I was first introduced to self inquiry meditation during my first listening to Lama Surya Das's audiobook Natural Perfection on cassette tape in the early 2000's. Having gotten rid of all my tapes long ago it was such a surprise when this audiobook accidentally made its way back into my life via Audible.com. With a smile I acknowledged the elegant way in which the universe always gives me what I need when I need it most. I took the hint and set about the work of practicing in this beautiful tradition of Dzogchen Buddhist meditation once again.
Rushen, which means subtle discernment, is a practice to help the meditator break out of his or her conditioned responses to the world through a process of self inquiry. One of the most difficult aspects of mediation is the relentless chatter of the mind as you try to become quiet. After getting to a place of relative calm focus you suddenly remember that you need to pick up almond milk for tomorrow's breakfast smoothie and then you start to think about washing the blender and remembering how annoyed your husband got last time you made your smoothie at 6:30am and so on and so fourth until it's 5 minutes later and you have totally wandered off track.
Lama Surya Das teaches that the trick is not to try to empty the mind in meditation, rather to develop a level of detachment from the projections of the mind where you can become an observer to all those thoughts, sensations, memories, and plans without getting caught up in them. In Self Inquiry meditation these seaming distractions actually become the tools for self inquiry. For example as you start to notice your mind drift to the awareness that your foot is itching painfully you ask "who or what is experiencing this pain?" A rather indignant answer may come like "I am experiencing this pain." Then another question can be posed to probe deeper. "Who am I?" With each new answer ask another question.
After a while in this practice you may come to realize, as I did with a great shock, that nothing is really as it seams. The narrative of your existence is a composite of culture, upbringing, and human bias. These things, like a filtered sunglasses, distort your perception preventing you from experiencing absolute reality what is called in the Dzogchen tradition The Innate Great Perfection.
I have experienced it twice. Both times it was just a flash and then I was drawn back into thoughts pertaining to the this and that-ing of life. I can't explain to you in words what it was like to have a glimpse of the world without the overlay of all my assumptions because as I type this I am operating from within that distorted view. I did however completely identify with the quote by Indian poet Kabir that Lama Suraya Das included in Natural Perfection.
Kabir sang, "I glimpsed it for 15 seconds, it made me a servant for life."
Parivrtta Hasta Padangustasana is a powerful pose for developing a specific type of rotational core strength that we use all the time in skiing. As the legs turn to redirect the skis across the fall line the oblique abdominals start to work to maintain a strong and stable aligned stance while the lower body twists under the upper body. Like coiling a spring tight this action of twisting that is inherent in skiing creates a lot of energy. As soon as the muscles that maintain the twist are softened at the end of the turn the energy is released and the body naturally unwinds back to a neutral, skis heading down the fall-line position. Any skier, with training and time, can learn how to harness the energy created through this twisting action to propel themselves from one turn to the next. The first step is developing a strong core. Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana is both a balance and a twisting pose. It strengthens the oblique muscles while stretching the outer leg. Both of these effects will improve your performance on the slopes.
How to do it:
Start in Tadasana Mountain pose. Spread the toes of the right foot to connect the 4 points of the foot (big toe mound, pinkie toe mount, inner and outer edge of the heel) to the yoga mat. Bend the left knee and take hold of the left big toe with the first two fingers and thumb of the left hand. On the next inhale start to extend the left leg straight forward. This is Utthita Hasta Padangustasana or regular hand to big toe pose.
If you are still working to straighten the left leg, if you feel you can not extend the leg without rounding the lower back, or if balance is a struggle then keep working this version of the posture for as long as it takes for you to feel comfortable, strong, and stable. There is no rush in Yoga. We move at our bodies natural pacing and through the practice we slowly transform the body until we can safely and comfortably move onto more challenging postures. I can not emphasize this enough.
To move into the revolved version of the posture, Parvrtta Hasta Padangusthasana, bend the left leg and take hold of the left foot with the right hand, left hand on left hip. Again start to extend the left leg and twist the torso to the left. If you feel strong here start to extend the left hand towards the wall behind you. Ideally there will be one long line from the left fingertips to the outer edge of the left foot. Hold for 5 - 8 cycles of breath and repeat on the opposite side.
A great modification for this posture is to use a chair against a wall. Stand in front of the chair with the chair back agains the wall and the seat facing you. The heel of the extended leg will rest of the chair back with the four points of the foot pressing firmly into the wall. It can be helpful to cushion the chair back with a blanket first. Withe the standing leg firmly rooting into the ground and the extended leg firmly rooting into the wall it is possible to gain the stability to experiment with twisting in opposition to the extended leg. The hand does not need to come all the way to the outer foot for the posture to be effective. Place the opposite hand on the shin bone of the extended leg same as you move into the twist reaching behind yourself with same side arm out stretched. Hold this posture 5 - 8 cycles of breath each side and practice weekly to strengthen the oblique muscles and lengthen the IT bands.
For more information on this posture visit the video section of thespiritualskier.com to watch a demonstration of this posture.
Christine Davidson is a Ski Instructor, Yoga Teacher and Peak Performance Coach on a mission to make humans awesome!