In honor of this month of transitions, the pose for September is vrksasana, tree pose. Tree pose reminds us to actively root and balance as we flex in the face of change. Challenging the assumption that stability is a passive attribute—a personality trait, a gift, or a sudden reward for enlightenment—vrksasana encourages us to see balancing as a continual exercise and a lifelong meditation.
Standing in vrksasana gives us a chance to feel our body respond to an uneven distribution of weight and to reflect on how we stay centered when faced with shifts and imbalances in the world around us. Like the trees that inspire the pose, we spend our lives moving through cycles and negotiating environmental changes. Vrksasana is both an exercise and a metaphor for finding stillness, even as we grow and sway.
We will explore tree pose during the balance series, after the warm-up and strengthening sequences. Tree pose is a great pose for anytime, however, and can help bring a few minutes of stillness to a hectic day. If you are moving into tree pose on your own, begin in standing prayer pose with your hands pressed together in front of your sternum. Take a few breaths to steady yourself and to turn your focus inward. Engage your core muscles to bring your attention to your center. Draw your shoulder blades down your back to open your chest. Lengthen your neck, feeling the crown of your head lift as you press the soles of your feet into the ground.
Once you feel centered and active in your stance, engage your abs again as you turn your right foot out. Shifting your weight, draw your right foot up your standing left leg, keeping your right knee turned out and feeling the sole of your right foot gently sweep up to rest on the inside of your left thigh. While the standing leg should be straight, it's important not to lock the standing knee. Feel the right hip open to stretch the groin while the steady pressure of the right foot gently massages the inside of the left thigh. The abs should stay engaged as the shoulders continue to slide down the back, opening the chest. Keep the chin parallel to the floor and visualize the body's energy moving in opposite directions, rising and rooting at the same time.
Don't worry if you wobble and need to adjust your lifted foot. Balancing is an active process and vrksansana is an exercise in centering physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Keep the breath flowing and let the body adapt to find its natural balance.
If you feel steady enough to explore the pose further, lift the hands up and open them wide. Spread and extend the fingers as you visualize the arms and hands taking the form of branches that channel the body's energy outward into the space around your tree. Feel your weight root into the ground through your standing leg and allow your body to lengthen upward as your ab muscles support your spine.
To obtain the full benefit, perform the pose on both sides. Feel for differences between sides, which could indicate the presence of muscle imbalances or energy blocks. Tree pose reminds us to check in with our bodies and to feel for signs of unease before they bring disease.
Most importantly, approach tree pose with a light heart. Don't brace yourself, embrace yourself as you find your balance. Enjoy the interplay between activity and stillness. Take inspiration from the trees, which stay steady while they sway.
Rising out of the grass at dusk, the asana of the month for July is tittibhasana, firefly pose. Firefly is a core strengthening, hamstring lengthening exercise in lightness and balance. Providing a poignant metaphor for life, it challenges us to develop enough strength in our core to allow us to float.
During class, we will move into firefly in the middle of our practice. It's important for our leg and back muscles to be warm and for our core muscles to be engaged before we float into it. If you are exploring firefly on your own, be sure to warm up well, and please be aware that this pose is not recommended for yogis with wrist, elbow, or shoulder injuries. Also note that this pose carries some risk of falling. Yogis with brittle bones or lumbar disc injuries may want to take special care or avoid firefly entirely.
To move into firefly, squat with your feet a little wider than your shoulders. Lean forward, bringing each thigh over the upper arm on its side. With the weight still on the feet, shimmy the hands outward until they are in line behind the outer edge of each foot, fingers pointing forward, thumbs pointing in. Slowly shift your weight forward onto your upper arms, while engaging your ab muscles and hip flexors to support your lower body. Keep your chin parallel to the floor and imagine sending energy out through the top of your head and the balls of your feet.
If you are new to this pose, take your time establishing your balance. This is one of those poses that imparts benefits on the practitioner even if it develops slowly. Just getting into the position will stretch the leg muscles and strengthen the abs. Don't force it. Eventually, the legs will rise naturally when the core muscles have grown strong.
As you experiment with firefly this month, imagine floating above the grass. Embrace the feeling the air beneath you and explore how it accentuates your weightlessness, your balance, and your freedom.
A poem by Hafiz of Shiraz, a 14th century Persian poet. The poetry of Hafiz was first translated into English in 1771. It spread through out the Western world, influencing American and European intellectuals from Henry David Thoreau to Friedrich Engles.
The sun will set in New York at 8:31 pm on the summer solstice. Weather permitting, it will shine down on us for 15 hours, 5 minutes, and 40 seconds before then. Not only is this solstice the longest day of the year, it brings us the closest we get to the star that sustains us, the mysterious nuclear reaction that is the source of all potential here on Earth.
In an impersonal universe, the sun is just the remnant of the massive collapse of a molecular cloud that gave birth to galaxies of other stars, many bigger and brighter than our own. It means the world to us, yet it's barely a speck on the Milky Way map. Miraculously, despite its relative insignificance in the universe, our celestial friend still anchors our solar system and lights up our lives. It shapes everything from our cells to our biorhythms to our imagination. It is at once a question and an answer and a question again to the how and why and where of our cosmic journey.
In the Vedic philosophy that forms the foundation of yoga, the sun is the source of all past and future creation on Earth. Drawing on this idea, Hatha yoga emphasizes the relationship between the sun and moon, creating a duality in which the sun represents strength, reason, order, and universality, while the moon symbolizes creativity, emotion, flexibility, and differentiation. In this special time around the solstice, the proximity of the sun to the Earth invites us to explore these images and to make our practice a moving metaphor for our connection to this life-giving star.
Hanging in space, we are utterly dependent on our nuclear neighbor. Born from destruction, creating order from chaos, burning to exhaustion, the sun is the ultimate symbol for the paradoxes of life and death, cycle and chance, eternity and finality. Its constant shine reminds us that energy is forever flowing and changing form, sparking creation from destruction, conception from collapse.
Celebrating the solstice through our practice, let us remember that our flow is an expression of the movement of energy through the universe. Our yoga is a union with that energy and all that springs from it. As the sun moves through the sky today, let's rejoice in the serendipity of our cosmic adventure and take comfort in the connection our practice cultivates with the energy of life.
In celebration of the summer solstice, the asana of the month for June is hasta uttanasana. While hasta translates as "hand" and uttan means "extreme reaching," will we call this pose sun stretch to honor the symbolic moment in sūrya namaskāra, sun salutations, when the sun peaks. Hasta uttanasana is the instant when the body can stretch no further, the lungs can fill no more, and expansion spurs release.
Just as inhalation requires exhalation, hasta uttanasana teaches us that fullness must give way to emptiness. Moving through this metaphor teaches us to embrace life's cyclical nature and shows us that we can expand and contract without attachment. When the mind and body internalize this motion, we learn to see beyond the flux. The sun goes up. The sun goes down. The days get longer. The days get shorter. The light grows. The light fades. Through it all, we fill and empty, adapt and change. With practice, we can distill the constants within ourselves, the eternal truths of the universe, so that we embrace change and feel energized by life's transitions.
As we celebrate the days building up to the solstice, hasta uttanasana reminds us to fill and reach, empty and fold with equanimity. The Vedic philosophers urge that equanimity will let us transcend the apparent duality that surrounds us. It will liberate our hearts from temporal illusions so that we can find union with the True, the Real, the Eternal, the Divine.
Since hasta uttanasana is part of the sun cycle series, we will explore it several times during class, refining the pose as we revisit it. Performing the series with full attention begins with focusing on the breath, the catalyst for all vinyasa motion. Sun salutations are a beautiful reminder that the breath—not the mind—carries us through the practice. Gentle rhythmic breathing sustains the flow, supports our body through transitions, and lulls the brain into alpha wave activity that relaxes everything. Alpha wave activity enhances yoga because it increases a sense of well-being that separates activity from effort. Entering this state of serenity lets us strengthen without strain, balance without tension, deepen without force.
Moving through the sun salutation cycle, focus on the breath without isolating it. The breath should move freely, carrying the body with it. Allow each inhalation and exhalation to usher in a new transition. Sustain the breath through every transition so that it supports the body between poses. Time the movement of air to coincide with each arrival in the next pose. With practice, the body will naturally sync the movements to the breath, and the sun salutation cycle will become an extension of breathing.
As we celebrate the solstice with hasta uttanasana, fill the body with breath as you rise from forward bend. Let the sensation of fullness expand from the lungs until it radiates out from the chest, elongating the spine, lifting the chin, and extending the arms overhead. The back may arch gently if this extension grows naturally out of the standing posture, but it's important not to force the body to bend backward. Instead of pushing to reach back, send the energy all the way through the fingertips and out the top of the head. It will light up the heart, throat, third eye, and crown chakras on the way.
In the days leading up to the solstice, take some time every morning to salute the sun, the source of all creation and potential on Earth. With practice, sun salutations will free your attention instead of diverting it, and the asanas will become part of a moving meditation that transcends the body and unites it with the universe.
Just in time for the start of a new moon, the pose for May celebrates the super moon that lit up the sky earlier this month. Ardha chandrasana, or half moon pose, divides the body's efforts equally between balance and strengthening.
Derived from ardha, meaning half, and chandra, meaning moon, adrha chandrasana radiates with the symbolic power of the Hindu lunar deity, Chandra. In the Hindu cosmology, Chandra is the bringer of fertile morning dew, the protector of rabbits, the lord of plants, and the source of soma, the juice of eternal life.
Here, the moon represents mind, imagination, emotion, sensitivity, and the natural ebb and flow of life. In Vedic thought, the waxing moon brings good fortune and encourages action, while the waning moon warrants caution and reflection. Drawing on this imagery, half moon pose dares us to pause on the cusp between that shift in phases. It challenges us to hang in space and reflect the light around us so that we shine steadily, even when our skies are dark.
In class, we will move into half moon after the warrior sequence, at the opening of our balancing series. If you are practicing on your own, enter ardha chandrasana after several sun salutations and the warrior poses. It's best to have also moved through triangle and extended triangle, which lengthen the hamstrings, rotate the pelvis, and thus open the muscles in the trunk, chest, and back.
To move into half moon, begin in extended triangle, with the legs in a wide stance, front and back feet in line. The toes on the front foot should point straight ahead while the toes of the back foot should point outward, almost 90 degrees. Shift the lower arm from its position on the ankle, reaching it forward about six inches ahead of the front foot. Move the body's weight forward until the front leg is straight and the hand rests six inches in front of it on the floor. Firm up the abs to draw the center of gravity over the standing leg, which should be perpendicular to the torso.
Proper alignment will channel the upper body's weight into the leg and leave the fingers of the lower hand to gently stabilize without strain. This will permit the back leg to float up into the air, allowing the pelvis to rotate as the chest opens and the upper hand lifts toward the sky. Lengthen the spine by pressing outward from the heel of the lifted leg, while gently stretching the tailbone and the occipital bone in opposite directions. While the pose does engage major muscle groups in both legs, the emphasis should be on feeling light and long. Paradoxically, the key to achieving balance and relaxation lies in redirecting the force of the body's weight away from the center. Lengthening through the lifted arm, the back of the head, and the floating leg creates a sensation of suspension, a feeling of hanging, almost weightless in space. While the pose is active, there should be effort but not strain.
Yogis who are exploring the pose for the first time or are in the early stages of developing the posture may wish to use a block under the lower hand to extend its reach to the floor. While the block will make it easier to balance, it's important not to press too much weight into the hand. The fingertips are only meant to stabilize the body, not to channel any significant amount of weight.
It's also important not to lock the knee on the standing leg. While the force of the body will be pressing downward, it's best to imagine pulling up from the ankle, keeping the knee straight but soft. The focus on pulling up from the ankle will engage the groin and shift some of the burden from the quads and lower leg.
It's helpful to try the pose against a wall to feel the perfect alignment of the pelvis, back, and lower leg. When the body is in the optimal position, the hips will be stacked, the back will be long and flat against the wall, the shoulder blades will be drawn down along the spine, and the floating leg will hover in line with the torso, with the flexed foot higher than the shoulders. The body should form one long, straight line from the back of the head to the airborne heel. The weight on the lower hand should be minimal, and the standing leg should be gently engaged.
The head may turn to lift the gaze upward. If this causes any strain or discomfort in the neck, however, the head may remain in a neutral position, with the eyes looking out. Yogis who are just beginning to explore this pose or who have shoulder injuries may also opt to keep the upper arm bent, with the hand resting gently on the upturned hip.
While you hang in half moon, enjoy the sense of suspension as you take a brief time-out from the constant wax and wane of life. Let any pent up emotional energy flow until it finds its own level and settles into stillness. Dangling in space, without feeling any need to grip or struggle, take a moment to reflect the light of the universe and to appreciate how your presence returns its shine.
Translated variously as powerful, wild, intense, frightening, and fierce, the first part of utkatasana's name captures the nature of the pose. Selected as the pose of the month for April, utkatasana evokes the power of spring, a season in which new life roots and shoots at once. Growing in opposite directions at the same time, the seed that lay dormant through the winter leaps up while planting itself deeper into fertile ground.
This month, utkatasana reminds us of the determination needed for new growth. It challenges us to dig deep and reach high, finding truth in that vital opposition. If we have the courage to balance at the edge of this paradox, finding stillness and release, utkatasana rewards us with increased strength and stability. It stimulates growth and clears away the emotional and mental blocks that set illusory limits on our potential to spring forth. Best of all, utkatasana generates a budding energy in our center that blooms throughout the body as we flower through our day.
While we will enter utkatasana at the end of the warm-up series during class, the pose is a great way to wake and tone the body during a break from sitting or working at a desk. If you are planning to enter utkatasana on your own, take care to coax the body through some gentle stretches that open the back and shoulders. Also, be sure to engage the muscles of the core to prepare the trunk to support the torso's weight.
To move into utkatasana, place the feet parallel and together, pressing the whole foot into the ground. Next, engage the mudra bandha, which corresponds to the muscles of the pelvic floor. Draw the muscles from the navel to the perineum up and in, tilting the top of pelvis just slightly forward of perpendicular to the floor. Keeping the abdominal muscles firm, engage the quads and glutes. Once the pelvic floor, the abs, the quads, and the glutes are all engaged, lower slowly into a seat by gently bending the knees and pressing the heels into the floor.
Once you find yourself in a seat, balance the pelvis by tucking the tailbone under slightly until the muscles of the low back release. Take a deep breath and extend your arms in front of you. When you feel steady, inhale and let your breath lift your hands. If balanced and properly aligned, yogis looking for an additional challenge may shift their weight back from here to bring their knees over their ankles.
Balancing here, harness the opposing forces that energize the pose. Ground the body actively by rooting through the feet, but let gravity pull the pelvis down to release the muscles of the lower back. Keep the ribs relaxed, but draw the abdominal muscles up and in to support the spine. Breathe as the pose's dynamic forces feed the budding energy that sprouts in the body's core. As this power builds, draw the shoulder blades down to release the upper back. Mindful not to arch the back and let the lower ribs pop out, lift the chest slightly as the arms shoot toward the sky. Engage the muscles at the top of the arms to relax the shoulders and relieve any strain on the neck. Finally, lift the chin slightly to gaze up at the fingertips. If this causes any discomfort, lower the gaze to relieve any tension in the neck.
Breathing deeply, feel the power of this paradoxical pose center and strengthen the body. Focus inward and seek stillness to clear away the mental noise. Growing long and strong in opposite directions, shoot up and root down with the breath, using each inhale to lift and each exhale to ground.
After a few breaths, release utkatasana and feel the budding energy bloom throughout the body. As we deepen and refine the pose this month, may our roots grow stronger as our efforts blossom and lighten every limb.
Off to El Salvador this week for TogetherYoga's first winter retreat! Looking forward to reuniting with TogetherYogis from as far away as Texas and meeting new friends from around the world.
Scarred by its twelve-year civil war, battered by gang violence, and marked by the small pox epidemic and exploitation brought by the conquistadors, El Salvador is the perfect place to cultivate peace through our practice. With the smallest stretch of land but the third largest economy in Central America, El Salvador is developing at breakneck speed. Its expansion brings new opportunities and dilemmas, creating a national exercise in stretching and balancing that mirrors our asanas. Home to many endangered species, including six out of eight species of sea turtle, El Salvador is rich with life and riddled with development choices.
TogetherYoga hopes to support El Salvador's healing and growth, just as its beautiful environment and rich culture promises to support our own. Taking our practice on the road gives us the chance to cultivate peace and connection in a country that can benefit from our respect and concern.
Our peaceful intentions are a direct investment in a nation working through its share of strife. Despite its recent economic growth, El Salvador faces challenges and growing pains. Its median income of about $4,500 USD per year is largely dependent on remittances from abroad, which bring in more money than exports. The economic downturn in the United States has reduced the income from these remittances, leaving many people feeling the squeeze. Unfortunately, the commercial enterprises that could reduce this dependence and boost GDP can also threaten the environment with water pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, and the destruction of coastal habitats. Moreover, El Salvador's underfunded education system still leaves children in rural areas without access to the kind of public schooling that we take for granted—schooling that can give Salvadorians more choices about how to participate in the global economy and more information to decide how best to use their resources and develop their land.
While our yoga retreats are wonderful opportunities to deepen our personal practice, I believe they also offer a chance to engage in bhakti,
the service component of yoga that gives the practice more meaning. In a practical sense, our eco-tourism has the power to promote sustainable development and encourage stewardship. Our patronage supports socially-conscious entrepreneurs, like our hosts at La Tortuga Verde, who are working to protect the environment, expand employment opportunities, and improve local schools. In a spiritual sense, our presence and our intentions resonate with a desire for peace, progress, friendship, and exchange.
Realizing that what we find in a place depends on what we bring to it, I've loaded up the luggage with love and crammed my carry-on with care. On the packing list:
- Yoga mat
- Yoga pants
- Copies of Yoga Masters
- Copies of Ray Long's Key Poses of Yoga and Key Muscles of Yoga
- The TogetherYoga Traveling Buddha
- Mala beads
- Dog-eared copy of the Upanishads
- Donated books for the local school
- Love and blessings for everyone who joins us and everyone we meet
With a happy hasta luego
, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has supported this adventure. Thank you to our hosts at La Tortuga Verde and to the local community that has offered to share both their hospitality and their land. Many thanks also to everyone who spread the word about the retreat and to all the TogetherYogis who sent along books for town's school.
May the kind intentions of the entire TogetherYoga community shine this week, bringing peace and light with us as we take our practice on the road.
The pose of the month for March celebrates the pisces in all of us and awakens the blue chakra of personal expression, spirituality, and transformation.
Matsyasana, fish pose, stimulates the 5th chakra, located in the throat. Associated with the color blue and named for purity in the form of wisdom or Visuddha, the throat chakra is the body's gateway to spirituality, expression, compassion, and will. Too often neglected, this chakra bridges the divide between our inner and outer world. It shapes our circumstances and creates the conditions that manifest in our lives. Caring for the throat chakra promotes clarity, creativity, vitality, and balance, while blockages bring miscommunication, frustration, impatience, and addiction.
Anatomically, the throat chakra encompasses the trachea, larynyx, and thyroid, as well as the cervical and brachial nerves that branch off of the vertebrae at the top of the spine. Ancient yogic texts call fish pose a cure for all diseases. Providing relief for fatigue, constipation, anxiety, congestion, and back pain, fish gently lengthens the spine, opens the throat, and stretches the front body, expanding the abdominal and intercostal muscles while elongating the psoas. Fish is a special gift for anyone who hunches over a computer all day. It energizes the body by stimulating the thyroid and improves posture by strengthening the intercostal muscles and decompressing the vertebrae in the upper spine.
In class, we will enter fish after leaving our inversion. If you are practicing independently, you can find your way to fish anytime, as long as your back and chest muscles are warm. If you are new to the pose, take care to feel for any signs of strain in your neck. If you experience discomfort in your neck or throat, reduce the angle of the extension until you feel at ease. You can also place a rolled blanket under the back of your head. Simply place the blanket in the space where your neck arches away from the floor.
To find your way into fish, lay flat on your back with your arms pressed to your sides. Bend your elbows and draw your arms back, sliding your hands, palms down, under your buttocks as you lift your pelvis just barely off the floor. Your glutes should be resting on the backs of your hands with your elbows supporting your weight and your forearms drawn in under the sides of your torso. When you feel steady here, inhale, draw your shoulder blades down, and lift your chest. Continue pressing into your elbows and forearms to take the weight off of your spine. Use your breath to float the ribs up as you arch back, gently extending your neck as you release the crown of your head to the floor. Engage your thighs and press your toes away to keep the pose active. Follow your breath for several moments and meditate on the throat chakra, opening this gateway to free your voice, speak your truth, and transform your life.
Now that the new year is rolling and life is back to business as usual, it's easy for old thoughts and habits to drift back into our lives. If you find yourself settling back into negative patterns that you had wished to break, now is the perfect time to reawaken. Whether you made a resolution to be more conscious or had committed to seeing things in a positive light, there's no time like the present to reconsider any thoughts that may be standing in your way.
Twenty years ago, when I found myself moving through a dark time, my medicine teacher told me a story that has stuck with me ever since. It had such a profound effect on my outlook that I always keep it in mind, and I share it with my students a few times each year. Using a simple parable, the story reminds us that how we see the world is always up to us.
In the story, which has been passed down from generation to generation, a grandfather and grandson sat in silence, staring into the fire. Reflecting on the nature of life, the grandfather looked at the child and said, "There are two wolves that live inside each heart, and they fight each other all our lives. One is full of turmoil and anger and jealousy and hatred because it feeds on fear. The other is full of peace and hope and compassion and joy because it lives on love."
The evening passed, and the fire burned down. "So, which one wins?" the boy whispered.
The grandfather's eyebrows rose as he replied:
"The one you feed."
And so it is that the wolves of love and fear are always tussling deep inside us. While we must embrace them both, we should remember that we can choose how our thinking feeds them. In the end, that choice decides which wins.
It takes practice to control which wolf we strengthen. The fear wolf begs for nasty little tasty thoughts about the world around us, and when we try to lean him down, he digs up fresh regrets and rotten old reminders. He roots around for negativity and sniffs out fattening bits of fear. The love wolf, on the other hand, noses gently for attention. Trusting us to nourish her, she waits to get her share.
In the end, it's up to us to be conscious and to examine what we're thinking. We must realize that we have a choice and ask ourselves which wolf we feed.
Click here to save a turtle egg!
In honor of La Tortuga Verde's turtle sanctuary, the pose of the month for February is kurmasana. Traditionally, kurmasana translates as tortoise pose, but to send some love and awareness to endangered sea turtles everywhere, let's call it turtle pose this month.
I didn't know much about sea turtles before I went to El Salvador to finalize plans for our March retreat. Upon arrival, however, our host Tom was quick to introduce me to the latest hatchlings, which had just emerged from their protected beds. Every time turtles return to La Tortuga's beach, Tom and his staff collect their eggs, moving them to the resort's sheltered nursery, where they're safe from poaching (and scrambling, too) until they hatch.
Tom's dedication to the turtles is quite moving. Not only has he devoted a portion of the resort's beachfront property to the protected beds, he even buys stolen eggs from poachers to save them from the local market. Paying as much as $3 per dozen, Tom returns the eggs to the sanctuary's fenced nursery, where the baby turtles can grow and hatch in peace. Since all varieties of sea turtles are endangered, Tom's purchases are a direct investment in the survival of this sacred species.
Thanks to Tom's work, La Tortuga's sanctuary is a small island of safety in an ocean of manmade dangers that threaten these kindred creatures en masse. In the waters of Nicaragua and Mexico, which surround El Salvador, a black market trade in meat and shells kills an estimated 35,000 turtles each year. And the development of Central American coastlines is quickly destroying the delicate dunes that turtles need to shelter their eggs. Even at officially protected beaches, electric lights on land confuse hatchlings, which emerge at night and find the ocean by following the lighter sky above the sea.
While Tom's hatchlings face constant peril once they reach the waves, the turtles who return to La Tortuga's shore will have their eggs protected as long as the eco-resort's nurseries survive. Since the turtle holds a spiritual place in the human imagination, Tom's work keeps something sacred in us alive as well.
Translating the turtle's symbolism into movement, kurmasana is a reflection of this animal's serene solitude and strength. Wearing its home on its back, the turtle finds refuge within. Like its namesake, kurmasana directs our focus inward to explore the thoughts and creativity within our core. Rolling our backs up and over into a protective shell, the pose also celebrates our enduring strength. In Hindu mythology, the world rests on the shell of a divine cosmic turtle that, depending on the version, may or may not be supporting an elephant quartet as well. Imagine how strong and patient that cosmic turtle must be! As we move through our practice, its example encourages us to appreciate our own fortitude and endurance.
In a colorfully apocryphal tale, the philosopher Bertrand Russell was once heckled by an old woman who rejected his scientific explanation of the universe. After his astronomy lecture, the old lady declared, "What you told us is rubbish. The world is flat plate that sits on the back of giant tortoise." When Russell asked her what supported the tortoise, the old woman shook her head and said, "You're very clever young man, but it's turtles all the way down!" Whatever the configuration of the cosmos, it's turtles all the way in for us this month, as we explore the wonders of our inner space.
If you plan to enter turtle in your personal practice, place it at the end of a warm-up and strengthening series, when your back and leg muscles are warm and ready to lengthen. In class, we will move into the pose toward the end of our floor series, finding ourselves seated with our legs out in front of us. From here, we will widen the distance between our feet as far as possible as we bend our knees slightly. Our heels will rest on the floor as we lean forward from the hips, activating our quads to prevent a strain on the lower back. Moving into the forward bend, we will place our hands under our knees. If our muscles are limber enough, we will then lean forward and slide our arms outward, under our legs, until our elbows are nearly in line with the backs of our knees.
For yogis who can go further, we can deepen the pose by sliding the heels forward and straightening the legs. From here, the body can continue to bend forward until the forehead or chin rests on the floor. Very flexible yogis may then wrap the arms around the back, lacing the fingers of the hands together as they rest on the floor, under the glutes.
Yogis who encounter turtle for the first time this month may find it difficult initially. Turtle teaches us to feel for tightness in our hamstrings, our groin muscles, our erectors, and our hips. Even when our muscles are warm, we may find our range of motion is limited in the beginning. It's important not to force ourselves into the pose. Instead, draw your attention inward to sense the tightness in your muscles. Focus on using your breath to gradually relax the body into a gentle fold. Deep meditative breathing will encourage alpha wave activity in the brain, which increases the body's sense of relaxation and well-being. Wherever you find yourself in turtle, peaceful breathing will enhance the pose's calming, fortifying effect. As our practice evolves over the course of the month, you may eventually find your muscles lengthening, relaxing further with each voyage all the way in.