Although we might remember ‘the important things’ that happen through life, we don’t often easily recall the moments between those ‘important’ moments.
Ofcourse, this isn’t such a bad thing; our brains have to decide which things are important enough to ‘keep hold’ of, and which things don’t need to be thought about any more. Our emotions also have a big role to play in this – as they will often encourage the mind to either focus on or completely blank out certain situations which are powerfully charged with emotion or that have a big impact upon us.
So even though our minds don’t need to remember every experience and moment we had from the moment we wake up to the moment we close our eyes at night, the important thing to consider is whether or not we allowed ourselves to be present and experience those moments in the first place….
When you travel from one place to another – either in the car, walking, by bike, train, plane etc, do you remember much about what you saw along the way? Or were you focussed only on ‘getting’ to the place you’re going to? (either that or staring down at your phone for the journey….)
Staying aware of each moment and each movement – and the moments in-between, has the ability to bring the mind into what is known as ‘the flow state’, in which we’re so absorbed by what it is that we’re doing, that we bring ourselves into an almost absorbed state of meditation.
In a physical asana practice, it’s the transitions – the movements between each asana – that we often lose focus in. There can be a tendency to subliminally think to ourselves; “ok, that one’s done…” when we ‘finish’ virabhadrasana 2, or to lose focus completely when transitioning out of vrksasana (tree pose) and many other standing balances. ‘Coming out’ of urdhva dhanurasana (full wheel), sirsasana (headstand), urdhva mukha vrksasana (hand stand), most arm balances, and hanumanasana (the splits) are all situations which require just as much attention during the transition as when we’re ‘in them’….
You’ll be able to read more about focussing on transitions, awareness in practice, and how to cultivate that ‘flow state’ on the mat in an upcoming article I’ll be sharing for Ekhart Yoga in August.
For now, something Shiva Rea mentioned on a recent training I attended with her is very apt for when discussing transitions, flow and movement in a practice: “When we move, we want to be fluid…. But not soggy….”
There’s a huge difference between allowing the body to move in an un-controlled and un-supported way – which is unfortunately how many overly flexible or hyper-mobile students experience serious injuries – and moving in a fluid, natural way that engages muscles when the time is right, releases them when they don’t need to be ‘on’, and keeps us present in each and every breath-linked movement. Again, you’ll have to wait until August to read more about this from the Ekhart Yoga blog….
Practicing with complete focus on ‘the here and now’ requires us to apply a little of the concept of Isvara Pranidhana. Isvara Pranidhana is often translated as ‘surrender to a higher power’ or ‘the divine’, (read more about Isvara Pranidhana and how we can practice it on and off the mat HERE). The concept of Isvara Pranidhana can be difficult to grasp, but when we take an important sutra such as that of sutra[[[[ 2:34]]] ‘ and apply it to our practice on the mat, we can very much change our whole experience.
‘Surrendering’ isn’t in any way to b thought of as simply ‘letting things happen to us’ and completely relinquishing power. Quite conversely, it’s a voluntary letting go of the things which – in that moment – do not serve us, and do not help us to be part of that moment.
When we decide to ‘let go’ of everything else other than the focus on the breath durig a Yoga practice, we make the decision to be in the room, to be in the body, and to be in the moment. When we do this, we realise the potential we have to experience every aspect of life as it unfolds, moment by moment…. And the ‘moments between the moments’….
Practice: Anantasana Variation
This posture provides the practice of balancing and building core strength all from a seemingly relaxed position…. Many of the alignment principals of the asana are similar to those of ardha chandrasana (half moon) and vasisthasana (side plank), so it’s useful to practice this before moving onto those postures in order to cultivate more awareness of what actions the body needs to do when it gets there.
When we’re considering core strength in class, it’s important to remember that true core strength and the ability to use our core when we’re moving requires us to let go of the presupposed idea that sit-ups and crunches are going to help create real strength. While they may shape the superficial muscles into something society tells us is ‘better’ and more attractive, there are far more efficient (and fun) ways of actually building deep core strength which helps us move through a yoga practice – and through life – with more ease.
Core strength that helps us move our bodies with more of a balance of sthira and sukha (steadiness and ease) and prevents injury and enables ‘stronger’ postures like arm balances and inversions to feel more accessible, comes from being able to stabilise the body by using our core. This basically means that our most powerful form of strength comes ‘from the inside-out’. If your arms and legs are strong but there’s no engagement of the deeper core muscles, the body is likely to feel a little ‘disconnested’, and many of the Yoga postures will feel more awkward and difficult.
Practicing this asana can help to develop a type of core strength that helps us to balance, flow and invert with more ease, since the body is practicing steadying itself – using core muscles like the obliques – while wobbling around on the floor.
To prepare the body:
- Begin in Tadasana (mountain pose) actively pressing into the heels, lengthening the spine and reaching upwards through the crown of the head. These actions are similar to those we’ll look at in the final expression of the practice posture.
- Move through a few rounds of surya namaskar A (sun salutation A), linking each movement with each breath, and paying attention to how you also move between the postures.
- After about 5 rounds, return to Tadasana and step back to practice virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2), parsva konasana (side angle) and trikonasana (triangle pose).
- In trikonasana, pay attention to pressing actively into the back foot, lengthening the tailbone, reaching through the crown of the head and extending the top arm straight to the sky. These are also actions we’ll focus on later….
- Practice this to each side of the body and then make your way onto all-fours and then into a supine position (lying on the back). If you wanted to add in another asana to practice, THIS posture can also help to understand alignment and actions needed in the final asana.
- From a supine position, bring the arms either side of the ears, and roll onto the [right] hand side of the body, keeping the [right] arm extended.
- Bend the bottom arm and use the hand to support the head, as though you were lying on the beach, in bed or somewhere else ‘relaxing’…
- Notice how the tailbone almost instantly sticks out to counterbalance the body and prevent any wobbling. Now lengthen the tailbone towards the heels so the whole spine is lengthened.
- Flex the feet and press out firmly through the heels as you extend through the crown of the head.
- Continue to breathe evenly and lift the top arm up, fingertips reach to the sky.
- Stay here and feel the subtle – but very necessary – engagement that happens in the core; remember, by ‘core’ we’re not just talking about the abdomen…. Click HERE to read more about the ‘deep core line’, and where our ‘core’ actually lies….
- If you feel stable, begin to lift the top leg away from the bottom, while maintaining the flexed position in the feet.
- There’s a tendency to roll the leg into external rotation here, which will instantly create a disconnect between the leg and the internal obliques, so keep the leg internally rotating. This means the inner arch of the top foot will be parallel with the floor, foot flexed, and a definite sensation of pressing the heel away. This is also the leg position to look for when practicing ardha chandrasana and vasisthasana, and could be practiced with the feet against the wall to really feel the amount of ‘pressing away’ the feet need to do in order to engage the ‘deep core line’ of fascia.
- Weakness in the abductors (outer hip muscles) could cause this to be difficult, and can also cause ‘cramping’ in the muscles if this is the case. If it is the case, read THIS interesting article on the importance of balancing the inner and outer hip muscles, and what happens to us when there’s an imbalance. (It may give you some clues as to why you feel your hips are ‘tight’ in some positions, and not in others….) FYI – tension in the abductors (outer hip and thigh muscles), especially the piriformis, is a huge cause of knee pain, so if you do experience pain in your knees, consider looking somewhere else for the cause other than the knee….
- Stay here for 5-10 full breaths, noticing the subtle yet deep engagement of those muscles which are essential to balancing.
- When you’re ready to transition out of the posture, release the top leg down next to the bottom, and roll onto the back again.
- Take a moment to feel the difference between both sides of the body before moving onto the other side, which may well feel very different from the first side you practiced.
By practicing core stabilisation, we enable ourselves to move fluidly and steadily from a place of strength, thus enabling the practice to become much more about breath awareness and focus on ‘the moment’, rather than worrying about whether or not you may wobble and fall over….