Knowledge & Love of Self: Yoga For Happiness & Contentment

The way common birds flit around and sing to each other always reminds me how we’re all connected. Hearing birds sing, especially sparrows and finches, helps me know I’m not alone.

The birds of prey: hawks, eagles, falcons, feel like protectors to me. They let me know I’m supported.

When a raven or a crow flies near I know to listen up because a message has been sent from the Void.

But a Heron? Hmmm. Though I consider birds my angels, I never had a connection with this stilt-legged water bird.

In Native American traditions, animals—including birds—each have their own “medicine.” According to authors Jamie Sams & David Carson in their collection of Medicine Cards, medicine “is anything that improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all of life. This would include the healing of body, mind and spirit. This medicine is also anything that brings personal power, strength and understanding.”

Seeing More Clearly

The lore around the heron is associated with self-reflection. Sometimes heron stands statue-still, peering at his own image in the silver surface of the water. Other times, his walk is slow and methodical, a meditation of movement.

Looking at our experiences, thoughts and actions, we mimic heron gazing at the water. In yoga, this practice is called self-study, or swadhyaya. We see ourselves—our patterns, habits, imbalances, unmet needs, unhealed hurts, emotions, physical sensations, etc—reflected through the mirror of our relationships with yoga asana, with other people, and with life.

Yoga would not have us take a cloudy view of self-importance, but a crystal-clear view of what is aligned and working, and what needs improvement or change. This is not a stance heavy with self-pity, but one that takes responsibility for who we are and builds the courage needed to become just a little bit more of ourselves.

Self-reflection is the best secret weapon we could have.


Krounchasana (Heron Pose) : Gem Lakes, Rock Creek, CA

Turning Inward

For self-reflection to work, we must begin by directing our attention within. This practice is called pratyahara and it’s the hinge between the physical/outer practices of hatha yoga (yama, niyamaasana and pranayama) and the more esoteric/inner ones (dharana, dhyana and samadhi).

When we know ourselves, including our challenges and weaknesses, we are less likely to feel hurt. Making fun of something we already accept about ourselves takes the wind out of the sails of any aggressor.

When we know ourselves, we stand a better chance at accepting and loving ourselves. With self love we’re more patient and understanding of our own process of unfolding and we can move through challenges more easily because of it.

When we know ourselves, we know what we value above everything else. Then, our actions can reflect our values, and we can live deliberately, act ethically and with integrity to align with what truly matters.

When we know ourselves, we can experience more happiness with who we are and how we’re living. Through self-reflection we build a life of purpose, meaning and deeper contentment.

Acting in Balance

Pratyahara, literally translated, means “to draw towards the opposite.” In daily life, our senses are constantly drawn out, pulled into the world by colors, sounds, smells, hunger and thirst, the need for safety and to be loved.

To be in balance, means we sometimes need to draw back in, to study how we feel in the moment. It’s not an escape from the world, but a way to find center while living in the world. Initially, we may need to sit quietly in meditation  so we can feel and sense the workings of our inner world. Gradually over time, we learn to anchor awareness within , even while engaging, eyes and ears wide open, in our daily lives.

Instructions for Krounchasana:

Warm up with preparatory poses that open the hamstrings, low back, front of the thigh and the shoulders. Consider: Downward Dog, Pyramid pose, Hero’s pose, and any hamstring stretch or forward fold.

  1. Fold your right foot back into virasana (Hero’s pose). Prop your hips on a block or pillow if this makes you really lopsided.
  2. Bend your left knee and pick up your left foot.
  3. Keep the leg bent and pull back on it so your knee moves to the outside of your left armpit (it will be slightly turned out).
  4. Sit up as straight as you can.
  5. Begin to stretch your leg straight, aiming towards about 45º from the ground.
  6. With arms straight, lift your back ribs and chest up.
  7. Pull down on your foot, as of to plug your thigh back into the socket, and at the same time, stretch back up through your leg and push out through your foot.
  8. If your body opens, begin to move your shin and your head towards (or to) each other, bending your elbows as you go.
  9. At each moment of resistance, hold for about 30 seconds, and take several deep breaths.
  10. Perhaps close your eyes, and reflect on your breath and the sensations of stretching and engaging you’re experience in your physical body.

Slowly, release out of the pose and pause for a breath or two, step into Down Dog, then have a seat and practice self-reflection in Krounchasana on the second side.