Week three – alignment to the source
This week is the third week of my latest Hanuman yoga practice series, one of my favourite deities to get in touch with. Especially at this time of year when there seems to be a lot of wind and air in general flying around. Perhaps it’s because we see it in the leaves falling in the wind and my puppy thinks it’s a fantastic game! Hanuman is the son of the God of the Wind Vayu – a fact I feel should get more laughs than it usually does. But perhaps this says more about me than the legend.
Bringing it together
Week three is halfway through and when I really spend time with the alignment principals we happen to be working with during our yoga practice. We’ve done a lot of work on the element of air, and it really is the best time of year to think about it when air becomes visible. Or at least the effect of air is. Additionally, we’ve been working a lot on certain alignment principals which I feel hold true to the qualities that we find within Hanuman.
I don’t intend to go particularly technical with this post. I’m not sure it serves much purpose. However, I do want to mention the purpose for the alignment principals I’m working with. Again with the “why” – I know. Firstly, I’m seeing a lot of hunching and back pain. As I usually do at this time of year, also I feel it as a protection after all we’ve collectively been through in the last few years. The anatomical principals, therefore, have been to try and create more space in the upper body to breathe. Frankly, I think we could all use a big breath right now. Son of the Wind, gotcha!
The advanced bit
Additionally, there are several my students now who get this. This means I’m able to dial in a bit more refinement. Because what happens when we over do one principal is that it tends to kick another one out. We’re always, you guessed it, surfing a paradox. I have therefore, started to introduce a greater awareness of the lower back body and abdominals, as a way to cultivate a more subtle alignment.
These are the things I see as we go along. In some ways I’m always winging it. Pardon another wind related pun. I’ll keep going until you laugh.
Something to know about the myths is that we are said to hold all of the archetypes of the characters within them. This is crucial for me as it means we’re active participants and not passive observers. It probably also makes me slightly annoying as a yoga teacher because I’m constantly asking what that means in the context of our (that’s your) lived experience.
On one hand, due to his run in with the sun God Surya Hanuman is drafted into the monkey army and therefore, a warrior. Therefore, he must stand his ground and be clear in his intention. Much like we do when we take a pose. There’s a precision and integrity which is required. Over time that turns into confidence and self-belief.
Side bar – I really want the monkey army to be on my side.
On the other hand, Hanuman is devoted to Ram and his wife Sita. There is a deep respect, love and humility in the relationship. Any Sanskrit word with “nama” in it means this, to bow, to be humble and reverential. When we say “namaste” we’re offering our deepest love and respect. We offer this at the beginning and end of class as a mark and practice of gratitude.
Surfing the paradox
In my view, those two poses – that of the warrior and that of the devotee don’t naturally sit easily together. As with so many things related to our yoga practice we are asked to hold two seemingly contradictory truths at the same time. How can you hold steady as a warrior at the same time as being humble.
Luckily for us we have a pose which represents both, humble warrior. I’m not exactly sure when this pose came to be but I’m guessing it’s a more recent incarnation. I’m also hoping that it came to represent this exact paradox, again I couldn’t honestly say. It’s a variation of Warrior II series of poses:
- Start standing
- Set your warrior base
- Interlace your hands
- Fold forward
The question comes down to why. Because I do like to channel my inner three year old and continuously ask this question until I feel like it’s been answered sufficiently. For this I would like to reach into the Yoga Sutras, 2.46 to be exact:
Sthira Sukham Āsanam
This is particularly cool for me because it’s one of the first times we hear the word – asana. The poses that we associate so readily with our modern day practices. But that’s something of a distraction here.
Sthira – to be steady. And if you’ll give me permission, like a warrior.
Sukham – open and free. I emphasise these are my words, often it’s given as comfortable or enjoyable.
What we’re going for here is marriage of opposites. Or is it?
When we begin yoga we’re very much in Sthira mode. The physical set up of the pose needs to be up front because often it’s unfamiliar and we have to allow our bodies and minds to work together to figure it out – come on brain work with me.
Once we’re set up we’re able to explore it a little bit. Able to think about perhaps what is a bit more intangible in the pose:
- How does it feel
- How does it make us feel
- What are the component parts
- What is required of my breath
- Where happens when…
What we’re going for is perhaps a deeper expression and understanding of the pose from a visceral level. And, woah, that is waaaaay more interesting!
In other words, being open and free in both body, mind and spirit.
There’s always more
Because here’s the thing. A lot is asked of Hanuman and guess what – we are Hanuman. A lot is asked of all of us. Then it becomes a choice, do we dig into our warrior nature and use that to leap (reference intended, more on that soon) or do we collapse back into ourselves. As humans, I believe we’re always instinctively seeking more. There’s something within us which wants to explore to delve deeper to understand and that’s what keeps us going when a lot is being asked.
After half term I start the final yoga practice series of the year. You can book in here.