On a lovely weekend getaway to the peaceful ocean-side Carmel, California, my personal photographer (i.e. my husband, Richard) was snapping some shots of me doing some poses on the rocks along the beach. There must have been a airedale terrier meetup group at the beach that day, because there were fifteen or twenty of them nearby playing with each other, digging up sand, and retrieving balls from the water. Being in front of a camera brings out my inner perfectionist as I wrack my sensations to find my alignment and relax my face into a photogenic hint-of-a-smile. Just as I’d found one of my picture-perfect positions, one of the terriers jumped up onto the rocks to interrupt my posing and give me a moment of real yoga:
Sometimes we strive so hard for perfection that we forget that imperfection is happiness. – Karen Nave
This focus on perfecting the physical aspects of the poses can also take over our practice on the mat. But the real yoga is not the shape the body takes, or the precise alignment, or the even serene facial expression. The yoga is the sukkha, the joy, the svadyaya, the self-study, the dharana and dhyana, the concentration and meditation. None of these come from a focus perfection—they come from cultivating acceptance. They come from a willingness to be who you are, where you are, what you are. Don’t get so caught up practicing the poses that you forget to practice the yoga.
To add a challenge to your vinyasa, you can try this single leg variation. Feel free to switch to a two-legged vinyasa at any point during this sequence–some of the transitions are harder to do one-legged than others. Begin in a plank with one leg lifted. If you’re incorporating this into a larger flow, one-legged plank can follow naturally from downward facing dog with one leg lifted or from side plank with the top leg lifted.
Begin in plank with one leg lifted.
Keeping the leg lifted, as you exhale lower slowly to chuttarunga. Keep the abdominals contracted, elbows close to the body, and shoulder blades sliding down toward the hips. In chuttarunga, the torso should not sink below the level of the upper arms as this can put the shoulders into a bad position.
Exhale, lower to one-legged chuttarunga.
Contract the abdominals to protect the low back, and as you inhale pull forward into upward facing dog. If you can, keep the leg lifted. Notice that you have to roll over the toe so that the top of the foot is on the floor. In upward facing dog the quads (muscle in the front of the thigh) are contracted so that the hips are lifted. Squeeze the shoulder blades back and together, and slide them down the spine.
Inhale, lift to one-legged upward facing dog.
This next part is the hardest. Rolling back over your toe requires you to use your tibialis anterior muscle in the front of your lower leg, and this muscle is often quite weak. You can lower the lifted leg here if you need to. Here we go: contract the abdominals (you’ll need them!) and as you exhale press back to a downward facing dog with the leg lifted.
Exhale, press to one-legged downward facing dog.
From here you can go all sorts of places: pigeon? High lunge? A warrior? Handstand? That’s up to you!