Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual experience with oneself.
During asana practice, there is a lightness in the body and the brain is attentive but silent. How might we slip into this state of being quickly, honestly?
Before beginning our practice, it is a good idea to invite every cell in the body to soften, open up and receive the offering of what is about to begin. We can ask our mind to empty quotidian to-do lists; we can release and renunciate emotions, sealing off concerns that might drain energy.
Here are five steps being taught at the start of senior Iyengar teacher Dassa Oppenheimer’s classes to establish a stable, steady internal environment.
1. Begin soft and slow, on your back in a Supported Resting Pose. Set up on a bolster, pranayama pillow, or neatly folded blanket that supports the length of your spine. Supporting the spine this way allows exhalation to be long and relaxed without having to willfully focus on or manipulate the breath. Exhalation relaxes the body. Place a block and thin folded blanket under your head so that it is comfortable and does not drop below your shoulders. Dassa requests her students relax in this position for 15 minutes before she begins instruction. It is an important time for rest, to slow down, to soften our bodies and to begin letting go of ego.
2. Next step is of medium intensity: Leaning Forward Bend Against the Wall. Feet are hip-distance apart. Position and correctly align feet 12 inches from the wall. Place buttocks on the wall. Keep feet firmly planted and fold forward, crossing arms at the elbow and placing the folded arms behind the head. Allow the torso, neck, and head to relax. Close your eyes. The folding forward, dropping the head lower than the heart, empties the mind. The senses become passive. This pose stretches the back of the legs, particularly the lateral knee. Roll the lateral side of the knee towards the back of the leg. (In order to do Iyengar standing poses correctly, it is very important to understand how the lower leg–foot, ankle and knee–works and stretching the back knee is a beneficial warm up.)
3.The third move is strong intensity: Padangusthasana. Remain in wall hang position. Without lifting your head shift weight to front of foot. Open backs of knees so legs are completely straight. Backs of legs are now parallel to the wall. Firmly slide the index fingers between big toes and second toe. Hook under the big toe so that skin on neck of big toe and back of second joint of the index finger are joined. Grip strongly and pull up with the fingers; press down with the toes. Extend the spine.Lengthen front and sides of the torso. Ascend the sternum away from the navel. Expand under the armpits. Move elbows out like parentheses. “Pull! Pull harder!” Draw forehead towards the shins. In the pulling, release lingering emotions from the body/mind. The big six are anger, desire, ambition, pride, jealousy. “Pull harder!” Allow intelligence to sweep through the body like a rush of water. Feel the four sides of your legs–inside , back, front, outside. Equalize the energy on the four sides of the leg. Enliven throughout the body, from the cells on the soles of your feet to the cells of your scalp. “Pull!” Check your ams. They should feel the same energy and be putting out the same effort as your legs. Experience total attention in every cell.
4. Now gently release your toes. Slowly roll up to standing position: Tadasana. Come up very slowly. Deliberately, without wiggling or adjusting. Stand stable and solid on your feet. Feel the ankle and shin bones lifting up towards the center of the kneecap. Feel empty, like an washcloth that has been soaked, drenched and then wrung out. Go back to the feet. Empower the feet without gripping your toes. The toes lie long and soft, like flower petals. Energy flows up the front legs, skin moves from the front groin up the front torso and over shoulders. Then rolls the trapezium downwards. Energy continues to moves down the back towards the buttocks and down the back legs to the feet. Balance right and left sides of body. Balance top and bottom. Relax the armpits out towards the front and back body.
5.Welcome the nectar of life that resides deep in your heart. Feel steadiness, stability, and balance. Your body is the temple and each asana is a prayer. You have coordinated mind and body. You are at home in yourself.Your skin is a thin shell, the inside lining of your skin is the frontier of your soul.