In yoga philosophy, there’s something called tapas—a burning, fiery energy that keeps us motivated and helps to purify the body and mind, especially through the physical asana practice. The Bikram yogis may have taken it a bit too literally by turning up the heat in the studio, but you’ve probably felt this even in a regular yoga class—or any workout where you feel yourself changing, your muscles slightly tearing to re-form in a newer, stronger way. When we fearlessly enter the burning flame of tapas, we can glimpse clarity of purpose and of the present.
Transformation doesn’t always feel quite so intentional, however. Instead of an energetic drive propelling us forward, we might get so far on our journey only to find ourselves stuck. To use another yoga analogy, I struggled for a long time to come into sirsasana (headstand); I spent months working on getting my knees pulled into my chest in a tucked position, which is extra challenging when your hands are slick in tapas-sweat, and that was that. No matter how hard I tried, and even once the tuck got easier, bringing my legs up to vertical felt impossible. My flame had burned out. Until, one day, I tucked, shot my legs up, and I was upside down. All those weeks that felt like nothing suddenly felt very productive.
Moments of apparent stagnation are often the most important parts of our personal transformations. When you feel that you can’t go on anymore, you’re forced to reckon with yourself. Where do I need to call up more energy from, if the reserve I had is used up? Or, better yet, where can I soften into the stagnation and let what’s stuck un-stick itself with time?
This week (on May 15), a powerful new moon in Krittika allows us to come face to face with the things that are keeping us stuck. In the spirit of spring cleaning, it is symbolized by fire (the Vedic god Agni) and a blade that “can pierce through the ego’s delusion, allowing you to identify and let go of the unnecessary burdens you may still carry,” according to Vedic astrologer Kari Field, writing for Sivana East. The flame at its center can help you gain that inner clarity you need to push through spring’s tumultuous forces, but it can also stir up feelings of anger that appear now for a reason. That anger is reminding you want to fight for, and the universe is helping to show you the path to justice.
Even when the new moon isn’t guiding us this way, there are simple ways you can redirect your mindset and energy to achieve the same sense of clarity during change. So even when you’re stuck in a sweaty tuck, you can be there and know there’s something more waiting for you on the other side. Try these tips to help make your springtime transformation the best one yet.
The breath is one of our most powerful tools for maintaining and realigning mental and physical health. Specific breathing techniques and patterns are very useful when it comes to working through stagnation. When you feel agitated, the 4-7-8 breath helps to slow down the central nervous system and quiet the mind. Anyone can do it: inhale for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven, then slowly exhale for a count of eight. If you’re looking to move around stale energy, try kapalabhati, or skull-shining breath. To practice, sit tall in a comfortable seat and breathe into about half of your full capacity. Then exhale sharply out of the nose like you were blowing your nose into a tissue, pulling in the abdomen to pump the air out. Go as quickly as you can for at least 30 breaths (approximately three rounds of 11), and up to 121 breaths. **Please don’t practice this if you are prone to dizziness, have glaucoma, or are pregnant.**
Time to Reflect
Transformation often involves a lot of mixed-up, even contradictory feelings: sadness about letting go of the old and fear about what’s ahead, even if we do have a clear sight of where we’re going. We all know that keeping our feelings to ourselves does no good to anyone, so acknowledge them to yourself, your journal, or your closest confidant. The benefits of sharing feelings are manifold, and in an interview psychologist David Caruso explained our culture of positivity (think social media boasts and the “I’m great!” automatic response you give to almost anyone) is causing us harm: “We’re not allowing people to be genuine, to be authentic, and to share. And I think it’s going to limit our relationships. Really good quality long-term interpersonal relationships are based on shared experience but also the ability to share how we are feeling at that time. But if you are always expected to say ‘great,’ you’re never going to have that level of intimacy that you need in a really good relationship.” Being honest with how you feel, with yourself and with others, may even help you see that others are struggling, too, making you feel less alone in your time of challenge.
Be Like a Tree
In Chinese medicine, spring is associated with the liver and gallbladder and the accompanying wood element. Balanced liver qi (or energy) will result in a kind of wood that’s more like a supple, flourishing tree, whereas a blockage (from things like stress) might result in a more rigid trunk. If you break down the metaphor, you see that in either case the tree is still rooted to one place, and yet it can either yield or resist. During transformation, remind yourself that even if you’re still rooted to where you are, you still have the capacity to grow and sprout flowers. To be this more yielding kind of tree, practice a variation of the yoga pose vriksasana (tree pose): place your right foot on your left inner thigh or calf, knee turned out to the side. First reach your arms straight overhead in a V, like tree branches, then bend your right elbow and rest the back of your hand and forearm on your right thigh. Inhale to lift up through your left side, then exhale and gently side bend to the right, toward that lifted leg. Return through center then repeat on the opposite leg. It may be wobbly, even one side more than the other, but feeling the way your foot holds you steady despite shifts in balance will remind you that you’ve got your own back. Trust that you will be able to recognize your own tipping point, and let yourself go to that edge.
How do you encourage healthy transformation in your life?
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Photos: Pexels.com; Molly Lansdowne (Instagram @molly_lansdowne);