Each of our bodies is a unique constellation of tension and ease born of the musculoskeletal landscape we were born with, the impact of habits of movement, the impact of emotional, psychological and physical trauma, and bodily awareness, In Hatha Yoga, we are invited to iron out these differences – bringing the ecosystem of our individuality into a harmony embodied in the sound vibration of Om.
The seasons are turning cooler, our attentions turn inward yet again, and we are invited to shift gears in our yoga practices. This subtle adjusting of focus and style to harmonize with the seasons is a classical organic element of yoga practice which invites us to consider balance in our lives, our practices and our creative work. In yoga the balance emerges as the fine tuning of our awareness and integration in the pairs of opposites – activation and ease. The foundation for this teaching is found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.
The postures develop our capacity to discern. We can consider the following in crafting our personal practices – the perfect posture is born of cultivating a personal understanding of places in the body you need to activate, and the places in the body that you to would benefit from bringing ease to. For this – we can work with large areas of the body (the back of the legs) or more specific areas of the body(the juncture of my sacrum and vertebrae L1) depending on the degree of awareness we have of the nature of the sensation.
A tool I use to discern tension and holding versus slack and unconsciousness (or lack of any feeling of awareness at all)l is to work with repetitions.
- Choose a basic posture, one that is reflective of some physical discomfort you have in life.
- Practice this base posture – breathing and scanning the body nonjudgmentally for various sensations.
- Practice some postures you believe might be helpful – scanning the body and breathing throughout.
- Repeat the base posture – scanning the body again. What feels different?
- Repeat the repetition.
I’ll sometimes go through a repetition sequence several times with several small sequences within a day of practice if I have time. Sometimes I just run through it once.
Note that many discomforts in the spine are born of tension in the neck and hips, so you may want to include postures that dress the neck and hips in repetition sequences.
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It’s very popular these days to skip over the restraint practices in yoga (ethical vows, structured asana practice, breathing and concentration practices, lifestyle observations). Mastering them is the key to transforming yourself and your life through the practices of yoga and is an important facet of practice. Liberation as intended in classical yoga is a very specific experience. It’s not about crashing through to a new shape with the body even if it hurts. It’s not about “doing our own thing” without structure or discipline. It’s about being awakened into the experience of our spiritual wholeness. The restraint practices should not, and do not have to be dramatic or drastic. It might mean staying in a particular posture even if you are a little uncomfortable – maybe sometimes when you are a lot uncomfortable – in order to move beyond your sense of limitation. To practice yoga in this way does require a high degree of discernment – of learning to feel and experience the body and develop skillful means of working with our sensations. To some extent no teacher can really tell us that.
We used to work with the guideline that if the sensation is sharp you need to back off and approach the posture in a different way. For a dull softer discomfort we would generally stay in the posture and breathe ease into the form. The sensations we have are never black and white, so a guideline like this can’t be followed blindly.
We could consider this…if we bump into a tugging resisting sensation, then we are trying to expand in a place where there is currently contraction, and our work then is to find a way to allow the expansion. Breath is a good starting place, but it requires some attention to how one is breathing. How well you are able to receive an inhale? What conditions support that? Can you allow the lungs to expand? That quality of expansion will travel throughout the body as we allow it, and will gently open our places of deep holding and restrictions. To push against or fight against it will yield a different result. If we soften the mind and the heart and work with wisdom the experience of restraint transforms into its opposite – the experience of liberation. Tension melts and we are no longer restricted by tightness. This transformation of opposites into a unified experience is yoga – to yoke together.
The restraints imposed by the global experience of pandemic have resulted in massive shifts in the way we live and work and love. Training ourselves to be spacious and allowing in of those changes fosters our capacity for resilience and blossoming.
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!