There is a place inside each of us that always know the way – a place guiding us toward our personal truth. Some call it gut sense, others intuition, gently letting us know when we are on the right track and when we are not (sometimes not so gently). This is our inner compass, and it points us in the right direction when have lost ourselves. It keeps us on course, so that when we are presented with decisions both big and small, we can navigate from our heart instead of fear.
Following our inner compass is not an easy task! In fact, it takes great skill and a whole lot of courage. Sometimes we will need to forge our own path and go against the herds and tide. In order for compasses to work efficiently, the needle must be able to turn without obstruction. This means we have a responsibility to take care of our compass and not let internal debris in the form of thoughts or self-doubt sully its mechanism.
We also need beware of external forces that may misdirect the compass. These can come in the form of other people’s opinions. The more we learn to use our compass well, the more quickly we will arrive where we are meant to be.
How many times do we say ‘yes’ to things out of guilt or obligation? Only to suddenly feel dread and resentment. If you are like me, you say ‘yes’ because you feel like you have to (to please someone) and then spend all your mental energy trying to back pedal your way out of it. Or have you ever turned something down only to immediately regret doing so? These reactions are glimpses of our inner compass. Unfortunately, in these cases, the reading was a little too late.
Our inner navigator sends physical messages all the time. They can come in the form of a tightening in your stomach or a tingle throughout the body. Or an immediate “yes” from deep inside. Many of us have overridden these inner messages for so long that, when it comes time for crucial decisions, our compass becomes confused. “Should I take that job overseas?”, you ask yourself. “I’ve always wanted to live abroad.” “Yes!”, your heart cries, but almost simultaneously your throat tightens to stifle the answer and the overpowering mind starts rattling through its many worries: What if you fail? Who are you to deserve this opportunity? Suddenly, the arrow of the compass starts to spin in different directions, and you can’t figure out which way to go.
This is when it is time to recalibrate your compass. Through quieting practices like asana, pranayama, and meditation, we are able to turn down the volume on the worrying mind and tune into the heart’s guidance. It is in stillness and intention that we can get clear once again.
The most important thing to remember is that we always know the answer. We may not have access to it in the moment. We may even question and doubt it when we figure it out. But, underneath the fog of confusion and the worry of the mind, our heart knows exactly where it should be and what it should be doing. Get out of your head, and let your heart guide you.
Try this 6-pose sequence to help you calibrate your inner compass:
Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose) Variation
Magnetic compasses operate based on the Earth’s natural magnetic pull, but did you know that there are places on the planet where the magnetic pull is just “off” and it sends the compass in the wrong direction? Parsvottanasana is a great pose to learn how to continue leading with your heart, despite outside forces pulling you down.
Start standing at the top of your mat. Interlace your hands behind your back in a c-clasp position. Step your left foot back about 3 feet, separating your feet one inch from heel to heel alignment. Turn your back foot in 45 degrees. On an inhale, use the arm position to draw your chest open. On an exhale, begin to hinge forward at the hip crease. Once folded, keep your heart aimed at your front foot, by drawing your shoulder blades down your back and gently pressing them into your chest. Keep the back of your neck long. Remain here for 10 breaths. Inhale to lift yourself back upright. On an exhale, step to the top of the mat and release the clasp. For the left side, try clasping the other way, so the opposite hand index finger is on top.
See also Between the Lines: Parsvottanasana
Halasana (Plough Pose)
In farming, ploughs are used to turn the soil in preparation for fresh planting. Ploughs do this by pulling the older, stagnant top soil underneath the earth to be reabsorbed, and unearthing fresh, new soil, which is rich with nutrients. This is an important exercise in recalibrating our compass. When we start to feel bogged down by external and internal distractions alike, it is time to shake things up and bring our internal knowing to the surface.
I always recommend practicing Plough Pose with a minimum of two blankets. Set your blankets up in the Shoulderstand fold at the top of your mat. Fold your mat over the blankets, leaving an inch of space between the mat and blanket edge.
Lie on your back with your shoulders on the edge of the blankets. On an inhale, sweep your legs overhead placing your feet onto the floor, a block, or a chair (if your hamstrings are tighter), toes curled under. Interlace your hands and stretch behind you. Bend your elbows and place your palms on your mid-back. Press into your toes to help lift your thighs strongly up toward the ceiling. Remain 15 breaths. To come out, first release the arms and hold the outer edges of your mat strongly. Bend your knees slightly and begin to roll down slowly, one vertebra at a time. Keep your abdomen engaged and your upper back on the floor as you come down. Once your bum is on the floor, slide your body to the back of your space, until the blankets are under the shoulder blades for a soft Fish Pose for a few breaths. Bend your knees and roll to the side to come up.
See also Heal Thyself Head to Toe: Plow Pose
Akarna Dhanuranana (Archer Pose)
In archery, breath is as essential as the bow and arrow themselves. If an archer holds their breath or forces the air out at the wrong second, the arrow will not hit its target. This pose teaches us to point our arrow of intention in the right direction and simply let go.
Begin seated in Dandasana with both legs straight out in front of you. Have a strap looped around your left foot. Pull your right knee into your chest and wrap your first two fingers around your right big toe. Hold the strap with your left hand. Lift your right shin up until it is parallel with the floor, and begin to pull your right knee back behind your ear, as if you were cocking a bow string. Allow your right hip to come back slightly. Stretch your left arm out toward your left foot. If you are able, you may clasp your left big toe instead of the strap. Remain for 10 breaths, with your drishti straight ahead. Bring your right knee back up to your chest before stretching the leg out and repeating on the second side.
See also Take Aim: 5 Steps to Archer Pose
Laghuvajrasana Variation (Little Thunderbolt)
Now that we have aimed our arrow of intention in the right direction, let us use the charge of internal energy to carry it forth to our goal. Laghuvajrasana means “Little Thunderbolt” and represents igniting a spark from within.
Stand up onto your shins with your feet and legs hips-width apart. Place your hands on your sacrum, inviting your lower back to lengthen. Inhale, lift your chest, and, on an exhale, begin to arch up and back. As you go back, slide your hands towards the back of your thighs or onto your shins. Continue reaching your tailbone to the floor. Keep your chest lifting, creating space and length for the head to release back. Imagine placing the crown of your head onto the floor. Some of you might! Hold for 5 breaths. To come out, ground into your shins, and inhale to come up, letting the head be the last thing to rise. Sit on your heels for a few breaths and repeat one more time.
Krounchasana (Heron Pose)
The Heron bird is an auspicious symbol across many cultures. In Native American culture, it represents wisdom. In Egyptian mythology, prosperity and abundance. Let this pose remind you of your innate knowing and the richness of life. Sometimes, we get so lost searching for things outside of ourselves, we forget that all we need is within.
Begin sitting on a wide block in Virasana, the Hero’s Pose. Bring your right leg out in front of you, keeping your knee bent. Place your foot onto the floor. Pull your right knee into your chest. Loop a strap around the right foot and begin to stretch your leg up toward the ceiling. On your inhalations, lengthen up and out of the lower back. Lift your chest proudly. Grab an opposite wrist around the foot if you are able to stay up right. As this is the right side, it would be the left hand grabbing the right wrist. Gaze up toward the heavens, keeping the back of your neck long. Take 10 long breaths. Re-bend your right knee and place the foot on the floor. Return to Virasana for a breath, before repeating on the left side.
See also Heron Pose
Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana (Compass Pose)
Compass pose is also commonly known as Sundial Pose. A sundial is one of the oldest instruments used for telling time. It works based on the position of the sun. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so the sun is another powerful navigator. As it sun moves, it creates a shadow on the ticks of the sundial’s base indicating the hours of day. Similarly, learning where our light shines brightest, what lights us up, is helpful in knowing where to direct our energy.
Sit on your mat in Staff Pose (Dandasana). Bend your left knee, and pull your left heel toward your groin, pointing your left knee forward. Loop a strap around your right foot. Bring your right leg over your right arm, pulling your right thigh back in line with your waist. Hold your right foot or the strap with your left hand. Reach your right arm out, coming up to your fingertips like a kick stand. On an inhale, begin to straighten the right leg as you exhale and turn your chest toward the left side of the room. If it is okay on the neck, look up under the top arm, and turn your head. Make the length of the spine a priority, even if it means not straightening the lifted leg all the way. A sundial cannot tell time properly if it is all mangled! Remain for 10 breaths. Come out on an exhale, re-bending the right knee and turning your chest back to center. Release the leg, and switch the strap to switch sides.