Embodyoga®—Overcoming “Otherness”

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

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

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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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Shraddha In Embodyoga®

[Shraddha] is literally “that which is placed in the heart”: all the beliefs we hold so deeply that we never think to question them. It is the set of values, axioms, prejudices, and prepossessions that colors our perceptions, governs our thinking, dictates our responses, and shapes our lives, generally without our even being aware of its presence and power.”                       

–Eknath Easwaran, Introduction to his translation of the Bhagavad Gita

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We all have shraddha. We are made of it. Our system, or structure of beliefs literally creates the multi-dimensional beings that we are.  And like breath, we exhale our shraddha, our foundational beliefs, into the space around us.  They swirl through space, permeating the atmosphere, and are absorbed into the fabric of our lives. Then we inhale, and we take in the collective shraddha, the beliefs that silently pervade our culture, subliminally, under the radar of waking consciousness.

Below the mental hierarchy of beliefs, with the most fixed and solid at the bottom and the most fluid and loosely held at the top, our emotional being has its own shraddha.  Less linear but more intransigent.  It wells up through your constructed mental reality like mud between your toes, or like an unstoppable volcano of molten stories – self-reinforcing and too blazing hot to approach, too fused to disentangle.  Deeper still lies the shraddha of the sense mind.  The rules and laws of material reality filter into us and stamp our consciousness with rigidity, impossibility, death.

Embodied inquiry means facing these layers of shraddha.

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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.

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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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Why Go Deeper into Embodyoga®?

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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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Navel Flooding Breath -A New Approach to Enlivening the Organ Body

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.

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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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