Having just returned from one of the biggest yoga events in the world, Bali Spirit Festival, I am still in awe of being part of such a powerful and moving experience. For 5 days, top yogis and yoginis–in addition to influential speakers from all over the world –came to inspire and spread the love of yoga. With over 30 classes and workshops to choose each day, it was difficult to narrow down just a few.
Although each class I attended was meaningful and impactful, one class in particular was a wild and freeing experience. Emotionally moving, creative, and empowering, Freedom Riders-Asana for Hearts and Hips has left a lasting impression on my yogi heart. Priestess, activist, and yogi enthusiast Suzanne Sterling led the early morning class. Known in the yoga community for her dedicated spiritual practice, uplifting music, and commitment to social action, Suzanne brought a type of energy and love to the class unlike any teacher I have ever seen. Being in her presence alone, I knew I was in for a remarkable experience.
The intention of Asana for Hearts and Hips is to let go of pain and past stories through physical movement with hip openers and chest opening poses. Through these poses, we are able to bring emotional awareness to these areas, releasing pent up negative energy. Through this release, we can regain freedom and inner strength using dynamic movements and sound healing.
Surrounded by the lush Balinese jungle, I laid my mat on the grass, sensing the energy and excitement from the class. Looking around the circle, I could tell we all had a story to tell and were all here for the same purpose: to connect, to heal, and to let go. To begin the 2-hour class, we set our intentions with meditation and deep breathing. With eyes closed and one hand on the belly and the heart, we were led through deep belly breathing with long exhaled breaths and “Ahs.” We then warmed up our voices and faces with humming and lip trills (motorboat). To round out the meditation, we chanted the mantra “Om” three times, sending high vibrations through the palm trees.
Moving from meditation, we moved our mats out of the way and gathered in a circle. As the music picked up, the instructor led us in a body warm up, moving our limbs in a fluid motion. We were asked to sway from side to side, circle our arms and hips around while taking up space and purely letting go. I found myself becoming entranced and relaxed with these effortless movements.
Feeling energized and open, we brought our mats back onto the grass to incorporate a yoga flow sequence. Suzanne led the class through the sun salutations and a variety of heart- and hip-opening poses. Throughout the sequences, we were encouraged to sing, make deep sighs, and activate our voices. We were given inspirational messages to aid the release of the pain in our hips and heart through breath. During a particularly powerful pose, Goddess Pose, we lifted our eyes to the sky and shouted, “I AM ALIVE!” This simple phrase so small, yet so meaningful. In that moment, I came to realize how transformational and positive the use of our voice is during our yoga practice.
With the energy high, Suzanne pulled out her drum and transitioned the class to ecstatic dance. Moving to the beat of the drum, we danced around the circle freely, synchronizing our movements with the music and with fellow classmates. With no judgment or stigma, we practiced self-expression through dance and chanting. This was my first time participating in anything like this, and it was surprisingly refreshing and fulfilling. This class taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and own who I am while speaking my truth. If truth and self-expression are kept within, they become trapped within our bodies causing pain and tension. Walking away from the class I felt lighter, uplifted, and grateful for the chance to be involved in such a moving yoga experience.
Although I highly recommend taking a class with Suzanne, these empowering and freeing breath techniques and yoga sequences can easily be replicated at home. Here are some heart- and hip-opening poses to help you find inner strength, love, and self- expression in your practice. Through all of these poses, continue breathing and making deep “ahs.” Singing and vocal exploration is also encouraged!
2. Goddess Pose
With legs open wide and arms raised bending at the elbow, squat down and push hips forward and knees back. Hold for 3- 5 breaths. To let your inner goddess/god soar, chant some motivational mantras such as “I am alive!”
3. Camel Pose
With knees on the floor hip-width apart, press feet into the floor. Place hands on your lower back, fingertips pointing down. Inhale and raise the chest up. Staying here is fine. For a deeper stretch, rotate the right arm back and grab the right foot with the right hand, repeating with the left side. Drop the head back and hold for 6—8 breaths. Inhale and slowly come out of the position.
4. Bridge Pose or Wheel Pose
Lying on the floor, lift your hips up off the floor keeping feet hips length apart. Clasp hands under the lower back, pushing the shoulders together. Push hips high in the air, tucking the chin slightly under. For a more advanced pose, place hands above the shoulders and push up into a backbend pose.
5. Free Dance
Turn on your favorite music and dance around freely! Ecstatic dance brings a sense of oneness, connecting the mind, body, and spirit.
What is your favorite way to practice yoga for self-love and empowerment?
Also by Jess: I Tried It: Wheel Yoga
Related: 7 Yoga Poses for a Scattered Mind
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Photos: Jess Davis