Yoga and the Fluid Body

Yoga and the Fluid Body, November 19, 2016, The Yoga Room Berkeley

Foundation is Non Dual  (Advaita) Wisdom: Can we differentiate The Seer from the Seen, Purusha from Prakriiti, Awareness from what arises in Awareness? This essential skill is known as viveka in Sanskrit. (See PYS II-17 – II-26) Differentiating “Now” vs ‘clock time’ is a very practical and easy entry into this.

Why is this essential? Most of the world is caught up in movement and action, unknowncompletely missing the ever-present unbounded, unchanging stillness that is the source/background of action. In stillness, we can step out of habit and open to new possibilities; we can rest deeply, even if only for a few moments; and hopefully, we can realize that this unconditioned stillness is the very core of being, the home of the soul. Of course, the heart always knows this, which is why all practice begins and returns to the heart again and again.

Out of the unbounded quantum field of possibilities in stillness,
what arises in the human mind field? :
Perception, Intelligence, Action

How do we come to know something? The process of Attention links sensation to intelligence creating perception. This may trigger a memory encoded habit from which action flows. Or, the intelligence, through memory, insight, intuition and discernment, can create spontaneous action. Attention is a mental facultyskill/process that can be trained and refined. It can also follow pathways of old habits. Samyama, the simultaneous practice of dharana, dhyana and samadhi described by Patanjali in the Vibhuti Pada directly addresses the attentional process.

Awareness, directed through attention, to portals of perception, integrated with and through Intelligence (buddhi), to create/sustain of action. In a yoga pose or practice, this is known as ‘samyama in asana’.

imagesWe can define ‘Yoga’ as the continuing refinement and expansion of perception, intelligence and action, at all levels of reality and life, while remaining in the stillness of Now.

When we look deeply into the nature of things, we discover ‘Nested Levels of Reality,’ each with its own perceptions, intelligence and action. Please watch the mind expanding video “Powers of Ten” to get a sense of this.

Refinement of perception, intelligence and action engages the Five Outer Senses; seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling; and the Five Inner Senses: proprioception (tracking the internal energy flow of prana), kinesthesia (tracking where and how the body is moving through sapce), psychological perception, (noticing one’s thoughts and emotions), relational field perception and Imaginal perception (Dream Time)

In an embodied yoga practice, we can recognize/perceive/know three basic levels of reality;

Matter / Structure                Energy / Flow                        Information/Fields

Attention usually goes to the structural level, muscle and bones, maybe skin. To refine our skills we need to bring our attention the the energy flow, prana or chi. The fluid body is prefect for this as it has weight, but also energy flow or movement. When we can track the movements inside the body (proprioception) through following the breath, or tracking the fluid flow, and sustain our attention there, we are in the present moment, grounded and alert.

Once we have learned to sustain this state of continuous connection with flow, we then begin to notice the level behind the flow, or the fields. A field gives direction and shape to heart-energythe flow of energy in the body, just as the sun’s gravity gives shape to the orbits of the planets and other bodies of the solar system. Fields provide a crucial level of stability to the potentially chaotic movements of the life force. (The heart is beating at fluctuating rates, peristalsis is rippling along the digestive track, nerve current is flowing every where, gravity and outer movements are constantly shaking up the inner world.)A healthy filed is both dynamic and stable.

The field we are most interested in is the one involving the heart. In our practice we connect the heart to the organization of the basic physiological movements, known in yoga as the five prana vayus, and the three pressure cavities of the body; head, chest and abdominal-pelvic regions.

As we can see in the image above, the heart sustains a 3 dimensional energy field. There are  3 primary axes: head/tail/, right/left and front/back, or height, width and depth, which lead to our  7 sacred directions of embodiment: 1: to the heart; 2 and 3: head/heaven and tail/earth; 4 and 5: front/east and back/west; 6 and 7: right/south and left/north. Can we find a way to balance the energy flows of the body/mind,
by finding the field sustained by balancing the energies of the 7 sacred directions ?

In the torroidal heart field, the primary axis, connecting head and tail, heaven and earth, can be seen as a hollow tube expanding at the two ends. A two dimensional line becomes a 3 dimensional tube. When we move into the tube in perception/imagination, sustain attention there, feel the environment and how dynamic it is, and then create movement from the inner impulses, a whole new world opens.

unknown-1The tube is complementary to the sphere, as the line is complementary to the circle in sacred geometry. They both can expand and condense like the hoberman spheres and a dynamic heathy field allows both possibilites to oscillate back and forth. You may feel this energy as wave like, as in the breathing rhythm; pulse like as in the heart beat; or as vibration, as in sounding any vowel. All are present to be felt and explored. All can be used to sustain the field that sustains a yoga posture. When the posture is ‘held’ by the dynamic field, there is minimal over contraction and dullness in the cells and tissues. Thus the field, when strong and stable, helps transform rajas (overworking) and tamas (dullness), into sattva, the clear energy of balance and harmony. This is Patanjali 101.

To begin this exploration, we will do a series of breathing explorations. As these were described in the previous post, I’ll send you there now.

After the breathing work, explore this feeling/possibility in many different relations to gravity:  sitting, lying prone or supine, standing, inverting, flexing, extending, and rotating. And in any combination. You can make up your own poses!

All the time of course, staying grounded in Awareness/Silence/Stillness/NOW!

Homework for January: in savasna, begin to imagine ‘Your’ ideal place/space of healing. Use all of your senses to create this imaginal space. What do you see, hear, smell, feel? What other beings are there to help in your healing. As your space evolves (return to it every day), it may begin to offer its own suggestions. Be open to awe and wonder at the possibilities that begin to reveal themselves.

Yoga in the Sault (Soo)

unknownMuch thanks to LSSU in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan for hosting our weekend of yoga explorations, November 11 – 13. The classes were blessed with an amazing spectrum of students. There were parents bringing their children, ranging from 5 months, to 5, 6 and 8 years old; college students, University teachers, yoga teachers, and many of us on the other side of 60 and 70. The college students were a great inspiration, bringing energy, enthusiasm and creativity to the group. What follows is a brief summary of the points covered, some class details, and some links for further studies.

Unique and Universal

Unique: Make your practice your own. Authenticity is crucial in self exploration and self discovery. Every pose and every specific practice can be matched to your needs in the present moment. Learn to be sensitive to what your body/mind soul is requesting right now. In a yoga class, trust your inner instincts about what you are doing. This may not be easy as a beginner, but if you ‘trust’ that the body knows’, even a new student can tell when something does not feel right. Most yoga classes are based on conformity at some level, with students going through the same poses at the same time. (Chaos is not an easy thing to guide!) But even so, you can find a pace that works for you.

Universal, pt 1: There is a spiritual practice, a ‘yoga’ practice available for anyone, from a baby-seanyoung child (SBK, born 12/14/96) to someone on their death bed (BKS, born 12/14/18); from a highly trained athlete to an ex-couch potato: from a ‘type A” world conqueror to a laid back hippy. (Your unique needs may unknown-1-1require a balancing practice complementary to your dominant mode of being !)

Universal. pt 2: There are also universal principles that apply to all practices. Know these few intimately. “Always stay centered in your heart.”  “Keep the breath/prana/chi moving at all times.” “Work with pairs of energy, the yin and yang, in every action, and find the place/feeling of dynamic balance.” “Warm up and cool down if you are practicing dynamically.” ” Constantly check in with ‘how it feels’, using this as the root of your next action. “Bring your practice into the world. Do not leave it on your mat.”

Awareness and Attention:
Awareness is a synonym for the Infinite Silence or Unbounded Stillness, that is the ‘Universal’ source of all. What arises, creation, what we can become aware of, we observe and study through the art of ‘paying attention’. We all create a unique perspective on life through the direction of our attentional field. To grow, we must continually expand the range and variety of our perceptions. In a somatic practice like hatha yoga, we expand our sensitivity into the inner worlds of: proprioception (feeling the breath and other energy) flows coming from within: kinesthesia (the feeling of how the various parts of the body move together. In meditation praction, we expand into self observation of the thoughts and emotions that flow through us moment to moment. In our relational yoga, we notice how our personal energy fields overlap and interact with others. In all of these explorations, we are looking to find more healing, lightness of being, kindness, ease and love.

Matter and Energy: Our attention/identification tends be on abstract thought. When our attention is brought to the body, we often ‘grab onto’ some structure like a muscle or bone to ‘land’. This is a clunky way to be in relationship with the body. If we can shift to an energy based sense of self, we begin to find and feel the chi, the flow that is our aliveness, and our body becomes our teacher, a living presence looking to express the divine light that is our universal fundamental nature. This requires bringing attention to the breath and its more subtle dimensions.

Seven Sacred Directions: please click for a detailed look at these.

Friday Evening Class:

Use a bolster, block or folded blanket for support in sitting. Your lower back will collapse without this and you will either sink down, or overwork trying to sit upright.

Three Limbs of Meditation:
1. Concentration or focal attention: Sustaining your attention in one place over time.  Bring your attention to your breathing. If and when it wanders, bring your attention back to the breath.
2. Open Attention or mindfulness: Stay in the present moment, open to whatever arises. If and when you become distracted by following and getting lost in a thought or sensation, come back to open attention.
3. Contemplation: Hold a spiritual question or pithy phrase, (a Zen koan) in the mind field without trying to come up with an immediate answer. Let the question or phrase sit quietly, with the deeper dimensions of mind slowly adding their perspective.

Basic Standing Poses
please click to see the origins of these poses as three basic movements of the pelvis
Relaxation

Saturday Morning Class: Sound and breath: Open up your ‘ahs’ and ‘oohs’ to help clear the energy channels. Sustain the sound by balancing the action of the ribs and diaphragm.

Finding your core channel: Click here for more on the 7 sacred directions and relationship of the navel to the core.

Then, click on following link : Dog Pose and Variations

claviclePinning the clavicles: To help stabilize the shoulders when the arms are weight bearing, we begin by anchoring the collar bone to the sternum at the sterno-clavicular joint. You can use the fingers of the opposite hand to feel this. Now imagine the other end of the clavicle pinning itself to the shoulder blade at the achromion process. The clavicle feels as it is now extending in two opposite directions. The two ends have to be awake to allow the shoulder a healthy balance of both stability and mobility. Try the dog pose and variations again and compare the feelings. Flipping the dog requires an awakened clavicle to protect the shoulder during the weight bearing rotation it must do.

Now try vasisthasana, the side plank. imagesWe just played with the beginning level. If you feel inspired try variations 2 and 3. unknownunknown-1

 

 

 

 

Anantasana and variations: unknown-2more practice on the balance from lateral line. Iyengar is doing the final pose. We began with the legs parallel and stabilized any wobbling through the core.

Saturday Afternoon class: The three pressure cavities, the five Prana Vayus, and Pranayama.
The heart center organizes the field that sustains the breath through the three pressure cavities of the body: the skull, the chest from the roof of the mouth to the diaphragm, and the belly, from the diaphragm to the pelvic floor. The skull and belly have a positive, or higher pressure, relative to the outside, and the chest is lower or negative. This creates a constant flow from skull and belly to the chest, as higher pressure will move toward the lower, and helps support the flow of blood back to the heart.

The problem is that, over time, many humans let the higher belly pressure push out, rather then up and down. Same in the head. And the negative chest pressure leads to a collapse of the ribs in and down. This leads to a very common postural shape. We can begin to images-1restore the happiness of balance by learning to sustain an expanding rib cage, independent of inhalation and exhalation. Imagine the primary action of the heart center is expansion, like the opening of a hoberman sphere. In standing feel how this can help the brain empty downward and the lower body energy rise up. This unified field will then support all other physiological movements in the body.

In yogic terms, physiological movements are divided into five basic categories, known as the Prana Vayus, where vayu refers to the element air or movement. The first is called prana, (with a small p, to differentiate it from the “Prana” which refers to all of the five), is centered in the chest, and governs everything we take in. For our purposes, this is inhalation. From our unified field exploration, the chest should always feel expanding. The second is the apana, governs elimination, and is centered in the lower belly. It is a squeezing energy, and thus the belly should always feel that it is slightly squeezing inward. When prana and apana work as a single intelligence, you have the energetic support for what is now commonly called ‘core strength’.

The samana vayu governs digestion, deciding what to keep, what to eliminate, and generating energy from the oxygen of the breath and the food. Vyana is circulation, distributing the energy throughout the body, and udana is in charge of growth and development.

Breath explorations: pt.1: lying on the floor, supported as necessary to relax the spinal muscles and limbs, begin to relax the breathing more and more. Track the release down through your feet and out through your arms, as well as through head and tail. Pay special attention to the region form the diaphragm downward and try to empty it of as muchtension as possible, so the breath becomes effortless.

images-1Pt.2: Now, without losing that softness, become aware of the ribs and invite them to expand sideways as the primary action of inhalation. Not up and down, not out into the belly, but sideways, like an accordion. On the exhalation, let the belly/abdominal wall squeeze the breaht out by pushing up on the diaphragm. This will ‘stretch’ the diaphragm, which may be tight. The ribs can slowly return, but feel the expanding energy still strong. Keeping the chest open (prana) lets the diaphragm stretch even more as the squeezing apana pushes the diaphragm higher into the more spacious chest.

Pt 3: Viloma Pranayama: here we choose to divide the inhalation and exhalation into stages, rather than a continuous flow. Viloma I divides the inbreath with a normal exhalation; viloma II divides the exhalation with a normal inbreath. The dividing creates a series of pauses, like walking up or down stairs. There may be 2 or 3 pauses, or even more if you are comfortable. What happens during those pauses is what makes Viloma such a rich practice. Our intention here is to balance the expanding prana and the squeezing apana, helping them work together.

Viloma I: on each of the pauses during the inhalation, squeeze the abdomen slightly and open the chest more. As a beginner, you may actually exhale slightly during the pauses. This is just fine. Two steps forward and one back will eventually create a nice soft long inhalation.
Viloma II: on each of the pauses during the exhalation, expand the chest a bit more and squeeze the belly. As a beginner, you may actually inhale slightly during the pauses. This is just fine. Two steps forward and one back will eventually create a nice soft long exhalation.

Pt. 4 feel the effects of the practice and then lie in savasana and enjoy the deep stillness.

Sunday Morning Class: Some fun energy patterns we can play with to help discover more freedom in movement.

Three basic walking gaits: Explore contralateral, (opposite arm and leg move together); homo-lateral (same arm and leg move together); and homologous ( alternating upper and lower limbs like a frog jumping) walking patterns. Walk around and compare the feelings, sensations, and emotions evoked by each pattern.
Walk by isolating each of the three pelvic axes: Flexion/extension, lateral flexion/extension and rotation. How do they feel? Which is most familiar.

Flexion and Extension in the feet knees and hips: to help with knee injuries, learn to act from an integrating flow patterns that includes all joints. From standing, the up lifting or spring loading spiral includes supination (inversion) of the foot, flexion of the knee and hip, and external rotation of the hip. This brings you into a vrksasana like position, or, with a few additional trunk movements, the loaded spring position to begin a martial arts side kick. The down or grounding spiral is the reverse. Internal hip rotation, extension of hip and knee, and pronation (eversion) of the foot. This is the firing of the leg in a side kick.

The pathology is to over work the knees, either by initiating the action from them or jumping in with the quads and bypassing the inner flow. Begin in supta padangusthasanasupta-padangusthasana, but use the belt or strap to offer resistance as you bend the knee into the up spiral, and extend out. Do  not let the knee overwork. Let it receive the flow and move from flexion through extension and back from within.

Take this into your standing poses, especially triangle and parsvakonasana.images-181

Then explore, beginning in one leg tadasana (see photo right) and then bending and rotating IMG_7948the hips while extending the leg to half moon pose. A wall is helpful. get-attachment

 

From half moon, rotate into revolved half moon. UnknownThen go back and forth to open the hips. Then carry this awareness into the dog pose series from above. Then, from there, add hand standimages, climbing up the wall to find the action in the hips

 

Preparing the sacrum for backbending poses. Using a block for support, find a fulcrum where the tail and lumbar release in opposite directions away IMG_8002IMG_8007IMG_8003

 

 

 

 

for the sacrum to open and lengthen the center of the pelvis. Then add the free flowing anemone to the sequence.IMG_8006 Keep the chest open without contracting the spine.

From Lying to Standing: the spiral unfolds: 1. Lying on your back, feel how you cannot move well, but your hands are free to explore. Then, from lying on your back, find a way to roll over onto your belly without using arms or legs, hands or feet. Use momentum of your fluid body. Feel the urge to move. Try the homolateral or contralateral actions. Which helps more? 2. Then, find the spiral movement to sitting. Hard to move, but hands are free again. 3. Spiral to crawling pose where contralateral is the easiest. Try all three. 4. Spiral to the ‘almost up position, one knee down, one up. If you are really young, a piece of furniture can help you complete the journey to standing. 5. Otherwise, spiral to standing.

 

 

 

 

Yoga and the Inner Sea of Chi

Notes from the Boston classes: October 2016, and more …

IMG_0396As we sail, swim and float through the inner sea of chi, we discover how to use yoga poses and explorations to transform dense, confused dysfunctional energy to a more integrated, coherent subtle energy. We can then use the subtle energy to strengthen and heal the psyche/soul and refine our emerging adventures in the imaginal realm.

Sounds easy, but it is not. Most of the dysfunctional energy, expressed both personally and culturally, is not going away easily and we need to develop a strong sense of the ‘discomfort resilience’ mentioned in the previous post. To be immersed in the world of form, the feminine path of awakening, requires to hold a vast spaciousness to contain the suffering within and without that we will feel deeply. The current election insanity makes that very clear. Old patterns, deeply embedded in the cultural DNA, are also resilient.

Some very well known spiritual guidance is available to us on this journey. Patanjali describes the transformation of dense to subtle energy on the personal level in his second sutra on asana seen below. The whole of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching is devoted to the transformation on the personal and societal level.

II-47 pra-yatna shaithilyaananta sam-aa-pattibhyaam
With the release of effort and absorption in the limitless (posture is mastered).

There are two parts to Patanjali’s observation about refining asana practice. Both imply that the inherent tendency of the body, of aliveness, is toward harmony. In part one, as balance is restored through yoga practice, there is more ‘just allowing’ of what is natural to emerge from within and less imposing from without. Effort here implies an addition of energy that is not quite aligned with the forces and currents of the moment. We need to beUnknown-1 able to distinguish when our energetic actions are aligned, and when they are not. This requires listening, sensing and feeling as many layers of the body flow as possible. The fluid body is our link between structure and flow. Then action can be effortless. Taoists use the term wu wei, literally meaning no effort.

Patanjali’s second observation also comes right from Taoism. When the organism is whole and aligned in gravity, the whole cosmos is present in support. This is ananta, the serpent-couch of Vishnu, the sustainer of the cosmos, the sustainer of the pose. Our path is absorption in ananta, resting in the Tao, living fully alive.

From the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 37, Nameless Simplicity (Stephen Mitchell translation)

The Tao never does anything
Yet through it all things are done

If powerful men and women could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire
all things are at peace.

We have a long way to go…

My Definitions:
Dense energy is out of phase with the inherent coherent flow of life in the body/mind/cosmos. It manifests as unnecessary effort, strain or contraction in the tissues and sense organs and accumulates over time creating the dense energy body. It can also be felt as unhealthy emotions, dysfunctional belief systems and other forms of stored trauma wired into the system.

Subtle energy is in harmony with the deepest expressions of health and coherence, the Tao, within and without, and in the body can be felt as subtle energy currents, waves and tidal flows.

Imaginal Realms: Emergent expressions of fundamental aliveness that connect the deeper levels of embodied cellular intelligence, through the dream process, to levels of reality outside the normal constraints of space and time. A major shift in human consciousness is taking place here.

The Process:
In a yoga pose, sequence or full practice, the main point is to awaken, and deeply refine our sensitivities so we can feel when we are in balance, and when we are not. The fluid body, the inner sea of chi, is where we travel, feel, sense, notice and align ourselves to the deeper realms of cosmic intelligence. This in turn will help us enliven and balance all levels of our energy so that when we go out into the world, we can bring some level of maturity, equanimity, kindness and creativity into our relationships. Same with our journeys into the realms beyond time and space. How might we go about this?

Cosmic Orientation and the Seven Sacred Directions

images-6The seven sacred directions give us a 3 dimensional model or map, with 3 axes and a center point, to help monitor and modulate our journey through the sea of chi. As our attention flows through the 3 dimensional space, we open the polarity of the axes through the center point, so that the energy and information flows both ways. We can then let attention come back to the center, the heart, and dissolve into infinite spacious awareness where the deepest healing takes place.

1st direction. Open your heart. It always begins and ends in the heart. It is almost a cliche, but the primary practice/orientation is to awaken and open our hearts and establish a stable base there. Over and over, 24/7/365.24…. Feel your heart by touching your sternum, breathing into the chest, or any other way that allows you to make embodied connection with your physical heart. Be there. Stay there.

2nd direction. Open to Mother Earth  also known as grounding or awakening the yin energy. Feel a line of energy/love growing down from your heart, through your root chakra deep into Mother Earth. Establish your connection to the underworld. Stabilize this. Patanjali calls this sthira, the stability of Mother Earth and gravity.

3rd direction: Open to Father Sky. From your heart center, open through your crown chakra to the sky and heavenly realms. Feel the lightness and spaciousness, the sukham of the sky. Connect back through your heart down to Mother Earth and return from Mother up to the heavens. Feel the open channel connecting Father, Mother and You, in the holy trinity.

You have now opened your primary axis/chakra line, head to tail, heaven to earth, 7th to 1st chakras. We will return to this also, again and again, every moment, every pose. It is where we connect most deeply with the cosmic axis of ananta in sitting and standing.

4th and 5th directions: Right and Left. From the chakra line, expand sideways in both directions, right and left. This is the emergence of our bi-lateral symmetry, two sides of the brain all the way to our two hands and feet. For most cultures, the front body is associated with the east and the rising sun, which makes the right side the south, and the left the north. We all have dominant sides, from hands and feet to eyes and ears. Balance involves allowing right and left to communicate with each other, through the central axis/chakra line. Key postures accentuating this include anantasana, trikonasana, ardha chandrasana, and all twists.

6th and 7th directions: Front and Back, the most difficult to orient to. We use the navel and umbilicus as our entry into this line and embryological flexion/extension to explore its deeper dimensions. Backbends open the front line by releasing the endodermal/gut body, organs, from mouth to anus, from compression. Forward bends open and soothe the back body/ectodermal nervous system.

The Postures:

Sitting: Start in any comfortable seated position. Center your self in your heart, open the chakra line, right/left and front/back spaces. Track sensations in all directions with the help of the breath. Where is there ease of expanding/condensing? This is the subtle energy we want to nurture and expand. In what directions/locations are there sensations of dullness or collapse? Where are there sensations of tightness and over exertion? These are examples of dense energy we are looking to transform.

Dullness or collapse definitely is an unconscious habit coming from the past. The tension of over exertion may also be old, but it could also be coming from a belief that this is what is supposed to be happening in the pose. We are all programmed to over work and rarely recognize this. This is where the feeling of effortlessness has to be discovered. Our habit is to identify with the gross body, the muscles specifically in asana, and use them as the anchor of the posture. When sthira, the lightness and spaciousness become a key component of our attention and feeling, we can begin to work less from the dense energy of muscles and more from a subtle energy of deeper realms of the prana or chi.

This is not to imply that the muscles are not engaged. Just that the access to them comes from a more subtle and integrated aspect of the energy field. There is a Sanskrit word ‘rasa’, which roughly translates as taste or essence, and in spiritual practice refers to a ‘taste’ of enlightenment, like a drop of nectar from the gods. This rasa is felt in the body in the fluids as the source of aliveness and it is this sense that we are looking for to guide our travels through and with the body. So as you sit, taste the delight where you can find it and stay there, savoring it. When the attention goes to effort or collapse, reconnect with the rasa of the pose. In cranio-sacral practice, the cerebro-spinal fluid is referred to as liquid light and there is a strong possibility that this is the ‘rasa’. Whatever we call it, find it!!

Standing: In tadasana, notice how your legs continue the chakra line through the feet into Mother Earth. Also find your imaginal energy tail to further open and ground the 1st chakra. When your stability comes from a fluid energetic connection through the chakras into the gravity, the unnecessary tension can dissolve, somewhat. There will still be lines and more complex patterns of tension that will persist, but if you can find, feel and nurture the subtle energies that are liberated through the energetic alignment, they become your resource sustaining the pose, whatever it may be. Explore all you favorite standing poses this way.

Forward and Backbending: The subtle energies of flexion and extension come from our embryological origins. Digest this lovely animation to get a feel of the these motions. There is folding from head to tail, and also a folding or wrapping around from back to front along the sides of the body. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMnpxP6EeIY

We all tend to collapse the endodermal organs/front body in forward flexion, and overwork the large erector spinae muscles in back bending. Somewhere inside of you is the embryological field that allows these movements to be more and more effortless. Of course, even the embryological fields have distortions and other issues, but, none-the -less, the power of the subtlety is still very present. In time we can begin to heal the embryological field patterns as well.

Fun with a Taoist approach to the Breath: Looping Viloma Pranayama. In this variation, we balance yin and yang energies through in breath and out breath, and the action of the ribs and diaphragm, transforming dense energy into subtle energy. Remember, inhalation, the action of the prana vayu is an expansion centered in the chest imgresand spreading all the way through the diaphragm into the skull and pelvis. Exhalation, the action of the apana vayu is a squeezing or condensing centered in the lower abdomen and acting from the pelvic floor to the the volume just below the diaphragm, and subtly including the intercostal muscles. Each is actually supported by and contains a seed of the other.

Over time, many people lose the support and balance of the vayus, as the chest collapses and the belly distends. The diaphram, ribs and spine all become tight and constricted. In this variation of viloma, we encourage the prana vayu/chest to sustain a sense of expansion and the apana vayu/abdominal wall to sustain a sense of condensing, during both inhalation and exhalation. Traditional viloma divides the inhalation and exhalation into smaller steps with pauses in between, like walking up and down stairs. The pauses are mini kumbhakas or retentions and prepare you for longer retentions as your practice matures. Three pauses is a commonly taught style, but you may have more or less as you feel your way through the practice. We will use the pauses a little differently.

Viloma I: inhalation with pauses. The tendency here will be to use dense energy to drive the in breath. We want to change this. Take a few minutes to relax and settle in to a comfortable breathing pattern, lying or sitting as you prefer. When ready to begin viloma, pause after the first third and notice. Am I tensing up anywhere, especially along the spine, bit also in the neck and shoulders, sense organs, pelvis or legs. If so, use the pause the relax the dense energy in as many of these places as possible. Soften the spine without collapsing the chest as the key to this. Increase the abdominal tone to help sustain the chest lifting.

You may actually feel that you are exhaling slightly. No problem. In the beginning, releasing tension will also release some air. As you become familiar with the practice, the release during the pause will just be of the dense energy. Repeat for two or more pauses, and then exhale evenly. If the exhaltion is strained, do a shorter cycle next time. It may feel like: inhale 1,2, 3, exhale 1, inhale 1,2,3, exhale 1, inhale 1,2,3, even exhalation, rest. Over time the expansion of the chest becomes more supported by abdominal tone. As the abdominal wall becomes stronger and more integrated, the diaphragm and chest open and soften more and more, allowing the in breath to be long and effortless.

Viloma II: Exhalation with pauses: Like Viloma I, only now the exhalation has pauses. The tendency here is to collapse the chest too quickly, cutting off the ability to complete a full exhalation. Use the pauses to recharge the prana vayu/chest, which may feel like a slight inhalation. Make sure the driving energy of exhalation is a squeezing of the abdominal cavity /apana vayu. Repeat for 2 or more cycles. It may feel like inhale, exhale 1,2, 3 inhale 1, 2, exhale 1,2,3, inhale 1,2, exhale 1,2 3 rest. Or whatever works for you.

Viloma II is my favorite because it totally changed my sense of the breath. As a beginner in pranayama, I could inhale faily easily, but my exhalations never felt complete. When I slowed the exhalation down in Viloma, and added a slight in breath on the pause, I finally felt that I could get the diaphragm and ribs to move together in harmony. The exhaltion/apana vayu began to support the inhalation/prana vayu and vice versa. From a Taoist perspective, the the seed of the yin supports the full expression of the yang and the seed of the yang supports the full expression of the yin.

A helpful exploration in structure: We had some fun awakening the clavicles, especially clavicleimportant in weight bearing poses like dog pose and hand balance, but also useful in all poses. First, achor the clavicle to the sternum at the sterno-clavicular joint. This is often unstable and unconscious. Use the fingers of one hand to hold this while you move the arm and sholder girdle around. Second, widen the clavicle out sidewasy toward the scapula without losing the anchored S-C joint. Feel the clavicle lengthening energetically in both directions. What ever else you do with the shouldrs and arms, do not lose this feeling. Start with climbing the wall and then go to dog pose and variations, hand stand, and any other poses you wish to explore.

Imaginal Practice:

1.Continue to develop your imaginal ‘sacred space’ / healing spa / refuge. Use all of your senses: what sounds do you hear? What are the scents and aromas wafting about? How does your body feel in the different areas of your healing garden?

images2.Develop a relationship with a gatekeeper. This person/entity will protect you, your space, your friends, but will also challenge you to grow. Ganesha is a very popular gatekeeper in India and he can be very helpful to us yogis. As a master of wisdom and knowledge, and a remover of obstacles, Ganesha will be a great gatekeeper for you. Chant his root mantra to help alert him to your presence.

Om gam ganapataye namaha