About the Body: The Body as a Communication Device

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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Pranayama: Potency and Subtlety

Patanjali Yoga Sutra III.43  When you focus on the relationship between the body and the space around the body, the lightness of cotton fiber is attained and allows one to travel through the sky. 

We use the word  focus here, but it is about Samayama, restraint of the qualities of attention.    When our casual attention, our intermittent attention and our constant attention are all resting in one concept, we become that concept.  We lose our identity in that something.  It’s just something that human minds do.  We slip into falling in love and we become the other’s partner instead of being ourselves.  We become our role, instead of inhabiting the role for a time.  Patanjali, the great yoga psychologist teaches how we can master this tendency and use it intentionally.  This sutra is one of the many where he describes a practice one can do, here focusing on the body and the space around the body, where the qualities of lightness is revealed.  We focus on the edge of our density and the air around us and our own spaciousness is revealed.  In Yoga the intention is to identify with the unlimited aspect of consciousness, and then operate from that vantage point.  In order to do this we must develop our awareness of the subtle.  We developed this awareness by learning about prana – the subtle energy.  Learning to work with prana transforms our relationship with the body and with the asanas.

Asanas work powerfully on the gross level, developing muscles and balancing bone structure.  Squeezing out the internal organs and changing the blood flow.  Working with prana impacts the subtle fluid energies of the body and their conduits – the veins and nervous system – purifying blood and lymph and plasma.  In the traditional Chinese system, chi, a relative of prana (it appears to function differently), is associated with the spirit in its function in blood.  We can understand then that the finer the substance the closer it is to spirit.  To understand our prana is to come to understand ourselves.

A primary yogic technique for working with the prana is pranayama, or restraint of the prana.  We practice consciously controlling, restricting and releasing the prana. The result is energy, wakefulness and creativity.

Don’t be surprised if you go through a period of transition before you feel that.  The heavier elements of consciousness formed by lifestyle factors may present obstacles to clarity.  But that’s part of the gift.  Like dropping sandbags out of a balloon we may decide to let things go.  It’s important to note that  it’s not necessarily the object of attention that we let go of, it could be how we relate to it.  We see things differently when we take a few steps back.  When we release the obstacle and  gather our attention on what lifts us up we float, like a cloud, or a helium balloon when what weighs it down is released. In the case of this sutra, the we learn that what weighs us down is the compartmentalization that there is space and there is body,we are the body, and not space. And they are separate.  The deeper our intimacy with breath and space through the practice of pranayama, the more we develop discernment of the subtle in our practice, and find our way to lightening up. 

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