I love it when a teacher opens my eyes to new experiences in the most basic of postures. It's a great reminder of the invitation for growth held in the simplest actions. Whenever I convince myself I know how to do something, I am in effect rejecting that invitation and stifling my progress. Thanks to my teacher, Aadil Palkhivala, for opening my eyes to so many invitations.
This instalment of Mastering the Basics covers the simplest of postures, balasana (child's pose). Invitation extended!
Child’s pose is done most every class, usually as a way to rest and feel after an intense pose or sequence. However, it has powerful benefits of its own, which we can maximize with a few simple refinements. The nature of balasana is turning inwards (you literally curl into yourself), which provides the opportunity for deep introspection and energetic transformation. Here are three simple tips that have made big differences in my balasana experience, along with alternatives for different body types and abilities.
1. Improve the Mental Benefits: rest your forehead on something.
It’s hard to be introspective when the mind is chattering. The forebrain is our analytical mind and a source of seemingly nonstop dialogue that draws us away from deeper states of self-awareness. When we rest the forehead on something and soften the frontal brain into that support, we encourage the calm and quiet necessary to turn inward, shifting from the sympathetic (flight/fight) nervous system to the parasympathetic (rest/digest). Turning inward is an initial step in creating self-awareness, which is in turn the basis of positive and integral change.
If your forehead doesn’t easily release to the floor, use a block, blanket, or other prop:
2. Improve the Psychological Benefits: bring your legs together and rest your belly on your thighs.
On a physical level, supporting the belly prevents the low back from collapsing towards the floor (think forward bend, not backbend). More importantly, the belly (typically one of our “soft and vulnerable” spots) feels protected when it rests on something, which provides the opportunity for a much deeper psychological letting go. When we feel safe, we can focus our resources on moving inward to experience what we hold inside; when we release our psychological armour, we can more completely heal.
Keeping the thighs together also helps to seal the pelvic floor, so the energy of our practice doesn’t drain away. (More on that below.)
If you need (or prefer) to have your knees apart in the pose, consider propping your belly with a bolster, which will create similar benefits.
Note: the belly should NOT rest on anything during pregnancy (to avoid putting pressure directly on the fetus). During pregnancy, spread the legs to allow room for the belly, but prop under the upper torso as shown:
3. Improve the Energetic/Spiritual benefits: keep your big toes touching, and place the palms of your hands on the soles of your feet.
We lose a lot of energy through our hands and feet. Even a slight contact between the inner edges of our big toes completes a circuit in the body that helps contain the energy of the practice. (Try it! If you don’t feel it yet, work on refining sensitivity so you can access the experience.) That containment is dramatically heightened when we place our hands on our soles, creating a seal that prevents energy leakage.
At the very least, this alignment will improve your physical energy levels, which you can further enhance by softening your kidneys (a physical energy source) and allowing them to be absorbed more deeply into your body. (That is a mind/intention trick more than a physical movement, and if you are just starting out, you may have to work up to it.)
More importantly, containing your energy creates an opportunity to use it for transformation. Instead of letting go of your energy in balasana, release instead any negative expressions of that energy (tension, mental chatter, etc.), but bring the energy itself back to your heart center and offer it to the light of your spirit. Then send that light back out into your body as a beautiful feeling (gratitude, sincerity, love, etc.). For me, working that transformational loop has created a much bigger payoff (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) than “letting it all go” in balasana.
1. From all fours, bring the inner edges of your big toes and your inner thighs together, if possible. (Seeing propping options above.)
2. Release your pelvis onto your heels, and lengthen your belly onto your thighs.
3. Rest your forehead on the floor or a prop.
4. Place the palms of your hands on the soles of your feet, if possible. Drop the weight of your upper arms towards the floor, allowing your shoulder blades to spread.
5. Inhaling, soften the space between your shoulder blades (widen); exhaling, drop your forehead and sitting bones towards the floor (lengthen).
For energetic transformation:
1. Imagine a ball of transformational white light in your heart center, which is behind your breastbone and in front of your spine. Put a beautiful feeling into that light. (Watch the video on this page to give you a better idea of where the heart center is.)
2. On an inhalation, draw the energy of your practice into that light, feeding that beautiful feeling.
3. As you exhale, spread your light, holding that feeling, back into the cells of your body. Gently but persistently press that feeling into your flesh, and open your body to receive your spirit.
A note on propping:
This pose is not an inversion. If the pelvis remains high in the air, prop the torso with bolsters or blankets to raise it to the height of the pelvis. The tendency is to prop under the pelvis, which is actually not that helpful in this situation.
Do, however, prop the pelvis if there is pain in the knees. As you raise the pelvis to take pressure off the knees, prop the torso as well.
OK, I will offer it up for your thoughts and comments below. Enjoy your next balasana!