Embodying the Bandhas

Enjoy this 3-minute video about "embodying" the bandhas in yoga.

Energizing the Core
Through the Diaphragms


AUGUST 15TH + 16TH, 2020   |   2 HOURS EACH DAY
START TIMES: 8am PDT (Los Angeles) / 11am EDT (New York) / 4pm GMT (London) / 5pm CET (Paris) / 1am AEST (Sydney)

 

Explore what it means to breathe in a whole new way. Expand your inner sensing and feeling of breath, and enjoy a completely new paradigm of diaphragmatic breathing with Patty Townsend.

Bandhas contain and direct prana. They encourage life-force to flow freely within our core bodies. Effective use of bandhas introduces us to and enhances the sensitivity of our subtle senses. We are invited to explore the inner world of prana.

Each of the three major bandhas relates to one or more of the core-body diaphragms. The bandhas follow the shapes and inherent movements of these diaphragms. When we tune in with sensitivity, bandhas are delightfully energizing and comfortable.

In this workshop we will explore the three primary bandhas: Mula Bandha, Udiyana Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha.

Mula Bandha organizes the pelvic diaphragm and contains our life force at the base. It stimulates prana to rise and to coalesce in the energetic hub of the low abdomen just above.

Udiyana Bandha, practiced on exhalation, follows the upward doming thoracic diaphragm to its completion, providing a still resting place for a yielding heart.

Jalandhara Bandha involves the vocal diaphragm in concert with the soft palate at the roof of the mouth. Jalandhara caps and contains the top as prana churns, balances, and enlivens below. Jalandhara keeps the brain cool and encourages the opening of the central channel, sushumna nadi.

Participants in this online workshop will:

  • Explore what it means to breathe in a new way.

  • Expand your inner sensing and feeling of breathing.

  • Learn to access subtle and effective inner movement.

  • Learn a new paradigm for diaphragmatic breathing.

  • Learn to breathe fully without strain.

Register Here

Embodied Pranayama—The End of Suffering

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Pranayama as taught in the classical sense is a system for getting out of—releasing oneself from—the trials and tribulations of being human. The body is denigrated as the ground of suffering and something to be overcome. Do we accept that? Is it true? What if one would like to LIVE in the body without suffering? What if one wants to feel and be profoundly human? The amazing thing is that is exactly how to release suffering. Turning the classical teachings on their head, Patty proposes techniques for fully entering the entire field of life through pranayama as the ultimate embodied method for ending suffering.
Go in, not out.

Watch the YouTube video of Patty describing Embodied Pranayama.

Join our self-paced online study program. Enrollment is now open!
Finding Resilience in Breath: The Science of Pranayama

Finding Resilience in Breath—The Science of Pranayama with Patty Townsend

Screen Shot 2020-06-30 at 8.46.07 AMBreath is precious. It should be our birthright to experience the gift of life offered with every breath we take. We know this is not always the case. Even in the privileged lives so many of us live, full-body easy breathing is not guaranteed and is not automatic.

We are living in stressful times and these troubled times affect our breath. In turn, our breathing affects everything about how we feel and our ability to be effective in our lives.

In this time, confronting the horror of, “I can’t breathe,” we are called upon to act with strength and clarity within ourselves and in our communities. We are called upon to take strong action, to be persistent, and to come from a place of balance and equanimity. Equanimity and balance are functions of complex interactions within our nervous systems. How we breathe affects our nervous system, and our nervous system affects our breathing.

Support Precedes Action
The quality of our own breathing is critical to finding the stability within our lives that is imperative for providing support for all we need to do. Good support precedes effective action. Yogic breathing techniques offer extensive means for balancing and toning the nervous system. We need that to experience inner comfort and stability. We need stability to create the foundation for strength and clarity in our actions.

There is an art to yoga breathing. Like everything else in yoga, pranayama is a multilayered process. Pranayama requires a delicate touch, skillful technique, and appropriate progression of practices.


Welcome to our new Online Self-Paced Educational Program on Pranayama with Patty Townsend

In this program, we explore traditional Hatha Yoga techniques along with important embodied-somatic underpinnings for those techniques. We use Embodied-Inquiry to delve into subtle layers consciousness and form. We open to direct experience of prana in all its layers of subtlety and power. At the same time, we use the pranayama techniques in their optimal way to heal and transform our agitated nervous systems.

We explore traditional pranayama techniques:

  • Three-Part Breathing—with a radically new perspective on diaphragmatic movement
  • Ujjayi
  • Bandhas
  • Breath Retention
  • Nadi Shodhana

We explore inner foundational techniques:

  • Cellular Breathing
  • Navel Flooding Breath
  • Infinity Breathing

Cellular Breathing was our first and remains our primary breath. We were breathing cellularly for nine months before we ever took a breath into our lungs. We feel the life of breath in our cells. In Cellular Breathing, we are invited within to our own sea of embodied intelligence—the place of liveliness and potentiality that each of us carries within. It underlies all breathing.

Navel Flooding Breath is a completely new way of looking at “abdominal breathing”. Nearly opposite of what you may have learned, Navel Flooding Breath is profoundly toning to abdominal organs and other soft tissues. It is supportive of life force containment and is foundational to going deeper in pranayama.

Infinity Breathing—the culminating gift of pranayama is not really a technique at all. It can be said to be the result of good technique. It rises out of deep ease and comfort within. Inhale and exhale diffuse one into the other—expanding, condensing, and yielding—dissolving only to rise again. No beginning and no end—the undulating gift of life with each and every breath we take.

“Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge
and heralds the dawn of wisdom.”
B.K.S. Iyengar—Light on the Yoga Sutras, Sutra II.52

This program is designed for all yoga practitioners.
Those with a basic knowledge of yoga and a desire to go deeper will receive foundational understanding upon which to build a lifelong breathing practice.

Teachers and advanced practitioners will learn new practices. Knowledgeable practitioners will recognize the importance of embodying the underlying breathing techniques offered here as critical support for all pranayama practice.

Mindful Yoga Therapy has provided the support and platform for this program.
It is presented online in a self-paced program of approximately 20 hours. The program is divided into five modules, each with its own specific western science, yogic science, and elucidation and practice of techniques.

This program provides a progressive and holistic approach to pranayama that respects our embodied existence. We aim to deepen our humanity, sensitizing ourselves to life while providing the inner strength and resources to see life as it is, engage in appropriate ways, and increase self-knowledge and love.

Yoga is serious stuff. It isn’t necessarily easy to stay on track. A good deal of commitment and personal agency is required to continue to go deeper. I hope you will join me on this continuing journey.

Very much worth the effort…

Feel free to contact me with questions: patty@embodyoga.com

Register for the Program Here

Respect and Permission in Yoga—Yamas and Niyamas

The first two of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs are the Yamas and the Niyamas.  Together, they set the stage for yoga practice. They form a comprehensive set of principles that govern moral and ethical action in relation to all spheres of life. An honest look at these all-encompassing precepts is enough to stop any thoughtful person in their tracks. Taken literally, they are unforgiving. To practice them requires great focus and is demanding on every level.

Are we actually being called upon to do and be these things? Yes, we are and as teachers or any kind of leader, it is even more critical that we take these precepts to heart.

At first glance, the Yamas and Niyamas are simple—and obviously challenging to live. As we explore and allow ourselves to inquire with depth and precision, they have the power to transform our personalities. They regulate our very thinking. They are checks on impulses and sculptors of right-action. They speak to containing the purpose and direction of our lives. They encourage—demand—that we stay true to the course of pursuing greater knowledge and clarity, and that we never cede to egoic desires for personal accomplishment and gain. These principles don’t lose importance, no matter how much or how long we practice. If anything, the yamas and niyamas increase in significance as our awareness broadens.

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As Teachers

The yamas go right to the heart of what is necessary to approach serious practice. Can we manage this? The niyamas add to the tall order, letting us know clearly the challenges ahead. They provide no outs.

Can we work together as a community to cultivate this?

We, the teachers, are invited to nurture our student’s growing yoga practice. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing today is that so many of the teachers who have been held in high esteem are not worthy of their status. I feel we need to look at this, not just “famous” teachers, and not only at the most egregious of abuse, but for the ways that we are all involved; culpable in silently promoting a system that subtly denigrates some and lifts others.

Who are we all in perpetuating a  system of thought where one person is allowed to have power over another? We are all in this together.

Who checks the teacher? Usually, it is only the teacher, and that’s a problem. As teachers, we are the most vulnerable to losing track of our own practice. As teachers, it is entirely on us to manage our own actions. It is our job to maintain complete respect for our students and to recognize, handle, and contain our own distorted egoic needs and unhealthy desires. We all have issues. They will come up. Expect them and prepare for them. Personal integrity is first and foremost for teachers.

Do no harm. Basic.

When we don’t actively embrace a willingness to take full responsibility for our inner challenges and our outer actions we are on the precipice of doing harm.  There are no excuses whatsoever for physical and sexual abuse. It is completely unacceptable in all situations.  And…we all need to be careful not to succumb to the minor abuses of power that are so seductive whenever we—even we the normal everyday yoga teachers—are looked up to because we are thought to have some greater spiritual connection and knowledge.

It’s true. This does happen.

The stronger the leader, the more important the Yamas and Niyamas. 

As awareness expands, our reach increases. People tend to see something in their teachers they wish they themselves had. They inevitably project their hopes and dreams onto them. They may see the teacher as wise, intelligent, or to have perceptual abilities that are beyond their own. Whether any of these projections are true or not is not the point. They often lead to a perceived power differential between the teacher and the student that almost always involves the student feeling lesser than the teacher.

As teachers and leaders, when we notice this phenomenon forming in our student/teacher relationships, we responsibly return to the yamas and niyamas. We are called upon by circumstances to go even deeper into our own practice and unearth the threads of egoic delight in power that are still embedded deep within our psyches.

This is a positive stimulus for the teacher. In the best of conditions, it helps to ripen the teacher’s wisdom. Seeing this phenomenon for what it is, is critical to our own, and our student’s well being.

Egos are tricky. We all know that much. We need to check our ego’s underlying rumblings and screams for attention. As teachers, it is our job to take our own practice seriously, and we know what that means. Importantly, it means returning over and over again to see how we are doing in reference to the yamas and niyamas. In the same ways that our practice is particularly challenging in our personal relationships, it is challenging with our adoring students as well. We all need to take the very real dynamics of student/teacher relationships seriously and attend to them carefully. As we have witnessed so often, not all teachers return to the yamas and niyamas as their power sphere grows. We cannot change what others have done, but we can take responsibility for ourselves now.

Permission and Touch—No Precedes Yes

The conversation about permission and touch in yoga is finally here. I think we are all relieved to have this discussion out of the shadows and into the open. The consent cards now available in studios are wonderful tools for students and teachers. I have found that I much prefer having them. 

Of course, we have to ask permission and be respectful about where, how, and if we touch. Consent cards are an important step in offering power to the students. But there are layers and mitigators to consent. As wise teachers, we need to recognize that even if we are given permission, permission may be granted out of the student’s own misunderstanding about when “no” is appropriate. Encourage your students to say no sometimes. Encourage them to look inside to see if they really do want you, the teacher, to touch or assist them on that day. They may be surprised by their own feelings and let them know that you really actually will not take it personally. Then you have to make sure you don’t.

As a teacher, how do you feel when your student declines touch? Of course, you respect your student’s wishes, but do you ever take it personally? Do you think it is about you in some way? Are your feelings even hurt? Do you think perhaps it means you are not a good enough yoga teacher? Maybe you feel none of this. Maybe you feel all of it. It doesn’t matter what you feel. Just accept it. Do the personal work on your thoughts and feelings, and be sure not to make it your student’s problem.

Keep this in mind: When a student is able to say no to you you are offering them a true experience of personal power. They may or may not be willing or able to say no in their lives. That they can say no to you without being rejected by you can be a powerfully bonding experience.

No precedes yes. If you want something new you have to be able to say no to where you are. Without a clear no, there can be no clear yes. Being able to say no in yoga class is profoundly important for all of us. Being able to accept no is a learning and a deepening for yoga teachers.

Mutuality of Respect Breeds Deepening Respect

No one who is in form—has a body and takes a breath—is impervious to abusing power. Let’s resist being drawn into even the subtle projections of others. Know who you are. We can do this together. Continual questioning of ourselves is our ongoing duty. This is our practice.

Let us initiate the respect relationship. Our true respect for others is seen and felt by our students. They respect us back. Respect deepens on all sides. This is teaching.

Let’s allow and enjoy appropriate respect from our students and actively disavow other’s projections. Let’s respect our own teachers and the teachings of yoga. It is fine to let our students know, that yes, we have practiced long and consistently. And perhaps, if it is true, your practice continues to bear fruit. Let’s not even allow a glimmer of erroneous projection. Let’s happily accept the respect that is due and is appropriate to our dharmic endeavor. Respect is a beautiful and true offering…when it is earned and warranted.

Let’s accept the invitation to be leaders and guides.

May we become increasingly intelligent and careful observers of life.

May we endeavor to grow in our perceptual abilities and continue to share our deepening vision.

Let’s point the way and lead. 

We can do this.

Let’s do this together. 

The Teacher’s Responsibility—Abuse, Power, and Respect in the Yoga Community

PRACTICE IS FUNDAMENTAL

Yoga is practice and it is process. It involves fearless and determined inquiry into the nature of life. It involves deep commitment and willingness to observe yourself more clearly. Yoga requires true bravery to not know—no matter how much you think you know.

We all need teachers. As teachers, we need to have teachers and it is incumbent upon us to question and to choose wisely. Delving into the process of discriminating the personal from the universal and weaving it back together into the whole cloth of life is a delicate process. It takes continuity of inquiry and wisdom. Chose a direction wisely. Choose your teachers wisely.

RESPONSIBILITY OF TEACHERS

In teaching yoga, we lead people right to the heart of their deepest yearnings and difficult self-concepts. We help them clear a path to a fuller understanding of all layers of life. We help them to open their hearts and minds and gain access to self-acceptance, spontaneous joy, and a richer experience of love and life. This is tender work and we take it seriously. It is a sacred responsibility to hold the position of guiding people toward a more holistic and even enlightened view of life and self.

“That which has most Truth lasts longest.”

Much of what we see currently in western yoga has not stood the test of time at all. We are babies in this. There is a lot to learn.

Currently, nearly daily, we are witnessing revelations about the ways blind trust of teachers and lineages has been detrimental to ourselves and our students.

It is the natural tendency of serious students to trust their teachers. Of course it is. The student is looking for answers and help with life’s difficult questions. In choosing a teacher, the serious student comes to you in a vulnerable state. They want to know. They want to be led in a real direction toward relief of pain and suffering. They want to learn.

When a student accepts someone as their teacher, it is entirely the teacher’s responsibility to be respectful of the student in every way.

We teach our students the underlying principles of yoga. We guide them on what may arguably be the most important journey of their life. We do this with kindness and the utmost regard for our student’s process.

The teacher’s job is to guide and lead. Much of what we teach, we teach by example. As human beings, we are inherently susceptible to the praise and admiration we receive from our students. It is a challenging proposition to identify and tame our own desire for recognition and praise. No one who is alive is immune to being led astray by other people’s respect and adulation for them.

That is why it is so important that teachers have their own serious and dedicated practice. As teachers, we need to check ourselves constantly to make sure that we are still adhering to the eight limbs of yoga. The eight limbs grow in importance as we grow in our process.

As we have seen, some highly regarded teachers have been revealed to be abusers.

The image of a person who claims—even implicitly—to be more highly evolved carries a lot of power in spiritual circles. Who wouldn’t want to surrender to a higher power that is right in front of you every day? Who wouldn’t want simple answers to life’s perplexing questions? Who wouldn’t give themselves over to a person who claims to know the answers?

There are no supreme teachers, only people—some of whom have genuine channels to universal intelligence. However, as human beings, all of us are susceptible to the insidiously destructive effects of having power over others. Power is very difficult for humans to handle in the best of circumstances. But when psychologically immature people are held up to be spiritually mature—many of the gurus about whom we read—it is a prescription for emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse.

As teachers, we must cultivate our own wisdom and apply it first and foremost to ourselves. This is called practice.

The wise teacher must resist any tendency to take advantage of the excessive attention and praise that is offered them. Teachers need to be strong and clear within themselves. They need to be wise enough to recognize their own underlying desires for power and be brave enough not to act on their own impulses and neediness. It is reasonable enough to ask our yoga teachers and spiritual leaders to act with the highest integrity.

Being a respected yoga teacher comes with serious responsibilities. People adoring and deferring their own wisdom to yours is a very seductive business for the ego-mind. Having power over people is the breeding ground of abuse. Only a mature and wise teacher can resist the adulation and power that comes with the projections our students may send our way.

We have seen many gurus fall—as they should. They were never super human and hopefully we are all learning to understand this. Only that clarity will free us from being vulnerable to the abuses of power that have been surfacing on a nearly daily basis.

Any ego is vulnerable to self-aggrandizing—especially when people are fawning over them. Fame and adoration are particularly hard to give up. If the teacher starts to believe their students, their own self-importance is in danger of inflating.

In this dynamic, all the responsibility lies squarely with the teacher.

If a teacher’s self-image becomes inflated or overblown it is always detrimental to their students. It is super easy, even for the most enlightened, to be enticed by self-importance. Diligent teachers understand this. They figure out ways to limit their self-aggrandizing thoughts. They use techniques to protect themselves from this tendency. They offer thanks and praise back to their own teachers and the lineages from which they come. They avoid taking credit for their inspiration and knowledge, by reminding themselves and their students that the truth is no one person’s domain. Truth and expanded awareness are equally available to everyone.

The teacher has the trickiest role of all and the highest of responsibilities.

This is not just for the teachers on the larger stage. It is for all of us. How we educate our beginning students shapes how they will observe and respond to other teachers as the years go by. We need to let our students know about power dynamics, especially within the spiritual and yogic communities.

Damage has been done. Now it is time to clarify and to act.

As teachers and guides, it is our responsibility to look our personal demons in the eye. If we yield to our ego’s tricks and desires—to the detriment of our student’s well-being—we abdicate our precious responsibility to nourish our students in selfless ways. We must do more to build our own discernment and intelligent questioning. We must pass the same discerning awareness onto our students. And we must never take more credit than we are due.

Personal agency is central in determining how we navigate our own spiritual process. Without questioning, we can become subject to illusions of grandeur, susceptible to someone else’s power, or both. Personal agency and critical thinking are important assurances of safety in a tricky world. As teachers, it is even more important for us to look these issues in the eye. Stare them down. We are responsible to educate our students and take heed ourselves.

Let’s recognize our own complicity. Because we are complicit.

We are intelligent beings and we need to remember to use our discrimination in all the choices we make. In learning to protect ourselves from our own delusions we become more capable of helping others.

Learn to embody all that you are with humility and grace. Learn to respect yourself for the diligence you have brought to your practice. Learn not to perceive yourself as better or worse than anyone else. Be a guiding light to others.

HOW WE THINK ABOUT IT MATTERS

Danger lies within the hierarchical thinking so many people bring to yoga. Hierarchical systems organize people above or below one another based on status and authority. They often involve situations where a single person holds power over the actions and lives of others. This is particularly true in many religious organizations.

Spiritual systems of all kinds consistently raise people to positions of power over others. This is risky business. In embracing this principle in our yoga communities we encourage the tendency for students to think the teacher is better than they are. The yoga community at large runs the danger of perpetuating a hierarchical structure that is ripe for abuse. Power does corrupt. It is the teacher’s job to clarify the misconception.

In our unspoken acceptance of hierarchy, we become complicit in a structure that breeds the abuse we have seen in the yoga community.

We must unearth and excavate, bringing to the light of day our complicity in a system that consistently raises people to positions of power over others.

Organic structures are not hierarchically formed. We are organic structures with every cell awake, alive, and self-aware. That means we are all in this together and need to take conscious responsibility for who we are, what we teach with our actions and words, and who we consciously take ourselves to be.

When a student lets you know how great they think you are, tell them they are looking at themselves. Tell them you are just like them, equally flawed and equally spectacular. Let them see who you are, for their sake—and for your own.

Respect your students. Respect yourself. Embody the possibility.

Let’s learn together to respect ourselves for who we are and not who we think we should be. Let’s respect ourselves for our ongoing and concerted commitment to practice. Let’s own the knowledge we have gained from our diligence, and yes, allow our students to respect us. Let’s happily and generously offer guidance when it is requested. Encourage them to inquire and to read, to think for themselves, to study, and to delve into what is truth and what is fiction. 

May we all continue to think very carefully about what is of value, what is useful, and what is not. As our student’s guides, we need to be beacons of strong practice and resolve. That includes all of the eight limbs. It includes every breath we take, every word, and every action.

It is an incredible gift to be able to be a yoga teacher and we mustn’t take it lightly. When we don’t do the work, the whole work, and nothing but the work, we lessen the integrity of the path we walk and the philosophy we teach.

Let’s allow our students to question us freely. Let’s resist the temptation to step onto the pedestal that is offered.

May we all work together to assure we do not—even unconsciously—enable or become the perpetrators of emotional, psychological, spiritual, or physical abuse.

Ever.

ASHTANGA VINYASA—A PERSONAL STORY

Healing, Discernment, and Resolution

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HEALING

It’s 1985 and I’m living and working at Center for Yoga in the Larchmont District of Los Angeles, CA. Ganga White was the owner and director and Ana Forrest was the very young primary teacher. Ganga was, as he clarified at the time, “The keeper of the dream” supporting the very existence of the Center and Ana was well…Ana—the wild, wonderful, also iconoclastic, creative, exciting, and driving explorer and teacher of asana. Good times. Yoga was saving my life and I was in love with the practice, my teachers, the community, and the shared explorations.

My asana studies with Ana during this time had taken my practice to a place where basically I could do most of the postures. And I could do them pretty well. The shapes were easy, felt graceful, still felt nurturant to my body, and washed depression from my mind. I was a bit fanatical, but not about a certain system or way of practice. Ana, Ganga and all of us as a group were open minded. We were explorers. We were serious.

A friend of Ganga’s, Danny Paradise came to the yoga center. A traveling Ashtanga teacher, Danny presented a class to a group of us at the Center for Yoga.

I was already a strong and able practitioner, as were many of us, and we were able to go through the entire Primary Series in that session that must have lasted about two and half hours.

I was completely blown away by the practice, the seamlessness of it, its power, and the sequence itself. I had heard that part of the power of Ashtanga was the sequence of the postures. As we went through the postures I was able to feel the movement of pranic forces progressively toning, pulsing, and balancing, especially in my pelvic region. As we progressed through the janusirsasanas and the marichiasanas, I could feel the sequence of postures balance and shift the pranic and sensational realities of my pelvis. Muscle by muscle, posture by posture, small precise inner touch—very much like a key making its way fully into a lock. It was a fascinating and deeply satisfying process to observe.

The ten breaths seated at the finish of practice seemed to take 10 minutes to do. Lying on the floor in savasana my body began to shake wildly. I wasn’t completely sure, so I opened my eyes, lifted my head and looked at it. It wasn’t moving. I lay back down and surrendered to the vibration. A huge glow developed in my second chakra area and spread. It was pleasant and intriguing.

Prior to that class I had been trying to become pregnant for nine years. That very month I conceived my first child. Putting everything together, I feel this was definitely not coincidence, but the direct result of that very first Primary Series practice.

I gave birth to my son, James and continued Ashtanga Vinyasa as my primary practice for another ten years. Although Pattabhi was the leader of the tradition, I chose one Ashtanga teacher, Richard Freeman. He was clearly brilliant and I trusted him. I felt that Richard was teaching the very cutting edge of everything I thought was about to happen with yoga in the West. Richard brought the poetry and beauty into the physical practice that was beyond anything I had experienced. My excitement about the practice, as presented  by Richard, was very strong. I was utterly committed.

I was a great fan of Second Series and not at all a fan of Third. I remember thinking after practicing Third Series a couple of times that I didn’t even want to be that physically strong. It just didn’t seem to correlate with my aims in yoga. Besides, I had already begun to question the continuing validity of the system for me.

DISCERNMENT AND DISCRIMINATION— WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

Around 1988, I was beginning to question my practice. I noticed that the practice didn’t change how I felt anymore and wasn’t really doing much for the clarity of awareness I was looking for either. I could suspend my breath for a long time. That seemed like a good thing based on what I read, but what was it doing for me? It clearly had helped at one time, but it just didn’t seem to be offering tangible results anymore.

I also noticed that it took a lot of time, energy, and focus. Quite often it made me tired. I strongly suspected that it wasn’t useful anymore. I continued to practice, for years. It is difficult to say no and to let go of something that almost works and even more so, serves one’s ego very well. What if I was no longer recognized to be “good” at yoga?  What if I didn’t know how to define myself anymore? What if I got FAT?

It was not an easy process to let go of the lure of Ashtanga practice. Long story short, I did it. It was around 2002 by now. For me, more than anything else it was the ego hook of the whole game. In my case my entire self concept was built around my yoga abilities. But, as a serious practitioner of yoga, I knew that if I wanted to go deeper, I would have to be willing to take the leap.

RESOLUTION

I suffered through the trials of giving up the ego gratification that had defined me for so many years. The worst of all possible things for me happened; I gained weight. My yoga practice became more rolling around on the floor than traditional asana. Very hard times for me, but my sense was that powerful new doors were opening based on my willingness to let go of who I thought I was in order to become more of who I actually might be.

By giving up the known, we open ourselves to something more rewarding.

It’s the old adage, one may be afraid to leave the dingy shack because of one’s inability to see the beauty that is waiting just out of vision, beyond the hill.

I am grateful for all of the developmental processes in my life. I am grateful for my years of Ashtanga, the great yoga teachers of differing traditions that have helped shape my understanding and practice of yoga, and to the woman who changed my path in yoga forever and showed me what is possible, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.

There’s a lot I would like to share about all of this and more, but this is enough for now. thank you for reading.

WHO AM I?—YOGA’S CALL TO ACTION

WHO AM I?
Who am I? is considered to be one of the core inquiries in yoga practice. Am I composed of divine radiance manifesting into form or am I primarily this compilation of qualities and traits that feel to be thick, dark, and dense? Why is radiance obscured from my vision? If I am divine, why do I still suffer?

Who am I in this? Am I universal awareness, individual consciousness, or both?

From which layer of conscious awareness do I choose to perceive? Do I have choice in this? What does my choice have to do with how I experience life?

If the divine radiance propels manifestation in the first place, why does it mire the personal into the depths of form so that the universal source is missed by the individual’s perception?

Why even in serious and committed practice do we need to aspire so constantly to witness the source of who we are? Why is it not immediately evident to all? Variations on these questions have led many to deny the existence of God and completely denounce spiritual practice altogether.

NEVER NOT BROKEN—AND ALWAYS WHOLE
What if the universal design is just not what we think? What if the design is to create a seemingly chaotic explosion of structure and events in order to play? What if the design is for the vastness of universal creativity and intelligence to play and enjoy its own ability to create and manifest? Wouldn’t a nearly limitless intelligence want to throw the pieces asunder in order to challenge and entertain herself? What if, like a creative and intelligent child with a huge bin of Legos, the divine radiance has joyfully dumped them out on the floor, and with focus, determination, and love, is assembling them together into rich and varied forms? What if that is the game?

Would it be alright to simply be one of the disjointed pieces, that when woven together can make a whole?

The manifest world, as we experience it through our intelligence and perceptual abilities, is an intricately woven field of awareness and form. It is always fragmented and broken, and it is always whole. Nearly infinite creative possibilities are inherent in the pieces, and the pieces are always in flux. Everything that is alive is moving. If it is moving it is infused with prana, and prana is the creative partner and vehicle for divine awareness. Continue reading

DEVELOPING A PERSONAL PRACTICE— Active Relationship with the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

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The Yoga Sutra, the preeminent text on yoga consists of four padas—or sections—each containing a number of individual sutras. In his Yoga Sutra, the sage Patanjali sheds light onto the workings of the human mind, the specific and particular brands of suffering that we unwittingly impose upon ourselves, and the full picture of healing and resolution for our suffering. Patanjali has offered a codification and thorough description of the practice of yoga, and the means for relieving the inevitable suffering of the human mind that is not aware of its inherent depth of intelligence and power—Pure Unmanifest Awareness.  Patanjali provides us with a precise outline for practice.

I. Samadhi Pada defines yoga and puts the practice in perspective. We are introduced to the ways that our individual minds cloud our experience of the true nature of life.

II. Sadhana Pada covers the yamas, niyamas, asana, and pranayama. It provides the necessary framework for effective practice. Pranayama is the gateway to the inner world.

III. Vibhuti Pada takes over where Sadhana Pads leaves off, honing in on the more subtle aspects of practice. Beginning with pratyahara, it addresses the ways to continue to refine our awareness, addressing, dharana, dhyana, samadhi. This pada moves into the realm of samyama—the integration of the three.

IV. Kaivalya Pada: In the final Pada, Patanjali brings together many of the more esoteric and sometimes difficult to understand teachings of the practicality of practice. Although it may read as densely philosophical, it is rich with subtle practices of inquiry. Patanjali invites us in even deeper. When awareness has been mostly cleared these inquiries can bear fruitful knowledge and the inquiry itself continues to refine and hone the individual consciousness—making it a more and more radiant and open receptacle of Divine Light.

At the beginning of the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali lays out the context for practice. He encapsulates his entire message in the first three sutras, immediately addressing the need for practice, what the process requires, and the goal. If the first three sutras are intriguing enough, one will practice. If they are not, there will be little motivation to continue.

Sutra 1:1
atha yoganuśhāsanam
Now begins the instruction on the practice of yoga.

Atha communicates the auspicious nature of the teachings that are about to be elucidated.  Most commonly translated as “now”, atha is also the expression of the self-luminous guiding Intelligence that resides within the heart and mind of every human being. By using the term atah to initiate his treatise on yoga, Patanjali sets the stage for the comprehensive message that will follow: we are all radiant beings, our very nature is manifesting into form with brilliance and power, and it is possible to recognize this directly. The meaning of “now” is in itself auspicious. Now is the present moment, the place of no future, no past, only this exact unmoving place of presence and radiance. Now describes the unified state of mind. In the first sutra, Patanjali has created an inclusive container for all the teachings that are to come.

He continues to say that “now”, perhaps you may be open to undertaking the inquiry that will reveal the core of being to your conscious awareness. The implication is that now one may actually be ready to practice yoga. One has tried everything else, and finally understands the futility of looking for satisfaction within the arena of the solely personal field of individual mind. Having seen and tried every machination of effort to gain contentment in a life perceived through the most superficial layers of consciousness, one is now ready to seriously embark on the study of yoga.

With the term anuśhāsanam, Patanjali is stating emphatically that yoga means practice. Patanjali lets us know right away that the Yoga Sutra is not simply a philosophical text. Patanjali is stating right at the start that yoga requires practice and the strong implication is that practice will require commitment and fortitude. Continue reading

Happy Knees in Yoga

bodhisattvas knees copyOur most basic pranic flows are laid down in the early days of our gestation. In the very first few weeks of life, our limb buds grew outward from our tiny bodies. The direction of their flow was clear and simple. There were no complications or great articulations at this point—just simple presence and potential—and this initial flow of life force is still present and underlies the healthy movement of all of our limbs. The underlying pranic flows in the body are always present within, and are supportive of healthy movement. Even when we have injured ourselves, torn and shredded structures, the healthy flow remains—as if dormant—underneath the injured tissues. In Embodyoga®, as in Body-Mind-Centering® we explore these initial movements of life force to understand, embody, and maintain health in all the body tissues. (We study embryological growth, and its importance in embodiment and yoga practice, in our training programs and workshops.)

Maintaining the continuity of the embryological spirals is organizing and supportive of the knee joints. The underlying spiral of the lower limb supports the knee and provides simplicity of flow through the limb that is balancing and healing to knee issues. All of the articulations that we go through in the knee, foreleg, ankle, and foot in our yoga postures are much later developments. By returning to the simplicity of the embryological spiral we allow the prana to flow as it naturally wants to, without laying on all sorts of ideas about what we think is right. Once prana is flowing, it will be much easier to address specific imbalances.

Front view of knee joint anatomy

Knee Anatomy
Understanding healthy rotations at the musculoskeletal level in the hip, foreleg, ankle, and foot are also critical for maintaining knee health. Improper rotations put excessive stress on the knee joint. The knee joints are unstable, true, but they are beautifully articulable when used wholesomely. When any of the joints above or below the knee are restricted (or hyper mobile) the knee will suffer. The knee needs an environment of good support without restriction. Because it is so mobile, if joints on either side are compromised the knee is very likely to take a major amount of stress.

In yoga practice we do many postures that require a lot of “knee rotation”. This requires integration and wholesome movement through the entire lower limb. What that means, is we need to figure out how to have rotational forces going through the knee without torqueing it and disturbing its delicate balance. It is never safe to allow forces to get caught in the knee joints. Forces must flow seamlessly through the knees at all times. Most people practice rotational movements without the benefit of understanding what needs to take place here and how to honor one’s own healthy range of motion.

Knee Rotations—Rotation is perhaps the trickiest of the knee’s articulations. Anatomists still often refer to the knee as a “hinge joint”. It is far from being a hinge. Rotations in the knee along with those of the foot and the foreleg provide the structural possibilities for so many different movements, making it possible to even walk comfortably on uneven surfaces. Our rotational abilities give a sense of freedom and ease in the knees. The menisci—one on each side of the tibial plateau— are responsible for assuring that these rotations move through the joints and feel good and free. They shouldn’t be painful, as is so often the case, especially in yoga practice. Continue reading

Radiance and Levity—The Glandular System in Yoga

7chakras-1050x700Yoga is a process of differentiating and unifying. We differentiate layers of consciousness and structure, we inquire, we analyze, and we find our way back to unity. In looking at the glandular system we are called upon to investigate the glands themselves, as well as how they relate to the subtle energy system of chakras and nadis.

In studying the glandular system in Embodyoga® we look at its support for body and mind, and especially its importance in all yoga practices. We focus primarily on the effects the endocrine glands have on our experience—how they support us in asana, in posture in general, and how they affect our experience of self. We look at how theCHAKRAS HELIX glandular system provides a suspension system for our core, and how the innate intelligence of individual glands is manifesting into form and functioning. Not all of the structures we look at are technically considered to be glands. Some are bodies, nodes, and one has yet to be recognized at all. We are loosely calling all of them glands because they do relate directly to the yogic chakra system and the yogis have classically placed what they have called glands as the structures that correlate with the chakras along the spine.

The radiant core of our individual being is felt within as sushumna nadi. The embodiment of sushumna supports our personal relationship with refined awareness and is our active connection to Source. Our latent qualities and traits—all the things that make up our personal selves—are contained within this embodied core and emanate out through the chakras, the energy vortexes that form along our central channel.  Each chakra has one or more glands that relate to it. Each gland is felt to contain and express subtle intelligence that is manifesting from the chakra and expressing outward into the full expression of our individuality. Due to their close relationship to core, our glands naturally emanate more light than some of the denser body tissues. For example, glandular expression has less gravity than that of organs. Organs feel more voluminous and heavy in the body. The levity of the glands balances the weight of the organ body.

Glands function as a single integrated system while maintaining their individual processes. As a suspension system from head-to-tail and tail-to-head, they offer light support along the vertebral column and through our soft tissue core. The brightness that emanates from them radiates in all directions, giving levity and resilience to the neighboring tissues. Individually, each gland secretes its particular hormones and stimulating agents into the surrounding fluids on their way to receptor sites in target cells throughout the body.

Each gland has correlations with different aspects of the skeletal system. This means that the gland and its skeletal correlate are mutually supportive. Glandular support in the skeletal body gives a bright clarity to our experience of bone. This integration of glandular and skeletal systems offers qualities to bone that can make our yoga postures look and feel lighter and more effortless. The glands are always suspending themselves and the tissues around them. They are in constant communication and relationship with one another. They levitate the denser structures of the body and create an anti-gravity feeling of support through our core. Continue reading

SIMPLE SEATED FORWARD BEND—Paschimottanasana

anya paschi mo feet copy

In forward bending we flex the spine. Forward-bends incorporate the shape and the mind of a deep bow. We yield into the earth and we yield to ourselves, our inner comfort, our navel. Yielding is a process of the whole-body-mind —a coming into active relationship with self, and the environment. The natural levity and spaciousness of core-awareness provides  a balance to the density of our fluid and yielding selves. Starting from neutral spine, we are simply present. The impetus to surrender or move inward begins the movement forward. Using a soft axial extension (elongated spine) we begin to slip our spine forward into it’s original shape of a soft C-curve. Core is moving forward, front body is condensing, and back body is elongating. There is deep comfort in this.

Check out this simple and easy method for approaching  paschimottanasana from dandasana.

As always, the key is to find your own just right expression of a forward-bend. Because of the  complications in our modern day lower-backs, it is important to learn the basics of forward-bending from a qualified teacher. A qualified teacher can assess the degree of flexion your spine can safely and comfortably allow.

The simple principles of integration apply to all students, as it is the integration of body-mind-spirit that gives the most profound benefit in all yoga asana.

A NEW LOOK AT ALIGNMENT IN YOGA

Recently, the yoga community at large has taken up a more critical look at what the concept of alignment actually means in the context of yoga asana. This is a great conversation to have. So many of us have been practicing and teaching for decades now and are confronted daily by the ways that popular rules of alignment contradict one another and are often causing more problems than they solve.

Many of the problems we see in joints, muscles, and ligaments derive from our own mistaken assuredness that we have the answers for how we (and our students) should move. Most of our instructions have been based on the musculoskeletal system. We have precise rules, many contradicting one another, and still we have a lot of injuries, and witness a lot of wear and tear on joints of the longest time practitioners. Perhaps we have accepted a false premise. Let’s look at the term and its connotations:

align |əˈlīn| verb1 [with object]

  • place or arrange (things) in a straight line
  • put (things) into correct or appropriate relative positions
  • [no object] lie in a straight line, or in correct relative positions

alignment |əˈlīnmənt| noun1

  • arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative position
  • the act of aligning parts of a machine:oil changes, lube jobs, and wheel alignments.

 

Alignment as We Know It Doesn’t Work

How we think about things matters. The term alignment itself conjures up straight lines, correct angles, mechanical movement, and positional concerns. Both align and alignment clearly connote these qualities. Even if you know better, you will be affected by your ingrained understanding of the words. The idea of “straight lines”, “align [with object]”, and even “appropriate relative position”, miss the mark for considering what is healthy human support for movement.

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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.

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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?

Anatomy of the Hip Joints

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

The Neighboring Joints

The neighboring joints work in concert with the hip joints. When all the joints are in balance with one another, forces will flow through them in such a way that each, with its individual qualities, will play its part in distributing force appropriately to its nearest neighbor and through the body as a whole. Forces that are restricted in one joint will be transferred to the next joint – often applying undue stress. The more peripheral joints of the feet, ankles, forelegs, and knees are smaller than the relatively large hip and sacroiliac joints. The peripheral joints provide a good amount of articulation. When they are not functioning well, they will put strain into the hips and sacroiliacs. The hip joints are highly mobile, but are importantly designed for greater stability than the more peripheral joints in the legs and feet. Stability in the sacroiliac joints is equally important, and the hip joint is far more mobile than the sacroiliac. Restriction in the hip will cause the sacroiliac to take stress.

  • Sacroiliac joints
  • Pubic symphysis (forming two joints)
  • Knee
  • Foreleg, ankle, and foot

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.

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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.

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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.

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LAYERS OF SPINE AND CORE—YOGA

Spine is core, and as such, has many layers of reality, from the most subtle expression of empty radiance, through all the colors and manifestations of individuality. When we take on an exploration and inquiry into spine in Hatha Yoga, we are seriously embarking on a journey into deeper and deeper layers of core. All of our layers are evident in the spine, and since spine is the home of both the subtle and anatomical nervous system Hatha Yoga has pointed us directly toward this inquiry.

koshas1

Kosas
The inquiry and exploration of embodiment that we use in Embodyoga® is modeled on the kosas – the sheaths of awareness manifesting from the most subtle to the most obvious, or gross. The kosas are our layers of manifestation from the most subtle to the most obvious and dense. In Embodyoga® we continue to inquire through all of the layers – always knowing that deeper truth is just awaiting our realization.

Atmamaya Kosa – pure unmanifest awareness – no element – no form
Chittamaya Kosa – individual awareness – no element – no form
Anandamaya Kosa – blissful awareness – space
Vijyanamaya Kosa – wisdom and heart, Buddhi mind – air
Manomaya Kosa – intellect, thinking mind – fire
Pranamaya Kosa – emotion, feeling – water
Anamaya Kosa – the anatomical structural sheath – earth

We understand that each of these kosas exists in every particle and space within us. Everywhere. Always. It is from this basis that we explore and navigate inward to recognize our fullness, our humanity and our divinity, and how it is manifesting through us.

The structure of spine and what it means in the body-mind.
Spine is a multi layered core structure with many levels from the subtlest to the grossest. Since Hatha Yoga is a spinal based practice it is important to consider the spine thoroughly. Our vertebral column is core in relation to the rest of our skeletal structure in that it is our central axis. It’s obvious that in yoga the spine is more than just the vertebral column. It is home to the central nervous system, which of course, is continuous with the brain. It also houses the three main nadis – ida, pingala, and sushumna. Sushumna nadi is our personal conduit and connection to Universal Awareness and can definitely be considered to be the core of the spine, or the core of core.

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HOW DOES EMBODYOGA® WORK?

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Embodyoga® is a radical and inclusive approach to the ancient science of yoga. It is an evolving tapestry woven from the deeply healing, therapeutic, and spiritual essence of yoga and cutting edge studies in the field of body-mind-consciousness. Embodyoga® fuses the emergent wisdom of Body-Mind Centering®, which was developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, with Hatha Yoga practices and Tantric Yoga philosophy.

Embodyoga® begins with the premise that our entire personal self—body, heart, and mind— is a sea of vibrating creative awareness. Practitioners of Embodyoga® recognize that each aspect of our physical, and energetic form is an expression of awareness manifesting through, and as, individual qualities and traits. We experience these aspects of self as gradations of awareness, all made of the same stuff, all having equal value and importance, and all interwoven to form a system that is perfectly equipped and primed for self-realization. In other words, through the gift of human consciousness we are able to witness our very nature as it is: creative, bright, alive, and self-aware.

When we practice Embodyoga®, we harness the powerful forces of curiosity and desire to guide our exploration of the body-mind system. Our inquiry initiates and leads the journey. Whatever route this inward journey takes, it leads to the revelation of the unity that underlies all form. Even as we are obviously individuals with our personal qualities and traits, we are also universal in that all that we are is awareness at its source.

Embodyoga® practice provides us with a direct experience of unity – the unity of recognizing the universal and the personal as one integrated and inseparable system. This perception of the inseparability of the universal and the personal, remains with us on and off the yoga mat, manifesting through our relationships with self and others.
When we have had a direct and profound encounter with our inner, true self, we can then effortlessly share this experience as an offering in all our interactions. A sense of love and responsibility for the wellbeing of all humanity expands outward from our self, through our family, friends, community, and beyond. This outward expansion results directly from our ability to perceive our essential self more deeply.

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ENLIVENING THE ORGAN BODY—Navel Flooding Breath

Breathing is key to yoga practice. There are many effective methods for using breath for different purposes in our yoga practice. In Embodyoga® we have been exploring a variation on yogic breathing that we call Navel Flooding Breath. Navel Flooding Breath is not specifically a chest breath or a belly breath. Navel flooding is a technique that encourages the prana of the breath to enter through, and deeply into, all the organs of the torso, including the mid, lower, and upper navel, and into the chest. It is a breath that is initially directed to the tissues behind the belly organs and is allowed to spread through all of the soft tissues: organs, fascia, vessels, and glands. In this way we allow the prana of our breath to move effortlessly into the entire torso.

In Navel Flooding Breath, we are both relaxing and energizing our body tissues. Prana seeps through the folds of the mesentery. The mesentary is a fascial structure that along with the peritoneal sac, tethers the digestive organs to the back abdominal wall. It feels in the body like a soft undulating and waving structure. It can be very comforting to feel, and its health and suppleness are important to our vitality. The image of soft coral below is reminiscent of the inner feeling of the mesentery.

soft-coral

In Navel Flooding Breath the prana penetrates all the way through and around the organs, following the arcs and folds of the mesentary and the peritoneal sac. The stickiness that can develop in and between these tissues gets a chance to release. The organ body becomes freer and softer. Life force flows unencumbered to and from our core.

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WHAT IS MULABANDHA—and Why do You Care?

Jen Nugent - photo by Paul B. Goode

Jen Nugent – photo by Paul B. Goode

The Pit-of-the-Belly—Engagement, Relationship, and Freedom

Mulabandha maintains life-force (prana) in the body at our root. Much more than a set of specific physical actions, mulabandha holds part of the key to full embodiment. Usually described as an energetic seal, its techniques include articulating and activating the muscles at the center of the pelvic floor, with an action of drawing both the muscles and the life-force upward, into our core, and toward the lower belly region. Mulabandha seals prana into the body at our root. It assists the preservation and maintenance of vitality. It contains. But it is also more.

Mulabandha calls upon and creates a willingness of spirit to fully inhabit our lives.  As much as mulabandha seals life force at the root, it also and equally, draws life force into us. It literally pulls us down into our bodies, into the energetic hub of the central lower navel region, the same region that is recognized as the gravitational center and hub of power in all traditions. It is the tan-tien, the hara, and in yoga it is right at the root of the kanda.

Mulabandha offers the form around which we cultivate a coalescing of aspiration, surrender, and inner sensing and feeling, with the actions and shapes that draw and sustain life-force into the body-mind system. The gifts of a full, soft and resilient mulabandha are very rich. In order to open to these levels of awareness and sensation one needs to approach mulabandha from an inclusive and receptive state of mind. It involves a profound set of mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual actions.

Looking deeply into the layers of sensation and consciousness that are part and parcel of mulabandha can be very helpful for gaining a wider and deeper perspective on our personal lives and our interrelationships with everything else. Mulabandha can be a significant tool for exploring and using the embodiment of the individual-self as a platform for inquiring into the deeper aspects of relationship and meaning. This involves a profound willingness to accept ourselves as we are, and to continue to go deeper into perception and understanding. This kind of exploration into our core is an excellent and fully embodied way to ask some of the important questions about who we are in relationship to our lives and our yoga practices. Are you willing to ask the question, “Why am I here?” without resorting to grandiosity or self-loathing? What would a purposeful existence feel like? Would it be enough to simply be yourself, do your work, and be useful? Is it okay to be a perfectly ordinary and divine human…just like 7 billion others? Can you accept the ordinary, and the extraordinary, importance of your personal dharma?

Mulabandha is a call to action – a commitment to embodied existence. Its clarity and purpose draws us into this life, to embody it fully, and be useful, useful in our own evolution as people, taking responsibility for our own lives, useful in our families, our communities, and beyond.

ENGAGEMENT AND RELATIONSHIP
A full mulabandha generates and requires a profound acceptance and dedication to doing ones part, to acting in a way that is in accordance with personal and universal evolution, a moving into greater clarity and cultivating a wider vision of who and what we are on every level, from the Pure Radiant Source of Everything, all the way through the manifest planes of existence that are both beautiful… and seriously flawed. Flawed, just like you are… Admitting and embracing the depth of your personal-and-perfectly-flawed-self is crucial to being able to recognize the full range of your beauty and radiance.

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DHARMA—What is It and Who Am I in It?

ARJUNA

Universal dharma — That which gives order to the Universe and underlies the very structure of existence.
Individual dharma—How we act in the world and take personal responsibility for coming into alignment with the Universal.

Dharma is an immensely important and finely nuanced subject.  It requires thorough consideration and contemplation to gain a deep understanding. Gaining increased perspective on dharma has the power to assist us in contextualizing how we choose to act and how we take our place in our individual lives, as part of – and in relationship to – the Universal. We can all think about this.

A key vantage point for approaching the subject of dharma can be found in examining the profoundly relational qualities of the world in which we live. We are in relationship on all levels of our being at all times. There is no end or beginning to the field of relationship. In the microcosm of our bodies we are intricately relating to ourselves at all times: cell to cell, fluids to membranes to fascia, glands and organs, time and space, movement and stillness, and all of the transformation and creativity that is continuously taking place. We are in relationship to the environment outside of our personal skin-membrane. We have our closest people, nature and the world around us. Our individual intelligence is wrapped and permeated with the Universal. Every breath we take, every thought and movement is happening within the field of relationship. From our tiniest essence to the Universal Everything, we are relationship.

How do we act in this field? How do we, as individual people, take responsibility for our place within this moving, breathing and undulating life? Are we actively involved? Have we committed to attending to this life with full participation and engagement? Or, do we perhaps unconsciously, abdicate our personal agency and simply submit to the influences around us? Are we in the game?

Questions like these underlie the inquiry into dharma. What is our place here? How do we choose to engage? How do we recognize our thoughts and actions to be wholesome and life supporting, or not? Do we really know the answer to that question? How does one discern one’s life’s direction?

Our perspective is important, and our perspective is yoga and its practice. Yoga is the process of discerning and clarifying what is real and lasting from what is constantly changing. Then, and importantly, we can open to the recognition of the actual unity and sameness of the changing and the non-changing.  In Embodyoga® we value equally the changing and sustaining aspects of creation. We really are not that interested in valuing what is so called “Pure” (un-changing) and better, from what is “impure” (changing) and not quite as good. We are not at all interested in denying or overcoming our human experience. We are interested in experiencing all layers of our selves and our lives, from the most-subtle reality all the way through the most gross and messy aspects of personality. The weave is what interests us. How do we take our places within this weave of Awareness and form with grace and dignity? Can we do our best to witness the majesty of this life that we are given?

The fact that we are here on this planet shows that, to some degree, we have already said, “yes” to life. Questioning the meaning of saying yes to life can be one way of beginning a serious inquiry into dharma. What is our personal and Universal role in this? Sincerely asking these questions leads us the larger question: “What is the source of this…this life…this awareness?”

If we want to be effective at looking into the nature of who we are, we can’t just simply jump to a philosophical framework that we think we already know. Thinking that we already know something is a great hindrance to learning anything new. However, based on what we know from yoga philosophy in this case, we can proceed with our investigation and explore directly and personally what the sages and great teachers of all time have been pointing to.

First, we need to take responsibility for our personal perceptions. Then we can begin to investigate the possibility of having direct experience of the nature of life. Direct perception of the Vastness of Awareness and its universal flow becomes profound support for personal right action – dharma – in the world. Can we perceive a Universal Order and direction that is supporting and including all that we experience – neutral, pleasurable, or painful? Can we then put our personal ordinary-and-extraordinary lives into the perspective of a larger dharma – Universal dharma — the movement of all of life toward greater fulfillment and satisfaction?

Full engagement in life solves the problem of personal isolation and suffering. That is true. But, full engagement is deeper than we often think. Being fully engaged means more than simply inhabiting the manifest aspects of yourself and the world. Full engagement is engagement with life on all levels. That means that one is in active contact and relationship with the source of life as well as its manifestation. That means coming into direct relationship with the Vastness in such a way that it has a tangible presence in every waking, sleeping, dreaming, and transcendental moment.  All the time.

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Intimacy

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Intimacy (as Adyashanti has said) is direct experience with an undefended heart.

Who can do that? How do we un-defend our hearts?

We have glimpses. Expand on them. Follow the feeling.

Go deeper…

Soften and open the gates of your heart.

Can this be an answer to the dilemma of perception?

Perceive from an undefended heart.

Reflections on Aspiration and Surrender in Yoga

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Aspiration and surrender are two important aspects of yoga and spiritual practice. They support and balance one another, are different and complimentary. Aspiration is something that can be “done” whereas surrender cannot be done. Aspiration is action and driven by individual awareness. Surrender is a different process altogether.

As we grow and develop in our yoga practice our desire for a deeper and more inclusive awareness continues to develop and refine. The more we practice the clearer it becomes that our own discrete individual sphere of awareness is only a very small part of a larger whole. Healthy practice spontaneously opens our consciousness to the bigger picture – the picture that puts our individuality into the perspective of the vastness of universal awareness. As we begin to recognize our personal lives to be like the swirling eddies at the edges of a giant river that is flowing, we cannot help but become interested in understanding and experiencing the power of the river – the source and support of all that we are as individual beings. We aspire to see more clearly.

Aspiration breeds action. It gets us moving. We “do” things. It is about obtaining something or getting somewhere. We want to be better in some way. We aspire to widen our vision. Fulfilling aspiration requires dedication and effort. We practice yoga regularly, and we follow the yamas and the niyamas. We become disciplined. We practice pranayama and meditation and choose to work and act in ways that are mostly beneficial to others, ourselves, and are in accordance with our beliefs.

However, there is a limit to the effectiveness of aspiration. Aspiration – passionately desiring to recognize life as it actually is – is the foundation of practice. Without aspiration many of us would do nothing. We might live out our lives without ever seriously questioning who and what we really are.

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ARE YOU USING DISCRIMINATION IN YOUR YOGA PRACTICE?

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Yoga is an elegant and well-verified system for refining body, mind and awareness. Yoga assists us in finding ways to expand the field of our consciousness and experience life more fully. It offers a prescription for easing the dominance of a fragmentary mind. It helps us not to get too caught up in the, “I, me, mine” cycle of thinking. Yoga provides tools and practices for discriminating what is really core to our being and what are the more superficial and transitory aspects of our lives. Through skillful practice we can increase our comfort in life and gain a larger perspective, putting our day-to-day trials and tribulations into the perspective of the vast radiance of Universal Awareness. It’s a big promise and yoga tells us that we can do this.

Yoga doesn’t require belief in anything at all in order to begin, and yet, it suggests that there is so much more to life than we commonly experience. It promises more than a theoretical understanding or philosophy. We are told that all we need to do is practice and see for ourselves. Yoga requires us to take responsibility for who and what we are on every level. For the dedicated practitioner it promises direct experience of the source of life –possibly answering so many questions – even as it doesn’t require belief in anything. The prospect is appealing.

The methods for practicing are clearly outlined, making the whole thing even more attractive. Yoga presents a comprehensible and basically uncomplicated methodology for subduing the clutter of our minds enough to witness the radiance of creative intelligence manifesting into form. Ancient texts offer detailed and specific maps for navigating the territory of our embodied existence.

All we need to do is practice. Practice will work, awareness will broaden spontaneously, and we will witness our place in the universal design. It all sounds pretty good. But there are some serious pitfalls along the way. It’s not enough to just get on board and ride. Discrimination and individual intelligence are necessary to keep us on track. It’s too easy to lose our way and be seduced into thinking that we are just soaring along when actually we have been tricked, once again, by ego-mind. Individual-ego-mind can be helpful…or not. Our egos can easily delude us into thinking we are proceeding intelligently when we may very well be under the sway of ego-mind, bolstering its own self-concepts in ways that are not helpful. It just depends on how diligent we remain in practice, what our goals are, and how we use the various aspects of mind to keep us on track.

How we use all aspects of our minds in our spiritual journey toward the recognition of Unity is really important. We need to harness clear and intelligent thinking along with wisdom and intuition. Ego is not a bad thing but we do need to be careful with it. Remember, ego – sense of individual self – likes to be in control of things. Ego is pretty convinced that it is the center of the universe and that getting what it wants is of the highest importance. Individual awareness is an important part of being useful and active in the world. But exclusivity of individually-focused-thinking is a good way to obstruct our personal experience of the larger picture. A skillful use of our individual mind is to set it on the track of refining itself. In this way we harness our mind to be helpful. This is where discrimination becomes so important.

ASANA
In our culture, asana is usually the gateway yoga practice. Asana is one of the eight limbs of Classical Yoga and is important in Tantra, as well. Asana is pretty wonderful stuff. When used intelligently, it is an amazing tool for integrating all aspects of practice into one moving meditation. The fact that we are moving and breathing consciously makes asana an ideal arena for cultivating meditative awareness within the field of action – the world in which we live. In asana we are moving. In that way it can be an effective method for learning to maintain deeper awareness while being engaged in life. And there’s more. Asana is physically cleansing and enlivening. It feels wonderful, increases vitality and over all health by freeing the flow of life force within. Asana is a major boon to all of us.

But, are we using asana well and to its full potential? It’s interesting that nowhere in the ancient texts is there anything like the focus on asana that we are now witnessing in the West today. That doesn’t mean that focusing on asana is definitely not a good idea. Let’s say that it is. Maybe due to the specific stresses and elements of life in the twenty-first century a larger focus on asana is helpful. We can make an argument that the situation in which we now live requires more asana to balance out the effects of the life we have created for ourselves. I’m willing to go that far. But importantly, are we actively using our discriminative minds to figure out what asana practice – and how much – is appropriate and good for each of us? Are we putting too much emphasis on the outer form and missing the more subtle gifts it has to offer? Are we using asana as a method for harnessing our busy minds and turning inward, or have we fallen into the trap of allowing our cultural proclivities and tendencies to dictate how we practice? In other words, is the yogic process of inner inquiry directing our use of asana, or have we allowed ourselves to be seduced into using it as just another way to affirm and define our individuality – ego.

We need to be careful here. It can be useful to ask these questions seriously even if your immediate response is that none of this applies to you. We need to harness discrimination and clarity in our thinking. We need to maintain vigilance with our ego-minds. It’s not always easy. Our culture nurtures and values acquisition and achievement in every area of life. We know this kind of thinking has no place in yoga and can only hinder our process. However, we are all to some degree affected by the world in which we live. A mind-set built around accomplishment is definitely problematic for deep practice. And it is hard to give up – especially if you don’t recognize it. Remember, ego-mind is tricky. Ego will do everything to try to convince you that it knows what it’s doing and if your ego is at all attached to what you do in asana, you may be in a difficult situation regarding the depth of your personal practice.

I know this from personal experience. Years ago I practiced a very vigorous style of asana that I thought was in some way an ultimate practice for me. I gladly gave myself over to it and practiced with dedication and joy. But one day, seated on my bedroom floor having just finished practice I had the clear realization that what I was doing wasn’t working for me anymore in the way that it had. I thought about the ramifications of letting the practice go. It sounded pretty bad. I would probably get fat (which at that point felt like the worst possible thing that could happen to me).  I might lose some of my (false) sense of superiority. I would definitely lose the admiration of the yoga community. People would think I was “letting myself go”. And…what if there was nothing more? What if the practice I was doing was required for enlightenment and I gave it up? That wouldn’t be good. In fact, none of the above would be good at all. So, I didn’t listen to my instincts.

Nothing terrible happened. I really have never had any serious yoga injuries (knock on wood) so that wasn’t stopping me. But the inner feeling that I was off track didn’t go away. About seven years went by before I became brave enough to take the leap. I knew that my attachment to my advanced looking yoga practice was limiting my deeper understanding. I really didn’t know where I was going at all. I just had to make the move. I decided to give up limiting my asana practice in the way I had been and vowed to go deeper.

It was hard for me! I did gain weight and I did feel fat. I was sure people thought I had just become lazy or something. I didn’t allow myself to boast that I was giving up strong asana because my ego was too attached to it and I knew it wasn’t right for me anymore. I couldn’t tell them my reasons for changing my practice because that would, once again, be serving my ego.  I felt my desire to imply some spiritual superiority. Bragging about my bravery would be counter-productive given my reasons for changing in the first place.

As it turned out, it wasn’t just my attachment to “being good” at asana or the adulation I received from others that was restricting my growth. As it turned out, letting go of asana as I knew it, opened a Pandora’s box of difficult issues that required even more clarity of attention than I had bargained for. The journey wasn’t always easy but what was the alternative? Continuing on a path that I knew was not helping me anymore? For me, the alternative was worse than the growing pains that arose from choosing a more skillful practice.

DISCRIMINATION AND PROFOUND SELF-ACCEPTANCE
Yoga works. And yoga is working beautifully for so many people in our society. At the Yoga Center Amherst in Massachusetts where I teach we see hundreds of people each week who are just so grateful to have found yoga and use it as a simple tool to feel better in their lives in every way. It is beautiful to observe this and to be a part of the personal and universal transformation that it taking place in our communities.

But beware! Discrimination is one of the most important pillars of an effective yoga practice.
We need to remain diligent…especially as yoga teachers. Asana is everywhere now and some of the practices are grounded in good knowledge and some of them are not. In fact, asana in the West includes so many different practices that an interested person could spend altogether way too much time and energy attempting to perfect or “become good” at it. How much asana is enough? What kind of asana is right for you…for your students? Is your practice really serving you? These are simple questions that are worth asking. We need to continue to ask questions and inquire deeply into what is right for the honing of awareness – not the ego satisfaction of feeling good at something, or on the other hand, not feeling good at something.

KUNDALINI—The Evolution of Awareness and Spreading of Prana-Shakti

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KUNDALINI AWAKENING IN THE SPINE

Kundalini awakening is highly regarded and almost equally feared by yoga practitioners. Kundalini awakening may offer the yoga aspirant a first glimpse of the potential depth of human awareness. Its movement clears and widens our perceptual vision to include the radiance of Awareness as the fundamental reality of existence. Kundalini is inherently a benevolent force of evolution and in a well-toned and receptive body-mind its awakening is a gift, the grace received from diligent, wise, and skillful practice.

Kundalini Shakti, as this movement of life-force through sushumna is called, is the most powerful of the prana flows. The latent power of kundalini usually remains dormant at the base of the spine until the aspirant is fully prepared to handle the radiance of healing and vitality that kundalini’s movement provides. The life force of kundalini is so strong that as it rises it begins to wash away—or jar away, as the case may be—many of the obstacles to clear perception that it encounters on its way. Kundalini’s force can feel natural or harsh. It depends on the practitioner’s readiness and balance of tone in the subtle nervous system. Individual experiences vary tremendously. The opening of the channel and kundalini’s rising can be radical and ferocious, comfortable, sweet, and satisfying, or anything in between. In an unprepared practitioner, if the opening is abrupt, kundalini’s movement can definitely wreak some havoc. In an unprepared body-mind the physical effects and increased vision that kundalini ignites can be genuinely overwhelming to the individual.

However, it is also important to know that kundalini awakening is a natural part of personal evolution. For most people the awakening of kundalini is gradual and mostly pleasant, accompanied by insight and an awareness of increasing depth of vision. The initial rising of kundalini may be the most noticeable part of the process. As the pathway through which kundalini flows—the sushumna nadi—is cleansed, it remains open for longer and longer periods. The periods of open sushumna and flowing kundalini are times of inspiration and clarity, a natural part of the evolution of personal consciousness. When kundalini is freed, the lucky practitioner is more likely to feel connected to his or her dharma, and becomes generally much more effective in life and work. The rising of kundalini opens the door to greater ease and satisfaction in life—an ongoing sense of knowingness and contentment. As the channel remains open, the aspirant continues to grow and develop along his or her personal life’s path toward full clarity and freedom.

By far the most comfortable awakening of kundalini takes place over a long period of time. Time and regular practice of all aspects of yoga assist in making the transition to a full awakening a tender and manageable process. If one maintains a sincere and regular practice of the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, and meditation, kundalini rising can be a gentle and rewarding process. Those who are patient and allow kundalini to be freed in her own sweet time will reap the rewards of their practice.

THE SPREADING OF KUNDALINI AND THE EMBODIMENT OF SUSHUMNA

Sushumna nadi is the channel and kundalini is the life force that flows within it. When the channel is open, kundalini can flow. Healthy kundalini awakening is a process that continues long after the initial experiences have died down. Once sushumna is clear and kundalini is flowing, the pace of personal evolution picks up speed. It becomes a matter of infusion. Kundalini’s life force spreads.

In the beginning, kundalini is located right inside the spinal cord. It is a clear and narrow path flowing up from the lower spine and flooding into the region of the brain. In my experience the sensation of kundalini rising was very pleasant and interesting. At first I felt afraid, but the knowledge that I had gained through reading and practice allowed me to know that I was likely safe and that this was a natural part of my personal evolution.

Initially the sound of the rising force was extremely loud. I resisted the experience. Realizing what was happening I decided to yield to the movement. The feeling and the sound were both very powerful as the life force reached and flooded though my brain. The feeling was comfortable enough, a crescendo of sound and sensation, a rhythmic surging, and a washing. As time went on I grew to appreciate and enjoy the experience. The surge would then pull my personal consciousness into a small point and then into complete dissolution. The individual “I” would reemerge only to be pulled back in, and so on, until the process seemed to be finished. My individual awareness resurfaced, and noticing what had happened, I would realize that my meditation for the day was finished.

This experience happened fairly regularly for a number of years. I believe that the cleansing and opening of the channel was simply taking its time. I was comfortable in my life because the opening was not too fast. It was consistent and gentle, lasting over a good long period of time. My hatha yoga practice and my meditation definitely helped to open the channel and to smooth out the effects of kundalini rising. Asana practice seems to be the best way to soften what sometimes can be the agitating effects of the powerful healing and cleansing of stressful patterns that have been lodged in the nervous system for most of a lifetime.

THE RADIANCE PHASE

At first I was still attached to a concept of kundalini leading to a certain kind of disembodied state. I was interested mostly in the transcendental qualities of the experience, still attached to the idea of moving beyond this “earthly” existence and into a pure experience of Only Awareness. But what actually happened was that I found myself more engaged in my life. I began to feel a sense of usefulness and a desire to work and to be active in the world. This was confusing to me. I had always expected to let go of my “attachments” to life and gain a sense of freedom form the trials and tribulations that are so obviously present in all of our lives. The joke was that instead of leaving this plane I entered it more fully. Feelings became more intense. Love began to dawn into my being, but also more sadness and a resonating with the suffering as well as the joy of being alive. I really hadn’t expected this and thought that maybe something had gone awry!

As time went on I began to notice something else. Growing within me I began to experience a thick tube of light occupying my entire central body from my pelvic floor to my brain. The light in the core body is the same as what is pouring through the spine. While in the spinal cord it is narrow, in the central body it is wide—the exact shape of the Shiva Lingum, an important symbol in Trantric Yoga. This reality has only continued to become a clearer and clearer awareness in daily life.

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There seem to be two distinct phases or aspects to kundalini opening. One is the initial cleansing and flowing within the sushumna nadi and the central nervous system. The second is a clearly felt and embodied experience of light, deep within the core of the body. Where the first one is a definite rising, the second is more a spontaneous containment that is more whole body—not reserved for the spinal cord, but fully diffused through the central body structures. There is an inherent commitment and acceptance of responsibility for containing the radiance that also grows spontaneously. There’s joy in the commitment, the joy of Shakti as she shepherds the field of form. And, as with Shiva and Shakti, one does not exist without the other. They are two sides of the same coin. 

In Embodyoga®, we have called this experience the “embodiment of sushumna”. Kundalini’s life force infuses every aspect of the physical and the subtle bodies and spreads through the entire personal being. It is the radiance, the Shakti, that is present in every cell—awake and bright within the core of the body.

ATTACHMENT AND NON-ATTACHMENT

The embodiment of kundalini flowing in the personal body-mind is not a release from life. It offers and brings a full engagement in life. The question of “attachment” becomes a very interesting one indeed. It turns out that one can be fully engaged, love life, feel its sorrows and its joys without the same “attachment”.  Non-attachment doesn’t mean non-involvement. Non-attachment means simply that one sees the bigger picture along with the personal.

This feels like a life lived in fullness; recognition of the essence and source of life that is continuously present along with all that a personal existence brings. Pain…yes. Sadness…yes. Joy, love, spontaneity, and sorrow…all yes. Actual suffering? Not really. How can one really suffer when the radiance of life is genuinely witnessed in all of it and the continuity of Awareness is the basis of all that we perceive?

PRACTICAL AND NECESSARY SUPPORTS FOR KUNDALINI AWAKENING

  1. A deep and thorough commitment to doing all that is necessary to recognizing life as it is. (Practice of the Eight Limbs).
  2. Faith and trust that healing can happen and there is more to life that what we commonly perceive.
  3. Meditation and embodied-inquiry into the nature of body-mind-spirit.
  4. Wise practice of yoga techniques that are appropriate to one’s personal body-mind.
  5. Deep resting practices that allow the body-mind to release chronically held patterns and stresses: meditation, savasana, yoga nidra.
  6. Hope and love based on faith and increasing direct experience.
  7. Kundalini awakening techniques that are gentle and persistent.
  8. Patience and perseverance.

TIBETAN SUSHUMNA CHANNEL

The Axis Mundi of the yogic body, the Sushumna Nadi — known in Taoist parlance as the Penetrating Vessel — is arguably the most important of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians, which together represent the human body’s deepest, most primordial level of energetic functioning.

In relation to the physical form, the sushumna  flows slightly anterior and parallel to the spinal column, from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head.

In relation to the energetic matrix within which the physical form appears, the Sushumna is the central portion of a torus-shaped energy-body, which encapsulates the physical in a way similar to how a womb contains an embryo.

The fountain-like flow of energy up the central channel of the Sushumna expands at the crown of the head — before cascading down (in a 360-degree arc) to join once again at the root of the channel (the pelvic floor), where the cycle continues.

Whereas the twelve main meridians are conduits for life-force energy (qi/chi) associated with our everyday dualistic space/time experience, the Sushumna Nadi carries the non-dual energy of Primordial Consciousness: a more refined, purified and primordial (or “prenatal”) form of qi.

In the Tibetan yogic tradition, the light or energy that flows through the central channel is known as “wisdom air” — and is believed to correspond to the very subtle mind which transcends space/time, i.e. is non-dual & non-conceptual.

Hindu Yoga Correlations: Shiva Lingham, Dancing Shiva, and Mount Meru

WHAT MAKES EMBODYOGA® UNIQUE?

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Embodyoga® is a highly specific and in-depth look at how we relate to our environment and ourselves, how we move and express ourselves in our personal lives and in the world. It is the process of exploring all layers of ourselves from our densest structural being all the way through to the most subtle and radiant level of awareness that supports it all. This is not a philosophical exercise of the mind that we hope will one day reveal clarity! What we are offering is approachable and concise techniques of inquiry that assist the actual Direct Experience of the radiance of who and what we are on every level. The body and the mind are equally the field of inquiry. There is no difference. They are made of the same stuff and radiating awareness and light. We explore them both.

HOW IS EMBODYOGA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER YOGA SYSTEMS?

Embodyoga® is much more than what is commonly regarded as yoga asana. We use the forms of yoga postures as the outer template for our explorations. We place the importance on our experience –full embodiment and acceptance– of the entire range of our inner world.

We examine our bodies and ourselves from the inside-out. We explore our desires, our hopes, our dreams, our love for life, and the obstacles to the full experience of our place in the Universal Reality.

OUR GUIDING TOOLS
Embodied-Inquiry™
•    asana (posture)
•    pranayama (breath)
•    dharana-dhyana (clarity of mind and surrender to inner comfort)
•    samadhi (being spontaneously drawn into full embodiment and immediate immersion in Unity)
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•    profound recognition and acceptance of personal self and life as it is (while leaving open the possibility of healing, action, and evolution)
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•    honing a determined and focused mind with which to inquire with depth and clarity

Our Embodyoga® practice opens the window to recognizing how we are constantly fed and supported by the Divine.

DOES THIS PRACTICE ACTUALLY WORK?
We have found that this approach to yoga really works. Satisfaction with life increases when we begin to see more clearly – not just into our minds – but also equally into the radiant intelligence that is our bodies. A deep comfort descends as we progressively recognize all aspects of “self” and “Self.” We find that we continue to grow into fuller, more effective, and happier people. This is big stuff.

JOIN US TO BEGIN OR CONTINUE THIS EXPLORATION
We are currently offering and In-Depth Study and 200-Hour Teacher Training Program that begins March 21st. We are beginning one of the four modules of the 500-Hour Teacher Training Program on March 14th.

You may enter these programs without previous experience in Embodyoga®

New to Embodyoga® or just want to know more? Check out our Embodyoga® web site.

WHAT IS EMBODYOGA® ?

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WHAT IS EMBODYOGA®

Embodyoga® is a radical and inclusive approach to the ancient science of Yoga.  It is an evolving tapestry, woven from the deeply healing, therapeutic, and spiritual essence of Yoga, and cutting edge studies in the field of body-mind-consciousness. Embodyoga® is a whole-person experiential investigation into, and enlivening of, cellular awareness. Through inquiry and relationship 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.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Embodyoga® embraces a Tantric philosophical view of our bodies. We study our personal body-mind system as a microcosm of the Universal Whole. We explore our body’s structures and consciousness through embodied asana, pranayama, and meditation. We investigate the personal as well as the Universal using the tools of radical self-acceptance and discriminative mind.

CELLULAR AWARENESS

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. The embodied recognition of Unity provides profound inner comfort and nurtures trust in the natural order of things. Our relationships become based on commitment, respect, and love.

EMBODYOGA® PRACTICE

The principles of Embodyoga® enhance every style and level of yoga practice, creating a depth and beauty that are visible and profoundly felt by the practitioner. Alignment expresses itself from the inside out and is very specific to each individual. We expect differences in the completion of any yoga posture based on the unique inquiry of the person practicing.  The following core techniques and practices apply equally to vigorous, vinyasa, and gentle yoga:

EMBODIED-INQUIRY™ is an intimate exploration of all layers of our form and consciousness, through the body’s systems to the cellular, sub-cellular and pranic levels. We weave Embodied-Inquiry™ into our asana, pranayama, and meditation practices.  It softens our thinking mind and encourages us to move more deeply into sensing, feeling, and directly experiencing our essential selves. Guided by discriminative mind and profound self-acceptance, fueled by curiosity and desire for greater depth, Embodied-Inquiry™ is playful and absorbing.

Through the use of our unique WHOLE-BODY-SUPPORT ORGANIZATIONAL TEMPLATES, we create a fully harmonious experience in each yoga posture. Force and weight are fluidly distributed throughout the body to completely relieve the stress on specific joints and muscles. Postures and movements are organized so that the whole body supports their form, instead of individual muscles straining to hold themselves in place. When we fragment our body awareness in order to force ourselves into an asana, our mind and awareness fragment as well. By engaging the whole body in supporting postures, we encourage a unified self-awareness with greater access to the experience of Unity. These organizational patterns are inherent in the postures, and based on our developmental underpinnings and deep anatomical structures. But they need to be recognized and practiced to ensure safety, comfort, and support for a lifelong yoga practice.

Through EMBODIED ANATOMY™, we directly experience the intelligence of our cells, organs, glands, tissues, fluids, and body systems and the qualities of awareness that are expressing through them at all times. We locate ourselves in form and space and deepen our understanding of our personal expression in the world. We become witnesses and active participants in the symphony that is our body, heart, and mind.
From the time of conception, through all the phases of life until our personal death, we are evolving and developing as human beings. Through EMBODIED DEVELOPMENTAL MOVEMENT™ we explore our human journey from beginning to end. We experience and investigate cellular breathing, the organization of cellular families, embryological development, and development through gestation, birth, the first year of life, and beyond. As adults we carry embodied memories of our development. By accessing these memories we touch primal desire and curiosity, and witness their growth through our lifetime.
Embodyoga® brings the experiences gained through EMBODIED DEVELOPMENTAL MOVEMENT™ into our ongoing yoga practice. We reach for what we desire and we pull it into ourselves. We learn to digest and assimilate life as it is. We yield into the Earth and feel the support of Her mass as we push ourselves skyward.  We experience our individual lives as the interface between Unity and duality, the play of the Formless within form.

Embodied Anatomy™ and Embodied Developmental Movement™ are trademarks of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and The School for Body-Mind-Centering®.

YOGA, ETHICS, AND ABUSE OF POWER—Who are We in This?

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It really does seem that the sexual scandals in the yoga world just get worse and worse. I have been one all along to ask, “Why are we surprised by this?”  And yet, truthfully I am a little surprised this time too. It’s as if to say, “Okay, you are not yet horrified, look at this. This one will get you.”

The latest revelations go right to the heart of one of the most internationally respected traditions. This time children are involved. Painful. And yet, once again, “Why do we continue to be surprised?” I think it’s because we are innately so hopeful and loving inside. We really want our elders and our teachers to be wise and have the answers that we ourselves are looking for. Of course we do. We are still immature in our personal development. That’s not a negative assessment of the situation at all. We are evolving humans and as humans grow they look to their elders and spiritual teachers for guidance. It’s natural, and good teachers do help us to put one foot in front of the other and wend our way through what can be a treacherous, but hopefully an ultimately rewarding journey.

There are good people in the world. There are yogis who sincerely practice the yamas and the niyamas and are more successful in their efforts than many of the famous gurus who have fallen so hard. You, the reader are likely sincere and devoted.  But please, let’s stop stop equating having some degree of insight into the nature of reality with being a good person. It would be great if they automatically went together – Insight and Goodness – but clearly they don’t.

The ways that people have been seriously victimized by these unscrupulous teachers is horrible. The latest horror, involving children! may finally be enough for us to be forced to look very deeply into this problem and pull out its roots…within ourselves. Because, yes, you did not abuse anyone. But you do have qualities and feelings and very difficult thoughts sometimes.

These very sad events have had devastating effects on the victims. As responsible members of the yoga community we need to inquire into who we all are. We can help ourselves to grow from this and we can help shed light on the situation so that it doesn’t have to continue to happen.

When we raise our teachers onto a pedestal we  project way too much on them. We give them too much power, and much worse, they ACCEPT the power. We see this over and over again; power – especially when we imbue it with imagined spirituality – is extremely dangerous. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be pretty savvy about all this continue to have little twinges of surprise when the next big guru falls. Come on, you do too…

What we need to do is realize that having cravings, qualities that are less than comfortable, thoughts that make us feel uneasy, desires that feel unwholesome is all part of being a human being and that every human being has these waves within. As long as we think another human being may be free from this – being human thing – we will be willing to think that we are less than he or she. This is how we give them too much power.

There is great personal responsibility in this. This isn’t the easy path. It can be difficult for you to fully admit all that you are, and still call yourself a yogi. But not only are you a yogi but your honesty is part of the depth of your awareness. You are a human-yogi. Perfect. Rise Up! Take Action! Take personal responsibility!

(See: Idealization, Yoga, and the Guru Problem and Yoga Teachers – Time to Take Off Your Masks)

Why Do We Make New Year’s Resolutions?

Quan Yin in her Glorious Imperfect Beauty

Quan Yin in her Glorious Imperfect Beauty

What is the nature of a resolution? What does it do for us? Do resolutions prove to be effective? Do New Year’s resolutions assist our growth and evolution in the way that we hope?

Usually resolutions are designed to help us improve in one way or another – to assist us in cultivating healthier patterns and habits. We often resolve to quit something or take-up something new, something we think will benefit us. Commonly, the subject of resolutions have to do with simple changes in behavior. We resolve to eat more healthfully, stop being so impatient, or late to appointments. We resolve to exercise more, do more yoga asana, meditate regularly, start a pranayama practice,  or maybe, quit drinking coffee. You get the point.

Why do we do this? Is it helpful to look into the past and the future to plan our moment to moment behavior? Somewhat, yes. We do learn about how our actions in the world affect our experience of it. However, obviously, because these resolutions never hold, there is an inherent problem with them.

The problem is that all of the behaviors that we would like to alter, actually take place in one moment after another and involve some kind of outside-in control. “Don’t do that” or “Do this”, we say to ourselves until around January 20th by which time we have totally let go of our plan.

By then we have added the extra- great bonus of feeling bad about ourselves when we don’t succeed with our endeavor. Perfect set up for increasing the suffering around our own recognized unwholesome patterns.

Try this: NO RESOLUTIONS

Start where you are in each moment. Pause for a few seconds to recognize the vibrating mix of awareness and life-force that you are sitting in. Let that be the field from which you make a decision…in that exact moment about what action to take. Then do what you want.

You may be surprised by what you “want” to do.

Try it.

Shoulder Stability and Integration in Yoga Through the Embryological Spirals…It’s Prana

Artwork by Rebecca Haseltine. Click on the image above to view more work.

Artwork by Rebecca Haseltine. Click on the image above to view more work.

The Embryological Spirals are an Important Key to Experiencing Wholeness in Body and Mind
The embryological spirals underlie our development and they remain integral to our structural health.  The embryological developmental patterns are very deep within us. They remain at the level of our earliest experiences of pranic flow. As the life force flowed…so our limbs grew. When we return, through memory and current feeling, to the level of this healthy flow of life force we become much more able to secure the health and integrity of our joints. At this early time there were no joints and the flow of prana was seamless and continuous. It still is, however, often by practicing ill-advised movements we actually disrupt this flow. We mean to be doing well. We are really trying our best. But there is so much more to the healthy flow of life force than the musculoskeletal system.

Yoga has always taken us to the level of prana flow. That is what the practice is about. By exploring the embryological streams of life force that are still flowing within we gain a window onto a healthier experience of our embodied state. Asana becomes a celebration of life force…without sacrificing any stability and support in body or mind. Our sense of self takes on a more unified feeling-sense. We begin to experience ourselves as complete wholes when we touch into this sacred level of awareness and manifestation. So much of our life is involved in fragmentary conceptual thinking and activities. Our yoga practice offers a different way of experiencing ourselves. Don’t bring a fragmentary mind to your yoga. Look underneath and see the Unity in motion.

Many of us are familiar with the sensation of flow and warmth in the marrow of our bones and how the affinity that marrow and organ have for one another creates a seamless connection through joints. In Embodyoga® we work with this integration of organ and marrow as a useful means of stabilizing joints.  Now that we are exploring the growth of the arm and leg buds at the level of the initial pranic flows we have a good window into this experience by remembering and feeling the integration of organ and marrow. I feel that the marrow continues to flow within the bones along these original embryological pathways. Although it is useful to look at the shoulder girdle therapeutically and otherwise from the perspective of adult bone and muscle, I feel we can go deeper to set the templates of pranic flow back on track. By revisiting the embryological spirals we can affect change in the present at our current anatomical level.

Finding the Embryological Spirals of the Upper Limbs
The embryological arm spirals are movements of growth. As such they are definitely not simple rotations at joints. In finding the embryological limb spirals we have to feel them developing from the central body outward. The directional movement of their growth is key. Without the directional movement they are not embryological spirals, but something else.

The arm buds begin on the back body. We feel them with our shoulders shrugged toward the back. The shoulder blades are stabilized (external rotation) onto the rib area. As the arm buds begin to grow they travel forward on the upper torso and begin to rotate inward at what is now the joint area and down toward the current region of the attachment of the deltoids on the arm. From here the spiral begins to turn outward again and travels – simply – with no further rotations all the way down the rest of the arm to the hand.

How to Do It
•    Feel for the beginning of the spiral in the back/side body at the top portion of the developing upper torso. Firm the scapula onto the back rib area. This draws the shoulder girdle toward the back body. It involves bending the elbows (so that the spiral has a directional way to grow through the arms) and an external rotation where our current top ribs and scapula are.
•    Stabilizing the beginning of the spiral here you can begin to open your arms and allow the inner spiral to start to express at the level of our current glenohumeral joint and the upper deltoids. This rotation continue about a third of the way down the humerus bone.
•    Below the deltoid the next spiral starts to develop – into an external rotation now – that passes through our current elbow and all the way through our current forearm to the hand.
The limb is developing through these smooth spirallic currents from our torso and outward and is more like a flipper than a fully developed arm. There is no bone at this point. It is important to follow this movement from the center through the periphery – toward the hands and fingers – as a directional movement that unfolds the arm buds into limbs.

anya purvottanasana beach

Explorations in Asana
•    This can be explored initially in seated or standing with the arms free to move.
•    Another good way to explore this is in constructive rest position on the floor with the arms open upward as if holding a big physioball. Slowly open your arms out wide on the floor following the embryological spirals as you move.
•    The same position (big physioball) can be taken at the wall in a quasi-utkatasana with the upper-back on the wall.
•    Continuing with the upper-back stabilized on the wall introduce garudasana-arms noticing how garudasana utilizes the embryonic spirals perfectly.
•    Standing postures using the development of the arms from the core to periphery in entering postures.
•    All of this can also be felt with layering on of the later developmental patterns that come in the first year of life on land: child’s posture, yield and push, hands and knees, downward dog, plank, and twisting child’s pose.
Weight bearing postures should have clear embryological spirals underneath everything that is done with the musculoskeletal system. This is a big missing link in yoga techniques that are being offered as therapies for stressed shoulder joints. Shoulder injuries are so common now and I believe that the embodiment of these spirals can be of tremendous help.

How Meditation Works…and Thinking is Not a Problem

ShivaDevi

Meditation is directed toward seeing life as it is. Regular practice can help us to experience directly the fundamental nature of life. It is about developing choice; choice to see and experience all the layers of our personal and universal existence. It is about seeing the fullness. Becoming able to witness the underlying support of the divine along with the beauty and richness of our human form.

Meditation effectively clears the obstacles to our accurate perception of the nature of life. The obstacles are the habitual patterns of perception and response that we explored in the previous article. (See Meditation is Natural). When we are locked into these habitual patterns our vision of life is basically limited to continually viewing our own thoughts and feelings – over and over again. When we become curious about the nature of our perceptions, question whether we can trust them fully, and what is actually going on – we are ready to meditate.

Meditation works because Awareness itself is already clear and Awareness itself is the foundation of the thinking mind. Follow any thought to its source and you find Awareness – Awareness without a thought, just Pure Awareness. Awareness is intelligence itself and nearly infinite potential. The natural movement of this Self-Aware-Intelligence is to express and create. The natural expression of Creative Intelligence through the human mind is to think.

Thinking is the healthy and automatic expression of intelligent and creative life force in our human form. Thinking is the wholesome function of the mind. It would be futile to try to stop the mind from thinking for more than a brief time. As long as we are alive our mind will be churning out thoughts, like our body will be churning out feelings. There is no problem in this! It is part of our design. We do, however, want to be able to put our thoughts into the perspective of their source. This will spontaneously support the most effective and useful action in the world.

Harnessing the Mind’s Inherent Curiosity and Intelligence.

Since the mind is highly intelligent at its source and is always thinking, skillful practice would be to harness the mind’s natural curiosity to experience its own nature. Since the subtle levels of our individual awareness are tinged with the qualities of the subtle nature of who and what we are all made of – sat-chit-ananda – awareness-consciousness-bliss, when we begin to follow any thought or feeling to its source we get closer to experiencing the deep comfort that is always emanating from our core. Bliss is the subtle nature of thought and feeling. Because this level of bliss – ananda – is so comfortable, when we use skillful means in meditation we are naturally drawn in to this deep feeling of comfort.

This is a completely natural and automatic movement of the mind because the mind does seek greater happiness and comfort. When left to its natural function the mind will turn toward what it prefers. Often the mind gets caught on the surface levels of awareness and doesn’t remember its source.

When the body-mind system is tense the mind tends to get caught on the surface. The mind literally ruminates over the stresses and strains of experience. The superficial layers of thought are just not as satisfying, or deeply comfortable, as the deeper layers. And when our mind is restricted to the surface layers of experience, through tension and repetitive thought patterns, it becomes dissatisfied. It’s own intuition tells it that there must be something more than this.

Often the mind needs a little help to start the journey inward and let go of the tension that is holding it on the surface.

INNER GRAVITY OF TRUTH – THE INWARD AND THE OUTWARD STROKES OF MEDITATION

Pure Awareness has an inner gravity – a strong force – that pulls our individual consciousness to it. A good technique will allow us to become swept up in the pull toward the comfortable emanations of Pure Awareness. It is pleasurable. We like it. We release into it and saturate in the healing qualities of clarity, rest, and rejuvenation. Intuitively, we all know this is our source, and yet we often can’t even imagine that it can be touched, experienced, and that it can be expanded into our conscious awareness.

It is actually easy once you know how to do it! It’s easy because it is satisfying… it feels good and it is the natural direction of the evolution of consciousness. All we have to do is get out of our own way! In order to get out of our own way we use skillfully chosen techniques that assist the mind in relaxing for a moment, so that the deeper fields of Pure Being can draw it in. As the mind moves effortlessly inward it enjoys the release and thereby finds it easier to relax. The process continues based on the increased comfort and relaxation and the mind dives deeper. Eventually it forgets itself, even if just for a moment. This process is extremely healing and restful for the entire body-mind-nervous system complex. This is the inward stroke of meditation.

The inward stroke – the diving in through the layers of consciousness to the deepest experiences of comfort and even bliss – creates profound rest in all layers of our being. It has the effect of releasing deep stress from the system. Interestingly, the release of stress causes an upward flowing of the mind, back toward the surface layers, in the form of thinking. In the process of stress releasing, thinking increases. This is the outward stroke of meditation.

Together, the inward and the outward strokes, provide a process of healing that is resonant with all of nature’s healing rhythms. Nature evolves in cycles of rest and activity. We see this in so many areas of life: life and death, day and night, summer and winter, spring and fall. We live by cycles of rest and activity. We sleep every night and we are active during the day.  We are born and we are young and we cycle into old age and we die. We inhale…and then we exhale.

Stress that is wound up inside cannot be released without an action. The action is a kind of unwinding of nervous system tension that has wrapped around itself and created a kind of knot. As the knot releases, it is expressed in thought. It can be a single thought, or a long dreamy series of thoughts. Thinking is an integral and important part of meditation! It is the outward stroke, so to speak. It is the result of deep experience and it clears the field of personal consciousness from the very stresses that block our clear vision of life as it is.

It is the nature of intelligence to be clear. It is the nature of your very essence to not be deceived by the convoluted workings of your mind. We sometimes think of the thinking mind as a young child, busy with the task of individuating from its parents and arguing for its separate existence. As the good parent we respect this process of individuation and enjoy it as a natural part of development but also know that the child is not in charge. The parent is the container for the child, keeping it safe. Left to its own devices a young child would have no frame of reference, no container for its development. Children need loving parents. Let the deepest layers of awareness become your container, your frame of reference for all that you perceive.

Meditate.

Relationships Between Kidneys, Adrenals and Heart in Yoga Asana

Corinne Andrews resting in baddhakonasana.

Corinne Andrews resting in baddhakonasana.


Over several decades as a yoga teacher, I have become keenly aware of the tendency so many of us have to harden our kidneys, and even to “push” them forward into our body.  How many times have we been told to “soften and fill the kidneys”, or done certain movements with the hope of achieving this elusive experience? 
As we all know, it is one thing to perform a musculo-skeletal movement, and it is something else altogether to actually “soften and fill the kidneys”.  Because the kidneys are being pushed forward in response to an underlying organic and glandular event, a superficial movement can only be superficially effective.  Surely it can’t hurt to make space for the kidneys, but is that really enough?  
It is my experience that many people are still searching for an authentic release in the kidneys.  Perhaps if we look for the source of the pushing – and if we look with a compassionate eye – we can make some more headway toward understanding what we are doing and why. 
           
The kidneys filter our blood and are themselves blood-rich.  They govern the body’s fluid balance, and therefore relate to the water element.  Our kidneys also act as an energetic filter, determining how we use our personal energy – our physical vitality.  Our adrenals express our vitality into the world, and our bladder is the reservoir that contains our personal energy reserves.  This elegantly integrated system, which embodies our relationship to “self” and “other” resides in our navel center.
         
We live in a culture that highly values expression and achievement, which is, to an extent, understandable.  How would a community function without the vital input of active and expressive members?  The problem is that we don’t give equal respect and attention to the basis of this outward expression – our own inner resources and reserves.  We so value external expression that we forget – and in fact, are often never taught – to first establish the foundation for our own comfort and vitality.  As we push our energy out into the world around us, without regard for our personal reserves, we progressively deplete ourselves.  One can witness this depletion everywhere: it manifests as illness, depression, and fatigue.  Disease is a very advanced stage of depletion.

If we want to address this dysfunction, we need to begin to value our personal vitality as much as we value its expression. The body’s natural tendency is toward health and optimal functioning. In order to stop the body’s natural propensity to store energy, we literally have to squeeze or push on the kidneys. The message that we send to our body is, “No, don’t store that. I need to use it right now!” Consciously or not, we push this energy up and into the adrenals, manifesting outward expression.
The adrenals, with their fiery nature, increase the urgency. “This must be done now!” There is fear in this: fear that without this dynamic, we don’t have enough energy to meet the world’s needs. On some level, we start to unconsciously notice our energy reserves depleting and we begin to believe that it is true: we are simply inadequate. This thought feeds the fire, compelling our kidneys and adrenals to reach deeper into our reserves to make more energy immediately available.

Our kidneys are meant to be full, supple supports for the heart. When the adrenals urgently and frantically take over, they actively pull kidney energy up and pump it into the heart. This causes the soft, receptive tissues of the heart to tense and harden. Over time, the heart can become chronically hardened as a means of self-protection. It loses its capacity to fully respond to life with love. Our heart’s true nature, to be a vehicle for selfless giving and receiving, is distorted by its need for self-protection against the onslaught of adrenal agitation. Many of us spend our entire lives caught in this limiting and exhausting cycle.

The alternative is radical and simple. It involves deciding to make self-nurturance our highest priority. By learning to rest the heart in the back body, we can begin to calm the adrenals. As the heart relaxes, it sends a signal to the adrenals that “everything is ok”, and that it does not need the excess energy. As the adrenals relax, the kidneys also return to normal functioning, and stop depleting the bladder’s energy reserves.

As simple as it sounds, this shift requires significant awareness and faith. We must trust that, as we nourish ourselves fully and rest in our hearts, we will in fact be more expressive and effective in the world, not less. We must believe that, as we soften our heart, our interactions with people and life will be increasingly grounded in truth and full of love and compassion. We must surrender to the wisdom of our heart, which is balanced by the discriminating intelligence that lights our way down the path.

Some basic inquiries into the nature and function of the key organs involved in this dynamic can help guide this discriminating intelligence. How does it feel to store energy in my bladder, or to use it up? What does it mean for my kidneys to be hard or soft? How does it feel when my adrenals are pumping energy into my heart, and what would happen if my heart relaxed instead of contracting in response? How does it feel to be in, and to contribute to the world? Do I have enough to give? Can there be comfort and ease in giving? From where do I receive?

This kind of investigation, combined with a direct sensing of the organs and moving in and out of Yoga postures with breath can help us prepare to release the kidneys. We can begin to open up the flow of the ureters, soften and tone the psoas major, and let go of our “grasp” on our kidneys.

When we become willing to store energy, as opposed to pushing it up through the adrenals and into the heart, we open to a new world of experience. Interestingly, what we open to is the real possibility of being truly responsive and engaged with Life. The very push that we thought was necessary in order to be active and engaged in Life is exactly what keeps us relating primarily to ourselves, rather than truly responsive and engaged with our environment. When we are no longer pushing blood and energy through the heart, it is able to regain its softness and receptivity, and its ability to perceive and interpret reality matures.
When we are no longer acting out a frantic urgency to express, we settle on a very deep level. We begin to trust Life, knowing that it isn’t necessary to force ourselves upon it. From this deeply settled place, we are capable of responding to What Is, and we remain in touch with the very essence of Life as the source of our energy, constantly replenished by our own willingness to simply rest and be present. It is within this womb that truly effective action is born.

Meditation is Natural

pic for meditation -blog

Meditation is a completely natural function of the human mind. We are inherently intelligent and curious beings. It is part of being human to wonder about ourselves and about life. All cultures have engaged in meditation and there are many methods of practice. Some are very precise and technique oriented and others are intentionally less precise. So many of the techniques are excellent. Different techniques resonate with different people. In this piece, I am writing more about the dynamics of meditation than about any specific technique. Meditations of all kinds work because they all arise out of the same body-mind-spirit system. They all need to rely on the natural tendencies of the body and mind to experience deeper comfort, happiness, and joy.

The secret of meditation is that when we can get out of our own way we can allow the deepest inner comfort to simply pull us in. It is natural. It is actually harder to resist than it is to do, but we have to understand the situation in order to free ourselves from our own crippling restrictions and inhibitions. Comfort is waiting, even bliss. There is nothing to believe in this at all – no belief is necessary. The only thing necessary is the burning desire to know. It has to be a burning desire because if it isn’t strong enough you simply won’t do it. For most of us, meditation is not effective when not done regularly. And regularly means every day… for many years. You probably do have plenty of time so now is a good time to start.

DEVELOPING CLARITY OF MIND AND GAINING CHOICE IN HOW WE PERCEIVE
Our minds have two basic directions available for movement at all times. We can look outward and focus on the outer environment, or we can move our awareness inwardly and focus on our inner environment. As we explore these realms, we learn more about them. Our experiences of the outer world build impressions, concepts, and ideas that we store within. These perceptions are colored by our inherent personality. Our personality is an intermingling of our genetic and karmic makeup, and the stored impressions of our life experiences. The blending of perception and judgments that we make about perception, creates another level of inner consciousness. We think about things. We feel things. We make decisions – consciously or not – and we act. We perform functions in the world. We relate, interact, learn more, store more, and color it with more of our own story. We build a life based upon our interactions and perceptions, the decisions we have made about them, and our ongoing experiences and relationships.

The key to successfully navigating this process is cultivating choice about how we perceive. We develop choice through inquiry into our perceptual faculties and discovering how they are informing all that we think and feel. Without choice we are simply at the mercy of our personality and our environment. Left unchecked, our stored impressions will color our experiences so thoroughly that we cannot differentiate what is actually present in any immediate event from the qualities and feelings that we are essentially applying to the experience from our own storehouse of impressions, images, and held-to-be-true concepts about life and self.

Worse, we don’t even recognize that it is actually our own impressions and previously made decisions that we are witnessing when we think we are experiencing something new! We tend to believe our perceptions without too much attention to whether they are accurate or not, when often what we are perceiving says a lot more about our inner state than it does about our environment, and importantly, about our relationships with others. This limited and usually inaccurate method of perceiving breeds suffering and confusion.

So often we essentially affirm our previous perceptions and decisions, in order to make quick sense of whatever is happening at the moment. This is an important agility that our mind has. It helps us to respond quickly to danger and ensures that we can take care of ourselves in urgent situations. But in terms of seeing the world as it actually is, making rapid decisions about each experience can block our access to some of the deeper gifts that our awareness offers. When we are so immediately sure that our perceptions and decisions about them are correct – and just in case they are not – we become locked into a response pattern that may or may not be the most useful for us anymore.

Often these immediate responses were important and useful when they first manifested. They were a function of health in that they likely did protect us from an emotional or physical danger. Our immediate reactions to danger can keep us alive through extremely difficult situations. Some of these very difficult situations can continue to persist for years and we need to remain vigilant in our own defense. But later on, in times of safety, our ways of managing these painful situations can actually be inhibiting our active involvement and enjoyment of our lives.

Again, the question is of choice. Do we have “choice” about how we perceive and how we respond to our perceptions? How fully can we trust our perceptions? Can we be sure that we are accurately recognizing what is being presented in a current situation? Or, are we coloring it so quickly with our own expectations that we are actually experiencing our own feelings about the event more fully that the truth of what is happening?

FINDING DEEP COMFORT AND SUPPORT—AWARENESS AND ANANDA
This can be so very tricky to navigate. We need a frame of reference and philosophy in which to contain this investigation. We also need inner comfort and support to nurture us through the process of determining what is true from what is not. Without an inkling that increasing levels of inner comfort may be the fruit of this endeavor, we would certainly not embark on it.

The very reason that this process of investigation ultimately bears fruit is that deep comfort is the nature of the “stuff” that supports the mind. The support of the mind – its True Nature – like the nature of absolutely everything else, is Awareness; Awareness without any object of perception – just vibrating Creative Intelligence.
Pure Awareness manifests. It joins with the stuff – the nature of things – and infuses it fully with its intelligence.

Awareness manifests constantly into the field of manifestation (us) — in waves of bliss. Bliss, or ananda – as the yogis call it – needs some serious definition. Ananda can all too easily be misunderstood to mean some sort of happiness as we normally think of “happiness”. Ananda really has nothing particular to do with happiness. Ananda is better understood as complete and total comfort. There are many ways to expand upon this definition of ananda as comfort but it is important to realize that it is very different from what most of us imagine when we think of “bliss”.  Ananda is the deepest embodied experience of profound contentment, the sense of being completely at home.

Using the meditative techniques of serious inquiry, unwavering self-acceptance, and keen discrimination (embodied-inquiry, santosha, and viveka) we begin to recognize for ourselves the subtlest levels of who we are. We come into direct contact with the process of Pure Awareness moving into form… through waves of tangible bliss.

The ancient yogic texts have provided a powerful and all-inclusive statement about the nature of life. They tell us that the nature of the mind is bliss: sat-chit-ananda or truth-consciousness-bliss. It is very important to note that there is no denial of human suffering in this statement. The statement does say that even the worst suffering has the same nature, because all of creation emanates from the same Source – sat-chit-ananda. The implication is actually profoundly inclusive in that it does not hold bliss to be an experience reserved for the lucky. Rather it is saying that no matter who you are, or what your experience has been, there is hope for finding deep inner comfort because it is who you actually are.

Ananda is underneath and supportive of our entire body-mind-spirit system. Ananda and awareness are woven into varying densities and vibrating at various speeds to create our energetic, mental, emotional and physical selves. Awareness and ananda are often veiled at the surface levels of our consciousness. It isn’t that ananda and awareness aren’t present in our structural selves. They are! It is that we have a strong tendency to perceive our thinking processes, our feelings, and all of the matter and the structural stuff of life to be the whole story.
If we were to inquire more thoroughly we would soon notice the underlying nature of all that we are. We would see, touch, taste, and feel, the Essential Blissful Awareness that is constantly present. Honestly, it is a simple matter of attention. Pay attention. No really…pay close attention.

Meditate.

Embodying the Digestive Tract in Yoga – Desire, Procure, Digest, Absorb and Release

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Artwork by Rebecca Haseltine. Click on the image above to view more work.

EMBODYING DIGESTIVE TRACT AWARENESS

Our digestive tract is a long, sensitive, and undulating tube, from mouth to anus, through which our most inner-self relates and interfaces with our environment.  Our digestive tract forms a soft and spiralic support of the spine.  Embodiment of the digestive tract is important in yoga practice.  It keeps our movements soft as well as strong.  It gives us deeper awareness and brings more of who we are to the forefront in our movement practice.  Embodying the digestive tract gives us access to our deepest yearnings and desires.

Through the digestive tract we are invited to become aware of the intensity of our primal desires.  Through this recognition and allowance we can release many inhibitions that we have inadvertently placed on our life force by trying to limit and squash what can be an almost overwhelming sensation of desire.  When we begin to allow our desire it is no longer overwhelming, but awe-inspiring. A deep softening results from the tremendous release of struggle when we are able to experience this vast force and embrace it.   We spontaneously begin to witness that love is the motivating force behind desire. We recognize in ourselves how this commingling of desire and love is the motivating force in our existence.

The mouth to anus pathway is one continuous channel with varying qualities and functions that work together to procure nutrients and nurturance and eliminate waste.

DIGESTION IS AN INTIMATE ACT
The digestive tract is a profound and seamless way that we interface to our environment. We literally take in and absorb what we chose from the outer world. In health our digestion provides inner support and produces feelings of self-comfort and nurturance. When our digestive tract is healthy we feel that we can ask for, procure, and receive the nurturance that we need. We innately know that we have choices all along the way. We feel the process of accepting, digesting, absorbing and releasing as a comfortable and satisfying experience. The phases for obtaining the nutrients from our food are felt and enjoyed. In fact, this is probably one of the most sensual processes of our life and we are fully engaged in it daily.

Following the pathway of our digestive tract we learn about many of our inner choices. We have the opportunity to visit them intimately and observe their arising. The observation process gives us the space to witness the choices we make. We may find that some of them are no longer in our best interest. We gain the opportunity to make new choices if we like.

The investigation well might begin with what we decide to put in our mouths in the first place. How aware are we of what we eat? Do we eat what we know to be nourishing and health giving? If not, how does that feel as we take the substance further into ourselves and begin to digest and assimilate? What we eat is important. How do we feel about what we eat? Good food is essential and good food is not the same for everyone. These are important questions to answer.

We also need to consider the choices we are making just below the surface of our conscious awareness. The expression of consciousness and the processes of digesting and absorbing are different at the various places along the tube. The central organizing region of the digestive tract is the manipura chakra area. The manipura chakra is the fire center in the body. Is the fire of your digestion balanced? Manipura area also holds consciousness of “me”, what is mine, what I want, and what I don’t want. What am I willing to take in – from food and from life? The digestive tube wends and winds its way, with the small intestine tethered by the mesentery in the back abdominal wall. The main absorption of nutrients from food and life takes place here in the small intestinal region. How is your digestion? Are you able to accept life as it is, take nourishment from it, and release what doesn’t feed you?

Mouth is about desire. Are you able to search for, find, take in, and receive with your mouth? Where do you feel satisfaction? Where do you detect discomfort? Drop into these feelings and explore. You will find that your personality expresses through you, and you will also realize the underlying humanity and universality that lives in the digestive organs.

STRUCTURAL SUPPORT
The digestive tube provides our spiralic support of core. This is soft core. The qualities of health that we experience along the tract will reflect in the quality of support along our vertical axis and the spine. Healthy tone in the digestive tract is both physical and psycho-emotional. A happy and well functioning digestive tube will feel good and will naturally support the spine. An unhealthy tract will not do such a good job. Following and observing these organs as they function will give good insight into how to heal and balance this process.

Structurally, we look for support through the cave of the mouth, nasal passages, the tongue, and the hyoid bone. The esophagus is a tremendous support for the cervical spine and down through the thoracic spine. The spirals and tone of the organs in the torso support the lumbar region and give us depth and volume. The ascending and descending large intestines give us verticality on the left and right pillars of the torso and ground the pelvic halves into the earth. The transverse colon gives us a channel of movement that sweeps horizontally through the upper torso just under the liver. The sigmoid colon and the rectum root us again through center, supporting the sacrum and releasing through the anus.

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WE HAVE MANY OPPORTUNITIES TO SAY “YES” OR “NO” TO WHAT WE CONSUME
In embodying the digestive tract one of the things we notice is that there are so many different places along the route for us to accept or reject what we consume. We can close our mouths and basically say “no” to something. If it is already in our mouth we can spit it out. Our throat can close or our esophagus can tighten. The opening between the esophagus and the stomach can reject and close up. If we have already swallowed we can still vomit.
These places of choice are numerous within the digestive tube:
•    Lips
•    Mouth
•    Throat
•    Esophagus
•    Cardiac sphincter
•    Pyloric sphincter
•    Duodenal-jejunal flexure
•    Small Intestine
•    Iliocecal valve
•    Large Intestine
•    Rectum
•    Anus

WHAT ARE THE ORGANS OF DIGESTIVE TRACT AND WHAT DO THEY DO?

The nose and mouth search for our food. When we are very young the rooting reflex helps us to locate the nipple. We use our mouth to grab the nipple and suck the milk into us.  This is a life or death desire that is centered in the mouth and through the navel.  As the baby nurses and the warm milk moves through the mouth, esophagus and into the stomach the sucking and drawing of the nursing action produces satisfaction and tones the digestive tract.

When we are older we use our limbs to bring the food to our mouths.
We smell, taste, salivate, chew, and mash our food with our tongues.  Our tongues flip the food into the fibromuscular pharynx for swallowing.
We swallow through the esophagus and the food is transported via peristaltic contractions to the gastro-esophageal junction (the cardia sphincter) and into the stomach.

The stomach is a j-shaped hollow organ that stores, churns and digests food.  It produces gastric juices, including digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid – which also kills potentially harmful microbes.  The stomach is the widest place in the digestive tract.  There is a sphincter at the inlet (cardia sphincter) and the outlet (pyloric sphincter) of the stomach.  The cardia sphincter relaxes with swallowing and the pyloric sphincter squirts partially digested food into the duodenum.
The stomach, a hollow organ when empty, is something like a funnel into the rest of the digestive tract.  The pyloric sphincter is small and selective.  The stomach contents can be quite full for some time before we actually take anything into the small intestines for absorption.  The mechanical action of the stomach is very strong and its own acids are dangerous to itself without the right mucus lining.  The muscles of the stomach individuate very well and can compartmentalize its contents and allow different processes to go on in different aspects of the organ.

The stomach has 3 primary layers.
Mucosa: The innermost layer has deep folds, called gastric pits, which contain the gastric glands.  Mucus cells in the upper part of each pit secrete mucus lining to keep the stomach from digesting itself.  The stomach produces up to 5 pints of gastric juices a day.
Submucosa:  The fibrous and vascular layer between the mucosa and the muscular layers.
Muscularis:  Three layers of smooth muscle – longitudinal, circular and oblique.
The Serosa is the outermost protective layer.

When food is liquefied the stomach begins to move its partially digested contents and juices toward the pyloric sphincter.  The pyloric sphincter is the outlet to the duodenum.  Approximately 3-4 hours after eating the pyloric sphincter opens at intervals and the stomach squirts its contents into the duodenum, about a teaspoon at a time.

The duodenum receives more digestive juices from the pancreas and gallbladder.  The duodenum is a transition between the highly mechanical digestion of the stomach and the absorption of the small intestines.  Many more digestive juices are applied to the food here and some of the strongest acids from the stomach are neutralized. Bile from the liver is stored in the gallbladder and the gallbladder squirts the bile into the duodenum to aid in the digestion of fat.  Pancreas produces about 1.5 liters of digestive juices a day and they flow into the duodenum.  Pancreatic juices include alkalis that neutralize stomach acids and about 15 enzymes that work on digesting carbohydrates, proteins and fat.

The upper portion of the digestive tract transports food to the stomach and mechanically breaks it down.  The mouth and teeth mash and grind, the stomach churns and secretes powerful digestive juices.  In the duodenum the liver and pancreas become involved with further digestive fluids and enzymes.  By the time the food is ready to leave the duodenum a lot has been done.

Small Intestines
At the duodenal-jejunal flexure the small intestines begin.  Pancreatic juices, bile and the intestines own secretions, further break down the food.

The small intestine has 4 layers like the stomach with an outer protective layer.
Mucosa:  Composed of ring like folds that are covered by tiny finger like projections called villi.
Villi:  Each villi is covered with epithelium – a cell layer that allows digested nutrients to move into the interior.  From there the nutrients pass     into the slowly flowing lymph and blood.  Those that pass into the blood are carried to the liver.  Those that are too large to enter the blood vessels are carried away in the lymph and to the heart. The folds and villi system increase the surface area of the small intestines more than 500 times over what a flat lining would provide.
Submucosa:  A loose layer carrying vessels and nerves.
Muscular:  Outer longitudinal and inner circular smooth muscle fibers.  The small intestine propels its contents via segmentation – a series of ring like contractions – and peristalsis – small wave like movements.
The Serosa is outer protective layer.

The small intestines continue the chemical and mechanical digestive process.  They do almost all of the absorptive process of the entire gastrointestinal tract. At the end of this amazingly long and convoluted tube is the ileocecal valve that leads to the cecum section of the ascending colon.

The ileocecal valve is a place of major transition.  The absorptive process is mostly over.  The small intestine is finished and ready (or not) to release its contents through a rather narrow passage – the ileocecal valve – into the relatively wide receiving room of the cecum. The appendix is very near this valve in the lower ascending colon.

The appendix is a reservoir of friendly bacteria that can be used to replenish the digestive tract when necessary.

The Large Intestine is about transporting waste.  It absorbs water, some vitamins and minerals and secretes mucus.  The lining of the large intestine is without villi.  The large intestine consist of the ascending, transverse, descending, and sigmoid colons, the rectum, the anal canal and sphincters, and the appendix. The appendix may be a reservoir of healthy bacteria for the intestinal tract in case of dysentery.

Embodying the Organs in Yoga

moving water

We know that consciousness is not just a product of the brain, nor is it located in any one place. Consciousness is everywhere within our bodies, and it is expressing through all of our body tissues constantly. Since our organs contain an immense amount of awareness, there can be great gain in fully embodying them. Fully embodying our organs increases the prana flow within and around them. This helps our organs to function optimally and maximizes their potential to be healthy and vibrant. Embodying our organs opens us to a vast reservoir of inner feeling and connects us with our humanity. It gives us an opportunity to witness and transform some of our deeply held self-concepts.
Organs are the storehouse of a great deal of our subconscious mind. Personal qualities and traits, desires, fears, and joys inhabit the organ body. Our organs often speak to us in images, feelings, intuition, and dreams. Their message is usually expressed below the level of our conscious awareness, yet they profoundly color what we perceive and all that we hope for. Organs function both independently and as a unified system. Each organ and organ system carries and expresses its own specific, inherent, and innate qualities of consciousness, that Bonnie has referred to as the “mind of the organ.”

Organs develop during gestation and continue to change and mature well into adulthood. Babies gain organ tone after birth through compression in swaddling, nursing, and being held in flexion around their navels. Nursing and sucking activities give us our first experiences of receiving nourishment into our own bellies. If the desire for sustenance and nurturance is met with love and support, we begin to trust that we will receive what we need. As we continue to grow, we increase our organ tone from explorations and movements especially in the belly down position on our tummies.

Not everyone sails through the first year of life with optimal opportunities for healthy development, and over the years, life continues to present additional challenges to the development of the organ system. Many of us experience a lack of balanced tone and awareness in our organ body. Chronic holding patterns can restrict energy flow and have consequences for our overall health. Our patterns of holding have many different causes but the important thing to remember is that underneath it all is the possibility to heal and find inner comfort. As growing people, and eventually adults, we have many opportunities to revisit our organ-body to restore lost balance and tone, or even to discover it for the first time. We have the opportunity to soften and release patterns of holding or restriction that are no longer useful. We can bring balance and comfort to this level of our being.

corinne eka pada raja cropped

What is beautiful about the EMBODYOGA® study of the organs is that it is entirely from the inside out. The first person you begin to know on this level is yourself. When we are able to see ourselves, including our own vulnerabilities, without passing judgment, we can then become free to approach our students from a perspective of compassion and without judgment or shaming. In our personal study we discover that the experience of human vulnerability (whatever the specifics) is universal. Our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses are the shadows of our strength, and unless we recognize and accept them, we will never claim our own true power.

By embodying the organ system and allowing the deep reservoir of feeling to be revealed, we touch into the depth of our human form and substance. If we choose to allow ourselves to take this journey, we may gain access to more self-compassion, healing, and acceptance, which can help us to view our students from a deeper experience of love. This is a tremendous opportunity to become beacons for our students, as they move into their own healing, self-acceptance, and transformation.

HEALTHY ORGANS NEED TO MOVE
Our organ body forms a good portion of our contents. Our organs give us heft and buoyancy and a sense of the three dimensionality of the body. Each organ has its own intrinsic movement within itself, in relation with other organs, and with its environment. Movement is key to all of life, and this inner movement is critically important to health and well-being.

Many of our organs are contained within a supple membraneous structure called the peritoneal sac. The peritoneal sac contains and supports most the organs of the abdomen. The health of the peritoneal sac itself is important to the organ body. It too needs to move in order not to become adhered to itself, the abdominal wall, or the individual organs. There is fluid within the sac and between the organs that Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen calls “periorgan fluid.” This fluid helps to maintain optimal movement between organs by providing the ability to slip and slide on one another. It lubricates the spaces between organs, and between the organs and the peritoneal sac.

anya smiling childs copy

 

YOGA AND ORGANS
Yoga postures and movements offer a perfect situation for ongoing development and exploration of the organs. We access our organs by tuning into the consciousness that is expressed by them both individually and together. The qualities of compression and suspension that are inherent in our yoga asana practice bring up the sensitivity and feeling-qualities of the organs. In this way, we begin to really experience them.

The organ that is the most stimulated and toned by any given yoga posture is the one that receives the most concentration of energy flow within that particular shape. Think of it as the keystone of the movement. A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone at the highest point of an architectural arch that holds the other stones in place. Being the keystone of a posture is strengthening to the organ. It focuses the prana flow into and through the organ.

Practicing yoga always affects the organs. However, by embodying them specifically and directly we increase the beneficial effects of our practice. Wherever we direct our awareness, prana flow increases. Our attention becomes focused and our perceptions sharpen. By deepening our awareness we become able to witness the movement of prana. We increase the life force of the organ and it becomes healthier. We can even learn to initiate movement from specific organs. Initiating movement directly from the organ itself further strengthens it. This organ-embodied practice deepens our comprehension and experience of the weaving of body and mind, and the weaver—Unmanifest Creative Intelligence.

 

EXPLORING ORGANS
We start with the premise of health. The body-mind is inherently healthy and is a multicolored and multi- layered expression of Pure Consciousness. Pure Consciousness is not reserved for the fit, beautiful, or strong. Everyone has the same core essence. Yet, for one reason or another, there may be a restriction to the prana flow. This will be experienced as lack of comfort, agitation, or other symptoms—all the way up to full-blown dis-ease. Through Embodied-Inquiry™ we can begin to let go of the patterns of thinking and moving that cause disruptions to the flow of prana. During practice, we can focus our awareness on specific organs and thus address some of the obstacles that restrict our movement. The body will heal, if it can, when it is allowed.

All the organs recognize and experience their own existence. They have proprioceptive cells, through which they can sense themselves and know where they are in space. Since many of us have not yet spent a great deal of time inquiring into our organ bodies, it is useful to bring up the voice of the organ’s proprioceptors by using methods to stimulate the sensing and feeling of the organ. We do this through movement, compression, expansion, suspension, sound, and of course by breathing into the organ.

PRACTICES FOR EMBODYING THE ORGANS

–Place your hands anywhere on your organ body. Can you feel the warmth of your hands penetrate deep into your body? What parts of you are feeling that touch?
–On hands and knees let your belly organs completely drop away from your back body and toward the earth. Can you let them go? What would it be like to actually yield your organs up nto your back body? Can you do that without hardening them? Remember this is an inquiry; it’s not about succeeding at anything.
–Lying on the ground, roll slowly from side to belly to side, and onto your back. Continue this rolling motion. Let your organs release and drop into gravity. Be patient. Organ time is slow.
–Find movements and postures that set up the organ you plan to explore as the keystone of the posture or movement. Try a supine twist and see if you can direct the force of the twist specifically to somewhere in your organ body. Then try a different organ.
–Reclining in constructive rest, place your hands on your belly. Using very soft pressure, kneed and push gently into the belly in all different areas and directions. Be gentle. Pay attention what you feel.
–Use positions that both compress and expand. Add postures that rotate, tilt, flex, and extend. Be very gentle. Open to the qualities of consciousness that are being expressed.
–Find movements that stimulate the organ automatically, so that you can begin to feel the organ as it moves. Once you can feel an organ in stillness and in motion, you are ready to initiate movement from the organ itself.

 

 

The Kosas — Be Who You Are

The most important aspect of our practice is a willingness to see what is without resistance. This is the yogic principle of Santosha – acceptance and contentment with what is, without inferring non-action. We don’t have to like it. Neither do we have to not like it. We simply need to make a commitment to witnessing anything that arises within us without judgement. This is a very powerful technique. When we cease resisting noticing anything about ourselves, the very issues that our resistance is attempting to keep out of our awareness simply dissolve. They dissolve because we witness them without resistance. So simple. They dissolve because the field of awareness from which we are witnessing them is simply more powerful.

The most powerful force in the universe is the evolutionary movement toward Unity. We see what we are able to accommodate based on the level of comfort that is increasingly present as we travel into the deepest levels of awareness – of which we are made. The movement is always toward more inner comfort. Eventually we begin to trust this movement fully. We trust it because we experience the increasing satisfaction and sense of being at home that contacting these deep levels offers, not because it is a philosophical idea that we like.

The system of the kosas is the perfect template for yoga study. You start where you are – as you are – and inquire deeply. The deepest layers of you are profoundly comfortable in nature. When we can get out of our own way, these deeply comfortable layers of inner awareness and bliss will draw us in. Experience of this deep comfort fascilitates the release of stress and obstruction in the nervous system. Obstacles to clarity melt away and we begin to approach the recognition of our very nature: sat-chit-ananda / awareness-consiousness-bliss

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Whole-Body-Mind-Support-Templates
In asana practice, in movement and in stillness, we always begin from what we call whole-body-mind-support-templates. These are matrices of integration that include the whole body-mind-awareness system. They are interrelating and interpenetrating layers of support. It is important in our asana practice not to continue the fragmentary ways of self perception that we habitually use in life. By taking this approach, whole-body-mind-supports, we are already moving toward a more holistic self experience.

The Yogic system of whole-body-mind-integration is pointed to in Tantric philosophy. It is the system of the kosas. Kosas are spiralic and interwoven sheaths of awareness and manifestation – from the most subtle to the most obvious – that woven together, complete the whole cloth of our individual personhood. The kosas also relate to the elements, from the most subtle to the densest: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Each of these elements is part of the stuff that awareness mixes with to form individual qualities, traits, and characteristics. Awareness and all elements are contained within every cell. Therefore each element serves as another whole-body-mind-supporting template.

Subtle Senses
Please keep in mind: We use our senses to experience this. Senses are a very important aspect of this elegant perceiving system that we are.  Each of our senses has the outer more obvious representation of itself and an inner subtle sense. We touch with our hands. We also touch internally cell to cell, tissue to tissue. Our inner touch can be further refined to feel the varying qualities of inner sensation. Remember, everything is more pleasurable the deeper we go. The senses are attracted to the inner body-mind and the subtle and yet powerful sensations of comfort, peace, and home.

Awareness — Pure and Simple—Atmamaya and Chittamaya Kosas
The first, the most subtle, or the deepest whole-body-mind-support-template is Awareness. Awareness is experienced in the body as well as the mind. It is a completely unified field and is the first template of individuality as well.  Awareness perceives itself, without thought, simply as pure perception. This seems difficult to understand because “understanding” involves an object of perception and a perceiver. At the level of pure being there need be no object in order for perception to be happening. Perceiving is always happening whether there is an object or not. The field itself, perceives itself. Please remember this is not a philosophical principle to understand. This is experience experiencing. It is not something that you need to make happen. It is happening. All you and your personal self identifying structures need to do is to witness yourself from the perspective of the vastness. Remember? It’s just like turning a switch. When the light is off you cannot see where you are. When the light is switched on you can see yourself in the perspective of the room. The room was there all along. You just couldn’t see it. Nothing has actually changed except for your ability to perceive.

Bliss — Anandamaya Kosa — Space — Hearing
This is the interface point where the Vastness is beginning to move into form. As Universal Awareness moves into the individual body-mind system, its first and most subtle expression is bliss. The coming together of Vastness and individuality is experienced as waves of bliss. This bliss is not the same as happiness that is dependent upon circumstance. In fact, happiness would not be a good way to describe the yogic experience of bliss. Yogic bliss is a deeply settled inner recognition of Unity manifesting into form. It is a sense of wholeness and inseparability from all of life that gives rise to love and compassion. Most simply put, from the individual perspective, this is profound and complete comfort on every level.

No matter what the situation or the circumstances of an individual life may be, this level is always present. It is called Ananda.  Its existence is not dependent upon feeling good. It isn’t lessened or increased by sorrow or pain. It is just always there. It also doesn’t deny sorrow or pain. If we inquire deeply enough, even in times of suffering, we will see that ananda is present. At the cellular level, the cell recognizes itself to be awake and alive and immediately recognizes the entire family of cells to be the same. The element here is space. It is experienced in the body-mind as a spacious expansion of comfort and relaxation, the feeling of being at home in universal awareness and within ones own skin. This experience of bliss is entirely natural and normal. You have very likely experienced this many times and at some level of your awareness you recognize it already. The only reason you perhaps haven’t noticed it is that you are usually preoccupied with something else. It is just right there! Right underneath and supportive of whatever else is going on. Best witnessed in savasana, perhaps, ananda is associated with the sense of hearing. It is at this level within, that we hear the primordial sound of Pure Awareness moving into form. Again, we hear this. The yogis call this sound Nada. The Nada is expressing from the interface point where Pure Awareness is moving into form. Ananda is a whole-body-mind-support-template. Every cell witnesses this.

Discrimination, Wisdom, and Love —Vijanamaya Kosa— Air — Touch
As Awareness continues its movement into form, the highest level of mind becomes apparent. Again, realize this is not something happening within the brain. Wisdom and discrimination are equally everywhere. They fully penetrate the entire body-mind system that is now taking form. This is the quality of Knowingness. Knowingness is not a thought, it is an immediate recognition. The element is air. Air is expandable and compressible.  It is dense compared to space and yet it has a quality of lightness and mobility. The compressibility and rebound of air brings in the sense of touch. The inner touch, cell to cell, tissue to tissue, a bonding to self and family within the body. This is the level at which love begins to be felt in the cells: community within and community with others, lover, family, friends, and the larger community of the environment and the world. This is a unifying support template for the whole-body-mind also as it is felt everywhere simultaneously.

Try This:
Seated, soften your hand and then rest it on your thigh in full contact. Touch. Is your hand touching your thigh, or is your thigh touching your hand? What does this touch feel like? Where does the sensation begin and end? How far does it spread? Touch somewhere else with your soft hand.
Find a comfortable position where your belly can touch your thighs. Move your belly toward your thighs and your thighs toward your belly. Feel the touch. Might there be love in this?

Sensing, Metabolism, Thinking, and Transformation —Manomaya Kosa— Fire — Sight
Fire is the power of personal transformation. It is our Tapas, our burning desire toward personal evolution. Within our bodies, the fire element includes the processes that use heat and combustion: energy synthesis, digestion, all aspects of metabolism, and many neuroendocrine functions as well. This is also the thinking mind. Thinking and nervous system functions have a dry, light, quick, and hot, quality of fire. We sense this bright light quality of metabolism in the cells. The Greek root of metabolism means “to change”. Metabolism transforms particles within the body to make useable nutrients and to break down complex substances into waste products that can be excreted.  At the level of consciousness we have the same opportunity: to break down complex substances into useable particles and/or waste products that can be excreted. Our inner metabolism, how we are able to digest and assimilate life as it is, propels our personal transformation.  The sense that relates to fire is sight. There is a quality of clear definition and differentiation in our sight. We see the lines, and shapes, and depth. In our bodies this relates to the sensing of our nervous system. Sensing is dry, light, and quick. We see within.

Try this:
Feel the brightness and the clarity of your perception of the light. Feel your inner heat. Even if you feel cold, you have inner heat. Where is it? Can you feel it in the cells? What are your cells “doing”? There is a brightness to it. See it within.

Stand in Tadasana. Feel the element of fire, perhaps in your belly. How does fire move? Reach up to begin a sun salutation from the tapas, the fire.

Feeling, Emotion, and Life Force—Pranamaya Kosa — Water — Taste
Feeling is a fluid experience and takes place within the water element. Since our structural body may be as much as 70% water, there is a lot to feel here. We have blood, lymph, organs, skin, fat, and many other bodily fluids. Each has their own expression with particular qualities and traits of consciousness and form. There is a lot of emotion at the water level. We feel rushing, surging, seeping, pulsing, and wavelike movements that express the many textured levels of feeling.

When we were very young and just developing in utero our body structures were developing first through the prana flowing through fluids. The direction of the pranic movement is underneath all of our physical structures. This is both a memory and an ongoing flow that supports the continuation of health throughout our lives. When these flows are interrupted or blocked due to rigid thinking and hardened movement patterns health is compromised. We are less comfortable in body and mind.

Tapping into the underlying movement of prana within our fluid bodies we once again allow it to flow undisturbed. An unimpeded flow of life force is a great boon to our health and clarity of mind. Full and free pranic movement limits our susceptibility to disease and helps us to develop to our full potential. The natural result is a more fulfilling life that feels useful and valuable to others.

Our organs are primarily fluid in their makeup. Each one expresses specific qualities of intelligence and awareness. Together they form a symphony of support and function. Water is mobile and flows downward with gravity. Water molecules attract one another. They hold together; they bond. Can you taste within? Can you savor every moment and experience of the inner world? Feel now the quality of whole body experience that results from imagining the taste of something delightful. Don’t you feel that everywhere?

Try This:
Stand in Tadasana. Feel the flow of your blood from your heart, to the peripheral body and its seeping back again to the heart. Feel the fluid sensation in your legs and your arms. Begin to let your body move as if the inner fluid flow was directing the movement. Water moves in many spiralic ways through your body tissues. Experiment. Close your eyes and follow the fluid flow within. Allow your bodies outer movement to express the varying inner flows. Savor the movement.

Solidity —Anamaya Kosa— Earth — Smell
Earth is stable. Earth moves slowly. Earth without water is dry, particulate matter. It is our mineral body – our densest form. The particulate forms the scaffolding upon which all other elements can attach. It is the mineral content of the bone.  It is the particulate and structural that is distributed throughout the body, within the cells, within the blood, and everywhere else. Our earth. Smell is the first sense to develop. As tiny babies we use it to find our mothers breast and the milk. Earth within is about being here, survival, existence in the most basic way. It is deeply, quiet, heavy, and present. It is clear and simple. We continue to feel the earth within as the basic structural materials.

Try this:
Stand in tadasana. Feel the weight transfer through your bones and into the earth. Feel the steadiness, the stillness of taking all of your awareness into exploring the qualities of your mineral body.

 

“How we move is who we are.” Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen
Movement is a quality of life. One celled organisms move. Everything that is alive moves. Life itself expresses from Source through movement. We are in constant movement within. We perceive inner movement with our inner senses. Different qualities of movement spark different perceptions. Different perceptions express in different qualities of movement. Perception, movement, and senses are intimately woven together. They’re woven in the cloth of Awareness.

Movement at each of these levels, these sheaths of awareness, has a different quality. We contain all these elements, they are moving in relationship to one another, they are perceiving themselves, and we are perceiving them. By going to the consciousness of each layer, we bring up, we enliven, its qualities in every cell. The whole body becomes unified in the sensation of an individual sheath and its expressive element. This expresses uniquely in each person based on the personal body-mind system. When this is fully recognized by the individual it can become an ecstatic celebration of life. We have witnessed this in dance perhaps, and in the extraordinary coordination and abilities of elite athletes.

Try This:
What do you perceive through your senses? As yoga practitioners we have refined our senses somewhat already. We have “sensitized” ourselves. Feel outward with each sense, into the environment. Then turn it inward. The inner touch, scent, taste, sound, and sight. Do the inner perceptions of the moment inspire any movement? Can you further integrate the outer senses with the inner? What do you notice?

After you have explored each of these elements individually let’s put it all together and notice the seamless transitions from one to the other.

Try This as a Sequence:
Earth: We can recognize earth as heavy, clear and simple. Moving from earth is slow. If you raise your arms in tadasana from the earth element there will be a dryness to it. As the arms go upward the weight is falling directly downward into gravity. Particulate, sifting through its liquid environment.

Water: Now try the same thing from the sensation of the fluid body. You may feel the surge of the water earthward and the fountain like effect of the upward reaching arms. Do you notice in both of these examples how the whole body seems to pick up the qualities of the awareness from which you are initiating the movement. Try going further with the sun salutation or some standing postures. The differences in the tone is remarkable.

Try fire: Again stand in tadasana. Let the fire begin to burn in our belly. How does this alter your awareness? Begin to move. What is the quality of movement here?

Air: Is there almost a sigh of relief in coming into the air element. Feel the arms float upward from the expansion of the air within the chest and the heart. Air is both expansive and compressible. What is the consciousness that arises with air? It is light now. There is a delicacy to the movement of air. It doesn’t surge. It doesn’t burn and it’s certainly not heavy like earth. There is a gentleness to air. Feel the air. Sense it. Move from it. Love is embedded here. Can you feel that?

Space: By moving from air to space we have an idea of how light and expansive space is. We can see and feel air. Space is where the air is. Feel the subtle expansion in the slight pause at the end of a soft exhale. There is a pulse outward there. Space is found in the effortless suspension of the breath. In tadasana again: How far do you move from space? Perhaps this is move an inner expansion than an outward movement. As you catch the inner expansion, how does your body move? What is the consciousness that is expressing here?

Penetrating Awareness: Something even lighter than space? Not perceptible through the outwardly directed senses, but Known by the inner senses.

When we prescribe a particular method of movement into, and within, our yoga postures we limit the individual expression of each person and their inherent qualities and traits. If we direct our yoga students to enter a particular posture in the same way every time we actually constrain the full expression of the form. Different yoga systems tend to have an affinity for different elements and levels of awareness. By knowing the framework of the kosas, the consciousness, and the elements of each kosa, we have a larger container from which to assist our students to feel the awareness within each form.

Yoga Nidra—The Art of Blissful Relaxation

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What is Yoga Nidra?


Yoga Nidra is a direct window into the very deepest layers of our being. It is a technique for diving into the most healing levels of personal consciousness. Through Yoga Nidra practice we are able to sink into the deepest levels of relaxation available to us as human beings. We contact the finest layers of our structure and awareness. We rest in a healing mist of bliss and saturate in the deepest kind of healing. It is a simple technique of resting, feeling, and following the prompts of the teacher as she leads your through placing your awareness systematically in different parts of your body.

Yoga Nidra is a practice that derives from the Tantric tradition. Tantric philosophy offers a unified vision of creation and speaks to the weave – or the matrix – of consciousness and form that expresses as the entire manifest universe. Tantric practices include and celebrate each person’s individual body-mind-awareness system. It teaches that our personal body-mind system is a microcosm of the universal reality and that by understanding and fully inhabiting all the layers of ourselves we can experience directly, and for ourselves, the vision of the unity of all life.
The practices of Tantra are directed toward realizing, and noticing without a doubt, that Pure Being is inextricably woven through all of nature. Tantra invites us into a breathing and moving experience of Pure Being and nature as a fully embodied-experiential reality. In Tantric practice there is complete inhabitation of the body, mind, and spirit and a celebration of the individual as the microcosm of the universal whole. According to Tantra, if anything is Divine, then everything is Divine.

Cycles of Deep Rest and Activity


All of nature nurtures and expresses itself in cycles of rest and activity. We have exhale and inhale as an uninterrupted rising and falling of restfulness and alertness that is continuous through day and night. We have sleeping and waking, the cycles of the seasons, and life and death. These cycles are apparent everywhere we look in nature. Yoga points to these rhythms as well in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjal through its incorporation of being active in the world through the yamas, niyamas, and asana and the internal practices, the resting and going inward, of shavasana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. The resting phase in yoga is extremely important. It is often overlooked probably because our society values action over rest. The resting phase is where we learn and incorporate. It is where we dive the most deeply within and receive so much healing. In common life we are not often taught the tools for increasing our restfulness beyond sleep. It is critical for the development of a deeper range of awareness to allow our perceiving faculties to soften and expand. Sleep is not enough to balance our subtle nervous system and increase the range of consciousness.

Yoga teaches techniques for refining our nervous systems by cultivating appropriate healing cycles of deep rest to balance our engagement in an active life. In order to refine our awareness – deepen consciousness – we need to balance out these cycles and make the resting phase more effective. When life is lived in a way that does not provide deep rest for the nervous system on a regular basis, we accumulate stress. The accumulation of stress builds within when we do not have appropriate and deep means of releasing it. Yoga Nidra is the perfect technique for gaining the deepest rest of all. Normal sleep and dreaming is helpful, but it is not nearly enough to progressively cleanse and balance the human nervous system and facilitate the evolution of consciousness. By ‘nervous system’ we are referring to both the nervous system that can be recognized in its physical structure and the subtle nervous system that is experienced by yogis. The subtle nervous system balances the flow of prana in the body. Prana doesn’t only flow through the nerves but rather through every tissue, and its flow helps to determine the awareness level of the tissues as well. The experience that we often speak of in Embodyoga®: that every cell is awake, alive, and self aware, can only be supported by a clear mind and a clear nervous system. Clear means open to the full range of awareness and experience. Clear does not mean devoid of thought or absent of sensation. It does mean an ongoing experience of the full depth of the field of body-mind-awareness as an inseparable continuum of all of life, including ones personal existence, no matter what is presenting in the momentary movement within the field of relationship; knowing the human and the divine aspects of self as a tangible reality that doesn’t go away when there is pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness, or any of the other poles of opposite experiences. This awareness – embodiment of the entire field of our personal perceptual vehicle, our body-mind-awareness system – is what is necessary to recognize Unity.

Four States of Consciousness: Waking, Dreaming, Deep Sleep, and Turya–the
Fourth State


Yogis recognize a fourth state of consciousness called turya, which means fourth state. Turya is the deepest level of consciousness. It is the foundation of all the others. It is the unmanifest, or transcendent level of awareness that is the core awareness inside us all. The unmanifest is the Absolute, the pure and formless ground of being from which creation and manifestation arise. Yoga teaches us clearly that we have access to this level of our being. Accessing it, especially on a regular basis, is profoundly healing and comforting to all levels of our body-mind system including our perceptual abilities and how we make sense of what we perceive. Accessing this layer of existence provides us with the deepest healing. It spontaneously saturates our entire body-mind with Pure Being and provides a quality of restfulness that is above and beyond anything we can achieve in normal sleep or dreaming. It is the most profound level of calming, relaxing, and rejuvenating clarity and peacefulness that we have available to us.

While deep sleep is a dull state, Yoga Nidra takes us to the level of awareness that is awake and self-aware. We are drawn into the field of unmanifest creative intelligence that supports our active existence and everything else. Yoga Nidra brings us to the ultimate experience of restfulness. In terms of the gunas it is satvic, while deep sleep is tamasic, and dreaming is rajasic. In terms of the koshas, Yoga Nidra is a diving through the sheaths of awareness from the grossest to the subtlest. Yoga Nidra allows this to occur naturally due to the compelling healing and relaxing sensations of the deepest layers of our form and awareness. As we go deeper we are more comfortable, more at home. As we dive deeply we enter the realm of the spacious experience of bliss, or ananda. From there we slip quite effortlessly into the field of Pure Being.

An Elegant and Simple Practice


By keeping the Yoga Nidra practice simple and clear we get out of our own way, so that the natural tendency of life to take us deeper can have full sway over us. Everyone wants to feel good. Everyone wants to be more comfortable, happier, and more relaxed. This picture of yoga, through a Tantric perspective, trusts that there is profound comfort available to all of us deep inside. Our thinking mind often gets so preoccupied with itself that it impedes our recognition of the space in which the mind itself is functioning. Mind is extremely adept at forming obstacles to the recognition of the full field of awareness. A spinning mind effectively keeps our awareness right on the surface. In Yoga Nidra we give the mind a simple task. It has something to do – it follows the prompts. Our body awareness has something to do as well – it unites with mind to feel what we are doing. With our body-mind easily engaged in feeling and following the prompts we are under cutting the mind’s tendency to get caught on the surface layers of consciousness. By offering the mind something to do that is simple and doesn’t require effort we effectively get it out of the way of the natural pull of the subtle layers. With the mind gently occupied, the field of blissful awareness that is underneath it and supporting it can effectively pull us in. We are effortlessly drawn in to experience the gifts of our deep inner self directly. We harness the natural tendency of mind to think, and let it do so. It’s a trick in a certain kind of way, and a good one at that. Yoga Nidra is an elegant and perfect model for going within and touching our deepest comfort. It is light, refreshing, and leaves us feeling full of Pure Awareness. It is a birthright of every human to be able to contact this. It is not dependent upon situation. It is already present, but its healing energy is often blocked by the deep stresses that we have accumulated over our lifetime, or lifetimes. It doesn’t matter whether the stress was accumulated in this life or another. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in reincarnation or not. The stress is the same and it has the same remedy: deep and profound rest. The restfulness provides the necessary support for the human nervous system to release its stored patterns.

In Yoga Nidra, as we traverse through the layers of consciousness, we are naturally pulled into the comfort of the deepest levels of existence. Because we have a place to rest the thinking mind – the voice and directions of the teacher in this case – we are able to float on the pull of Pure Being and the blissful sheath of anandamaya kosha. Because of the comfort and the natural inner desire to feel better we are completely effortlessly pulled by these deeply restful and comfortable inner sensations. As we rest so deeply, the accumulated stresses of the nervous system begin to unwind. In their release they express as thoughts, dreams, sensations. The stress release process may take us on a wild journey through thinking and feeling that is very dream like. Sometimes it goes on for quite a while. The time is determined by the amount of stress being released. Just as in a meditation technique, when we realize that we have been off on a tangent of sorts, we just effortlessly come back to the technique, which in the case of Yoga Nidra, is following the teacher’s voice. Or if you are practicing from memory, you pick up where you left off. It is not necessary, and not at all advisable to concentrate on trying to figure out the nature of the releasing stresses. We just simply go back to the technique. That’s all.

With regular practice the conscious access to this deep level of awareness increases. We begin to feel it as the basis – the very underpinnings – of all the other manifestations of consciousness. Once fully established, this restful quality permeates the other three states of consciousness. We have only to learn the tools for accessing this place on a regular basis. Yoga Nidra is one of the very best techniques that yoga offers for establishing this restfulness in our nervous systems.
The result of Yoga Nidra practice is a quality of restful-alertness that is constant in our lives. We spontaneously begin to experience directly that this underlying level of bliss – the anandamaya kosha – is always there. With unrestricted access to this reality our perceptions in our daily lives are completely changed. We progressively release more and more of the deep-seated nervous system stress. This provides us with increasing clarity. We become more joyful and also more productive when we are not so encumbered by the fluctuations of mood and mind. All fluctuations are seen to be part of this vast sea of awareness that has as its very texture and weave Pure Awareness and even bliss. This is the result of all yoga practices that include contacting directly the field of Pure Being. Yoga Nidra is definitely one of the jewels of yoga and can be practiced by everybody.

The Embodied Experience of Bliss—Anandamaya Kosa

Awareness is at our core, and as it begins to take form it manifests outward, into increasing levels of density. Its subtlest element (manifestation) is space. At the level of space, is the anandamaya kosa. This is the point where the Vastness takes on physical form. As Universal Awareness moves into the individual body-mind system, its first and mostsubtle expression is bliss, or ananda. The coming together of Vastness and individuality is experienced as waves of bliss. Bliss is not the same as happiness that is dependent upon circumstance. In fact, happiness would not be a good way to describe the yogic experience of bliss. Yogic bliss is a deeply settled inner recognition of Unity manifesting into form. It is a sense of wholeness and inseparability from all of life that gives rise to love and compassion. Most simply put, from an individual perspective, bliss is experienced as profound and complete comfort on every level.
No matter what the situation or the circumstances of an individual’s life, ananda is always present. Its existence is not dependent upon feeling good, and it isn’t lessened by sorrow or pain. Ananda is just always there. If we inquire deeply enough, even in times of suffering, we will see that ananda is present. At the cellular level, the cell recognizes itself to be awake and alive and immediately recognizes the entire family of cells around it to be the same. Ananda is experienced in the body-mind as a spacious expansion of comfort and relaxation, the feeling of being at home in Universal Awareness and within one’s own skin. The experience of bliss is entirely natural and normal. You have very likely sensed it many times, and you may be aware of it already. The only reason you perhaps haven’t consciously noticed ananda is that you are usually preoccupied with something else. It is just right there, just underneath and supporting whatever else is going on within you. Ananda is most easily recognized during savasana or meditation. In quiet practices you may hear the primordial sound of Awareness moving into form. The ancient yogis call this sound Nada. Nada is expressed from the interface point where Awareness takes on form. Ananda is a whole-body-mind-support-template experienced by every cell.
For Space — Try This:
Stand in tadasana. See and feel the space around you. Can you hear the space? In the same way that we listen to the world externally with open attention, we listen internally. Where is the space within your body? Try feeling your joints. Soft joints are good places to experience space. Space is everywhere. It is within our structures, around them, and supporting them. But what is the consciousness of space?
Recline in a well-supported and comfortable savasana. Relax deeply. Follow the sensations of relaxation. You will notice a sense of comfort and release; keep going. Inquire: where is this coming from? Allow yourself to drop more deeply into the sensation until it dissolves into space, inner space. Do you hear a sound?

Finding Contented and Useful Ordinariness —Embodying Sushumna Nadi

Classically sushumna nadi is considered to be the empty channel at the center of the subtle nervous system through which kundalini flows heralding the dawn of self-realization. Kundalini rising is largely recognized to happen in a state of deep meditation where one is in a complete state of transcendence and loses all awareness of the physical plane. It is hinted at, but not emphasized, what ones experience might be to live in a state where sushumna is flowing freely and supporting our everyday life and perceptions.

When sushumna has opened it is the beginning of our ability to perceive how the radiance of consciousness is penetrating all layers of life. This gives a fully embodied texture to what we can experience when sushumna nadi has opened.  Its radiance is felt not only in the spine itself, but also through the structural core from the perineal body to the mid brain and the crown. This is what we have referred to in Embodyoga® as the embodiment of sushumna. It correlates with the experience of the notochord. The notochord is not sushumna itself, but is one of its first tangible expressions into form. It is a sensory experience. It is not an experience of the same qualities of senses that we direct outward into the world to bring information back into us. It is an inner direction of subtle senses; subtle senses that are more refined and delicate. They are drawn inward by Awareness rather than drawn outward by objects. They feel, taste, touch, hear, and smell the beauty of life manifesting into form. This is a sensual and sensory witnessing of the nature of reality manifesting that is not reserved for deep meditation, but is available at the grocery store too.

One could argue that any embodied sensation, however subtle, cannot be sushumna because sushumna has no physical structure whatsoever. Purists may say that the radiance of awareness that emanates from sushumna cannot be experienced as a sensory event of any kind. I understand that argument. But it doesn’t correlate with my own experience.

It is well known that the sensation of kundalini shakti rising through sushumna can be felt. Why not then, when the channel is open, would we not continue to feel an evolution – or a growth – of that experience/awareness that penetrates through everything?
This way of perceiving the channel of sushumna includes two different layers of experiencing. We perceive the radiance of sushumna in our spine and in our central body core. It is not the channel so much as it is what the channel holds – Radiant Awareness – that we are actually describing.

I think it is important as embodied beings that we inquire into the possibility of feeling the radiance of Awareness in our lives, and not simply in a rare state of transcendence.

I find that relating this subtle experience of Unity in action to sushumna is useful for living. There is core radiance through our center that is related to the remnant of the notochord and contains more awareness than it does form. If we perceive sushumna as a channel that is non-perceptible it will definitely remain that way. By exploring the idea that the radiance of pure awareness is genuinely present and available to experience we open to a deeper level of reality. We stop limiting our perceptions. The notochord radiance is there and it feels like light and awareness. Let’s call it sushumna… or not. It doesn’t really matter what it is called. The trick is to notice it.

This is a very direct method for feeling the radiance of awareness as support – not just for mind – but also for body as an ongoing and direct experience. This is support for life and living. It is support for effective action and establishing ones personal dharma. It feels like a necessary process for living life in fullness. Again these are not techniques for being happy, but for being content in the knowledge that your life is what it should be. This is an important doorway for achieving satisfaction in life, in an embodied existence, in a relational world where each of us is only a small part, no more or less important than any other, and subject to the joys and sorrows of our fellow beings. This is not a path toward becoming special or great. This is a path toward contented and useful ordinariness.

 

EMBODIMENT IS NOW: Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi

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The last six of the eight limbs of Classical Yoga are:

Asana – a sweet and steady posture

Pranayama – recognizing, expanding, and balancing the inner life force

Pratyahara – turning our perceptive senses inward toward subtle awareness

Dharana – collecting the flow of consciousness into a single direction

Dhyana –  the spontaneous flow of consciousness in a single direction due to the compelling subtle qualities of the object

Samadhi – union, absorption, no perceptual separation between  experiencer, the act of experiencing, and the object of perception

The process of embodiment is yoga. In Embodyoga® we use the practices of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi as the foundations for our inquiry into the nature of our form. We utilize the terms “inquiry”, “somatization”, and “embodiment” in order to place our meditation within our form and function. From our perspective, we focus on all aspects of body-mind as the subjects and objects of meditation. Using asana, pranayama, pratyahara, and dharana, we refine our processes of perception to experience the great gifts of yoga, dhyana and samadhi.

We explore our body-mind system to discover our innate intelligence just as we follow a thought to its source in practices of the mind. You may say, that the body is constantly changing and ultimately will dissolve and decay, and therefore it is not suitable as an object for meditation.  And I will say to you, “just like mind.” Mind and body are both equally subject to decay, death, and dissolution. The nature of the perceiving awareness is empty, awake, and free of clinging.  This reality is at the source of both body and mind and is fully available to experience from either starting place.  Curiosity spurs our inquiry. Without curiosity nothing happens at all. Curiosity is deeply interwoven with desire in its purest form. The importance of recognizing and cultivating our natural curiosity cannot be overstated.

Dharana | Inquiry
We practice dharana — inquiry — to collect and direct our thinking, sensing, and feeling toward a chosen aspect of body-mind. We channel our inquiry in a single direction. As our experience becomes more focused, our attention begins to flow more effortlessly in the direction of our chosen object. This is dharana. Since our inner body and its functions may be unfamiliar to us, we utilize visualization, movement, and touch to stimulate our conscious awareness. As our awareness settles into our chosen resting place, a deeper experience of body-mind is revealed. When the flow of awareness becomes effortless and we are thoroughly engrossed in the process, we call it somatization.

Dhyana | Somatization
Somatization is the body’s expression of the mind’s state of dhyana or meditation.  There is still a subject  (I) and an object (our chosen focus).  When we somaticize, we are involved in intimate communication with our object, experiencing its sensations and qualities on every level.  There is clear delineation between experiencer, or subject; experiencing, or    relationship; and the object of perception.  This exploration can be a very satisfying process that offers tremendous insight and information about both subject and object, but it is not samadhi, and it is not embodiment.  Embodiment is samadhi.

Samadhi| Embodiment
In full embodiment, there is no perceptual separation between subject, object, and the communication between them.  There is only act of experiencing, which is the union of all three. Awareness of self as separate from experience or experiencing dissolves completely into the radiance of pure awareness recognizing itself. The process of yoga starts where we are.  It begins and it culminates in the psycho-physical-spiritual expression of life,.  It is all happening right here, right now, in this body, this mind, the immediate environment, the community, and the world.

Dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are the culminating steps in Classical Yoga.  By adopting a Tantric approach to our bodies, we incorporate these practices that have been reserved for the mind into a whole-body-mind practice.  We accept the fact that mind and body have exactly the same source and are of equal value for our inquiry into the nature of life.

Every one of us is absolutely good enough exactly as we are right now, and we can see life as it actually is. It is not necessary to improve, evolve, and get smarter or better in any way. As long as we are trapped in the idea that we need to change in order to find clarity, we will never settle and do the simple work of seeing what is actually true now.

The Prana Vayus and the Embryological Foundations of Mulabandha | Part 2

Embryology
At this point most of us are willing to accept that our physical structure develops and grows from some combination of intelligence, energy, and matter. Matter is the stuff of which we are made. Energy is its process of movement. Intelligence guides its growth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the embryological time.

An awe-inspiring amount of creativity and intelligence expresses in our embryological development. Each phase of development is fascinating and reveals core truths that we live with for the rest of our lives; templates of organization and connection, that may no longer be evident to the eye, but form support structures and relationships that remain with us throughout our life. Often in yoga practice we find that some of the earliest templates of organization from embryology relate very clearly to yogic principles of support and awareness. This is particularly clear when we are observing the flow of prana. Our embryology offers important clues for practice and validates some of the more advanced practices in yoga and the more esoteric descriptions of the inner world that accompany those practices.

The pranic-flows form the templates – the energetic scaffolding – upon which our structure grows. When we look to our embryology with an eye toward Tantric philosophy, we find that prana and apana were present from our earliest beginnings and that it appears/feels that they created the polarity of life force between them upon which our core – our spine and subtle spine – developed.

According to the tantric picture, apana and prana are attracting and repelling one another right from the very beginning. Their opposing energies create a dynamic force between them. It is along this axis of pranic repulsion and attraction that the primitive streak and the notochord initially develop. This is our first central channel – our first structural core.

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Embryonic Disc—

In early gestation, from about nine to fourteen days after fertilization, we are nothing more than an embryonic disc. We already have a top and a bottom and a front and a back to our disc. We haven’t yet developed a visibly discernable central axis. According to the Tantric picture of development, apana vayu is already situated at the tail end of the disc and prana vayu is already situated above. The attraction and repulsion – the polarity – of prana and apana are part of the developmental process that defines our structural center for the first time.

We believe that there is awareness at this early place of development. Of course there is. Awareness is at the core of everything and when anything begins to manifest it is already awake and self-aware. It is not a differentiated sense of awareness at this point. At this very early time, awareness is still entirely one of Unity. The disc itself is undifferentiated Awareness, full of all potential and the Creative Intelligence that will create our form and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. At this early time our experience does not include an experience of individual qualities and traits. It is not personal. It is a Universal experience of life, by life itself.

Can this be experienced directly? I feel that it can. Opening to the possibility of recognizing our undifferentiated, awake, alive, and self-aware beginnings can be profoundly transformational in terms of how we perceive ourselves now. In Embodyoga®, as in Body-Mind-Centering®, we believe that this can be experienced directly, by dropping in through the layers of our current experience to witness their deepest supports. This can be an amazingly comfortable and soothing sensation in body-mind when we remember and re-experience the profoundly centering and stabilizing support of Unity that is underneath so much complication and differentiation. It was and is our immediate and real perception. We can tune into its existence if we so desire and inquire. As Bonnie has said, “We embody ourselves in four dimensions because we include the dimension of time as a current event.”

The Primitive Streak—The embryonic disc begins to profoundly transform into a multilayered and complex structure with the arising of the primitive streak from its root end. From the center of the bottom of the disc, the primitive streak begins to grow. The source of the primitive streak is where the eventual perineal body will be.  As it rises upward – perhaps being pulled by the prana above – it establishes the first bilateral symmetry in our growing anatomy. In terms of yoga, it is important to remember that primitive streak’s origination point is at what will eventually be our perineal body – the home of apana vayu and the root of mulabandha.

The primitive streak rises up only to what will be about the level of the second and third sacral vertebrae. This is the area we refer to as the pit of the belly in Embodyoga®. It is right in the center of the pelvic belly region. The primitive streak pauses at this point. Its stopping point is another structure called the primitive node or knot. The primitive node is exactly where we experience the point of the pelvic belly to be in our adult form. The rising of the primitive streak to the primitive node is the same pranic movement, even the underlying template, for mulabandha in the adult yogi’s body. It is the root of our experience of core.

The Notochord—The cells of the primitive node begin to secrete signals that correspond with further development of the central structure. Out of the primitive node grows the notochord. The notochord develops and rises upward through the center. The notochord is composed of axial mesoderm that gives the embryo solidity and creates a full symmetrical axis for the first time. It is a dense cord of mesoderm, the germ root of all connective tissue in the body. It thickens and jells into a flexible rod like structure with the consistency of a peeled grape. It sends out signals that induce the development of neuroectoderm stimulating the beginnings of our nervous system.

The notochord extends toward the cranial end of the embryo, through the entire length of what will be the future vertebral column, and reaches as far as the anterior end of the midbrain There it ends in a hook-like extremity in the region of the future dorsum sellæ of the sphenoid bone. Bonnie has said that the notochord continues up to the stalk of the pituitary. As you remember, the pituitary is seated in the sella turcica of the sphenoid bone.

As the notochord grows upward from the primitive node, the primitive streak pulls back down, again returning to what will later become the site of the perineal body. The rising notochord completes the differentiation into bilateral symmetry, with itself as the central channel. Our growing body organizes around the notochord. As center, it defines us both bilaterally and front to back. We are beginning to grow a gut tube in the front, and a nervous system at the back.

As we grow through gestation the notochord mostly dissolves. Remnants of it remain in our adult bodies within the nucleus pulposus of the intervertebral discs, as well as in some key spinal ligaments. In our yoga practice it is important to realize that these deep layers of support – that we think of as being way back in time – are actually present now, and are offering ongoing and real support throughout our lifetime. The willingness to accept past, present, and future as one current event is an important tool for honing awareness. The invitation is right here in your personal laboratory for discovery – your body-mind-awareness system. Its fullness is present. The depth of the reality of what is waiting to be perceived right here and now is often not noticed, because noticing requires strong curiosity and the development of inner sensitivity. This is just the kind of inquiry that yoga offers into the body-mind.

The notochord, which has developed between the opposing forces of prana and apana, forms our first embodiment of a central, vertical axis. Energetically, it remains as our youngest and most subtle physical expression of core. Its energy remains and is still felt in the memory and current situation of body-mind.

Notochord and Sushumna Nadi
The adult experience of notochord is available to the yogi as a tube of dense light through the center body from the perineal body to the stalk of the pituitary. In Embodyoga® we refer to this current experience of the radiance of notochord as the embodiment of sushumna nadi.

Keep in mind that sushumna nadi is a subtle nervous system structure, the pathway of kundalini, that it resides within the spinal cord, and it is an empty channel. However, what we experience in our embodied form is more multi layered. In embodiment, we can feel sushumna as the deepest core, subtle structure, of the body. The memory/ current experience of the notochord takes us very deeply into ourselves. It is quite close to the time of our initial personal creation.  Way back then, the notochord was arising from the magnetic pull of the head and tail ends of our embryonic disc-self.

The experience of the notochord is one of awareness and structural integrity. It is light, glistening, and is our center in this very early and only partially formed state. We are at the edge of awareness manifesting into individual form. The radiance of the notochord expressing into form is a tangible reality to be experienced. It is through its radiance that we experience our physical, emotional, and spiritual integrity. We are in direct experiential contact, and consciously participating with Source.  At this level we are in active relationship with spiritual core as it is just arising into form. Again, this is now. It is not something that happened to you long ago and is no longer true. It is present now and just waiting to be revealed so that you can gain from its support. Sushumna is the deepest experience of core for human awareness and the notochord is its corollary anatomical structure. This as an unshakable reality, when it is not just philosophy, but is front and center of our immediate perceptions. In sickness or in health, happiness or sadness, we know who we are.

Yoga and the Bandhas

In our adult form we contain the same pranic supports and patterns of movement that have supported our health and vitality from the very beginning. The energetic flows that were present and developing from our earliest moments continue to sustain and support us until death. When we learn yoga we learn first to feel prana and then to practice ways for containing and directing the flow of life force in ways that help to maintain health and refine our awareness.

Bandhas contain and direct life force. They are both physical actions and movements of intention and breath. The delicate application of the bandhas follows the shape and form of the very early templates of movement of life force from our earliest development. They harken back to our nearly undifferentiated selves when the early energetic flows of prana were choreographing their inner dance and sculpting our form.  The prana and apana vayus created the polarity of a core through their magnetic communication with one another.

The use of pranayama and bandhas in yoga is to enhance, cultivate, and contain the flow of life force. Engagement of the bandhas requires a level of sensitivity to the natural movement of prana in the body so that clear and discerning intelligence can learn to experience, contain, and direct the life force for maximum efficiency and ease in body and mind. At the level of prana there should be no force. Prana is delicate and subtle. The use of excessive force in the endeavor to accomplish the bandhas is agitating and disruptive to prana flow. Sensitivity is required for effective and beneficial practice of the bandhas.

The bandhas are physical actions that we can feel in our current structural self, but obviously that is not all they are. You cannot contain and direct life force through purely physical means. You need to bring awareness to the deepest layers of action in order to make the bandhas effective. They are about cultivating and directing prana, so they need to be done from the level of prana. The templates of pranic movement are underneath and supportive of everything in yoga practice. Rather than thinking about them from the perspective of something to do, it might be more useful to explore them from the perspective of finding them; looking for them with curiosity and fascination. This method works very well. It can be extremely helpful to understand the embryological foundations of the bandhas so that you know where to look.

Mulabandha

To feel the actions and effects of the bandhas, one needs to be able to feel prana flow. We have to start somewhere. For mulabandha we start by exploring the sensations of the pelvic floor. We balance muscular tone, learn to use the pelvic floor as support for our bones, muscles, and organs. We become aware of its landmarks, including the perineal and the coccygeal bodies. We learn its language and we enter a dialogue of sensation, feeling, and consciousness. We find the perineal body, sensorially and energetically. This all helps us to tune into more subtle sensations, which inevitably leads – if we don’t give up – to feeling prana. This is how we learn to “do” the bandhas. As we do so, we also refine our awareness of what the bandhas are and learn more about prana.

In mulabandha we are retracing the pathway of the primitive streak as it rises upward from the perineal body to the pelvic belly. In stimulating the perineal body we draw it upward along the exact path of the primitive streak. The lifting of the mulabandha is like a fine silken thread from the perineum right into the pit of the belly point. The pit of the belly is the place of the former primitive node, the place from which the notochord arose. This remains a powerful place in your adult body and it is the culminating point of mulabandha.

It feels as if the pelvic belly point (the primitive node) is actually drawing the apana of the perineal body up and into itself…even that the pelvic belly point may be initiating the mulabandha. Mulabandha causes prana to collect in the pelvic belly point. This pelvic bely point, the place of the primitive node and the site from which the notochord grew upward and the primitive streak pulled back down, becomes much more sensitive and aware. We begin to recognize the power of the life force here and it builds there. This becomes a power center in the body. It becomes a profoundly integrating hub for integration and movement as we explore it more deeply in practice.

With effective application of mulabandha the pelvic belly and the perineal body are acting together to draw life force into the body. The life force that is pulled in with the inhaling breath collects in the pelvic belly as the perineal body is drawn lightly and persistently upward. In the pelvic belly, the prana settles and condenses strongly into what was, and remains, the region of the primitive node.

Mulabandha itself ends at the pelvic belly, but it is not a static end-point. From the perineum to the pit of the belly there is constant communication – a rising and drawing back down of the primitive streak, keeping life force tethered into the root of the body.

When we embody mulabandha – practice it fully, on all of our levels of awareness and structure – we experience our beginnings, all the way to the movement of life force in the embryological time. Our inquiry takes us to that experience and we witness it happening. At our very early beginnings we find a profound sense of Unity. Differentiation in body-mind had barely gotten started. When we travel back to these levels within ourselves we touch in directly to the Unity of Awareness that was present then, and we see that it is still present.

An enlivened perineal body and an effective mulabandha seals the life force at the root and draws all aspects of self into the fullness of our personal form. It is the source of all effective action in the world. When we are not tethered into the perineal body, when the perineal body is not fully awake and functional, we do not have our maximum power and personal gravitas. Our personal density at the root, grounds all of our actions into life. It gives gravity and weight to our thoughts and actions. It is an unshakable drawing into life and existence in this body-mind-system. Without it, action is less than maximally effective. With it, action is grounded, strong, and clear. Mulabandha secures our dharma. It can only be experienced when we are fully committed to being alive. It is the primary support for all that we do in the field of action.

MOVING INTO WHOLENESS AND CONNECTION:
 Yielding—A Prescription for Relieving our Perceived Sense of Isolation

6dfba-anya_childs_copyIn Embodyoga®, as in Body-Mind-Centering®, we consider yielding to be a primary movement of both consciousness and the physical body. Yield means to come into an active relationship with something, with anything, that we choose. It is a psychophysical expression of willingness and readiness to enter a relationship and the initial movement into it. Yielding is an active process of personal engagement and interest in our life. It is an act inspired by the creative force of intelligence and its desire to learn, relate, and make connections. The action of yield is supported by our inherent curiosity and desire to communicate and feel part of a whole. To yield is to enter the present moment with open awareness and curiosity.

It is important to differentiate what we mean by the term yield, and what we do not mean. Yielding can be misunderstood as the relinquishment of personal power or agency. This could not be further from our definition. Yielding is an inner expression of the readiness to relate.  It involves a quality of attention that happens in a clear state of mind when one is present and aware. The act of yielding opens us to a state from which we can give and receive. It is not about conscious thought, but instead it is about clear and present awareness within any relationship.

To yield does not mean to passively accept. It is not a process of giving up or surrendering to anything, or anyone. Yielding is never a relinquishing of our will, a disavowing of our strength, or an abdicating of our personal boundaries. On the contrary, from our perspective we would argue that the action of yielding to any situation makes us more effective in our actions, no matter what the quality of response required in any a given situation. Yield involves letting go of preconceptions and perceiving clearly. By yielding we place ourselves squarely in position to see what is actually happening in our environment and to determine who we are in relationship to people, things, and events.

Yielding is the most basic developmental movement and lies at the heart of our ability to receive support and comfort. It is a prerequisite to, and creates the environment for, bonding to take place. It underlies our initial bonding with our primary caretaker when we are babies and allows us to receive those first very important comforts of being held and supported. In yielding to this deep comfort, we process it through our whole body-mind. Over time, we learn that it is a reality that we can trust. Obviously, not every young baby receives the love and support that she deserves. This is sad, but it is important to note that even as adults we are still able to learn to yield and receive love and support. There is no expiration date on when we can learn to trust and refine our relationships. There is always time to learn and discover. Revisiting and exploring yielding and bonding can be helpful for many of us.

Yielding to a situation, person, or thing requires the simple process of recognizing what actually is. In recognizing what is, we enter into the present moment. This act of recognition makes us capable of responding to our environment appropriately and in a fully integrated way. It can happen in a nanosecond or can be a process of investigation and inquiry that takes place over an extended period of time.

We always have a choice about whether or not to yield to something. We also have choices about how fully to yield. Yielding, in the way that we are defining it, is the simple action of fully entering and engaging with the present moment no matter what decisions you ultimately make about how to respond. Yielding is not about the outcome; it is about the process. Continue reading

Support Precedes Action–You Can’t do Anything Well Without Good Support

Anya_childs_copy

MOVING INTO WHOLENESS AND CONNECTION

 “When we don’t know where our support is coming from, the first thing we do is hold.” Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

Support preceding action is a basic movement principle in Embodyoga®. We regularly refer to this in asana practice asking the question, “Where is your support coming from?” The question sets up an active inquiry within the body-mind movement and assures that we are relating to our environment, and at least looking for the tangible sensation of support for our moving bodies and ourselves.

The need for us to find support before we embark on physical or psychological movement has been thoroughly and beautifully explored and presented by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and Body-Mind Centering®. It is directly from my study with Bonnie that I have learned how important this inquiry is in our yoga practice.

We feel that the principle of support preceding all integrated and wholesome action is a primary basis upon which to develop optimally in our life. Feeling supported aids our growth on all levels: our physical expression, the development of a rich inner world, and our personal evolution.

The principle of support preceding action in Embodyoga® states that if we want to feel connected and integrated in our movement, we need to know where our support is coming from before we engage in any action at all. The fullness of even the smallest movement, like releasing our weight down and into the earth under us, is based on our knowing that we will be appropriately supported in that action. When we reach our arms out and upward in a sun salutation, we are using the support of earth under us, the receptivity of the space around us, our musculoskeletal supports, as well as our desire, and our state of mind. Support is a multifaceted and multilayered moving reality in body and mind. It is based on experience and our knowing that we can trust our experience.
Continue reading

Thoughts from Vieques — 2012

Day 2 – Wednesday

I found the water. I had forgotten. I was in it yesterday but I was just “in it”. Today I found it again. I live for this. Really. I submerge and exhale. Exhaling in the water is different because of the pressure. It slows my breath. The bubbles. The sensations. This water is perfect. Perfect temperature, perfect buoyancy, texture, and its movement is perfect. My comfort is almost unimaginable. Why? Don’t ask why. Fully supported in comfort. My breathing is like nowhere else. I can hold my breath effortlessly for tremendous lengths of time. Am I holding at the end of exhale, in the middle somewhere, both? It feels like a sidddhi that I have experienced before, in water like this. There is no question of breathing. It’s as if breathing is happening, but I am not taking in any air. It is a suspended state. Thinking doesn’t intrude on this state. I think, sure, but it doesn’t mean a thing. I am fully present in a primal state of equilibrium and ease. Support. I really do live for this.

Day 3 – Thursday

I got sunburned.
Discontent has given way to peace. Just peace.
Eat when I’m hungry. Sleep when I’m tired. 
Meditate all the time. The line between practice and not is just gone. How nice.

Day 4 — Friday

Falling in love again.
States of mind are so seductive. Even the so-called negative, the painful ones. Watching my mind be so happy to be relieved again. Watching my mind almost cling to it. Like trying to grab a single undulating cell. Its membrane supply slips from my grasp. This is perfect. I feel good. I am an experience junkie. My yogic life has been about a chasing of the good feelings. Trying to get away from the pain. There is no question about this. It is just true.

So I either grasp this undulating cell or I slip into the interstitial fluid and let the cell be itself. In the fluid I see all the cells and I float between them without resistance. At least for a moment. Grasping shows its face again. But I know better. There is no sustained release in any of the grasping. It just doesn’t work

Adyashanti calls it “check mate”. Check mate. Listen to this. The comments are the best part. Here is the link. It is a free download called “The Undefended Heart”.

Day 5 — Saturday

The goddess is found.
Was she waiting for me? I am not the goddess. She is the whisper of love inside me. She is the golden threads of healing. I feel the weave of her touch.
—not to say except to myself and to her.
I ask her if she wants to go swimming.
She does.
I ask her if I can go with her.
She says yes.
I laugh.
Gratitude.
(After all, we need to do some pranayama anyway and we both like to swim).

Still Day 5
Dying is not a problem.
The end of the weave of me.
I don’t mind.

Even this beach. Even Shri.
I don’t mind.

Love? Pain.

I honestly don’t think I feel love often enough to really miss it. Miss it. Miss the point.

With missing the point – dying is really not a problem. With getting the point – dying is not a problem.
So, dying is not a problem.

From pain I look forward to the culminating process of dying. An ultimate release into awareness and from suffering. I expect it will feel good.

From no pain, there is no loss – no gain.

It’s just not a problem.

Try This—Release your Aversion to Discontent

From Vieques—

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The philosophy of Unity is probably true and definitely comforting. Within the philosophy of Unity it is popular to extrapolate that everything is perfect just as it is. That may be so, but is it your experience? Is life perfect just as it is? Philosophically this is an extremely attractive idea. But I feel there are problems with accepting it when it is not your direct experience. Am I perfect? Maybe, but do I feel perfect? Not really. Perfection is not my ongoing and immediate experience.

Is perfection a quality inherently contained within Unity? Does perfection simply mean that nothing can be anything other than what it is? Clearly there is no floating standard out there that can be called “perfection” that everything is weighed against. It’s either all or nothing. Is this so-called perfection really just a statement of Unity? I think so.

It all comes back to the same thing over and over again: Recognition of Unity is the game. A feeling of lacking or imperfection is always the result of a perceived separation from the Vastness, the Unified Field, the Divine.

Our ego-mind is very good at creating a personal sense of imperfection in a perfect universe. Ego likes to be in charge and loves to perceive itself as the ultimate reality. We may know philosophically that this is an illusion and that ego is just one of the many expressions of the Divine, but when we are caught in the dominance of our ego we feel separate and distinct from everything and everyone else. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not great for recognizing Unity. My perceived separation from Source makes me feel imperfect even if in some ultimate reality I am. So how useful is the philosophy of perfection and Unity if it is not my experience? Our sense of separation breeds the inner sense of imperfection that penetrates all levels of our experience.

We say that this perceived separation is a problem. But if we perceive it to be a problem aren’t we caught by it? Seeing it as a problem has an insidious effect of making us want to get away from something – away from the problem.

Ultimate philosophies are so attractive to the suffering body-mind. As I rest relax, swim, write, read, and bask in the perfect sea breezes, I am struck by the ongoingness of my resistance to life as it is. Yes, it is almost unimaginably beautiful here, and okay, you could just about call this beach perfect. But there is a mitigating factor here that is remarkably strong. It is me. It is my personal ego mind fighting it out with itself. This is no more than usual. It is usually doing this. But in the relative perfection of this amazing Caribbean beach my mind is just more noticeable. Continue reading

The Thoracic Diaphragm and its Stem in Yoga

The thoracic (breathing) diaphragm is a broad, thin, double domed muscle with insertions around the circumference of the lower rib cage, the spine, and the lower portion of the sternum. It spans the thoraco-abdominal cavity and contains a strong central tendon, the left and right parts of which insert into one another. The thoracic diaphragm is the main muscle of the breath, and it is said that its movement is responsible for 75% of the respiratory airflow. The accessory breathing muscles are responsible for the additional 25%.

The diaphragm separates the heart and lungs above from the abdominal organs below. The heart rests on the central tendon and is connected to it by the pericardium. The heart rises and falls with the movement of the diaphragm, as do the lungs. The diaphragm is the seat of the heart and lungs. It massages, rolls, and squeezes the abdominal organs as it moves. This movement contributes to health and suppleness in the organs as they are bathed in fresh blood and fluids.

An under-recognized and under used aspect of the diaphragm is its muscular stem. The stem, or crura, is widely considered to connect only about as far as the third lumbar vertebra; however, in Embodyoga® and Body-Mind-Centering® we have found that in full use, the support of the stem can be felt all the way to the coccyx. We feel it is important to develop the use of the diaphragm all the way to the tail because we consider it to be the primary muscular support of the lumbar spine. The stem of the breathing diaphragm blends with the anterior longitudinal ligament along the front of the spine. The effect of this muscular and ligamentous support along the front of the spine through the lumbar region is absolutely critical to full integration of upper and lower body in asana. Without the use of this strong vertical support there is often a break in the pranic flow from head-to-tail and tail-to-head. This effects our experience of “integration and unity” in the posture and compromises the integrity of the spine in the bargain. The stem also roots the breath all the way through to the tail and into the pelvic floor. This connection is extremely important because the movement of the thoracic and pelvic diaphragms is coordinated in full breathing.

You may imagine the stem of the diaphragm to be like kite strings. The kite rides on the wind, but without its tether to the earth it would simply blow away. Or, the diaphragm may feel like a mushroom with a stem, or an open umbrella with a soft, strong hand on the handle. Focusing on such imagery may or may not be helpful to you. Perhaps you would rather feel the thoracic diaphragm as it is and work directly with the body tissues. There are many ways to enter this inquiry more deeply. No one way is better than another and whatever is most helpful for you is fine.

The pelvic diaphragm is also extremely important in full breathing. If the thoracic diaphragm is not connected via its stem to the pelvic diaphragm, full breathing is restricted. The ways in which we move and breathe govern how our tissues develop and maintain their integrity. Lack of use can cause muscles to atrophy. As members of a culture with a predilection for sitting in chairs, we tend not to make use of the stem of the diaphragm. Sitting in chairs for most of our lives causes disruption in the movement of forces through the weight bearing bodies of the vertebrae and interrupts the flow of breath and structural support along the stem of the breathing diaphragm to and from the tail. These patterns of disconnection are so strong in us, and are reinforced so often, that even when we practice yoga it is entirely possible that we will continue to practice unhealthy breathing and movement patterns.

Tissues develop through use. By changing the way we use our breathing diaphragm we can enhance its functions and create better integration for movement and breath. One of the keys to using the breathing diaphragm more effectively can be to inquire into, and practice with, the Calm and Mobile Spine principle. As we learn to maintain our head-to-tail and tail-to-head connection, we will begin to heal the energetic breaks along our core and the natural muscles of support will come into play appropriately.

Also, we can use our imagination and visualization skills to begin to penetrate more deeply and increase our inner awareness. For example, we can imagine what it might be like to have the sensation of muscular tone running all the way down the spine, from the diaphragm to the tail. We can move and breathe with an inquiry into that possibility. In this way, we can begin to take steps toward not restricting the range of our breath, and we can set up new ways of moving that do not disrupt the flow of forces through our core.

Introduction to Embodyoga— Part Two

Central to the work of Embodyoga® and the process of embodied-inquiry™, are two main arenas of study: Embodied Anatomy™ and Embodied Developmental Movement™. Embodied Anatomy™ and Embodied Developmental Movement™ are systems for inner exploration that have been developed and taught by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen.

About 40 years ago, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen began her personal explorations into the nature of body and mind, thus creating The School for Body-Mind Centering®. The brilliance of Bonnie’s work cannot be overstated; and it should be mentioned that the guiding principles in her work are profound self-acceptance and non-judgment. Bonnie’s explorations into the intricacies of the inner world of body and mind have led to a mapping of the body that is based on the idea of Embodied Anatomy. Bonnie’s explorations into how we embody ourselves over time led to her understanding and mapping of human developmental patterns of movement that profoundly effect the development of neurological integration of body and mind. She calls this work Embodied Developmental Movement™.  According to Bonnie, our movement patterns arise from our consciousness and effect how we perceive the world and ourselves. The integration of our developmental patterns powerfully influences how we embody and execute the movements of the yoga postures and vinyasa. These understandings have previously not been fully understood. Bonnie’s understanding of the importance of full embodiment is in line with the teachings of Tantra. Her gift to yoga is immense.

Not too very long ago, Western science accepted the idea that matter is energy. The fact that all matter is energy vibrating at differing speeds and creating differing densities of form is something that has been recognized by the yogic seers since ancient times. In fact, the yogis have gone one step further than Western science in describing the nature of energy. Yoga tells us that the nature of energy itself is intelligent awareness and that this intelligence is the stuff of which the universe is made. It is also the stuff of which we are made. Yoga has always taught that this reality can be experienced and witnessed directly.

 In Embodyoga® our premise is simple: each aspect of our structure is expressing the field of creative intelligence, the very stuff of which it is made. By gaining direct and intimate knowledge of this awareness–matrix, we recognize and begin to inhabit fully the intelligence that expresses uniquely through our body tissues.

To embody yoga is to enter the body-mind fully with clarity of awareness, self-acceptance, compassion, and awe. To embody yoga is to perceive your nature directly, to witness and know that every cell is awake, alive, and self-aware. Emobdyoga® inquires into the body on a cellular level. Yoga is a process that begins with cellular awareness and expands from the inside out through the support of the whole body.

Introduction to Embodyoga— Part One

It has not been easy for me to say what embodyoga is. I do know that the inclusion of the inner body as both subject and object in movement meditation is a fairly unique approach to practice. I cannot take any credit for this approach. I personally, developed yogicly over the past 40 years within the hierarchical structure that I have previously mentioned. The idea that I could better myself in some way through my yoga practice and then, due to that improvement, would be able to see life more clearly, was the model I accepted as the way to achieve my goals in yoga.

Part of the problem has been the misapprehension that the mind is somehow more refined, and maybe even of higher intelligence, than the body. My teacher of the last decade Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, introduced me to the vast intelligence of the body (and the mind) as they exist in the continuum of space (embodied anatomy) and time (embodied developmental movement). It is her work — experiencing, witnessing, noticing, and fully embodying all of who and what we are, that I have tried to incorporate into my understanding of yoga.

Here is the first installment of an Introduction to Embodyoga®. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

Embodyoga® is a radical and inclusive approach to the ancient science of yoga. It is an evolving tapestry woven from the deeply healing, therapeutic, and spiritual essence of yoga and cutting edge studies in the field of body-mind-consciousness. Embodyoga® fuses the emergent wisdom of Body-Mind Centering®, which was  developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, with Hatha Yoga practices and Tantric Yoga philosophy.

Embodyoga® begins with the premise that our entire personal self—body, heart, and mind— is a sea of vibrating creative awareness. Practitioners of Embodyoga® recognize that each aspect of our physical, and energetic form is an expression of awareness manifesting through, and as, individual qualities and traits. We experience these aspects of self as gradations of awareness, all made of the same stuff, all having equal value and importance, and all interwoven to form a system that is perfectly equipped and primed for self-realization. In other words, through the gift of human consciousness we are able to witness our very nature as it is: creative, bright, alive, and self-aware. 

When we practice Embodyoga®, we harness the powerful forces of curiosity and desire to guide our exploration of the body-mind system. Our inquiry initiates and leads the journey. Whatever route this inward journey takes, it leads to the revelation of the unity that underlies all form. Even as we are obviously individuals with our personal qualities and traits, we are also universal in that all that we are is awareness at its source.

Embodyoga® practice provides us with a direct experience of unity – the unity of recognizing the universal and the personal as one integrated and inseparable system. This perception of the inseparability of the universal and the personal, remains with us on and off the yoga mat, manifesting through our relationships with self and others.

When we have had a direct and profound encounter with our inner, true self, we can then effortlessly share this experience as an offering in all our interactions. A sense of love and responsibility for the wellbeing of all humanity expands outward from our self, through our family, friends, community, and beyond. This outward expansion results directly from our ability to perceive our essential self more deeply. Continue reading

Yoga Teachers— Time to Take off Your Mask by Patty Townsend

A response to the New York Times article of January 5, 2012 – “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by William J. Broad

What a wonderful opportunity this discussion has been for yoga in the west!  

  For the most part I agree with this article.  It’s unfortunate that part of its aim seems to be sensationalism and the statistics quoted are incomplete at best. But, let’s face it– those of us in charge, yoga teachers, have been perpetuating a false notion of yoga ever since this wave began in the early eighties. The simple fact that one can get hurt doing yoga doesn’t even get to the source of the problem. The deeper problem is that yoga teachers have been purposely obfuscating the truth about yoga in order to serve their own personal ego needs.

 Unfortunately, most yoga teachers have bought into a hierarchical way of looking at yoga study and teaching that puts a person on top – the guru – and everyone else below. This is a dangerous structure and it requires a lot of people to buy into it in order for it to work. In order for it to work there has to be an agreement that someone essentially holds the power. In the yoga world this is really insidious because the person holding the power is supposedly the most “spiritual”, as well. That is an extremely seductive proposition for someone considering becoming a yoga teacher! By becoming a yoga teacher we can take care of our own insecurities by rising to the top dog position – not just top dog, but top spiritual dog! Part of maintaining this hierarchical structure that keeps the teacher on top is making sure that the students don’t start to think they are as good as the teacher! 

Once you have a position of power it is very difficult to give it up. If you want someone to think of you as in some way better than they are, you will have to lie to them – simple as that. And the secret of many yoga teachers is that they feel this need. They feel the need to pretend to be “better” then they think they actually are. It is not that they are really not good enough. I will argue that they are good enough. The problem is that they don’t believe it, and they feel a need to present themselves dishonestly.  Continue reading