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.