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Kurmasana with Melinda Morey

Melinda Morey in Kurmasana
Melinda Morey in Kurmasana on the beach near Hanalei, Kauai.

Sometimes it is not a bad thing to have your head in the sand. 

Watching a female sea turtle make her way up the beach to lay a clutch of eggs, one can see it is an arduous journey. The sea turtle is not particularly fast in the ocean, with its big body and relatively small flippers, but on land it is absolutely ponderous. The large turtle drags herself with the front two feet/flippers, using them like a climber’s pikes to dig into the sand and pull her full weight forward, her back flippers give an extra push. It is painfully slow progress. Yet somehow, nature has designed her thus, such that this is her path, the way her species propagates itself. Eventually, she reaches past the high tide marker, where the eggs will be safe. There the turtle digs an enormous hole – again, with the use of proportionally small flipper tools – lays her eggs, buries them with her back flippers, then makes her way back down to the ocean again, and disappears. The process takes hours. She stops and rests along the way, and then goes back to the task at hand. In this manner, eventually the eggs are laid and buried, and she has returned to the sea.

Now think about the preparation needed to climb into the pose Kurmasana. To take the shape of the turtle, to move that deeply into oneself and stay there, takes time. It takes time to lengthen the back of the legs and lubricate the hip joints, Ttime to mobilize the spine, the rib cage, and the shoulder girdle, to release the neck. Finally, the mind must become quiet, in order to tolerate, even welcome this level of introversion.

This requires both a preparatory practice leading up to the asana, but more than that it requires the level of commitment to the practice over time. It would be potentially dangerous and harmful for a raw beginner to attempt Kurmasana, because of the level of openness required.

In his translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, BKS Iyengar describes the different aspects of practice as, “Abhyasa conveys the sense of mechanical repetition, whereas anusthana implies devotion, dedication, a religious attitude. Repeated effort made with a thorough understanding of the art and philosophy of yoga and with perfect communion of body, mind and soul is not a mechanical practice but a religious and spiritual one.”

The turtle’s progress is methodical. In her slowness, each step is clearly visible. From the outside, it would be hard not to sense a higher order that drives her progress forward. Melinda Morey HeadshotWhy else undergo such ardor? Our progress in yoga sadhana may seem equally opaque to us as the practitioner, but over time, with patience and devotion, we lay the foundation, the seeds, for our own growth and understanding.
— Melinda Morey, Adeline Yoga Instructor