It’s officially starting to feel like fall over here in VT, which gets me excited to hunker down and slip into a more grounded space. I don’t know about you but I’m a sun and heat lover, which always seduces me to explore, get together with friends, and just be more social in general.
As many of you know, I was traveling quite a bit from May-August, which was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. And after so much moving around, driving in the car for long hours, and flying on different airplanes, it’s so sweet to be back home in Vermont and feel my feet on the ground.
It reminds me of the two different sides of the spectrum - introverted and extroverted - and how sometimes we lean far toward one and other times we teeter somewhere in between. I’m personally looking forward to shifting toward the introverted side, toward days that lend to practices like writing, yoga, reading, cozy nights in with friends. I’ve felt that in my yoga practice as well. After months of more flow-style classes with lots of movement and playful, challenging sequences, I find I’m craving more time with relaxing slow flow practices and restorative yoga.
This month’s theme speaks to that interplay of extroverted and introverted natures. I like to call it hugging in and expanding out on the mat.
Annie Carpenter refers to this relationship as ‘The Effort’ and ‘The Return to Center.’ Sometimes we fill up best by going out and being around groups of people. This would fall under the efforting, the giving of energy, the expanding out. It’s a forward-moving motion. Other times, what we need to feel nourished is a night in alone, a good book, a few episodes of your favorite TV show, or putting your legs up the wall (my favorite way to fall asleep). This is what returns us home to our Self and replenishes our system. It’s a backward moving motion, in the sense that we are returning back to our center and dwelling in a deeper place. Both are valuable and important. It’s more about asking yourself, “what would be most nourishing and supportive to me right now?”
In every yoga pose, we are both contracting and expanding. Always. There is always one part of the body that desires to contract (engage/activate) and another part of the body that wishes to expand (lengthen/extend). Even when we are laying in stillness, we still find hugging in and expanding out with our breath: as we inhale, we expand the physical body and create more space and as we exhale, we contract the body and pull in toward center.
We also experience this with our mental body. Thoughts roll in and narrow our scope and remind us of our individuality. This is, by nature, contractive. Then, we find slight moments of no thought, when our scope expands and we see out into a vast, connected, universal space.
How this theme shows up in asana can be exhibited in poses like Crescent Pose (see below). We contract the muscles (pull them toward the midline) or lengthen them out (from core to periphery). It’s fun to play with this pulsation in the practice, especially when we move slowly, because we can feel the full spectrum or continuum of movement, between contraction and expansion.
Asana Lab: Crescent Lunge [variation of High Lunge]
Getting into the pose:
From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward inside your right hand. Line your front knee over your front ankle. Keep your back heel lifted, with the back foot ball mound pressing firmly into the mat. With an inhale, lift the torso up and reach the arms skyward.
Hugging in actions:
Pull your feet toward one another to draw the hips toward square and to send energy from the soles of the feet all the way up the length of the legs and into the core of the pelvis. At the same time, magnetize the inner thighs toward one another to hug toward the midline. You should feel the pelvis as the ‘anchor point’ of the pose, meaning as you focus on the hugging in actions, energy hugs in and extends away from the center of the pelvis.
Hugging in helps:
- Activate the inner thighs
- Initiate a surge of electricity from the ground up through the body
- Bring the hips to a more square position
- Maintain the integrity of muscular tone
Expanding out actions:
Now, press your feet down firmly into the ground and away from one another, spreading your foundation. With this action, we begin at the core of the pelvis and radiate the energy down the legs and out through the feet. Imagine growing your legs longer and feel how this action helps extend and energize the back leg, lifting the back of the thigh toward the sky and reaching the back heel toward the back of the mat.
Expanding out helps:
- Soften everything around the edges so we aren't gripping
- Expand the core lines of the body
- Create length and spaciousness in the muscles
- Create more length/stretch in the back hipflexor and psoas
Try these actions in other asanas (where the legs are split) such as:
- Pigeon Pose [Eka Pada Rajakapotasana] - in this pose, think of pulling the knees toward and away from one another.
- Warrior 1 & 2 [Virabhadrasana 1 & 2]
- Full Splits [Hanumanasana]