Sometimes growth appears in an obvious manner and other times it is slow, requiring some trigger for us to look back and see that indeed we have grown or changed.  One of the ways to grow your asana practice transition from beginner to more intermediate or advanced level, is through extending out to literally grow bigger, “organic expansion” in the Anusara terminology.  This is literally rooting into your connection with the floor and rising up from there, actually growing taller, extending spine, arms and legs a little more.

Recently in a class I attended, my teacher had us work with this extension.  I was amazed to see the difference that expansion made in my fellow student.  He was very much an athlete and had a fairly strong yoga practice, but had only practiced for a year or so.  It was incredible to see him literally extend his spine in a standing pose by at least a half inch, and in his handstand, he literally lengthened a full inch.

Organic extension is what took my backbends to the next level.  Full disclosure: backbends are naturally a relatively strong area for me.  Each of us is different, and we all have poses that easier, and poses that are harder.  Because they are relatively easy for me, I had focused on other poses, and didn’t work too hard on my backbends.  But when I learned to extend my heart up to the sky, my backbends exploded.  Rooting down through my feet keeps my foundation strong and my low back safe, and upward extension through my chest is how I find room to curl more, to reach back further and peacefully extend into deeper poses.

It’s an interesting comparison: physical expansion through the chest and heart opens up your body, while expanding your view opens up your heart and your connection with others.  To grow our inner selves is also to stretch ourselves from our starting point.  For our relationships with others, we do this by opening our hearts, by seeing the other’s view, and making space for people to be who they are, versus trying to change them.

May your practice on the mat improve your life off the mat.