The practice of yoga requires we find that sense of “stirha and sukham”—what this translates into is “ease and effort.” This delicate balance is never a simple task, because many yoga poses challenge us by pushing us to our physical and mental limits. As this intensity occurs, often we find we lose our breath, get frustrated and possibly give up on the pose. However, when in reality, if we think back to the idea of stirha and sukham, we would remember to summon up our courage, breathe through the discomfort and access the ease and effort that is present in every yoga pose.
Boat pose, or Paripurna Navasana, is an excellent example of finding such a balance. In Sanskrit—the ancient Indian language of yoga— “paripurna” means entire, full, or complete; “nava” means boat and “asana” means pose. Despite the effort and many actions involved, finding stability in this posture can help calm and align your body, mind and emotions. As well, the core work required to hold this pose with grace will strengthen your lower back and abdominals, too.
How To Do It
1. Sit up tall, with your legs extended out in front of you.
2. Extend your arms forward, but engage or “plug” your arm bones in, so that there is muscular integration present. Feel your collarbones widen, and imagine they could extend to either side of the room. Be sure you are drawing your chin in toward your throat, and not jutting it out.
3. Pull your tummy in and up, so that your core is engaged. In yoga, we call this “udiyanabandha”—it is an energy lock or lift that means your core is engaged and strong, and your navel presses toward the spine. This lock is what helps protect and strengthen your low back…which is often a risk factor in core-related poses.
4. Now that you are ready to rock, sit back a little bit until your heels lift off the floor. If you feel any sharp pain in your tailbone, you can stop and sit on a yoga blanket to help modify.
5. Take the legs up, up, up—but be sure to keep your spine in extension (long) and not rounded (flexion). You will feel like you are resting on your sitting bones and tailbone.
6. Hold this pose for 5 breaths, eventually working up to 10 breaths or more! As a final flourish, you may want to hold the toes in yoga toe lock, which is your “peace” fingers and thumbs wrapping each big toe.
7. Keep your legs straight and strong, and be sure you are breathing! In through your nose, out through your nose is the breath of yoga. It is called ujjayi, or victorious breath. It sounds smooth and oceany—like the breath is being dragged up and down your throat.
If you have lower back tenderness, try doing this pose with bent knees, and your hands placed on the backs of the thighs. Still keep your chest open and your spine lengthened. If you are working with tight hamstrings, try using a yoga strap placed around the balls of your feet and slowly practice straightening your legs. Over time, and with continued practice, it will happen!
1. Stimulates the kidneys, thyroid and prostate glands, and intestines
2. Helps relieve stress
3. Improves digestion
4. Strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors, and spine
Remember to call upon the calm that yoga requires, and see if you can find that sense of ease and effort as you practice boat pose. Where is the work? Where in the pose can you relax and soften? In life, we are usually faced with situations that make us tense up and forget to breathe. Yoga is wonderful, because it allows us to basically practice for these intense times in our lives, with the added benefit of gaining physical strength and confidence! The more yoga you perform, the more you may start to find you can “rock” any situation that comes your way.
Lana Russo, boat pose
Photo by Kim Hurst, outfit courtesy of lululemon