Years ago, towards the end of my Thursday-evening advanced yoga classes, my teacher would call out, “Sit in a cross-legged position, clasp a wrist around your back, and fold forward in yoga mudra, the seal of yoga.”
It always seemed like a position that didn’t seem to accomplish much, but I figured that maybe accomplishing something wasn’t the point, so I never spoke up.
Some years later I took up Ashtanga yoga and discovered how significantly more demanding the real pose was. Then again, everything else in Ashtanga was significantly more demanding and required you to have fewer inner organs, a more gelatinous spine, and the strength of an Olympic silver medalist or better.
I still want a contortionist’s flexibility and a gymnast’s control and strength, but never gave up a fondness for the original, gentle version.
So here’s an update on the original position in something that retains the meditative quality and does in fact accomplish something if your hip joints are already limber.
If you spend too much time in front of a computer or need something to reset your back or your aching shoulders, then the Diagonal Yoga Mudra is for you and doesn’t require much more than some minimal floor space.
1. Sit down in a cross-legged position. Walk your hands on the floor, forward, to the limit of where you can go comfortably (while still breathing easily, that is).
2. Leaving your right arm extended, walk your left hand in the opposite direction. That is, one arm forward, one arm back behind you. Both hands are on the floor, and the fingers of both hands continue to crawl away from one another.
3. Stay for six slow breaths. Give your body time to absorb the stretch. Then switch to the other side and repeat again for six slow breaths.
Benefits: Good, easy pose for releasing shoulder, trapezius and general upper back tension. If you’re working at a computer for hours on end, do this every couple of hours, or more often.
Avoid if: Your upper back or your lumbar spine is so tender that leaning forward like this adds to the tension instead of subtracting it. Avoid also if your hip joints are stiff and you cannot lean forward effortlessly.
Final thoughts: Every pose should accomplish something, so if in doubt, speak up in your yoga class. What one person expresses and what the other understands can have a wide chasm. Just ask my tango teacher, who frequently says to me, “Why are you doing that, if I just told you not to?” And I frequently reply, “Because that’s what I thought you meant.”
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Ed: Bryonie Wise