All standing postures are balancing postures—it's just a matter of how much emphasis is placed on this property. But usually when we think of balancing postures in a standing position, we think of standing on one foot. 'Two such postures are the eagle and the tree.
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In the eagle posture you stand on one foot as a sentinel, with one thigh, lean d foot intertwined around the other. It's easy for those who are stron slender, and flexible, but most students find it difficult to wrap the extremities around one another even when they are not balancing on 01 foot. To give it a try stand first on your left foot, bend your left knee ai 1 hip slightly, and if you are a man, place your genitals either forward or > the rear. Then swing your right thigh forward and pull it tightly arou 1 your left thigh. Last, wrap your right ankle tightly behind your left leg a d interlock your right foot even further around to the medial side of your 1 I leg. Sometimes this is referred to as "double-locking" the legs. To compl. e the beginner's posture, swing your right elbow across to the near sid« if your left elbow, pull the forearms together, and interlock your wrists . d hands (fig. 4.37). Fix your gaze, breathe evenly, and hold as long a is comfortable. Come out of the posture and repeat on the other side.
This is as much as most people will want to do. But to continue inl a more advanced posture, bend your left knee and hip joints as mucl is possible consistent with keeping your back straight and upright (fig. 4 0. You miss the point of the posture if you bend your back and head for«, d.
lower extremities are the main
Figure 4.37. Eagle posture. Interlocking the upper and
challenges of this balancing pose.
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This version of the eagle should be approached with caution. If you hold it for more than a few seconds, it may create cardiovascular effects that can cause you to faint when you come out of the posture, especially if you do it after other strenuous postures or exercises. Develop your capacity to lower your weight and increase your time in the posture over a long period of time.
If you consistently have trouble with balancing in the eagle, try the posture only at the end of leisurely hatha yoga sessions. Students who have difficulty at the start of a class may be able to do the posture easily at the end. And the eagle will also be more difficult if you have just had a strenuous musculoskeletal workout which has left you in a momentarily weakened condition.
After the complexity and contrived nature of the triangles and the eagle, we'll end this chapter with the most popular of all balancing postures—the tree—which is simply standing quietly on one foot. This pose speaks volumes not only for your state of physical balance, but also for your emotional and mental balance. Standing quietly on one foot is not as easy as it sounds.
F'gure 4.38. Advanced eagle. Until you are certain of yourself, "e wary of cardiovascular responses as you come out of 'his posture, especially if you remain in it more than 15-30
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Begin by standing on both feet, breathing evenly As soon as you a • calm and centered, lift one foot and place it on the opposite extremity. Y u can use one of several fool positions. In the beginning it is best to place o foot on the opposite ankle, but after a little experience, lifting the foot o the inner thigh (fig. 4.39) or into the half-bound lotus position (fig. 4.40 s more stable. At first the hands can be in the prayer position in the ceni r of the sternum (fig. 4.39), but as you develop confidence they can be rai: d overhead, with the palms together and the fingers pointing away from t ,e body. You can keep your eyes open and focused on a spot on the floor ab< it six feet in front of you, or you can focus on some point in the distance.ie room should be well lighted—for a real challenge, go to the oppo extreme and close your eyes.
You have to keep the knee extended in the tree posture, and you autoni ,i-cally create a solid pelvic base and root lock. And since both the hip and k >e are extended, only the ankle is in a state of uncertainty. After you arc abl to stand quietly and confidently, you can start to examine how the musck of your supporting toes, foot, and ankle balance the posture. You'll notice : at as your weight shifts you compensate with muscular effort to avoid l< ng your balance; with experience the shifts in position become less obvious
Figure 4.39. Tree posture. A plumb line of gravity in this balancing posture has an axial center in a slightly tilted off-sagittal plane lhat runs through the navel.
Yogis tell us that the tree posture is both grounding and centering, and that it will generate a sense of deep calm and endless patience. The lower extremity is like the trunk of a tree; the arms overhead are like its branches; and if you stand in the posture for ten minutes or so daily, you will feel as if your toes are rooted in the earth.
A few hundred years ago, when everyone in agrarian societies walked and worked for hours at a time on their farms, there was little need to begin or end a day with standing yoga postures. But today most of us have sedentary jobs and are sorely in need of more exercise than we can get sitting at a desk. Standing postures, coupled with a moderate amount of aerobic exercise such as walking, running, or swimming, can fill the gap.
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