A Yoga Lover’s YOGA JOURNAL
My yoga journey began in 2013, when I was searching for a way to alleviate some nagging hip discomfort. As an active 37-year-old, I felt I was too young for the countless aches and pains I was experiencing. My hip issue made it impossible for me to lift my foot to put on socks. I was also beginning to have problems in my shoulders and back.
When I finally decided to explore yoga, I started with a DVD I had kept for years but rarely used. The thought of going to an actual class intimidated me. I figured that everyone knew exactly what they were doing, and I would stick out like a sore thumb. When I finally conjured the nerve to go to a class, I learned two truths. First: Yoga is about you and your mat. It is a unique and personal journey for each individual. Second: The yoga community is one of the most encouraging and supportive communities I’ve ever known; my initial fears couldn’t have been more wrong.
From that point on I was hooked, going from one to two to three classes a week. As I became stronger and more consistent in my practice, I experienced more and more profound moments on my mat, whether a physical realization that a particular posture was no longer out of reach, a spiritual epiphany from a message I’d heard in church, or an “Ah-ha!” moment in my personal growth. Mat time continued to be the place where I experienced physical, mental and spiritual breakthroughs, so I started journaling to share.
What follows are four asanas (postures) with photos and reflections on my experiences. I’m not a professional yoga teacher; I offer these words in the hope that you are inspired to begin, or to recommit to your practice. If you have any concerns, please consult with a teacher, physician or other professional.
Tadasana | Mountain Pose:Stand tall. Spread your toes and let the bones of your legs root down. Feel all four corners of your feet connecting to the earth. Let the muscles of your legs hug the bones. Pull your low belly slightly inward. Slightly deepen your tailbone so there's no compression in the lower back. As legs root down, feel the crown of your head ascending, as if a string were attached to the top of your head. Broaden your collarbones and let your shoulders meltdown away from your ears. Don't forget to breathe.
Standing up straight can’t be too difficult, right? Ha! I had no idea! I remember my teacher calling out a seemingly never-ending list of instructions. How can I remember to breathe when I’m busy focusing on how to stand up straight?
This pose reminds me how far I’ve come and how much work is left in yoga and life! As I progressed, movements became more intuitive and even showed up off the mat, like when my annual physical revealed that I had grown an inch. My immediate thought: “It’s the yoga!”
An extension to Mountain Pose could be the act of sitting up straight in your chair. Did you just shift yourself in your chair? This extension gives you an opportunity to take your yoga “off the mat.”
Vrksasana | Tree PoseImagine that your legs and hips are your underground root system. As you move into the pose, feel the trunk of your torso and the branches of your arms reaching upward. Feel yourself, like a tree, growing down and up at the same time. Use the breath to circulate earth and sky energy. Do the pose on both sides. Afterwards, stand for a moment and feel how much more grounded and focused you feel.
Tree Pose blooms from the foundations of Mountain Pose as you stand firm and keep your core tight to maintain balance.
As you shift balance to one side and raise the opposite foot into position on the ankle, calf or thigh—never directly on the knee joint—you move into a hip flexion exercise with an external rotation of the raised leg.
A test of balance, this pose engages quads and glutes along with the calf and foot muscles of the standing leg. To help balance, gaze at something in front of you.
For beginners, Tree Pose might be about placing your toes on the ground while bringing the arch or heel of the foot to meet the ankle of your standing leg. As you gain more confidence, strength and balance, you can raise your foot off the floor and onto your calf.
When you’re ready, move into the full expression of this asana, which requires additional quad strength and hip flexor mobility. Press the foot into the inner thigh of the standing leg and balance that pressure with that of pressing the quad into the foot. Maintain the pose while externally rotating the hip flexor of the uplifted side.
Through this and other poses, I learned that whatever is going inside manifests on my mat. What happens for you? Does your “monkey mind” jump around? Are you battling a hectic schedule? Did you disagree with a loved one? It all shows up on your mat. Maybe you can’t maintain balance in a posture you usually do with ease. Maybe you can’t concentrate and lose focus easily. It’s okay. We all have those days, those times, those seasons in life. When I see these things show up on my mat, I take time to be mindful of what is really going on within. That awareness allows me to regroup and redirect more quickly.
Vasisthasana | Side Plank PoseBegin in Plank Pose (straight arm push-up position). Roll over to the right side, supporting yourself with your right hand and the outside of your right foot on the ground. Stack your left leg over your right, left hip over right hip and left arm directly over the right arm. Try to align the back of your skull with your lower back and the back of your heels, so your whole body is straight, like a leaning plank. Hold. Modify by bringing the right knee down to the floor directly beneath the left leg.
This pose is an arm balance that strengthens your entire body, especially the core, hips and upper body. It requires pressing through the shoulder girdles, powering up and lifting with the hips and obliques while keeping the core muscles strong and engaged.
Advanced variations of Side Plank Pose include raising the top leg for more hip flexor engagement, bringing the same leg to Tree Pose and even binding it with the raised arm. Plank—in all of its forms—can offer a student a long and fruitful journey. It offers so many variations and so much core strength to gain. Working through a core segment in class, my teacher offered the knee-down modification. She stressed that this is still a very active pose when modified because you continue to engage all the muscles needed in the pose.
Balasana | Child’s Pose
Starting on hands and knees, spread your knees a few inches apart and bring your hips toward your heels. If you have tight hips, you can keep your knees closer together. Or place a folded blanket between the backs of your thighs and your calves. As your hips sink down, rest your chest on or between your thighs. Rest your forehead on the mat. Extend your arms forward or rest your arms down on either side of the body, palms facing up. Receive the nurturance of this pose that children intuitively take.
Balasana is a true rest pose, and one that I gratefully settle into during class. Then I learned a “trick.” I could use it whenever I need to settle down and regroup. Once I realized that, I wondered if others knew it too! Especially students who I’d see leaving a class that was more challenging than they expected. Wordlessly, I’d try to telepathically communicate—“Just go into Child’s Pose!”—but never to any avail. So then I wished they would return to yoga, maybe to a class that was a better fit.
Every. Single. Posture. Is. A. Journey. No matter how simple it seems.Every posture is a journey, no matter how simple. There is always an opportunity to go deeper—physically, mentally, spiritually.
The benefits of working with a yoga instructor are immeasurable, and I highly encourage you to find a teacher who resonates with you. Their instruction style, location or even their own journey may motivate and inspire you as you travel your path. A teacher can recommend proper corrections and variations that can precipitate progress in your practice. You can do it!
Andria Lavine is a professional photographer. In 2016, she documented her wellness journey on social media, focusing on yoga, meditation and plant-based eating. In 2016, she published Inspire Yoga Journals, a series of “mini” ebooks, and in 2018, she posted her Interactive Yoga Journal, available online. Visit ALavinePhotography.com/Inspire
(Photos: Andria Lavine)