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Asana Column: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II)

By gracefully yielding to gravity, you can meet challenging poses with efficiency and ease.

By Donna Farhi

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At the heart of all yoga philosophy lies the premise that suffering arises from a mistaken perception that we are separate. Whether we feel separate from other human beings, or separate from the trees we walk under, the rocks we walk upon, or the creatures that walk, fly, swim, and crawl around us, yoga insists that this separation is an illusion. The life force is intrinsic to all things, and any separation we feel from anything is a separation from that ever-renewing source of sustenance. Almost all of us have felt the veil of this false notion lift at some time in our lives and experienced the feeling of goodness and wholesomeness that comes when we feel ourselves to be a part of everything. And most of us have found that this feeling of wellness and happiness rarely arrives through pushing and pulling and molding ourselves into who we think we ought to be. Instead, this feeling of oneness, of being happy for no particular reason, seems to arise when we simply accept the moment and ourselves just as we are. As Swami Venkatesananda tells us in his translation of the second verse of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, "Yoga happens . . . ." Of course, Venkatesananda goes on to name the conditions in which yoga occurs, but I think "happens" is the key word in his translation. It implies that the state we call yoga can't be forced.

I don't mean to say that if you sit on your backside, watching TV and eating Cheetos, yoga will happen to you (although it's possible). Any authentic spiritual path requires a great deal of work, commitment, tenacity. But along with making the necessary effort, we simply have to give ourselves over to what I like to call the Larger Mover and let ourselves be moved. The fact is we have always been moved by this larger force. We may resist, we may hold on for dear life, we may go kicking and screaming, but eventually we get moved whether we like it or not. Not only is it easier to go quietly, it's in our best interests to do so—because however our lives are changing in any moment is reality, and reality (no matter how bad or good it seems at the time) is always the path of least suffering.

Let's make this philosophical discussion concrete by anchoring it in the body. Each of us organizes our sense of separateness not only through our thoughts and ideas but also through our body and its relationship to gravity. We have many choices in this relationship, but all of them fall on a continuum between utter collapse into the Earth and rigid, propped-up pushing away from it. In this column we will look at how we can develop a more intimate and connected physical relationship with the ground underneath us and the sky above us, and how we can use this relationship as a powerful tool to undermine our false notions of separation.

Collapse, Prop, or Yield

In a "collapse" relationship with gravity, the body lacks tone and sags downward into the Earth. Our breath feels like stagnant water, dull and lacking in vitality, and we may be depressed and lethargic. We often try to remedy this state of collapse by swinging to the "prop" end of the spectrum, constantly pushing the ground away, projecting ourselves into space by holding the body in a state of hypertonicity, and negating our connection to the Earth. Our breathing becomes strident, high up in the chest, and tense. We feel distrustful, convinced that the only way we'll stay vertical is through constant, self-willed effort.

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