I always begin my practice (especially on the days when I am feeling heavy or tired) with relaxation. Whether I am lying down or standing tall, I start by focusing attention on my natural breath in a conscious effort to relax. This tuning into the breath is not done in an arbitrary way, but in a deeply intimate and intentional way. It always blows my teeny tiny brain that no one else can breathe for me nor can anyone ever know what it feels like to breathe with my lungs. If it's not personal, what's the point?
This ritual "dropping in" to the flow of practice happens intuitively, I never thought to question why I do it. This week however, I had a student ask me why I always begin in this way, why we don't just jump in and start moving. Don't get me wrong, sometimes, this immediate action is necessary. Particularly to meet the body (or more likely the brain) where it is. For example, if you're coming to the mat in a rush, having just just barely made it on time after working until the last possible second or after dropping the kids off at school, perhaps you're not exactly in a place to peacefully ease into your yoga. Nevertheless, even just 3 conscious breaths can make a difference.
Whatever your opening ritual is, it can transform your state of mind and the quality of your energy. It can be the difference between walking off the mat feeling refreshed and walking away feeling more wound up than when you arrived. If we allow ourselves to relax into receptivity from the beginning, there's an opportunity to experience the exquisitely subtle layers of the practice that we might otherwise miss if we're not paying attention. Instead of attacking the poses from the outside in, receive the practice from the inside out.
When we're relaxed, we're in a better mood. And when we're in a better mood, we can approach even the most challenging poses in a more playful way. The practice below aims to relax the body first and then explore the patterns that create stability and power in adho mukha vrksasana, handstand.