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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Dharma | What is It and Who Am I in It?

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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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