We hold these poses – downward dog, cobra, warrior 1 – to the point that our every cell knows exactly what it should be doing, what is should be feeling, where to soften, where to strengthen, but often the mystery and origin of each pose doesn’t even cross our minds. Does this pose look good in my snappy new yoga pants – yep – then on to the next pose, right?
Gosh, I guess I started practicing yoga over 20 years ago now. I had a small apartment walking distance from the university at the time. I was either there at school studying, or working as a waitress a Red Lobster restaurant nearby. There was no time or money for a gym membership.
MY FIRST YOGA VIDEO
As a math geek, I can’t say I really even though about participating in any type of sport seriously. I didn’t even really think about it. If it didn’t happen in the library, it didn’t happen in my mind. I did make a basketball team one year a friend recently reminded me, but just as their team manager. The coach thought my math skills would help them as I could analyze their opponents. Ha! I can only imagine the look on my parents face when I came home that day telling them I had made a sports team!
Needless to say, I was never going to win athlete of the year, dancer of the year, gymnast of the year, but I knew just walking to school every day wasn’t going to cut it if I wanted to be a wellness expert one day, so I got a yoga video tape.
Wow, doesn’t buying a videotape and using a VCR seem like a million years ago! I wonder where all those tapes are nowadays?
Anyway, there I was with my first yoga video. As a non-athlete, non-bendy type, I was realistic that this might not go well. I pressed play, slowly went through the moves, and was shocked to find out that, dang, I think I am slightly flexible (all that reaching for the books on the top shelf paid off, I guess). That really wasn’t that bad. I think I have found my “sport”.
AND THEN CALI
As the years went on, I kept up with my home yoga practice whenever I could fit it in, or remembered it (let’s be honest). I learned the postures I liked, the ones that were tricky for me and challenged me, the ones that I thought “How the heck did they even get in that pose?”
It wasn’t until we moved to San Diego later in our 20s that I really dove into the world of yoga. I didn’t even know that there were different styles: Bikram, Restorative, Yin, Core Crunch Yoga?!?
But I also learned more about the history of each posture, the story of each pose.
WHAT IS SHE DOING WITH HER HANDS?
I feel I have to stop and totally come clean with something right now. Whenever I was in a class and the yoga teacher would say “Close your eyes. Go inward. Concentrate on your breath. Blah, blah, blah”, I wouldn’t. I’d peek around to see what everyone else was doing. Boy, the guy next to me is totally asleep. How is that even possible? And I wonder where she got those awesome yoga pants? Do they sell them here? And what is the teacher doing with her hands. Are we supposed to be praying or something?
I remember staring at our teacher. I know I wasn’t supposed to as this was the shut-eye-go-inward bit, but I wondered what is she doing. Her head was bowed, hands in a prayer position. I guess she is praying?!?
ARE WE PRAYING?
I grew up in a somewhat Catholic family. We went to Catechism (basically its Sunday School except it is on Saturday mornings when all the good cartoons were on TV). I think it was just a good excuse to get my brother and I out of the house so my parents could have some time to themselves.
I can’t say we ever had a regular Sunday church routine. Normally after Catechism on Saturdays, we would head to my family’s farm a few hours out of the city as my Dad had to help out and keep the 100 acres there in order, so my brother and I got to run around the fields, hiding in the lilac bushes, exploring the barn, and looking for snakes for the rest of our weekends growing up.
All that said, I had an okay idea of what this whole religion thing was, and I was somewhat sure that here, in this California yoga class, something religion-ish was happening.
That was until I knew the story.
WHY THE NAME SCREWS US UP
Poor Angali Mudra, which is the hand position that I am demonstrating in these pictures. Poor thing it is misunderstood from the get go. First of all, it is called Angali (pronounced AHN-jah-lee), so like Angel, like this is the hand gesture for the angels.
You can see how people give this one look and thoughts of church, praying come to mind, but one day I learned the real story.
SO LETS TRY IT
Let me walk you through what it is supposed to look like and we will try it together, then I will tell you the story.
- Connect your palms: The base of your palms meet and touch gently in front of you. Then the tips of your fingers meet, you guessed it, gently as well: pinky to pinky, thumb to thumb and so forth. Other than the base of your palms and the tips of your fingers, the remaining part of your hands don’t touch. It is kind of like you are ever so gently protecting a baby bird in your hands.
- Thumbs to breast bone: Us yogis like to call that our heart center. So now your lovely thumbs make contact with your breast bone or sternum gently. (I know. I am counting the number of times I can write “gently” in one section, too).
- Look at your baby bird: Now look down at where you imagined that baby bird to be in between your hands.
And that is it, Angali Mudra, but what does it mean?
This is how I tell the story of Angali Mudra word-for-word like I do when teaching a class if it feels right to tell it. I am not a crier by nature, but I usually tear up by the end of this story, so just be forewarned (read as: just know where your closest Kleenex box is).
Okay, so remember, this is how I tell it to my class, so imagine you are on your mat, wearing your snappiest pair of yoga pants, your muscles are rejoicing from a lovely class, your mind is “Ahhhh-ing” in bliss. I have just finished bringing you out of a very relaxing shivasana. We are now all sitting in a comfortable upright position, our hands in Angali Mudra at our chest. . . .
(now, I am in yoga teacher mode)
In yoga we often talk about how you, wherever you are today, with whatever you mentally and physically have showed up holding, are a gift, just as you are. That gift resides in you, in every cell, in your every breath, and is unique to only you. But it lives somewhere, and we call that place our heart center. All of your gifts, your ideas, your talents come from this special place.
Now I want you to think of your heart as a door. When our heart is open, when that door is open, you are in a place where that gift can grow and be shared and go into the world and become whatever it was that it was intended to.
But like anything in its infancy, any gift that is venturing through those doors in your heart for the first time, it is fragile and needs to be lovingly nurtured before it is ready to go out into the world.
This is why we practice Angali Mudra. Look down to your hands. Even though the tips of your thumbs meet as do the base of your palms, there is a space at your heart center that is open. This is where your gift enters your palms.
Now look at the space between your thumbs and your pointer fingers. It is like there is a window, a skylight, facing up so only you can have a clear view of that beautiful gift that is there.
In this posture, you are looking at your gift. You are acknowledging that you are a gift. You are lovingly giving this gift the space it needs to grow before you are ready to share it.
On your next deep inhale, silently, slowly tell yourself “I am a gift. I am a gift. I am a gift”.
Every time you are having a hard day, or a hard moment, I invite you to come back to this pose and just keep repeating this to yourself: “I am a gift”.
Now it is time for a big, slow exhale, and with that exhale gently open your palms as you acknowledge that it is time to let that gift go, share it, let it grow. It is now time. It is now your time.
You are not a gift when you get that raise, when you hit that certain weight, when you achieve that next goal. You were born a beautiful, perfect gift. You will die a beautiful, perfect gift, and every breath you take in between, you are always that: a beautiful, perfect gift. Just as you are.
I am a gift. . . I am a gift. . . I am a gift.
So that’s it: Angali Mudra. It gets me every time. I know there are other versions of this story out there. If your version resonates deeper with you, stay with that, but I like this one.
I often do not feel like a gift. I feel tired (why didn’t I remember to buy coffee yesterday), and pulled in all directions (shoot, I did’t get back to that person yet today), and then there is the whole Yikes! What is the temperature outside in Winnipeg in January!?! So I come back to Angali Mudra and I use it. In a few easy breaths, it helps me press the reset button, grounds me, and takes me inward to what is important.
I also find it so helpful as a parent as it reminds me with the kiddos or with my partner, that they are all pure, beautiful gifts too, every tantrum, every argument over who should get the last banana, every I didn’t have time to clean the cat litter – all of that combined. They are precious gifts, too.
Just like you.
Wishing you love and light, Dear Soul – Marla
Special thanks to Flossie Park and the entire team at Soul of Yoga in Encinitas, CA for making it their mission to take every student that walks through their doors and lovingly showing them all the beautiful layers of what yoga really is!
If you have any comments or questions on this blog, questions or suggestions, I do love hearing from you. One of us Bliss Beings here will get back to you within 48 hours.