Tag Archives: asana

Doggedly Pursuing Wall Dog

For years, the yoga posture known as “wall dog” stymied me.  There are two versions. In the first, you bend at the waist, feet on the floor, torso flat and elongated, arms straight, palms flat against the wall. The second version is more challenging: arms and legs switch places so that the legs are against the wall, the torso is straight, at right angles to the floor and supported by the arms.

First version, no prob. Second version, no go.

I could get my legs against the wall; I could support my torso with my arms. But for the life of me I couldn’t straighten my legs and keep my arms and torso perpendicular to the floor. Every time our teacher called this one out to us, it felt like there was simultaneously too much of me and not enough. Either my legs were too long to straighten (Hah! When have my legs EVER been too long?) or my torso was too, too something.  How could there be too much of me, and not enough of me at the same time? I never could figure it out, and just did the best I could. It is yoga after all. Perfection isn’t the goal. Acceptance is.

Over time I drifted into other yoga classes, wall dog became less of an issue, and I moved on. Until last month. I’m coming up on eight years of practicing yoga and every year understand more deeply that yoga is indeed a practice. We come back to the mat again and again, going through the same postures, adding new ones, gaining insights, making subtle shifts in ones that are old familiar friends.

And then sometimes there’s a bit of magic on the mat, too. Sometimes the wall dog that always felt as cramped as an armadillo, smooths out sleek as a greyhound. I don’t know how it happened or what inside or outside of me changed. Last month, when the teacher directed us into wall dog, my body just did it. My legs straightened; my arms remained at 90°; my torso didn’t wobble. It was the mirror opposite of past such attempts when there was too much of me and too little of me. This time around, without much conscious thought or effort, my entire body just accommodated itself to the posture. There was room for all of me, inside and out.

It felt great.

What yoga pose has given you fits in the past that no longer does? Do you have a favorite?

What’s your favorite yoga asana? Pose of the warrior?

Warrior is one of the first asanas (poses) that beginning yoga students learn, and one that all students continue to perfect over the years.  The stance: back leg is straight, front leg is bent at 90 degree angle with knee “tracking”  toward pinkie of the front bent leg.  The heel of the front foot is lined up with the instep of the back. Arms are extended, palms down; head is turned in the direction of the front extended arm.

It is a strong and powerful pose,  what with the hands extended like blades in opposing directions as if to challenge and/or defend from ahead and behind. The feet and legs are placed in such a way as to give stability yet with the arms extended, there is also a delicious lightness in the torso.  Whenever this one is comes up in class, I settle into the now-familiar feelings of stability and confidence. It’s comfortable, dependable, makes me feel good. Every now and then I assume the pose of the Warrior before doing something arduous or meeting  up with what I know will be  a difficult person or situation.  Fitting my body into the skin of the Warrior pose gives an instant shot of confidence.

There is a variation on Warrior that brings a curious complexity. The pose of the Gentle Warrior is a true contradiction in terms yet it teaches something crucial. Here’s how it goes: assume the traditional Warrior as above. Now turn your hands palm up. That’s it. A 180º turn of the wrists and the entire pose is changed, its entire feeling and intent transformed. In Gentle Warrior one stands  in strength, in a powerful and somewhat aggressive position, and yet, with the hands turned palms-up, there is vulnerability, invitation. “Come closer,” says this asana, not in a “Go ahead, make my day” taunt, but in a spirit of engagement.  The Gentle Warrior says, “Come here. I am willing to meet you and I am strong enough for the encounter I am inviting you into.”

Over time, processing the inner meaning of this pose has enabled me to engage better with difficult people. Not all the time, by any means. But just having the body memory of strength and lightness, enables me to deal more securely with folks and situations that can make my heart pound. Over the years, in class after class, I toggle between Warrior and its gentler twin. I enjoy the feelings both asanas impart. It’s not about vanquishing an opponent so much as engaging from a place of confidence and security. A place of knowing what I have to offer and doing so with invitation, kindness and firm boundaries.

What is your favorite yoga pose?

What does it give to you each time you practice it?

Sharing this post with your favorite yogis and yoginis will bring you extra good karma this week. You can share this, so easily, by clicking on the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the envelope-shaped icon for email.

And, I can’t close this column without expressing gratitude to Katherine Austin and all my wonderful teachers at Karma Yoga and to Yvette Cobb at Yoga for Life.