Finding Core: Body, Mind & Soul

Where is your “core”? You’ve heard the commonplace that “it’s not your abs,” which is true, but doesn’t tell us where to look. The name itself, though, is instructive, and with breath and attention we can find our “core” experientially. While practicing 3 part yogic breath (dirgha), move between the poles of abundance on the in breath, and stillness on the out breath. After becoming established in this rhythm, notice and accentuate all your muscles hugging toward center as you gently press your breath out. Feel the pattern and rhythm, and pay direct attention from the floor, all the way up to the roof of your mouth, 360 degrees. As your body expands and contracts, you’ll begin to feel the center around which your body is moving.

Did you know, that your core is closer to your back than your belly button? That’s why one of the instructions in moving from the core is often to bring your navel back towards the spine.

Did you know, that your core traverses the upper and lower bodies? One of the most used stabilizing muscle sets, the illiopsoas, connects the upper and lower body, attaching about a third of the way down the inner thigh, zigging and zagging up from there to the inside of the pelvic bowl, and back to its midline origin, fanning out along the low spine on either side.

Did you know, that your core can be drawn away from midline by injury and habitual holding patterns? In yoga, we call these “samskara” and they are precisely what we are unearthing in yoga asana by moving in ways unusual to everyday life, with attention and breath. When you practice the breathing above and find your core feels off-center, you already have the tools to use your muscular awareness to bring it back to center. This weakens the grooves of habits and realigns you to increase your focus, energy and awareness in everything you do!

The “abdominals” – rectus (middle front), transverse (lower belly, the one we use in kapalabhati), and obliques (sides) – are part of the core, and when given awareness through breathing, a great way into your true, literal center!

Workshops!

Going to Yoga workshops is one of my dearest pleasures. I use them as rewards, treats, carrots and sometimes just fun. That’s why I’m excited to announce the first of this year’s YogaEveryDay workshops, my chance to share a concentrated yoga experience with you!

Intro to Yoga on Saturday 31 January will focus on basics. Like a parent who secretly favors one child, my favorite classes to teach are the “Level 1”, “Basic” or “Beginner.” This Workshop will be an afternoon to learn or return to basics of alignment, breath, strength & opennes. Affordable, Supportive & Fun – Join Now!

Partner Yoga on Saturday 21 February: we’ll provide a safe, open, light environment for practicing yoga poses in unique, supportive combinations that will open and enlighten your heart and connections. Join Now!

jalandara bhanda

For the last few months I’ve been experimenting with methods for teaching bhandas. I’ve experimented with asana (standing, hands on thighs, sitting in virasana, downdog, uttanasana), whether to focus on the abdominal motion or the chest wall in uddiyana, whether or not to mention mula bhanda concurrently (because it is involved, but conceptually seems to overload folks while learning), what terms to use for the pelvic floor when teaching mula bhanda, how to describe the “false inbreath” of non-ventillatory chest wall expansion.

Simple is best, of course, but since the point is to direct another person’s attention to the sensations produced for them with muscular actions not commonly felt, much less intentionally induced, points of reference are both crucial and tricky. For my own part, I feel the effects of uddiyana bhanda most acutely between my shoulder blades, in front of my thoracic vertebrae. But for others, this isn’t even on their sensation map; they might feel it between particular ribs. The point is not to feel anything particularly, but to develop refined awareness of what is there for you to feel.

I used to think the best way to approach bhandas was bottom up: mula, uddiyana, then jalandara. Truthfully, I’ve had precious little connection to jalandara. Conceptually, I understand why a “top” on the cooking pot is important. My experience has been lackluster, however.

Until I read a description that added the chest wall expansion of  “false inbreath” to the external action of flexion of the upper cervical vertebrae.  This one little addition lit up the sensation of the lock so that it made sense to me. The idea of  jalandara bhanda is to touch your chin to the notch just above your sternum, not by hunching the shoulders & whilst keeping the front of the chest broad. This is done by rotating the skull & jaw around the top of the cervical vertebrae while keeping the neck long.

What lit up this experience was after engaging jalandara, exhale, close the glottis (like the beginning of a swallow, it prevents air from moving into the chest), and then expand the chest as if to inhale. Indeed, I felt lit from within.

Because this passively activates the lower bhandas, I’ve decided to use this as an initial forray into bhandas, moving to uddi & finally to mula. Of course, like the yamas & niyamas, we learn about these layers concurrently, it’s only in theory that there’s any seperation. 

What are your experiences with learning the bhandas? Or with teaching? I’d love to hear your bhanda stories!

Metaphor is Powerful; Yoga is Powerful

We’ve just witnessed the power of metaphor on the national stage, and yoga asana practice is direct, personal engagement & embodiment of the power of metaphor. We embody particulars and so transcend the generalities of natural forms in postures,  as when we engage the majestic conversation with air that is the Eagle in Garundasana, the enduring stability of the Tree in Vrkasana, the open reflectivity of the Moon in Ardha Chandrasana. 

While performing asana, the student’s body assumes numerous forms of life found in creation, and he learns that in all these there breathes the same universal spirit – the spirit of God. ~BKS Iyengar

Yoga asana is movement in concert with breath. Each release, each opening is supported by and in turn invites more breath. Each moment of awareness is tied to a simple motion or stillness, a particular moment of physicality accessed through awareness riding the conduit of breath. Minute particulars, infinitely organizable, known only through our unique presence in this one prescious moment. The moment as it is given to us.

Even believing the force of metaphor and the empowerment of presence and embodiment, the mechanics can remain deeply mysterious. How can physical movements change our lives, change the world? While my first inclination at response is “How can they not? Aren’t our lives, Isn’t the world, a collection of movements?”, the deeper answer comes down to particulars.
“Labor well the minute particulars,
 take care of the little ones
 …
 For Art & Science cannot exist but in
 minutely organized particulars.”
~William Blake
 
Yoga practice leaves us more adaptable, more present and so more alive, creative & responsive. 
“Enhancing respiratory function is the surest and simplest way to increase the adaptive capacity in the organism.” ~Thomas Myers 
So through awareness and attention to particulars of our own ever-present existence, we train ourselves to become more responsive to our worlds and the needs of the people in them.
Still need motivation for practice? How about a recent report in Prevention magazine linking meditation to better sex? We all know better leving leads to longer lives, but if meditation can lead to sexier life, what’s not to try, to love?