by Robert Butera, Ph.D.
Yoga poses from animals
Every animal has a sacred gift for humans to learn. Animal poses can help us to connect with powerful aspects of the soul that we often repress in our busy lives. Before coming into an animal pose, it can be helpful to imagine what it feels like to be that animal. Try to envision where the animal lives, how its body moves, how it eats and how it plays.
The cobra moves with its belly on the ground but must reach up to see clearly, much as we are often kept busy with worldly pursuits and have to make an effort to reach for higher goals. It takes faith and courage to rise above the material world and peer into the unknown spiritual world. Once the upper body is poised above the ground in Cobra Pose, we must accept whatever it is we see from this new vista. The lower back is consciously relaxed while the eyes remain focused on heaven.
The cobra’s ferocious nature cannot be ignored. It comes up suddenly and with deadly force, much like the workings of nature or the trappings of the world. The cobra’s gift is in its ability to shed its skin. It is this shedding of skin that allows the cobra to continually transform and renew itself.
The very nature of life involves frequent shift and change. How do you feel about change and transformation? How do you feel about death? Many people are afraid to die, yet this fear prevents us from fully living. The archetype of the cobra inspires us to see the possibilities inherent in every situation, accept whatever challenges we may be facing, and embrace all stages of life.
The country pigeon is known for puffing up its chest in pride. While they’re not often recognized for this, pigeons have a unique ability to find their home from a distant location. Homing pigeons symbolize assurance and confidence in challenging situations. They represent a feeling of safety and security that allows a positive sense of pride about who we really are.
Are you a proud person and if so, in what ways? Is your pride justified by accomplishments or overcoming challenging circumstances? Is your pride ego-related? For some of us, pride is a mask that hides feelings of incompetence, low self-esteem or unworthiness. Are you at home with yourself? Tapping into the joy of your power and talent through the Pigeon Pose can help you develop confidence and assurance.
The eagle’s superior vision relates to the third eye chakra. The gift of clear sight relates directly to the concentration we develop in yoga. Clear vision exists when the mind is focused and calm. When we practice balancing poses like Eagle Pose, concentration is aided by fixing the eyes on one point.
The challenge of the Eagle Pose is twisting while balancing on one leg. This can be extremely difficult at first, but gradually we become more flexible and stronger. As we settle into the pose, our purpose becomes clearer. The third eye chakra (the seat of sight and intuition) opens, improving vision. Just as the eagle can spot a mouse from thousands of feet away, Eagle Pose helps us to see what is important in life. Unfolding from the pose, our metaphorical wings spread, conveying a sense of lightness and a freedom from hindrances.
What hinders your insight? What blocks your vision? What disturbs your balance?
Yoga poses from nature
Through observing the natural environment, we see our own reflection. The sky contains the planets and stars; the earth and sea alone contain a diversity of existence that continues to evolve and amaze us. New discoveries of plants, insects and animals happen every day! Observing even one small part of the natural world can give us insight into how we are connected to every living thing through universal consciousness. Poets of all cultures highlight deep truths by observing the flow of water, the energy of the sun and the power of a mountain.
An archetypal cousin of the mountain, the majestic tree roots deeply into the ground as its branches extend toward the sky. Trees are strong but flexible, and typically quite resilient. A tree cooperates with and sustains other natural forms such as birds, mammals and insects. Trees breathe life-giving oxygen into the world and all the life forms them as they exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Insects and vines may destroy a tree, yet it keeps on giving, breaking down into nutrients to sustain other life forms. Because of its many beneficial qualities, a tree may be viewed as the ultimate example of selflessness.
Reflect on your balance with others. How do you cooperate with your family, friends and society in general? How do you feel when the winds of change blow through your life? What ways do you give to and receive from others? How do you support others?
The Sun Salutation encompasses a range of poses, but they all reflect the intensity of the sun, which is the epitome of fire. While fire can destroy, it also purifies and is the precursor to renewal. As the sustainer of all life on earth, the sun is the focus of many world traditions and religions.
While performing the Sun Salutation, it is difficult to think of anything but the flow of the poses; we are forced to remain in the moment. We build heat and purify our system as we seek enlightenment, for what is higher consciousness but allowing ourselves to be filled with light?
Fire quickly transforms all it touches. How do you feel about changes that you can’t control? What are your goals for personal transformation? How do you express the fire of your ideas and passions?
The moon is often associated with feminine energy. As the powerful counterpart to the sun, the moon is highly intuitive and receptive. As it goes through its monthly phases, the moon affects life here on earth, evidenced by the tides. The sun and moon are of central importance to Hatha yoga, its name being derived from the sun (Ha) and moon (Tha). Yoga helps us to harmonize their opposing energies so that we can live a balanced life. The moon reflects the sun, illuminating the night sky and those parts of our psyche that we try to hide under the cover of darkness. As the moon affects water here on earth, it also influences the emotions (the feminine) that may be subjugated in the name of logic (the masculine).
Do you identify with your emotions? Do you change like the tides? Are you able to understand your emotions? Do you feel comfortable exploring them? As you lean to one side or the other in Moon Pose or Half Moon Pose, are you avoiding feeling an emotion you think of as “negative”? What would it take to develop a greater sense of awareness about seemingly negative emotions? Often, negative emotions provide the opportunity to look deeper within an issue and explore mysterious aspects of our own emotional and spiritual landscape. As you practice Moon Pose, let yourself receive and be open to the experience.
Yoga poses from tools
Modern human society would not be where it is today if certain tools had not been invented. When we think of the ubiquitous use of the plough and the wheel, it is no wonder that tools have become archetypes in their own right.
The plough is used to clear a field so that earth can be cultivated and her plentiful bounty reaped. It may seem like improvidence to ask for more than what is already provided for us in the forests, plains and seas, and there is certainly a kind of violence involved in furrowing the soil. As we plough, we turn over the dirt, uproot unproductive plants and reveal creatures that are normally not seen or thought about. To plant the seeds that will result in new life, we must first furrow out the unnecessary impediments we harbor below the surface of our being.
In Plough Pose, our breathing is quite constricted. This can cause some people to feel claustrophobic or anxious. Plough Pose mirrors how we handle various mental and physical restrictions and helps us to uncover perceived limitations and push boundaries. Through the pose we empower ourselves and plant the seeds that soon turn into new growth. Enhancing the breath enables us to see that we have power even in the most limiting situations.
Are you able to find comfort and strength in the midst of strain? Do you have faith that tilling new areas of life will bring forth fruitful results? What seeds are you planting with your yoga practice?
The bow is used to aim an arrow with the purpose of killing an animal for food or bringing down the opposition in a time of war. We may aim the bow to hone our skills for when they are truly needed or simply for the pleasure of the sport. In our body, the spine represents the bow. As we move our spine in a backbend position, we must treat the body like a bow, challenging it and learning to use it effectively, but always within its limits.
In Bow Pose you may tense yourself like a bow that is ready to shoot. What is it that you are aiming at? Are your goals well defined and purposeful? It takes strength and skill to aim the bow properly. Are you ready to bring your entire being into reaching your target? Is the target worth the effort?
The wheel is arguably the most useful tool ever created. It revolutionized societies, allowing people to quickly and effortlessly transport objects from one place to another. In modern times, the wheel still plays a very important role in transportation. But where is it that we are headed and how far have we really come? The wheel is the number zero and the circle. It shares zero’s symbolic link to the eternal: All emanates from and returns to the universe in an endless circle.
As we move through our lives, we may not be aware of eternity, only the material world as we go through our cycles of birth, life, death and rebirth. In Wheel Pose, we have the opportunity to connect with a deep, unchanging aspect of our nature, allowing us to step outside of our own personal problems and into a collective reality. While the outermost edges of the wheel move through many different landscapes, the hub of the wheel is always constant, stable and unaffected by the activities on the edge. The great lesson that the wheel provides is to observe our life without reacting to it, to be witness to our emotions rather than subjected to them.
Do you feel as if you have any control over your destiny, or do you feel like life keeps throwing you unwanted curveballs? In what ways do you contribute to your problems? Do you see patterns in your life repeating like the wheels of nature spinning?