The word ‘Yoga’ doesn’t just mean ‘to unite’, ‘to connect’, or ‘to become whole’, it also has a counter-intuitive meaning; ‘to separate’, or more accurately; ‘to dis-entangle’. While this asana variation presents itself as a core-strengthener (and a pretty good one at that), by practicing postures like these, we can use them as a physical metaphor for feeling the effects of being ‘contracted’ or ‘tangled up’, and also to feel what it’s like when we ‘un-tangle’ from them.
In many of the Yogic texts, it is said that one of the biggest causes of ‘dukha’ or ‘suffering’ is ‘delusion’, or a mis-identification of ourselves. In other words; most of our worries and emotional distress comes from not knowing ‘who we really are’.
The thinking goes that underneath each person’s individual ego and the layers of ‘I am’, ‘I can’, ‘I can’t’ etc etc, there’s a completely pure being or ‘higher *Self’, and it’s this higher Self that we’re looking at uniting or ‘yoking’ through the practice of Yoga. By ‘higher’ I essentially mean the (S)elf which is above and beyond the (s)elf imposed limitations, negativity, and delusion we get ourselves tangled up in.
*Note that self with a small ‘s’ describes the ego, or the very grossest human state, whereas self with a capital ‘S’ refers to a higher consciousness / truth / the universe / god (take your pick, it all ultimately leads to the same thing)….
By practicing all aspects of Yoga, right from Yama (moral restraints) to Dharana (concentration in preparation for meditation) and everything in-between, (since Dharana or ‘meditative absorption’ and Samadhi or ‘bliss / enlightenment’ can’t really be practiced) our world-view is expanded beyond ‘me’, ‘I’ and ‘mine’, and our actions all come from that higher place of awareness.
OK, so this all sounds great – but in a 60 or 90 minute Yoga class, it can be difficult enough to actually focus on being there, let-alone reaching any form of enlightenment…. So the practice becomes more about ‘dis-entanglement’ or ‘undoing’ than ‘uniting’. In order to unite and connect to that higher Self, we have to first go through the process of un-doing or un-tangling everything which has inevitably got in the way. Much like the great poet Rumi beautifully puts it:
“Your job is not to seek and find love
But merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”
The idea of practicing this posture is to feel the sense of spaciousness and un-ravelling that occurs afterwards, and to notice how it feels to dis-entangle ourselves as we move through a practice.
To prepare the body:
- Starting on hands and knees, practice any variation of thread-the-needle, which you’ll find in this blog post
- From there, slowly move into adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) and walk forwards, rising up into Tadasana (mountain pose).
- From Tadasana, move with your breath through a series of 3, 5 or 10 rounds of surya namaskar A, bringing warmth, energy and heat to the muscle and tissues.
- After practicing for as many times as feels right, step back into virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2), and then practice Parsva Konasana (side angle) in order to open up the intercostal muscles and sides of the waist, which can make wrapping the arms and legs in garudasana a little more accessible.
- From Parsva Konasana, move into Trikonasana (triangle pose), and take a variation with the top arm extended along-side the ear, so as to further create space between the ribs for a deeper breath.
- After staying here for about 5 breaths, transition back in to virabhadrasana 2, and practice to the other side of the body.
- From there, step back into Tadasana, and come to lie in a supine position on the floor.
- Practice eye-of-the-needle, or ‘sucirandhrasana‘ to open the IT band and abductors, again allowing for more ease as we approach the wrapped leg position of garudasana. Stay in the posture for about 10 breaths.
- After practicing to both sides of the body, release the arms and legs before moving on to the full asana….
- From a supine position, wrap the arms and legs into the position of Garudasana. (Right leg wrapped over left, and left arm wrapped over right). **For anyone with a shoulder or knee injury, you may want to take the following modifications
**Instead of wrapping one foot around the ankle, cross the thighs instead as though you were sitting in a chair, which takes any risk of ‘twisting’ the knee out of this.
**Instead of wrapping up the arms into the Garudasana position, bring the forearms or palms together.
- Maintaining the arm and leg position you choose, inhale to lengthen the arms and legs away from each other as far as possible
- As you exhale, curl the body up so that the tailbone and shoulderblades lift off the floor, and the elbows and knees come to meet.
- This should in no way be thought of as a ‘crunch’ or as ‘sit-ups’ as the intention is to use the strength of the exhale to move you. Traditional ‘core strengtheners’ such as sit ups and crunches have actually been found to weaken the abdominal wall and pelvic floor, preventing us from being able to properly access the core.
- The action of using the breath means that our movements are integrated, and every part of the body is working in order to move in and out of the position.
- Much like pranayama exercises such as kapalabhati and bhastrika breath; a strong exhale can actually allow us to become aware of and access deeper and more efficient core muscles. This means we get into the habit of using these deep core muscles, rather than the superficial rectus abdominis (or ‘six pack’) instead, which can easily be over-worked, leading to compensatory weakness in other parts of the body.
- Keep the shoulderblades lifted away from the floor, and notice whether you’re using tension in the neck and shoulders to do this; see if you can use the strength of your core and breath instead.
- As you next inhale, again lengthen the arms and legs far away from each other.
- Practice this 3-5 more times, ensuring the face stays relaxed – which will in turn relax the nervous system.
- After the last time you practice this to one side of the body; unravel the arms and legs and reach them out along the floor as far away from each other as you can. Breathe deeply into the front, back and sides of the body and feel the contrast of spaciousness after contracting.
- Much like when twisting, we notice the effects of strong postures like these after practicing them, and this sort of posture often gives rise to a more expanded breath.
- These movements build a lot of heat and energy within the body, so bring the breath back to an even, steady rhythm before practicing to the other side.
- Once you’ve practiced to both sides of the body, rest again with the arms and legs reaching out, and then practice setu bandhasana (or bridge pose) to counterpose the actions of the asana. Grounding through the legs and shoulders in this position can bring some symmentry back to the body, and allow again for an opening across the chest and abdomen.
- From there, lie in supta Baddha Konasana in order to open the adductors, and notice the effects of the practice.
“There is much from which you must disentangle yourself. Think of it as learning to let go of all that is ephemeral and not real, or as a quest to find your True Self”
– Robert Leslie