Yoga Rockford: Yoga from the ground up

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

Since most of us are controlled by and live in our heads most of the time, we tend to approach yoga from that same direction … from the head down. But yoga promises to create a more steady and balanced connection of mind and body by reversing that habit and focusing on our base — so much so that yoga teachers often talk about being “grounded.” But what does that really mean?

It has been my experience that Iyengar Yoga offers the actual experience of this term. There is no waxing poetic about mulabhanda or “growing strong roots.” You actually create them through effort and awareness.

BKS Iyengar himself has spent a lifetime developing a practice of yoga and an approach to asana from the ground up. Through his method, we have an opportunity to experience the totality of yoga through the doorway of our physical asana practice.

Every pose has its connection to the ground, and through this physical connection we have an indication of how everything else within the pose may be going. When the base of a pose is unsteady, the entire pose is unsteady, including the mind and consciousness. This disconnect from the base deprives us of much-needed energy for support and upward lift. Hatha Yoga is based on the idea that we need to move our energy from the base of our spine upward, so in any pose, this upward direction is what we need to keep in mind.

Let’s take Vrksasana (the tree pose) as an obvious example. A tree needs deep, solid roots to be able to suck nutrients up its trunk to bear leaves and fruit. If the roots never take, the tree will be weak. So also, deep, solid work in our legs and hips allows energy in our tree pose to move up into the spine and trunk, in turn building support for the upward extending arms. Without our legs and hips strongly working beneath us, our tree sinks, wavers or easily uproots.

I have been in classes where doing tree pose “felt nice,” my mind alone imagining a lovely tree. I did tree pose, but was I really a tree? Iyengar Yoga teaches that we can become that tree. Without imagination (which is a distraction of the mind), we can become the essence of any pose we do with attention and awareness. Instead of just imagining the tree in Vrksasana, we become the tree in Vrksasana when we work well from the ground up.

So, stand on your two feet, feel your legs underneath you, compact and firm, feet and toes broad and open to the ground beneath them. With your mind focused and intent on keeping the foot broad, take the other foot up to the inner thigh. Let the inner thigh grasp and receive the lifted foot, building a balance of pressure between thigh and foot. With this pressure, the hips are stable and compact for maintaining balance. Tuck your tailbone under you, maintaining a centerline of energy up through the trunk, and then raise the arms overhead. With firm and powerful arms, the trunk is pulled farther upward to continue the flow of energy to the fingertips and beyond. From foot to fingers, roots to fruit, you have planted and grown an alive and attentive tree.

This Vrksasana, performed with focus and awareness from the strong connection at the root, builds steadiness not just of body, but of mind as well. With the mind attending completely to the growth of the pose, it cannot wander to your grocery list or worries at work. Awareness travels through the entire pose, like the sap flows through the tree, and you become the tree in experience and not just imagination.

There are roots to grow and awareness to build in every asana. So, taking the time to focus our efforts on the base up instead of working only in the head, we may soon find ourselves in an actual state of quiet balance of body, mind and spirit, the true promise of the practice of yoga.

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Feb. 27-March 5, 2013, issue

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