allowing you to really focus on each posture and get deeper into it.
Earlier I made a comment where I said the practice is the same each time “sort of”. Let me take a moment to expound on the ‘sort of’. I am far from the first to say this, but I can certainly attest to it, that each time you step on the mat, the practice is different. There are days where an attempt at a balancing posture feels more like trying to stand on a surf board in rough water, and there are times when those same balance postures are completely solid. There are days when you fold forward into padahastasana and your hands plant firmly on the ground, and other days when it feels like every fiber of your hamstring is resistant to being stretched.
But with all that said, there is one statement I can make that holds true from one practice to the next, everytime I step off the mat after doing an asthanga practice, I feel better than when I started, and I can’t say that about other styles of yoga.