In the classic medieval text the “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” or The Guiding Light of the Yoking of the Sun and Moon – we learn that in classical yoga, the practice of Hatha Yoga culminates in the body’s resonance with the sound of “Om”. We are tuned by the practice to a vibration where opposites are united and revealed as facets of one source. That state of unity creates a particular feeling tone. In my experience when that happens, we are feeling the love of the universe within our own form. To do this, the biochemical aspect of the body requires cleansing (diet and various cleansing practices – the shat karma kriyas – the process of sweating during practice), the musculoskeletal system needs to be toned and balanced, and the energy body, emotions and the mind require discipline and clearing through meditation and sound practices (Om) and adjustments in personal care and ways of relating. I know it sounds like a lot, but for most of us we do a little at a time, transforming at a pace that is appropriate for us. The result of this is a clear “sound”. We can hear it in the sound of our voice. We can also hear it inside us as our intuition and wisdom become illuminated. A common test is to listen to your Om at the beginning and end of the class. Or any old time you feel out of tune. This clarity of resonance or lack there of is key to our capacity to communicate. If you’ve ever tried to sort things out with a friend when you felt foggy day you know it’s more difficult than when you are awake and clear. The body is a communication device – not just with our tongues and mouths, but with our posture, the brightness of our eyes, and our health. Imbalance in our system is reflected in the body. And through working with techniques of Hatha Yoga we can bring the system back into balance.
A good place to start is always the musculoskeletal system. The density of the bones and the memory capacity for the fascial tissue and muscles impacts the balance of the whole body mind spirit system. So how do we start?
All yoga starts with Tadasana – or Mountain -or Simple Standing Posture. It is so simple and straightforward that every tension is apparent. We just stand upright with the balance of the weight distributed evenly across the soles of the feet, arms alongside the body. Personally, I never try to force change in Tadasana. I use it as a measure. How is my Tadasana at the beginning of practice? What is it like at the end. Like the Om, it’s often very different, reflecting as greater state of balance and resonance. Sometimes I’ll just stand in it for a long time and feel the tension patterns surface.
Those tension patterns can tell us a lot about how we could create positive change in our lives. There is no formula. For me it’s always my hamstrings get short and tight and my head juts forward. Over the years – through spacious self-reflection and input from yoga colleagues – I’ve come to know that when that pattern emerges – some piece of me is not in the present moment. I’m hanging on to a belief, or perception or way of being that doesn’t serve me anymore. Often by the time my body communicates something – I’ve been ignoring it for a while. Sometimes insights about what needs to change will emerge during asana practice, sometimes meditation or the other forms of practice can help to illuminate the issues. The key is to seek to understand in a receptive way rather than just to fix or overcome and that understanding lays the groundwork for transformation of the body and everything else through my practice.
My newsletter lays a philosophical ground drawn from Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.40 to work with in conjunction with this blog post. Take a look here: To Know – Results of the Experience of Yoga – https://mailchi.mp/4f8d72e44e70/to-know-yoga-and-the-experience-of-knowing
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About the body
II.47 Patanjali Yoga Sutra Steadiness and ease of posture is to be achieved through persistent slight effort and through the concentration of the mind upon the infinit
II.48 Patanjali Yoga Sutra When this is attained the pairs of opposites no longer limit.
(translation of Sutras by Alice Bailey)
One of the techniques from the classical practices which is really powerful in uniting the two opposites is something called moola bandha. Moolah is “root” and Banda is lock, and the experience of moola bandha or root lock can be activated by several different approaches.
On the physical level a very simple way to begin to activate this root lock is to engage in lift the space between the anus and the genitals. Bring your attention to the area and attempt to draw it up and in toward your navel. Now hold that for your entire practice while breathing at the same time. For me, to be honest, I have the best luck with this if I work with it in seated forward bends and standing postures. Some yogi’s can perform this to an extent they levitate the body. In my opinion working with it on both levels is useful, and working with it simply is safer.
On and energetic level what moolah bandha does is move the energy in an energy center called the mooladhara chakra(the root chakra) which energizes the entire pelvic girdle. To directly experience our energy requires patience and the cultivation of a subtler level of attention. But for some, this is easier. Just know that if you keep practicing consistently and well you will have tangible experiences of this kind of energy and be able to learn to manage it. As a matter of fact we all feel our energy all the time. Some examples are the experiences of sexual desire or butterflies in the stomach. When we’re focused on identification with our sexual identity, our financial identity our tribal identity and our identity as a body (as opposed to as a spiritual being) the energy of this center moves out into the material world. We may notice this as an experience of deep fatigue. The energy also moves outward if we seek our answers outside of ourselves, rather than listening within.
When we work with Moola Bandha this way of looking at ourselves and looking for answers shifts. We begin to wake up to a different way of understanding our lives – what are we creating, how we participate in the larger community of the universe, what is our personal path of love and what is our authentic expression. When we start asking these kinds of questions, looking in these directions for the answers to the questions that arise in our lives Moola Bandha is activated on an energetic level. When it’s activated on an energetic level it often spontaneously arises on a physical level as well. The trick is to keep the state of mind as you re-engage the external world.
A powerful way to support the physical practice of moola bandha is to shift our attention towards these universal considerations while we practice. Our attention will work harmoniously with the physical contraction of the space between the anus and the genitals. By working these two aspects together we activate a powerfully gentle form of transformation. How do we shift our attention while we are in our practice? Shouldn’t our attention during our practice be on our practice? I encourage you to ask those questions when you are on your mat in your personal practice. There are as many approaches to this integration as there are people practicing yoga. Some people meditate before practice. Some people chant before practice. Some pray. Some extend the benefit of their practice to others or take a moment to envision that somehow as the practice transforms them – that the world around them will transform into a peaceful world where beings are happy and free. The possibilities are endless hence Patanjali’s statement about the limits. The important thing is to consider incorporating these kinds of techniques into your practice on a physical level. In actual practice an effective moola bandha will show up in a lightness – a freedom of movement, a steadiness of the mind, and a stability in the grounding of the posture. It may also show up as a different understanding of yourself in the practice and this I will leave you to discover on your own!
A long time ago when I began to practice yoga vinyasa, one day during practice this thought arose ….this must have something to do with surfing…that riding of the waves of breath and movement. I sensed, that there was some common element physically. I found out soon there after that the first “landing” of yoga vinyasa in America was in the surfing communities of Hawaii and California. The connection between the two disciplines, I felt, must have been mula bandha. Mula bandha is a physical lift of the pelvic floor which allows one to balance while moving. Esoterically mula bandha is associated with the practice of inner alignment, to direct one’s energy towards the highest possible levels of mystical consciousness. It is a practice which leads to tremendous clarity. We don’t need to go into deep resonance with the sacred to know this, if you’ve even done a few rounds of sun salutation, you know that clarity emerges quickly with such a practice. While there is a physical component of mula bandha, the activation of it on the level of consciousness is achieved only through intention. The physical activation of the pelvic floor wakes the energy up. The direction of our focus will determine where the energy goes. There is no right or wrong about the directing of energy, but it’s good to know that our results will very much be determined by the direction of the energy. In true vinyasa fashion this idea is circular, our intention . will determine our focus which will determine the direction of the energy which will then create a result which will influence our intention and so forth. The most important moment In our yoga practice is the moment we override inertia and consciously go about choosing a direction.
In the classical schools the only intention considered potent enough to activate the bandha was desire to know God. The aspirant would begin each practice bowing down to God and the Guru who represented God in form. In America this intention became softened somewhat to offering the good of our practice to others, a classic Buddhist practice. The energetic result is the same because the energy is directed towards something beyond our personal needs. It’s uplifted. In recent years in America the practice of intention has shifted again, now to honoring ourselves and good self care. Good self care is essential to a yoga practice, but as an intention it can keep you anchored in what you need, rather than your most illumined potential. Following Patanjali’s formula we know that what we focus on grows. We don’t want our needs to grow. The heart of the yoga practice is to transcend our needs and fulfill our potential (hence the complex landscape of renunciation practices which have historically defined the practice). Deprivation is undesirable and not effective. But to direct our intention higher than our needs is to uplevel our capacity for living. But even this requires some conscious consideration. We need to be aware of what we are intending.
To offer oneself as a vehicle for the divine may result in a role where you are the deliverer of blessings hard truths. An important, but not always fun role. An intention to serve may yield gracious and elegant opportunities to serve others, but you may have to deal with constraints on your self expression or ability to make decisions. To intend to know true compassion may inspire you to give away your last dollar. To intend to align with the most magnificent and expanded vision of your divine sacred infused snowflake self (no two are alike you know) well….that may lead you on your own magnificent divine journey which may include being compassionate in your own unique snowflake way. It’s nothing we need to fear. The point is to be awake and clear in the creative opportunity that Vinyasa presents. Vinyasa, broken down into it’s parts is to place on purpose. To place a purposeful intention at the beginning of our practice and then to consciously observe our ability to focus as the moments arise and fall in the practice is to take ownership of the power of asana in a whole new way. Intending a practice is frequently invoked in yoga class, which is good. Then it is up to us to discern the best way to use that opportunity.