When something goes up, something goes down

What a week!  Not only did I have my regular schedule of yoga class Monday and Wednesday and anatomy class Tuesday, but we had a dinner party Thursday, birthday drinks with friends Friday after work, and a very lovely birthday dinner at Hearth on Saturday evening after a full day of teacher training!  Now it is Sunday night, Guy is making a batch of chili since the weather has turned chilly (har!) and I finally have a moment to recap some of the things I learned in TT this week.

This weekend we focused on the sun salutes.  A sun salutation comes from the ashtanga method of yoga, typically practiced early in the morning and facing east, towards the rising sun.  It is a series of poses (nine in variation A and 17 in variation B) that link together breath and movement.  The sun salute is often used in class as a warm up since it incorporates many elements of a well-rounded practice: standing poses (Warrior 1), arm balance (chaturanga), inversion (downward dog and standing forward bend).

There are many, many variations on the classic versions and I have done what feels like endless, eternal amounts of sun salutations.  I have gone to class an average of two to three times per week (or more, depending on the week) for nearly 10 years, and each class has probably at least five sun salutes.  So, if you were the math-doing type, you would know that that is… about 5,000 sun salutes in my life thus far.

What should we make of this?  Well, for one thing, I KNOW the poses in a sun salute inside, outside, backward, forward.  I could do it in my sleep.  But more importantly – for me (and anyone who practices yoga regularly) it is so very important to practice this series of postures in a safe way that will not cause repetitive stress to my joints.  And it is far easier than one might think to practice in a way that could cause injury.

Root and rebound

We have been talking a lot about the concepts of “root and rebound” – when something goes down, something goes up.  There are endless examples of this in the yoga practice, but one that springs to mind is in a handstand.  The more you push down through your hands, the more you can lift out of your shoulders and up through the tops of your feet.  Put another way, teachers often instruct “counter actions” to help students be evenly balanced in their poses.  Press the outer edges of your feet down as you lift your inner arches up.  As Jenny put it on Saturday, counter actions “don’t just happen, you need to make them happen.”

This is a principle I strive to practice off the mat.  It’s the same in life: you have a great job but a crappy apartment.  Or you live in an amazing neighborhood but your significant other lives in another borough.  Or you hate your job but you have friends who give you a support system.  Something’s always up 0r down relative to something else.  How do you deal?  You have to take action and make change happen for yourself.

Sun salutes as a mirror

The beauty (and the ugliness) of the sun salutations is that they are a mirror that can help you see yourself.  The series doesn’t change, only we do.  Whether I feel strong today or out of breath, whether I have the energy to jump back into chaturanga or I linger in downward-facing dog, whether I take extra breaths or I maintain one breath per movement – these fluctuations show me not only how I am feeling on any given day, but what my habits are.  Do I rush through one pose to get to another?  Do I hold the breath during challenging moments?

Sutra 1.3 says that when we calm the fluctuations of the mind, we can see our true selves more clearly.  Practicing the sun salutes, perhaps another 5,000 times, is one way to work toward this goal.