Asana Saturday (okay, Sunday): Gate Pose

Sanskrit Name: Pahrighasana (par-ee-GOSS-anna)

Yes, I’m a day behind here, but it has been a busy week.  All of life’s most stressful events seem to have culminated during this week, and it doesn’t help that the holidays (which can be incredibly stressful in and of themselves) are right around the corner as well.  For this week’s asana, I wanted to choose a pose that is fairly simple, is something of an “opener” (as in, it opens the heart, the hips, and so on), and can be done as a little “getaway” from the busyness of the real world.  I also wanted something a little different, something a bit off the beaten path.  Enter Gate Pose.

Gate Pose is interesting in that it can be seen as an intense side bend, a hip opener (to a certain degree), and, in my opinion, a heart opener and a safe place for emotional release.  In Sanskrit, “parigha” refers to “an iron bar used for locking a gate,” and the pose itself is sometimes called Gate-Latch Pose.  To me, a latch can either be seen as a way to keep people out, or an invitation to invite them in.  Naturally, I prefer to emphasize the latter.  When we take Parighasana, we can create an invitation for positive energy and openness.  Give Gate Pose a try, keeping your mind focused on drawing positivity into your heart.

Getting into Pahrighasana

Start by kneeling on your knees on the floor, perhaps coming from Virasana (Hero Pose).  Extend your right leg out, striving to push your right foot to the floor.  Keep your right foot and your left knee aligned as you turn your pelvis slightly to the right.

Inhale, bringing your arms up overhead.  As you exhale, bend to the right, allowing your right hand to lower to your right leg.  You may place your hand on your thigh, your shin, or on the floor beside your right ankle, whichever is comfortable to you.  Keep bending right from the hip, reaching the left arm up and over into a side bend.  Be careful to keep your right kneecap pointing up, as it tends to roll towards the floor in Gate Pose.  Also, work on keeping your torso open, as it too tends to fall towards the floor.

Stay in Parighasana anywhere from 30 second to one minute.  COme out of it by drawing the torso upright and bringing your right leg back underneath your body.  Repeat on the left side.

As a bonus, Gate Pose is a great asana for hitting the obliques and the ever elusive psoas.  Try it out between prepping side dishes.

Image from yogajournal.com

Resources:
Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff
www.yogajournal.com

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Simple Sequence: Dolphin to Dolphin-Plank

As a long time coach and even longer time athlete, I feel I have a pretty good understanding about the importance of a strong core.  Literally, everything is built around your core, which includes not only your abdominals, but also the muscles of your back, and (according to some sources) your hip flexors as well.  Most, if not all, athletic movements rely on core strength and flexibility, and having a strong and healthy core can pave the way for a spectacular performance.

Now think about yoga.  Can you think of a single asana that doesn’t involve the core in some way?  Even Savasana requires small pelvic tilts and alignments before settling into a focus on the breath.  If you consider the language that yoga teachers use, most instruction begins with a focus on the core, whether it’s to engage the abdominals, bend from the hips, or release tension in the spine.  Clearly, core matters.

Therefore, today’s Simple Sequence will focus on just two asanas that I have found to be ideal for cultivating a strong core.  Core work of some kind should be incorporated in most practice sessions.  I say “most” because some sessions (think Yin or restorative practices) have intentions that don’t require focused core work (although the core will undoubtedly be used in some manner).  This short sequence can be incorporated into any sequence anytime after your body has been awakened with Sun Salutations (or any similar “warming” vinyasa).

Simple Sequence: Dolphin to Dolphin-Plank (and back again)

  • Starting on all fours, place your forearms on the floor, pressing the palms together.  It may look as if you’re creating a triangle or pyramid with your forearms.  Once your arms are established, push your hips up into the air, as if you’re doing Downward Facing Dog.  Push the sitting bones up, work on drawing your heels towards the floor, and press actively with your forearms.  Remain in Dolphin Pose for three to five breaths.
  • Keeping your arms in the same position, move into Dolphin-Plank.  Lower your hips down until your torso is parallel to the floor and your body is supported only by your toes and your forearms.  Lengthen towards your heels, keep your head neutral, and feel the strength of your core.  Stay here for three to five breaths.
  • You can repeat the sequence three to five times, lengthening the time you stay in each pose as your core strengthens.  Remember, these two poses are just a taste of core-cenrtic poses, and every pose will require some sort of attention to your torso.  Every action you take in life will benefit from a strong core, so don’t shy away from poses that seem too focused on abdominals.

Dolphin Pose from yogajournal.com

It Will Pass

It’s funny how just when you think you’re finally getting this whole life thing down, something comes along and hurls a curveball you never saw coming and hits you where you’re most vulnerable.  Maybe funny is the wrong word.

For me, the past few months has been one, long, obnoxiously extended curveball.  For a while there over the summer, I really did feel balanced and whole, like I was ready to take on anything.  But as the Zen parable reminds us when we become accustomed to positivity, “It will pass,” and everyday comforts that I once took for granted are now being challenged and threatened.

So where does yoga fit in with this tale of change?  Honestly, yoga has become increasingly difficult.  It is terrifying to move through the asanas in silence, staring down my greatest fears.  There is no escape in yoga.  There is no passing scenery, no full contact adrenaline rush, no rules to adhere to.  It’s just me, my conflicting emotions, and my fruitless search for solace.

Luckily, however, yoga comes with thousands of years worth of wisdom, and some of  that knowledge is tailored especially for difficult emotional times.  Yoga encourages openness, and while being open may invite pain, it is also the only way to allow healing wisdom to penetrate the heart.  By literally giving up and giving in to the inevitability of impermanence and the possibility of pain, yoga practitioners can use their practice to discover who they really are, where they stand, and what they stand for.  Tibetan Buddhism uses the expression “ye tang che” to describe this joyful hopelessness.  Translated, it means “completely exhausted” or “totally fed up.”  I must admit, I’m there.  I’m ready to give up, to give in, and to submit to joyful hopelessness.  And I’m terrified.

So today, I need a mudra.  I need a symbol, a gesture, something to help me down this path of openness.  The lotus mudra seems appropriate here.  According to a variety of Buddhist and yogic sources, the lotus flower blooms above the water while its roots remain deep in the mud, making it the perfect symbol of openness, regeneration, and a change from darkness to light.  The lotus mudra is achieved by placing the heel of your palms together with the thumbs and pinky fingers lightly touching.  The knuckles remain separate, and the fingers open up like the petals of a blossom.  This mudra is usually held close to the heart, and I can honestly say that it allows for an openness and expansions that I haven’t found with other mudras.  It is beautiful and welcoming and safe.

So here’s to change, and to openness, and to life.  And if I’m lucky, just when I’m getting used to personal disaster, “It will pass.”