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Yoga Poses

Get Grounded Anywhere: 7 Ways from Teacher Saul David Raye

Learn how to tap the parasympathetic nervous system by connecting with nature from this California yoga teacher.

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The scene: Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego is a sea of water-bottle-armed, mat-carrying yogis buzzing with excitement as they book it from session to session.

Enter Saul David Raye’s Earth Prayer class. The sounds of Jim Beck strumming the sitar slip through the air, accompanied by the deep timbre of Raye’s voice and the spreading stillness of his serene presence. And just like that, any pre-conference jitters in the room fade away.

Aptly, Raye begins by explaining that our fast-streaming culture usually keeps us operating from our sympathetic nervous system. That’s the flight-or-fight pattern we all know so well. When we shift to the parasympathetic, though, we heal. We can return to our natural, relaxed state of being (the one our ancestors would have been in when they weren’t face to face with a dire wolf) and begin to undo some of the havoc nonstop stress wreaks on body, mind, and soul. “When we go into the internal experience,” Raye says, “we’re in the same time zone the wind is in, the earth is in.”

The way to bring peace to earth, he says, is to find it within ourselves. Here, the breath is the vehicle, along with his series of simple yet potent poses. We did them melting into the floor of the Sheraton San Diego, but these could be done just about anywhere—even your cubicle. If you can get outside, all the better.

1. Easy Pose + Grounding Mudra: In a comfortable seated position, place your left hand on your heart and your right hand flat on the earth, palm facing down. In this mudra, offer your gratitude to Mother Earth for all she gives us.

2. Earth-Facing Corpse PoseLie on your belly and stretch your arms forward with palms facing down. Turn your head to one side if that’s most comfortable. Then breathe into your low back. Feel your bones sink into the earth. Studies show that grounding our bodies reduces inflammation and calms the nervous system, Raye says.

3. Child’s Pose + Salutation SealIn Child’s Pose, stretch arms forward, bringing hands into Anjali Mudra. This helps connect both sides of the brain. Inhale and then release it in a long, slow exhalation, letting everything go into the earth. “In yogic energy-mapping,” Raye says, “there’s no difference between the energy of a mountain, a star, the ocean, or you or I. This is the same heartbeat.”

4. Stress-Less Standing Swing: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart with arm at shoulder height, elbows bent in cactus position. Begin to swing your upper body, breathing into your kidneys and adrenals. When you’ve had enough, raise your arms overhead with hands in chin mudra (thumbs and forefingers touching) and call up an intention.

5. Free Flow: Tap into your own internal rhythm, let loose, and move freely. Not sure where to start? Try a little swimming through the air and see where that takes you. “Learn to trust your body again,” Raye beckons.

6. Half ShoulderstandHalf shoulderstand is one of Raye’s top poses for rejuvenation. From your back, swing your legs up and straighten them over your head. Instead of lifting your torso as vertically as possible, support it at a 45-degree angle to the ground, holding your lower back your hands. Breathe into the thymus (an immune organ near your heart) and then your thyroid in the throat. Feel your shoulders and arms being held by Mother Earth.

7. Corpse Pose: The ultimate earth hug. Let your pulse slow. Be in your body, firmly planted on the earth. You have arrived.

—Rebecca Tolin

Photo credit: Tony Felguieras