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As yogis, most of us continually strive to move through life more mindfully. Yet sometimes, despite our best efforts, we run into obstacles and react in ways that don’t serve us. We vow to cut back on sugar, then cave at the sight of cookies; we get down on ourselves for playing the comparison game when looking at social media feeds; we feel frustrated if we can’t balance in Bakasana (Crane Pose) during yoga class. Often, these roadblocks are tied to our samskaras, the Sanskrit term for the mental and emotional grooves, or habits, that we find ourselves falling back into time and time again.
Whether conscious or unconscious, positive or negative, samskaras make up our conditioning and influence how we respond in certain situations. Changing these deeply ingrained patterns can be difficult—even if those patterns cause us pain. The good news is that we can use our yoga practice to examine our samskaras, identify what may be getting in the way of realizing our best intentions, and work with what we uncover.
By observing our reactive patterns on the yoga mat and meditation cushion, we’re better able to recognize when we react mindlessly in real life—and in turn, consciously shift our feelings, thoughts, emotions, moods, and behaviors. For example, if you lose your balance in Vrksasana (Tree Pose), look at how you talk to yourself. Are you kind? Or do you beat yourself up? Can you dust yourself off and try again, even when you feel like giving up?
The most common roadblocks I see students struggle with on a regular basis are self-criticism, frustration, and lack of willpower. The following sequence will help you cultivate the tools you need to work through your roadblocks, so you can break the patterns that no longer serve you and call in new ones that will help you live more mindfully.
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Stand at the front of your mat in Mountain Pose. Shift your weight into your left foot, and hug your right knee into your chest. Rotate your right thigh open, and place your foot on the inside of your standing thigh (or calf, if your thigh isn’t accessible). Ground down into your standing foot, and lift up through your standing thigh and hip. Press your right foot into your upper inner thigh as you push back on your foot with your thigh. Keep your hands at your heart center, or challenge your balance by reaching your arms up toward the sky. Relax your face, and breathe here for 1 minute. You can play with looking up toward your hands or taking a long, slow blink. Repeat on the other side.
When you come out of the pose, observe your reaction. Did you play it safe so you wouldn’t fall? Did you judge yourself if you did? Practice cultivating an attitude of ease and equanimity with whatever arises in the moment.
See also A Fine Balance: Anusara Sequence
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
From Mountain Pose, step your feet wide and stretch your arms out to the side. Rotate your right thigh open 90 degrees, and turn your back toes in slightly. Ground down into your feet, and activate your quadriceps to lift your thighs. On an inhalation, lengthen up through the sides of your waist. On an exhalation, draw your right outer hip toward your left heel as you elongate your torso toward your right foot. Place your bottom hand on a block outside your right ankle. Root down into the inner heel and big-toe mound of your right foot as you spin your right thigh open. Ground into your left heel, and lengthen evenly through both sides of your waist. On an exhalation, spin your bottom ribs forward toward the wall you’re facing, and roll your top ribs back toward the wall behind you. Stay here for 5 breaths.
See also Bharadvaja’s Twist
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
From Triangle Pose, place your right hand on your hip and look down at your right leg. Bend your right knee, bring your right hand to the block, walk your block forward, and shift your weight into your right foot. Float your left foot off the ground and reach through the heel of your left leg, as if you could stand on the wall behind you. Firm your right outer hip in toward your midline. Spread your collarbones, and reach out through your left arm. Spin your heart up toward the ceiling, and gaze up toward your left hand to challenge your balance. Stay here for 5 breaths, then mindfully transition back into Triangle Pose. Tip: Resist gravity by keeping your top leg buoyant. Repeat Triangle and Half Moon on the other side. When you’re finished, notice if you rushed through the transition or collapsed into the comfort of what’s familiar rather than exploring the unknown. Repeat this and Triangle Pose on the other side.
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I)
Start in Mountain Pose. Step or jump your feet wide apart. Reach your arms overhead and rotate your right thigh open 90 degrees. Turn your left toes in approximately 45 degrees, and walk your left foot slightly toward the left. Ground down into your left outer heel, and press the top of your left thigh back. Draw your right hip back without losing the integrity of the left leg and foot. Root down to rise up through the sides of your waist. On an inhalation, reach your breastbone up toward your hands. On an exhalation, bend your right knee any amount, or until it stacks directly over your right ankle, working your right thigh toward parallel to the ground. Anchor into your right heel as you reach through your back leg. Relax your face, and breathe here for 1 minute.
Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III)
From Warrior I, reach your torso over your right thigh. Step your left foot in, and shift your weight from both feet to just your right foot. Float your left toes off the ground and reach energetically through your left leg. Firm your outer right hip in toward your midline and lift it upward, creating buoyancy in your pelvis. Lengthen all four sides of your waist and reach your arms and breastbone forward. You can modify the pose by taking your hands to the floor (or on blocks placed on the floor), or by stretching your arms back alongside your torso. Stay here for 5 breaths, then step back with control into Warrior Pose I. Repeat Warriors I and III on the other side. These poses will not only challenge your balance, but will also help you build strength and feel energized.
See also Loosen Up Your Calves