by Kara-Leah Grant
The last couple of years I’ve been getting up close and personal with long, slow holds in seated poses.
There’s a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m often exhausted from being a single parent and running my own business – the thought of standing postures or sun salutes sometimes makes me shudder. Giving myself permission to just sit on what mat and see what unfolds from there means I’m far more likely to practice every day.
The second is that I’m yang enough – naturally go go go with a tendency towards strength and therefore tension.
I need the balancing affects of yin-style floor postures to soften and open my body and mind.
It’s taken time, but I’m seeing some serious results.
Half-lotus has become comfortable and I now have forward movement in Wide-Legged Straddle and Easy Pose (Sukhasana).
When I first sat down on the mat, crossed my legs and extended my hands out in front of me it seemed impossible I could ever reach the ground. Now however, if I sit there and breathe, I can feel myself surrender to the position, to the earth, and to my breath in each and every passing moment.
Stay long enough and my forehead graces the earth. There’s a deep sigh as I let go and allow myself to be supported and held. It’s a long way from when I’d hit the floor and the first thoughts to fly across my charged-up mind were:
I can’t do this.
This is too hard.
I hate this.
Somewhere along the way, those thoughts softened and released as I began to accept where I was as being ok. So I wasn’t one of those bendy types, so what? So I had to sit up straight and tall while every one else melted forward with their bellies on the floor – and I was the teacher. So what? It didn’t matter.
And it didn’t.
What mattered was that I sunk out of my mind and into my breath and allowed myself to just be where I was – tight and sitting up straight and all. That was a starting point.
Now I know that I might hit the ground feeling tight and highly strung – especially after days of solo parenting (hardest job in the world, I swear) – but if I allow myself to just be there, magic happens.
First I start to listen to my breath. I notice where I’ve been holding it, where it’s tight, and where it gets caught.
I allow myself to breathe soft and slow, noting where the breath fills up my body and where it still needs to go. I feel myself sitting on the ground and allow my sitting bones to extend down into the earth like tree roots. I feel my legs externally rotating and open outwards like the petals of a flower and often I find myself sighing in relief at this point.
I’ve touched down again, connecting to the earth and to my body. There I am!
From there, it’s just a matter of time. I breath, and feel, and soften, and let myself drape forward over my legs. Eventually I can support my head with two stacked fists. Then a fist and a flat hand. Two flat hands. One. The floor. I don’t get there every day and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I surrender.
It’s medicine for my hips and my spine, but what I really notice is how it affects my mind.
The other day, after a challenging few weeks and a tough few days of solo parenting, I was shattered, wrung out, anxious, angry and angst. Child in bed, bless him, I sat down and melted down.
Less than ten minutes later there was a knock at the door as a friend dropped off some straight-from-the-garden sweet peas. We exchanged a few words and then he left me to it. In that exchange of words I marveled at how my inner state had completely transformed. Gone was the wrung out, anxious, angry, angst self and in her place was a deeper, infinite sense of being.
Ten minutes on the mat. Total transformation. Who doesn’t want that? Here’s how you do it.
Easy Pose (moving into half-lotus and then full lotus) with Forward Bend:
Opens the hips and spine, frees the pelvis, calms the mind.
Psychological Preparation: School yourself up with this pep talk.
- You only need 10 minutes
- It doesn’t matter what the pose looks like
- It’s all about breathing, grounding and letting go.
- Use what ever props you need to sit comfortably on the ground with a straight spine. Use a block, cushion, phone book or fat novel under your pelvis if you need it.
- Aim to have your knees sitting at the same height or lower than your hips.
- Sit down cross-legged, legs loose, thighs externally rotating (opening outwards like the pages of a book).
- Don’t let your legs actually cross though – shins are parallel to each other, sitting comfortably on the ground.
- Feel your sitting bones releasing into the earth.
- Tilt your pelvis forward slightly, as if your tailbone was extending away behind you and growing downward like another root.
- Let your spine grow up toward the sky, allowing your shoulder blades to melt towards the ground.
- Take a deep breath and let your shoulders lift up before sighing out loud as you drop them downward again.
This is your base posture. If you’re sitting on a block, stay right here. Ignore the following physical cues, but read and absorb the breath cues.
- Don’t physically push yourself deeper into the posture. Breathe right where you are and feel when your body is ready to move.
- Watch the mind chatter. Observe it. Let it go. Come back to your breath.
- Give yourself permission to be right where you are, with no attention paid to ‘achieving’ anything.
This is how the posture might develop – moving from #1 to #5 took me years of practice. Don’t try to move through all in one day! See #1 – 3 above!
- Rise upward from the pit of your belly, below your belly button and extend your hands out in front of you, placing your finger tips on the ground like spiders.
- Feel your pelvis naturally tilt forward, bringing the spine with it.
- Let your belly melt forward overtop of your legs supporting yourself with your arms as follows, depending on how much forward movement you have:
- Extended hands on spider tips fingers, no other arm part touching the ground
- Forearms resting on the ground, fingers spread and soft, shoulders rolling externally.
- Two fists supporting the head
- One fist, one flat hand
- One flat hand
- Head resting on the floor
- Check and make sure the forward movement has originated from the lower pelvis region – you’re not rounding your spine or shoulders to come forward. Always lengthen the front of your body as much as possible, creating space and light beneath you.
- Surrender and soften seeing if you can melt right down into the earth until it’s difficult to discern where you stop and the ground ends.
- Once you reached a place of deep surrender, and have melted there for at least five breaths, begin to breathe your way to upright again.
- During this, use the inhales to rise, and the exhales to ground.
- It might take three breaths to get all the way up.
- Pause and sit with spine extending to the sky, letting the posture integrate.
- Switch legs.
- Start again.
If the ground is a long way off and you still want to experience the soothing effects of resting your forehead against something solid, place a chair in front of you.
Have the back of the chair away from you and the seat of the chair close enough so you place your hands, and eventually your forehead, on the seat without having to bend forward hardly at all. Bliss!