Inspired by my previous post on the Knight of Pentacles, I thought it would be good to explain a little about how it's possible to examine and hopefully improve your yoga practice using tarot cards.
In that post I created a spread, based on the yoga aphorism stiram, sukham, asanam, meaning finding a stable and joyful position. However, before we get to that, it may help to start with something simpler.
Say you've been having trouble with a particular pose - it hurts, or you're not sure you're doing it right, or you feel you can't hold it. Draw just a single tarot card, thinking about the pose, and see what it tells you. You can use book meanings, or let yourself be inspired by something in the actual image.
I've been having some back trouble, which has been affecting my practise of the pose Dhanurasana (Bow pose). They say your parents f**k you up emotionally, but someone should have told me your kids f**k you up physically! Anyway, I drew the Eight of Wands (shown above).
This card is often seen as representing things moving quickly. So, I interpret this as "It's OK to move in and out of this pose, in a flow, rather than trying to hold it for long periods. That way I may gradually improve my strength for this back bend, without damaging my back." Based on just the look of the card, I come up with, "Focus more on the downward energy of this pose, rather than the upward energy. Feel my pelvic bone pressing towards the earth."
Now, if you want to try something a bit more detailed, here's my stiram, sukham, asanam spread. The first card represents what's going on with the asana you're asking about. The second is how to find stability in the pose, and the third card is how to find joy in it.
Once again, an example of my own. I've never been a huge fan of Utthita Hasta Padanghustasana D (who has, come on, show of hands!) Sometimes in class, or even practising on my own, I've had leg cramps holding this pose. Being a standing balance pose, it seemed perfect for this spread.
The pose: XVII - The Star. This is a card of hope, so it tells me not to give up on this pose, or on myself. Also, when I look at the image I notice that she is on bended knee, with her other foot on water, yet not falling into it. Perhaps if I can imagine my leg being buoyed up by water it will feel less difficult to hold the pose, and my leg will feel less heavy - mind over matter!
Finding stability: Seven of Cups. Traditionally, this card is associated with building castles in the sky, or fantasies, and I've sometimes thought of it as "maya" (sanskrit for illusion, that which blocks us from seeing the divine reality of life). So, to find stability I need to stop my mind from thinking about what I should be feeling or how I'm not doing it right, and instead focus on using the pose to get in contact with my breath and with the divine perfection of all creation (well, I can hope, see the Star).
Finding joy: Two of Swords. Now this one's a bit tricky. The Two of Swords often indicates being stuck because you have two options, neither of which you like. Perhaps I feel I can either continue with the pose while hating it, or I can give up on it and feel like a wuss. However, with a stalemate of this sort the answer can be to think creatively, and find a third option if you don't like the two you have. So, I choose to keep trying with this pose, with hope in my heart, but without critical expectations. And where can I find this new, creative hope? I look at the image and see a woman whose eyes are covered. Perhaps I'll try the pose with my eyes closed! It might work and it might not, but it's worth a go.
So, dear yogi/nis, how about giving some of this a try? Tell me what pose has you riled right now, and if you can think how to move beyond this frustration with either of these techniques.
Images are from the Universal Tarot.