Sunday, February 27, 2011

Be A Warrior: Part 3 - Warrior III

"Establishing his arrival for all to see, Virabhadra then sites his opponent, Daksha. Moving swiftly and precisely, he takes his sword and cuts off Daksha's head."

This passage illustrates the progression of the Hindu Warrior as he sets site on this opponent and moves in for the kill. It is the transition from Warrior II to Warrior III.

Virabhdrasana III is often considered the most challenging of the Warrior poses. It allows us to strengthen the abdominal muscles as well as improves our posture. It brings better balance and greater stamina, not only in our practice, but also in our lives.

Warrior III is slightly different from the first two Warrior poses since you are balancing on one foot rather than feeling solid with both feet on the ground. While standing on the right foot, the rest of the body is perpendicular to the floor with both arms extended out in front of you (visualize flying through the sky like Superman). Your left leg is extended out behind you, also parallel to the floor. The aspect of this pose represents Virabhadra as he drives forward to slay Daksha. It further represents the yoga practitioner slaying the ego or the obstacles and challenges that need to be conquered.

As you move into this posture on the first side, start by feeling very rooted into the ground with your standing leg. The energy from the balance comes from your core; your abdominals are fully engaged and tight. Energy for the rest of the pose comes from your core center. The right foot drives strongly into the floor, but the strength comes from the top of the leg - the hip and hip flexor. Your core strength also helps to extend both arms forward. (As a modification, do this pose in front of a wall. Your hands or fingertips can touch the wall as a way to help manage the balance of the pose.)

Further, the left leg is extended straight out back behind you. The glutes and hamstrings are fully engaged to help with the lifting of the leg so it remains parallel with the floor. (Likewise, as a modification, you can face away from a wall in the pose. The toes or foot of the extended leg can touch the wall to help maintain the balance.) Hold the pose for at least 5 breaths then repeat it on the other side.

Remember, while holding this posture, bring to mind the obstacles and challenges you have been facing in recent weeks. Now is the time to take action. You realize, now, that these challenges no longer serve you in your life and you are ready to break down these walls. Movement and action come from your center - your core - your third chakra. While in the pose, imagine you are in flight - flying forward to face and remove your fears. Believe in the strength you possess as you step forth, like the bold Hindu Warrior, and conquer your obstacles.

Be sure to share with us your journey toward becoming a Warrior.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Be A Warrior: Part 2 - Warrior II

In the story of Virabhadra, we recall that he came to life from the locks of Shiva's hair. In the Virabhadrasana I Pose where the arms are extended overhead, we are reminded of how this warrior sprung to life. The symbol of this great Hindu warrior is that we can be in a position to face our own obstacles and challenges.

What challenges have you faced this week? Relationship? Illness? Work stress? Car troubles? Even in the face of these obstacles, have you felt at the ready to deal and manage these obstacles? Warrior I had you poised and ready for these life events. Now it is time to take action.

The story states that Shiva ordered Virabhadra to kill all the guests at the sacrificial festival, including the other gods. Virabhadra did this. Yes, this is a gory depiction, but a reminder that sometimes facing our challenges may not always be an easy task to do. We find the warrior within and move forward.

Warrior II
In this yoga pose, our arms are extended outward - they are parallel to the earth. The extended arms represent the thousand arms of Virabhadra. Our drishti, or focus, is over the front arm. (If your left foot is forward, then your focus is over the left hand.)

Come into Virabhadrasana II. Refer to the previous blog entry on how to position your feet and legs. Feel rooted and connected into the earth with both feet. Be sure your front knee is stacked directly over your ankle to allow for proper and healthy structure of the pose as well as protection of your knee joint. Your torso remains upright and proud.

As you hold this pose (5-10 breaths), take your gaze forward over your extended arm. This aspect of the Warrior Pose represents Virabhadra as he sights Daksha at the festival, readying himself to slay Daksha, a metaphor for slaying our own ignorance and ego. See yourself standing in this warrior-confidence moving forward to conquer your battles. Be sure to repeat this posture on both sides.

We will continue the Warrior 3-Part Series in the next blog entry. Until then, Namaste.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Be A Warrior: Part 1 - Warrior I

For the next three weeks, we will focus on the three variations of Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose). In Sanskrit, the word "vira" means "hero." Virabhadra is a hero warrior from Hindu mythology. He is said to have a thousand arms and was created by the Lord Shiva to avenge his wife Sati. Like many Hindu stories, they are metaphors that can relate to our everyday lives. The idea of Virabhadra is a reminder that we are the warriors and conquerers of our own weaknesses. By nurturing our inner warrior, we prepare ourselves to deal with our own life challenges.

Here is the story of Virabhdra. Daksha, Sati's father, didn't approve of Sati's marriage to Shiva, so when Daksha decided to host a sacrificial festival, he didn't invite Shiva or Sati, even though the other Hindu gods were invited. Sati was hurt by this, but decided to go to the festival to confront Daksha.

Daksha asked why Sati was there since she wasn't invited. He snidely asked if she had finally come to her senses and left that "wild animal of a husband". Sati was saddened and humiliated, and decided to end her own life, not wanting to be associated with her father anymore. In one version of this story she throws herself into the sacrificial fires, and in another version she goes into a meditative state to increase her own inner fire, and her body bursts into flame.

When Shiva heard the news of his wife's death, he was first devasted, then enraged. From the locks of hair that he tore out in his fury, he created Virabhadra. (Other versions say Virabhadra sprung up from where Shiva's matted locks of hair hit the ground, or that he arose from drops of Shiva's sweat during his fury.)

Virabhadra was huge and terrible -- he had a thousand arms, three burning eyes and fiery hair, and he wore a garland of skulls.

Shiva ordered Virabhadra, the "auspicious hero", (vira = hero, bhadra = auspicious) to kill all the guests at the sacrificial festival, including the other gods. Virabhadra did this, and also cut off Daksha's head. But when Shiva saw the bloody aftermath of this battle, his anger left him and he felt remorse. The slain gods were miraculously healed, and Shiva replaced Daksha's head with a goat's head. Daksha and the other gods honored Shiva for this, calling him "Shankar", the "kind and benevolent one."

Warrior I:
The Warrior I Pose is a lunging posture. Start with your right foot at the top of your mat with your bent knee (about 90 degrees) and toes pointing directly forward. Your left leg is straight and your foot is near the back edge of your mat. Be sure the entire foot is on the floor and it may be turned at a comfortable angle so that the back edge of your foot meets the floor. Your torso is facing forward and your arms are reaching straight up toward the sky.

Warrior I opens the chest and lungs, allowing for better breathing. It also creates more flexibility in the shoulders, back, and hips. You will find that this a great hip and hip flexor opener. Further, it strengthens the legs. This is a good pose to prepare for back-bending poses.

The image of the arms shooting skyward represents Virabhadra emerging from the earth as he comes to life. Metaphorically, we can use this image of the arising warrior as the preparation for the battles and challenges ahead. It is the decision to take charge and move forward to face your life obstacles. While in Virabhdrasana I, bring to mind any challenges that you are NOW ready to face and conquer. With each breath, conjure up your Inner Warrior. (Repeat the pose on the other side.)

Next week, we will focus on the Warrior II Pose. Namaste.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Be Victorious

The foundation of any yoga practice is the breath. It is the fundamental element that helps the practitioner become more aware of the Self. It allows the yogi to move deeper into themselves. When one is able to sit in stillness with their breath, a sense of calm and peace can be achieved.

The act of breathing is an involuntary operation: we don't have to think about breathing in and just happens. In the yoga practice, however, we breathe with intention and effort. Again, this allows for a greater connection to Self. When we pay attention to the flow of breath, it is difficult to think about anything else. You become centered, present, and balanced just by focusing on the inhales and exhales.

Ujjayi Breath is a style of breathing that is typically done during the yoga practice that keeps the practitioner aware and present. The word ujjayi means "victorious breath" and in this home practice, we will focus on being more victorious in and with ourselves. Below is a description of one way you can practice the Ujjayi Breath or Victorious Breath.

When you begin your yoga practice, you often start by standing in Mountain Pose. Standing in stillness and silence allows for the opportunity to focus on the ujjayi breathing. Let's practice this exercise, though, while seated in Easy Pose. Sit up nice and tall with an extended spine and straight back. Close your eyes to begin your journey inward. In your stillness, simply be aware that you are breathing. Breathe in and out through your nose. You don't have to do anything special with the breath at this point. Just be aware that you are breathing. You may feel breath move and out of your body...perhaps through your nostrils.

From here you will shift that sensation of nostril breathing to throat breathing. This will help to engage the ujjayi breath. To initiate the throat breathing, allow your mouth to open and take a few breaths in and out through your mouth. As you draw in breath, feel the airy hollowness of breath moving into the back of your mouth. As you exhale, breathe out as if you are fogging a mirror. (Place your hand in front of your mouth to mimic a mirror to simulate this exercise. Feel the warm air hit your hand as you release the breath.) Do that a few times then continue this process of breathing with your mouth CLOSED. You may feel that same sensation in the back of your throat as you did when you had your mouth open. You've begun ujjayi breathing.

If you you continue this practice, you may find that you can take slower and deeper breaths. Also, you may hear a sound which we sometimes refer to as the Ujjayi Sound. It may sound like an ocean wave rolling onto the beach. As you deepen the breath here, really feel the expansion of your lungs. You may feel your chest rise with each inhale. As you exhale, try to maintain the victorious breath high in your chest by engaging your abdominal muscles. Feel your navel draw in toward your spine. This is the abdominal lock or Uddiyana Bandha. Again, the more you practice this style of breath, you will also expand the capacity of your lungs AND strengthen your core.

Taking deep breaths is an intention process and takes your attention to do so. Further, Ujjayi Breathing helps to calm the circulatory system so it can help relieve stress and anxiety. Practice Ujjayi Breath for about 2 minutes and experience the calming effects of the practice. When you are in your next yoga class, be sure to connect to this way of breathing to help guide you and move you through your practice.

Try Ujjayi Breathing today and let us know how you did and what you felt afterward.