The wisdom of an ancient personality test known as the Enneagram categorizes the nine basic ego types into three categories or centers: the body center, heart center, and mind center. (Learn more about this ancient system here.) This sequence is meant to both balance and invigorate mind-centered humans, who experience the world mentally, with a desire to feel knowledgable, alert, oriented, and supported at all times.
Where energy goes, the mind goes. The two are intimately connected and work in tandem. This series of poses is designed to quiet the mind by moving energy in a direction that is conducive to stillness, introspection, and a fierce acceptance of what’s discovered inside. These postures encourage us to feel close to the earth so as to allow that which is buried deep within us physically (in the hips and hamstrings, which are accessed in hip openers and forward folds) and emotionally, to soften that grip on us.
Wide Bound Angle Prep
Sit firmly on the earth and bend the knees into the chest. Separate the legs wider than the hips, opening the knees out and keeping them in line with the ankles. Flex the ankles and press the outer edges of the feet into the floor. Hold onto the ankles or the shins and bring your awareness to the base of the spine to extend upward, allowing the hips to open and stretch.
Wide Bound Angle
Bend the knees towards the chest and open them out to the side. Move the heels a foot and a half or more away from the groin and bring the soles of the feet to touch. Hold the tops of the feet with the hands and lengthen the spine. As you fold forward, drop the elbows in front of the shins and rest the forehead on the insteps. Should you not be able to reach the insteps, place a blanket to fill the gap. This pose allows for a mild stretch in the inner thighs and will calm the mind through the slight pressure to the space in between the eyebrows.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Bend the knees into the chest and spread the legs wide apart but not so wide that you cannot reach the feet with your hands. Lengthen the spine and fold forward as you hinge at the hip creases. Stay rooted through the sitting bones, while keeping the knee caps and toes facing up. Try to resist the urge to move forward, which could disconnect your seat from the earth. Instead, move into the open space gradually by drawing the navel into the spine. When practiced with awareness, this pose can help us cultivate patience and discover the beauty that comes with moving into unchartered territory slowly.
Bend the left knee into the chest and gently place the left foot outside of the left hip with the toes pointing straight back. Then, bend the right knee upward and place the right foot on the left hip crease so the heel is close to the navel. If you feel that your hip joint isn’t open enough, you can place the right ankle (flexed) on top of the left knee. Should there be a gap between the right knee and the earth, fill that gap with a padding. Once the seat is secured, take the right arm behind the back, bend the elbow and grab a hold of the right big toe/top of foot. Then insert the left hand underneath the right knee with the palm touching the floor and fingers pointing to the left. Open across the chest and gently turn the torso and neck to the right and gaze over the right shoulder or down toward left wrist. In between sides, stretch the legs forward to release the knees. This pose stretches the hips, shoulders, and spine, bringing flexibility to the back. It has an unsurpassed grace and poetry to it. Repeat to the other side with care.
Stand on the knees with the shins together and the toes pointing away. Cross the two big toes and sit on your heels, gently drawing the sitting bones away from one another with your heels. Keep your hands on your knees, palms facing up, placing the active hand on top so as to surrender the part in you that is usually dominant. Place your attention on the breath and observe with tenderness the process of inhalation and exhalation. Closing the eyes will help you focus and quiet the mind. This pose is not recommended if you feel pain in the knees.
Interlock the fingers into a fist with the heels of the hands touching or slightly open. Press the outer edges of the hands firmly into the earth. Align the elbows no wider than shoulder-width apart and roll the flesh of the forearms out or in so as to lock the forearms down. Rest the top of the head on the floor with the back of the head against the hands. Lift the knees off the floor and walk the feet in so you feel light on your tiptoes. Draw the navel into the spine and bend the knees into the chest. You can stay here in a womb-like position, while lifting out of the shoulders and pressing the elbows down or, you can lift the knees upward bringing the heels towards the buttocks so as to minimize creases at the front of the body. Eventually, extend the legs up to the sky. While up, remember to draw the tip of the shoulder blades toward the tailbone and the tailbone toward the feet. Activate the legs by contracting the quadriceps and lifting the ankle bones. Point the toes and pull them back toward the front of the ankles, pressing the balls of the feet upward. Standing on our head is a mirror of how we stand on our two feet. Relax into that idea, and emulate the effortlessness that arises when you comfortably stand on the earth. Press down, lift up, and allow both the force of gravity and the force of levitation to naturally operate within you. (Watch a video tutorial of how to do headstand here.)
Come down gradually to a half bend with legs extended. Allow for a backward action of the hips as you lower the legs to a 90-degree position, without bending the knees or any jerking action. This requires drawing the abdomen in to keep the lower back long and to support the weight of the legs with the arms and upper body. It takes time to feel oriented to one’s surrounding when upside down so ensure that this reverse action is slow, measured and poised.
This is the perfect position after standing on the head: the unraveling of a line (Headstand shape) back into a point (Child’s Pose shape). Point the toes away and gently place the buttocks on the heels. Opening the knees apart makes room for the heart and the organs as the forehead rests on the ground. Reach the arms forward and lift out of the wrists to open up the armpits. The feeling of closeness to the earth awakens qualities of humility and safety within us.
Photos by Hailey Wist