Without pain there is no change. But I tend to adopt the attitude of this saying: "When I truly accept where I am, I begin to transcend the feeling of pain." One of the most beneficial aspects of yoga is learning how to find that threshold, and move towards it, rather than shy away from it.
I, like most people, am a feel-good junkie. Why else would I be attracted to a job where I am paid to wear comfortable clothes, wear no make up and lead people who are taking a time out to care for themselves to the ultimate moment: savasana, where they get to float off into bliss, as they lay down for five to ten minutes. This is the "yoga" that we all imagine, right? Hugs and sitting peacefully in a cross-legged position with no earthly desires. But make no mistake, in order to truly transcend, the very darkness we resist, must be embraced. The part of ourselves that wants to be comfortable must die and be replaced with the part of ourselves that demands growth. There is no growth without change and there is no change without discomfort.
How can we reframe these old ideas we have about the sensations that we label 'torture?' Perhaps to spin the old: I'm dying! Into: "I know this is my body transforming," or "If this difficulty takes me closer to my goal, then Bring It On!"
There was a point in my personal journey with my body when I was using my very powerful energy to be hard on myself. In a sense, my destructive energy was misguided. When I became an instructor, I suddenly was using the very same force that I had been using to take myself down to uplift and fuel an entire community of individuals towards wellness. Exercise is, in some sense a destructive process. We break down the muscles in order for them to rebuild and strengthen. We face our breaking point in an effort to find the powerful voice that emerges with new sense of determination. We overcome our darkness and recreate our bodies, and mind. We send a new message to the body and our DNA knows now that more is possible.
This practice can be a guiding force in our lives, as well. The workout is a great place to experiment with this edge. I have learned from and used it as a template for how to survive a break up, my father's passing and loss of a job that I loved. The physical is a wonderful experiment for even deeper moments when we must endure emotional and psychic pain with grace and equanimity.
The six advanced Power Moves below are meant to push the envelope a little. Avoid forcing, but, try to allow your body to go a little farther than you thought possible, and notice what happens to your mind, as you metamorphosis and literally transform. The key to going deeper is not to push past the pain or to force your body, but to tolerate the feeling by staying with it rather than backing off. Once you have surrendered to the feeling, the body will settle in and transcend it without effort.
EAGLE (See image above)
Start with your feet together. Shift you body weight into your left leg. Bend you knees, then lift your right leg up and over your left leg. If possible, hook your right toes behind the left calf muscle. Wrap your right arm underneath your left arm, crossing once at the elbows, and again at the wrists to bring your palms back together. Raise the elbows toshoulder-level, and keep your upper body lifted, as you continue to twist your legs and sink your hips down. Breathe. Repeat on the other side.
BIRD OF PARADISE (See images above)
From Warrior 2, place your right palm to the inside of the front heel. If your hand is inside, use your arm to open the leg out to the side. Next, you are going to wrap, so reach the top arm up and back. The bottom arm wraps underneath the front bent leg. Clasp the hands, so that you are wrapping. Keep leaning the torso back as you rotate the chest open towards the ceiling. If this is enough for you, just stay here, and breathe. If you are ready to try a challenge, shift the body weight slightly forward into the front foot, while maintaining the bind, and step your left foot up to meet the right. Move the body weight into the left foot, as you slowly start to stand up. Once upright, try extending your right leg.
KING PIGEON (See image above)
Sitting on the floor, bend your right knee in front of you and bring your left leg behind you in a straight position. The heel of your right foot is in towards your left hip. Make sure to rotate the left hip down, so that the front of your left thigh is on the floor.
For the next stage of the this posture, moving into King Pigeon, it is important that your spine and shoulders are warmed up. Bend your left leg, so that the toes are pointing up towards the ceiling. Take hold of the foot with your left hand, arch the back, and draw the left elbow up towards the ceiling. Then extend your right arm arm and lower the hand to reach the foot. Draw both elbows in and up, as you continue to arch your spine, bringing the sole of your left foot to the crown of your head, if possible. This can be very intense, so breathe deeply, 5 breaths.
SPLITS (See image below)
Start standing on your knees and extend your right leg straight out in front of you so that the heel of the foot is on the floor. Bring both hands to the floor on either side of you. Begin crawling your hands forward, as you slowly slide the right foot forward, allowing the back leg to straighten behind you. Stop at the point of intensity, where you can still maintain a comfortable breath. You may need to continue to use your hands to support you on the floor, or you can also prop a bolster or a block underneath you. For those of you that can come all the way down, extend both arms overhead, and touch the palms together.
Begin sitting on the ground, with your left leg bent in, as if you were sitting cross-legged. Lift the right foot, and draw it towards the left groin, resting the top of the right foot on the left thigh. Sit up tall, lengthening through the crown of the head. This may feel very intense for some of you, so if this your posture today, then great. Stay here, and breathe. To move into Lotus, keep your right foot on the top of the left thigh, and draw the left foot out from underneath the right thigh. Move mindfully, as you bring the left foot to the right thigh. Breathe deeply into any intensity you feel here. If you feel acute pain, release the posture immediately.
FROG (See image above right)
Start in table top position, with your knees directly under your hips. Keeping your hips and knees in one line, walk your knees away from each other and slowly lower down onto your forearms. Bring your shins perpendicular to the thighs and flex your feet. Draw your navel slightly in to your spine to maintain length in your lower back and breathe. To deepen the experience, move your knees farther away from each other. Breathe. Feel your hips and groin muscles opening. Breathe.
FIREFLY (See images below)
With your feet hips-width apart, crouch down and place your hands flat on the floor, directly behind your feet. Rest your hips onto your triceps, as you slowly begin to shift the weight back, while at the same time press firmly into the floor with your hands. As your feet come up, hook your toes together. Once you get comfortable here, and start developing more upper-body strength, you can extend both legs straight. Use your abdominal muscles for strength and stability, and continue to press firmly into the floor until your arms are eventually straight.