When was the last time you squeezed someone really tight? You know that feeling of really holding someone in your arms, hugging them to you because they are so precious, because you want them to know that you are with them, that you are close to them, that you love them, that you feel their pain/joy/happiness, more than shoulder to shoulder, more than words can say – its a strong and powerful message of unconditional love.
As T.K.V. Desikachar says in the Heart of Yoga, we use asana practice to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves. Some poses use gestures of the body, legs and hands to draw your focus inwards. For example, when we do twisting poses, cross legs and arms in Eagle pose (garudasana), even when we draw the palms together to say namaste, we bring our attention into the ‘mid-line’, we draw our attention away from our extremities, from moving outwards into the world, and draw our attention close to the Self, gather our energy inwards to the things we hold close to the heart. Touch is such an important basic physical human need – do you touch ourselves with loving kindness?
When I connect to myself through my hands, it is an intimate act; it feels tender, caring and supportive, I feel into me and remind myself that I’m supporting my physical body, my mind, my emotions, in fact all parts of me, especially the wise part that looks out for me. And often after a practice of hugging into the mid-line with great attention and awareness in a yoga practice I notice the ‘off-the-mat effect’. If I can tap into this loving energy in myself, it comes alive in my body, in my cells, in my brain..in other words, I embody it…and it, in turn, spills beyond the boundary of my body and into my relationships. I want to go out and hug everyone close to me, squeezing them tight because I love them…obviously I need to be aware of boundaries and who is open to my squeezy ways! And sometimes, I notice that I’m not feeling loving or kind to my body, to my self at all and there’s no hugging party going on. So I notice that too with as much acceptance as I can. And come back to the following practice –
Here’s 5 poses to practice hugging – from easy to challenging
1. Lie on your back with knees bent up (semi-supine) and arms up to the vertical, with fingertips towards the ceiling and shoulder blades flat on the floor, hands facing each other. Relax your shoulder blades as if they are feet in the ground, and gaze up into the column between the sky above and your heart. What would you like to draw in, how would you like to be with yourself? Now, cross your arms so the hands come to the opposite shoulders and give yourself a squeeze. Take a few long breaths into the space between your shoulder blades. Then allow your arms to unfold like large wings.
Why? Creates space at the back of the heart centre where loving energy originates in the anahata chakra, prepares the loving energy to flow from your heart to your hands.
2. From your semi-supine position, keep your arms out to the sides. Cross your right leg over the left. From this position, drop both knees across to the floor to the right and turn the head to the left. Keep your right arm out to the side, and left thumb into your hip crease and gently draw down to create space along the spine. Breathe your right shoulder blade down on each exhale.
Why? loosens the shoulder and hip joints in preparation for garudasana, lengthens the spine and brings focus to the central nervous system, deep inside the spine itself, the network of nerves which help you to relax, rest and nourish all the cells in the body.
3. Twisted Lunge (Parivrtta Anjaneyasana) – Lunge with your right leg forward, left leg back with knee away from floor and reaching back through the left heel. As you exhale, scissor the legs away from each other, as you inhale draw the thigh bones up into the pelvis to square your hips, on the next exhale draw your palms together in front of your heart centre, then twist to the right, bringing your left elbow to the outside of your right knee with left hand facing up, and your right hand pressing down on top of the other hand with elbow up to the ceiling. This is a strong squeezing twist so stay and breathe into the pose as far as suits you. Give yourself a little time when you finish to unknot, unravel in a symmetrical down-dog or lie on your back.
Why? Creates strength in body and requires concentration and focus in the mind. Draw your attenction away from extremities and into the molten core, the heart of the matter, focusing on what is close to your heart and what you’ve drawn in. Use your breath to draw it in deeper.
Why? Plug your limbs in towards the centre, align your physical and energetic body. This challenging physical pose brings your attention into the present moment as it requires attention and alertness. What do you notice? Can you feel a sense of belonging to yourself?