A Life of Inquiry | Yoga and the Kleshas | Journey to Clarity and Freedom

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Ganesha—the Great Remover of Obstacles

The kleshas are the tendencies of individual consciousness, that when left unchecked, form serious obstacles to our evolving awareness. In his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali has encapsulated the basic patterns of mind that cause the most trouble for us in our embodied existence. The Yoga Sutra is very clear that all of these issues arise from the primary problem of lack of correct knowledge, lack of spiritual understanding of who and what we actually are. The Yoga Sutra is crystal clear that our main problem is, “Mistaking the Seer for the seen”. In this context, the Seer is the permanent and unchanging field of Awareness, and the seen is everything that exists in the field of form. Awareness and form are bound together to form all that exists in nature. This includes the personal ego, and all aspects of mind and body.  We make a big mistake when we allow our individual ego-mind to take on the role of the ultimate perceiver.

“If it is important to distinguish that which changes, the ‘seen’, from that which doesn’t change, the ‘Seer’, it is even more important, following the analysis to its end, to understand that this ‘Seer’ is the ultimate Reality. For it is not the analysis of the ‘seen’, of the many different objects appearing in our field of inquiry, that can give us the wisdom we are aspiring for. The Gita teaches us that the only true knowledge consists in knowing both the ‘seen’ and the ‘Seer’ at the same time.” Swami Siddheswarananda (1897-1957), a monk of the Ramakrishna Order

1.   Avidya is spiritual ignorance—wrong knowledge—ignorance of the nature of life; the mistaken belief that the transient and the material is all there is; lack of knowledge and experience of the  vast underpinnings of life. Avidya causes us to mistake the personal ego for the ultimate perceiver. Avidya creates a life view that is driven by our individual, self-centered, egoic mind.

“… the ego is the source of all conflict. By claiming an absolute reality for itself, the ego appropriates the activity of the consciousness to itself. The power of ignorance (avidya) is such that it makes us believe that the ego is different from the objects known, that it is not an entity belonging to the ‘seen’. This same ignorance causes us to transfer the properties of the ‘Seer’ to the ‘seen’ and vice versa, so that the ‘Seer’ who is eternal, is identified with the ego, and is believed to be perishable, while the qualities proper to the ‘Seer’, such as permanence, are accorded to the object.” Swami Siddheswarananda

2. Asmita is ego centered consciousness that derives directly from the misunderstanding created by avidya. Asmita places the individual ego-mind at the center of all perceiving, mistaking ego—the individual self— to be the actual perceiver, when ego is really nothing more or less than an aspect of manifest human form. Ego loves to usurp the power of the Seer and claim for itself tremendous self-importance. The ego is misplaced at the center of personal consciousness and only causes trouble by assuming this role. Yoga is largely about coming to understand this problem in perception and learning to put the ego into its proper place in individual perception.

Our profound attachment to our own small self-importance causes us to miss completely the underlying truth of Awareness itself. Asmita blocks us from experiencing the more subtle and compelling layers of life and ascribes to the superstition of materialism, taking life to be just what you see, ending at individual death. It is a fragmentary vision of reality that breeds discomfort and suffering. Asmita locks us into a strong pattern of perceiving the parts of life, without any recognition of the context of the whole.

3. Raga is attachment. Again, attachment is an effect of lack of understanding and direct experience of the full picture of life. Attachment in the field of form always leads to suffering. We are always wanting something more, or worrying about losing something.

Attachment should not be confused with involvement and commitment to life. The invitation to eliminate raga is not to divorce yourself from your life and loves. Rather, it is to put the enjoyments of life into their proper context, as transient, definitely bound to change, and yet part of the manifestation of life that is vast enough to hold everything. When we free ourselves from unhealthy and destructive attachment we actually open ourselves to love and commitment in our relationships and our lives.

4. Dvesha is aversion. It is an intense dislike directed toward something, someone, a thought, a philosophy, anything. Dvesha includes disgust, revulsion, repulsion, and so on. When we are driven by dvesha we do not have choice about our perceptions. We are simply caught in a powerful inner resistance that takes up a lot of our subtle life force.

Often the roots of dvesha are very deep within our personal psyche. We take our feelings to be simply “true” without any serious inquiry into why they are so powerful. We unknowingly allow them to drive our self-perceptions and how we view the world.

Dvesha is the opposite end of the continuum with raga. Threading out raga and divesha in our personal lives does not include getting rid of our opinions and preferences. Opinions and preferences are simply products of our individual personalities. They make us who we are and motivate us to act and relate in the world. They are completely different from attachment and aversion. Attachment and aversion are rooted very deeply within and are products of our perceived separation from the whole. Raga and dvesha drive us mostly unconsciously and and are two of the serious limits to our freedom.

To unearth the roots of both raga and dvesha we have only to allow ourselves to descend more deeply into and through our individual patterns of thinking and feeling. No mean feat. We can allow ourselves to delve deeply when we feel the support of something greater than our individual selves, when we feel the support our own chosen higher power, and simultaneously open to the comfort that is arising inside of us, even in, around, and through some of our most difficult thoughts, feelings, and traits.

5. Abhinivesha is clinging to life and fear of death. The Yoga Sutra says even the wise suffer from abhinivesha. Why do we fear such a natural process?  Fear of death is based on the feeling that something very important will be lost. We fear the extinction of the tiny little egoic form that we are.

If we could actually perceive our individual selves in a more complete light, we would lose the fear of death. In fact, the resolution of the personal ego, back into the sea of Awareness from which it came could feel like a comfortable and inviting returning home after a long and arduous journey. The only cure for abhinivesha is vidya—recognition of the spiritual context in which we live.

Rethinking Healthy Hips in Yoga

This article is specifically directed toward those of us who practice – and especially teach – yoga asana. So much is written about how to “open the hips”. Is that really what we want to be doing? The balance of stability and mobility is different for every person, and since “support” needs to precede any kind of action or opening, perhaps we need to be looking at integrity in the hip joints. Using a paradigm that is based not on increasing flexibility, but instead on increasing ease and comfort, needs to be looked at more carefully by all of us in the yoga community. What is flexibility anyway? What is tightness, for that matter?

This post is not an essay, but notes that I have prepared for a workshop I am teaching on the hip joints. I hope they might be interesting or even helpful for you. I do not include specific asana techniques in this post, but rather the philosophy of how we might move differently move. Being old school, I still think that asana should be taught in person…

Anatomy of the Hip Joints

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  • Acetabulum
  • Head of the femur
  • Articular cartilage
  • Labrum
  • Synovial membranes
  • Synovial fluid
  • Joint capsule
  • Ligaments

Stability and Range of Motion—Support Precedes Action

The direction movements of the hip joints are usually very specifically delineated. They are: flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, internal rotation, and external rotation. But rarely, in life are any of those individual movements made without at least traces of some of the others. The hip is a ball and socket joint with the possibility of a great range of motion. Movement doesn’t actually ascribe to the linear think of our anatomical analysis. Really, the joint moves pretty much any direction it wants, within its specific range of motion, which is highly variable from individual to individual. Most healthy motion in the joint needs to involve both bones – the ball and the socket – so that they are working in harmony to create the desired movement expression. As with any other movement, support needs to precede action at the joint. Support is a process that involves both bones working together to give the joint the stability that it needs to move with health.

Healthy Movement in the Hip Joints—at Level of Bone

  • Weight and forces are transferred through the bones and joints (and the neighboring bones and joints) – without shearing forces across the joints and/or off the body.
  • Each joint has its specific balance of stability and mobility and articulates appropriately along the movement continuum with the neighboring joints.
  • The ball and socket do not touch because the forces flowing in and around the hip joints do not compress at the joint.
  • The acetabulum and the femur head are suspended in relationship and away from one another by the fascial network surrounding them
  • In any movement of the hip joint and the head of the femur need to be working in harmony.

Terms to know:

  • The femur “rotates” in the hip socket.
  • The pelvic half  “excursions” around the top of the femur.

Examples of Pelvic Half and Femur Moving in Supportive Ways to Keep Undue Pressure out of the Hip joints:

  • If the femur is flexing (forward bending) on the pelvic half – the pelvic half curls slightly to cup and stabilizes the head of the femur in the direction that the femur is moving. (Buttock bone toward the second toe ball).
  • If the femur is extending (back bending) on the pelvic half – the pelvic half opens with it slightly to stabilize in the direction of the moving femur (buttock bone toward (tethered to) the second toe ball).
  • If the pelvic half is flexing on the femur head – the femur head stabilizes in the direction of the moving pelvic half (toward flexion).
  • If the pelvic half is extending on the femur head – the femur head stabilizes in the direction of the moving pelvic half (toward extension).

What Goes Wrong in the Hips

  • Torquing at the joint
  • Hinging motions at the joint
  • Over lengthening of the ligaments – laxness and collapse due to excessive stretching
  • Hardening and/or restriction of the ligaments
  • Compression of bone’s articular surfaces on one another due to muscular and ligamentous restriction or laxness and collapse around the joint
  • Repetitive movement that cause the bone to come into contact with its partner bone, wearing away the articular cartilage, creating bone spurs, and eventually leading to bone on bone.
  • Acute injury or trauma

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Images Above: Healthy Hip / Damaged Hip Joint / Example Unhealthy Flow of Force in a Joint

Most of the common problems listed above result primarily from improper weight bearing and transference of forces through and around the joints…and the into the whole body. Taking all of the weight and force of lower body movement in the joints is always going to be a problem.

It cannot be over emphasized that joint safety and comfort is the result of healthy prana flow. This is especially evident in the major joints, like shoulders, hips, SI, and spine. The main pathways of prana in the body are through the fascial system. Fascia is distributing weight and force through its entire thick three-dimensional web all the time. That includes the hip region and its joints, the entire leg and torso…everything, all the way through the whole body.  Fascia is not discrete to the joint. In fact, in health, it supports and integrates joint structure and function by distributing forces through and away from them. Turning our awareness to the fascial web will help us to relieve a great deal of the pressure we have been needlessly applying to our hip structures in our yoga practice.

Fascial Support of Hip Movement

The term anatomy may not any longer be the most useful way to look at the structural aspect of the human body. Anatomy derives from the Greek: “ana”–up and “tomia”–cutting. In fact, anatomy in the western world has been primarily based on cutting things up. In the Newtonian mechanistic age this made good sense. Our cutting up of the human body paved the way for a lot of insight into structure. However, it may be time to go deeper.

It may be time to look at function and structure as a single event, rather than two separate entities. Function isn’t exactly a “thing”. It is more like the intelligence of the structure. Through yoga philosophy – and our direct experience –  we find awareness and intelligence as the underlying basis of both function and structure. We find we are observing – and embodying – a highly intelligent and creative event: our own bodies. Adding intelligence and unification to the list of qualities that we find in our physical bodies opens the door to an altered perception of movement and support. The new research into the integrating role of fascia in the body is a window into a direct experience of the supportive weave of intelligence, function, and structure that integrates body-mind-spirit.

Rethinking Support

For the purposes of this workshop let’s consider how much importance we should place on one aspect of our hip structures—our old favorites: bones and muscles. The thought that bones are levers that flex and extend on one another to move us through space is not as accurate at it may seem. There is important ongoing study now into the nature of the fascial weave of human structure and how bones behave more like spacers and struts within the fascial weave than they do as levers for transmitting force. Read “Embodied Tensegrity, Fascia, and Yoga” on the Embodyoga® Blog.

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Just the term “lever” is disruptive to natural human movement. What we believe has a lot to do with how we move. Believing that our bones and muscles create a lever system that moves us through space, profoundly limits how we actually move, and how we experience ourselves in movement. A lever is a simple machine. It’s “a rigid bar resting on a pivot point (a fulcrum), used to help move a heavy or firmly fixed load with one end when pressure is applied to the other”.

Movement in the human body is not based on levers. It is based on a much more inclusive and all-encompassing weave of structure and support. The weave is primarily composed of connective tissue, and for our purposes in movement, is mainly fascia. Fascia is a multidirectional weave of varying densities of connective tissues that is continuous throughout the whole body. It is our primary structural support, is highly intelligent, and communicates with the entire body at once, nearly immediately.

In terms of yoga asana, it is important that we turn our gaze to how fascia integrates movement through the major joints in the body. Although, many reliable and intelligent people are proposing particular musculoskeletal actions to maintain space and keep the health of our major joints, unfortunately it isn’t working as well as we may have hoped. Part of alignment is designed to keep space in the joints. However, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to actually keep space in the joints in an active and moving asana practice by attending primarily to the bones and muscles. Your mind isn’t fast enough. Your body needs to find a way to do this more or less spontaneously based on the experience of life force flow – in the fluids – in the fascial body.

One of the major problems in our thinking has been perceiving the body to be in some way mechanistic. Our joints are not hinges. Even the so called “hinge joints” are not hinges. If we can use our imagination to alter the erroneous preconceptions that we have made about movement we can alter and repair our perceptions rather quickly.

shutterstock71656525pastedgraphic-1-1     fascia

See the continuity of the structural weave of the sea sponge? Imagine a brighter and lighter weave. That is something like the fascia that integrates all the way through the pelvic half, hip joint region, and through the leg. The image next to the seas sponge is endomysium – the fascia within muscle. The third picture shows the moistness and connectivity of alive fascia.

Flexibility

The concept of flexibility definitely comes into play here. Perhaps our definition of flexibility needs to change. Does being flexible mean that by hook or by crook you can put yourself into progressively more challenging yoga posture shapes? Are we perhaps calling something “flexible” that may detrimental to organic prana flow and joint health? Maybe a new definition of flexibility could have more to do with resilience mixed with soft, responsive strength. Maybe flexibility is a unified state of body, mind, and consciousness that fully penetrates every aspect of who you are at all times, making asana practice a celebration of that. Maybe flexibility even involves giving up the desire for more and more range of motion.

Many yoga teachers and serious practitioners have approached this way of thinking about yoga asana, but few have been willing to really give up the ill-advised search for increasing flexibility. Flexibility—as it is commonly perceived—is so far overrated as to be detrimental to our health and vitality. The just right range of motion for your body and your life is important.

Excessive restriction and rigidity is not the answer. Plenty of people need more range of motion in certain areas. But even in those cases, the goal might better be perceived as increasing resilience, suppleness, and responsiveness.  Serious attention needs to be paid to avoiding putting the onus of the releasing of restriction too close to the joint itself. The complex of all the tissues surrounding the hip need to addressed every time. Muscle is important, but muscle is really just a tool of the fascia. We are actually looking for the integration of movement and life force through the whole body. If a movement in and around a single joint, cuts off the connection and flow of life force to the rest of the body, it very likely isn’t helpful. Focusing on “hip opening” for example may be helpful. But it also may do nothing to promote over all integration and in the worst cases—which unfortunately are way too common—it may encourage the very kinds of movement that eventually seriously damage the hip joints.

These are some of the principles that need to be explored when we address our hips in our yoga practice. Joint problems are common obstacles to the flow of forces, but they also became the problem in the first place because movement and the flow of prana were fragmented and out of balance. It really isn’t enough to simply “not go too far” in a yoga posture. How you go matters. Yoga is deep work…and that’s the good news.

God’s Body

“I am the path and the goal, the upholder, the master, the witness, the abode and the refuge, the loving friend, the origin, the foundation and the dissolution, the resting place and the imperishable seed of all…I am immortality and also death, and the existent and the non-existent am I, O Arjuna.”  Bhagavad Gita 9.18

Embodyoga offers us a unique opportunity to experience God in our bodies.  Much has been said about the body/mind split, and much healing has happened in recent years as we awaken to the reality that body and mind are one whole, integrated through and through.  We know that health and healing require the re-integration and re-partnering of body and mind, rather than viewing them as individual systems to be “worked on” individually and separately.

But we also have historically created and experienced a false split between matter and God. Not just science, which in its modern dogma of fundamental materialism often denies God altogether, but religions and spiritual traditions throughout history have put God up, up, and away, out in the cosmos somewhere far away from us.  Even many yoga traditions have spoken of God as an abstraction, an idea, a story, a myth, and union with God something that happens by transcending and escaping this world through meditation or other methods.

God is not far away.  God is intimately near.  Every atom, every molecule, every living cell on Earth is made of God.  God is the Oneness that gives birth to life, and life lives in everything, even material that we often speak of as ‘dead’.  Even in dead matter, protons and electrons are swirling, life and mind are involuted but dancing, sleeping but waiting to awaken.  And this life is God’s breath, God’s life, God’s being.  This mind is the mind of God.

The origins of yoga lie in the pursuit and direct experience of union with God.  In Sanskrit there are hundreds of names for God – names that reflect the infinite aspects and personalities of the Divine One.  In the west we have one name that has been used and misused throughout the centuries, but that retains its nobility and regal vibration nonetheless.  We can say Oneness, the Supreme, the Absolute, Spirit, Source, etc, but these words seem somehow to approximate the Nameless One that God is, whereas “God” just points right at it.

Yoga is union with God, and this union is possible because it is our true nature and the true nature of all reality.   Matter, the stuff of which our bodies are made, so concrete and individuated, asleep to its true nature, is God’s body that has forgotten itself.  And our bodies manifest this wonderfully.  In our bodies, matter, life, and mind are all present, and we have the capacity to unite them consciously by directing our attention into our body’s structures and systems.

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This is where Embodyoga offers us a unique gift.  When we go inside and feel the living consciousness in our organs, bones, cells, or fluids, when we embrace them and begin to merge our consciousness with their inherent consciousness, first what we find is a fascinating experience of connection with a part of us that may have felt like an ‘other’, something that we own or contain rather than something that we are.  Suddenly we are our small intestine, or our femur, cytoplasm, synovial fluid.  These are not discreet objects moving around inside the bag of skin that we wear – they are discreet and unique manifestations of our consciousness.  They are us, in form.

But this is just the first layer – not the end.  Below this layer of experience is another, where we realize that these structures and systems are not just ‘us’ as individuals.  My lung is not just my individual personal lung – it is a part of the universal lung and shares qualities and vibrations with all lungs.  And the universal lung arises from a stream of consciousness – its substance is consciousness, and it manifests the universal qualities of exhale/condense, relief/release, grief/regret, inhale/expand, longing/aspiration, hope/embracing.  When I touch my lung with my awareness, I touch into this stream of universal qualities that underlies the form and brings it into being.

And there are deeper and wider and more comprehensive layers still, all of them embraced by and drawn from the Original Vastness, the One that gives birth to all matter, life, and mind, that breathes the cosmos into existence. This One is God. The Creator, The Sustainer, The Destroyer.  The unfathomable Love that sings a million songs in every language.  And one of these songs is the universal lung, out of which my lung arises.

This is the door that Embodyoga opens.  It opens a door that leads to a series of doors that leads beyond all doors to the Source of Heaven and Earth.  And this Source is not other than our very deepest selves.  The separation and individuation that we experience in ordinary life is a trick of perception, like looking into a shattered mirror at a distorted image.  We are not the image. We are the undistorted whole that is reflected as fragmented.  And by entering into relationship with our bodies and seeking God there, we move toward a clear and undistorted picture of ourselves.

The great yogi Ramana Maharshi once said that “your own Self-Realization is the greatest service you can render the world.”  May our service ripple throughout the longing and aching world, bringing healing and comfort in this time of great need.

 

Embodiment and Yoga

“Embodiment is the awareness of the cells themselves. It is a direct experience. There are not intermediary steps or translations. There is no guide. There is no witness. There is the fully known consciousness of the experienced moment initiated from the cells themselves…The source of this process is love.”
-Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

Embodiment is the fulfillment of yoga – union. The clear line of division between subject and object blurs, and we experience both as made up of the same essential stuff. In the yoga tradition this stuff is called Satchitananda. Sat = being, truth, infinite and eternal existence. Chit = consciousness that is force, what it wills becomes, infinite and eternal all-embracing awareness. Ananda = delight of being, absolute and unobstructed comfort, infinite and eternal fulfillment. These three are One in their wholeness and undivided, indivisible. They are three aspects, faces, qualities of the One that is All. Being, Will, Experience. This is the universe’s fundamental fabric.

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Yoga is a state as well as a process. When we “practice” yoga, we actively and intentionally engage in the process of moving toward the state of yoga. By practicing yoga, we align ourselves with the yoga of Nature, the Earth’s yoga. Our embodiment is the Earth’s embodiment, and through us Her innate intelligence is set free to play and learn and transform the stuff of Her body. She touches Herself through our hands and loves Herself through our hearts and knows Herself through our minds. And when we directly experience the underlying unity of all that is, when we touch Satchitananda and are plunged beyond ideas into an integral and unarguable knowing of our interbeing with all that is, was, and ever will be, the Earth too awakens and knows and loves and touches the fabric that manifests as Universe.

But embodiment doesn’t seem natural most of the time. As much as we might look to children or animals or plant life and sense an innate capacity for embodiment, something seems to interfere along the way, separating us from the direct experience of unity. Different philosophies throughout human history have attributed the experience of separation and alienation to various causes – original sin, inherent flaws in the makeup of mind, etc. And it’s easy to infer from these perspectives that something went wrong. We messed up, God messed up, some third party interfered, or maybe even this whole show has no purpose at all, we’re just spinning for no reason in a dead and stupid universe hat compulsively vomited us into existence.alex-grey2.jpg

But what if everything is both purposeful and exactly as it should be? What if we are living in the midst of an ongoing process of growth from primal ignorance, in which Satchitananda’s self-awareness was intentionally involuted and encased in seemingly dead, inert matter, and through which it is emerging, gradually but progressively and inexorably, toward full self expression within form? What if we are not just ‘living in the midst of’ this process, but we ARE the process, and our own individual and collective embodiment is a collaboration in the manifestation and fulfillment of a 14 billion year adventure?

Then embodiment is not just an individual and self-serving effort, but a profoundly purposeful and holy task. And since Satchitananda is essentially One and undivided, seemingly solid and inert matter is also carried forward toward awakening and self-awareness. The rocks and dirt and dry bones that we experience as dead and dumb, of course including the most material structures inside our bodies, are waking up and discovering themselves as God. And so in a glorious and sacred feedback loop, as we awaken our cells with the touch of our consciousness, they too respond, touch us back, and awaken us. The source of this process truly is love, for love is yoga, and yoga is love.

 

 

Embodied Tensegrity, Fascia and Yoga

The Fluid Body

“At the beginning of our life cycle, we are conceived in fluid, developed in amniotic fluid and born in fluid; our bodies are more than 70-percent fluid. New scientific discoveries demonstrate that the fascial system is a combination of a powerful fibrous web surrounded by a ground substance that is a fluid/gelatinous medium, and which is the internal and external environment of every cell in the body. Recent research shows there is a micro-fascial system (a tensegrity structure) within every cell. Inside the cytoskeleton of the cell lay microtubules of fascia that have a hollow core, which fluid flows through. Energy, information and consciousness flow within that fluid. Consciousness flows through every cell of our bodies. The fluid within and around every cell performs the important function of being the transport medium of oxygen, nutrients, chemicals, hormones, toxins, energy and information throughout our entire being, almost instantaneously.”
John F. Barnes, P.T., L.M.T.—Massage Magazine April 5, 2011

Tensegrity
“Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.” Wikipedia

tensegrity-in-sand-cerbrovortex.com

Tensegrity is a term coined by Buckminster Fuller. The word is a contraction of two terms: tension and integrity. It describes a structural relationship principle that Fuller defined as stabilizing the shape of structures by continuous tension or “tensional integrity”, rather than by continuous compression, such as is used in a stone arch or a skyscraper. A tensegrity structure is composed of firm rods that do not touch one another, but are suspended and made strong by the simultaneous action of a network of balanced compression and tensile parts.

Kenneth Snelson Free Ride Home tensegrity 1974

Buckminster Fuller was inspired in his work by the innovative sculpture of Kenneth Snelson in which we can see how otherwise heavy metal struts are upheld with a sense of levity and ease when the tensegrity principles are applied.

While most buildings utilize simple compression in alignment with gravity—block upon block and into the earth—to support their form, tensegrity structures are different. They are self-supporting, absorbing and distributing forces omnidirectionally throughout their shapes, giving them the ability to yield increasingly, without ultimately breaking or coming apart. They allow for what would otherwise be heavy limbs and reaching projections to be far away from the center without toppling the entire system.

Biotensegrity
It wasn’t until fairly recently—the last several decades—that scientist have observed that these very same principles of self-inclusive support underlie the integrity of all biological structures.

One of these pioneers, Dr. Stephen Levin, coined the term biotensegrity to describe the ubiquitousness of tensegrity principles in biology. In observing biological organisms, from the most miniscule to the enormous, they have found that all biological organisms are made strong and resilient by their tensegritous unison of tensioned and compressed parts. This applies at the level of the cell membranes and the inner world of every cell. Biotensegritous organisms are as self-intelligent as they are structurally sound. At the cellular level, biotensegrity allows the cell to sense its environment and convert mechanical signals into biochemical changes. Biotensegrity is equally evident at the level of muscle, bones, fascia, ligaments, and tendons. These principles maintain the integrity of every structure of the body, including organs, glands, nervous system, and the rest.  They integrate the body as a whole into a larger biotensegritous form. Dr. Levine and his colleagues have called this a hierarchical system, in that the principles of organization are evident at all levels of expression—from atoms, to cells, to every body tissue, and the body as a whole. Our bodies are layer upon layer of tensegrity structure and function.

Dr. Levine writes:
“What I had been taught during my residency training by some of the top biomechanics people at the time, was the application of first year college physics to biologic structures and particularly how it applied to the human frame. This has been, and continues to be, the accepted mechanics since first described by Borelli, a mathematician and ‘renaissance man’, in 1680, nothing has changed.

This is all based on Newtonian mechanics, as it would be applied to a column or building built with rigid materials and standing in one place on solid ground. But humans, and all biologic structures, are mobile, omnidirectional, gravity independent structures built of ‘soft materials’, foams, colloids and emulsions, (bone and wood are stiff foams, like styrofoam), and mechanicals laws as applied to these structures may be different. It is impossible to explain the mechanics of a dinosaur’s neck using standard Newtonian mechanics.” Stephen Levine—(Bold added.)

Embodied Tensegrity and the Fascial Matrix
Unlike most of the structures we have built to house ourselves, our bodies are far from being simple compressive structures. Fascia is a tensegritous matrix of connective tissue that integrates and forms the support of everything in the body. It is the very fabric of the body. An uninterrupted viscoelastic tissue, it surrounds and penetrates all body structures from head to toe. It is the 3-D web of fibrous, gluey and wet collagen fibers that holds everything together. Fascia comes in all different viscosities, densities, strengths, and resiliencies—from super strong and stable, to gooey, and highly viscous. Its qualitative differences are based on function and how it is embodied and used. The intricate relationship of the fascial system’s muscle, bone, ligament, and tendon creates a tensile and compressive balance that unifies and distributes the force of any movement through the whole body seamlessly. When something moves, everything moves.

Fascia has ten times more sensory nerve endings within it than muscle tissue. This fine three-dimensional network of intelligence is creating, receiving, and expressing information and sensation constantly. Impulses of communication flow through the fascia at the speed of sound in water —approximately 720 mph—as opposed to the speed of impulses flowing through the nervous system—about 150 mph. Communicating roughly three times faster than the nervous system, fascia’s underlying fluidity and connectivity forms an inner communication system that is nearly immediate. The entire system perceives instantaneously.

As a system of proprioception, fascia is constantly communicating to the body where it is in space.  It is also a system of interoception. Interoception is the process of perceiving what is happening within. Body awareness is one of the main ways we feel who we are. Interoception is feeling and sensing who we are in our form. Fascia is an intelligent whole-body-mind system, sensing itself and offering feedback to itself, about itself—constantly and nearly immediately.

Our skeletal system is part of the biotensegritous matrix. Our bones—also connective tissue—form the struts of stable compression for a large portion of our body’s form, while the fascia provides the tensile pull. Bones are suspended within the fascial weave. They do not actually touch. The old paradigm of bones being a system of levers that basically hinge at the joints is simply not true. More accurately, bones are like spacers in the body that float within the fascial weave. In other words, the continuity of the fascial system does not end the way bones do at the joints. Fascia contains and incorporates muscles, bones and joints into the entire system, managing and integrating all movement globally. No hinges, no levers, just resilience, strength, and wholistic integration.

FASCIA TENSEGRITY ichosahedron

Icosahedron–Cellular Tensegrity Model

This can be understood and recognized at the level of the cell. Cells themselves are beautiful tensegritous structures. Each cell is a microcosm of the body as a whole, with intricate self-supporting functions, that in turn support all larger biological functions. Cells are composed of a tremendous array of functional parts, processes, and intelligence. Like the body as a whole, each cell contains a balance of tension and compression elements. The cell’s compression struts are called the cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton weaves through the cell’s interior as strands of filament and microtubules. Cellular microtubules provide a communication system within the cell, and flow with fluid. The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was given to a group of three scientists for their research and findings about the nature of the cytoskeleton. Their work shed light onto the fact that the cytoskeleton is an intelligent and important part of the communication system within the cell. In a New York Times interview, when pressed to describe the contents of the microtubules of the cells, one of the recipients said…it could most closely be described as “liquid light”.

Cellular intelligence is more than an amalgam of its parts and functions. Every cell is awake, alive, and self-aware. Although science is becoming better and better at describing the physical expressions of creative intelligence, we still cannot see or name the nature of intelligence itself. The best we can do is say that cells are intelligent. Perhaps that is good enough. Again, it is the same at the microcosm of the cell and the macrocosm of the human being. Cells do everything we do. They move, they metabolize, they make choices, create energy, and they relate. They relate both to their own inner environment and the family of cells. They are individually organized and also work together to express into complex body systems and organisms.

geodesic red blood cell

Red Blood Cells

Due to their inherent fluidity and shapes, cells have the ability to pack closely with one another. The basic geometry and tight packing of cells allows forces moving through them to be spontaneously transferred omnidirectionally into the other surrounding cells and through the surrounding tissues.

This is clear in the fascial body. Since fascia is primarily fluid and so ubiquitous, wrapping and weaving through everything, we have a way for understanding how any and all body movement can be transferred through the whole body in a seamless and unified way. In the images below we see two examples some of the more fluid fascial tissues. Note the geometric shapes.

fascia   fascia1                                            Examples of Fluid Fascia—Shapes and Textures

“The mechanics of tensegrity structures are quite different than the lever mechanics that have been applied to biologic structures since Borelli’s
{(Borelli 1680)} treatise. Contrary to lever mechanics, hierarchical tensegrity structures have only tension and compression members. There is no shear or torque, nor are there bending moments. Orientation in space has no effect on how the structure functions. Forces are distributed throughout the system rather than locally concentrated as they are in lever systems. The system functions as a single unit. All this makes for a more energy efficient system. Movement is not bending of hinges, but expansion, repositioning and contraction of tensegrities. An instant repositioning of tensegrities allows for freely moving joints while the triangulation imparts stability of form and function. Biotensegrity is the unifying mechanical structural concept that bridges the islands of information that we now have about fascia and its role in body functions, and makes them a unified archipelago for understanding fascia’s role in anatomy and physiology.” Biotensegrity—The Mechanics of Fascia, Stephen M. Levin
 and Danièle-Claude Martin —(Bold added.)

In recognizing and embodying this new paradigm for understanding our biological selves we open to the possibility of living and moving within this system in harmony with the way it is designed—without any shearing forces disturbing the health and resilience of any tissues. Looking at ourselves from the perspective of biotensegrity, cellular movement and intelligence, and the fascial weave, we are called upon to question many of our assumptions about anatomy and what it means to be in a body. An inquiry into fascia leads us to alter our perceptions about how we use our structures to support ourselves. We are led to discover a depth of integration that goes well beyond our beliefs that muscle and bone are the primary weight bearing tissues and the primary movers. We put into question the very dynamics of movement: What is moving? How do we initiate movement? Is movement governed by gravity? Or is gravity just one of the forces that integrates us with our environment? How separate are we? In what ways are we part of—like the individual cell in a larger organism—the larger biological family in which we live?

Consciousness and Form are Inseparable
When we incorporate yoga philosophy into our embodied explorations we begin to see and experience ourselves more fully. In yoga practice we learn that there is consciousness penetrating our form. We know that all of the layers of structure, from the finest to the most dense, contain all of the elements that exist in nature. In the world, as in our bodies, consciousness and form are interpenetrating and in motion.

mesenchyme_embryonic_DEVEOLPING CELLS Study Blue MYOFASCIA dense_regular_connective_tissue Study Blue

Embryonic Mesenchyme                                  Myofascia                          Dense Regular Connective Tissue

In the examples above we can see how the fine beginnings of fascia in the embryonic mesenchyme progressively become more differentiated as they form the myofascia and dense regular connective tissue. There are many more layers to this continuum, and these are only examples of the increasing density and variations of connective tissue’s form.

Scientific microscopes show us the shapes and textures of the fascial weave. Yoga practice invites us to use our own inner microscopic vision and subtle senses to experience this directly. As we travel through awareness to our deepest form we find that the finest layers of fascia are in fact highly refined and intelligent structures. Refined structure and refined awareness exist together. They genuinely cannot be separated. They are one moving amalgam of life and function—the finer the fluid, the finer the expression of consciousness. In exploring these elegant, vibrant, and changing structures, we are able to witness the consciousness that is penetrating our bodies at these subtle layers.

When we embody and delve into the liquid brilliance of connective tissue at its finest, we find ourselves right at levels of personal experience that are very close to Source. This is where our most exquisite, powerful, and bright fluids are learning to function and take shape. They are rich with space and they glisten with Awareness. We are there to witness the subtle layers of our being expressing into the amazingly intricate and glorious manifestations of the awake-and-alive forms that we embody. This inquiry takes place in time as well as in space.

Our earliest embryonic beginnings are still here for us to experience. Embryologically, we were and we are, contained and relational templates of moving awareness, intelligence, space, and fluids. Fascia derives from one of the three embryonic germ layers—mesoderm. Mesenchyme, in turn, derives from mesoderm. Mesoderm and mesenchyme give rise to our connective tissue body, including muscle and bone. Fascia, in general, is more liquid and develops before bone and muscle, so we consider it to be more primary than the musculoskeletal system. In other words, it underlies the development of muscle and bone, in effect unifying muscle and bone into its more all encompassing weave.

It can make sense to start an inquiry with embryonic mesenchyme. This is the earliest, most refined, and fluid state of what becomes our connective tissue and fascial body. Highly liquid, the embryo folds, warps, and grows—fluid moving in fluid, driven by vast creative intelligence and profound organization. Powerful spirals and vortexes of movement and awareness give rise to complex form. The movement of consciousness within our liquid body determines human function and shape. This is true in our earliest beginnings and it is still true. Our entire structure has formed in water, and water continues to be the primary physical constituent of which we are made.

How to Explore
Embodying our fascia—which basically means actively feeling it and recognizing the consciousness that is emanating from it—reveals the possibility of fully integrated whole-body-movement. Fascia is composed of intricately relational substances. Each fiber and molecule is in constant communication with its immediate environment and the larger global family of cells. When we look at pictures of fascia it can appear chaotic and disorganized. But that is far from the case and far from one’s embodied experience of this tissue. Its intricate weave is perfectly organized for the exact work that it is doing. Each of the different expressions of fascia has an individual balance of resilience and strength. Where fascia is situated in the body has everything to do with its function, structure, and consciousness. Where it needs to be strongest, it is. And where it needs to be lightest and most resilient, it is. It brings a quality of unity to our embodied experience, even as we recognize and enjoy its variations in form and function.

The tensegritous structure and shape of fascia makes it uniquely able to distribute forces of movement and weight multi-directionally in the body. Because of the nature of its weave, fascia can absorb force into it and provide an astonishing variability and number of pathways for the force to travel. When you put many of these structures together—like we have in body tissues—the options for movement just continue to multiply.

TENSEGRITY TOY1It can be helpful to hold a common “Skwish Toy”. Composed of wooden rods and connecting bands, the Skwish Toy is a tensegrity structure and the way force is transmitted through it is not unlike how it happens in a cell or a larger body tissue. Stabilize a spot in the toy and then move any other part of the toy. Notice how the movement transmits through the entire structure through the dynamic play of the compressive and firm rods, and the connective bands. Then imagine many Skwish Toys connected to one another. Again, movement anywhere would be transmitted through the whole structure. This is a toy model with limitations, but there is a lot to learn here about how we live in our bodies.

Embodying Our Fascial Weave
Understanding our bodies from this paradigm of movement is a huge shift from the kind of thinking that has been most prevalent over the last few centuries. Far from being structures that are in competition with gravity or always being pushed or pulled earthward, this model shows us how our inner relationships of tension, compression, and resilience are involved in supporting one another. It offers critical insight into how we can feel quite light and buoyant, even in very extended shapes and movements. Gravity is not the only force. In reality, we are using omnidirectional inner supports to fill out our form and create our movement. This paradigm makes gravity a more congenial partner—not a brut force that needs to be overcome by the leverage of our hard bones and muscular strength.

What we are not is mechanical or linear beings—neither at the level of consciousness or structure. It is important for our growth and our ability to embody our full potential, to unearth these unhealthy and restrictive concepts and replace them with a more wholistic paradigm for understanding what it is to live in an intelligent and intricately relational body. Our complex fascial weave is an underlying template of wholeness that supports an incredible diversity.

How we live in our fascia affects everything about how we feel. Equally, how we feel affects our fascial system. The tensegritous continuity of the structural body is a mirror of the continuity that we know to be the weave of Awareness, heart, and mind through our being. Fascial sensitivity can be a window into a more complete comprehension and direct experience of individual and Universal Self—as an embodied, sensed, and felt reality.

We find ourselves exploring layers of personal awareness that are rich with insight and comfort, and feel very close to our essential nature. These subtle and delicate layers of form and consciousness are underneath the common restrictions and tensions that we chronically allow to occupy so much of our time and attention. Each of us is already fully primed to take this journey. We can all do this. The recognition of our inner world is available right now. We make a very critical mistake when we assume our personal, so called “issues”, need to be resolved in order to experience our own nature. They don’t. You can do this now. The access is there, even if you feel that in some way you are still not quite good enough, clear enough, or spiritual enough to witness something so precious. You are good enough. But you do need to do the work.

Embodying the facial weave is a deep process. For you, it might begin at the layer of the cell. Cellular qualities and structure form the embodied basis for experiencing all body tissues. Embodying the integrity and intelligence of the cell can easily be expanded to include the larger—and inherently similar—organ of the fascia. Embodied explorations can be done from either direction: cellular to fascial, or from the fascial level back to the cell. They both work and your personal affinity will determine which is the best and least effortful pathway for you.

Initially, this may sound complicated, but in reality, it is inherently easy. It is easy because it is so basic to who we are. A good degree of curiosity is important. Then, all one really needs to do is inquire and practice with tenderness, clarity, and patience. A key is to continue diving underneath restriction. Restrictions in body and mind are by their very nature not as comfortable or enjoyable as freedom. There is freedom and ease underneath all discomfort. If we can accept that greater comfort may be more desirable than discomfort, we can follow the yogic pathway through and under these limiting patterns into deep, abiding, restful ease.

By quite literally following the bliss, we inevitably drop into these subtle and more supportive layers. We can allow our thinking mind and outer layers of self to be seduced by the gravity of inner comfort. We allow ourselves to be pulled inward. The whole-body fluid source of fascia is an excellent focus for inquiry because its energetic pull is very strong. We are spontaneously drawn toward the sea of comfortable awareness that is emanating from our core.

In exploring fascia it can be useful to limit our outward expression of physical movement at first. Awareness and prana initiate movement. If we go very directly into muscular movement we will often simply use habitual patterns. The habitual patterns of movement may block our experience of the more subtle forces—consciousness and prana—that underlie the movement. As we learn to feel life force flowing within the facial weave, we open to a different initiation of movement; one that begins as a gesture of consciousness and intention.

The unifying weave of fascia carries and distributes the impulse to move. It sets the tone, distributes the forces, and then the muscles move. Fascial initiation is a more wholistic experience than what the more differentiated muscles feel. It is impossible to move through fascia without feeling it transferring and undulating its forces through the entire body. One of the hallmarks of fascially initiated movement is that every movement is felt wholistically, not just in the specific area of the body that is obviously expressing, but fully through the entire weave. It is a fluid sensation—like noticing a current in the ocean that was already there, and allowing it to express into a larger movement.

Our state of mind fully penetrates the body through the fascia. Fascia will harden if we try too hard or become too serious in our approach. Attitudes of perfectionism in life, spirituality, or yoga, as well as harsh self-evaluations, will always create tension in the fascial network. Cultivate kindness toward yourself. Profound self-acceptance is not just necessary for this process, but self-acceptance grows fuller as we perceive the inner world more clearly. Follow your experience inward through the layers of consciousness and form—opening to newness.

Practice santosha—contentment and acceptance of all that you find, and viveka—keen discernment and discrimination. The crucial balance of santosha and viveka, actualized through wisdom and love, will be the most reliable guide to our process. With regular practice, continuity of experience develops. The relationship that we establish with inner comfort becomes an emotionally and spiritually tangible support in yoga, in movement, in stillness, and in life. We feel it as a unified and comfortable state that penetrates body, mind, and spirit…even in the most challenging and difficult times.

Embodyoga®—Overcoming “Otherness”

dancing-shiva
In our modern “Western” culture, perhaps more so than in any other culture in history, we’re taught to see and relate to surfaces.  Even when we dissect or disassemble things, we find within them more surfaces.  Atom, nucleus, electron, quark…on and on through layers of surfaces.  Underlying qualities and interconnections evade us, retreating from the spade as we dig deeper and deeper into the soil of matter.

We can cut through the trunk of a tree, observe the rings and grain, name the tangible processes through which it derives nourishment from earth and sky, but what does this tree know?  How does it feel?  What is its inner, subjective, experience of the world, and how does it relate to and communicate with the forest?  We learn from a young age that these questions are inherently silly, childish.  We learn to dismiss an investigation into the mind of a tree or the subjective experience of a forest as unscientific and unreal.  And yet when we create a world in which only humans’ subjective experience is real, we become dead to the complex, living web of intelligence that surrounds and infuses our ecosystems, our bodies, and our minds. The illusion of aloneness is at best painful, and at worst the driving force behind Earth’s next mass extinction.

Confined to this philosophical rubric we become incapable of knowing except through abstraction – by identifying something as “other” and examining its otherness and relationships to other others.  This “othering” extends even to the space and substance within our own bodies.  My bones, my muscles, my organs, my glands, all appear as objects taking up space inside my skin.  My heart beats, my lungs breath, my blood flows, but all of these processes seem to have little to do with me as I experience myself – captain of the ship, observing the world from my perch up in and around my skull.

The practice of Embodyoga® invites us to step down from this perch and directly into life, starting with a very accessible place – our own bodies.  Instead of taking the body apart and examining the surfaces of its contents, objectifying our very selves, we go inside to discover the essential qualities of our physical structure.  The objective becomes subjective as we touch the consciousness that pervades all layers of self, from the most solidly material to the most ethereal and formless.

We begin by focusing our attention on the more abstract idea of bone, or muscle, or organ, or gland.  We then use imagination and sensation to explore and observe this “other” with our awareness until suddenly, effortlessly, often surprisingly, we enter into a kind of communion with it.  Breaking through the perceptual bubble of the ego-mind, pouring into a subjective experience of gnosis, or knowledge through identity.  I know my liver because I am my liver.  The miracle of human subjective awareness, with its capacities for meta-cognition, infuses into the pre-rational self-awareness that pervades the body.

This shift is a spiritual breakthrough with vast implications, and the essential opposite of theoretical, abstract, or disembodied.  It opens the door to a gnostic experience of the entire ecology around us.  Everything in the world can be communed with similarly.  We can know our surroundings, each other, the earth, the cosmos subjectively – by identity.  I know the tree because I am the tree, the sea because I am the sea, and I know you because I am you.  This ancient spiritual concept becomes accessible through simple embodiment practices.  And when all is experienced as the self, who is there to oppose, to fight, to fear?

Tantra, Cellular Awakening, and Embodyoga®

cn16x24_6975Tantra and Embodyoga®
Tantric thought arose about 1000 years after the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were codified. Whereas the Yoga Sutras of Classical Yoga address the objective of overcoming the obstacles presented by being in an embodied form, Tantra is the yoga of engagement and relationship. Tantra sees the body and the world as the foundations of yogic practice, far from obstacles that need to be overcome, as is so often the perspective in Classical Yoga. In contrast, Tantra focuses directly on the body. Tantric philosophy includes a direct study of the human body-mind-energetic system with the goal of recognizing the Unity of all of life and engaging in the play of a life lived fully. A person who lives life in fullness accepts and incorporates all aspects of the human experience and celebrates our embodied form as nothing more or less than an expression of the Divine. Tantra recognizes the value of experiencing the universal wholeness (of which we are all a part), while enjoying the play of differentiation and individuality, which we embody as human beings. By viewing each individual body-mind system as a miniature replica of the structure of the universe, Tantra teaches that by studying our selves and our relationships—through all the levels of our personal manifestation—we open to the Universal Reality that is equally within as well as without. The practices of Hatha Yoga derive from Tantra and are designed to assist each person in the process of recognizing the abundance of life force that plays out before our eyes at every moment. Embodied Anatomy™ follows the same techniques that are outlined in the Yoga Sutras.

 

Embodied Anatomy™ takes us on a journey into the varying textures and densities of our form and structure. We consciously inhabit and become intimate with the family of cells and functions that support our very existence. In this process we begin to recognize the intelligence and awareness that is at the basis of each and every part of our body. Through Embodied Anatomy™ we actively explore ourselves in space from our densest structures to the most ethereal and spiritual.
For example, the densest aspect of our bones, compact bone, expresses our mineral body – the element of earth – and the consciousness and qualities of heaviness, stability, strength, stillness, and simple presence. Yet, at the level of the marrow that flows within them, even our bones are fluid and warm. This is a very different inner experience from the compact bone itself, which is relatively dry and moves less quickly. Yoga invites us into ourselves to explore the way the elements mix with intelligent–awareness and form a structural matrix. Earth, water, fire, air, and space are the elements that the ancient seers have pointed to for our inner contemplation. Our organ body is fluid, voluminous, and mobile. It relates strongly with the element of water warmed by fire.

Fully embodying our anatomy we become able to initiate movement directly from different body tissues and learn to allow the consciousness of these tissues to express in the movement. For example, moving from bone and muscle has a very specific quality of consciousness that expresses and is visible in the created form. Movement from the organs is softer and more fluid than bone, because those are the qualities of organ. Our glandular system has a lighter and more highly vibrant expression than bone, organ, or muscle. Initiating movement from the glands provides a crystalline kind of suspension system of support for the vertebral column and the skeletal structure as a whole. Glandular support feels light. Movement from the fascial system offers an interpenetrating fluid, elastic, and strong web of support throughout all the body tissues.
Although we appear to be solid, we know that at the level of the spinning atoms within we are actually composed of vast amounts of space. The yogic picture of human existence places awareness at the core. At the very subtlest level of our structure is space and the quality of ananda, or bliss. This experience too is embodied (part of who we are), and the invitation of yoga is to realize this by direct experience. Further, the yogis tell us that at the level of our “inner space,” the experience is one of bliss.

 

Cellular Awakening

Embodyoga® is a whole-person experiential investigation into, and enlivening of, cellular awareness. Through inquiry into our bodies in our asana, pranayama, and meditation practices, and by investigating our relationships in the world, we actively engage with all aspects of self and the environment in which we live. Our inquiry reveals direct perception and authentic experience of our true nature. By inviting insight into our true nature, we begin to notice that we are awake and alive at every level of our being. Cellular awakening alters our perception of self, the world, and our place in it. We spontaneously recognize that as we are, so is everything else. Continue reading