“Re-aligning the body and mind by getting grounded in a world that’s anything but.”
Being in a state that is in balance, grounded, or alignment is a practice. This quality of centering the self is constantly in state of flux. The only thing that is certain in life is change. Our Yoga practice is an opportunity to learn how to move with challenges, boundaries, and the ever evolving sensations and fluctuations of both body and mind. However our yoga practice is also an opportunity to find a way back to stability, simplicity and connection to the self.
The upcoming season can carry us away and disrupt our routines, and leave us feeling anything but balanced. November and December are actually one of my favourite times of year.
Parties, social gatherings, and family events are something to cherish and enjoy. Our yoga practice can be a wonderful tool to re-ground and stabilize ourselves in the midst of what can be chaotic. Returning to simple postures and taking time to connect allows yogis of all experience levels to cultivate steadiness.
The following postures and practices are tools that can be utilized to ground yourself, and come back into alignment in all senses of the word. Use them to get yourself centred.
POSE 1: Tadasana / Mountain Pose
Did you know that mountain pose actually teaches you all the basic alignment foundations you need to know to practice any yoga posture? To begin come to a standing position. Close your eyes or find a single point of focus. Begin by observing your natural posture and way of being in your body. Connect to your breath by first allowing it to flow naturally, and gradually deepening the flow. Notice where your body connects to the earth, observe where the weight is balanced in the soles of the feet. Take a moment to track through the body and become aware of the placement and weight of the legs, pelvis, spine, shoulders, neck and head.
Drawing your action back to your feet, begin to deepen your connection to the earth by lifting your toes, spreading them wide and rooting them down into the earth. Remain grounded and press down through the feet and initiate the action of wiping the feet apart as if you were trying to rip your mat in half. Draw energy up your legs and activate them, feel the thighs lift. Find neutral pelvis by aligning your pubic and hip bones in the same plane. Draw length up your spine by extending the crown of the head toward the sky. Lift the collarbones which will allow your chest to broaden. Soften the shoulders and perhaps even feel the shoulder blades slide down your back.
Maintaining this posture, take at least 10 deep breaths. As you breathe take a moment to observe any sensations or thoughts that are arising within you.
POSE 2: Uttanasana / Forward Fold
In this variation of forward fold our context for the posture is to create grounding sensation as opposed to directing our attention to the deepest expression of a forward fold. To practice this pose you may want to keep two yoga blocks nearby. If you don't have blocks then cushions, books or any two stable objects of the same height are great options. From standing bring a gentle bend into your knees to allow for more space in the hamstrings (word from the wise, bend your knees more than you think you need to) Take a deep inhale breath and reach your hands toward the sky. As you exhale the breath from your body fold forward maintaining length through the spine as best you can, drawing your belly and chest to your thighs. If the chest doesn't meet the thighs a great option is to place a folded up blanket between the two.
Maintaining the deep knee bend in your forward fold place your hands on either the earth or your chosen props. On an inhale breath see if you can bring more length into your spine extending forward through the crown while still remaining in the depth of the fold. As you exhale press into the floor, blocks, or chosen prop, and pull your chest closer to your thighs. Let the back of the neck extend and the he'd hang down toward the ground. Notice the weight distribution in the feet, see if you can move it toward the balls of the feet.
Take at least 5-10 deep breaths and observe any changes in sensation. Perhaps explore the power of the breath to create space to both expand and find length as you inhale, on the exhale what do you feel?
POSE 3: Table Top with Core Stability
Come into a table top position by planting the hands on the ground below the shoulders and drawing the knees below the hips. Take a moment to link breath and movement. From table top position on an inhale draw the belly down toward the earth by tilting the pelvis forward, drawing the tailbone up, broadening the chest at the collarbones and drawing the shoulders away from the ears. As you complete the inhale, allow your gaze to move upward as well. As you exhale move the pubic bone forward, draw the belly back, feel the shoulder blades speed wide apart as you press the upper back toward the sky. As you complete the exhale tuck your chin toward your chest and gaze toward the belly. This is cat/cow flow, repeat this cycle for 3-5 rounds and perhaps add in further movements that feel organic to you in the moment. It’s OK to explore within your yoga practice and body. Colour outside the lines.
After you complete your cycles draw back to table top position. Find a neutral pelvis (align the pubic bone and hip bones in the same plane) and on an exhale activate the abdominals by narrowing the waist and drawing the low belly back and up. Think more of an awakening sensation and awareness of the midsection and less of a flexing action. Gripping through the fingertips push into the hands, maintaining the alignment of shoulders over wrists, and feel the shoulder blades spread wide on the back. Wipe the hands apart as if you were trying to split the mat in half. Directing your attention to the upper arms initiate external rotation action, elbows draw back. Notice if you can maintain these actions while moving the collarbone forward to maintain an open quality in the chest. Hold and maintain this posture for 5-10 breaths and then release into child’s pose and again observe the shift in sensations physically and mentally. You could repeat this process of alignment and stability for 3-5 rounds or if you desire more of a challenge repeat the same steps but hover the knees by pressing into the tops of the feet in table top position, or again repeating alignment cues hold this posture in a full plank position with legs extended back.
POSE 4: Kapotasana / Pigeon Pose
Come onto your seat at the top of your mat, extend one leg across the top of your mat and then placing your hands either in front of the shin or alongside the hips begin to square the hips and extend the opposite leg back. As you first enter the posture take a moment to pause and check
In. Begin to explore your personal expression. Notice if your hips are quite elevated and there is a great deal of space between them and the floor. If they are, take time to explore either deepening by using the back foot and leg to start to pull back and create some extension back or if you are already at your end range of motion, propping up and supporting the hips with either a block or bolster. Remember our intention here is to create a deeper grounding sensation, so if the pose feels unstable and propping doesn't help perhaps switch into a figure four seated variation of this posture.
Once you have found a position that feels secure notice if you can move the hips into alignment by drawing the hip of the front leg back, and the hip bone of the back leg forward. Think neutral pelvis, although that expression may not fully be realized. Now instead of flopping forward, as best you can move your shoulders back overtop of your hips and move energy down toward the ground. Placing blocks under the hands can assist those of us who are not blessed with long arms (myself included). Take a 5 full rounds of breath here and once completed maintain this position and downward energy in the hips take as much time as you need to transition the upper body into a fold. Hold in that variation for another 5 -10 breaths.
To leave the posture slowly lift the chest with an inhale, using your hands to support you, tuck under the back toes and lift the knee transitioning back to a downward facing dog position. Observe what unfolds with in your body as you shift positions and notice any areas that you may have become more conscious of through the practice of this posture. After taking some time to connect with your experience through stillness in downward facing dog, rest in child’s pose, or make your way back to seated to practice the pose on the other side.
POSE 5: Savasana / Corpse Pose
For our practice of this posture perhaps have a cushion, yoga bolster, pillow, and possibly a heavy blanket nearby. I also recommend having some cozy socks or a sweater nearby to prevent feeling chilled thus distracting you from the experience of the posture. Come down onto your back. Begin by shaking your toes from side to side before allowing the feet to fall out toward the sides of the mat. If you feel any tension in the hips or low back perhaps sliding a bolster or blanket below the knees for more support will help. You may also wish to place a rolled blanket under the low back and / or neck as well. Once you feel your body is supported begin to draw your mind into the experience of the posture. Feel your body pressing into the floor below you and the ability of the floor holding your body. Can you consciously observe each part of the body with your inhales and with each exhale can you intentionally relate any tension you are carrying within that area. Beginning at the toes and working your way up the legs, through the hips, pelvis, core, arms, fingers, chest, shoulders, neck, face and through to the head. As you first begin your practice perhaps focus on broader areas and then fine tuning your awareness by even drawing attention to things as subtle as fingernails, eyelashes, or even your skin.
Once you have cultivated a connection to the physical body, start to draw your attention inward. Allow your breath to flow naturally but continue to notice how the breath feels moving in and out of the body. Our intention is to become more grounded, as we lay in savasana and meditate, the mind may have a tendency to wander and offer up different stories and narrations to draw you away from the moment. In yoga we call these distractions or fluctuations “vrittis”. When these distractions of the mind arise, notice if you can first be aware that it is happening and then as best you can draw yourself back into the present moment by reconnecting to your body or breath. It is inevitable that these fluctuations of the mind arise. We can allow ourselves to follow the thoughts and be carried away, or we can practice the art of presence by learning to come back over and over again. Practice this posture for 10 minutes (or as long as you like) I like to set a timer if I have a limited amount of time so I can fully relax. When you feel ready to leave the pose take your time to re-awaken the body with a breath and some gentle movements before slowly making your way out of the pose.
By: Danielle Murray – Danielle Murray Yoga