Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Balance of the Warrior

Virabhadrasana III - or Warrior Pose III - is the third of the classic yoga warrior poses. The trilogy of poses finds its name from a particularly gruesome tale involving a warrior named Virabhadra who materialized from the torn hair of the god Siva. Turns out that Siva's wife, angry that she had been excluded from a ritual sacrifice by her father, chose to throw herself into the sacrificial fire in protest rather than try to work the situation out with her father. In his grief, Siva tore at his hair (that common ancient custom) and the warrior Virabhadra appeared to avenge her death, ultimately beheading the father and destroying the offending sacrifice.

Happy in his vengeance, Siva was able to retreat to meditation.

Okay, so maybe at first glance it seems best not to know the stories behind the poses. Even so, it is a fitting tale. Warrior III is a challenging pose: balancing on one leg, bent at the waist, arms forward like an arrow, with the other leg stretched straight in the opposite direction. Iyengar recommends staying in this pose for up to 30 seconds. I usually time this by breathing through six long inhales and exhales. Staying balanced is certainly a challenge, and the only way to remain balanced is to keep your eyes and mind focused on one spot.

Like a dancer focusing on one spot to retain her balance in a series of pirouettes, keeping the eyes focused is an obvious part of the balancing act. Shifting the gaze usually results in an immediate and predictable wavering.

But I've also noticed that I lose my balance when I let my mind wander. A quick flit to the crises of daily news or daily life, or even just planning ahead to what I need to do after I finish my practice - big or small, it causes me to waver and wiggle, to lose that serenity of balance.

Warrior III doesn't require the full intensity of meditation, but it does require the full attention of the moment. This focus, this clearing of the mind, helps flush the detritus from my brain, creating a practice that is refreshing on many levels, regardless of the news, the laundry, or the children than inevitably materialize at just the moment of balance. Clearing my mind, if only for balancing, but ideally for the whole practice, gives me the opportunity to start anew to deal with the rest of life's challenges, whether they come in the form of an obstinate six-year-old, a destructive four-year-old, or anything else.

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