When we come to our practice on our mat, we move through foundational postures that teach us to acknowledge our physical abilities/limitations on a given day. We become aware of our thoughts and emotions during postures and learn to accept a wide range of sensations. We ultimately get to know ourselves and we learn to trust ourselves. With consistency and time our practice will evolve, but it isn’t just about the physical postures we perform. By exploring and experiencing on our mats, we offer a safe place to “practice” what we would ideally like to develop in our daily lives.
In this way our postures serve not as ends in themselves, but as a means to explore ourselves in differing ways that will challenge our abilities, and perpetuate our growth. Along our journey we establish awareness and acceptance and ultimately move from experiencing fear to embodying love. Fear can be a pervasive force. It often surfaces as fear of the unknown, fear of hurting ourselves or others, fear of looking like a fool, or fear developed from a bad experience we had in the past. Fear can be paralyzing. In our practice it makes us hold our breath or avoid movements altogether. The good news, however, is that fear exists on the same continuum as love, and albeit easier said than done, all that is needed to move from fear to love is trust.
Trust is developed through healthy vulnerability and healthy vulnerability stems from mindful awareness and a baseline sense of security/safety. On our mats, we practice developing trust in postures that provide the opportunity to explore the sensation of being vulnerable. Specifically, when we practice backbends (also known as heart openers), we physically induce the sensations of vulnerably. But we must approach back bends in a healthy way. As with any posture, we begin by becoming mindful of our current abilities. Back pain is one of the primary reasons for beginning a yoga practice, and unfortunately one of the most commonly experienced ailments in yoga. If we are not mindful of our limitations, the fear of hurting ourselves will become a very real concern. Our sense of security/safety stems from our time spent day after day in our foundational postures and by staying present with our breath. By dedicating time to move through intentional sequences we prepare our body and mind to have the best experience possible in a back bend, and minimize our susceptibility to injury. On days when we are physically able to practice a back bending posture we will find as we allow ourselves to become vulnerable is that we have also allowed ourselves to trust. Through trust, we have moved from fear to love. Over time, our ability to trust ourselves in our postures allows for the possibility for moving from fear to love in life.
Throughout this past month at the studio we explored the play of love & fear in different ways. There were a lot of back-bends! And, while they each provided a nice physical challenge (and hopefully resulted in stronger core muscles), one posture in particular stood out as a prime opportunity to experience the movement from fear to love; wild thing. Even for seasoned practitioners, the movement into wild thing (especially when taken all the way into wheel) can be downright scary. But if we can over come our fears, and find our wild thing, we will discover an incredible sense of freedom and confidence.
We hope you had a chance to come to class an practice with us, and this month we want to leave you with a few suggestions for exploring wild thing on your own. Whether in a class or in the comfort of your home, may it leave a lasting impression of love that will bring you back to your mat again and again.
On a practical level, wild thing is a posture that should only be approached after several sun salutations, core strengthening exercises, and gentle backbends to help open the chest, shoulders, and hips. Foundational postures such as warrior 1, standing twists, and camel are all great options to “check-in” with our physical abilities, to build mindful awareness, and to assess if its the right day for the posture.
When you are ready to explore wild thing, come into a downward facing dog posture with one leg lifted high. Spend time in this position; create movement, open your hips by stacking them vertically, and see what it feels like to bend the lifted knee deeply so that the heel is reaching towards your backside. Breathe in this posture for a few moments before returning into downward facing dog and repeating the same position with the other leg lifted.
Three legged dog can be used to develop trust of your physical abilities. in fact, it may be all you do in terms of working your way towards wild thing for quite some time. As you return to this posture day after day in your practice you will gradually become more comfortable with it until one day you feel ready to get wild and “flip your dog!”
There are two options to get into a wild thing posture, the first being from down dog. “Flip your dog” means to make the transition into wild thing. When you are in three legged dog with your knee deeply bent, the heel behind you will continue reaching until it touches down on the ground and one arm lifts off. This movement can sometimes bring up more fear than wild thing itself, as it requires a bit of faith to land your foot behind you without mishap. If you find the fear of this movement overwhelming, there is another option for approaching wild thing.
A modified (more stable/gentle) way to approach wild thing is to come into the posture from a seated position. To begin, take your right leg straight, and extend your right arm behind you with your palm down and fingers facing backwards. Bend your left knee and place your foot flat on the floor about a foot and a half away from your right leg. Push down through your left heel to lift off your hips and extend your left arm above your head. Breathe in the posture for a few moments, taking note of any adjustments to be made stability wise, and then gently return back to seated on the mat. You could dynamically flow in and out of this position a few times with your breath (inhaling to lift and exhaling to lower) to develop your strength and muscle memory. When you are ready to take on the posture from downward facing dog, have confidence that you know where your headed.
After completing big backbends such as wheel its important to take a moment to rest, and let the back and the mind return to a neutral state before moving on. Following back bends with a gentle twisting posture can also help release tension and encourage deeper slower breaths.