THE GARDEN: LIFE, DEATH AND PERSPECTIVE BY JODY HAHN

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I love my garden. I love my garden so much. When I first planted it I watered diligently and watched closely to see how each plant was doing. I swear I went out to look at it about 10 times a day, maybe more. Many plants survived, some did not. That’s life and death in the garden, I guess. The ones that did survive now flourish; there is so much abundance it’s crazy, and to that abundance flock many other creatures. I see them around my garden vying for their bit of life: I watch, joyfully, as the birds, bees and butterflies travel around getting what they need to survive. And I watch, horrified, as the leaf-miners, aphids, and white flies suck the life out of the plants. Argh!! It’s a paradox. For something to live something else has to die. This is the cycle of life!! I call them MY vegetables but nature says different. It’s every-creature-for-themselves out there. We’re all part of this grand thing called nature and I have to say, I respect my competitors; they want to feast and so do I. Yes, there is competition but there is also enough for everyone. There’s actually more than enough! Nature’s true nature is abundance and we can give, take, share and thrive. Through competition nature keeps balance. What may seem like destruction is just part of the cycle that also creates. What seems like a nuisance in the microcosm is actually necessary in the macrocosm. That “bad” is actually “good”. Can I recognize this in all aspects of life? Can I see that I am part of this continuous whole? Can I be just as happy to give to the birds, bees, and butterflies as to the leaf-miners, aphids and white flies and understand that they’re all getting what they need and giving what is needed? Yes, I’ll try.

RICHARD ROSEN’S ASANA BREAKDOWN NO. 9: VĪRABHADRĀSANA 3

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ASANA BREAKDOWN: VĪRABHADRĀSANA 3
(veera-bah-DRAS-anna)
by Richard Rosen

vira = brave person, hero
bhadra = blessed, auspicious, prosperous, happy, etc. 

Popularly known as Warrior Pose, 3rd variation (abbreviated below as V3)

Virabhadra’s Pose, often called Warrior (variation 3). This pose is usually entered from Virabhadrasana I. Here we’ll move into the pose from a straight lunge position. 

1. Stand in Tadasana, exhale and lower down to Uttanasana, then exhale again and step your left foot back into a lunge position. Your right knee should be more or less at a right angle. Lay your torso down on the top of the right thigh and bring your hands to your right knee, right hand to the outer knee, left hand to the inner. Then squeeze the knee, lift your torso slightly, and with an exhale, turn it slightly to the right. Lay the middle of your torso (from the pubis to the sternum) down on the middle of the right thigh (from the knee to the hip crease). 

2. Normally students come up into Virabhadrasana III by lunging the torso forward. This tends to shift the body weight onto the ball of the front foot and unbalance the pose. So don’t let your torso swing forward as you move into pose; instead, as you straighten the front knee, think of pressing the head of the thigh bone back. This centers the femur in the hip joint, grounds the heel into the floor, and stabilizes the pose. At the same time, when you straighten your front knee, resist the calf forward against the shin. These two opposing movements–femur head back, calf/shin forward–prevents the knee from locking and further stabilizes the position.

3. Now from the lunge position, stretch your arms forward, parallel to the floor and parallel to each other, palms facing. Exhale and, as described previously, press the head of your right thigh bone back and the heel actively into the floor. Synchronize the straightening of the front leg and the lifting of the back leg. Resist the lift of this leg by firming your tail bone against the pelvis. 

4. The arms, torso, and raised leg should be positioned relatively parallel to the floor. For many students the pelvis tends to tilt toward the standing leg side. Release the raised-leg hip toward the floor until the front plane of the pelvis is also parallel to the floor. Reach strongly back though the raised leg, and just as strongly in the opposite direction with the arms. Bring the head up slightly and look forward, but be sure not to compress the back of your neck. 

5. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to a minute. Release back to the lunge on an exhale, bring your hands to the floor on either side of the right foot, and with an exhale, step your left foot forward beside your right back into the forward bend. Stay here for a few breaths, then repeat for the same length of time with the legs reversed. 

- Benefits
Strengthens the ankles and legs
Strengthens the shoulders and muscles of the back
Tones the abdomen
Improves balance and posture 

-Beginners’ tip: For beginners balance in this pose can be very challenging. Prepare for the pose with a chair positioned in front of you, just a bit in front of your sticky mat (face the back of the chair toward you). When you stretch your arms forward (as described in step 3 above), take hold of the top of the chair back. As you rise up into the full pose, push on and slide the chair away from you and use it to support your arms. Try to hold the chair as lightly as possible. 

- Advanced Tip: Advanced students can enter Virabhadrasana III from Virabhadrasana I. Perform the latter pose with the arms stretched upward. Exhale the front torso down onto the top of the forward leg. From here move into Virabhadrasana III as described in step 3 above. 

- Partnering: A partner can act as a support for your pose. Have her stand in front of you. When you reach your arms forward just before lifting into the full pose, she should lightly hold your wrists in her hands. She should guide you up into position, and then support your wrists as lightly as possible.

THE ENERGY OF PARADOX BY ROBERT MOORING

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Movement is inexorable, essential. There is no energy without movement. Form cannot differentiate without movement. Without movement we would be stuck in the formless void of the thermodynamic death of the Universe, pretty grim right? Thankfully there is energy and form available to be the contents of our consciousness.

This brings me to the topic at hand, what moves me? I find that I am a discrete and individual consciousness, ultimately free. The thing that moves me, is well, me. Then of course I also find that I am connected to every other particle in the universe, that I am contingent and constrained. The things that move me are also outside of me. This is the answer then, what moves me is paradox.

Paradox, the intractable knot that only laughs at you more the harder you try to untangle it. All I can reveal to you in this text, is that it is an essential component of a formed system with conscious entities. The dualities that abound physically and conceptually, like light and dark and separation and integration, they are the source of all potential. Potential energy and its transference back and forth between the extremes in the pulsating breath inured in every micro and macro structure in the cosmos, is the source of all movement.

There many places that I feel the potential to immerse myself in the paradox and thereby nourish myself with energy and movement, but none more so than being the mountains. I like to go to old places, where the effect dwells. I grew up as an academic more than athlete (can you tell?) and I also hurt myself a lot, including a broken spine. I was never a candidate to climb mountains. Sure enough of course, internal and external factors led me to the pursuit of technical rock climbing in the alpine. Other than my wife and child, nothing inspires, enlivens, or nourishes me more than time spent questing in the vertical world. Mistakes mean injury or death, and yet the very slow accumulation of physical capacity, mental capacity, and instinct, allowing one to conform to impossible geometries with the birds flying underneath.

Insight: what part does it play in the arc of your being? Ever get derailed by a penetrating observation? Sure, and up there it seems to happen more often. It’s like I think more fiercely, even though in the best moments I am not thinking at all. More dualities. Poles to pull us apart, poles to knit ourselves together. At least up there I’m forcibly reminded to contemplate these things as much with my feet as with my overstuffed brain. Stay nimble. Nimble is another way to stay humble. Get too puffed up and you won’t fit through that next keyhole of insight.

A walk in nature, a minute of quiet in meditation, a good yoga class can give you all of the same experience as dangling from fingertips in the mountains. Practicing those techniques to allow my mind to enter the same flow state that is forced upon me while climbing is a peak into the next stage of what I hope will move me, and move you too.

AN ANCHOR IN CHANGING WATERS BY SHILAH SARKISSIAN

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This month You and The Mat invited me to create the blog post for the month of May. The topic to write on was to be “what moves and inspires you?” In this opportunity life seemed to be gifting me a question that needed exploration… What really inspires me, how do I embody my yoga? My life has been in a constant state of flux for the last 6 months and in the current of change, finding the answer to what moves me initially felt quite elusive. 

The place that has offered refuge in the constant shifting is my meditation altar. Day after day I’ve been sitting to practice the art of being while my life swirled with the inevitable energy of doing.  A few mornings back, sitting in my quiet space, the inspiration arrived. What moves me is water. One of my daily practices, gifted to me by a wise teacher, is to have a cup of water on my meditation altar and upon waking, offer to the water, as the object of my meditation, my heartfelt intentions, devotions, mantras and gratitude for the day. When the process feels complete, I drink the water in, receiving in my body through the water all the gratitude and love that I have offered outwards. In this act of self care, I am reminded of the connection between all things. This practice of sitting and giving gratitude to the water has been my biggest gift. It is in anchor in a world of movement.

My love for water runs deep.  As a little girl I would stand at the mouth of a river and marvel at the paradox of water – the way water can be both the most gentle andpowerful thing on Earth. When obstacles arise, water moves. When the path changes, water shifts course with grace knowing it will arrive in due time. It is the gentle all encompassing force that lives within each of us. No matter what shifts around me, water is there to remind me to be both steady and soft. The invitation seems to be to become the embodiment of my yoga practice and find santosha, (contentment) even when the waters of life swirl with a little more current than usual. Water moves me – inspires me – to get on my mat and move. To sit and be still; and in that stillness opening the door for me to the yogic devotional practice of Ishvara Pranidhana – surrendering deeply to the flow of life. Thank you water, thank you.

RICHARD ROSEN’S ASANA BREAKDOWN NO. 8: VIRABHADRASANA 1

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VĪRABHADRĀSANA I (veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna)

vīra = a brave or eminent person, hero, chief

bhadra = blessed, auspicious, fortunate, prosperous, happy; good, gracious, friendly, kind; excellent, fair, beautiful, lovely, pleasant, dear; skillful in; great

VIRABHADRA’S POSE, FIRST VARIATION aka Warrior Pose I

There are three related Virabhadrasana poses (VB hereafter), numbered 1, 2, and 3 (or I, II, and III if you like your numbers Romanized). VB 3 is easily the most challenging family member, in fact one of the more challenging standing poses. BKS Iyengar, in his Light on Yoga (LoY hereafter), which was first published in 1966, rates the difficulty of all its included poses on a scale from 1 to 60, one being the simplest, 60 the most challenging. There’s only one pose, by the way, among the 198 described and illustrated in the book, that’s rated 60, a back bend whose Sanskrit name translated to English is something like Principal Three-Limb Intense Stretch Pose (triang mukha uttanasana). Sort of dances off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Returning to our VB family, VB 3 is rated as a five, VB 1 as a three, and VB 2 as a one (all on the 60 scale). These numbers might be easier to appreciate on an equivalent 100-point scale, which gives us a five for VB 1, one for VB 2, and a little over eight for VB 3. I think it would be fair to say then that these numbers (and many others in the book) are pretty unrealistic for Western students, especially for VB 3, which is way too close to the low end of the scale.

I suspect the reason for these low-balled numbers was that Mr. Iyengar was still, in 1966,  relatively unfamiliar with the capacities of the average Western student. He’d been coming to the West by then for about 12 years, the US for 10, though I’m not sure how many trips he made overall, so I could be wrong. But one possible explanation is that he was fixing the asanas’ rating based on is own experience, which of course was far more extensive than any average Western student. Someone once told me–and I don’t remember who, and I can’t guarantee it’s truth–that when someone asked Mr. Iyengar if he could in retrospect change anything about LoY, what would it be, and he mentioned the number ratings. 

Vīrabhadrāsana is popularly known as the Warrior Pose, though it doesn’t seem to me that the character of Vīrabhadra is either a warrior or great hero. There are several different versions of his story, which mostly involve the deity Śiva, his spouse Satī (meaning virtuous, faithful), and Satī’s father Daksha (meaning able, intelligent), a son of Brahma and one of the fathers of the human race. 

As characters, Daksha and Śiva are at opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum. The former could be considered among the cultural elite, while the latter is a long-haired, pot-smoking counter-culture type, although of course he can be anything he wants to because he is, after all, god. Predictably they don’t get along, and in the various stories about them, one is always offending the other. 

So it happens that Daksha organizes a great sacrifice and invites all the sages and gods except one – guess who? Śiva couldn’t care less, but Satī feels insulted that her husband was left out and crashes the party to pick a bone with her father. Daksha though has his own bone to pick with his daughter about her husband, and publically humiliates Satī. She then decides to teach him an important lesson, and jumps into the sacrificial fire where she’s immediately burnt to a crisp. 

Now Śiva loves his wife dearly, and so goes crazy when he finds out what happened. Boiling with anger and craving revenge, he creates the monster Vīrabhadra, intending to sic him on Daksha and his sacrifice. Vīrabhadra is pictured in various ways, some fairly tame, others over-the-top extreme. In a latter description, he’s given a thousand heads and eyes, is armed to the teeth, smeared with ashes, and burns like hell fire. In the course of disrupting the sacrifice, he pulls out the Sun god’s teeth, cuts off the Fire god’s hands and tongue, crushes the Moon god with one of his toes, and chases off the king of the eagles. After all this there’s often a relatively happy ending. Satī is reborn as Parvati and is re-united with her husband, and Daksha relents and apologizes to Śiva, who then magnanimously forgives and forgets. 

I once was told–and again I’m blank about who it was–that the shape of the pose represents Virabhadra rising up from the earth at his creation. It’s always seemed to me that the numbering of VB 1 and VB 2 should be reversed, since I’ve been taught from day 1 that the pose under examination here flows naturally into VB 3. Be that as it may …

1. I like to brace my back heel in standing poses against a wall, and for VB 1 I might also elevate that back heel on a foam wedge or sandbag. This helps me get the needed rotation of the pelvis while at the same time protecting my lower back. So first bring the right foot forward, turned out 90 degrees, and the left foot back, turned in maybe 60 degrees. Depending on your height and flexibility, have anywhere from 3 to 4 feet between your feet.

2. Bring your hands to your hips and rotate your pelvis to the right. As much as is possible for you, square the front of your pelvis with the front edge of the sticky mat. Typically when the pelvis turns in this way, the back knee buckles a bit, so as the left hip comes around, press firmly into the back heel. 

3. Draw the front of the pelvis up, bring the pubic bone and navel close together, and lengthen the tail bone toward the floor. Have the top rim of the pelvis as parallel to the floor as possible.

4. Inhale and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor. You can keep the hands apart or bring the palms together (base of the palms touch first, then the palms, finally the fingers). The little fingers lead the way to the ceiling. 

5. Quickly with an exhale, bend the front knee. Aim the inner knee to the little toe side of the foot. Position the right knee over the heel so the shin is perpendicular to the floor, and as much as is possible, bring the underside of the thigh parallel to the floor.

6. Lean back on the shoulder blades for an upper torso back bend. Be sure to lengthen the lower back, you don’t want a deep lumbar curve. To do this, lengthen the tail downward and lift the back ribs up faster than the front ribs.

7. As for your head, beginners should keep it neutral, looking straight ahead. More experienced students can look up at the thumbs, but only if they can extend the head back from the root of the neck. 

8. Stay for 30 seconds to a minute. To come up, inhale, press the back heel firmly into the floor or its lift and reach up through the arms, straightening the right knee. Turn the feet forward, parallel to each other, and walk the feet together (if you’re using a wall; otherwise just reverse the position of the feet). Be sure not to shift forward onto the front foot. Release the arms with an exhale, or keep them extended upward for more challenge. Take a few breaths, the repeat on the second side for the same length of time as the first. 

Benefits

  • Stretches the chest and lungs, shoulders and neck, belly, and groins (psoas) 

  • Strengthens the shoulders and arms, and the muscles of the back

  • Strengthens and stretches the thighs, calves, and ankles

Contraindications

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart problems 

Students with shoulder problems should keep their raised arms parallel (or slightly wider than parallel) to each other. Students with neck problems should keep their head in a neutral position, and not extend the neck.

Variations:

This pose can be performed with the arms in various positions. For example, go through steps 1 to 4 as described above, except with your hands resting on your hips. Then, once the forward knee is bent, swing your arms around behind your torso and clasp your hands. Stretch your hands away from the back torso and lift your chest. It’s acceptable to squeeze your scapulas together at first, but be sure, once the chest is lifted, to pull them away from the spine. To leave the pose, reach back with your hands and, with an inhale, “pull” yourself up, straightening the front knee. 

Partnering:

Here’s a partnering exercise for this pose, but you need two partners and a thick pole (like a broomstick). As you perform the pose, have your partners stand, facing you, to either side of your torso. They should hold the ends of the pole and lift it above your head.  Grasp the pole with your raised hands, then you and your partners push the pole up until your arms are fully extended. Imagine then, as all three of you push, that your torso and legs are “hanging” from the pole.