To welcome this new year, while still feeling this sense of hibernation in the still winter months, I’m confessing my profound love for Samasthiti once again. The often overlooked foundation of asana practice. The simple definition of Sama is tranquility or control of mind. Calmness. The ability to keep the mind within and unaffected by the external world. I/we practice asana to change conditions, dive deeper into the unexplored and to transform what is possible through dedication and belief. As a teacher and a student I’m convinced that Tadasana/Samasthiti can really expose the vulnerabilities in the foundation of our practice. In the times where I’m feeling like I’m practicing on a skeleton schedule these variations are always showing up in my practice - assuring me that I am working in my body very honestly though it may not look like I’m doing a lot. Fine tuning. Starting the cycle over. Same and different. Making the what is very familiar engage me once again and reset unconscious patterns.
I'm offering this as a 30 day challenge to begin or add to your practice. Or add everything in at once and do the whole thing for 30 days. Even if you feel as though you've already checked these variations "off your list", I invite you to get reacquainted with the mother of all asanas.
** Disclaimer! Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Practicing under the direct supervision and guidance of a qualified instructor, in addition to the direction of your healthcare provider, can help determine what poses are suitable for your particular case. The information provided on this site is for educational purposes only. Participate at your own risk. **
- Holding a block between palms of hands lying down. Optional variation to add a block between upper thighs as well. As the block comes closer to the ground be mindful the natural shape of the spine - lower back ribs should not be lifted. Hold with a slow steady breath beginning with 5 breaths up to 3 minutes.
- Now that holding a block lying down is a breeze, firmly hold that block standing up against a wall. Looking for all the ways your body wants to shift when you challenge to lift your arms higher. Change as little as possible as the block stretches toward the ceiling. Option to still hold second block in between legs. Steady slow breathing beginning with 5 breaths up to 5 minutes.
- Staying against the same wall add side bending to the left and right. Feel the back of your body trace the wall as you bend. Notice if your upper body is starting to rotate down towards the floor. Keep lifting up through the centre of your chest. Make the movement less about range of motion and more about lifting up of your hip bone. Slow steady breathing beginning with 5 breaths up to 1 minute for each side, repeat 2-3 times.
- The last variation of this standing samasthiti is very similar to side bending, though now there is no wall for feedback. The leaning back is the softening, the work to keep the spine long or lifted is the real strength that we are looking for. Option to loose the block between the palms. If you know you have a vulnerable lower back or core keep the block between the legs firm and direct it behind you, so that you don't loose the neutral position of your pelvis. Also explore the potential you have to press down into your feet here and how that lends strength and stability to the entire mid line of the body. Slow, steady, exploring range of motion for 5-10 breaths. Repeat 3-5 times.
- Half way through! Chattarunga Dandasana (or Plank) variation time. These variations are most valuable when plank is a regular part of your practice. Holding plank on your knees or with just with a block between the upper thighs can offer enough of a challenge if the below is not allowing an even breath flow. Otherwise, holding plank with one hand on fingertips or eventually lifted without shifting hips to the opposite side. It can be helpful to open the stance of the feet slightly wider than hip width. Change as little as possible and hold beginning with 5 breaths up to 2 minutes on each side. Lengthening your inhales and exhales as you hold.
- This is the exact same as lifting one arm, except now its a leg. Slightly easier. Start in a strong plank - when the weight starts to shift to the opposite side, change as little as possible as the leg starts to lift. Keep your gaze slightly forward of your hands. Long inhales into the back ribs, strong exhales to keep you lifted in your mid back. Holding with 5 breaths up to 1-2 minutes each side.
- Side Plank against the wall offers a whole new world of how we think our bodies stack. Feel the back of your head, shoulders, natural curves of the spine (don't loose your lumbar curve!) sacrum and heels against wall. Weight in bottom hand should feel even, so if it's in the wrists take the hand further in front of the shoulder. Make small adjustments that encourage shortening the side of your body that faces the ceiling. Option to lift top leg (as shown below). Holding beginning with 5 breaths up to 3 minutes on each side.
- Start with Samasthiti on your back. Notice if the lower back is feeling discomfort. If so, prop up the pelvis with a blanket or two. Heavy shoulders and arms on the ground and a domed chest. These areas will be one of the first to show if the legs have lowered too far. Lift the legs off the ground into a pike position and begin lowering either one or both of the legs any amount. Holding steady and still beginning with 5 breaths up to 3 minutes.
- Starting with Samasthiti, taking the block once more in the hands, Add a bend to the knees invites utkatasana (or chair) to challenge samasthiti. Modifying one step further by widening the legs to hip width (or slightly wider) and turning the feet out to line up with the bending of the knees brings it into Malasana (or a classical squat). As the knees bend, direct the sit bones back (as if to prepare for sitting in a chair) to prevent tucking the pelvis. Stay grounded in the feet and use the even spread of press through its four corners to push the edge of how far to bend the knees. Begin with 5 breaths up to 2 minutes.
- Finishing with Sirsasana or Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Headstand or Handstand) against a wall with the same principles practiced all month can make either of these inversions more sustainable. Feel how handstand/headstand informs your body against the wall. Notice the similarities and differences when the relationship to gravity changes. Check in with how hands (and head) are rooted. Can you find stillness? Make slow breathing a priority. Begin with 10 breaths up to 40. (*Note error - fingers in headstand should be pointing towards head!)