What’s your favorite yoga pose?
My favorite number is one hundred forty-one. One. Four. One. It’s a number that has made me smile since eighth grade, the number of “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band on the jukebox at Happy Joe’s Pizza Parlor. I can remember dropping a quarter into the slot and pressing the buttons, 1-4-1. It was the number on a ticket stub to a junior high dance I went to, the gym slung with crepe paper, the boys standing along one wall, the girls on the other. It’s a palindrome, the same frontwards and backwards. It is divisible by three—add 1 + 4 + 1 and get six, then do the math. Three goes into 141 forty-seven times.
My favorite color is periwinkle. I committed to a favorite number long before I committed to a favorite color (or flower or gemstone). Twelve and Nine, when they were little, convinced me that I needed to have a favorite color. One or the other of them would be drawing, clutching chunky crayons in hands they were still mastering, and invariably the question would come: “Mommy, what’s your favorite color?” It was supposed to be sneaky—find out my favorite color and then draw a picture for me featuring that color. When I couldn’t give an answer, they would look at me with disbelief—because everybody has a favorite color. “Is it black?” my wide-eyed child would ask because I wear a lot of black. “No. Not black.” I realized I was going to have to come up with something, so I thought about it and I chose. Periwinkle—a color somewhere in between blue and purple, a clear sky at just the right moment before sunrise.
I spent Valentine’s Day (my least favorite holiday) sharing yoga with second and third graders. The inevitable question came, in the moments left after our lively practice together, from a little red-haired boy who had crept close to my mat: “What’s your favorite yoga pose? Can you teach us?” In class I frequently find myself introducing a pose with “this is one of my favorites … “ or I’ll say, “this is one of my favorite things about yoga.” And while I could say that about each and every challenge yoga flings my way, even poses I haven’t mastered and a few I have never attempted, here too I had previously committed and so I was able to tell my interrogator: “My favorite pose is Parvrtta Surya Yantrasana. Compass Pose—sometimes called Sundial.”
Compass fully realized is a cover of Yoga Journalkind of pose. One leg, start with your left, folds in front of you. Sit tall. Draw the right leg in with a bent knee and slide the right arm under the crook of the knee, planting the palm on the mat. With the peace sign fingers of your left hand, reach for the big toe of the right foot. Draw the right leg straight up, still holding the toe, and pivot the spine to align along the uplifted leg, gazing up. Breathe. The pose can be modified by sitting on a blanket, by placing the support hand on a block, or by catching the uplifted foot in the loop of a strap. The pose can be intensified by releasing the toe, planting the left hand, and feeding the support leg through the arms, coming into an arm balance—this variation I have only ever attempted once without much success.
Compass pose is a twist, a hamstring stretch, a hip-opener, and a bind. With the exception of going upside down, which I love to do, Compass encompasses everything I like most about yoga. Check that—it encompasses everything I can most easily do on a yoga mat. It is not a natural pose for some bodies, but it comes naturally in mine. And I like the name. I love the name. I am making my body into a shape that aids direction, navigation, understanding.
In Sanskrit the literal translation of the pose name is Revolved (Parvrrta) Sun (Surya) Instrument (Yantra) Pose (Asana). A yantra may also be a diagram, used to depict both microcosmic (the little world of my body) and macrocosmic (the whole world) forces acting together—a simultaneous moving away from and toward center. There is both control and freedom in one device, image, or pose.
Control and freedom. Freedom and control. I find myself practicing Compass and considering the verbal slip I made in class one day last week—“move yourself to your center-edge.” This pose is both at the center and the edge of my practice; this practice is both the center and edge of my being. It grounds me and pushes me in new directions. Without it I am lost; with it I am not found but maybe pointed where I need to go, with any luck toward true north.
And, toward figuring out what my favorites are. I love all flowers but am pretty sure poppies are my absolute favorites. Faceted peridots, my birthstone, are volcanic. What’s not to love? A rock. A flower. A color. A number. A pose. But always there’s another challenge. Last Friday I was invited to talk with a group of girl scouts about writing. Their assignment: write about your favorite season. These girls are fourth and sixth graders and they had a lot to say both out loud and on the page. As we did some brainstorming and some breathing and gentle movements, their drafts grew. Toward the end of our time together—right before they sent me out the door with girl scout cookies—we came back to our original circle to talk a little more. Does anyone have any questions, I asked, about writing? Sure they did, a few, but what they really wanted to know was what my favorite season is … I should have been ready with an answer, but I wasn’t.
Wishing you a beautiful new February moon and lots of whatever your favorites are. xoR