Why do we need courage?
I think courage is fundamental in order to live the fulfilling life we dream of and to be our authentic self.
Everyday presents us with situations, big and small, that require courage and vulnerability, risk and trust.
For example...In my corporate career years, as I am an introvert, I needed courage every day. To deal with ambitious colleagues and aggressive customers. To be agile in the face of ever-changing situations. To coach talented, young professionals and help them develop their potential. To present ideas, plans and results in our many meetings. For constant problem solving, taking on a new role, getting a new boss. Etc. Etc.
I didn’t know about the power of yoga and meditation. I got through my challenges by living on an energy that seemed like it wasn’t my own. It was exhausting. I guess that’s the energy of stress. In the last and most difficult years I searched in various places for strategies to find more joy. I met a woman in Sedona who introduced me to a 28 minute guided meditation called The Channel of Understanding. For a long time, that meditation helped me to get out of bed and face the day. I finally discovered the wonderful benefits of yoga at the very end, found a way to manage my stress, and the courage to take the first steps towards a life of more awareness, more peace, more joy, more satisfaction.
And then I needed courage to leave that conventional and prosperous career to reinvent my life. To create the brand and business of my dreams, with my own savings. To not know what my future revenue would be. I still need courage every week to send a newsletter and a blog post out into the world with my personal thoughts and experiences.
Like I said, it's everyday. Our practices empower us. They help us to find the strength and courage to do what we need/want to do, despite any fears we have feel.
Yoga is a wonderful practice to cultivate courage. It gives us the opportunity to know and understand ourselves better, in our body, heart and mind, in our light spaces and in our dark hidden corners. It helps us to build better resilience and to manage our stress so that we can face our fears and act from a place of calm steadiness.
Two types of yoga poses in particular can help you to boost your courage on a daily basis:
1. The Warrior Poses - These poses are named Virabhadrasana in Sanskrit. In an ancient Hindu myth, Virabhadra is the name of a fierce and brave warrior created by Shiva in an angry reaction to the death of his beloved wife. He may have been created in the anger of loss, but he was also created for love. The Warrior Poses may be named for an ancient myth, but they were created in the 20th century. For our modern lives I like to think of the Warrior as peaceful, strong and brave. The Warrior Poses develop strength, stability and stamina. They are energizing, confidence-giving poses that also open your heart. There are different variations: Warrior I, Warrior II, Warrior III, Vulnerable Warrior, Humble Warrior. They each offer a different energy. You can include them individually in your practice or link them together in a gentle flow. No matter which ones you try, when you practice the Warrior Poses, you feel strong, confident, brave and ready for anything.
2. Heart Opening Poses - “Cor”, the Latin word for “heart” is the root of the word “courage”. We find courage in our heart. There are a number of heart-opening poses you can try. Each pose, when done with awareness, is intended to open your heart centre, to tend the sacred flame that’s always there, and to allow you to shine love out into the world. And with an open, vulnerable heart we create the place from which we can act, despite the fear we may feel.
Together, these two types of poses will help you feel strong and grounded in your true self, while your heart stays open and ready for risk taking. They help you cultivate the courage you may need to face any challenge or difficult circumstance that you have to face.
For this sweet sequence of 3 poses, first create your foundation in Warrior II. You will maintain the same foundation for all three poses, moving your torso only to transition into the two other poses, ending up back in Warrior II.
If you wish you can then transition to Warrior III for extra confidence, to work on your balance, and to have some fun in your practice.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Starting in Mountain Pose at the front of your mat, step your left foot back into a stable, wide stance. Your front foot points forward, your back foot is pointing towards the side of the mat (parallel with the back edge of the mat) or for less challenge in your hips point them forward at about a 45 degree angle. The front ankle should be lined up with the arch of your back foot, but you may prefer a wider stance. Explore this.
Bend your front knee to about 90 degrees, ensuring that the knee is directly over your ankle. Ground evenly into all four corners of both feet, paying particular attention to the outside edge of your back foot. Draw energy from the earth up into your heart. Expand from your heart through your arms into Warrior II - right arm forward, left arm back, wingspan wide, palms down. Gaze beyond your front fingertips, channeling the energy of your inner warrior. Stay for 5-10 breaths.
Vulnerable Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
To transition into Vulnerable warrior, maintain your foundation keeping your legs in the same position and the length in your spine as you drop your left hand to your left leg, and reach your right arm up to the sky and back as far as comfortable, opening up your whole right side. You can look up if that feels good for your neck. In this pose you expose your vulnerable side -- the ultimate expression of courage and confidence. Stay for 5-10 breaths. Return to Warrior II when you are ready.
Extended side angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
From Warrior II, keeping your legs in the same position, gentle tilt your upper body forward, keeping the length in both sides of your torso, your pelvis and lower back neutral. Rest your right forward on your right knee. Look over your left shoulder and keep the back of your neck long as you reach your left arm up alongside your ear, extending long from the rooted outside edge of your back foot through to the fingertips. You can experiment with turning your chest slightly towards the ceiling for a nice heart opening. Breathe into your pelvis and scan your awareness through your body. Stay for 5-10 breaths.
To come out of the pose, use your abdominal muscles to bring your torso back upright, arms extended in Warrior II. Then drop your arms, straighten your legs and step your left foot forward coming back to Mountain Pose. Rest here for a moment, noticing how you feel from side to side.
Then step your right foot back and repeat this sequence on the other side
Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)
HEART OPENING POSES
Crescent Moon Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
From Downward Dog drop to hands and knees, step your right foot forward between your hands and align your right knee directly over your right heel. Press down through the top of your left foot, and engage the support of your legs to stabilize your pelvis by gen- tly pulling your knees towards each other. Keep your left glute engaged and start to press your hips gently forward until your feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Reach your arms to the sky, palms facing inward, and lift your ribcage and shoulders away from your strong foundation. Keep breathing into your pelvis, grounded and stable while you reach and lengthen. A small back- bend might feel lovely.
Stay for 5 breaths, then slowly lower your hands and step back to hands and knees. Repeat with the left foot forward.
Camel Pose with Open Arms (Ustrasana)
Come to kneel with your knees and feet hip width apart. (Toes can be pointed straight back or curled under - whatever is most comfortable for your ankles.) Find neutral pelvis and lengthen through your spine, engaging your deep abdominal muscles to protect your lower back from compressing. Reach your arms to the sky. Pull your elbows wide and down using your arm and back muscles as though you are actively pull- ing something down towards your chest, while simultaneously lifting your collarbones up toward the sky, extending your upper back, and lengthening through your neck to look up. It is work in this pose to maintain length through your spine to avoid the discomfort of over-compression, just like we have to put forth brave effort to choose joy in our everyday lives.
Hold for 3-5 breaths and release gently.
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
This powerful, heart-opening back bend is often done within a Sun Salutation sequence, as part of chaturanga. You can also do it on its own. Sphinx Pose or Cobra Pose will give you a very similar heart-opening sensation and help to prepare for Upward Facing Dog.
Begin by lying on your stomach with legs extended, feet hip width apart. Place your hands on the mat at the side of your chest. When you are ready to lift, actively press your feet into the mat, engage your knees and thigh muscles, press your hands into the mat to lift your chest and hips off the mat. When your arms are straight, focus on drawing your shoulder blades together on your back and opening up across your chest, and either look slightly up or look straight forward (whatever is most comfortable for your neck). Make sure your neck is a continuation of the curve of your upper back, so that you don’t strain it.
Hold for 5-10 breaths until you are ready to release down to the mat.
Reclining Goddess Pose (Baddha Konasana)
This pose allows gravity to create a comfortable hip opening position and gentle stretch to the inner thigh and groin muscles. Adding a bolster creates spaciousness across the chest for heart opening. You make this more comfortable by raising the bolster onto a diagonal using blocks (this puts your spine into a neutral alignment).
Sit at the very end of the bolster with both knees bent, your feet together. Lean back to rest on the length of the bolster. Let your knees fall open and press the soles of your feet together. Open your arms wide or place them alongside your body. Keep the pose soft and gentle, don't try to press your knees to the floor, let gravity do the work. If you prefer, you can keep your legs straight.
You can rest here, letting go, for as long as you like.
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