Balakrama, Balance, bone graft, Chakri, Chankri, Faith, feet, Great Barrier Reef, light bulb moment, non-existent limitations, Plant your awareness in your feet, Shadow Yoga, Travel, Trust, Vahni, Yoga
I’ve large feet, but apparently not as large as they should be (anatomically speaking) for my height of 179cm (or 5’ 10.5”). They are an Australian size 9½ which is a 41 (European) and 8½ (US).
They are my father’s feet: weird squiggly toes and plenty of calluses that I get smoothed down whenever I have a pedicure.
They’ve carried me to many places around the world: Egypt, Chile, England, Wales, Orkney Islands, New Zealand, America, Bali and Thailand. They’ve trekked through dessert sands, snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef, climbed dormant volcanoes, skied many an alp, belly-danced all over Sydney, walked dogs, taken part in the Sydney City to Surf, swum thousands of kilometres… they’ve done a lot for me, these feet.
And yet, it seems I do not trust them as I should.
Have I taken them for granted? Have I assumed limitations for them that do not exist? Am I wary of what they can and can’t do, and am I afraid to find out?
It’s true; they’ve let me down in the past. Or perhaps it was me that did the letting down? There’s been two broken toes in their history (both on the left foot – little toe, then the one next to the big toe), one bone graft (see photo), and several sprained ankles. They’ve suffered abuse as all dancer’s feet do. They’ve coped as well as they could given my high instep.
And actually, they still make awesome ballet pointed feet, even today. Which was always a bonus as a synchronised swimmer, back in the day…
But now I understand that I don’t have complete faith in my feet. Which, when you think about it, means I don’t have complete faith in myself. But of course!
Last Sunday in Shadow Yoga we began to learn another part of the Balakrama form. You can see a little bit of the series in the video of Emma Balnaves, below…
Unfortunately it cuts off just before you get to see Chakri. Which is performed with the legs in horse stance, and requires you to rotate your upper body in a revolving circle. Dipping the upper body forward and down, between the legs and back up again. All the while, keeping the legs in horse stance.
In case you’re wondering, it’s not easy to get it right. But it is far easier than I thought it was. At first, I relied very much on my upper body and core strength to complete the circle. I don’t think I was the only one.
Our instructor corrected the class with words we hear often in Shadow Yoga: Plant your awareness in your feet.
Then perform Chakri! And oh, the lightness in the body! The smoothness of my circles compared with how they had been!
All I had to do was allow my body to rest in my feet completely. Doh!
More evidence is to be found in my attempts to perfect Vahni, which is in the opening sequence of the video clip. Here’s a screen grab so you can get a better look…
In Vahni, you are sitting on your back heel. This is what anchors the pose. Thus far, it’s the hardest part of my Shadow Yoga practice (of course, what we each find challenging varies with our different bodies, strengths and flexibility).
Sometimes I can do it and others I find I’m still holding onto a block either side of my body as I struggle to find my balance.
But I learned something last weekend: I don’t have a balance problem at all, if I allow the weight of my body to sit more fully on my back heel.
Right now when I do that, it feels almost like I’m going to fall over. But then I don’t fall; instead I’m sitting on my heel. And Vahni (the flame), is steady.
While it feels as though I’m leaning back, really, I’m just becoming more upright. My weight shifts onto my heel and I am vertical.
But a lifetime of leaning forward has pushed my sense of vertical off-center. I’m perfectly fine with standing, of course. But balance poses (as I’ve mentioned before) have always been a bit vexatious for me.
It’s been both a physical and emotional leaning forward. Physically, because I was always head and shoulders above my friends from age twelve. And because I got very busty, very quickly: something that’s caused many back problems over the years. Emotionally, because the first instinct for someone in pain is to curl up in a ball. Our shoulders hunch forward and we seek comfort by making ourselves small and round.
Shadow Yoga is fascinating because it seems like the “under the hood” version of yoga. Like how a boy with his new bike will take it apart so he can see how to put it back together. This is my experience of Shadow Yoga thus far, in all its primal and intense expressions.
Its true, my balance has improved this year, and really, really improved in the last couple of months… since I started Shadow Yoga.
Still, in Vahni and Chakri I have troubles. Because they are looking through the magnifying glass at tiny details, and absolutely it breaking down. So I can see.
And what I see is that my balance issues are directly proportional to the faith I place in my feet and myself. Do I trust myself not to fall? Do I believe in the strength of my body and mind?
These kinds of realisations are one of the many miracles of yoga. And its amazing how such a light bulb moment can change your entire practice instantaneously. And then, how your practice then extends out into your life!
As has been said many times, yoga was never meant to be solely an ‘on the mat’ practice…
P.S. Pun fully intended. 😀
I LOVE my feet…I feel so grounded and I never was a dancer. I mean, I dance (and pretty damn good I might add!), but never took a dance class in my life. I love Nia movement.
So I know how disconnected people are from their feet, I watch students’ reactions to how I ask them to move all the time — PEOPLE ARE SO DISCONNECTED FROM THEIR BODIES, and rarely do they pay attention to their feet unless they are injured.
I am always in barefeet and call my feet “monkey feet” because my toes are almost prehensile!
I also must say that I LOVE the videos you post on Shadow Yoga because THAT’S THE WAY I MOVE! intuitively and instinctly, but I would never teach like that (well, never say never) because I see how even my long-time students still watch every move I make and DO NOT INTUIT THEIR MOVEMENTS.
I am continually impressed with how descriptive you are able to write about your yoga experiences. I have never even attempted yoga but I am still able to capture some of your feelings as you write. It seems to be a learned behavior of leaning forward; my daughter is young and she still stands and walks confident and upright. How wonderful it must be for you to be regaining your sense of being upright!
My feet have been through the wringer in my life! I took a good deal of dance classes when I was growing up, in preparation for my aspirations in the theater. When I was doing outdoor plays, my feet found quite a few gopher holes and I suffered similar types of injuries to yours (broken toes).
Since I have been doing yoga every week (I am nowhere near as dedicated as you are) my balance has been improving. In fact, it has done a lot to improve my entire body in general, particularly my painful lower back condition.
Life has been crazy busy, Svasti–Les and I have been traveling constantly for the last 2 months. I thought I needed to drop by and say ‘hi’ to my friend–
p.s. We have the same size feet! I am also tall (5’9″) with smallish feet for my height.
I found myself feeling envious as I read this and watched the video. The movement is so graceful and I’m plodding along now with an ankle injury that is very slow to heal (or heel as the case may be).
Tried as I might my Eagle pose, Warrior 3 and Heros were, at best, mediocre – my feet are at the mercy of a weakened ankle.
Like you, balancing poses challenge me (even with good ankle health) but it seems what we need in “real life” is what is most challenging in our asana practice.
Perhaps I will practice my on mat yoga through you – I’ve never taken a yoga class in Australia but there’s always a first time for everything!
P.S. I’m an 8 1/2 too!
@Linda-Sama – I think I’ve always been quite indifferent to my feet. And perhaps its time I change my perspective there, to more like yours, and learn to love my feet, too!
It’s true that many people are not connected to their body at all. However, it surprised me to realise, despite everything my feet have done, that I am not as connected to them as I thought. But then, that’s why I love yoga. The more you do, the more you learn.
I love how Emma moves in the video too. I’m no where near that graceful, not yet! 😉
@Jennifer – I’m so glad you are getting something out of these yoga posts. Yes, leaning forward instead of being upright is definitely a learned behaviour. This is despite my early years of ballet and the very good posture I’ve always had. Somehow, I’ve still managed to learn to stand less upright than I wanted to.
@Melinda – Hey, I soooo owe you a visit over at your blog! There are several posts I’ve been meaning to comment on. I know what you mean about being busy, too.
Glad to hear yoga is helping with your balance and your back (of course, they are related.
@Christa – Your ankle will of course, get better. Yoga and stretching is the best thing for it. Who cares if you hobble now, as long as eventually you get better and can walk normally again?
My ‘normal’ balance poses are now pretty good, but its taken a long time to get to that point. And doing this other form of yoga has been the icing on the cake that way… its shown me in a lot of detail what’s been going on for me! So while many of my balance poses are now great, the ones I’ve mentioned here are still a work in progress. But that’s all we ever are, right?
BTW – not sure if you remember, but I had a horrible bike crash earlier this year and for a good three months or so, had a really painful left shoulder. I couldn’t even lift my arm above my head in trikonasana, that’s how bad it was. But now I’m good. And your ankle will get better, too…
BTW – a high five to all the tall ladies with big feet! 😀
I’m not a dancer, although I’d give a lot (including feet abuse) to be one. It still took me years to include my feet in my whole body awareness; they’re a bit too far down there. Perfectly average size – the size that sells out first, so a pain to get shod properly. But still – they’re mine.
By the way, not sure where you sourced the SY video, but the second part, which does showcase Chakri, is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RBrNhfocHs
@M – Thanks for stopping by. Your blog looks very interesting! I’ll be reading to see what you have to say. Thanks also for the other SY video. I found the one I embedded on You Tube. There’s a few around!
Seems I’ve been quite aware of my feet, but just had a slightly off orientation. They are definitely good things to be aware of 🙂