So far, my year has been somewhat turbulent – I have said good-bye to my second Dad, (I have been very blessed in this life to have had a fantastic Father and a fantastic Step-Father), as he was so brutally taken away from me at the hands of life’s number one anathema: cancer. I have finally gained employment in the field that I spent tens of thousands of pounds getting educated in: art. I have progressed with my yoga teacher training…I have observed myself and evolved in to a better version of myself. Every day I am focusing on becoming a better version of who I was yesterday. For years, I have lived with chronic regression; or, to be more precise, a chronic desire to regress and afflicting myself with guilt, about things that have come and gone, desperately willing my life to turn backwards, so I can go back to times where I wasn’t exactly the person that I wanted to be or feel I should have been. To go back and be the person I feel I should have been in those times, those situations. The passing of my Step-Father taught me that living like this is no good. I won’t go into lengthy detail, but, I pulled myself together and, subsequently, am rediscovering who I am and; simultaneously, achieving things I had denied myself achieving for years.
I’ve gone back to basics.
Yoga is the foundation of my existence. it influences how my body moves, how my mind analyses situations, how I connect to other people and how I react to things, people and situations. I have reconnected with who I truly am and a big part of that involved (very hastily!) wiping the slate clean in all areas of my life and starting again. A former self-loather/perfectionist/nothing-I-do-is-good-enough…. I threw in the towel and started again. I stripped my practice back to basics and I learnt a lot. I learned to concentrate – properly. I achieved clarity – properly. I was blessed with the gift of patience – properly. I reconnected with my body by simplifying what it was doing and not pushing it to do things it was not yet quite ready for. I used to be an advanced practitioner, but, after an abeyance of a few years, I am more intermediate now. For the last 18 months – that has irked me and depleted my self esteem more than I could tell you! Characteristically, I am an acute perfectionist. Going back to basics and absolving my practice has humbled that inner perfectionist, teaching me to take things as they come and trust that my body and mind will do them when they are truly ready.
With all of this in mind, this weeks ASANA CLINIC focuses on an asana that is perceived as basic, but has a multitude of modifications and encourages dedication as you can continuously advance upon what you have done the practice before…”Tiger” Pose! In Indian mythology, the Tiger is the mode of transportation of the Hindu goddess Durga, whom is considered to be “Mother Nature” and the deification of energy. Shiva, the Hindu deity, whom protects and transforms the Universe, famously slew a tiger, effortlessly, when one was sent to exterminate him in the jungle. Symbolically, the tiger represents power and protection and has attracted a lengthy history in Indian, Buddhist and Chinese mythology. Mastering Vyaghrasana will invite power, energy and confidence in to your practice. Here I share my top 5 spiritual, physical and mental benefits of Tiger Pose:
- Commitment: Vyaghrasana encourages us to commit to a task. In this pose, we are encouraged to direct the elevated foot to the head – this is not something that most of us will be able to do straight away, or easily. It comes with dedication and commitment to practicing the pose regularly and steadily. Forcing the asana will result in cramps and muscle strains in the lumbar region – of which are incredibly uncomfortable. Instead, tiger pose should be developed and approached with patience and commitment. We rush through life trying to be the best at everything in our reach; if we don’t succeed instantaneously, we give up to avoid any humiliation gained by the need to practice and shed the façade that we are perfect.
- Concentration: From the outside, tiger pose seems easy. One is on all fours, lifting a leg. However, after around ten breaths or so, the muscles become tired and our instincts encourage us to give up. By elevating your leg, you are engaging some large muscles – the muscles in your legs are some of the largest in the body, thus, they will tire quickly and require masses of fuel to keep them energised and active. In yoga, we are encouraged to concentrate and move past the physical constraints of our body. We should not put ourselves at risk of injury, but we should learn to focus and still the mind. Often we are capable of holding asana for 15 breaths, per se, but only hold them for 10 because we are not truly focusing the mind and concentrating on aligning our mind with our body. We reach 10 breaths, our brain says “Okay, that’s enough” and we give in. Particularly in Yin Yoga, we are encouraged to teach ourselves to silence what is often called “Monkey Brain” that talks to us, loudly, discouraging us from doing what we are more than capable of! Breathe deeply, still your mind and concentrate. Be in the moment and concentrate on what you are doing, not what your mind is telling you not to do.
- Keeps Your Spine in Check: “You’re only as young as your spine” – keeping the spine in good check is imperative to our health. Our spines do so many things for us- contribute to an array of complex movements, facilitate us in standing upright, harbouring a large portion of our nervous system…so it is important to keep that column, of complex bones, in vitality. Tiger pose stretches your spine form top to bottom. Right from the first vertebrae in the cervical spine, right down to your fused mass of coccyx bones – there is a therapeutic, complete stretch. This type of stretch is enormously beneficial at the beginning of your yoga practice – it “warms” the spine and preps it for more complex movements, reducing the risk of injury. It is also beneficial at the end of your practice, to give the bones, muscles tendons, ligaments and fasciae; surrounding the spine, a nice gentle stretch that irons out any tension that may have accumulated during more complex asana.
- Creativity: When in vyaghrasana, the throat is opened and slightly elevated. This activates Vishudda – the throat chakra. Vishudda governs our communication lines and creativity. The two go hand-in-hand. Creativity, in the form of visual art, has been conducive in communications since the very first cave paintings of the Aurignacian era right through to the subliminal messages of modern day conceptual artists. In contrast, we often have to be creative in our verbal communication skills – thinking quickly and negotiating certain situations; being mindful to not say the wrong thing and cause catastrophe. Creative activities – whether they be baking, gardening, painting, dancing….are tools for our souls to convey messages; whether we are conveying them surreptitiously to ourselves, esoterically, or extrovertly; they are vital for our spiritual happiness.
- Posture perfect: Finally, at number 5, is the benefit to our over-all posture. As with number 3, adapting a good posture is vital to good health; particularly later on in life. As well as preventing curvature of the spine, neck problems and balance issues, a good posture is very powerful in the field of “body language”. A tall, proud posture exudes confidence. Whether you truly feel it or not, adapting a good, confident posture will allude to confidence and positive self-assurance. Even if you are faking it, after a few moments, you will feel fabulous! Tiger pose facilitates good posture through the stretch of the spine, the opening of the chest and relaxing of the shoulders. It will give you the confidence of a tiger – a powerful prowess!
How To: Tiger Pose
- Table pose: On all fours, have your hands under your shoulders and knees under hips. Keep your hips square.
- Inhale your knee to your forehead, rounding the spine.
- Exhale, reaching the foot up toward the ceiling, elevating the gaze upwards to open the throat and chest. Be careful not ot tense the shoulders.
- Hold for 5 deep breaths, to begin, gradually building up to holding the pose for around 30 seconds.
- Release the pose by exhaling the knee back to the floor. Ensure you do this in a slow, controlled manner.
- Repeat on the other side.
- If you feel stable and balanced in this pose, you can take the opposing hand off the floor (if you have raised the right leg, raise the left hand). Slowly reach the hand back and grasp the elevated foot. You can also use a strap if you want to deepen the stretch, but don’t yet have the capacity to grab your foot. Remember, this is a challenging modification and requires gradual progression! Don’t force the pose or you risk straining the muscles in the trapezius area.
- Place a folded blanket or towel under your knees to reduce pressure.
Recent or chronic injury to the back, hips, or knees.