Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Core Qualities of Yoga, Part 5: Transformation

This post is part of a series that explores a variety of core qualities and suggested practices to consider for inclusion in your classes and private sessions (whether on a mat, in a chair, or a combination of both).

by Beth Gibbs

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” —Albert Einstein

To transform means to make a thorough or dramatic change in form, appearance, or character. We can think about this quality on two levels. One is to transform spiritually with a capital ‘T’ to Self-Realization, the ultimate goal of yoga. I will leave that discussion to the master teachers and the ancient texts. This post is about transformation with a small ‘t’ – transforming or changing our everyday energy needs.

Choosing and practicing specific yoga techniques helps us transform our energy when it’s out of balance. If we’re feeling pooped, exhausted, and drained, our energy is deficient and we need to find a way to light our fire. If we’re feeling wired and fired up with a mind that’s racing a mile a minute, our energy is excessive and we need to find a way to slow the burn.

If this imbalance of energy isn't a chronic condition, we can use our knowledge of yoga to transform our energy into an optimal state where we feel more stable, embodied, and balanced. To determine if the energy state is temporary, I personally draw the line at a day or two depending on what’s going on in my life.

We start with self-awareness (svadhyaya) and ask ourselves, “Why is this excess or deficiency manifesting at this time?" Sometimes we’ll find an answer and sometimes we won’t but the important part of the process is our inquiry. Then we ask ourselves, “What yoga techniques may help to deal with the imbalance?” The next step is self-discipline (tapas), to implement our chosen techniques in a safe and helpful way.

Here are two yoga techniques that can transform an energy state.

1. Transforming an Energy Deficiency to Light Your Fire

According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly everyone is overtired or overworked from time to time. Unrelenting fatigue is a whole different matter. When fatigue lasts longer, is more profound, and isn't relieved by rest, it’s a sure sign that you need to see a medical professional.

Temporary fatigue, or lack of energy, usually has an identifiable cause and a likely remedy. I occasionally experience a couch potato, empty vessel, sloth-like lack of energy. This state typically hits after an extended period of long to-do lists, lack of sleep, feeling blue, sad, and down-in-the-dumps or overeating carbohydrates – you know, bread, pasta, potato chips, and sugar –the ultimate comfort foods.

To light your fire, think “move, stimulate, and energize.” Here’s a combination breath and movement techniques you may find helpful when you sense a lack of energy and need or want to transform that state.

It’s called "The Breath of Joy." It’s typically done in a standing position but is easily modified for sitting in a chair. It’s from the Kripalu Yoga tradition and the instructions are from a Yoga International article by Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression, founder of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, and a leader in the field of yoga and mental health.

Caution: This practice may not be appropriate for those with high blood pressure or who have eye or head injuries.

The purpose of  The Breath of Joy is to awaken the whole system, increasing oxygen levels in the bloodstream, temporarily stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, and focusing the mind. Just what I need to get my energy up! Here are Amy’s instructions:


To practice Breath of Joy, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel, knees slightly bent.

  1. Inhale one-third of your lung capacity and swing your arms up in front of your body, bringing them parallel to each other at shoulder level, with palms facing the ceiling.
  2. Continue inhaling to two-thirds capacity and stretch your arms out to the side like wings to shoulder level.
  3. Inhale to full capacity and swing your arms parallel and over your head, palms facing each other.
  4. Open your mouth and exhale completely with an audible "ha," bending the knees more deeply as you sink into a standing squat and swing your arms down and back behind you like a diver.

Repeat up to nine times. Don’t force or strain the body or breath; simply be absorbed by the peacefully stimulating rhythm. Return to standing. Close your eyes and experience the effects. Notice how quickly your heart beats; feel the sensations in your face and arms, and the tingling in the palms of your hands."

Chair Modification: For step 4, bend forward in the chair and swing your arms down and back behind your body.

2. Transforming an Energy Excess to Slow the Burn

This state may manifest in one of two ways:

  • When we feel nervous, anxious and have difficulty sleeping, feel ‘spacey,’ unfocused, and have poor digestion – this element can be out of balance.
  • When our mind is working overtime with a burning need for perfection, competition, and over achievement, it can lead to feelings of irritation, frustration, and anger. When we press on to do more and move faster without joy – this element can feel out of balance.

To slow the burn, and reach a balanced energy state, think “cool, calm, and relax.’ Here’s a technique you may find helpful when you sense an excess of energy.

Legs-On-the-Chair Pose

Props: A sturdy chair, a pillow or folded blanket for the head, a timer, and a music source
  1. Select a carpeted area or use your yoga mat to practice this pose.
  2. Set your timer for 10 – 15 minutes and start the music if you choose to use it.
  3. Sit down close to the chair and swing the legs up and place your calves on the chair. If you have short legs, try a low ottoman, trunk, or stool.
  4. Adjust yourself so that your knees are directly over your hips.
  5. Place your pillow or folded blanket under your head.
  6. Close the eyes and breathe normally.
  7. To come out, bend the knees halfway toward the chest and roll to the side, using the arms to sit up slowly.
Chair Modification: Steps 1 and 2 are same as above. Sit with a comfortably straight spine, chin parallel to the floor. Close the eyes, relax the hands on the legs, palms down. To come out, Stretch the arms and legs in any way that feels comfortable.

I began this article with a quote from a famous physicist and I’ll end with one from another:

“Energy is a bit like money: if you have a positive balance, you can distribute it in various ways, but according to the classical laws that were believed at the beginning of the century, you weren't allowed to be overdrawn.” —Stephen Hawking

Elizabeth (Beth) Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is a guest faculty member of the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. Her masters’ degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health is from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children. For more information please visit her website at: 

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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