It's been an active few weeks here in Yoga Bohemia. I am preparing to teach the sequencing module for the Yoga Tree's June Intensive 200-hour Teacher Training, and that has me thinking a lot about yoga poses, and in particular, the fundamental yoga poses. In fact, I would say much of my waking life this May has been swirling around these poses and their import both as a basis of practice and as the very heart of practice.
So, first, we need to all get on the same page on what I mean by Fundamental, and I'm fairly specific in my definition even though it sounds vague at first. Fundamental poses include, but are not limited to Basic poses (basic poses are beginner level poses). Fundamental poses are simple, meaning not complex, though not necessarily easy to perform. Fundamental poses are the elders, the ancestors; more complex and more advanced poses are simply the offspring and descendants of the Fundamental poses. Fundamental poses are the indicators of readiness to begin practicing their descendant poses. Fundamental poses are the lifeblood poses, the wellspring that gives life and to which you must return again and again and again no matter how long you practice or how advanced you think you are.
Fundamental Poses are the poses that you started with, where you will spend most of your practice, and the poses to which you will return as you continue on the journey of life with its inevitable changes. Simply Put: Fundamental poses are your primary relationship in your yoga practice.
When we enter into an intimate dynamic and long-term relationship with a pose such as Trikonasana (triangle pose), we begin to cultivate a depth of understanding as the pose begins to reveal itself (and conceal itself again!) over a period of time and in multiple layers. Intimacy with Trikonasana carries with it the beginnings of courtship with its descendant poses, many of which happen to be arm balances. You can trace such poses as Stage 3 Vasisthasana (side plank arm balance with full leg extension) and Vishvamitrasana (Friend of the Universe arm balance) back to the wellspring of triangle, which you probably practiced in your beginner level yoga class.
We are so lucky to live in a world and time where we can see so many beautiful and diverse poses in our social media feeds every day, and yet, it's fairly rare to see Fundamental poses included. Though the more complex poses are inspiring to see, they can also make many feel that yoga is out of reach for them. I can't tell you how many times I've had people tell me that they would like to try yoga but they "aren't flexible enough" or "aren't strong enough." So sad that what we are portraying in social media is actually discouraging some people beginning the journey even though they are interested. As a student, I encourage you, when you see photos of more advanced poses, to realize that you are looking at one moment frozen in time, but what you are seeing could very well be years and years of practice. Many people consider BKS Iyengar's classic book Light on Yoga to be the bible of yoga poses. Iyengar demonstrates each pose in his vast syllabus in the book. What most don't realize is that the book was taken approximately 40 years into his practice of yoga. It took a lot of warrior 1s, downdogs, full wheel backbends, and handstands (all fundamental poses: remember fundamental doesn't mean easy), to practice full scorpion and more.
Last week, my friend and colleague Sean Haleen, started the #SimplyYoga Instagram Challenge of fundamental poses. I've personally never participated in an Instagram pose challenge, but when I saw he was doing it, I knew that I wanted to join in and remind all of us that there is so much beauty and so much to be learned from these Tirtha (wellspring) poses. The challenge runs until July 4th. I hope you'll join in either by posting or simply following. Please follow Sean (@Sarcasticyogateacher) or me (@yogabohemian) to find the pose for each day. If you are posting, please use the #SimplyYoga hashtag and tag @sarcasticyogateacher (me too if you want).
This summer, in my classes, we will delve into the Fundamentals as the exploration of more complex poses. We'll do a deep dive into their form, function, and how they flow and grow into other poses. I look forward to seeing you in class!