My Saturday yoga classes have an attendance greater than 1! For a couple of weeks, my 3-year-old was my only attendee and I love that kid a ton, but she isn’t the most cooperative yoga student. She isn’t all that interested in the sequence that I prepare for class, she insists that we share a mat and when I suggest that we try roaring like lions or wiggling like snakes, she comes up with a better idea. Mostly, she likes to be the wind while I’m in vrksasana (tree pose) and she whips around me until I fall over and then we roll on the floor and laugh and laugh. That particular yoga class lasts for about 5 minutes. I love having adult students to teach.
This week, we worked with the theme of courage. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown says that courage doesn’t always look like heroic life-on-the-line kind of action. She talks about “ordinary courage” which is the practice of letting the vulnerable parts of our true selves be seen. We get to practice courage throughout our lives and we get better at it by practicing acts of courage every day.
Dr. Elizabeth Sylvester, the wise and wonderful child psychologist who is one of my many parenting guides, says that courage is the ability to do what you need to do even though it scares you. (My 7-year-old and I were very courageous this week. She started public school after being homeschooled for kindergarten and first grades. I’m happy to say, we are off to a good start.)
Courage is also connected to our dharma. Dharma encompasses our life’s purpose and the duties we perform. We have many roles that we accept, create or are given to us: sibling, parent, employee, friend…warrior. In the Bhagavad Gita, which illustrates the yogic path through story, Arjuna faces the heart-wrenching duty of going into battle to fight his bad cousins who have cheated him, his brothers and good cousins out of their part of the kingdom. He doesn’t want to fight. The thought of killing his relatives is too horrible. He would rather lay down and die. But he is a warrior, and it is his dharma to fight this battle. Luckily, his charioteer is Krishna, God incarnate, so he has a conversation with him about this struggle and Krishna gives him some pretty helpful advice. Krishna talks to Arjuna about his duty as a warrior and even though Arjuna doesn’t want to go into battle, it is his dharma. He must do what needs to be done to uphold the kingdom. He had a battle to fight. We’ve all got our battles.
In class this week, the sequence’s peak pose was Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2). Because a prerequisite to knowing our dharma is knowing ourselves, we start by connecting with our body’s center and core. We activate mulabhanda (root lock at our pelvic floor – engage the same muscles you use when you need to pee) and draw the naval in. These two actions will probably fire up the multifidus, stabilizing muscles that support the spine, so you’ll have this corset of muscles around your center. From this active and supported center, the limbs reach out.
The feet make contact with the earth in heel-arch alignment. They form a strong foundation of active and rooting feet. The front knee bends above but not beyond the ankle and the back leg is straight and strong. The muscles of your legs press into the mat. It is interesting to experiment with isometrically pulling the feet together as if you were trying to bunch up the mat between your feet. (The feet don’t move but you engage the muscles as if you could pull that mat together.) Notice the weight in the pelvis. Then press the feet away from each other as if you were trying to tear the mat in two. Notice the weight of the pelvis here and then choose your favorite muscular action. (Share in comments: What’s your fav’?) Through the support of the muscular energy of the legs, the pelvis can start to feel light. You might notice a difference in your pelvis’ relationship to gravity. Sometimes we hear, “draw energy from the earth” and “root to rise up.” I think this gravity/pelvis relationship is what yoga teachers are talking about.
In the classical version of this posture, the arms are extended at shoulder height, palms facing the floor. Engage between the shoulder blades (yay for rhomboids!) to open the front of the chest and then feel the strong line of energy that moves from fingertips to fingertips. The neck stays soft and the tops of the shoulders are moving down, away from the ears. Gaze beyond the front fingers. Reach out through the top of the head, giving space to your neck and give the chin a tiny tuck so that you can feel length in the back of the neck.
With a strong foundation, active core, arms extending with energy and head held high you (and my five students (!)) will be ready to face your battles with courage.