Posted by: Bruce Black | January 1, 2013

Stability

At the beginning of a new year, I tend to feel out of balance, not sure what I’ve left behind (or unfinished) in the year that’s past or where I’m going (or what I’ll accomplish) in the year ahead.

It’s an unstable time for me, a time when I need to re-evaluate my life and the direction that I’m heading. Often this process of self-scrutiny means that I lose sight of where I am right now. And that means I lose the stability that I strive for throughout the year.

So, as I start the year, I need to find stability. I need to remember not to worry too much about the future or what I might not have done in the year that just ended. I need to accept where I am and let my life unfold out of that acceptance.

Two ways that I find stability now… and throughout the year… is by writing in my journal and by practicing yoga. The act of writing and doing yoga reminds me to stay focused in the present.

My thoughts may wander into the future, I may make plans, trying to discern what I want to do this year, this month, this week.But then each pose, each page, brings me back to the present, gives me a chance to sift through my desires to find the one that’s deepest (and truest)… the one that I want to devote my life –or at least the next week– to bringing into existence.

Writing and yoga give me a chance to let my fears and anxieties settle and disappear in the flow of words and motion. These two practices allow me to hear my breath and feel my pulse and focus on the present… and what I feel most deeply in this moment.

One of the poses that helps me feel most stable, most firmly rooted in the present, is Downward-facing Dog. In Downward-facing Dog I have to refrain from moving too far forward (into the future) with worries, or too far backward (into the past) with regrets. The pose reminds me that I’m here now, rooted to the earth, joining past and future in this one pose. Not yet in forward bend or handstand, nor in any of the other poses that arise out of Downward-facing Dog. Just here.

I’ve always wondered why this pose has the name Downward-facing Dog… and I found something interesting on the internet about it:

“Probably the most recognized yoga position today is the ‘downward facing dog’. A corresponding Sanskrit word, adho mukha svanasana, has been invented to match this. This is, however, erroneous. There is no such asana name in the tradition of yoga. So what is the proper term for downward dog? It’s Meru Asana. Meru refers to the sacred Mount Meru, considered to reside at the centre of the Universe. This yoga pose, then, represents stability, balance, strength and support on all levels; not the stretch-like action of your pet getting up from its afternoon nap!” http://www.discover-yoga-online.com/sanskrit-words.html

Thinking about the pose as Meru Asana–Mount Meru– helps me better understand why I feel such firmness in it. (Firmness, in fact, is at the root of the word “stable.”)

Here’s what I found on another website discussing Patanjali and what he says is necessary to create stability in our practice and in our lives:

“Patanjali talks of cultivating sthira (steadiness, firmness) and sukha (gentleness, softness) in our yoga practice. The qualities denoted by these two sanskrit words can be applied to the whole of your yoga practice – from the opening warm-ups and sun salutations, to the more dynamic sequences and softer finishing poses. Cultivating sthira requires us to maintain an awareness and connection to the earth beneath us. Once this equilibrium has been attained, you are ready to become mindful of the importance of a light, free approach to your posture and asanas. The aim is to take a consistently steady, but gentle, approach, to our practice of yoga  – and also to our lives away from the mat.” http://www.yoga-abode.com/ybites/sthira_sukha

Steadiness and firmness… two qualities that help us create stability in our poses and in our lives as one year comes to an end and a new year begins.

Practice Journal: When you come out of Downward-facing Dog today, open your journal and write down a minimum of three ways that the pose helps you feel more stable. They might be physical qualities, such as stronger shoulders or stretched hamstrings or deeper breathing. Or they could be emotional qualities–a sense of firmness or steadfastness or patience. How does the pose create these qualities? What allows the pose to cause such emotions to arise? Do you feel stable in this pose? Why? And how might the pose help you create more stability in your life?

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Responses

  1. Happy New Year, Bruce! I, too, have first day rituals that incorporate past and future. Best wishes to you for this fresh year!

  2. It’s funny, I struggle with Downward Facing dog a lot! It’s one of the most challenging poses for me. This week I started the 40 Day challenge by Baron with my yoga studio. This week we are to focus on being present. Seeing the description of Down Dog as you have it, an interesting and eye opening point of view I might ad, really relates to this. I struggle A LOT with being present. I’m alright with others, alone, I am never just doing what I am doing. I am off in my head somewhere and on autopilot. I’m trying to figure out why that is and what I can do to come back to the moment more often than not.

    Steadiness and firmness. I’m still in the beginning stages of my journey, I finally figured out what I want to do: Be a full time writer and yoga instructor. That is totally representative of last year when I began yoga, not knowing at all what I wanted, and now slowly finding my way.

    This is a great post, thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Hello Bruce,
    Today is my New Year’s Day. I received my RYT designation last evening. As an older adult and a lifelong educator who has come to yoga in her 50s, I I am beginning down a new path – I don’t think I have ever been so excited about a career shift!
    Sthira and sukha are my mantra, and sutra 2.46 has emerged as my guide. The words have partnered in my mind. As I grow older, stability is more elusive and sweetness more evident in my day-to-day world – and I long for both.
    My hope is that my teaching practice will usher myself and others toward them. I’m so happy to have found your blog; I’ll be following your journey regularly.
    Thank you.

  4. Congratulations on receiving your RYT! May you share the stability and sweetness that you find in your life with your students, and may they, in turn, share the stability and sweetness that they find in their lives–perhaps as a result of your teaching–with you.


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