A Physical, Psychological and Spiritual Practice


By Marcia Langenberg
Originally published in Yoga Bridge - WINTER 2024 VOLUME 24 ISSUE 1

When I heard the news that my husband, Willem, had fallen skating at Edmonton's Victoria Park Oval on March 16, 2023, and was being taken by ambulance to the trauma unit at the Misericordia Hospital, my first instinct was to connect with my breath. My second instinct was to chant the Gāyatrī Mantra1 while driving to the hospital. My third instinct was to place my hand on the top of my husband's head in a special way (nyāsa), when I saw him strapped on a gurney in a neck brace with a swollen, red, bloodied face. At that moment, I became a ‘warrior’ determined to act in whatever way was needed to help him.

There is a triad of āsanas known as the warrior poses: vīrabhadrāsana 1, 2, and 3. Each of these poses has a stable base and an open chest, which promotes vitality (vīra). Each has its own attribute. Warrior 1 cultivates the quality of receptiveness to something greater than us. Warrior 2 cultivates being in the present moment. Warrior 3 cultivates balance. Thirty years of practicing these poses embedded within me the qualities I needed to be a warrior for my husband. The following descriptions of the practice of these three poses in two stages with the breath is the signature way asanas are practiced in the lineage of Sri T. K. V. Desikachar.

To move into Warrior 1 from standing with feet together, I turn my right foot 45-degrees and step my left leg forward in front of my left hip. I feel even weight through my tripods (base of big toe, little toe, and heel) of both feet. As I inhale, my chest expands and my sternum (chest bone) slightly lifts away from my navel, my arms lift forward and up beside my head, and my left knee bends maintaining equal grounding through both feet. I feel the strength in my legs supporting me as I open my heart to the Divine. On exhale, I straighten my knee, relax my chest, lower my arms. I move into and out of Warrior 1 four to six times. When I am finished doing this pose dynamically, I step my left leg back beside my right. I let my breath recover and then I go back into the pose on the same side in which I stay, calling on Divine Grace to enter me while visualizing streams of silver particles of light coming into my heart, for four to six breaths. When I return to stand with feet beside each other and slightly apart in samasthiti (standing neutral pose with spine in its natural curves), I let my breath come to rest and open myself to receive rays of Light streaming down into me. Then I do the other side.

Standing by my husband's bed, to which he had been transferred from the gurney, I placed my hands on his chest and head, silently chanted OM, and called for the Divine to descend into us while feeling my breath breathing me and visualizing silver light particles streaming into us. This practice calmed my husband when he was agitated with pain, fear, and sorrow. It connected me to something higher than me that would help us. It gave me the energy to stay with him until 12:45 am when he finally settled, and I finally felt comfortable leaving him under the expert care of the compassionate medical staff.

To move into Warrior 2 from standing with feet slightly apart, I step my legs apart and turn my left foot to be as close to perpendicular to my right foot as my left hip allows. I release my right heel away from my left heel to release tension in my hips and to allow my weight to be distributed evenly through both feet. I inhale, lifting my arms sideways to a comfortable height slightly below shoulder level and slightly forward. As I exhale, I sink into the present moment bending my left knee. I keep my shoulders in line with my hips, my head balanced on my spine and my back leg strong as I turn my head to look to the left, to the future. As I inhale, I straighten my left knee. As I exhale, I lower my arms. I move into and out of Warrior 2 four to six times. When I am finished doing the pose dynamically, I bring my feet beside each other and slightly apart. I let my breath recover and then go back into the pose on the same side in which I stay centered and established in the present while being connected with the past but leaving it behind and looking to the future, for four to six breaths. When I return to standing in samasthiti, I let my breath come to rest and feel myself rooted in current time for a few breaths. Then I do the other side.

As I navigated through visits to the hospital, talks with the medical staff on the ward to where my husband had been transferred, and caring for my husband, I stayed in the present. Warrior 2 imprinted within me not to be bound by the past because I can’t change it, not to be focused on the future because I don’t know what it will be, and to be in the present because that is the only moment about which I can do anything. Looking into the past depleted my energy. Anticipating the future fuelled my anxiety. Focusing on the present gave me the vitality, stability, and concentration I needed to assist my husband.

To move into Warrior 3 from standing with feet slightly apart, I step my left leg forward in line with my left hip. As I inhale, I lift my sternum away from my navel and open my arms out to the side while I transfer my weight onto my left leg by tilting forward and coming up onto the toes of my right foot. As I exhale, I keep my chest lifted, shoulders and shoulder blades down, and tilt further forwards lifting my right leg using my hamstring muscle. I tilt as far as I can maintain balance and keep the complementary action of the lift of my sternum and the extension of my upper back with the lift and elongation of my right leg. On inhale, I lower my right foot back to the ground and on exhale lower my arms. I move into and out of Warrior 3 four to six times. When I am finished doing the pose dynamically, I step my left leg back beside my right. I let my breath recover and then I go back into this pose on the same side in which I stay, sustaining my steadiness with the support of my breath, for four to six breaths. When I return to standing with feet slightly apart in samasthiti, I let my breath come to rest and feel balanced and composed. Then I do the other side.

As I journeyed through the crisis stage of my husband's accident, injuries, and hospital stay, I maintained my equilibrium by doing my daily practice of asana, chanting, and meditation. As well, I balanced the time spent at the hospital caring for him with my time at home caring for myself.

In the lineage of Śri T. K. V. Desikachar, an asana is performed dynamically, or dynamically and statically. An asana is performed dynamically by moving into and out of a pose synchronized with breath for a few repetitions. An asana is performed statically by staying in a pose for a specific number of breaths. Both these techniques require discipline.

The dynamic practice requires concentrating on moving on inhale, pausing the movement and breath, moving on exhale, pausing the movement and breath. The number of counts for the inhale, exhale and pauses varies according to the comfort level of a student’s breath and the intent of a practice. One breathing ratio example is Inhale 6: Hold 2: Exhale 6: Hold 2. The staying practice involves holding the pose for a few breaths while performing a chosen breath ratio and concentrating on feeling the inhale animating the pose and the exhale stabilizing it.

The sequencing of movement with these four phases of breath helps to ensure that each pose in a progression is finished before moving onto the next one. A pause is a moment to feel the position we, as yoga students, have moved into and to think about what position we are moving into next. A pause in the movement and breath is like a period at the end of a sentence, which signals the completion of one thought before moving onto the next. The staying in a pose augments its effects and the effects of the breath.

The practice of moving through the steps into and out of an asana and staying in an asana, while being conscious of what we are experiencing moment to moment and making micro adjustments as needed, is an analogy for moving with concentration, awareness and clarity through each step required to carry out our daily responsibilities. It is an analogy for observing what is happening during each step we take as we move towards a goal and when we have reached the goal. It is an analogy for knowing when we need to change direction if we realize we need to do so at some point along the path we are travelling.

The practice of these yoga techniques on the yoga mat cultivates the dual qualities of a stable, relaxed body, a long, fine breath, and a calm, focused mind2. In our daily lives, these qualities weaken the tendency to be distracted and to rush unconsciously from one activity to the next. Instead, they strengthen a steady, tranquil attentiveness while moving step-by-step through our tasks.

The imprinting of these techniques and qualities from years of practicing vīrabhadrāsana I, 2 and 3 enabled me to spontaneously access them when I suddenly and unexpectedly had to become a ‘warrior’ for my husband. When I wavered, I practiced the warrior poses to stabilize me. As well, I practiced letting go of what I wanted by surrendering to Iśvara, the Supreme Force, and to accept that I am not in control of everything3. I maintained my faith (śraddhā)4, an unshakeable conviction in my yoga practice (it has never failed me), in the power of healing, and in something greater than me.

Willem is practicing the three vīrabhadrāsana poses to develop his own warrior within to support his healing physically, psychologically, and spiritually. He is on the path of recovery despite the diagnosis of other maladies which are not related to the trauma he sustained from his skating fall and for which he is being treated as well.

Both Willem’s and my experiences have reinforced for me the value of practicing asana not just as physical exercise, but as expressions of human existence.

[1] Gāyatrī Mantra, a significant and popular hymn, has been chanted daily since ancient Vedic times. gāya: reveal, sing. trī: three: three realms: bhūr – Earth, bhuva – midregion (astral plane), suvah – heavens three actions: prepare, announce what we are going to do, do it. gāyatrī: also refers to a specific meter in which the hymn is composed.

Oṁ bhūrbhuvassuvaḥ tat savitur varenyaṁ bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhyo yo naḥ pracodayāt

This mantra is a prayer to the sun God, the Sacred Light, to dispel the darkness of ignorance, inspire illuminating visionary thought, and provide clarity and strength.

[2] Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras II.46, II.50, II.53
[3] Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra II.1
[4] Patajañli’s Yoga Sūtra I.20

Marcia Langenberg is a YAA Permanent Certified Senior Teacher. She initially studied with Teddy Hyndman, Beth McCann and Sandra Sammartino. For the past twenty years she has studied with Rosemary Jeanes Antze (Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, India). Marcia teaches in Edmonton.

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