In the story of the Churning of the Milky Ocean, the gods and demons work together to bring up the amṛta or nectar of immortality from the bottom of the ocean. Vishnu the preserver, takes the form of a tortoise, so the churning rod has a strong and stable platform. Using a snake to propel the churning rod, the motion first produced a deadly poison. To save the world, Shiva swallowed the poison and held it in his throat. The churning continued and many amazing rewards were produced including Kaustubhamaṇi (an unmatched jewel), the goddess Lakṣmī, and the amṛta. There are many lessons and insights that can be taken from this story. One is that you have to do the work to get to the reward. Many times that means dealing with difficult and potentially debilitating obstacles. But, if you persevere, if you put in the work, the rewards will come and they will be more plentiful than you expected.
Kūrmāsana or Tortoise pose requires open hips, open shoulders, open hamstrings and Uḍḍiyāna Bandha . Uḍḍiyāna Bandha starts as a muscular lift of of the belly in towards the spin and upwards. What starts as a physical lift of the muscles transforms into an energetic lift of energy from the core of the body upward. Harnessing this energy is what really makes our arm balance and flying postures like crow catch air and soar. In each of these variations and stages focus on the inward and upward lift of the belly.
Option 1 – Kūrmāsana Prep. From a seated posture, take the legs wider than shoulders. Soften the knees and snuggle the biceps behind the thighs. Reach the hands to hold the tops of the ankles. Use the hands to gently pull on the ankle reaching a little deeper into the pose. Broaden the collarbone while lifting the belly away from the floor. The head can be held in line with the spine or allow it to gently hang.
Option 2 – Block Support. From Kūrmāsana Prep, reach the arms wide pressing the hands to the floor in line with the shoulders. Flex the feet and begin to slide the legs toward straight. Make sure the elbows are outside of the thighs, so the thighs press down on the biceps. As the legs straighten the torso is pulled towards the floor. When you find a good spot to work and breathe, use the block for support under the forehead.
Option 3 – Kūrmāsana. Continue to reach the legs until they are completely straight. Let the heart rest on the ground. Start with the forehead to the ground and when the neck allows, lift the head and rest the chin on the floor.
Option 4 – Supta Kūrmāsana Prep. To draw the tortoise into the shell, walk the feet toward one another and cross at the ankles, eventually, the feet cross above the head, allowing the forehead to rest on the floor. Here, the block is used to support the feet, allowing space for the and chest to melt toward the floor. When you are able to maintain this posture, reach the hands behind the back to bind. Be sure to switch the cross of the legs as you practice to cultivate symmetry. As you draw the limbs inside, take an opportunity to withdrawal mind from stimulation to create peace and calm.
This pose is wonderfully awkward, but when you can find a peaceful seat, tortoise is incredibly grounding, nurturing, and preserving. The key to getting the reward from the practice is to work where your body is safe and at the right level of challenge for you. Follow this #PowerPose challenge @suzannewrightyoga on Instagram or at Suzanne Wright Yoga on Facebook. If you post your pictures or about your experience be sure to tag #PowerPose and @suzannewrightyoga.