About the body:  Empowerment and Ease

About the body:  Yoga and the Parasympathetic nervous system

When we breathe calmly, peacefully, rhythmically through the nostrils, we ignite our parasympathetic nervous system – the relaxation response.  In that mode – many things happen.  Rigid long held stress patterns in the body dissolve, the immune system is nourished and deep healing occurs.  It is also easier to access deeper levels of inner states of consciousness – which allow for different perceptions of the world – for transformation on the level of mind. 

As we take a posture we want to ignite this kind of easeful experience while remaining awake, alert and active.  The more challenging a posture is for us – the more powerful it will be to nurture this kind of breathing.  This is pivotal in transforming our life experience from being a person with a body that is always controlling us – to being a person who has some degree of mastery over the physical and energetic bodies.  It’s important.  

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Paschimottanasa – the Grand Poobah of forward bends. 

(It’s a very, very powerful posture)

Paschimottanasana is a seated forward bend with legs extended straight in front of you.  It’s best if your knees point towards the ceiling so the feet  are neither rocked in nor rocked out.  If you find that you can hardly fold at all – don’t be discouraged.  It’s very common – it’s just no one gets their picture taken if they aren’t touching their toes yet!!  Some find it helpful to bend the knees and rest the chest on the thighs.  You can also sit on the front edge of a folded blanket.

Either your standing forward bends will be easier – or your seated forward bend will be easier.  It reflects certain anatomical tensions in the neck and hips.  If the seated forward bend is stubborn and unchanging, I suggest you work a variety of  standing forward bends first to warm up for paschimottanasana.  The folklore is that  paschimottanasana is about “letting go”  whatever that means.  Let go of what?    I could write a thesis on that…but generally it meant I needed to soften my edges, releasing the fixed ideas that I had about how the world should work.  It involved letting others win disagreements, accepting discomfort, allowing change and opening to possibilities and opportunities in my life that I never would have considered.  It was about choosing ease.  For you it might mean letting go of fear and charging forward by being more active – engaging your thighs or activating your bicep muscles to pull you closer to your toes.  It’s always good to try do so the thing that doesn’t come naturally in the moment.  I feel lazy…activating my thighs (or some other part of my anatomy) may be just thing.  If I’m struggling, then more ease is called for.

The bladder meridian runs down the entire back of the body, so being balanced with water will help as well.  That might mean more water, but it also might mean less water – it’s about balance.

Experimentation is helpful here.  That is a great thing about our yoga postures – they give us data about ourselves that we can use to refine our lives. 

Most of all, like all things yoga, forward bend requires practice -so even if you don’t like it…keep practicing!!

About the Body: Being Present

Our bodies are fields of vibration.  It’s obvious right? Even though it feels woo.  My teeth are denser than my muscles…that means that they are at a lower vibration.  They are more solid. 

An exercise we can use to experience this directly is to focus internally from the densest to the subtle-est. Bones and muscles,  tendons and ligaments, internal organs and the fascial tissue that weaves it all together, and then the boundary of the skin, then feeling the air on the skin.  You can experiment with this yourself. Don’t hesitate to use your imagination to connect with the various parts of the body. 

This simple exercise is priceless in terms of becoming aware of our bodies in time and space.  Often we aren’t in our bodies! We are thinking about past and future…using the imaginal mind to unfurl stories and memories which exist only in our minds.  – when we open our eyes they aren’t here any more, or they don’t exist yet. 

If you’ve ever attended a Vipassana meditation retreat you may have done a simpler more diffuse body scan to begin your meditation practice.

Bringing our attention, focus and awareness back into our bodies is an essential part of the transformation power of yoga.  As we learn to be present to the body in this spacious non-judgmental way, the emotional wounds the body carries can be healed.  The power of this cannot be overestimated.  Carrying a body full of memory interferes with our capacity to fill our present moments with newness- the fullness of our love our creativity. 

Was this useful for you?  I hope so.  If it was I encourage your to sign up for my newsletter.  Once a week or so …its yoga information and inspiration based.  No sales, but I do share songs I love that might be fun additions to you practice.

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Established in yoga…while moving through it all…

I fractured my wrist at the end of October. The cast came off, December 11. During the time in the cast I floated through time and space, a little removed from life, a little removed from pain, a little removed from sitting with this unexpected event in my life. I did some responsibility taking around that somehow, but generally, I was floated by my spiritual practices in this place beyond time. I didn’t struggle against the weight of the cast to do asana (physical postures) practice, because I understand true healing to take place on the level of consciousness, first. Lots of healing happened on that level, and then the cast came off, and I plummeted back to Earth.  I was back in my body, remembering the accident and the pain, and meeting and seeing the limitation now embedded in my physical body. I was in shock. When I left the hospital and climbed into my car, I burst into tears. It wasn’t victimy. It wasn’t woe is me tears. It was sadness for the whole world, all of us, going through this experience of restriction. It was a visceral experience of the sense of vulnerability of our bodies and the sense of vulnerability to all kinds of forces external to us. This month in my classes we are talking about pratistayam, or to be established in.  In Patanjali’s  yoga sutra Patanjali refers to yoga as a state where we dwell in our true nature and the text builds a pretty good case that where we seem to dwell in the external world is intimately related to where we dwell inside. To make a choice to dwell in our true nature is to become established, and that is to position ourselves in such a way that the impact of external forces on our ability to move through the world is diminished. We become conscious co-creators of our life experience.

When I was in the hospital, initially, after the break, I was there four days. A significant amount of the time was spent discussing pain. This was what the hospital staff worked with me on. The managing of pain. The avoiding of pain. I liked the underlying message which was, you don’t have to suffer pain. I’d spent many years with the belief that I did have to suffer pain. Of course, there is that meme “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional”. I will say that what when you extract the suffering, it’s no longer pain. It’s just powerful sensation. But therein lies the rub. We have to choose not to sit in the state of mind of our own suffering. Randy, the very kind, bright-natured nurse who was my primary “pain coach” advised, “You don’t want to chase pain.” What does that mean? She explained that it’s very difficult to reduce the pain once you’ve allowed it to take hold. So, the process is to ward it off in advance, in this case by regular systematic taking of meds as the doctors prescribed. Every X number of hours. Isn’t that interesting? Patanjali advises the same thing. He says future suffering is to be avoided. And I think it’s good to note that Patanjali is not just one guy with one idea, but he organized all the information from what people who were practicing in that day were doing so, you know, it’s not the kind of information that gets outdated.

So if future suffering is to be avoided, how is this done?  Yogically, there are a number of different interpretations of what that means but for today let’s just consider that part of it, avoiding future suffering, is that we train ourselves through asana pranayama meditation and good old fashioned discipline to stay anchored, to stay established in our true nature. Part of that training is learning to catch ourselves when we are not in our true nature. Randy advised that pain was a tricky thing. In my post cast life I feel what she meant. It’s random and it’s stubborn – arising with no apparent logic. Although, the mind will try to give it logical source, ‘I ate french fries yesterday and must be inflamed’. But then one might notice the pain lingers long after the french fries are gone. 

The time came last week to remove myself from painkiller killers. You can’t really take Tylenol or aspirin, in large doses, forever. I’d left the high-octane painkillers behind while still in the hospital. There are herbs and there is homeopathy. Last week I began physical therapy and what I didn’t realize was how painful the process of rehabilitation would be. I’ve spoken before here about the releasing of fascial tissue and trauma stored within it. Now I’m living that daily and an important side note – when fascia is releasing you relive the pain of the trauma itself. Medicating at that point is thought to interfere with the release process. On some level, you have to feel it to heal it on the level of consciousness.

Just transcending just moving out of the place of awareness of the pain

might support psychological health in the moment, but holistically transforming the pain creates a more integrated healing. About three days into my PT exercises a return to a generally full asana practice, as I lay down to sleep, my whole arm caught fire with pain. It was clearly a fasica release, as I could feel the impact traveling through my body, as it had at the moment of the accident, dull but shocking. I already taken my herbs for the day. That was it. I was left with chamomile tea and deep breathing, as my only recourse. “I’ve entered the world of pain.” I thought, knowing that millions of people abide there full time. Now, I have some inkling of their experience, and I am awed by it. What that must be like to live there, in pain, through your whole body, all of the time. I think to myself that I don’t want to live in the world of pain. So as I breathe deeply and consciously, I effort to reorient myself to be situated, established, not in the pain, but in the calm center I have touched many times over my years of practice. Pain is tricky. It is seductive and magnetic and absorbing. This requires some effort.

But I really don’t want to live there. I chose to dwell in my true nature. The pain is not receding, but it ceases to be me. And instead, the sensation becomes an experience I am having. It sounds like splitting hairs. But when I pull myself out of the pain experience, it’s just another experience. I know that there is some experience within me at all times, that is not pain, and that somehow I will find my way to dwell in that space. I woke up the next morning amazed that I slept. Funny that, right? We think a billion bucks is the goal but how valuable is a good night’s sleep? The big deep pain of that evening is gone, but it still comes and goes both emotionally and physically as I reclaim the use of my arm as part of the whole of my body – and work to expand my reach. And now I feel really connected to a whole new level of this pratistayam thing – to master being able to sit in that calm sweet place as I deal with the challenges of the world. The practice becomes a a deeply essential life skill to have. It’s been very exciting. I was able to use my left hand to take some vitamins yesterday. And that was a big leap. And I’ve enjoyed creating sequences without the Down Dog for the time being. No plank, no Chaturanga. And a world of creative movement has opened up too.  My treatment goal is down dog. Okay, so two months ago, right before the accident I was jogging and doing a forearm stand and enjoying the process of reclaiming each little step. And now and then, I feel a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, my yoga practice will evolve into such a grand adventure, yet again.

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