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Monthly Inspiration: February 2017

Hearts and Spines,
The Beauty of Ustrasana

Michal Hochman

It’s a dichotomy and question I think most human beings are prone to: how do I care for others, while still taking care of myself? Those in the healing world may be apt to deal with this matter more often, and with more confusion. Recently, light has been shed on the matter of “self-care” rituals and the importance for “me-time” as a way to heal both individuals and their interactions with the outside world. My teacher and mentor, Jeff Logan often speaks about the equal importance of hearts and spines. Deeper than the obvious anatomical value, he speaks about their greater symbolic significance in life.

A long spine, is the “I am”, the healthy, stable, confident sense of self. The heart is the benevolent, compassionate, collective “We”, the force that connects us with love to all living things around us. He would often demonstrate this in tadasana (mountain pose), having us first raise our hands over our heads in urdhva hastasana, pressing into our feet and lengthening up through our sides- this is the “I” part. As we grew through our sides and grounded through our feet, there was a deep feeling of stability and lengthening in the spine. Next, as we brought our arms out, parallel to the floor he explained how this is the “we” part of asana: the broadness and lengthening through the collarbones, the opening and exalting of the heart. As we spread out,( arms sometimes accidentally bumping into one another’s) the warmth and openness felt in our hearts were reminders of the joyousness and necessity of this sentiment, both in the body and the heart.

We can learn about the integration of this matter into our yoga practice in the Yoga Sutras (2:46) where Patanjali shares the essential factors that every posture or asana should have: “Sthira Sukham Asanam”. Translated, he says an asana should be both steady and secure (sthira) as well as possessing a delightful ease and peacefulness (sukham).

Perhaps there is no better pose to demonstrate this beautiful sentiment and lesson, than In Ustrasana, the quintessential heart-opener. While the pose seems to be focused mainly on lifting and opening the heart, as in every pose, lengthening as well as grounding are needed to allow for this. In Ustrasana, we must first establish the steadiness in our base as we press into the shins, and then we are free to lengthen in our spines. This is the proverbial oxygen mask which protects our body first, so that we can help others. From this stability and lengthening, we can lift out of our pelvis, press the center of our buttocks forward and allow our chest to blossom open as we press our shoulder blades into our back ribs. The heart shines open, illuminating up to the heavens, an offering. The stability and length we created allowed us to create this beauty and opening - and now the heart-centered, outward actions can unfold.

Judith Lasater, a renowned yoga teacher says, “Life is one big asana”. When we learn to love ourselves first, we can truly love others. The practice of honoring a focus on our spines can be carried off the mat, into knowing, loving, and feeling grounded in ourselves, so that the beautiful work of loving others and spreading love in the world can be greater as well as stable and sustainable.

KamaDeva Yoga, 15 Lumber Lane, 2nd Fl, East Hampton, NY 11937 Tel: 917.301.6919 Monthly Inspiration Archives