Vira = ‘Hero’ Bhadra = ‘Friend’ Asana = ‘Seat’ / ‘Posture’
(Featured: Leggings by Long Live Legs)
Balancing isn’t everyone’s favourite part of a Yoga class…. The biggest concern isn’t usually about hurting our bodies if we fall or wobble, it’s more about bruising the ego if anyone sees us topple over….. Mastering the art of ‘not falling over’ takes a long time, patience, and a lot of wobbling, but as much of Yoga is about overcoming or transcending the ego, this is exactly why we practice it….
Before we find balance on one foot, it’s important to find equal balance on both feet.
Samastithi, ‘equal standing ‘ or ‘equal grounding’ (often referred to as ‘equal standing balance’) is commonly used interchangeably with ‘Tadasana’ or ‘mountain pose’. While these two postures may look the same from the outside, their intention is entirely different. Tadasana is an asana, and samastithi is an action or an awareness to cultivate.
In ‘tadasana’ we are literally representing a mountain; and that could mean different things to different people. Maybe a mountain to you means strength and stability, and to others it might mean something tall and mighty. To others still, it may evoke a feeling of ‘heaviness’…. Samastithi however, asks us to actually physically explore whether we can gather a sense of having equal balance between both feet.
The word ‘sama’ means ‘same’, or ‘equal’, much like in the pranayama practice of ‘sama vrtti’ or ‘even fluctuation of breath’ in which we’re finding the balance or equanimity between the inhale and exhale.
There are plenty of other Sanskrit words beginning with ‘sama’ or ‘same’, and perhaps most interesting of all is ‘samadhi’, usually meaning ‘bliss’ or ‘enlightenment’, which we’ll go on to explore in a later post….
If we can build the ability to stand on 2 feet evenly, with an even flow of breath and an even state of mind, this can enable us to bring that into a practice of standing on one foot…. And seeing if we can maintain that sense of equanimity.
The definition of equanimity is ‘calmness or composure, particularly in a difficult situation’. It’s a practice. By practicing not-so-easy asanas and maintaining calmness and composure in breath, body and mind, we give ourselves more access to a state of calmness and composure when we’re faced with a not-so-easy life situation.
Remember, how we ‘do’ yoga, often mirrors how we ‘do’ life….
This variation of virabhadrasana 3 is intended to take a little pressure off the standing leg, so we’re more able to focus on feeling the actions and alignment of the posture. A lot of the time, there are very small adjustments we can make to an asana in order to feel much more stable and balanced, but when practicing in class, the focus is often more upon balancing and not falling over than maintaining balanced alignment.
By dedicating a little time to a specific posture, we enable ourselves to get to grips with how our body really responds to it, and therefore more readily find the balance of sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease) if that asana is placed in a flow-style class.
To prepare the body:
Begin in a comfortable seated position, and practice sama vrtti or ‘equal fluctuation of breath’, bringing the inhale and exhale into balance. It helps to count each breath in and out, maybe inhaling for 5 and exhaling for 5.
After a few minutes of this, move into a few rounds of cat / cow, maintaining this even breath.
From an all-fours position, extend one leg back behind you. Press firmly out through the back heel, inwardly rotate the whole leg, so that the toes, shin, knee and quadriceps face the floor, and bring the hips level so that both hip points also face the ground.
This is the same action we’ll need in the back leg in the full asana, so spend some time here and really feel it.
From, there, make your way into downward facing dog, and walk forwards into uttanasana.
Rise up into Tadasana, and then practice Samastithi.
Once you’ve found equal balance on both feet, move through 5 rounds of surya namaskar A, finally returning to samastithi.
Before coming into this variation of virabhadrasana 3, practice vrksasana or ‘tree pose’ to see how you respond to balancing today. After practicing to both sides, return to samastithi before moving on to the full asana.
- Place 2 blocks (or stacks of books if you don’t have blocks) on the floor at about shoulder-distance apart.
- From ashta chandrasana (high lunge), shift the weight a little more into the front foot, and cultivate pada bandha (foot lock) by spreading the toes, and distributing the weight evenly between heel, joint of the little toe and joint of the big toe. This will help to simultaneously ground the foot, while creating an upward ‘lift’ through the inner arch, allowing force to travel through the body in a way that keeps us buoyant.
- Hover the upper body over the front thigh and think about leading with the chest. If you have a habit of sticking the chin out, then gently draw it down slightly towards the chest, to maintain length in the neck.
- Pour more weight into the standing foot, and begin to lift the back foot off the floor.
- The intention is to bring the chest, torso and back leg parallel with the floor, so the body resembles a ‘T-shape’, however remember that all ‘T-shapes’ look different depending upon who writes them, and in the same way – everyone’s bodies will resemble a different ‘T-shape’. Having the upper body parallel to the floor for any amount of time takes a lot of strength to maintain, so remember that this is something to work towards and practice.
- As soon as you get there, bring the hands down onto the blocks, directly underneath the shoulders.
- Now there’s a little more weight distributed between the standing leg and hands, we can begin to find the energetic actions of the posture in order to discover how to be in virabhadrasana 3 with more confidence and – most importantly – while breathing fully….
- Bring your awareness to your back foot, and press out through the heel as though you were pressing firmly into a wall.
- Inwardly rotate the whole leg, so that the toes, shin, knee and quadriceps face the floor, and bring the hips level so that both hip points also face the ground.
**This can be a controversial adjustment, as it’s debatable whether or not some people’s hips are suited to this strict alignment. If you have S.I. joint issues or other problems surrounding the hips or sacrum, then experiment with letting the leg and hip naturally turn out to the side, as this can relieve some of the pressure placed upon the hips. No matter who you are though, this is primarily your practice and your body, so listen to what actually feels right in that moment.
- As you continue to press out through the back heel, simultaneously lengthen through the spine and imagine reaching out of the crown of the head.
- Maintain openness in the chest and collar bones and keep the upper back broad. One way of maintaining a ‘lifting’ sensation even through the back body here is to ‘breathe into it’, therefore using the movement of the breath to create space in the back of the ribs and thoracic spine.
- Lastly, check in again with the standing foot; are the toes gripping the floor? Is the knee completely locked? See if you can again cultivate ‘pada bandha’, and maintain softness in the knee instead of locking the joint, so that the muscles of the leg stay engaged and responsive.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, keeping an even, steady pace of breath.
- When you’re ready to transition out, bend the standing leg slightly and step the top foot back. Release the arms from the blocks and return to ashta chandrasana (high lunge) before practicing on the other side.
To counterpose this asana, practice Gomukhasana, which will help to relieve any tension that may have built up in the glutes and abductors, and will also allow the legs to rest after this strong standing balance.
Finish with Baddha Konasana in order to give more relief to the hips and thighs, and spend some time in a seated position noticing the wave of calm that often washes over us after practicing a posture that requires intense focus.
‘Extremes are easy, strive for balance’
– Colin Wright