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YOUR LOWER AND UPPER BODY HAVE DIFFERENT JOBS IN A POSTURE. DO YOU KNOW WHAT ARE THEY?
Your lower body could be called the lowly ‘workhorse’ of your body, like a donkey or a strong laborer who does dirty, unglamorous grunt work, your hips, legs and feet are your best sources of power, stability and rootedness in your movements and postures. The legs are responsible for remaining connected to the ground, and for continuously expressing the slow, steady rhythmic heartbeat of your posture. In your asana you want to utilize your lower body to cut through the higher frequency, more busy and frenetic rhythmic layers of the asana dance and penetrate to the spacious, long, round, and primeval aspects of the rhythmic cycle. It can be helpful to think of your feet, legs, and pelvis as an earth-loving trio who work together as a unified group to create the steady, unchanging foundation of your asana stance.
The upper body speaks in a melodic and varied body language, through your spine and arms you learn to be at home in articulating physical and emotional nuance, refinement, and consciousness. Your hands, arms, spine, and eyes, and mouth gravitate towards movements and gestures that are rich in physical and energetic expression conveying a wide range of emotional and intellectual complexity and changeability. Through your spine and arms you allow your posture to speak in gestures of glorious extension, in reaching and projecting yourself away from your lower foundation, and away from the earth towards the wide open expanses of the sky.
Looking to mythology can give you some fun and helpful images that can remind you of the degree to which your lower body plays a contrary and oppositional role to your upper body. I refer to images of mythical creatures that have the lower body of an animal and the upper body of a person, including mermaids who have the lower body of a fish, or Patanjali, the great sage of yoga sutra’s fame, who has the lower body of a snake, or the Greek centaurs who have the lower body of a horse.
Imagining that you are a Patanjali, a centaur or a mermaid can help you make best use of the energetic differences that exist between your lower and upper body. And here’s an unlikely and welcome outcome from this theme: learning to use your legs as though you had the legs of horse or fish allows you take a more active role in moving and positioning your spine in your asanas! The full expression of an asana happens when the whole body participates-and learning to emphasize the oppositional roles of your lower and upper body helps you galvanize your entire body into action and expression. Indeed when you learn to see your foundation as a set up for the expression of your spine to gesture into serpentine extension, flexion, or rotation, then whole new aesthetic and meditative worlds open within you. You also find yourself able to stay longer in your postures without strain or undo effort.
First photo of David Garrigues in Shoulderstand variation by Joe Longo
Second Photo of Julie Hubbard in Vashistasana by Mike Miller