Using the Microcosmic Orbit in Asana: Pt 1

20060131gntrailsfilmlight-1Boston Workshop Notes: October, 2017
Part 1

When the Tao’ists of old contemplated the night sky, they noticed the way the stars rotated around the north star, especially the constellations Ursa Major (the big dipper) and Casseopeia ( the mythological Greek queen on her throne. They noticed that this macro-cosmic orbit and its repeating cycles were replicated on the earth as lunar and seasonal cycles of weather and the movements of water, wind, soil (annual flooding, bringing fresh topsoil to the deltas) and heat. When they turned their attention inward, they discovered the human body also has cycles and rhythms (as above, so below). The mapping of what is now called the microcosmic or small orbit awakened links to both physiological and emotional health as well as spiritual awakening.

We can use this the mapping of the human energy field in our explorations of embodied wisdom through yoga/asana practice. Yoga begins by refining the capacity to pay attention. In his commentary to Patanjali’s very first sutra, I.1, Vyasa states “yoga is samadhi”; that “samadhi is a natural attribute of the mind-field or chitta”; but not when the mind-field is disturbed, dull or distracted. Only when the mind field is “ekagra” ( one pointed,) or dissolved in stillness is it said to be yoga. The mental alchemy is the transforming the disturbed, dull and distracted mind states to ones of mindful attention, focused attention and dissolved in stillness.

6 Possible Qualities of Attention:

Disturbed, Dull, Distracted, Openly Attentive (Mindfulness), Focused Attentive (Dharana/Dhyana/Samadhi),  Dissolved in Stillness/Emptiness/Awareness/Drashtuh Svarupe

Open Attention in Action:

Every moment we are engaged in the world around us is an invitation to mindful attention. Driving a car, having a one on one conversation, being in a group environment such as work, shopping or school; these are opportunities to discover the ‘relational fields’ of overlapping energy where our wounded-ness and creativity can both awaken from a place of love, compassion and wisdom. Here, we meet the world as it is, as it arises moment to moment and the ‘inner and outer’, or,  the subjective and objective realms of reality can find integration and the realization of wholeness. Staying present does not mean ignoring past and future, but recognizing they are also arising now. Then we don’t ‘get lost’ or forget, through disturbance, dullness or distraction.

Directions of Focused Attention:

Yoga begins when the mind-field is not just brought to the present moment, but can stay there effortlessly. (Otherwise it is distracted.) The complement to mindful attention, a more global state of awareness, is focal attention or dharana/samadhi. Here attention tunes out everything but a very specific information stream or mental process. It may be an algebra problem in your homework. Or a thesis for a paper. Mediation begins with bringing attention to the breathing process. Us somanauts use the ongoing stream of sensations and perceptions coming form the body to both refine attention and also deepen the capacity to feel and know what is happening. What are some of the ‘seeds’ of attention that can help you cultivate one-point awareness?

Outer objective reality: What is happening around you, locally, globally, cosmically? The present moment offers many possibilities, but also many distractions. You need discipline and passion to keep your focus.

Inner subjective reality: Our thought patterns, emotions, prana/qi flow, dreams, and imagination are all possible entry points to cultivate a refined focal attention.

Subjectivity itself: A little more advanced, but Awareness, or any and all words that point to this, such as: Emptiness, Stillness, Silence, Buddha Nature, etc. Attention dissolves into Pure Awareness with no object of attention.

Four Dimensions of Spatial Consciousness

When we use our embodied energy field, as in asana, to harness attention, we have some delightful geometric possibilities to explore. As asana explores our spatial dimension very deeply, we can use geometry 101 as guide. Geometry describes 4 basic spatial dimensions, and we can call ‘Time’ as the 5th

Zero Dimensional: a point, bhindu, ekagra citta, acupuncture ‘cavity’. A point has no length, no height, and no depth. Thus 0 dimensions. It is a highly concentrated state.

One Dimensional: link two points to get a line. It can be straight or curved (arc), bound or unbound.  It has length, but no width or depth.

Two Dimensional: close the lines to form surface area: geometrical, ie circle, triangle etc, or irregular. Length and width, no depth.

Three Dimensional: volume: spheres, cubes, pyramids, and many other options: length, width and depth.

Four Dimensional: all of the above, moving and changing in time

Focused Attention on Prana/Qi flow with Microcosmic Orbit (General Principles):

Qi gong ImageBringing attention and staying on key points, using imagination to assist with sensation/perception

Linking the points in small arcs/lines through root and/or crown chakras

Bringing attention to the 2 dimensional field dynamics of circles, especially the microcosmic orbit.

Bringing attention and staying on flow through the volume, using the center axis.

Monitoring subjective experience

Resting in Pure Subjectivity (drashtuh svarupe)

Specific Practices While Sitting:

Breathing into the lower dan tien, the lower diamond in the diagram above. Feel the volume of the pelvis up to just below the navel and fill with breath. Feel the pelvic bones moving with the breath like the ribs do. Abdominal breathing (yin/yin, soothing, quieting the illus3mind): fill on in breath, empty on out breath. Reverse abdominal breathing (yang/yin, energizing, activating): empty on in breath, fill on out breath. Explore how  different these two are and learn how to apply them in your daily life. Begin and end all Microcosmic orbit practices in the lower da tien. It awakens the cooling yin water element, grounds the energy into Mother Earth, quiets the mind and builds a strong energetic foundation for your life activities.

Refining the points and arcs of the lower dan tien: While sitting, bring your attention to the CV-1 point in the very center of the perineum. Inhale and exhale through this point, feeling it becoming elastic. Stabilize your attention here. Very tiny micro-movements of the sitting bones back and forth can help you find the center. This is the meeting point of all the yin vessels and a key place in the body to awaken.

Then, find CV-6, on the front body, below your navel. Visualize it out in space as well, like on the hula hoop seen below. This will help activate the whole energy field and help the body stay relaxed. Now, inhale into CV-1 and then imagine the exhalation traveling in an arc up to CV-6. Inhale into CV-6, imagine the exhalation traveling in an arc back to CV-1. Or Inhale from CV-1 to CV-6, exhale return. Or inhale from CV-6 to CV-1, exhale return. Then stay with CV-6, inhaling and exhaling for several breaths until you can find and stay with the point. In actuality, you may find yourself in CV-5 or CV-4, which may be easier to feel, for you, but feeling the arc and the end points is all that counts.

Repeat the above practice, this time going from CV-1 to GV-4 at the back body, exploring one point at a time, traveling back and forth, etc.

Repeat the practice connecting the four points of the thrusting vessel (Chong Mai) as shown above, CV-1, CV-12, CV-22 and GV-20, tracking up and down. This is the chakra line, or mid-line of the body and traces its origin, along with the Conception vessel (Ren Mai) and Governing Vessel (Du Mai),  to the earliest moments in embryological development. Pause at each point for several breaths so it becomes familiar and easier to find. Remember, an acupuncture ‘point’ is actually a ‘cavity or cave’, meaning the action takes place in empty space, both outside and inside the body.

Four Point Breathing: Connect CV-1, CV-6, CV-12 and GV-4 in a square or diamond shape. In Tao’ism, 4 is implies a whole cycle, such as the annual (four seasons,) or daily (midnight, sunrise, noon and sunset.) Or connect CV-1, CV-17, GV-20 and GV-9, (root, crown and heart). Be creative.

Specific Practices While Standing:

images-3Activating K-1:

Once we are on our feet, we want to integrate the limbs with our Micr-cosmic orbit. (Ideally the limbs are engaged while sitting, but it is easier to find them standing.) In tasasana, find the K-1 points on the soles of the feet and engage them. Kidneys are the most yin of the yin organs, governing the water element, so feel them linking to CV-1, the seat of the yin and feel the support coming into the pelvic floor, and the whole micro-cosmic orbit.

Finding Planes (two dimensions): Using the support of the legs, feel the micro-cosmic orbit as a surface bisecting the body into right and left. Fill in the space inside the circle with attention/energy/light/qi, and let your body feel a part of the disc. Soften the tissue and let it respond. In this plane, try bending forward slowly and returning, tadasana-uttanasana-tadasana and feel how the body responds. Does it contract along the yang/back or collapse along the yin/front? Beginners collapse the front. Intermediate students contract the back to prevent the collapse of the front. Use the field of energy created by the plane/energy disc to keep both the front and back body open and vibrant (sattvic). Minimize, as best possible, or course, the collapsing/tamasic and contracting/rajasic habits.

Using the information coming from any of your favorite poses, create your own personal map of the micro-cosmic orbit. Mine has some major gaps. If I use a clock as an image,Clock Face--Hours with GV-20 at 12 and CV-1 at 6, 1 – 5 at the back, 7 – 11 at the front, I have pie shaped blockages between 2 and 3 and 10 and 11 in my energy field, and in the flesh. I try to open them up, and back they go into dullness and confusion. It’s a process.

Correct action will bring up places where your energy field is blocked. the challenge is to meet these with patience, wisdom, lightness, and with what Pema Chodron calls ‘discomfort resilience’. Awakening is not about eliminating problems, but seeing them as opportunities to deepen your compassion and wisdom.

Another way to work with clock is to take points opposite each other and work with them simultaneously. 12 and 6 give us crown and root chakras, or GV-20 and CV-1. Feel the yang energy pushing them away from each other while the yin energy is pulling them together. If I rotate the whole circle 2 hours, I can create a similar polarity with CV-17 and GV-4, or GV-9 and CV-6. This links front and back, upper and lower, yin and yang. You can also be the minute hand moving in a circle through the points. Explore both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Make up your own ways to play with this.

fish bodyLateral Plane: If we rotate the orbit (clock)  90 degrees we find ourselves in the lateral plane. Crown and root chakras, GV-20 and CV-1 still involved, but we are no longer on the micro-cosmic orbit.  Here we can activate points on the Gall Bladder Meridian on the side body with our fish body poses like trikonasana and ardha chandrasana.

According to Daniel Keown in ‘the Spark in the Machine, theGBmeridian gall bladder is the organ that governs the lymphatic system, a key aspect of the fluid body.

In part two of this post, we will see how the gall bladder points can also be used to give us our sense of volume when we add the girdle or belt vessel (dai mai) and offer some insight on how these ‘vessels’ relate to the organs and meridians. In part three, we will look at how all of this fits into the Tao’st view of spiritual evolution.


The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be namedimgres
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

(Chapter 1, Tao te Ching, by Lao T’zu, translated by Stephen Mitchell)


Yin and Yang: Double Action in Action

illus3On the left we have our basic micro-cosmic orbit energetic pattern; two half circles joining to create a whole, with a diameter extending from root to crown, yin to yang. (Almost equal halves: the back circle, the yang governing vessel is slightly longer than the front, yin conception vessel. The meeting points are at the mouth and anus, the two ends of the gut body. How interesting! It is said that at birth, when a baby first opens her mouth to breathe, the circuit opens. The general practice is then to keep the energy field connected through all of the challenges of life.)

Qi gong Image

There are key points along the circle that we can focus on and bring energy to in order to active the whole, and we can link the points by moving our attention from point to point, using the breath. We can link the yin points to feel and find the conception vessel, or the yang points to find the governing vessel (GV-1 is just in front of the coccyx, on the other side of the anus from CV-1. We can also explore them as yin yang pairs such as GV-4 and CV-6, CV-17 and GV-9, or CV-1 and GV-20. The governing vessel nurtures the six yang channels and organs, while the conception vessel does the same for the yin channels and organs. This this circuit integrates the whole.

When we can hold yin and yang simultaneously, we have a ‘double action’. There may be waxing/waning as during movement, or staying stable, but yin and yang are always (when healthy) both dynamically engaged. (There are many more points of the governing and conception vessels that are used in acupuncture treatments. The ones on the diagram have been chosen by my teacher’s teacher, Jeffrey Yuen, to be of special importance in integrating the micro-cosmic orbit, which supports all the channels, and thus all the points. This is link offers an excellent introduction to Jeffrey’s cosmic level insight in teaching Chinese Medicine. )

getPart-3The acupuncture points (actually they are cavities, but it is much easier to bring your attention to a point rather than a cavity) are accessed through the skin, but their effects extend into the body, as well as into the energetic field surrounding the body. This allows us to visualize the larger circle as demonstrated by the hula hoop. Points CV-12 and CV-17 can be found at the center line of the body, along the thrusting vessel, even though they are listed as being on the front. Ultimately and ideally, all points are energized and energy flows freely in both directions around the circle, and up and down the center line. Reality tells us that energy gets sluggish in some places and overactive in others, so helping remediate this is a practice.

pasch2The micro-cosmic orbit is a sagittal plane circle and can be very helpful in guiding our movements in and out of forward and backbends. This is the foundational action in all of B.K.S. Iyengars poses.

In paschimottanasana, he first activates the yang-back body-governing vessel as the yin/front body/conception vessel yields and opens, front and back acting as a single whole. The front tends to collapse in going forward, so this awakening alleviates that. Then he completes the pose by transitioning, smoothly reversing yin and yang, front and back, releasing the yang back body governing vessel to create a deep yin forward bend. The movements in and out are a dynamic double action. When staying in the pose, the double action remains as energy flow as the physical body remains still.

Check out ‘Light on Yoga’ and you will see all his forward bends are shown this way. For a bonus, check out this youtube clip featuring Iyengar at the ripe old age of 59, when he was in his prime. This is what fully integrated embodiment looks like! Pay special attention to the expanding and condensing of his body, in the transitions, but also when he completes the poses.)

lf I go from tadasana to uttanasana and back again, I can create a similar field where I imagine the circle turning like a wheel, half way in one direction to get down, and the reverse to come back. Down the front and up the back to go down, down the back and up the front to come up. This is movement. I can also, in tadasana or any pose for that matter, without moving physically, move the energy in the same pattern, as if the hula hoop moves, but I don’t. I can also do both at the same time, if I just move the energy. The circles pass through each other and I can complete both circles over and over, just using imagination, attention and breath or qi. This is a double action. Two apparently opposite actions, working together to create a dynamic field of energized presence. I can do a similar double action transitioning in or out, or remaining in any pose. This sustains the pose in a dynamic field to minimize holding/contracting and collapse.

pisayogaWe also have a lateral plane circle that helps give us a three dimensional sense of embodiment. The common points are root and crown and the diameter, but now we have fish bodypoints on the sides of the body (our lateral line) to explore. This is the trikonasana circle or fish body. Balancing all points on the circle in both directions is the goal. I tend to collapse the underside, so I pay extra attention here, from inner back heel rooting into the ground all the way through the inner ear and beyond to keep the lateral circle open. Right and left are another yin/yang pair that communicate back and forth moment to moment, in transition, or in satying in the pose. Once I’ve landed in trikonasana and remain there for a while, I can explore the microcosmic orbit to stabilize front and back as well. The same principle operates in all of the lateral poses such as parsvakonasana, ardha chandrasana and anantasana and more.

As a meditation, exploration and practice, I can zero in on any region of the body and F000162f16-10-9781437727753refine the double action. We will use the pelvic floor as it holds the seat of the yin, the root chakra, and is the foundation for all postures. The two circles are shown as they cross at the pelvic floor. Imagine this is a bowl, so the lines are curved and the center point drops down (into the page from the reader’s perspective) creating a coccyx instead of the sacrum as one of the 4 cardinal points. Now we also have four quadrants or volumes to explore. (This is similar to the image shown in Bonnie’s video clip in the previous post.)

On the micro-cosmic orbit, in a forward bending action, or coming out of a backbend, (untucking) , the energy runs from pubic bone to coccyx, but if I a not careful, the energy may get stuck and I will just compress the front two quadrants. In a backbending action, or coming out of a forward bend, the energy runs from the pubis to the coccyx (tucking). My weakness will be to just close the back two quadrants and block the energy there.

Before I move into a pose, I can energetically move the coccyx and pubis together and apart, making the energy line connecting them longer or stronger. Or I can do both at the Theraband-Black-300x200same time, as a double action. Try these now as you are hot-coil-spring-250x250sitting reading this. To help get a feel for how the double action energy manifests in the tissue, Imagine either compressing a spring as it pushes back, or stretching thera-band as it offers resistance.  Feel the dynamic charge of energy. You can modulate the intensity. Start strong and then back off until the the energy is very clear but subtle. Locate the intersection point and make sure it is centered. If you feel adventurous, add CV-6 and GV-4 to create longer arcs of energy. Imagine the whole circles as you focus on the lower bowl. Feel CV-6 and GV-4 parallel to the ground and CV-1 at absolute center. As this becomes stable, your ability to sit lightly will increase tremendously.


Hip Remediation:

I have been working with some issues in my right hip for several years now thanks to some Bony-Surfaces-of-the-Hip-Joint-Head-of-Femur-and-Acetabulum.unfortunate encounters with ice dams and window wells my last winter in Arlington. What has been most helpful is to bring this double action I feel on the microcosmic orbit first into my spine/pelvis and then into the hip joints. In what ever hip-opening pose I am working with, I first monitor the 4 orquadrants of the pelvic floor, noticing which quadrants are compressed or overstretched. Because the legs attach to the pelvis, they affect the pelvic floor and vice versa. My right rear quadrant of the pelvic floor is the major culprit in my hip challenge, and I can connect that to the other three to help provide support in releasing.

Now imagine each hip joint has four quadrants in the same plane as the pelvic floor and monitor those. When seated, the pelvis is now 90 degrees to the femurs and I now have a second floor to add to the four rooms of the first (pelvic) floor. Instead of four quadrants, I now have eight volumes or spaces. These are composed of the yin and yang pairs of each combination of the three directions: lower front right, lower front left, upper front right, etc.   Ramanand calls the upper front rooms the tops of the groins, from the acetabula up the illium, and the bottom front rooms, the bottom of the groins, from the acetabula to the sitting bones.There are four more spaces at the back of the hips as well.

To bend forward moving from the pelvis, whether sitting or standing, what I want to do is open the bottom of the groins, from the acetabulum to the sitting bones, and the bottom back hips as well, and release into this space.In coming out of a forward bend, which is the same actions as going into a backbend, I want to open the upper stories, front and back. In backbends, lengthening the tail is very useful in keeping the upper back space from contracting.

If I truly want to ‘open’ the hip joint and engage all eight spaces, I can simultaneously, energetically roll the head of the femur in the opposite direction of the acetabulum. In a forward bend, the acetabulum untucks (pubis to coccyx, down the front and up the back) while the femur ‘tucks’ coccyx to pubis, down the back and up the front. This is bringing the microcosmic orbit into the action of bones and flesh. This is creating a double action with the femur head and the acetabulum, paralleling the double action of the microcosmic orbit through the pelvic floor.

In supta padangusthasana like poses, the femur head of the lifting leg moves around the socket, but the IMG_8003energetic action is the same as uttanasana. The femur head feels as if it were ‘tucking’ while the socket continues to untuck. When the motion is complete, I sustain the double action energetically to melt the joint. Start with the micro-cosmic orbit to engage the whole. Focus in on the four quadrants of the pelvic floor, and then add the upper and lower spaces. Then focus even more closely on the actions of the femurs and acetabula. When you find a sense of balance, rest in the infinite space that feeds the yin and yang. This is dynamic somatic meditation in action.


Indra’s Web and You

archives_ngc6946Indra’s Web (or Net) is a metaphorical description of the structure of the Cosmos as an interconnected web of pearls extending in all directions and dimensions, where each of the pearls is both unique, and a microcosmic expression of the whole web. The pearls, or nodal points, receive and transmit energy and information throughout the whole net, adding and offering their own unique experience, and receiving that from others. Thus the whole process is alive, growing, learning and recreating itself moment to moment.

The ‘Fireworks Galaxy” (ngc 6946) above offers an entry point for the imagination to play with this fabulous vision. This galaxy, a nodal point in the web, is one of an estimated (as of January 2017) two trillion galaxies in the ‘known universe’. Our own ‘average size’ Milky Way Galaxy is estimated to have 200 to 250 billion stars, which gives us a rough approximation of  5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.  Don’t try to wrap your mind around that number. Rather let your mind go, so it’s free to rest in infinity.

Now, imagine that each of these stars is also a nodal point in Indra’s web, a web within a web, radiant, vibrating, linked through the web to all the other stars, sending light energy throughout the cosmos. Our sun is one of those nodal points, providing the crucial life energy for Mother Earth, but as a node in the web, it is also transmitting information from all the other stars as well.

news588-i1.0Lets add the cells in your body, all 35,000,000,000 of them, another web within a web. By the way, 80% of these are red blood cells, by number; by weight, because they are quite small as cells go, only 4%. More nodes in the web, all vibrating, communicating with the environment and the web as a whole. If you add in the 35,000,000,000 bacterial cells inhibiting your body, you have 70 trillion vibrating nodes of cellular consciousness in your somasphere. The bacterial cells are quite small, maybe 200 grams worth, or .3% of your mass, but crucial to your happiness.

Now, imagine the atoms in your body also as nodal points in Indra’s Web. There are 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of them roughly, arranged in differingDNA_molecule_closeup patterns like the DNA molecule, each vibrating with its own unique note, creating chords with other atoms to make molecules. And also vibrating, through and throughout the web, with the fundamental pulse of the Cosmos.

So we have the web within, the web without and now we add ourselves. Each of us, as a soul being, is also a node in the great web, connected to the whole, and transmitting energy in all directions.  This is one of the great realizations of a yoga practice, as Patanjali states in the Samadhi Pada:

I-40 paramaanu-parama-mahattvaanto’sya vashikaarah
Mastery (of one who has refined the mind) extends from the smallest particle to the totality of creation

Patanjali the physicist describes how the mind of one who is fully stabilized extends from the sub-atomic realms of the quantum field all the way to the galaxies and beyond. The universe is the mahat, the great mind that is the mind of the yogi.

Feel this. Imagine this. Feel this. Let the primary frequency of your energy be love and compassion, as best you can as a human being. Find new connections, new relationships, new sources of learning and growth. Be a mentor, a mentee. From the depths of your soul ask what you need for healing and go for it. Ask where you creativity wants to take you and go for it. Be patient. Find a support system and take advantage of it. Cultivate your imagination more and more.

As nodal points in Indra’s Net, we have an amazing opportunity to learn and grow by using and refining our imagination and our external and internal sensitivity. External sensitivity involves opening to the relational fields of both human interaction and Mother PageImage-512192-5065180-khbhk30of59Nature. By stepping outside, or beyond the confines of our skin, we open to all the ways in which the universe is informing us of wholeness, love, coherence, cooperation, and the infinite challenges involved in working as a community of cosmic nodes. My internal sensitivity takes me inside my skin, into the world of Qi and blood, of breath, emotions and thought, of imagination, dreams and deep stillness, where 4 billion years of evolutionary learning have primed me to awaken to the depths of the present moment, through my cells, senses and imagination.

There is no pose that takes you there, but every pose has the possibility. There is no special place that helps awaken you, but every place is a node in the web, if we can just learn to see. This is not something that will come in the future, but is always available now, in this moment, the only moment. You are the web, you are embedded in the web, and the web is embedded in you.