Embodiment and Yoga

“Embodiment is the awareness of the cells themselves. It is a direct experience. There are not intermediary steps or translations. There is no guide. There is no witness. There is the fully known consciousness of the experienced moment initiated from the cells themselves…The source of this process is love.”
-Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

Embodiment is the fulfillment of yoga – union. The clear line of division between subject and object blurs, and we experience both as made up of the same essential stuff. In the yoga tradition this stuff is called Satchitananda. Sat = being, truth, infinite and eternal existence. Chit = consciousness that is force, what it wills becomes, infinite and eternal all-embracing awareness. Ananda = delight of being, absolute and unobstructed comfort, infinite and eternal fulfillment. These three are One in their wholeness and undivided, indivisible. They are three aspects, faces, qualities of the One that is All. Being, Will, Experience. This is the universe’s fundamental fabric.

Yoga is a state as well as a process. When we “practice” yoga, we actively and intentionally engage in the process of moving toward the state of yoga. By practicing yoga, we align ourselves with the yoga of Nature, the Earth’s yoga. Our embodiment is the Earth’s embodiment, and through us Her innate intelligence is set free to play and learn and transform the stuff of Her body. She touches Herself through our hands and loves Herself through our hearts and knows Herself through our minds. And when we directly experience the underlying unity of all that is, when we touch Satchitananda and are plunged beyond ideas into an integral and unarguable knowing of our inner being with all that is, was, and ever will be, the Earth too awakens and knows and loves and touches the fabric that manifests as Universe.

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EMBODIED TENSEGRITY—FASCIA AND YOGA

The Fluid Body

“At the beginning of our life cycle, we are conceived in fluid, developed in amniotic fluid and born in fluid; our bodies are more than 70-percent fluid. New scientific discoveries demonstrate that the fascial system is a combination of a powerful fibrous web surrounded by a ground substance that is a fluid/gelatinous medium, and which is the internal and external environment of every cell in the body. Recent research shows there is a micro-fascial system (a tensegrity structure) within every cell. Inside the cytoskeleton of the cell lay microtubules of fascia that have a hollow core, which fluid flows through. Energy, information and consciousness flow within that fluid. Consciousness flows through every cell of our bodies. The fluid within and around every cell performs the important function of being the transport medium of oxygen, nutrients, chemicals, hormones, toxins, energy and information throughout our entire being, almost instantaneously.”
John F. Barnes, P.T., L.M.T.—Massage Magazine April 5, 2011

Tensegrity
“Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.” Wikipedia

tensegrity-in-sand-cerbrovortex.com

Tensegrity is a term coined by Buckminster Fuller. The word is a contraction of two terms: tension and integrity. It describes a structural relationship principle that Fuller defined as stabilizing the shape of structures by continuous tension or “tensional integrity”, rather than by continuous compression, such as is used in a stone arch or a skyscraper. A tensegrity structure is composed of firm rods that do not touch one another, but are suspended and made strong by the simultaneous action of a network of balanced compression and tensile parts.

Kenneth Snelson Free Ride Home tensegrity 1974

Buckminster Fuller was inspired in his work by the innovative sculpture of Kenneth Snelson in which we can see how otherwise heavy metal struts are upheld with a sense of levity and ease when the tensegrity principles are applied.

While most buildings utilize simple compression in alignment with gravity—block upon block and into the earth—to support their form, tensegrity structures are different. They are self-supporting, absorbing and distributing forces omnidirectionally throughout their shapes, giving them the ability to yield increasingly, without ultimately breaking or coming apart. They allow for what would otherwise be heavy limbs and reaching projections to be far away from the center without toppling the entire system.

Biotensegrity
It wasn’t until fairly recently—the last several decades—that scientist have observed that these very same principles of self-inclusive support underlie the integrity of all biological structures.

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YOGA, ETHICS, AND ABUSE OF POWER—Who are We in This?

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It really does seem that the sexual scandals in the yoga world just get worse and worse. I have been one all along to ask, “Why are we surprised by this?”  And yet, truthfully I am a little surprised this time too. It’s as if to say, “Okay, you are not yet horrified, look at this. This one will get you.”

The latest revelations go right to the heart of one of the most internationally respected traditions. This time children are involved. Painful. And yet, once again, “Why do we continue to be surprised?” I think it’s because we are innately so hopeful and loving inside. We really want our elders and our teachers to be wise and have the answers that we ourselves are looking for. Of course we do. We are still immature in our personal development. That’s not a negative assessment of the situation at all. We are evolving humans and as humans grow they look to their elders and spiritual teachers for guidance. It’s natural, and good teachers do help us to put one foot in front of the other and wend our way through what can be a treacherous, but hopefully an ultimately rewarding journey.

There are good people in the world. There are yogis who sincerely practice the yamas and the niyamas and are more successful in their efforts than many of the famous gurus who have fallen so hard. You, the reader are likely sincere and devoted.  But please, let’s stop stop equating having some degree of insight into the nature of reality with being a good person. It would be great if they automatically went together – Insight and Goodness – but clearly they don’t.

The ways that people have been seriously victimized by these unscrupulous teachers is horrible. The latest horror, involving children! may finally be enough for us to be forced to look very deeply into this problem and pull out its roots…within ourselves. Because, yes, you did not abuse anyone. But you do have qualities and feelings and very difficult thoughts sometimes.

These very sad events have had devastating effects on the victims. As responsible members of the yoga community we need to inquire into who we all are. We can help ourselves to grow from this and we can help shed light on the situation so that it doesn’t have to continue to happen.

When we raise our teachers onto a pedestal we  project way too much on them. We give them too much power, and much worse, they ACCEPT the power. We see this over and over again; power – especially when we imbue it with imagined spirituality – is extremely dangerous. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be pretty savvy about all this continue to have little twinges of surprise when the next big guru falls. Come on, you do too…

What we need to do is realize that having cravings, qualities that are less than comfortable, thoughts that make us feel uneasy, desires that feel unwholesome is all part of being a human being and that every human being has these waves within. As long as we think another human being may be free from this – being human thing – we will be willing to think that we are less than he or she. This is how we give them too much power.

There is great personal responsibility in this. This isn’t the easy path. It can be difficult for you to fully admit all that you are, and still call yourself a yogi. But not only are you a yogi but your honesty is part of the depth of your awareness. You are a human-yogi. Perfect. Rise Up! Take Action! Take personal responsibility!

(See: Idealization, Yoga, and the Guru Problem and Yoga Teachers – Time to Take Off Your Masks)

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.

The Kosas — Be Who You Are

The most important aspect of our practice is a willingness to see what is without resistance. This is the yogic principle of Santosha – acceptance and contentment with what is, without inferring non-action. We don’t have to like it. Neither do we have to not like it. We simply need to make a commitment to witnessing anything that arises within us without judgement. This is a very powerful technique. When we cease resisting noticing anything about ourselves, the very issues that our resistance is attempting to keep out of our awareness simply dissolve. They dissolve because we witness them without resistance. So simple. They dissolve because the field of awareness from which we are witnessing them is simply more powerful.

The most powerful force in the universe is the evolutionary movement toward Unity. We see what we are able to accommodate based on the level of comfort that is increasingly present as we travel into the deepest levels of awareness – of which we are made. The movement is always toward more inner comfort. Eventually we begin to trust this movement fully. We trust it because we experience the increasing satisfaction and sense of being at home that contacting these deep levels offers, not because it is a philosophical idea that we like.

The system of the kosas is the perfect template for yoga study. You start where you are – as you are – and inquire deeply. The deepest layers of you are profoundly comfortable in nature. When we can get out of our own way, these deeply comfortable layers of inner awareness and bliss will draw us in. Experience of this deep comfort fascilitates the release of stress and obstruction in the nervous system. Obstacles to clarity melt away and we begin to approach the recognition of our very nature: sat-chit-ananda / awareness-consiousness-bliss

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Whole-Body-Mind-Support-Templates
In asana practice, in movement and in stillness, we always begin from what we call whole-body-mind-support-templates. These are matrices of integration that include the whole body-mind-awareness system. They are interrelating and interpenetrating layers of support. It is important in our asana practice not to continue the fragmentary ways of self perception that we habitually use in life. By taking this approach, whole-body-mind-supports, we are already moving toward a more holistic self experience.

The Yogic system of whole-body-mind-integration is pointed to in Tantric philosophy. It is the system of the kosas. Kosas are spiralic and interwoven sheaths of awareness and manifestation – from the most subtle to the most obvious – that woven together, complete the whole cloth of our individual personhood. The kosas also relate to the elements, from the most subtle to the densest: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Each of these elements is part of the stuff that awareness mixes with to form individual qualities, traits, and characteristics. Awareness and all elements are contained within every cell. Therefore each element serves as another whole-body-mind-supporting template.

Subtle Senses
Please keep in mind: We use our senses to experience this. Senses are a very important aspect of this elegant perceiving system that we are.  Each of our senses has the outer more obvious representation of itself and an inner subtle sense. We touch with our hands. We also touch internally cell to cell, tissue to tissue. Our inner touch can be further refined to feel the varying qualities of inner sensation. Remember, everything is more pleasurable the deeper we go. The senses are attracted to the inner body-mind and the subtle and yet powerful sensations of comfort, peace, and home.

Awareness — Pure and Simple—Atmamaya and Chittamaya Kosas
The first, the most subtle, or the deepest whole-body-mind-support-template is Awareness. Awareness is experienced in the body as well as the mind. It is a completely unified field and is the first template of individuality as well.  Awareness perceives itself, without thought, simply as pure perception. This seems difficult to understand because “understanding” involves an object of perception and a perceiver. At the level of pure being there need be no object in order for perception to be happening. Perceiving is always happening whether there is an object or not. The field itself, perceives itself. Please remember this is not a philosophical principle to understand. This is experience experiencing. It is not something that you need to make happen. It is happening. All you and your personal self identifying structures need to do is to witness yourself from the perspective of the vastness. Remember? It’s just like turning a switch. When the light is off you cannot see where you are. When the light is switched on you can see yourself in the perspective of the room. The room was there all along. You just couldn’t see it. Nothing has actually changed except for your ability to perceive.

Bliss — Anandamaya Kosa — Space — Hearing
This is the interface point where the Vastness is beginning to move into form. As Universal Awareness moves into the individual body-mind system, its first and most subtle expression is bliss. The coming together of Vastness and individuality is experienced as waves of bliss. This bliss is not the same as happiness that is dependent upon circumstance. In fact, happiness would not be a good way to describe the yogic experience of bliss. Yogic bliss is a deeply settled inner recognition of Unity manifesting into form. It is a sense of wholeness and inseparability from all of life that gives rise to love and compassion. Most simply put, from the individual perspective, this is profound and complete comfort on every level.

No matter what the situation or the circumstances of an individual life may be, this level is always present. It is called Ananda.  Its existence is not dependent upon feeling good. It isn’t lessened or increased by sorrow or pain. It is just always there. It also doesn’t deny sorrow or pain. If we inquire deeply enough, even in times of suffering, we will see that ananda is present. At the cellular level, the cell recognizes itself to be awake and alive and immediately recognizes the entire family of cells to be the same. The element here is space. It is experienced in the body-mind as a spacious expansion of comfort and relaxation, the feeling of being at home in universal awareness and within ones own skin. This experience of bliss is entirely natural and normal. You have very likely experienced this many times and at some level of your awareness you recognize it already. The only reason you perhaps haven’t noticed it is that you are usually preoccupied with something else. It is just right there! Right underneath and supportive of whatever else is going on. Best witnessed in savasana, perhaps, ananda is associated with the sense of hearing. It is at this level within, that we hear the primordial sound of Pure Awareness moving into form. Again, we hear this. The yogis call this sound Nada. The Nada is expressing from the interface point where Pure Awareness is moving into form. Ananda is a whole-body-mind-support-template. Every cell witnesses this.

Discrimination, Wisdom, and Love —Vijanamaya Kosa— Air — Touch
As Awareness continues its movement into form, the highest level of mind becomes apparent. Again, realize this is not something happening within the brain. Wisdom and discrimination are equally everywhere. They fully penetrate the entire body-mind system that is now taking form. This is the quality of Knowingness. Knowingness is not a thought, it is an immediate recognition. The element is air. Air is expandable and compressible.  It is dense compared to space and yet it has a quality of lightness and mobility. The compressibility and rebound of air brings in the sense of touch. The inner touch, cell to cell, tissue to tissue, a bonding to self and family within the body. This is the level at which love begins to be felt in the cells: community within and community with others, lover, family, friends, and the larger community of the environment and the world. This is a unifying support template for the whole-body-mind also as it is felt everywhere simultaneously.

Try This:
Seated, soften your hand and then rest it on your thigh in full contact. Touch. Is your hand touching your thigh, or is your thigh touching your hand? What does this touch feel like? Where does the sensation begin and end? How far does it spread? Touch somewhere else with your soft hand.
Find a comfortable position where your belly can touch your thighs. Move your belly toward your thighs and your thighs toward your belly. Feel the touch. Might there be love in this?

Sensing, Metabolism, Thinking, and Transformation —Manomaya Kosa— Fire — Sight
Fire is the power of personal transformation. It is our Tapas, our burning desire toward personal evolution. Within our bodies, the fire element includes the processes that use heat and combustion: energy synthesis, digestion, all aspects of metabolism, and many neuroendocrine functions as well. This is also the thinking mind. Thinking and nervous system functions have a dry, light, quick, and hot, quality of fire. We sense this bright light quality of metabolism in the cells. The Greek root of metabolism means “to change”. Metabolism transforms particles within the body to make useable nutrients and to break down complex substances into waste products that can be excreted.  At the level of consciousness we have the same opportunity: to break down complex substances into useable particles and/or waste products that can be excreted. Our inner metabolism, how we are able to digest and assimilate life as it is, propels our personal transformation.  The sense that relates to fire is sight. There is a quality of clear definition and differentiation in our sight. We see the lines, and shapes, and depth. In our bodies this relates to the sensing of our nervous system. Sensing is dry, light, and quick. We see within.

Try this:
Feel the brightness and the clarity of your perception of the light. Feel your inner heat. Even if you feel cold, you have inner heat. Where is it? Can you feel it in the cells? What are your cells “doing”? There is a brightness to it. See it within.

Stand in Tadasana. Feel the element of fire, perhaps in your belly. How does fire move? Reach up to begin a sun salutation from the tapas, the fire.

Feeling, Emotion, and Life Force—Pranamaya Kosa — Water — Taste
Feeling is a fluid experience and takes place within the water element. Since our structural body may be as much as 70% water, there is a lot to feel here. We have blood, lymph, organs, skin, fat, and many other bodily fluids. Each has their own expression with particular qualities and traits of consciousness and form. There is a lot of emotion at the water level. We feel rushing, surging, seeping, pulsing, and wavelike movements that express the many textured levels of feeling.

When we were very young and just developing in utero our body structures were developing first through the prana flowing through fluids. The direction of the pranic movement is underneath all of our physical structures. This is both a memory and an ongoing flow that supports the continuation of health throughout our lives. When these flows are interrupted or blocked due to rigid thinking and hardened movement patterns health is compromised. We are less comfortable in body and mind.

Tapping into the underlying movement of prana within our fluid bodies we once again allow it to flow undisturbed. An unimpeded flow of life force is a great boon to our health and clarity of mind. Full and free pranic movement limits our susceptibility to disease and helps us to develop to our full potential. The natural result is a more fulfilling life that feels useful and valuable to others.

Our organs are primarily fluid in their makeup. Each one expresses specific qualities of intelligence and awareness. Together they form a symphony of support and function. Water is mobile and flows downward with gravity. Water molecules attract one another. They hold together; they bond. Can you taste within? Can you savor every moment and experience of the inner world? Feel now the quality of whole body experience that results from imagining the taste of something delightful. Don’t you feel that everywhere?

Try This:
Stand in Tadasana. Feel the flow of your blood from your heart, to the peripheral body and its seeping back again to the heart. Feel the fluid sensation in your legs and your arms. Begin to let your body move as if the inner fluid flow was directing the movement. Water moves in many spiralic ways through your body tissues. Experiment. Close your eyes and follow the fluid flow within. Allow your bodies outer movement to express the varying inner flows. Savor the movement.

Solidity —Anamaya Kosa— Earth — Smell
Earth is stable. Earth moves slowly. Earth without water is dry, particulate matter. It is our mineral body – our densest form. The particulate forms the scaffolding upon which all other elements can attach. It is the mineral content of the bone.  It is the particulate and structural that is distributed throughout the body, within the cells, within the blood, and everywhere else. Our earth. Smell is the first sense to develop. As tiny babies we use it to find our mothers breast and the milk. Earth within is about being here, survival, existence in the most basic way. It is deeply, quiet, heavy, and present. It is clear and simple. We continue to feel the earth within as the basic structural materials.

Try this:
Stand in tadasana. Feel the weight transfer through your bones and into the earth. Feel the steadiness, the stillness of taking all of your awareness into exploring the qualities of your mineral body.

 

“How we move is who we are.” Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen
Movement is a quality of life. One celled organisms move. Everything that is alive moves. Life itself expresses from Source through movement. We are in constant movement within. We perceive inner movement with our inner senses. Different qualities of movement spark different perceptions. Different perceptions express in different qualities of movement. Perception, movement, and senses are intimately woven together. They’re woven in the cloth of Awareness.

Movement at each of these levels, these sheaths of awareness, has a different quality. We contain all these elements, they are moving in relationship to one another, they are perceiving themselves, and we are perceiving them. By going to the consciousness of each layer, we bring up, we enliven, its qualities in every cell. The whole body becomes unified in the sensation of an individual sheath and its expressive element. This expresses uniquely in each person based on the personal body-mind system. When this is fully recognized by the individual it can become an ecstatic celebration of life. We have witnessed this in dance perhaps, and in the extraordinary coordination and abilities of elite athletes.

Try This:
What do you perceive through your senses? As yoga practitioners we have refined our senses somewhat already. We have “sensitized” ourselves. Feel outward with each sense, into the environment. Then turn it inward. The inner touch, scent, taste, sound, and sight. Do the inner perceptions of the moment inspire any movement? Can you further integrate the outer senses with the inner? What do you notice?

After you have explored each of these elements individually let’s put it all together and notice the seamless transitions from one to the other.

Try This as a Sequence:
Earth: We can recognize earth as heavy, clear and simple. Moving from earth is slow. If you raise your arms in tadasana from the earth element there will be a dryness to it. As the arms go upward the weight is falling directly downward into gravity. Particulate, sifting through its liquid environment.

Water: Now try the same thing from the sensation of the fluid body. You may feel the surge of the water earthward and the fountain like effect of the upward reaching arms. Do you notice in both of these examples how the whole body seems to pick up the qualities of the awareness from which you are initiating the movement. Try going further with the sun salutation or some standing postures. The differences in the tone is remarkable.

Try fire: Again stand in tadasana. Let the fire begin to burn in our belly. How does this alter your awareness? Begin to move. What is the quality of movement here?

Air: Is there almost a sigh of relief in coming into the air element. Feel the arms float upward from the expansion of the air within the chest and the heart. Air is both expansive and compressible. What is the consciousness that arises with air? It is light now. There is a delicacy to the movement of air. It doesn’t surge. It doesn’t burn and it’s certainly not heavy like earth. There is a gentleness to air. Feel the air. Sense it. Move from it. Love is embedded here. Can you feel that?

Space: By moving from air to space we have an idea of how light and expansive space is. We can see and feel air. Space is where the air is. Feel the subtle expansion in the slight pause at the end of a soft exhale. There is a pulse outward there. Space is found in the effortless suspension of the breath. In tadasana again: How far do you move from space? Perhaps this is move an inner expansion than an outward movement. As you catch the inner expansion, how does your body move? What is the consciousness that is expressing here?

Penetrating Awareness: Something even lighter than space? Not perceptible through the outwardly directed senses, but Known by the inner senses.

When we prescribe a particular method of movement into, and within, our yoga postures we limit the individual expression of each person and their inherent qualities and traits. If we direct our yoga students to enter a particular posture in the same way every time we actually constrain the full expression of the form. Different yoga systems tend to have an affinity for different elements and levels of awareness. By knowing the framework of the kosas, the consciousness, and the elements of each kosa, we have a larger container from which to assist our students to feel the awareness within each form.

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.