Building a Juicy Yoga Practice Through the Balancing Symmetry of Asana

Of all the bodily sensations that we as students usually notice when we begin yoga practice is asymmetry or imbalances between different parts of our bodies; one side of the body may be weaker, less mobile and less flexible. This may be due to illness, pain, injury or habitual movement patterns that favor one side of the body over the other. Whatever the case, we quickly understand how prana, chi or energy flow in our bodies is inhibited by persistent imbalance.

Take a sprained ankle for example. I’ve sprained my right ankle six times starting when I was about four years old; most recently it was a minor sprain walking in uneven rocky terrain. As it has healed, I’ve noticed residual immobility or congestion around the Achilles tendon. Like any injury, or damaged muscle or joint, it needs extra attention to return to full function.

Symmetry is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is feeling comfortable in our bodies. Uncomfortable bodies make for uncomfortable minds; there’s no getting around that fact. Hosting a constantly disturbed state of being will lead to any number of obstacles to reaching our full potential.

Asymmetry can affect the mind as well as the body. Emotional trauma, whether its source is war, physical/sexual abuse or severe injury can also damage our ability to cope with life as fully participating, engaged beings.

We regain our balance by caring for ourselves. We develop loving kindness toward ourselves. We give ourselves the extra attention necessary to become fully functioning individuals again.

One place this happens very effectively is on the yoga mat. The yoga mat is a veritable flying carpet for our highest intentions. When we step onto our mats, it can be like walking into another dimension, a dimension where the outside world can no longer impinge on our freedom to be who we really want to be regardless of its expectations of us.

As we step onto the mat to address our pain and limitation, we begin with the breath, our most powerful healer. We practice what I call the root to crown connection. We breathe from the pelvic floor or perineum to the crown of our heads. Articulating the breath deliberately from root to crown guides our breathing through all the major chakras, massaging and purifying these energy centers (and their associated organs) of physical and emotional debris.

Today after class one of my students told me the story of a young girl she knew who had been sexually assaulted by her classmates. She became withdrawn, fearful and disengaged as she tried to grapple with the horrible violations against her. Victims of assault often assume a compressed physical posture with rounded shoulders and collapsed chest in order to protect themselves. Trauma lives in our cells and tissues and shapes our physical and mental posture toward our lives. The aunt of this young girl is a yoga teacher. The aunt led her to the yoga mat and began helping her restore her physical/emotional and symmetrical connection to life. Just a year after her assault, this girl is once again moving forward as a confident, full participant in her life rather than a victim stuck in her trauma. Intentional movement and breath is restoring this child’s balanced posture and attitude toward life.

Likewise, when we injure a muscle, joint or some connective tissue, the injured part atrophies or shrinks in response to trauma. We must first rest and treat the injury with appropriate measures. When the acute phase of the injury subsides, we can begin working to restore full function with intention, breath and asana. With my sprained right ankle, I began doing twice as many standing poses on the right side to rebuild my strength and endurance. I also worked to flex and extend the ankle to stretch and compress the tissue to encourage healing circulation and relieve the congestion caused by inflammation.

After we recover 90% from an injury or trauma, we’ve reached perhaps the most challenging part of our recovery. This is where we can end up with a “nagging” injury that will be with us for the rest of our lives. This will forever be a vulnerable part of our body or mind that is susceptible to re-injury. Vanquishing that last bit of infirmity takes determination and persistence.

This is the time to work with a yoga therapist or physical therapist or both, to achieve full healing. Once you have received a treatment plan from your health practitioner, work consistently and gently to achieve full recovery.

One of my favorite ways to practice is to repeat postures two or even three times on each side of the body. A great yoga teacher, Susannah Bruder, in Oakland, California, used to say that “repetition, is the spice of life.” Repeating poses lengthens the muscles, conditions the joints and tones the nervous system. Our bodies become juicy, lithe and at ease.

As we achieve symmetry in our bodies and align our attitudes with the universal principles of goodness, life becomes a joyous adventure bound for the desires of our hearts. A healthy body and mind running clean and clear serve the path of reaching our full potential as human beings. Let us all take the next step toward participating in the great Mystery of human experience by healing ourselves so that our bodies and minds can receive divine prana through pure food, water, air and sunlight. With this health of symmetry and alignment the highest achievements will be ours.

Building Victorious Will

We often hear it said that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This speaks to our will power in general and to specific goals in our lives. More to the point, I see it in terms of creating a consistent yoga practice that will change every facet of our lives for the better.

Rather than just being the latest exercise fad, yoga comprehensively addresses every aspect of human existence. It is, as I’ve stated many times before, a universal toolbox. Whatever you need, yoga has an answer for it that has been tried and tested with millennia of successful evolution. Our yogic ancestors have honed this science/art and bequeathed it to us as a complete system for living healthy, victorious lives that reach the deepest levels of human satisfaction and accomplishment.

The path of yoga (or union with Universal power and purpose) is the process of being reborn each time we draw a conscious breath that makes us realize our connection to every life form and spirit in the cosmos.

Of course, we would all love to live lives of satisfaction, fulfillment, health and prosperity. That’s what I love about yoga; it shows us a way to get there. It’s a map through the maze of life, a template upon which we can build our lives as we experience the wonder of human existence.

A saying ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth comes to mind: if you have faith as a mustard seed you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you. (Mathew 17:20)

Before we get to mountains, we can begin with the more modest goal of building a yoga practice that will pave the way for such a victorious, mountain-moving life.

How do you think amazing people become amazing? They commit to and develop a practice that yields amazing results. Life is a practice, and we begin where we are.

I recommend beginning with your body and mind. Inseparable, they are the vehicle we’ve been given to transcend the human condition and reach our boundless potential.

Within the body is the breath, the golden key that opens every lock. When we support the movement of our bodies with the synchronized diaphragmatic breath, we begin to tap into infinite possibility. This is why yoga asana, or yoga poses are an integral technique for building the pathways of will.

As we begin to move and breathe into simple asana, we stimulate cellular renewal in every organ and gland of our bodies. Our muscles, ligaments, tendons veins, arteries, lymph system, indeed the entire body begins to pour itself into a template of purpose and alignment with our highest good.

To develop a home-based yoga practice, begin with a few minutes per day, preferably first thing in the morning. Use one of the movement sequences you’ve learned in yoga class or use a good yoga book. Do what feels good, safe and sound to you. Your body will lead you. Enjoy your simple practice. Make it a habit.

Consistent practice will begin to change your body and mind, literally. Your practice will stimulate positive neurochemical changes that make you feel clear, clean and eager to engage with your life in every area. These are the changes that build will power. As our bodies begin to function more efficiently, we often find that our will to resist cravings and unhealthy habits gets stronger. It becomes easier to create new habits that displace habits of unskillful living.

As you devote a few minutes each day to your personal practice, you will notice that you feel more at ease and steadier in your attitudes toward life. Results will prompt you to explore your practice more deeply. You are now on the path to infinity. Soon, you may yearn for a deeper experience of life. Meditation, or cultivating the mind, will facilitate this yearning. As we cultivate a deeper experience of life through the meditation practices prescribed by yoga, our lives begin to fall into place as we align ourselves with the universal principles of goodness that are stated in Yama and Niyama, the ethical considerations described by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

Though it will take some time, steady practice, incremental gains will earn you a will of flexible steel that will help you shape your life according to your dharma, or your highest good.

So, begin with ease, a little faith and open your heart to the genius that lives within you. Allow yoga, or union with Universal energy, to unlock the mystery of life.

Note: As always, I’d love to hear from you. I see that my posts are being read all over the world. I’m honored and humbled. Please drop me a line and say hello. Share your yoga experiences. Let’s connect and increase the prana of yoga worldwide.

Namaste. I recognize, respect and affirm your goodness.