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Humble Warrior

Embracing Challenges on the Path of Growth - By Andrea Marcum

Reading time: 3 minutes

The first year we were married, much to my surprise my then brand-new husband Dom (not exactly known for his interest in the “spiritual”) made us an appointment with Roxanna, an intuitive he’d heard about while I was leading a retreat in Mexico. She had us rub a bouquet of aromatherapy oils into the palms of our hands, smell them with our eyes closed for a few minutes, and then…

“You get frustrated,” she told Dom, “and you bring it to the relationship. Andrea tries to fix it. That’s really frustrating, isn’t it?”

He agreed (a bit too enthusiastically).

“You need to leave him to his frustrations,” she told me. “They are positive, even though they don’t seem like it at the time. They’re what he needs in order to move to something better.”

I think Roxanna’s advice rings true for us all. We have to be allowed our seeming setbacks so that we can move through them, learn from them, and ultimately move on. Out of challenge comes a little shining piece to the puzzle of why—a better understanding of what we’re capable of, and what we’re doing here. It is our way towards meaning.

Challenge is Opportunity

Our yoga poses affirm that change and improvement are going to be a bit scrappy. If we take Roxanna’s advice and are willing to get our hands a bit dirty, really dig deep into our personal soil, we just might discover that when we think we’ve been buried we’ve actually been planted.

From Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras pratipaksha bhavanam is the ability to look at a situation from a different perspective and turn negativity into positive action. It asks us to reframe our challenges and see them as opportunities; to see the blessings in our curses and to shift from buried to planted.

Poses Inform Our Person

It’s that moment when we want the pose to be over that our yoga begins. That point where we go beyond the strength, flexibility and focus we already have and begin to pioneer some new terrain. Things get uncomfortable, and all we want to do is reach for our water bottle even though we aren’t thirsty, fix our hair, adjust our yoga pants—hey, we’d probably be willing to do our taxes… Just as Roxanna pointed out to Dom, brushing up against our limitations is humbling. A confrontational postural moment allows us to access pratipaksha bhavanam in ways that not only further our yoga, they inform our person.

Pratipaksha Bhavanam in Action 

Even if you’ve been practicing for 5000 years, hanging out in warrior 2 for a while gives you some serious pratikpaksha bhavanam bang for your buck.

Find tadasana (mountain pose) in the middle of your mat facing its long edge. Reach your arms wide out to the side like a broad set of wings- then step your feet far enough apart that your ankles line up underneath your wrists. Turn your right leg out so that your right foot faces that short end of your mat. Shift your back heel to about a 45-degree angle, heel closer to the back edge of your mat than your toes. Bend your front knee creating a vertical line from your knee to your ankle while keeping tadasana in your torso.

Remember as you design this posture (or any other) that you’re neither chasing an outside aesthetic nor enduring sharp pain. Embracing that dull roar of progress you’ll feel as you remain in the pose, however, is turning challenge into an opportunity to grow, and it is pratipaksha bhavanam in action.

Imagine a racing stripe along the inside of your right thigh, elongating your inner thigh towards your front knee. Use a second energetic racing strip running the opposite direction along the outer right thigh to draw your right hip back towards your back heel. Allow the external rotation of your right hip and the actions of your racing stripes to coerce your front knee more towards the pinky toes side of your foot instead of caving in towards your big toe.

Activate your back leg focusing on the outer edge of your back foot and keeping it heavy against the ground. The arch of that same foot lifting instead of collapsing. The evenness of your base in the ground cultivates an all-encompassing steadiness.

It’s Time

Set a timer for 2.5 minutes on each side of your warrior 2. If the physical intensity is too much, simply lower your arms for a moment or straighten your front leg.

While you’re holding the pose close your eyes and notice the inner-growl of impatience tempting you to impulsively leave it --choose to stay with it a little bit longer than you thought you could. Remember Roxanna’s advice to Dom and shift from buried-in-excuses to planting  pratipaksha bhavanam here.

Mirror and Metaphor

Fancy poses are fine, but an ongoing relationship with deceptively simple postures is fascinating. They are a palpable reveal of who you really are body and mind. Returning to these poses day after day, season after season deepens your relationship with yourself. Your warrior on your mat is both a mirror and a metaphor for you as a warrior out in the world. How we do one thing is how we do everything. How we do our yoga is how we do our life.

Pratikpaksha bhavanam is like wearing Roxanna’s fragrant advice at all times – reminding us that situations we might initially perceive of as frustrations or limitations are, if we allow them to be, powerful seeds to grow our humble warriors into their fullest potentials.

Andrea Marcum

Andrea Marcum is a yoga teacher, retreat leader & author. You can find her online classes at andreamarcum.com