One of the four pillars, or petals, in Purna Yoga is safety and alignment-based asana. This first step, learning the poses, is a way to train your body and mind for what’s to come as you move deeper into yoga: a life full of sincerity, humility, discernment, integrity, and serenity. Asana teach us how to live off the mat. Their purpose is to open up our bodies and make them strong, vibrant, and prepared to receive life.
On the following pages, you’ll learn to practice asana the Purna Yoga way. As you move through this short sequence, which is designed to release stress in your spine, notice what emerges physically, mentally, and emotionally. Start to trust your intuition about what feels right or what feels like it needs adjusting. You can practice these poses daily on their own—there is one from each major category of asana (one standing pose, one twist, one backbend, etc.)—or add them to a longer sequence. Then end with a Heartfull Meditation to open the doorway to your soul.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Come to standing and activate your feet by pressing into the floor your toe mounds, the outer edges of your feet, and your heels. Lift your arches. Contract your quadriceps muscles. Bring more weight onto your heels by pressing the tops of your thighbones back until your greater trochanters, or the protrusions at the top of your femur bones, are over your ankle bones. Lift the bottom of your abdomen, keeping your diaphragm soft and wide. Drop your shoulder blades and lift your kidneys forward and up. Hold for 9 breaths. This pose reveals imbalances and creates stability.
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Set up two Three Minute Eggs on top of two regular blocks as shown. When you lie down, the apex of the “eggs” should be at your fifth thoracic vertebra (T5), between your shoulder blades. If you don’t have Three Minute Eggs, use a block on its second-highest setting, placed perpendicular to the spine at T5. Stretch your arms overhead and bring your palms together. Relax your neck, dropping your head toward the floor. Exhaling, press your thigh bones into the floor and drop your abdomen, freeing your diaphragm. Inhaling, breathe into the intercostal muscles between your ribs, keeping your diaphragm soft and wide as you move your hands toward the floor. Stay here for 9 deep breaths. Place your hands behind your head, moving it up and down 3 times. Exhaling, bend your knees one at a time and roll to your right side. Press your hands into the floor to sit up. This pose energizes your upper back and releases tension in your lungs and diaphragm.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Lie on your belly with your legs hip-width apart. Place your hands under your shoulders. Press your little toes strongly into the floor (internal rotation) and contract your buttocks, keeping your kneecaps facing the floor. Move your shoulder blades down toward your kidneys. Inhaling, press your hands into the floor to lift your chest. Pull your hands isometrically toward your feet to draw your kidneys, sacrum, and spine into your body and open up your chest. Stay here for 9 breaths. Exhaling, continue to pull your hands toward your feet, lengthening your spine as you come down. This pose reveals stiffness in your spine and helps restore youthful energy and suppleness.
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Lie on the floor again with your legs extended. Bend your right knee and wrap your right index and middle fingers around your right big toe. Exhaling, straighten your right leg. Contract both your quadriceps and press your heels away from your hips. Then, press your right outer hip away from your head and roll your left inner thigh toward the floor. Stretch your right hamstrings, pulling your right shoulder down. Hold for 9 breaths. Inhaling, release your right toe and bring your right leg next to your left. If you feel any pain, use a belt around your right heel. Change sides and repeat. Doing this pose regularly reveals tension in your low back and legs.
Suspended Spinal Traction
Secure a strong looped belt from a door frame and place it at your hip crease. Lean into the belt and bend your knees, placing your hands on the floor. Taking weight onto the belt, walk your feet up the wall until they are just below your hips, and hold your elbows. Take several deep breaths. Exhaling, lengthen your spine toward the floor and release the tension in your back. To come out, place your hands on the floor and walk down the wall to the floor. Bend your knees and place your thumbs in between the belt and your hips. Press the belt down to stand up. Then lean against the wall until you feel stable. This pose releases gravitational tension in your spine and nervous system.
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Supine Pranayama (Breathing) Posture
Lie on a bolster or folded blanket so that the flesh of your buttocks is a few inches in front of it and your back is supported from your kidneys upward. When the placement of the blankets is accurate, your abdomen will move away from your diaphragm and your lungs and rib cage will move toward your head, freeing your diaphragm to breathe more easily. Place another blanket or two under the back of your head so that your forehead slopes toward your chest and your heart chakra. Turn your palms to face the ceiling. On the inhalations, expand your breath outward in all directions from the center of your rib cage like a sunburst (three dimensionally). On the exhalations, allow your breath to retreat back to the center of your rib cage. Maintain an awareness of your entire chest cavity. Repeat this breathing for approximately 10 minutes. This posture reveals tension in the nervous system, and with practice releases that tension.
Heartfull Meditation: Massaging the Heart Chakra
Return to a comfortable seated pose. Bring your middle fingers to the front of each armpit, and draw them in a horizontal line to the center of your chest. At this point, keep your right middle finger on your chest and bring your left hand, palm up, to your left knee. You will feel a sensitive area on your sternum and a slight indentation. This is where your heart chakra, or the doorway to your soul, resides. With eyes closed, use your right middle finger to gently massage your chest, feeling deep love and gratitude for your life, for yourself, a loved one, or a beautiful situation. Visualize the light deep inside your heart center.
Stay in Heartfull Meditation for about 5 minutes. Then, gently release your right hand and place the back of both palms on your right knee. Smile as you gently open your eyes. As you emerge from this practice, feel the renewal in your body, mind, and heart. With this new sense of balance, resolve to leave the world better than you found it. One person at a time, we must and will create a more loving world.
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