Renewal of the Senses
by Jonathan Ambar
Elena Brower discusses the heart-centered practices that help make the new season shine.
In wintertime, we bundle, cover, and contain ourselves as we shield ourselves from the elements, and this has a powerful effect on our bodies and emotions. As spring arrives, we’re ready—almost desperate—to open up to the freshness of the outside world, as well as create more space in our internal landscape. I recently sat down with Elena Brower, one of today’s premier yoga teachers, during one of her recent visits to Kripalu, to get her thoughts on how to awaken the body, the heart, and the spirit as we embark upon the process of shedding winter and stepping into springtime.
Having studied with Elena a number of times, I can vouch that she is a generous, direct, and articulate teacher, and I found her to be as giving one-on-one as she is in a group setting: Her concept of yoga and what she calls the heart of Love as “dynamic vessels” translate to timeless tips not just applicable in spring, but all year round.
As we open up to spring, Elena notes that it’s important to keep the fragility of the blossoming process in mind, and to approach our yoga practice with attention to small details. “We can practice our yoga with a delicate level of care, connecting energetically to the universal pulsation, or spanda,” Elena says as we settle onto the steps in front of Kripalu’s Shadowbrook building to soak in the warm afternoon sunshine. “Notice that tiny, precious first leaf, still not even fully green, and how carefully we have to nurture and encourage it to grow, with proper care.”
Backbends, with their emphasis on heart-opening, seem intuitive this time of year and, as the season starts, we can mirror nature’s journey by gently encouraging our own physical flourishing, she says. I can very much relate to this: After a long, harsh winter filled with tense shoulders, heavy clothing, and barren vistas, it’s so tempting to tear off our layers and jump right into spring with zealousness bordering on mania.
But one of yoga’s keenest gifts is that it makes us aware of life’s transitions, and how we approach our practice on the mat can guide us in how we welcome life off the mat. As Elena explains, even when the impulse of awakening strikes, starting our practice slowly, steadily, helps us find our way into greater freedom and deeper intuition as spring begins its journey toward full bloom. With that in mind, she recommends opening the heart with baby backbends, such as Small Cobra. Going within and noticing the delicate balance between growth and surrender allows the process of springtime to unfurl at its natural pace.
The season’s vibrant imagery—the colorful flora, bright sunshine, and hints of lush green landscapes—can also act as a powerful complement to how we attune to the energy of renewal in our yoga practice. For example, Elena recommends visualizing that we’re blossoming during standing poses. “We have the opportunity to tap into both the muscular and organic energy in our bodies to connect to the universal pulsation of springtime, until we feel our cells dancing inside of us,” she says. “As we become more in tune with the season, the pervasive universal energy helps us locate that same energy in our bodies.”
Of course, nothing says “spring awakening” quite like reveling in nature, and bringing our practice outdoors can help create new perspectives. For example, Elena suggests going outside to meditate, and meditating with open eyes. “Looking at nature with a soft gaze allows the colors and shades of spring to sink into our awareness,” she says. “Take in as much sunlight as you can, and feel its nourishment.”
Taking stock during transitions can be a powerful practice because the openness of the new season can allow us more space to be open to ourselves. Springtime creates an opportunity to connect to the fourth chakra, the heart chakra—Anahata—as we emerge from winter’s cocoon. “Love is the source of everything,” Elena says. “Just look at any springtime vista—you can see Love is shimmering in everything. When you feel that Love, it makes us want to hold it sacred. To connect to the Love that’s in all of us, to practice keeping our attention in our hearts, is a great place to start.”
We cultivate this Love through the nourishment of yoga, food, and connecting to the natural world, and by embracing the strength that resides within this seasonal transformation. From the tenderness of our hearts, she says, we can find our greatest strength, just as the delicate bud bursts open into a powerful bloom with the arrival of spring.
Elena encourages us to take time each spring day to listen to what our lives are telling us. “Is there anything that’s holding you back? Is there anything you’re holding against another person? Whenever we feel like closing off, remember that the source of each and every emotion is a longing for Love, a longing to be received. Give what you’re asking for; if you expect something from someone else, you must be prepared to first offer it.”
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