Finding Balance in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, and Ardha Baddha Padmotanasana
Moment-to-Moment, Breath-to-Breath: Finding Balance in Parsvottanasana, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, and Ardha Baddha Padmotanasana.
Finding balance. It’s key in every aspect of life – and very rarely easy to find. The three poses following Prasarita Padottanasana ask us to do just that, systematically testing our balance in dynamic ways. If the initial postures of the standing series of Ashtanga Yoga guide us towards establishing a firm foundation, these next few test our ability to put it into action – both physically and mentally. These are not yoga poses that can be achieved out-of-body, with the mind floating to concerns off the mat. In the moment-to-moment battle for balance proposed by these three asanas, we are forced into presence and concentration by the very constraints of the posture, cultivating consciousness in movement and steadiness of mind.
Begin with Parsvottanasana
The balancing act begins sooner than expected, sneaking in while the unsuspecting Ashtanga yoga practitioner still has both feet on the ground. To begin Parsvottanasana, or Intense Side Stretch, turn to face the back of the mat, stepping the right foot about three feet away from the left, pointing towards the back of the room. Squaring the hips towards the back of the mat, bring the hands together behind the back, working towards pressing the palms into a prayer position between the shoulder blades. Exhaling, reach the chest forward as you fold, bringing the sternum towards the front thigh.
The temptation here will be to allow the hips to come out of alignment to bring the body into balance. Keeping the hips square means finding a deep connection to the ground, and to the core, finding balance with integrity. Feeling the curl of the exhale emptying deep in the belly, pull up on mula bandha, stabilize through the strength of the abdominals, and send energy through the legs into the heels. Allow the inhale to be your deepening breath, lengthening as the rib cage expands and the core muscles stabilize deeper movement. Inhaling into depth, exhaling into stability, mindful, concentrated movement in Parsvottanasana begets a stable yoga posture and a steady mind.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
Finding balance in Parsvottanasana lays a helpful groundwork for the slightly more intimidating postures to come, the one-footed balances Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana and Ardha Baddha Padmotanasana. The awareness cultivated in Parsvottanasana becomes a gift when moving into these balancing acts. Beginning Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, Extended Hand to Big Toe Posture, carry over this awareness to find yourself grounded on one leg. Exhale to send energy through the right leg into the heel, stabilizing through the leg and pulling up on mula bandha. Inhale to find the upward reaching strength of uddiyana bandha as the rib cage expands, the abdominals engage, and the chest lifts. Notice how these two opposing forces create a stabilizing sensation, a bit like a tension rod. As you bring the left leg up and move through the stages of this posture, keep this deep awareness of the downward and upward energy moving with the breath, using the core to stabilize.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t let the mind wander- stable mind, stable asana. Maintaining drishti here is key. Focusing the eyes helps to focus the mind, providing extra steadiness, especially when moving through the variations of a balancing pose. When moving into Ardha Baddha Padmotanasana, Half Bound Lotus Stretch, keep drishti as you bring the leg off the ground into half-lotus and find the bind. Looking towards the leg as you bring it into position will only take you off-balance. With stability established as before, maintain the same drishti for as long as possible as you move through the hip into a fold, relaxing the head and changing the drishti only at the last moment.
These balancing postures demand our constant attention as we strive to maintain equilibrium. Exiting them, soon to dive into the depths of the primary series, the conscious practitioner carries with them valuable lessons on presence and focus, lessons that will prove helpful through the rest of the practice and out into the day.
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