Posted by: Bruce Black | February 1, 2018

A Wave of Frustration

Everything is fine in pose after pose while doing our Sun Salutes this morning, but then our teacher introduces a new pose—Bakasana—and I come up against a wall of limitations that I don’t know are there until I try to move past them. A wave of frustration washes over me. I am ready to shout “Enough!” and step off the mat.

The most frustrated I’ve ever felt on the mat? It was the first time I tried to push off my back into Urdadanarasana, the Upward Facing Bow pose. Everyone else in the class seemed to have enough flexibility and strength to lift their buttocks high off the ground, arch their backs, and stretch away from the floor with their hands and feet firmly rooted beneath them. But I was barely strong enough to lift my buttocks a half-inch off the ground. One meager half-inch!

I remember feeling so frustrated with myself for not being able to push up fully into the pose, to lift my buttocks off the floor, to stretch out my arms and push up my shoulders, and to extend my legs so my hips would rise higher. I remember feeling frustrated, too, for being unable to do what the others in the class were able to do and which they made look so easy. Frustrated that I couldn’t join them in the same experience, couldn’t be part of the shrieks of delight and victory punctuating the class as everyone else rose up in the pose together. Frustrated with myself for feeling frustrated—and for making myself feel this way—especially knowing that I couldn’t do any more than what I had done. Why couldn’t I accept that? Instead, I got more and more frustrated. I let my inability to do something override my pleasure of just being on the mat.

Frustration can pervade your entire experience on the mat if you let feelings of frustration overwhelm you. But the poses themselves, especially the ones that are most frustrating because you can’t yet do them, can teach you how to step past frustration and regain the joy of your poses.

Each yoga pose teaches us how to see our emotions as if they are just another pose in our asana practice. You can watch yourself enter the emotion in the same way you can watch yourself enter the pose. And you can watch yourself settle into the pose and then move out of it again as you prepare for the next pose and the next. In each moment, we can open to another way of experiencing the moment, another way of feeling in that moment.

If you let yourself hold too tightly to frustration, you’ll only suffer more frustration. But if you can release your hold on the emotion and let it pass, accept it without judgment, and notice how it comes into your life and how it departs, you may find that you are able to move into the next pose, the next emotion, the next moment, without feeling weighed down or held back by frustration.

Okay, it’s time for me to return to Bakasana, but without the frustrated feelings of my first effort. Wish me luck!

Write 10 minutes: Frustration can serve as a catalyst for exploration in your journal (and your yoga practice). You might consider these questions to start: Why do you feel frustrated in a certain pose? What is causing this sense of frustration? And why can’t you move past it? Pick a pose that you find challenging and notice what you can do in the pose and what you can’t yet do. Does thinking about the pose as something you can’t yet do, rather than as something you may never do, influence your perspective? How does a shift in perspective alter your sense of frustration?

Posted by: Bruce Black | January 1, 2018

When a Teacher Appears

A teacher can make the difference between self-discovery and self-deception, between passion and discontent, between curiosity and boredom. A teacher’s voice can inspire trust or doubt, courage or cowardice. One teacher might help you learn how to explore your inner world while another might teach you to walk away from that world, to ignore it, and pursue something else.

Teachers appear when we most need them. They enter our lives when we least expect them, and their voice, or something they say, or the way they say it, creates a spark, and we see and feel something in the light of that spark that we never felt before. And we seek a way to stay close to that spark, hoping by staying close that over time the light of our teacher’s insights will illuminate our lives, our hearts.

Teachers come in many forms. Yoga teachers. English literature teachers. Writing teachers. Basketball coaches. Editors. Parents. Friends. An aunt or uncle. Even the announcer on the evening TV news. A favorite songwriter. A pet—a cat, a dog, a fish, a turtle. Even your mat can teach you something you hadn’t expected to learn before you stepped on it to begin your yoga practice.

In our yoga classes we trust our teachers to guide us through the basic steps of each pose without injury. We trust that they’ve learned enough about the body’s limitations and the stresses of each pose to help us avoid pain. But, more than that, we trust them to know and share with us how a pose might benefit us. What will we gain from the pose? (Stronger quads? More flexibility in our hips? Looser hamstrings? Better posture?) We rely on their experience to help us navigate our way through the risks of each pose, and we trust them to keep us safe, even as we explore new and challenging positions.

Learning—any kind of learning, with or without a teacher—requires that we step into the unknown. And taking that step requires faith in our ability to do something new, as well as faith in our teacher to help us take that step past the place where we’ve never been before.

Each of us learns in different ways, at different paces, and from different things. Life itself can teach us what we need to know if we pay close attention. Ultimately, that’s the role of any teacher—not just to impart knowledge, but to help us become more aware of ourselves, the world around us, and our potential for growth. Our teachers help us expand into the world in the fullest way possible. Teaching is about helping someone open her eyes to her potential and to the possibilities awaiting her.

Each time you step on your mat in the year ahead, take a moment to acknowledge a teacher who has helped you see your own possibilities.

Each time you enter a new pose, pause and give thanks to the teacher who helped you find your way into the pose without injury and who taught you how to use the pose as a tool to explore your inner self, your mind and heart.

And each time you leave a pose, express gratitude to a teacher for the insights that pose imparted to you, for the new sense of self that you found, and for the possibilities that you can now envision for yourself and for your world in the year ahead.

Mindfulness practice: Who was the first teacher who helped you discover the joy of learning? Imagine you are sitting in his or her class again. What does it feel like to find yourself in that classroom once more? What lessons is he or she sharing with the class? How might your life have been different if you hadn’t met this teacher. What benefits have come your way as a result of taking his or her class? Write: 10 min.



Posted by: Bruce Black | December 1, 2017

The Gift of Being

Often we lose sight of the gift of being in the moment because we are busy striving for something just beyond our reach.

Is this striving—this continual reaching for, wanting, needing something more—ingrained in human nature? Or do we learn to strive from our culture and its values, or perhaps from the people who surround us in our day-to-day lives?

Do you strive for a better job, more money, a larger house, a newer car? Do you strive for beauty or serenity or love? Are you striving for what you don’t have or own but what you want—words of praise, recognition, admiration, love? Are you striving for perfection—or something close to perfection—in your poses, your life, your work, your relationships, your self?

Does this striving for something more ever cease?

It may be an inextricable part of human nature to strive, to want more, but my yoga practice has helped me become aware of the moments in which I strive for more and has helped me reflect on the futility of striving.

Each pose helps me recognize that no matter how hard or how long I strive for something, once I attain it—if I ever attain whatever I’m striving for—I’ll always want more…and more… and more.

If I strive to do a “perfect” Down Dog, for example, I will find once I do my version of a “perfect” Down Dog (if there is such a thing) that next I’ll want to do a “perfect” One-legged Dog and after that a “perfect” Chatarunga or Cobra or Plank. It never ends, this striving, this seeking some form of perfection.

But my yoga practice has shown me that perfection is an illusion, just as permanence is an illusion, and that all of life is constantly changing, in constant motion, just like my asana practice. One day I may feel I’ve found my fullest expression of Downward Dog or Tree Pose, but the next day my shoulders might feel tight or my hamstrings might ache in Downward Dog, or I might not be able to hold my balance and will keep falling out of Tree Pose.

It doesn’t take long after I step onto my mat, though, to feel a sense of peace wrap itself around me, and I find that I can stop striving for perfection and cease trying to be someone other than who I am or wanting to be some place other than where I am.

On my mat, as each pose takes me deeper into what matters most, I can simply let myself “be” in the pose and savor the moment.

It’s only when we learn to stop striving and cease wanting to be elsewhere, only when we can accept that permanence and perfection are illusions, only then that our mats—and our lives—can give us the gift of being in the moment.

Journal Practice: Take a moment to think about the things you strive for. Ask yourself what is the source of this striving, this desire for something more. Is it a positive or negative force in your life? If positive, how so? If negative, why? Has there ever been a time in your life when you stopped striving and just let yourself be? Can you describe how you felt then… and contrast it with how you feel now? Write: 10 minutes.

Posted by: Bruce Black | November 1, 2017


Mountain Pose was the first balance pose that I learned, though I didn’t realize it was a balance pose at the time.

“Spread your feet shoulder-width apart,” instructed my teacher. “Draw your shoulder blades onto your back. Tuck in your tailbone. Puff out your kidneys. Let your spine extend fully upward and downward. Shine out!” Where was the balance in that? I was standing firmly on two feet. I was a mountain. Nothing could have shaken me out of that pose.

It’s taken years for me to understand that balance doesn’t have to mean trying to stand on one foot in Tree Pose or Warrior II or Eagle. These are balance poses that I struggled for years to learn so that, eventually, I could lift a leg without wobbling, shaking or shuddering. They were different than Mountain Pose. In Mountain Pose, I could stand, it seemed, forever without worrying about balance.

But over time I began to understand the idea of balance differently. Mountain Pose taught me that finding my balance didn’t apply solely to my physical balance, to the kind of balance required to stand on one foot. No, Mountain Pose suggested that balance might be something internal, emotional, spiritual. Balance might refer to how the different elements of the pose are balanced. In Mountain Pose, for instance, is each leg balanced symmetrically on the mat so I’m not placing more weight on one foot than another? Are my knees and hips balanced? Can I balance my tailbone as I bring my shoulder blades onto my back? Can I stand erect, radiating outward a balanced level of energy from all ten fingers and toes? Coming into balance means something different now than it meant when I first started practicing yoga.

When I move into Downward Dog now, I’m aware of it as a balance pose, too. No longer is Savasana a chance for me simply to lie down on my mat. It’s a balance pose, as well. When I step into Half Moon, I’m stepping not only into a balance pose on the mat, but into a balance pose that I can carry off the mat, a pose that helps me understand how to incorporate the principles of balance into my life.

Balance is crucial to keeping things in perspective. If I lose my temper in a conversation with my brother or my wife, I’ve lost my balance. If I find my desk inundated with so much paper that I can’t find its surface, I’ve lost my balance. If I find myself trying to do too many things, multi-tasking when I should be focusing on one or two things, I’ve lost my balance. Stepping onto the mat is what helps me recover my balance and helps me notice when my life off the mat may be off-balance. In Mountain Pose I remind myself that balance isn’t only applicable to my external pose, how I hold my body, but to my internal pose as well, how I interact with the world and act in relationships in that world.

Balance means finding that place of equilibrium on the mat and in my life. I can stand in Tree Pose and think I’m in balance, but I’m not in balance if my family life is in shambles or if I’ve just lost my job or if my father has just died. There is an emotional element to balancing which is easy to overlook.

You can treat any pose as a balance pose. Cat and Dog tilts, Seated Pose, Child’s Pose, Happy Baby Pose. Each pose helps us search for and find our equilibrium, both physically and emotionally.

Finding your balance requires patience and confidence. When you stand in Mountain Pose, raise your leg in Tree Pose, or lean forward in Half Moon Pose to touch the earth with your hand as your other arm reaches up to the sky, remember you are searching for balance not just in your pose but also in your life.

Journal Practice: How do you find balance in your poses? How do you become aware of balance–or lack of balance–in your life? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | October 1, 2017

Surrendering to a pose

What does it mean to surrender to a pose? In most cases, the word suggests defeat, giving up, giving in, and holds negative connotations. Before I heard the word surrender used in yoga classes, I’d never thought of surrendering as an option. Just the opposite: never surrender! That was what I’d learned in school from studying history. No American general or soldier wanted to surrender. John Paul Jones refused to surrender. Once captured as a spy, Nathan Hale remained defiant, refusing to surrender his spirit, even if his body was in British hands.

But on our yoga mats we’re encouraged to surrender to a pose. What does it mean to surrender yet not feel defeated? How can anyone surrender to a pose? Is the pose the enemy? Does yoga try to “conquer” us, vanquish us? Is it only a matter of time before we’re overwhelmed and can’t help surrendering? If surrendering is such a good thing, such a positive force in our lives, then why do most of us learn just the opposite: avoid surrendering at all costs?

The implication isn’t just that if you surrender, you’ll suffer the embarrassment and indignity of defeat. You’ll lose the power you possess to exert your will and make choices. You’ll lose your power, in other words, to control your own destiny. It’s as if in the act of surrender, you surrender your future and have to accept the decisions and choices of the victor. No longer are you the one to create or choose the rules by which you will live.

But in a yoga pose such as Downward Dog, there is no victor, no vanquished, only the pose in that moment, the mat, and your palms and toes pressing into the mat, trying to move deeper into the pose. You may encounter resistance to going deeper. A calf muscle may tighten, an Achilles’ tendon may scream in pain, a shoulder may throb. These physical sensations may serve as impediments, obstacles that may defeat you, or, rather, may keep you from moving more completely into the full expression of the pose.

How can you move past these obstacles? How can you become one—body, mind, and soul—on the mat so that you can explore the pose more deeply? If you fight back against pain or throbbing muscles or tight ligaments, you will cause only more pain, more tightness, more throbbing. Resistance in this instance is futile. But surrendering to the pain, the tightness, the throbbing, allows you to soften in the pose. Resistance melts away once you stop resisting. If you accept where you are in the moment, with or without pain, with or without tightness or throbbing, you can begin to see past the pain and tightness to the pose itself.

When we surrender to the pose, we are not defeated. Surrendering lets us feel ourselves in the flow of an energy source so much more powerful than our own, linked to ours, and at the same time helping us reach beyond our own.

In the end, we aren’t surrendering to an opponent. We are learning how to surrender to our deepest self.

Journal Practice: Can you think of surrendering not as relinquishing power but rather as a way of tapping into a more powerful source of energy? What if surrendering is like letting yourself fall into a river and feeling the current carry you downstream? Can you let the pose carry you downstream instead of trying to swim against it? What if you give into the current flowing through your life? Can you let go and surrender to the way life unfolds beyond your control? Can you learn in surrendering how to accept what happens in the flow instead of protesting or complaining or grumbling or griping? Instead of being upset that life never lives up to your expectations, perhaps you can re-examine your expectations and decide how closely the expectations reflect reality or distort it? Are you able to you surrender to the flow of life beneath your expectations? Can you feel the flow of energy? Can you let yourself surrender to it? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | September 1, 2017

Melting the Walls of Separation

Something strange happens the moment I step onto my mat: I no longer feel like I’m standing alone.

I press my toes into the mat and can feel a surge of energy flowing through my muscles, sinews, and bones, connecting me to the people in my yoga class who have arranged their mats around mine.

Even when I practice at home—when the view out my bedroom window gives onto a tangled backyard jungle of trees and plants with no one else in sight—I feel the same connection to others as I make my way through the poses of that day’s practice.

How does this happen?

How does yoga help me step outside my solitude and connect with others?

How does standing motionless in Mountain Pose, or twisting and bending into Triangle Pose, melt the walls that separate me from others?

What I’ve come to understand through yoga is that we feel alone when we lose our sense of connectedness with the invisible force of energy pulsing through the universe. Yoga is one of the tools that can bring us in touch with this energy as it flows through each of us.

For years I was unable to feel this energy as it flowed through me. Somehow I had lost my ability to feel its force. I had let myself become numb, or else it was frozen inside me, and I was unaware that I had lost touch with it. In its place were layers of anger, doubt, frustration, and resentment that had built up over the years and which had kept me from seeing a link between my life and the lives of others.

Now, though, yoga helps me feel more alive, as if each pose thaws emotions that have kept me frozen for years. When I practice Downward Dog or Warrior II or Tree Pose, I can feel this flow of energy returning, running through my veins and pulsating through my muscles, coming back into focus.

Even after years of practice, I must admit that I still fear being alone, afraid of being separated from others. Luckily, my yoga practice reminds me that even when I’m alone, I’m still connected to others and to a continuous, life-affirming flow of energy vibrating through the universe. Clouds, stars, sky, sun, earth—all pulse with life-affirming energy, just as each of us pulses with the same energy of life.

It’s easy amidst life’s daily frustrations and challenges to forget how we’re linked to one another and that this energy flows through and around each of us every moment of our lives.

Fortunately, yoga can remind us that we are connected to one another, and that no one has to suffer the pain or loneliness of standing alone.

Mindfulness Practice: While standing on your mat in a room by yourself, gently close your eyes and try to imagine a flow of energy pulsing through you. Without moving, notice the way blood flows through your veins and how oxygen fills your lungs. Inhale and exhale ten times, deepening your breath with each inhalation. Now open your eyes. Do you feel a greater connection through your breath and the beating of your heart to a flow of energy pulsating through you (and the universe)? Has your sense of standing alone changed? Try doing a few yoga poses (or just lift your arms slowly over your head and then lower them to your sides again). How do you feel afterward—more alone or connected to something larger than yourself? Write: 10 min.



Posted by: Bruce Black | August 1, 2017

The Path to Self Knowledge

One of the gifts of keeping a journal as part of my yoga practice has been the way writing illuminates questions that yoga encourages me to ask about my self and my life.

Questions like: Who am I? What am I passionate about? What gives life meaning?

Until reading an advance copy of Big Gal Yoga: Poses and Practices to Celebrate Your Body and Empower Your Life by Valerie Sagun (Seal Press, 2017), I hadn’t realized that what I was doing—keeping a practice yoga journal to explore these questions—was a part of yoga called Jnana, which Sagun describes as “the yoga of self knowledge through deeper self-examination.”

In Big Gal Yoga, Sagun explains that there are six basic systems of yoga “that are meant to open our curiosity to expose and explore our true nature:”

Kriya, the yoga of self-awareness through ritual;

Jnana, the yoga of self knowledge through deeper self-examination;

Bhakti, the yoga of self-love;

Baja, the yoga of understanding who you truly are by way of meditation, concentration, restraint, discipline, postures, breath, attention, and bliss;

Hatha, the yoga of the physical body; and

Karma, the yoga of service

While I found her descriptions of all six systems interesting, I was most captivated by what she shared about Jnana because it felt as if she was describing precisely what happens when I open my journal and start writing.

“Jnana is a yoga practice that takes place off the mat,” writes Sagun. It is a “philosophical part of yoga that puts you on the path of wisdom and self-knowledge by having you practice self-questioning, reflection, and intellectual enlightenment as you investigate your thoughts, identity, and ego.”

And this: “It is a formal way to develop deep inquiry and personal contemplation so that you can work out who you are and who you want to be.”

What most appeals to me about Jnana, as Sagun describes it, is the way yoga can help bring about understanding and self-knowledge.

“Self-knowledge doesn’t occur with one ‘eureka’ moment,” writes Sagun. “Instead, it’s a daily challenge of self-questioning… Take time to get to know what you like and who you are…”

Sagun describes it as the ongoing process of exploring ourselves, which is the essence of keeping a journal.

“Within Jnana, there are four attributes which indicate avenues of self-knowledge,” she writes. “One of them that is easier to approach is called Viveka, which is to distinguish intellectually between what is real and what is not real. It is finding the ‘right understanding’ of the Self and non-Self, long term (eternal) and short term (temporary), pleasure and bliss, and the truth and soul versus materiality.”

The right understanding of the Self.

“According to Yogapedia,” Sagun continues, “Viveka is an important aspect in the physical practice of yoga as well. It shows one’s skill in discerning the details in one’s alignment, by turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details. Learning to detect the details about one’s yoga practice helps to improve the practice itself, but can also increase the quality of ‘off the mat’ experience as well.”

It shows one’s skill in discerning the details in one’s alignment, by turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details.

How I love this idea of “turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details,” and how this process has the power to change the way we practice on and off our mat.

In the end, Jnana helped Sagun discover what she really loves.

“Soon after I started practicing yoga,” she reveals, “I fell into a rut with my artwork. My work wasn’t conveying my ideas, and as a result, I became increasingly frustrated. So I took a break from art and turned my full attention to yoga with the guidance of Jnana: asking myself “Who am I?” and finding my own “right understanding” for what I needed for myself.”

This process of learning to question ourselves about our experiences and how we engage with reality is a deep part of yoga practice, and it forms the heart of keeping a journal.

Listen to Sagun: “There is not one way to figure out Jnana. It is something that cannot be taught or given, like all of yoga, because it is all based on an individualized thought process.”

Perhaps you’ll ask yourself the same questions that Sagun asked herself: “Who am I? What is my relationship to my body? What am I doing to better my life?”

Ultimately, it’s the process of asking such questions that forms the basis of Jnana.

And it’s thanks to our ability to pose such questions that we can deepen our yoga practice and gain greater understanding of ourselves.

For more information about Valeri Sagun and Big Gal Yoga, visit:



Posted by: Bruce Black | July 1, 2017

Where Our Practice Can Lead Us

I begin my yoga practice each day without knowing where it will lead me, but sitting on my mat—just sitting—helps focus my attention.

Some days I may notice the way a shoulder aches or a hip joint feels stiffer than usual. Other days I might feel uncertainty about unfinished plans, or I might worry that I don’t have the strength to do some of the more challenging poses that day.

Through my practice, though, I’ve learned to let myself feel whatever I might be feeling in the moment—to allow the feeling to be whatever it needs to be—without trying to change the feeling or push it away or ignore it. Each pose gives me a way to recognize the feeling, acknowledge it, and let it go.

When I lift up a leg in Tree Pose and find myself wobbling and have to put my foot down after a few seconds to regain my balance, I might feel disappointment. Or I might feel I should have been able to hold the pose longer or lift my foot higher. Or I might find myself feeling anger, frustration, or sadness over not being able to do what others in my class can do.

But then, through the process of engaging with my body in the pose—of staying in the moment—I’ve come to understand that criticizing myself or letting negative thoughts overwhelm me only makes the pose harder. And I’ve learned not to berate myself for having such feelings but, rather, to show myself compassion, to let the feelings go, and to move on to the next pose.

This, then, is what yoga has taught me: feelings, whatever they might be—feelings of inferiority or superiority, disappointment or joy, anger or elation, frustration or calmness, sadness or happiness—are just feelings. They pass as quickly as clouds moving across the sky.

And though learning to let go of these emotions and thoughts took many efforts (and many falls out of Tree Pose and other poses), the process of learning to let go taught me, over weeks and months, how to show myself more compassion.

Showing yourself compassion, it turns out, is one of the consequences of cultivating a yoga practice. You gain self-awareness, and, in time, your compassion for yourself—and for others—deepens. Before you know it, your practice inspires you to feel compassion not only toward yourself and other yogis on the mats surrounding you, but for every living being on this planet, too.

It happens this way: self-awareness leads to self-understanding, and self-understanding leads to a sense of gratitude, which leads to a desire to express love, which in turn leads to an ability to show greater empathy for one’s self, as well as for those who are caught in the web of their own challenges.

Each time you step on your mat, yoga invites you to step into the present moment fully aware of your self and everyone else around you.

Each pose offers you the chance to swim in the sea of compassion that touches all living beings—both friends and strangers.

Each breath gives you the opportunity to become a person capable of feeling not only your own pain but also the pain of someone else’s misfortune or suffering.

Practice Journal: How does your yoga practice help you cultivate compassion? Has anything changed in the way you treat yourself and others since you began practicing yoga? List three ways that your practice has taught you to be kinder and more compassionate on and off your mat. Write: 10 min.









Posted by: Bruce Black | June 1, 2017

Ouch, My Aching Back!

We may spend hours learning to align our bodies properly in yoga poses to prevent injuries on and off the mat, but we can still end up hurting ourselves.

That’s what I learned last month when I sat on the side of my bed and leaned forward to tie my sneakers.

No sooner did I bend over than I felt as if I’d received an electric shock to my lower back. Seconds later I was sprawled facedown on the bedroom floor.

Not only couldn’t I get up, I was unable to move to either side and lay motionless on my stomach wondering how I could have thrown out my back by simply bending over to tie my sneakers.

It seems like such a simple action, one that I perform every day without a problem, and I practice yoga, so I consider myself relatively flexible. And yet I found myself on the floor, my spine throbbing with pain.

Ten minutes must have passed before I was able to roll onto my back, with my knees up. As I lay on the floor waiting for the pain to subside, I thought about getting older, and about the unexpected ways age can catch up to us. After another few minutes, I managed to stand and was able to walk into the kitchen, feeling lucky that I had been able to rise off the floor.

The next day I felt a dull ache in my lower back and a sharper pain if I wasn’t careful about how I moved my body, but at least I could move.

And in the week that followed I devoted my attention to how I walked, how I sat at a table, how I got into a car, how I leaned over the kitchen sink to wash dinner dishes, and how I bent over to load and unload the dishwasher.

Each day, as I performed another task, moving with care, I realized just how helpful my yoga practice has been to keeping my body healthy over the years. Without yoga, who knows? Perhaps I might not have recovered so quickly.

And as the week passed, I realized something else: thanks to my yoga practice, I had become more attuned to the way my body moved so I could move safely, even with an injury. Yoga gave me a way to monitor my movements for proper alignment.

This close attentiveness to my body–how I lowered myself into the driver’s seat of my car; how I climbed into bed each evening and left the bed each morning;  how I brushed my teeth; how I sat at my desk typing–was the result, I’m sure, of my yoga practice.

Each activity required close attention to how my spine was positioned since the slightest strain on my muscles, the slightest lack of attention, could have meant having to endure more pain.

My back is mostly healed now. But I can’t help thinking about how, over the years of practicing yoga, I’ve taken my spine for granted. How I’ve bent forward in Forward Bend without paying much attention to my spine. How I’ve reached to touch my toes without thinking about the gifts that yoga offered me–the gift of being able to bend, the gift of being able to touch the floor, and the gift of being able to rise up again without pain.

My injury was temporary, thank goodness, but it gave me an opportunity to appreciate yoga as a gift that can help me remember to care for my body, not just on the mat but off the mat as well.

Perhaps you’ve discovered this, too: how your practice can help keep your body healthy for years to come and remind you, as well, not to take any part of your body for granted.

Practice journal: While standing in Mountain Pose, notice your spine, how it feels to stand up straight, how it feels to lift your arms and twist gently left and then right, and how it feels to lower your arms. Can you be more aware of your spine? How? Can you describe its contribution to your wellbeing? Write: 10 min



Posted by: Bruce Black | May 1, 2017

Anjali Mudra: Palms Together

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you may be familiar with the gesture of pressing your palms together over your heart.

The gesture is called Anjali Mudra, and it’s frequently used as a greeting, or as a way to mark the beginning and end of class.

Often, Anjali Mudra is accompanied by a verbal cue, such as Namaste, as well as a slight bow of the head or a fuller bow, including for some a tilt of the upper body forward so that, when seated, one’s head can come close to touching the floor.

As a sign of welcome or farewell, the gesture itself—palms pressed together and held gently in front of the chest—is enough to communicate one’s respect for and acknowledgment of another.

Until I began taking yoga classes, I had always associated this gesture with the ancient gesture used in prayer. It reminded me of a supplicant’s posture, a time-honored practice for beseeching God. And while I don’t practice yoga as worship, I do sense something prayerful about the gesture each time I bring my palms together in different yoga poses.

Indeed, when I press my palms together, Anjali Mudra helps me center myself, much like prayer, in the here and now. If I’m sitting on my mat in Sukhasana (Easy Seated Pose), the gesture serves as a signal: it’s time to begin the day’s practice. And the sensation of skin touching skin reinforces the process of focusing my mind in the present.

The word Anjali can mean “offering” or “divine offering.” Perhaps that’s why using the gesture at the beginning of my practice reminds me to offer gratitude for my body, which lets me explore space and time, and for the yoga practice that gives my body and mind a chance to relax and enjoy the pleasure of stretching, of letting go of expectations, of exploring new directions.

Mudra means “seal,” which reminds me how yoga can help me “seal” a resolution or set an intention, how a flow of poses can help keep my thoughts focused and determined once I’ve decided on a path to follow.

As we chant Om at the start of class, the tips of my fingers touching, I gain a sense of fullness, a sense of completion, as if I’ve connected the two poles of my existence so that I am no longer divided—mind and body—but one.

Anjali Mudra reminds me of life’s vulnerability, too, of how we can choose to shut ourselves off from others or open our hearts like flowers in the process of blooming. It reminds me of how we can experience life in different ways, each of us sitting on the mat in our own way, each finger with a different fingerprint, each hand different than the hand of the person sitting on the mat next to ours.

As we sit in a circle to begin class and I press my palms together, I feel linked to a powerful source of energy. It’s as if my hands, when touching, complete a circuit and let me feel connected to the divine source of energy pulsing through us all.

Hands touch: my body finds its balance, its center.

Over time I’ve discovered whenever I incorporate Anjali Mudra into my practice, such as in Vriksasana (Tree Pose), the more it becomes an integral part of my practice, as important as Shavasana (Corpse Pose), Adho Mukha Svasana (Downward-facing Dog Pose), and Plank Pose.

The next time you join a yoga class and bring your palms together in Anjali Mudra, I hope you’ll take a moment to notice how this gesture heightens your awareness of the divine spirit within you and in the person on the mat next to yours.

I invite you to notice, too, the way your heart seems to soften, and, like the petals of a flower, opens to the goodness and kindness of life.

Anjali mudra. Palms together.

Practice journal: Sit in stillness on your mat or in a chair and simply breathe, drawing in gentle breaths and releasing them. When you feel relaxed, bring your palms to touch in front of your heart. What does it feel like for skin to touch skin? Where is there space and where is there none? Do the tips of your fingers rest on each other with ease or do you feel uncomfortable? After a few moments lower your hands. How did it feel to press your hands together in Anjali Mudra? Did the gesture change your practice? How? Write: 10 min.

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