This month’s blogs and teachings encourage building strong and stable foundations, whether in yoga, exercise, nutrition or even goal-setting. These facets of wellness do not need to be separate. To build a strong body and mind through any of these practices, you must have a solid base.
I see many yoga students, exercise enthusiasts and people in general wanting to rush to the end. They want to achieve advanced poses, lift heavy weights or overhaul their diets before they have mastered the foundations. Not only is rushing to the end unsustainable, but it also can be dangerous.
This week, we will explore the foundations of building a strong yoga practice. In the following weeks, we will examine the foundations of exercise and nutrition.
Your feet connect you to the earth, to the physical world below. Every step you take is a chance for them to communicate what they are experiencing back to you. As a result, they influence how you interpret your surroundings.
Do you take time to notice your feet? Do you give them the attention they deserve? They are telling you a lot, so start to listen.
As you practice yoga, give your feet more attention. Feel them pressing down into the floor and receiving energy back in return. Feel how they root and ground you into the present moment. Feel how, when they are strong and balanced, your mind responds accordingly.
When I take time off from my yoga practice, my foot strength and balance are the first to go physically. My thoughts and emotions are the first to lose balance mentally. This is not a coincidence.
Practice: To strengthen your foundation in standing poses, incorporate “pada bandha,” which means “foot lock.” Engaging energetic locks in yoga draws energy to and/or retains energy in specific parts of the body.
Take tree pose, for example. This one-legged balancing act epitomizes the relationship between your foundation and your physical and mental stability. When your foot is strong and rooted into the earth, you become unwavering physically and mentally. When your foundation is strong, your whole pose can now become strong.
Next time you practice tree pose, activate pada bandha by lifting the arch of the foot of your standing leg. Imagine or feel yourself drawing energy up from the floor into your arch. Then, lock this energy into your foot as you pull its power up into your legs. Notice and feel the suction-cup sensation that this creates in your lower body. If you don’t notice a difference, try lifting your toes off the floor to engage your arch. Maintaining this engagement, place your toes down.
You can translate this extra focus and energetic strength to any standing pose. Try it and watch how your body and mind become stronger and more grounded.
Strong, powerful and flexible legs represent confidence and the ability to stay present and grounded. The legs contain some of the largest muscles in the body and, therefore, significant energetic and emotional potential. When they are strong and open, they provide you the ability to move freely and fluidly through life. Inversely, when your legs are weak and tight, they can house fear and emotional pain and limit the ability to move. Movement is life, and the legs are the mechanisms that power us to move through it.
The standing poses of yoga, such as Warrior I and Warrior II, give the legs much of what they need, as they strengthen and open the thighs, inner groins and hip-flexors. Training the legs also trains the mind to burn through discomfort and limitations. Just as with the feet, when the legs are strong, the whole body and the mind respond.
Practice: Strengthen your connection to your legs by exploring “apana vayu.” Apana vayu refers to the descending energy of yoga. The legs are the conduits of this movement.
To experience the grounding and calming effects of apana vayu in Warrior II: Focus your energy and attention into your legs. Feel them connecting and driving down into the floor. Feel their strength.
Next, concentrate on your breath. As you inhale, draw your breath up from the floor, into your legs, through your belly and into your chest. As you exhale, send your breath down from your lungs, into your belly, through your legs and into the floor. As you inhale, say to yourself: “Legs, belly, chest.” As you exhale, say to yourself: “Chest, belly, legs.” Continue to still your body and mind as you feel your energy and legs grow stronger and calmer with each breath.
Are you still holding Warrior II? Your pose starts once you want to get out of it.
As you move through January and decide how you want your year to look, remember how important it is to cultivate a strong foundation in order to grow. Take time this month to slow down and get steady by focusing on your feet and legs. Incorporate the two tips I’ve highlighted into your practice, and watch your body and mind become stronger, stiller and more balanced.
Live in the Bay Area and want to take your yoga practice further? Then contact me about private yoga lessons or drop-in to any of my public yoga classes as my guest, full schedule here!