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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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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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

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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.

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.

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.