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Category Archive for ‘Energy Loops’ rss

The Gateway to Happiness: Part 1 of a 4-Part Series

The snowstorm was on its way to NYC, and there was an eerie quiet to the city. Students kept asking, worried, whether classes would be canceled the next day, and when I went out to my favorite pizza place, my friend insisted that we meet early to beat the storm and we found an empty restaurant, instead of the usual long wait. I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Midwest, or maybe it’s because I was out of town when the blizzard hit a couple of weeks ago, but I kept thinking: it’s just snow.

So I when I got home I looked online and discovered saw that the city’s response to the last blizzard was less than adequate, and indeed it had caused a major disruption. Everyone was worried it would happen again and, as a result, they were changing their plans and hunkering down.

It made me think about a beautiful teaching I received recently from Douglas Brooks, on the four true enemies of happiness (they are really four pairs), the things that get in our way of being content in our lives and accessing our heart’s desires. The first one is what is called bhaya, or fear. Yes, fear was taking over New York City. It was the kind of fear that is based on past experience (the “I’ve been burned before” scenario) rather than on present circumstance, and keeps us from going for what we want. Fear is an enemy of happiness when it becomes paralyzing, when it keeps us from acting. If you live from the place of fear, you can come up with a reason not to do anything; just getting out of bed is dangerous (of course, not getting out of bed can also be dangerous, but we won’t go there).

Interestingly, going to the opposite of fear doesn’t lead us to greater happiness, either. Abhaya, fearlessness, can also be an obstacle to happiness, if we’re fearless in a way that’s reckless or foolhardy. NYC’s response to the December blizzard probably falls into this category; perhaps they were thinking, it’s just snow, and so failed to take the necessary measures to ensure safety and the smooth functioning of the city. Abhaya is problematic when it makes us rash, and we act without concern for the consequences.

So we’re not trying to get to the opposite extreme. Instead, the gateway to happiness is where we can hold both fear and fearlessness in the same place, as a co-mingled, simultaneous experience. We need them both. Bhaya gives us just enough respect for the circumstances to have a little caution and pay attention. Abhaya invites us to go for it anyway.

I woke up the morning after the snow storm to a sparkly, radiant Fort Greene. This time, the city had planned better: the streets were plowed, the sidewalks were being uncovered, and the subways were functioning normally. Out in the park, the fearless (kids and adults alike) were sledding and crashing and doing it all over again. The city had gotten it right.

PRINCIPLES:

This class and practice is all about holding the simultaneity of opposites, of caution and fearlessness, in the place that opens the gateway to our greatest joy. Douglas always says that when you can hold two things in the same place, you are on the path to the divine.

Inner Spiral (and Thigh Loop): They key aspect of this principle that we’ll focus on here is getting the thigh bones to set back into the hip sockets. This involves a kind of stepping back, a kind of cautionary approach that creates just the right amount of respect and protection to enable you to move forward safely. However, if we take the thigh bones back without adding the next principle, we will feel blocked, as if living from the place of fear.

Outer Spiral: This

Synergies

I just came back from 10 days in Vancouver Island, surrounded by primary rain forests shrouded in mists, and getting to know the waters and the whales. While there (in Tofino), I went on several tours with the guides from Remote Passages, all of whom shared a deep commitment to the health of this unique ecosystem and a deep understanding of the synergistic relationships between all the different parts of the ecosystem. One guide explained how the cedars, some of which are upwards of 2000 years old, are able to grow so tall and live so long because of nitrates that they receive from salmon who swim upriver in this season and die on the banks, in the jaws of predators, so that their nitrates filter back into the earth and the trees’ roots.

After a couple of days, I was more attuned to these connections and to how my own presence touched and intersected everything around me. By the end of the trip, even though I had been traveling alone, I felt embraced and held in a web of relationships, and this translated into a sense of groundedness and ease.

Spending time close to nature will do this: if you just pay the slightest attention, you can’t help but be reminded that you are always in relationship with everything around you, and you are always connected to something much greater than your self. True isolation, as the Tantrikas claim, is not really possible, even though we certainly can feel isolated or alienated at times. When that happens, we just need to pause and reaffirm our greater connections.

This got me thinking about the Nerd, and the way in which we practice in the Nerd. The whole point of this class (and blog) is to draw a narrow focus to one particular aspect of our practice – a principle, a muscle, a class of poses – and look at it from every angle possible, bringing it more into the light and infusing it with power. I obviously believe there is extraordinary value to this kind of focus; I love practicing this way. But if the action or muscle we’re focusing on ends up isolated from the greater context of the practice, our practice ends up hardening, becoming rigid.

So we always have to see how the principles we’re focusing on relate to the greater context. Anusara’s principles are designed as a systematic, sequential and progressive unfolding of actions, and all of them work in relationship to all of the rest of them. If we try to do them in isolation, they are not really effective; it would be like removing the salmon from the cedars’ life cycle – the whole process breaks down.

With that in mind, over the next several weeks, I’m going to work through the energy loops of the body, starting with the foundation so that we can build the entire cycle from the ground up and feel the relationships among all of the principles.

It starts, always, with Opening to Grace, opening to the greater context of our lives, and feeling held in that web of relationships that is always embracing us.

PRINCIPLES:

  • Open to Grace: Our first principle invites us to set the foundation of the pose mindfully, with respect for the way we touch the earth because this represents how we place ourselves in the context of something bigger than ourselves. On many signs in nature preserves, there’s the instruction to “leave only footprints”; may we tread with respect and love on the earth. When you set the foundation of the feet, line them up parallel from the middle of the ankles through the second toe mounds. All four corners of the feet (big toe mound, inner heel, baby toe mound and outer heel) evenly release into the earth. This passive release with gravity that’s part of Opening to Grace is the feeling of letting yourself be held by something greater than yourself. This is the context for everything else.
  • Muscle Energy connects all of the parts of our being, so that we feel ourselves as an ecosystem, where every piece has a role to play. It draws the parts of our being into relationship by hugging concentrically from skin to muscle to bone, hugging the limbs to the midline, and engaging from the peripheral parts to the core.
  • Ankle Loop: The energy loops are refinements of the larger context of the dynamic pulse of Muscle and Organic Energy. Ankle Loop is the foundational loop (when the feet are on the floor, at least), providing a kind of root system for the body. If the Ankle Loop isn’t activated, none of the other energy loops will be effective, because they all must work in relationship to each other. This loop begins at the base of the shin bones, just above the ankle bones, and draws back and down, so the back of the heel roots into the earth. Then it travels up through the center of the arches and reconnects at the base of the shin.
  • Shin Loop: This builds on the foundation of the Ankle Loop. Shin loop also starts at the base of the shin, where it has a juncture with the Ankle Loop, and then flows back and up the back of the shin, so the calf muscles hug to the bones and push the top of the shin forward. The front side of Shin Loop flows down and reconnects to the juncture point with Ankle Loop. To activate the Shin Loop, you have to activate the calf muscles, and the easiest access point for this is to press into the mound of the big toe. When we do this, however, the heel will tend to get light (as if you were coming up on high heels) unless we remember the connection to the Ankle Loop (which roots the back of the heel down). We must hold the two in relationship. If the heels get light, it will tend to make the hip flexors bind, as the femur pulls up into the hip socket; also, the healing properties of these loops for hamstring attachment tears is lost if the Ankle Loop is lost.
  • Organic Energy: This last principle takes the sense of wholeness of our own being and connects it back to the world around us, so we don’t end up feeling isolated in our practice. It extends from the focal point (mostly the pelvis here) down through the bones (of the legs) into the earth, and then extends from the focal point back up through the rest of the body (torso, head and arms).

PRACTICE:

  • Tadasana: Line up the feet parallel, and then just feel the weight of the feet into the earth. Notice if one leg feels more plugged in and connected. The leg that’s uprooted will be the side where the hip is tighter. Now bend both knees and release evenly with gravity through all four corners of both feet. Lift your toes and engage the legs fully, hugging all of the muscles evenly to the bones, holding to the midline, and engaging from the feet up into the pelvis. As you draw up from the feet, stretch the legs straight, keeping the muscles toned and the weight balanced on your feet. Keeping the legs strong, now anchor your pelvis down with your hands, so you re-connect to the earth through the legs and feet, and then extend up through your lower belly and spine.
  • Uttanasana: Notice how your weight falls into the feet when you bow forward. Look at the relationship between the top of your thigh (greater trochanter), the middle of the knee, and the ankle bones: when the line connecting these three points is vertical, that’s a straight and aligned leg. Oftentimes, you’ll find that the knee and the hip (or just the knee) sit back behind the ankle. To build healthier relationships in the legs, we start at the beginning. Bend the knees to back out of the pose (Open to Grace) and get all four corners of the feet to evenly root down. Now engage the legs fully (Muscle Energy), lifting and spreading your toes. Keeping the knees bent and the legs active, drag the base of the shin back to initiate the lower loops. As the base of the shins go back, anchor your heels down and simultaneously press through the mounds of the big toes to activate the calf muscles. Then, with both the Ankle and Shin Loop established, straighten your legs fully, from the roots of the thigh bones, and extend Organic Energy from the pelvis down into the earth and long through your spine.
  • Adho mukha svanasana: In downward-facing dog, getting the heels to the floor is often seen as an “ideal” form, but the extension through the heels must be in balanced relationship to the rest of the body. If the heels stretch down without a synergistic tone in the calf muscles, you’ll be pushing the legs into hyperextension, which creates a short-circuit in the ecosystem of your body (the hip flexors respond by tightening, the hamstring attachments can get overstretched, and the lower back will tend to round). Try dog pose just like we did in uttanasana, starting with the knees bent and legs strong; drag the base of the shins back without straightening your knees and then root down through the heels as you press strongly into the mounds of the big toes. The heels should go down only as much as the calf muscles draw up.
  • Adho mukha svanasana variation: Try this one leg at a time, using your other foot hooked around the Achilles tendon (between the big toe and second toe) to help engage the Ankle Loop while you draw the calf muscles up strongly. Then stretch the leg fully straight.
  • Parsvottanasana: Often I’ve practiced this pose for Ankle and Shin Loops with a blanket under the ball of the foot, but in Tofino I didn’t have the right prop for this, so I just did it with the foot flat on the floor. I was amazed to find that I actually got more power through the loops, probably because of the full connection to the floor. Get the foundation set, then engage the legs fully. Keeping all of the muscles hugging to the bones, on the front leg pull the base of the shin back. (Remember the Ankle Loop starts at the base of the shin, so it’s not really the heel that draws back.) As you do, ground down through the back of the heel and press into the mound of the big toe simultaneously to fire up the calves. Then stretch the leg fully straight and extend Organic Energy down and out.
  • Trikonasana, ardha chandrasana: Because the front foot is pointed, trikonasnana, will feel much like parsvottanasana, in terms of the importance of the lower body loops. Work it like we did above. In ardha chandrasana, the key is to use the lower loops to avoid locking the knee (which would again short-circuit the balance of relationships in the legs).
  • Utthita hasta padangustasana: Try the prep pose, where you bring one leg in and hold the front of the shin (knee bent, rather than straight leg) or, even better, holding the outer edge of the foot (knee bent, standing down through the foot into your hand). Activate both feet, tone all of the muscles, and then engage the lower loops. The lower leg will act like ardha chandrasana and needs the lower loops to prevent hyper-extension. The top leg will feel totally different. Try dragging the base of the shin back into the resistance of your hand, and notice how it opens space in your hip.
  • Deep, wide lunge: Step one foot forward and wide, to the outside of your hands (you can turn the foot out at an angle to clear the hip joint a little more). Settle into your foundation, so you feel the support of the earth. Then engage the legs. Feel how on the front leg side, when you activate the  Ankle Loop by drawing the base of the shin back, it connects and opens deep in the pelvis.
  • Surya namaskar: Play with this in plank pose, caturanga, and especially cobra pose.
  • Thigh stretches: In any of the thigh stretches, you’ll get a deeper and more connected stretch if you work the lower loops. (I know, it may seem counter-intuitive, but so does the idea that the salmon make the trees grow bigger and live longer…) Always hold the top of your foot (not the toes) when you do a thigh stretch. Think about it: if you’re pushing on your toes, you’re creating reverse Ankle Loop, which will have repercussions all the way up into the hip. So press down into your foot as you flex your toes back, creating ankle loop in much the same way you did with a pointed foot in trikonasana and notice how that changes the whole ecosystem of the pose.
  • Malasana
  • Pigeon pose, variation with the front shin parallel: Flex the front foot, so you’ll have more access to feel the Ankle Loop.
  • Baby cradle: This is a great pose to feel the relationship between the Ankle Loop and the opening of the hips and lower back. Because the foot’s in the air, you’ll have to provide your own resistance for the Ankle Loop, so that the base of the shin can pull down energetically without moving in space.
  • Agni stambasana
  • Upavista konasana: In all of the seated forward bends, watch the feet and pay close attention to how your foundation (the whole back of the leg) engages the earth. In the full pose here, the Achilles tendons will be on the floor, as will the heels (and the entire inseam of the thighs). Start with a passive release into the foundation, then tone the legs fully, so all sides of the legs hug to the bones and draw up toward the core in the pelvis. Then, flexing the feet, press the base of the shins to the floor as the heels and mounds of the big toes extend long.
  • Baddha konasana
  • Happy baby

Life Becomes Sadhana

I took the red-eye home from out West the other night, and spent the whole day with a persistent stiffness in my neck. No surprise, really, as the way those seats on airplanes are designed (you know what I mean, with the padding behind the head that pushes your head and neck into a stressful forward carriage) is not optimal, to say the least.

Luckily (I told myself) I know Anusara Yoga therapeutic principles for the neck, and set about lining things up just so: expand the inner body, make curve in the neck, take the upper arms and throat back, curl the head back and extend. The stiffness went away immediately, but every time I let the alignment go, it came right back. And so I found myself in the same state of wonderment that students often report to me. Usually the exchange goes something like this: “You mean I have to stand like this all the time?” Well, yes. And sure enough, by the end of the day the neck pain was gone and I had a new revelation, not about the neck (although it was indeed feeling good), but about sadhana.

Sadhana is the term for spiritual practice (it literally means “that which takes you to your goal”), and around this time the practices that I was trying to keep up with were taking up 5-6 hours of every day. The revelation I got, standing there with my neck lined up and asking myself “You mean I have stand like this all the time?” was that sadhana is something that I can practice every moment, rather than thinking of it as a separate “practice” that I do only at certain times. Sadhana, eventually, is living and acting and choosing always with your highest goal(s) in your mind and heart. You don’t get days off (as my teacher Paul Muller-Ortega likes to remind us). Sadhana just becomes your whole life.

PRINCIPLES:

  • Open to Grace: is a remembrance that we can step into sadhana in every moment. With this first principle, the breath expands the inner body, lengthening up through the sides of the torso and up through the sides of the throat, into the dome of the palate. Lift your chin to help create  a natural lordotic curve in the neck.
  • Muscle Energy: This is the active engagement of sadhana. The alignment of the neck is directly affected by the alignment of the shoulder girdle. With Muscle Energy, the upper arms set back into the shoulder sockets, and this creates support in the shoulders. In addition, the top of the throat slides back (right where the hyoid bone is) so that the head and neck are in line over the spine. When you do this action, make sure that the chin doesn’t drop and that the back of the neck doesn’t flatten. It’s just a realignment of the head/neck (think of them moving back as a unit) over the torso. You’ll naturally feel an inner dignity when you stand this way, and it will also create a toning through the lower belly.
  • Shoulder Loop: Once the muscles of the neck are toned, Shoulder Loop reinforces the lordotic curve of the neck. It begins in the soft palate and curls the head back. The muscles of the back of the neck, from the base of the occiput flow down toward the bottom tips of the shoulder blades and into the heart.
  • Skull Loop: The Skull Loop adds extension through the neck, but DOES NOT FLATTEN the curve in the neck. Like Shoulder Loop, it initiates at the soft palate and flows back toward the occiput, then lifts the back of the skull up and over the crown of the head. When the Shoulder and Skull Loop are in balance, there’s a split of energy from the occiput in two directions: the skin of the neck will flow down and the skin of the back of the skull will flow up.
  • Organic Energy: With Organic Energy, there’s an extension from the active focal point first down into the earth and then up and out. The head and neck lengthen evenly toward the crown of the head, making space and freeing the neck.

PRACTICE:

  • Tadasana: Work through the five principles listed above in tadasana. Oftentimes, you’ll feel the place of alignment more clearly if you allow yourself to first relax into a form that is misaligned, with the head and neck jutting forward (some body workers call this “forward carriage”). Then lift on the inside, including through the chin, so the neck has a natural curve.  Slide the arm bones and the top of the throat back simultaneously, so that they line up over your pelvis. With this action, you’ll feel the lower belly tone and lift. Then add the refinements of the loops and extend.
  • Surya namaskar: I often see students (and find myself) moving through this sequence with the head and neck forward of the torso and the rest of the spine. In plank/caturanga, perhaps it’s just the weight of the head that pulls it forward. In cobra, I think the tendency to look down comes from watching the alignment of the hands, or maybe trying to fill in the back body. But if the head and neck trail the upper body in this transition, it will pull on the neck (we call it reverse Shoulder Loop, when the armbones are back but the head and neck are jutting forward). Move through the sequence keeping attention on natural curve in the neck supported by the strength of sliding the throat back. In the transition to cobra pose, lift your head off the floor as your upper arms lift, and then curl into the pose from the action of taking the throat back. Once you’re at the peak of the pose, curl your head back to access more Shoulder Loop.
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana: In dog pose (and any pose when the arms are in the overhead plane), the head and neck should be in line with the upper arm bones. Notice if your tendency is to let the head and neck drop, or perhaps to lift your head up higher than your arms. Start in the pose by expanding the inside and softening the outside (at first, you can let the head and neck release). Then as you engage Muscle Energy in the arms, lift the upper arms above your ears, and then lift your neck/ears line line with your upper arms. Then add the loops and Organic Energy.
  • Adho Mukha Vrksasana: Handstand is an arms-in-the-overhead-plane pose, and so it’s just like downward-facing dog in this way. Practice handstand with your heels on the wall, even if you can balance on your own, to work with the neck more specifically. First let the head and neck release, then as you claw your fingertips into the floor, move the upper arms toward the wall and your throat/skull toward the wall, until you feel the tone in your lower belly. Then curl the head back to engage the shoulders (Shoulder Loop) more actively.
  • Parsvakonasana
  • Trikonasana
  • Vrksasana
  • Salabhasana: All of the variations of salabhasana are fabulous for strengthening the neck in alignment. Try doing several of them in sequence (hands clasped behind your back, arms to the sides in gecko/cactus arms, arms straight alongside the body with the palms facing down, hands clasped behind your skull). In each one, when you draw the upper arms back, also lift your head and neck (keeping natural curve) off the floor, and then power the lift into the pose from moving the throat back.
  • Eka pada rajakapotasana 1 with thigh stretch
  • Ustrasana: These backbends are among the most challenging for the neck, as the influence of gravity will tend to pull the head toward the floor faster than the neck, creating a shortening of the back of the neck (that sometimes feels like you can’t breathe). Start standing on your knees upright, in the prep form of the pose, and work through the principles here. You should feel the lower belly tone when you engage Muscle Energy through the throat. As you curl back into the pose, move the head and neck back at an even rate.
  • Setubandha
  • Urdhva Dhanurasana: Start by going up to the top of your head and pause there. Expand with your breath and as you draw the upper arms back into the shoulder sockets, drag your head back isometrically toward your heels to engage the back of the throat. On your way up into the pose, curl your head back, so you are looking toward your feet. If you look up toward your chest, it creates that reverse shoulder loop that can be very stressful on the neck and shoulders. Then once in the pose, work through all of the principles again. Note that this is a pose where the arms in the overhead plane, so you can play with the relationship between your upper arms and your neck and ears; when they’re lined up, you’ll get a lot of power in the pose and it will be very clearing in the neck
  • Pascimottanasana: It’s incredible to me how important the alignment of the neck is to opening a deep seated forward bend like pascimottanasana. It just goes to show how sadhana is always active (no poses off!). Also, it’s an overhead plane pose for the arms, so the alignment in the shoulders and neck should be just like in downward-facing dog. Hold the tops of your feet, lift up on the inside (even so the armpits float up) and then draw the upper arms back. As the arm bones set back, line up your throat/head with the upper arms. Then bend your elbows and pull yourself into the pose.

Fall in Love Again

This past weekend, I got to teach an urban Anusara Yoga Immersion retreat. We began by setting intentions, as we always do, and what I said was that I wanted to fall in love all over again.

The thing is, every time I go back into the basics of this practice, I fall in love with it again. It’s because every time I return to the teachings, they seem to be ever-new. They continue to blossom and offer new insights.

This time around, it was the rediscovery of that magical juncture point between the pelvic and kidney loops that creating that blossoming.

Principles:

  • Open to Grace: In order to fall in love, you have to be open to it. This principle invites us into the invitation to more by expanding the inside and softening our outer edges.
  • Muscle Energy: The more that’s there is only as available to us as our own capacity to engage. I love thinking of Muscle Energy as drawing us from the periphery of life to the very core and essence. It hugs the muscles to the bones, draws the limbs to the midline, and connects the peripheral parts to the core (focal point).
  • Thigh Loop sets the tops of the thighs back into the hip sockets, and really must be established first before we can access the expansion of the back body that comes with the next two loops.
  • Pelvic Loop and Kidney Loop: Something magical happens at the juncture between these two loops. When the waistline flows back, the energy splits downward and upward, and the back body experiences a powerful expansion. The pelvic loop side of this draws the waistline back and down toward the bottom of the sacrum (pelvic focal point), presses the bottom of the sacrum forward, and then lifts the lower belly in and up. The Kidney Loop starts at the same place, drawing the waistline back and then lifting the back ribs up toward the heart focal point, where it presses forward and then softens down the front ribs.
  • Organic Energy: And when this magic opens up, you can’t help but fall in love again. It’s expressed by extending from the active focal point back out to the periphery.

Practice:

  • Tadasana: Let’s begin by mapping the loops and this magical expansion of the back body. In tadasana, settle with gravity into the earth and then charge the legs fully by lifting the toes and drawing energy from the feet all the way up the legs into the core of the pelvis. Press the tops of the thighs back until they are in line over your ankles. Now breathe into the back waistline, drawing back from the middle of the lumbar region toward the back plane of the body. Here the energy splits with the pelvic loop going down and the kidney loop moving up. To feel the pelvic loop, slide one hand down your sacrum until you get to the bottom of the sacrum (that will be just above the thickest part of the buttocks. Bring your other hand to the front plane of the body, in line with the bottom of the sacrum; that’s where the pelvic loop rises up in the front body. Keeping the waistline sliding back, draw down toward the bottom of the sacrum and then press forward, so that the lower belly lifts up. Keeping that, now add the Kidney Loop. It also starts in the middle of the lumbar and flows back, and then moves up the back, lifting the back ribs (use your other hand on your back to encourage this lift), then flowing forward through the base of the heart and releasing the front ribs down. To feel the magical opening of the back body, use one hand to draw the bottom of the sacrum down and in, and the other hand to lift the back ribs up. This is the place of expansion.
  • High lunge: Start with both hands clasped on the front thigh and pause and soften. Then engage the legs fully, especially the back leg, so that the top of the thigh bone sets back into the hip sockets. Now pressing into your hands, breathe into the back waistline, that place where we can expand into moreness. Then split the energy down through the bottom of the sacrum and up through the back ribs. The lower belly should tone from the action of the Pelvic Loop, and the Kidney Loop creates a simultaneous softening of the front body.
  • Surya Namaskar with Rajakapotasana variation: This is one of my favorite ways to practice surya namaskar. Instead of doing plank to caturanga, bring your knees to the floor in plank pose, and then lift your feet off the floor, heels toward your hips. Flex your feet and press your knees into the floor. Then lower down into Rajakapotasana Prep pose by activating the pelvic and kidney loops.
  • Prasarita Padottanasana:
  • Virabhadarasna 2, Parsvakonasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana: In all of the standing poses, emphasizing the expansion of the back body creates a powerful opening.
  • Vrksasana, Utthita Hasta Padangustasana: I love the standing balances for feeling this place of opening in the back body. In tree pose, use your foot on your upper inner thigh to set the top of the standing thigh back; then hold that steady as you sweep the sides of the waistline back to initiate the pelvic and kidney loops. The expansion of the back body will create a nice support for taking vrksasana into a backbend. In UHP, the same actions apply, and will help make space in the front hip for a forward bend variation.
  • Handstand
  • Pigeon: The form with the front shin parallel to the front of the mat (and foot flexed) will be a more powerful place to feel these actions and to prep for Eka Pada Galavasana. Start by settling into the pose with the hips square, and then spread the toes on the front foot into the earth to help tone the outer shin and allow the inner thigh to release. Now use your forearms pressing into the earth to help you lift up at the back waistline area; from there, extend down through the bottom of the sacrum as the back ribs lift. You’ll feel space open up in the front hip, so the belly and pelvis aren’t resting on the front thigh. This will help as you now try…
  • Eka Pada Galavasana: As in pigeon pose above, use these two loops to make space in the front hip, so you’re not just resting there. It will help you lift off.
  • Anjaneyasana with a thigh stretch
  • Ustrasana: In the backbends, creating an expansion at the magical juncture point of the pelvic and kidney loops will create support for the lower back and and a foundation for a deeper backbend in the upper back. In the setup for ustrasana, bring one hand (soft fist) to the sacrum and one hand to the lower ribs, to encourage the split of energy that happens in the back body. Then keep that space as you release the hands and move into the pose. Use these actions to keep length in the spine while coming out of the pose.
  • Supta Virasana: It’s common for the lower back to be over-arched in supta virasana, and this can cause compression. To access the expansion and length of the back body through the pelvic and kidney loops, come into the pose and then lift your pelvis off the floor. With the pelvis suspended and the legs strongly engaged, sweep the sides of the waistline back and then extend from there down through the bottom of the sacrum and up through the back ribs. With that length, place the pelvis back on the floor.
  • TMP, Krounchasana, Janu Sirsasana, Upavista Konasana: In all of the seated forward bends, opening the back body through the pelvic and kidney loops will keep the spine long and make space in the front of the hips.
  • Pascimottanasana: In particular, pascimottanasana is a great place to access these loops. Start in a prep power where you’re holding the tops of the feet and the spine is more in an upright position, rather than in a forward bend. Ground the tops of the femurs into the earth until you feel that it lifts the top of the sacrum in and up. Keeping the thighs grounded and the spine more upright, now expand back into the back waistline and split the energy down and up to fuel the pelvic and kidney loops. This will create a huge lift out of the front of the pelvis. Keeping that, extend into the pose.

Get Out of that Groove

One of the reasons I love retreat is that it offers the opportunity to step outside the everyday routine, gain perspective on your daily choices, and recreate yourself. Upon returning from this latest retreat (St. John) I found my own yoga practice refreshed, and my sensitivity heightened. Getting out of my groove allowed me to …

Everything we do creates an imprint on our psycho-somatic selves, and when we do things repetitively, these grooves deepen. By creating grooves (samskaras), we shape the topography of our consciousness.

The good news is that you can create deep samskaras that will hold you, so that you don’t have to bring your awareness to every detail every time. We call it being in a groove, and it works for the most sublime experiences we have (think music) to the the most mundane (think brushing your teeth). It’s the Year of the Ox in the Chinese calendar, and ox energy makes me think of a steady, consistent, plowing of the soil of your self, and each pass on the field deepens the furrrows.

The bad news is that you can create deep samskaras that will hold you, in such a way that you are captive to them and no longer pay attention to what your’e doing. And sometimes, you create samskaras that reallly aren’t serving you, but you fall into those deep furrows and it’s hard to pull out of them, even once we have the awareness that it’s not what we want. We call that being in a rut.

You may have felt both of these experiences of samskaras in your yoga practice. For example, think about the first time you learned that the head of the armbones go back. Exactly. At first, it doesn’t even mean anything (what’s the head of the armbone? which way is back?). And then you try it, and it might feel strange, and then you do it again, and then again, and after a while, you don’t even have to think about plugging the armbones into the shoulder sockets. They’re just there. You’ve created a samskara that holds the alignment for you.

The peril is that we get stuck there, and stop paying attention to whether the alignment we’re creating is really serving us.

I found this in my own yoga practice. When I came to Anusara Yoga, I was also new to yoga, and I learned early on that the heads of the armbones always go to the back plane of the body. And so I was blessed with several years of deepening asana practice without any injuries or issues with my shoulders, or neck, or elbows, or wrists. And then one day, I felt that my right arm wouldn’t integrate, and then it got persistently worse. And after another several months I finally realized that the samskara I had created with the action of Muscle Energy in the arms was not aligned with the deeper topography of myself.

This deep topography is what we call the “inner body” or energy body, and in my case, my inner body was slightly askew. Actually, for all of us (I believe) it’s asymmetrical (how could it be otherwise?), except that it’s not necessarily noticeable.

Basically, I found that I had doing Muscle Energy on top of a slight asymmetry in my inner body

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