The Embryological Foundations of Mulabandha and the Prana Vayus | Part 1— by Patty Townsend

Prana and the Vayus

Prana is life force. It is the creative and intelligent spark of life that animates everything. It flows through channels in our subtle body and infuses our body-mind system completely. When our prana is flowing evenly and undisturbed, we are healthy; prana is balanced and calm. It is ready to respond to the needs of body-mind. It can express as light and quick, undulating, rising, heavy or expansive, inward drawing, or dispersive. All of the inner actions that animate us and keep us alive are movements of prana.

Prana spreads through us via the intricate system of the nadis (channels that contain and direct flow). These channels of flow are sometimes felt or described as rivers of light or vitality. The nadis are the pathways themselves, the banks of the river, and the prana, like liquid light, flows along and within the banks.

The vayus are the winds, or the directional forces, that propel the prana. Together the vayus support and motivate the various movements of life force that motivate different bodily functions. In other words, the vayus coordinate their movements and balance the flow of prana.

When prana flows evenly and healthfully in our body-mind we feel well. When it is obstructed, erratic, overly stimulated, or dull we feel less well. When it flows in a balanced way, prana seeps through the entire body-mind and penetrates like an even mist of vitality. We feel settled and calm. The combination of yoga asana and pranayama does a great deal to balance the flow of prana. The balancing of prana is one of the main reasons that people generally feel better after attending a yoga class.

There are said to be forty-nine vayus, ten of which are of major importance. Of the ten, five are considered to be of primary importance. Each of the five vayus has its own qualities and movement. And although, each is centered in a particular region of the body, they are also all present in every cell. Prana is the umbrella term that includes all of its discretely defined directional flows – so; the prana vayus are all movements of prana. However, it is important to understand that one of the vayus is also called prana, and the prana vayu is not to be confused with the unified prana that includes all life force.

Since there are many different descriptions of the vayus, and some are confusingly dissimilar, it seems fair to say that each serious yoga practitioner should explore the fascinating world of pranic movement for him or herself. In the descriptions below I have included material that I have read (and is easy to find in yoga texts) with my personal experiences. My hope is that this may prompt you to explore for yourself.

Continue reading

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—

Images

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.

Idealization, Yoga Movement Systems, and the Guru Problem

I think it’s safe to say that all of the major systems of Hatha Yoga in the west today have something of value to offer. There are excellent teachers from all traditions. And, as we know, there are also some incompetent yoga teachers from all traditions. Each one of the systems has specific tenets and principles that apply to their asana practice, but there is certainly no system of movement (asana practice) that will protect everyone and every joint in the body from injury.

No one system has all the answers, and to the degree that any system claims to be right, it is probably wrong a good deal of the time. It requires a fair amount of naiveté to accept that principles of movement or alignment that are useful in many instances are the be-all and end-all for organizing movement in all bodies. I think that the willingness to accept and hold too dearly a set of alignment principles in asana as right or true is symptomatic of an underlying need to find simple answers to life’s big questions. This tendency is idealistic without being grounded in the reality of how complicated and masterful the structure of the human body-mind system really is and that it may take years of study and practice to begin understand it.

Believing in an idealistic vision of asana that seeks to simplify and categorize human movement into a learnable code is problematic It involves thinking that there is an ultimate reality that applies in all situations and that this ultimate reality can be fully understood and then categorized by our human mind. This belief comes from a desire to see life as much simpler and more easily understood than it actually is.  If there is an ultimate reality  (which I actually still feel there is), one thing you can say about it is that we as individual spinning spheres of consciousness will not ever be able to grasp it fully. If our human form is made in the image of the Universal Vastness there’s a good chance that the individual ego, “I,” will not figure out how it functions. The best we can do is take the ride, all the while increasing our awareness as we notice more of life’s essence and beauty as well as everything else life offers us: pain, suffering, illness, and death. If we are wise, we may even be able to figure out how to assist our selves and others in finding greater comfort, ease, and stability along the way. And if we are serious in our practice, over a long period of time we may even be able to begin to glimpse the radiance of it all. We, as yoga teachers, are guides in this journey. We are not the owners of the vision—no one is.

Idealization—the kind that allows us to glorify, and even deify, a person or a yoga system—is a problem of naivete. If our yoga practice is working for us, we will mature and evolve beyond idealization of anything or anyone. This pretty much decimates excessive belief in a particular system and the impulse to idealize and therefore give over our personal power to another person, whether that person calls him or herself a guru or not. A guru is a guru based on how she or he acts and how people relate to her or him. If people give away their personal power to another person whom they put on a pedestal,, that person is seen as a guru. The label is not important, but the power dynamic is.

The guru problem and the yoga movement systems’ problems are ones that many serious yoga practitioners and teachers have had to grapple with over the years. Many of us, myself included, have tried to go down one version or another of these paths. As I explored, I found that the more answers any system of movement or philosophy claimed to have, the more suspension of higher judgment a devoted follower needed to adopt.

When I was a young practitioner, I hoped that by attaining perfect alignment and mastery of yoga asana, I would also attain a perfect body and a radiant mind. Additionally, I hoped that I might meet the guru person who could show me the way to enlightenment. Personally, in terms of asana, I decided that I would complete them all—literally check every posture off my list. It took a while, and as I neared completion—and didn’t feel that enlightenment was about to fall onto me—I began to see there might be a problem in my thinking. Fortunately for me, I could never adhere to a specific system so I did have the advantage of not having any authority to rebel against and no system to leave. One of my early and most influential asana teachers, Ana Forrest, used to tell the story of going into Iyengar’s class in Pune with a sticker on her hip that read, “Question Authority.” That message was clear and made a strong point that I never forgot in my personal journey. In terms of philosophy and meditation, I have been lucky to have never found any one person who seemed to hold all the answers, and the best teachers along the way never pretended to. Those are the teachers from whom I have learned the most.

I believe that these two issues, believing too much in a system of movement and believing too much in a single person’s authority, are not separate. I think that the source of both ways of thinking can be found in a fragmentary vision of reality in which we perceive the world, our bodies, and ourselves to be composed of a collection of discreet and individual parts. This usually incorporates a hierarchical vision of life that positions some things as binaries: bad/worse, good/better, and not-so-smart/smart. Usually, we don’t like the bad parts of our lives, so we try to annihilate the bad and maintain the good. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t work. You will never be all good and neither will anyone else.

Obviously, the idealization of a guru has many potential pitfalls. From the perspective of a fragmentary mind, the guru knows more than I do, and I need to defer my knowledge to him/her in order to “better myself” or perhaps to “rise” to his/her level. We aggrandize this person until eventually, in order to  “progress,” or to be free of the guru’s influence, we need to knock the guru down, which is easy to do, because in fact, the guru was never any better than we. But since we are still stuck in the better-worse dichotomy, we now see the guru as “worse.” There is no end to this game, and it holds no spiritual development for anyone along the way.

When we are watching someone who we have placed in a high position on this contrived scale of good to bad take a fall, our tendency is to vilify that person because we are so stuck within ourselves in the good/bad dichotomy. The idealized person, now taking the fall, is also clearly stuck in the good/bad dialogue. Otherwise, she would never have allowed herself to be put on the pedestal in the first place.

The guru is not better or worse than we. This person has not suddenly been revealed to be “bad.” He is just like me and just like you, and without an expanding vision that is a pretty difficult position to hold because that would make you and me bad too. To break out of this thinking, I need to go deeply inside myself and see that I too am good/bad and everything else in between, all the time. That is not such a comfortable realization for a person who tends to idealize anything! To the degree that I put my guru down, I am limiting the opportunity to go deeper within myself and accept more of my own humanity with all of its so-called faults.

The problem of idealizing the teacher as a guru is one that many serious yoga students will have to address. Because yoga is a spiritual practice, the tendency to idealize the teacher and to believe the teacher has great knowledge or power is strong. As yoga students who are also yoga teachers, we have the responsibility of not allowing ourselves to be placed in the position of a revered guru. We need to be mindful of our role in this power dynamic. This pattern of idealization will happen again. It will, because we inhabit an imperfectly perfect universe. Accept it. We all have a tremendous responsibility to do the best we can to act with integrity. It is  key to a deep practice. In order to really act with integrity, you need to accept all aspects of yourself. Without accepting the unwholesome aspects of yourself as well as the more desirable qualities, you may find that you act on them before you even notice what you are doing.. By accepting all of the aspects of yourself and airing them in the clear light of consciousness, you gain real choice and thereby you can make good choices. Denial of the unsavory corners of our psyche does not free us of them.

The Importance of the Breathing Diaphragm and its Stem in Yoga

Diaphragm_openings

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. Continue reading

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

Body IS Awareness

We are excited to announce the First Annual Embodyoga® Conference happening September 24th & 25th at Yoga Center Amherst  in Amherst MA.

Screen_shot_2011-07-26_at_10

Spend two days immersed in exciting new explorations in Embodyoga®. 

Screen_shot_2011-07-26_at_10

Embodyoga® empowers each individual to discover their own area of expertise and to expand upon it. This weekend will be a celebration of practices, techniques, and wisdom that our senior teachers have been exploring and developing over the last few years. Whether you are a teacher or a serious student of any tradition — our time together promises to inspire and refresh your personal practice and your teaching. 

On Saturday evening, we will enjoy a very special Kirtan with “DEVOTION” featuring Kalpana Devi and Emmanuel ManouContinue reading

The Three Pillars of Practice — Inquiry, Acceptance, and Discrimination

INQUIRY — Embodied-Inquiry™ is an intimate exploration of all layers of our form and consciousness, through the body’s systems to the cellular, sub-cellular, pranic levels and all the way to the Core of Awareness itself.

Satsang_pic

CONTENTMENT — Santosha is the wholehearted acceptance of and contentment with What Is – without inferring non-action. True self-acceptance lays the groundwork for personal evolution by freeing us up to make choices about how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world.

DISCRIMINATION —Viveka is the penetrating practice of discrimination. It hones and refines our consciousness, protecting us from the perils of self-deceit.

Embodyoga® Philosophy

Smyoga_kbarnes_068

Embodyoga® begins with the premise that our entire personal self—body, heart, and mind—is a sea of Pure Vibrating Creative Awareness. We recognize that each aspect of our physical, subtle, and energetic form is an expression of this Pure Awareness manifesting through individual qualities and traits. We experience these aspects as gradations of Pure 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. 

Through the process of inquiry, which guides the journey into our unique body-mind system,
we harness the powerful forces of curiosity and desire to guide our exploration.

Continue reading

Increase Your Yield by Abigail Clarke

The other day while I was on my way to the studio an ad came on the radio.  “Increase Your Yield!”  How appropriate.

How do I increase my yield?  How do I allow myself to soften more fully, allow the prana to flow and penetrate more deeply?  As I continue to practice Embodyoga® I continue to discover that just when I think I have gotten to the deepest place I can imagine, a deeper well is waiting for me.  Since I hear far more advanced practitioners say the same, I imagine I have a wonderfully long journey of “increasing my yield” ahead of me. Continue reading

YIELD by Abigail Clarke

Yield

To be alive is to be in relationship.  Each of us is in relationship with other people, the environment, our surroundings, and with our self.  Our bodies are the complex result of trillions of relationships among individual cells.  Before we were born we were in relationship with the earth, feeling gravity and its pull.  The sciences—biology, ecology, psychology, sociology, etc—are the study of relationship, how one thing relates to and effects something else. 

Yoga is an invitation to embody the exploration of relationship.  While being in relationship is a natural part of being alive, the quality of our engagement is a choice.  We can choose to be passive, allowing the world to float by.  We can choose to be forceful, using the strength of our will to create or move toward what we desire. Tantra teaches that true Yoga exists between these extremes, not a passive collapse or a forceful effort, but the yield that underlies all movement. 

Continue reading

What Does Anatomy Have to Do with Yoga? — Part 2

Meditation on Hands

The body doesn’t think the same way as the mind. Every cell is awake, intelligent, and self-aware – but not involved in discursive thought. Perfect for meditating upon! Let’s take a very simple Embodied-Inquiry™

Take the thinking mind off the hook for a moment. Sit comfortably and feel your hand. Look at it. What do you see? It has weight, density, temperature, color, texture, etc. How do you experience this? Look carefully and you will notice that you experience many things more than just the most obvious characteristics of your hand. You see a certain kind of liveliness. You notice the suppleness of differing textures, the firmness of the bones, and the fluidity and warmth of the bone marrow. With your inner sense of touch you feel the blood flow and the vibration of the nervous system. You may notice the sensation of spaces between the layers of the tissues. You feel the spaces between the cells.  You feel the tissues touching one another. You “intuit” a coordination of function. Continue reading

What Does Anatomy Have to Do with Yoga? — Part 1

Tantra and Hatha Yoga recognize the universe to be a single unified field of vibrating and undulating intelligent-life-force. The Unity philosophy says that all of nature’s manifestation – from the tiniest to the unimaginably large – is an expression of vibrating energy, and that vibrating energy is inherently conscious, intelligent, and aware.

 

The field of form and relativity, according to Tantra, is nothing more or less than this vast sea of creative intelligence manifesting into nature, under its own motivation, through itself and its elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space; one seamless undulating sea of undifferentiated and differentiated awareness, vibrating at varying densities, with changing, rising, and falling characteristics and traits, giving rise to a nearly unimaginable variety of creative expression. Continue reading

Manipura Chakra

Mesentary and Navel Radiation
In our human vertebral and esoteric yogaic anatomy Manipura Chakra is the fire center. The central manipura is just behind the belly button and relates to the digestive tract and the layers of consiousness concerned with thinking, making sense of life as it is, digesting our experiences and assimilating them – or not. We have always considered the small intestinal tract to be a key in the inquiry into the expression of manipura chakra – who we perceive ourselves to be in the world.

The mesentary is a little recognized hub of developmental and structural support that is alive within like a glorious sea creature waiting to be recognized and experienced!

Tree_fungus_cropped

This tree fungus resembles our mesentary.

Continue reading

5 • Support Precedes Action

Patty_into_parsva_1

Support Precedes Action — Stability Precedes Flexibility

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

When approaching an asana we must engage our supports before we begin to move into the posture. The supports develop continuously and seamlessly as we move into the posture. Supports are motivational, developmental, and structural. Continue reading

3 • Contained Body Principle

Patty_chatturanga

Contained Body Principle | Principle of Whole-Body Integration

“A yogi is a person whose prana is maintained inside the body.” – Krishnamacharya

Prana is life-force. Its vibration and movements are deep support for everything that we do as human beings. Our prana is precious and should be respected and preserved. As a self-study, hatha yoga is the study of prana. It is prana that supports our every breath, thought, feeling, and action. As yogis we should be serious about the maintenance of prana inside our bodies. Without good prana there is no life force with which to inquire deeply or to be effective in the world. Continue reading

2 • All Movement is Relational

Patty_and_anya_play_standing

We are alive within the field of relativity; everything we do is in relationship to ourselves and to our environment. All movement is an expression of our individual consciousness.

Many psychological difficulties arise from feeling isolated within oneself. Yoga practice invites us back into the present moment by reminding us of the immediacy of our connection with the simplest aspects of environment: the earth, gravity, our breath, the mat, etc. Continue reading

First Principle of Embodyoga® • Maintain a Calm and Mobile Spine

Karen_parsvot

In hatha yoga spine is the central structure for defining self and core. 

In embodyoga® we purposefully heighten and increase our personal awareness of spine as an integrated structure that supports our experience of unity and integration at our core.

In our practice we are invited to experience all levels and layers of spine including its subtle aspects: empty radiance, clarity, and peacefulness.

Calm and mobile spine supports recognition of the undisturbed core that is at the heart of the experience of wholeness in body-mind-awareness.

A calm spine does not mean that spine doesn’t move! It moves in every possible direction and combination of directions. But no matter what direction or combination of directions it is moving the forces will always flow along the axis of the weight bearing bodies of the vertebrae (head-to-tail and or tail-to-head.

In fact, a spine that is integrated in movement along its axis becomes much more flexible than a spine that has been dealing with fragmentary sheering forces.

In a fragmented spine the soft tissues harden and dry due to the excessive work they are enlisted to perform in an effort to stabilize the spinal joints and direct the forces in a more healthful manner.

But spine needs to move in a way that it continues to experience and recognize itself to be a unified structure from head to tail and tail to head. 

When there is fragmentation in the spine, the sense of fragmentation can be felt at the core of individual awareness.

The quite spine principle is at the heart of the experience of wholeness in body and mind. It is primary for replacing the habitually fragmentary vision of self with one of unity and integration.

By remaining calm within our core a deep abiding unity can be felt along this crucial central channel of our existence. We are unencumbered by fragmentary ways of thinking and become more able to adapt, respond and move freely in our lives. Discovering this calm core is primary for replacing the habitually fragmentary vision of self with one of unity and integration.

  • Spine is our primary structural template for “center” and for the “I” concept.
  •  Weight and movement forces must flow through the weight bearing bodies of the vertebrae and the inter-vertebral disks without sheering forces across or off the spine at any point.
  •  When we maintain a quiet spine our central nervous, subtle nervous system, and sense-of-self remain undisturbed.

 

Santosha and Viveka

Corinne_badha_konasana

Santosha is contentment with what is, without inferring non-action. Viveka is discrimination. Wise asana practice is infused with keen discrimination and tempered by radical and abiding self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance is an absolute prerequisite for useful practice. Without self-acceptance we are always in a battle with ourselves trying to change or perfect one of our imagined limitations. This is a battle that is never won because as soon as we perfect one thing we are on to the next to try to alter, change or improve another aspect of ourselves. The radical idea that you are just fine as you are is almost unthinkable to us. Continue reading