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The Animal Within

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I’m in Sedona this week filming my next two DVDs. I’d heard that this area is ideal for spiritual quests and uniting with your source energy, which is why I wanted to shoot here. In addition to completing the videos, I have a goal: To find my spirit animal.

On my time off, I’ve kept my eye out for the symbol of my spirit in animal form, something that the indigenous North American cultures hold sacred. The first two days, all I saw were ants and flies. I began to wonder if it was possible to have a spirit insect instead. Then today, while I was out walking, two jet-black ravens suddenly appeared and stood in my path. One was tearing apart someone’s old sandwich and the other stood silently looking at me. We studied each other for a long moment, and then the sandwich-free Raven flew away, gorgeous and free, and the other remained to finish its dinner.

I was both disgusted and awed by these creatures, and though I’d been hoping for something cool like a wolf or a scorpion, I realized how perfect these spirit guides were for me. Ravens are believed to be keepers of wisdom and secrets, and one of their jobs is to help those they are linked with become better teachers. Plus, since my take on yoga is that it’s found everywhere, both in the ugliness and the beauty of life, these two ravens taught me to remember to not only seek my lessons in comfort and ease, but also in times of discomfort and even when I don’t make myself proud.

Like anything, spirit guides may or may not be “real,” but anything that leads us into a deeper awareness of ourselves is a tradition I can get behind. In yoga, we say that self-recognition in seemingly external sources is another way to practice svadhyaya, or study of the sacred and of the Self. Whatever leads you to directly contemplate your highest inner nature and use your actions to create a lifestyle of integrity is sacred study. Your svadhyaya might be a rock song, a Pablo Neruda poem, the Yoga Sutra, or a quiet walk in the woods. My ravens are only me, introducing myself to who I really am.

Today, I invite you to keep your eyes open for your animal spirit and
your ears tuned for voices of wisdom that may come from any and all
directions. Maybe you’ve already got one speaking to you or maybe your
guide will meet you along your path in an unexpected way. When we walk with presence and an open ear, we’ll receive our teachings that much more easily.

So, who’s whispering to you–from you–right now?

Core Pose: Eka Pada Galavasana (also known as Flying Crow)

It’s as close as I could get to the raven, and it’s a great pose for teaching svadhyaya in action: moving from Earth to sky using your deep core connection.

At any step along the way, if you find yourself losing integrity, back off, check in, find the pose variation that brings you to your personal edge of transformation, and play there. In time, you might go farther physically. But either way, you’ll be accessing your source of presence and wisdom right where you are.

1. Come into Utkatasana (Chair Pose) and cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Bring your palms together at your chest. Stay evenly grounded on your standing foot and begin to hinge forward from the hips. If possible, place your elbows in front of your standing leg’s shin, lift your belly in and up to lengthen the spine, and breathe.

2. Bend forward and plant your hands on the floor shoulder-distance apart. Spread your fingers wide and parallel your wrist creases to the front of the mat. Dig deep to hook your top foot snugly around the opposite arm, and press your knee into the same arm. Lean from your heart and gaze forward as you align your elbows over your wrists. Root down through your hands, press your arms into your shin, and lift through your belly as you raise the standing foot off the floor.

3. When you can hover in step 2, float the heart forward and simultaneously lengthen the back leg for a full flying variation.