April 8, 2012

Cracking the Shell: An Easter Yoga Practice.

Easter Day can be just as opportune a time to enjoy yoga’s cleansing, detoxifying benefits.

I can think of many yogis who celebrate New Year’s Day with a special practice intended to jump start a new year of healthier, more productive living.

But Easter would work just as well.

Think about it.

You’ve probably broken those pesky New Year’s resolutions already (and if not, you’re a better person than I). On Easter Day, resolutions are not echoing through our heads like a broken record:

>I will make it to the gym everyday.

>I will remember to pick up my dirty socks.

>I will not swear at the cat. And on and on.

For those who practice Christianity, Easter represents salvation, love and triumph through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have already been saved. And we don’t even need to go to Cardio Kickboxing.

Besides, we’ve already made it through forty days of Lent.

Certain types of Asana and pranayama are great ways to experience the spirit of the season—redemption, faith and hope—on an emotional level.

Those who celebrate Easter as a more secular holiday can connect with the breath and the movement of the body, tracing the festival of the vernal equinox—and its celebrations of rebirth and fertility—to generations past.

Want to enjoy an Easter Yoga practice? Here are a a few suggestions:

1.) Take your asana outside (if you live in a climate where it is warm enough to do so). Fertility and rebirth are important parts of Easter. Touch, smell, taste, hear, see the world around you as if comes back to life. Search out the crocuses, rearing their little yellow heads after a long winter’s nap. Tune in to the warbles of robins. Notice the re-emergence of leaves on trees. Feel the breeze against your skin. Dig your toes into the grass. Maybe you’ll find you have an earthworm for a toe ring.

2.) Start out in Child’s Pose with your arms at your sides, palms up, head turned to one side. (You kind of look like an egg here—and that’s seriously the point!)

The egg is a symbol rich in tradition. Historically, Christians decorated Easter eggs to represent Christ’s tomb. The shells of the eggs represented the confines of the Christ’s tomb.

Think about which parts of yourself you hope to crack, perhaps to resurrect, while in Child’s Pose. Which false beliefs or ideas can you ‘crack’ to resurrect part of yourself?

The egg also represents the possibility of new life, of resurrection, perhaps in its myriad forms.

Take a few minutes to connect to your breath here. The breath has often been referenced in scripture. It has been referred to as pneuma, breath, spirit, soul.

3.) Do three rounds of Sun Salutations. Can you imagine living in ancient times without electricity and cars and Hulu and Netflix on demand for entertainment during cold, blustery winter nights? What a relief it must have been to experience the return of the sun, as the days became warmer and longer, the fields began once again to produce!

If you practice Christianity, dedicate this round of Surya Namaskar to the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you celebrate Easter as a secular festival, visualize the march of the seasons. Downward Dog represents winter, lying in wait, but far from dormant. Upward Dog stands for spring, stretching and emerging on a cellular level. Urdhva Hastasana represents summer. Forward Fold represents fall.

4.) Try some backbends and hip openers. Nothing clears away the potential for resurrection, hope and joy than a heavy heart and tight hips. We store anger in our hips and sadness in our hearts.

Some suggestions: Combat some cobwebs with Virabhadrasana I (with Prayer Twist), Utkatasana (with Prayer Twist) and Pigeon (with Prayer Twist). Garudasana pose can be a powerful shoulder-opener, particularly useful for those who feel as if they may always be balancing on one leg for others, and, as a result, may end up feeling a bit off-balance.

Finally, stand in Tadasana, clasp the hands behind the back and, if possible, fold forward. Allow gravity to open the shoulders.

Pretend that your heart center is encased in an eggshell. Allow light and breath into this place, a storehouse of negative emotions—like sadness, tightness and fear—for so many of us. Feel this shell as it slowly cracking away from this tomb-of-sorts dissolving into tiny pieces.

Visualize a stream of water flowing from the back of the heart. Allow these pieces to flow onto the ground. Trust that the ground will absorb anything we are willing to release.

5.) Practice your usual inversion (whether Viparita Karani, Shoulder Stand, Headstand or Handstand). Settle in with the breath for a few moments. As your feet leave the ground, picture your body rising from some circumstance you may find particularly trying, like a plant in the springtime. Maybe your soil is soft and supportive at this time in your journey. Maybe it is more like a concrete sidewalk slab somewhere in New York City, trampled frequently by passerby. Nevertheless, one must persist. As Pattabhi Jois once said, “Practice and all is coming.”

6.) Give yourself an extra long Savasana
Corpse pose is very difficult for a great many people. According to Christians, Christ was crucified on Good Friday. The range of emotions associated with this day can be profound and painful. Allow yourself to experience whatever emotions may arise. Come out of this pose slowly.

Hopefully, you will not find Easter eggs hidden in your pockets.

Happy Easter!


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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