Asana Practice and Digitalis

During last night’s yoga practice, we were exploring how advanced yoga postures such as headstand drop-overs could have therapeutic applications. If the practitioner is able to do the poses preparatory to the pose (for headstand drop-over to be accessible in a healthy way, the yogi should be able to do dwi pada vipariti dandasana and, of course, sirsasana, in good, easeful, steady alignment), then the pose can be integrating and healing for the shoulders and strengthening for the neck. For those with little cervical curve, really working to lengthen the side body, integrate the shoulders, and radically melt the heart (which is what is necessary to get into the pose), can help develop the cervical curve. Done out of alignment, the headstand drop-over risks the shoulders and neck–the very parts of the body that would be healed and strengthened if the pose were done in alignment–are at risk of injury.

Four or five years ago, I was at an advanced intensive with John Friend where he likened advanced asana practice to digitalis. Digitalis, which is a beautiful flower, is one of the most poisonous plants in the garden. Taken the wrong way, it can make you very sick indeed. Properly distilled and administered in just the right dose, digitalis is one of the most powerful and curative heart medicines available.

When we approach asana, especially the more physically challenging postures, with great respect, care, and discernment, we can not only benefit from its extraordinary healing and life-expanding powers, but revel and delight in dancing in our bodies. If we approach asana without honoring ourselves and the power of the practice, however, we put ourselves at risk and we fail to realize the benefits that are possible.


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