Did it work? Did you relax your face when you read the title to this post? Oftentimes when I teach, I observe some fierce (and I mean, fierce!) yoga expressions. Thankfully, I am not intimidated! (Though I may have been when I was a new teacher.) Have you heard of the term “bitchy resting face”? I am not kidding, it is for real! Check it out. When I first heard that term, I thought, oh yes, I see that A LOT both on and off the mat.
I digress; bear with me: When I am running, I occasionally notice the expression of other runners’ faces. Check it out. Sometimes they are so scrunched up and just tight that I want to call out, in my best yoga teacher voice, “Soften your yoga face! Namaste!” Could you imagine? I would totally scowl at me, too. Not a productive intention. [Sigh.]
However, it is important for us to bring our awareness to the expression we hold. After all, the face is the dashboard to the body. When we hold tension in our jaw, for example, we are holding on to something else, somewhere in the body or mind. This gives us an opportunity to observe what is happening inside, a moment of reflection, and perhaps a longer breath.
Now, bring the focus down, just as far as the hips. The hips are the “junk drawer” of the body. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Stay with me. When our body/mind/spirit doesn’t know where to file something, or to process, it ends up landing in the hips. We observe what is happening inside when deeply accessing our hips we create an openness and awareness. Our physical selves may feel more release and surrender, but holistically, and mindfully more integrated, we have the opportunity to observe what arises. What we choose to do with this is entirely up to us. There is no wrong.
I recently focused on deep hip openers as the weekly focus for my classes. After leading the advanced class, I went for a run and experienced increased joy, power and strength during that run. I correlated it to the practice and felt incredible trust in my body and the abilities that I have. Personally, I am going to add a lot more hip focus in my personal practice as it was an amazing experience.
These experiences underscore how integrated yoga is. I am often awestruck as my awareness of this integration deepens and radiates into every area of my life; physical, mental and spiritual. Each experience envelops me.
As I trot along on my runs, I am mindful about keeping my face soft and I integrate other yoga alignment principals into my stride. I release my shoulder blades down, letting go of my arms to find ease in my neck and shoulders; I track parallel feet, as in tadasana, to protect my knees and lower back; and keep my gaze and heart lifted, as in chaturanga dandasana, to see where I am going on my path.
Alicia Hitzler is a Registered Yoga Teacher at INVIVO Wellness in Milwaukee, WI. Her commitment to yoga has been a life-changing experience for her and she is passionate about sharing her love for yoga with others. She practices the integration of yoga into all areas of her life in order to gain a deeper understanding of herself and the world. Learn more about Alicia at her blog, The Joyful Warrior & Savage Vegetarian.