Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


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Resting Pose: The Practice of Doing Nothing

Child’s pose (Balasana) is a resting pose.

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Balasana – Child’s Pose

Child’s pose can also be an active, resting pose.

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Extended child’s pose

To actively engage in this restful pose, the fingers should be spread, finger pads and palms gently pressed into the floor. Elbows should be raised. Knees can be together to release the lower back or wide to release the hips.

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Child’s pose – knees apart to release hips

The pose itself appears like nothing is happening, but internally your body is working.

Whether you actively work the pose or allow your muscles to completely rest you will benefit in the following ways:

  • Gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles
  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue
  • Relieves back and neck pain when done with head and torso supported

Although child’s pose is simple and restful, it is not a pose you should move away from with experience. It is a pose to be repeated and savored daily. It allows the practitioner, either experienced or new, to regain breath, calm the mind and release tension. It is a place to gather and recharge before or after more vigorous practice.

I cannot think of one yoga class I have attended where the instructor did not encourage use of child’s pose. Students are always reminded that child’s pose is available to them if they are feeling fatigued or need to regroup. There is no shame or defeat in stepping away from the class flow to a private reprieve on your mat.

What a wonderful concept.

Can you imagine the possibilities if we let that practice translate into our everyday?

What if there was no shame in figuratively putting your head down and resting on your laurels?

There are times I find this simple practice happening naturally. For example: I do not write my blog posts in one sitting. I write. I stop. I reflect. I write again. If I never stepped away and reflected, I would never sharpen some of the finer points. The active work would not be as good.

However, there are plenty places in my daily living I forget this gentle practice of resting. I push and strive when the smarter path might be to sit back, take a moment and do nothing.


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Yoga Practice 101: The Competitive Pose

I have a freakishly competitive nature. It will lie dormant for months then suddenly erupt, usually during a benign activity that doesn’t require the intensity I bring to it. Once, after a game of dominoes, my good friend Bob said he would rather break his own arms than play with me again. Others (including my husband) have shared similar sentiments, thankfully without the violent imagery.

 I spent 12 years in sales. There, the competitive spirit is encouraged and rewarded. I was in competition with my team mates, other offices, divisions and states. Not to mention the competitors. The corporate language gave value to blood sport. We were encouraged to kill our numbers. We were also reminded in meetings, with heavy handed analogies, that sharks die if they stop moving. So, I moved. I really hustled.

Until I didn’t want to anymore. I grew weary of chasing an ever growing quota. As competitive as I am, that is not all I am. So I made a change. I got my teaching degree and went to teach High School English. Turns out, competition comes in many forms. Drop a competitive person into any environment and they will find a competition. This is not a bad thing.  My last year at the school, the seniors voted me and the math teacher “Co-Teachers of the Year.”  I’m proud of that.

The people I practice yoga with include marathon runners, college athletes, financiers and CEOs to name a few. These are people that deal with intense competition in other parts of their life. They are not shrinking violets. Yet, as far as I can tell, none of us go to the studio to compete with each other. Speaking for myself, my time on my mat is for me.  If I am taking on a challenge, it is the challenge of an asana and it doesn’t matter what anyone else in the room is doing. Although, it wasn’t always like that for me.

When I first starting practicing yoga, I would have an internal conniption fit if I couldn’t perfect a pose. I was constantly comparing myself to my classmates. I saw it as a failure to take a modification. Forget taking child’s pose, I was going to push through my muscle fatigue. Before I built my upper body strength, I was furious that I had to use my knees during the push up in chaturanga. Don’t even get me started on my epic journey into crow. It’s hilarious looking back at myself. Did I expect to jump in at an advanced level?

I guess I did.

It makes me wonder, where else have I done that?  When have I grown frustrated with something because I wasn’t (what I perceived to be) the best at it?  The answer to that is a long and sometimes frighteningly petty, list.

I ask the question, not to beat myself up, but to make a point. Competition is imprinted in our human DNA. Competition is why people play sports and have game nights.  It is why people excel in their professions and hobbies.  It is why the phrase “the thrill of the hunt” was coined.  Competition is where we learn how far we can jump and dream.  Our survival as a species was successful because we are competitive.

But let’s face it.  I’m not out on the Serengeti trying to outsmart a lioness. Surviving, for a suburban yogini, is pretty easy.

That doesn’t make the competitive spirit go away and it shouldn’t. Competition is a good thing. We learn from it. Because in competition, there is a chance you might lose. Our life’s lessons are written in our losses. There have been some amazing trajectories born from significant setbacks.

Let’s go back to my first hyper competitive attempts at yoga.  My failure there was really only in my head.  But it was a real failure in my head.  I was missing out on the true nature of the practice because I was so busy trying to “keep up” with my neighbors.

There are many moments in life that we should relish the opportunity to jump into a competition.  There are other times that our drive should take a backseat to what is important in the moment.

The trick is figuring out which moment is which.

Obviously, in the case of Bob and the dominoes, I might have made the wrong choice.