Yoga: A 21st Century Shape Shifter

Written by Carmela Cattuti MA, LPN, Kripalu Certified Yoga Instructor.

Shape shifting is the ancient art of intentionally changing form. Many indigenous cultures used masks and wore animal skins during ceremonial dance. It was believed that wearing animal skins transformed the dancer (usually a shaman) into that particular animal. It was a way of connecting and communicating with a different species. Each animal possessed information about the earth and the role they played in maintaining its balance and health. Shape shifting also allowed humans to integrate a broad spectrum of qualities of each individual animal. Through this process, ancient cultures were connected to earth's changes and acted on the information they received. They knew if they had to relocate to higher ground because of weather patterns or where they could find water. Accessing the energy of a particular animal through the form of a yoga pose is a more viable option for people who want to transform and evolve in the 21st century. The yogi can shape shift into any insect, bird, or animal through executing specific yoga postures. The mind set of the practitioner to voluntarily enter a creature's world is key to mining the wisdom of other species who share our planet.

pigeon pose

To design a personal shape shifting yoga practice, sit in a simple posture (legs crossed) and think of a quality you would like to integrate more into your life. Review your life over the past week or days and observe where you felt your energy was weak or depleted.. Where were you not able to respond powerfully? What quality would have assisted you? Once you've identified the quality, then practice the poses that contain the qualities you require. For example, if the intention is to have a higher perspective about a certain issue or more lightness in your life, then Eagle Balance (Garudasana) would be an appropriate posture to practice. The feeling of standing on one leg while the arms are intertwined and the spine is upright is reminiscent of the regal bird sitting on a branch surveying his domain. You can then integrate the quality of viewing the world with an expansive awareness. Eagles are creatures of the sky so there is a feeling of rising above to seek solutions to problems and to see life more truthfully.

If you desire more flexibility in life or more information about the earth, then any posture from the insect world would support this goal. The Scorpion (Vrischikasana-there are many variations) is an excellent posture to increase spine flexibility. They also live close to the earth so they can transmit information about earth changes. If Scorpion is too difficult a pose, then the Cobra (Bhujangasana) can also be used to access similar information. The cat can be used to become familiar with feline consciousness. If more independence is needed then accessing cat awareness will integrate this quality. Cats never think about what to do next, they just move appropriately in the moment. They respond spontaneously.

Arm balances contain the qualities of strength and fortitude. Practicing the Crow (Bakasana) brings our fears to the foreground. Many practitioners find this to be a difficult posture, but the Crow encourages us to keep trying. Challenged by the fear of falling the Crow teaches us persistence. It is only through persistence that goals are attained. Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) gives us the experience of being inverted and viewing the world from a canine perspective. This posture gives us the playfulness and sheer enjoyment of a good stretch. Downward Dog encourages us to have fun with our practice and delight in sharing energy with the animal kingdom.

If you are feeling ungrounded and uprooted then Tree Balance (Vrksasana) would be the perfect posture to practice. This posture teaches us to go with the flow and keep our roots when our branches are whipped by the wind. Through weathering the storm we maintain our balance and focus. Through Tree Balance we learn that we can remain unaffected by another's energy. Through a regular practice of this posture the yogi integrates the strength and flexibility of a tree.

The focus on shape shifting in a yoga practice adds more depth to the poses and to the process. We practice yoga not just to twist ourselves into pretzels but to become stronger, more compassionate, and more expansive in body, mind, and spirit. During this time of change and moving into heaven on earth it is essential to connect with the earth and its creatures. A yoga practice is about reclaiming our connection with the earth while we expand spiritually.

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