Stepping forward

Sometimes moving forward is a matter of just letting go. Ishvara Pranidanana – trust, surrender. Sometimes it seems we have no choice – the sweep of time, the press of activity can be like an airport walking ramp leaving us lusting for a moment to stop and savor, reflect and process.

But other times, stepping forward takes conscious planning and determination, a bit of knowledge and perhaps even some practice and preparation – Tapas and Svadyaya.  This is the kind of moment for which the flow from Downward Dog to the lunge in Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) can prepare us.

It might seem like leg strength is called for here, but really what we call on for the graceful sweep of stability is core strength – all the deep structures supporting the back and the connection between the torso and hips/legs.

One of the most important muscles in bringing the thigh into the core is the illio-psoas, which connects the lower spine, the pelvis and the femur by being connected to each. The functioning of this deep, long muscle structure is supported by the abdominal muscles – the rectus in the front middle, the obliques forming Vs on the torso, and the transverse encircling the lower abdomen – as well as the structures of the pelvic floor (these are accessed in mula bandha) and the erector spinae along the spinal column itself.

One of the small experiments that helps me and my students learn about this web of connectedness in the core of the body is “puppy dog”. Start in child’s pose, a very active version with the wrists and elbows lifted, pushing the hips back onto the heels with the toes turned under. Paying attention to pressing into the thumb and first finger of each hand, lift the knees two inches off the floor, pushing the hips back and a little up.

Notice which muscles you use at first: most folks feel this in the legs or arms. Connect to the breath and move your attention into your abdomen pulling it toward your back and pulling the pelvic floor in, feeling the dog tilt (slightly forward) in your pelvis even as you pull your tailbone in & forward.

A word of reminder: take frequent breaks, this is a new way of moving so it can wear you out. You want to approach each change with an air of awareness and study, as if trying to catch all the subtlety in a new and complex flavor. As always, practice consciously and kindly – as I’ve said on my other blog… force cancels yoga and pushing doesn’t burn up samskara – it drives it deeper.

Repeat puppy dog several times bringing your attention more and more to your belly and pelvic floor. Try to feel as if you are lifting your entire torso up and backward with your core muscles.

Another exploration I’ve found helpful is to reach one leg at a time up & back for a one legged Down Dog. This stretches the psoas, accesses the consciousness of the opposing muscles, and in conjunction with the consciousness gained in puppy dog can lead to smoother, more conscious and aware sweep-throughs of the leg in the transition to  lunge.

Then you can step forward with the other foot and practice that sweet surrender in a luscious forward bend before rising up.

Practice mindfully, aware of the metaphor pervading your intention and motion.  What are some ways you could use more strength, intention and planning in moving forward in your life? Where do you need to nourish strength quietly? Where can you focus on your core and create more beauty and awareness for yourself and those around you?

Take the small steps, the moments of minute study and feel the microcosmic changes that build force to transform your life!

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