I have not written for a while.
Sometimes I get caught up in other things that seem more important in that moment, I am not sure in the long run if they are more important, perhaps they are just other things and other moments.
As a Yoga studio owner, one of the things that I do daily is to watch social media. I do this mostly looking for ideas…ideas to teach from, ideas to promote the studio from and unfortunately sometimes looking for people lifting our images to promote their own ventures.
I do this in the quiet time of the mornings, over a cup of coffee; I try to keep it brief. It is part of the “business”, but you can get caught up in it, kind of like a bride working her way towards her big day, lost in stacks of bridal magazines. All the “what ifs”, the “I should haves”, the” I need tos”… at some point you need to release and let go or go mad.
Recently something caught my eye; it was a post by a Yoga teacher talking about the joys of being your own Boss. It went something like this, “When you’re your own boss you can take an afternoon nap in the park.” I have been “my own Boss” for over 23 years; I know many factors dictate how we live our lives. Responsibilities, human and animal, monetary, physical and emotional limitations often are necessities that we cannot overcome. A post depicting us laying on a field of grass gazing up at the sky, seemly wistful of what the future holds in store for us, does not make you your own Boss. Hard work and long hours make you own Boss… don’t fool yourself. My Grandfather gave me the best advice when I was a very young girl; “everything in life has some cost…emotional, monetary, and physical. If it is worth having, it comes at a cost”. One of my first Yoga teachers, Ning Gao summed this up in her own way, “NO Free Lunch! “ She would bark this out at you in the middle of Asana. She meant that you needed to do the work. Working on my 51nd rotation of the planet this year, I have to agree with both her and my Grandfather.
I digress… What I want to talk about, is not sniping about what neatly placed words and pictures sell on social media or make people quit their jobs to live the dream of being a Yoga Teacher, but Asana…I am, first and foremost a Yoga practioner and I want to talk about Asana… not feel good happy words and images, but the real meat and potatoes, the full meal deal and what I am talking about today is Visvamitrasana also known as Flying Warrior. Named after an ambitious king (lets’ tie in the being your own Boss thing right here) who transformed himself into a yogic sage (you want to do that, it requires effort and not just Instagram pictures and 3, 000 followers on Facebook).
It is a complex asana: It’s an arm balance, a hip opener, a shoulder opener, a hamstring stretch, and a twist, all in one. Wow, complex! Let’s go back to the “being your own Boss” thing, there is a lot going on here and this funky little posture and IT will test your limits on many levels.
• Builds awareness of the body working as a whole (you can’t be the Boss, without working with and respecting the whole team)
• Opens the side waist and torso
• Strengthens the upper body, wrists, and legs
• Stretches the outer hips and deep gluteal muscle
• Sense of Balance
Visvamitrasana is something to save for the peak of your yoga practice. It’s important that you thoroughly warm up your hamstrings, hips, shoulders, and side waist before going into the pose.
My model for this post is the lovely Clelia Perzolli.
Clelia is one of those rare people that you meet and instantly feel like you have known for a life time, a connection that does seem to come from the mat. We worked at the same Yoga YTTC in India, although years apart. I have had the privilege of practicing with her last year and again recently. I often wonder what I have to offer her as a practioner or as a teacher (I think that I allow her to have “space”) as I feel she is much more skilled than I am. As she is felled before me, to the work, to the Asana, to the practice, I watch the transformation in her both physically and mentally and it is wondrous. She is like that Butterfly emerging from its cocoon. She has left me with the greatest gift (and she probably does not even think about it) …her practice. I will squirrel away little nuggets of it and dole it out in the future when I teach and when I sit down on my own mat to my own practice.
Let’s settle down and get to work:
Supta Visvamitrasana: In this variation, you’ll experience the shape of the pose without the challenge. Begin on your back, lengthening your spine by moving your feet and the crown of your head away from each other. Reach through your left heel as you bend your right knee and pull it up toward your chest. Slowly extend your right leg up toward the sky. If your hamstrings feel tight, bend your knee slightly and stay here. When you are ready to move deeper into the posture, reach across your body and take hold of the outside of your right foot with your left hand. Draw your right arm to the left through the hole formed by your left arm and right leg. Roll onto your left side and place your right fingertips on the floor for support. To complete the shape, slip your head onto your left upper arm, which will require you to extend your right leg out to the side and up toward your ear. If you feel off balance, bend your left leg for support
Visvamitrasana II: The challenge in this variation is to take what you just learned and add a movement; you create a lever by pressing your upper thigh against the shoulders and pressing your shoulder against the upper thighs. This lever action will help you lift your hips off the floor. Start by sitting in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose). Keep your left leg as it is and cradle your right leg with both hands, drawing it toward your chest as though you were cradling a baby. Moving from your hip joint—not your knee—draw your right leg further to the right and back until you can slip your leg over your right shoulder. Place your right fingertips on the ground to keep you steady. If this is a struggle, return to cradling your right leg and work on opening your hips while your spine stays long. Now it’s time for some of that lever action. To open your hip further, press your right shoulder against your knee. Now press the back of your knee against your shoulder to steady your upper thigh. Explore here and notice how the pressing action allows you to elongate your spine. As you did in Supta Visvamitrasana, take your outer right foot with your left hand and slowly extend your leg as straight as it will go without strain. Then add a twist: Anchor your sitting bones to the earth, activate the lever action, and elongate your spine as you inhale. As you exhale, move your right side waist toward your navel and your navel to the left side waist. Your whole torso will follow, opening up like a window to let in the morning breeze (your breath).
Eka Pada Koundinyasana II: Begin preparing for this arm balance, by coming into a high lunge with your right leg forward and your left leg pressing back. See that your right knee is directly over your ankle, and that you are on the ball of your back foot. Inhale and draw your awareness to the center of your body—the space between your pubic bone and navel. Exhale and send your energy forward through your right knee, back through your left heel, down through your right hip, and up through the back of your left leg. Now, add that lever action. From the lunge, fold forward and reach your right arm underneath your right leg until you can hold your ankle with both hands. Take your right shoulder as far as possible under your right leg. Place your hands on either side of your right foot. Now flare both elbows out so that your arms are at right angles to the floor. Press your hands firmly into the earth and initiate the lever action between your right shoulder and thigh. Isometrically draw your right heel toward your pelvic floor. You’ll feel your lower belly and your pelvic floor lift, which will make your whole body lighter. Try extending the right leg. Press through the balls of both your front and back feet and feel the energy spread through your body. Stay buoyant and send your breath up through your center to prevent resting on your wrists. To catch some “air”, shift your weight forward, and your back leg will begin to lift off the ground. Bring the weight of your torso onto your left elbow. Increase the lever action, and you’ll catch even more “air”.
Ardha Visvamitrasana: Now it’s time to start building on the foundation that you have built.. This is close to the full version, except that you’ll have your back knee on the floor for support. Come into the high lunge, with your right shoulder underneath your right knee, as you did in the preparation for Eka Pada Koundinyasana. Bring your left knee to the mat, keeping your left foot in line with your left knee. Apply the lever action by pressing your shoulder and leg together. Lift your right heel toward the pelvic floor. Take the outside of your right foot with your left hand, then bring your torso through your arms, rolling your right ribs forward and your left ribs back into a twist. Keep pressing your shoulder and leg together to steady the lever of your upper thighs. If the lever is steady, you can extend and twist more easily. Try not to get lost in all of the individual actions you’ve learned, but to feel them come together as one Asana. As soon as you feel weight in your wrists, pull the energy up from your hands and engage Mula Bandha. Press your right foot into your left hand and extend your leg in slow motion so you can really feel what’s happening. Once you extend your leg, start to activate the twist. Lengthen your neck and gaze in the direction of your twist.
Visvamitrasana: You’ve already built the foundation for this posture, now is the time to put all the components into practice. The final step is to extend your back leg instead of keeping it on the floor for support. From the high lunge, turn your left foot out and press the outer edge down, just as you would in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II). Keep your inner back thigh lifted and draw your tailbone toward the back foot for stability and support. Now engage your bandhas and activate the lever action as you clasp the right foot with your left hand. Initiate the twist and spread your chest to the sky.
Yoga is the one thing in life where there is no 5 year plan, it is ongoing and unfolding and you will fumble and you will fall on your butt.
There are no easy answers.
I dedicate this post to Clelia and the fact that you are never truly your own Boss.
In the end, hard work is what will take you there, not flowery words, a hashtag or a good picture.
Sherri (Minh) Lowe is a 200 Hour RYT (who is working her way towards her 200 hour E- RYT one yoga class at a time) and co-founder of Yogatique Bangkok. She is a fifty-one year old Canadian transplant living in Bangkok. When she is not on her yoga mat, she enjoys cycling, trying new vegan recipes, a cold beer, lingering in coffee shops and exploring Bangkok. When not pursing these activities, she is writing about them in various on line publications