Uddiyana Bandha

I’ve been working with a breathing practice related to uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lock in which you compress your abdominal muscles as far back to the spine as possible and draw the diaphragm up and under the rib cage emptying the lungs as completely as possible and retaining the breath out.

With the method I’ve been using you then pump the abdominal muscles in & out while retaining the breath out. You relax the abdominals and diaphragm before drawing breath in.

 I’m experiencing many of the same emotions I found in camel a few weeks back. They’re not as overwhelming this time because of the work I did in Ustrasana.

I no longer identify the feeling as fear… I’m not sure I have a word for it yet. It’s definitely an edge, but an edge I can work with consciously. Has anyone else had similar experiences?

Core Strength… Up Side Down

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Image by Neeta Lind via Flickr

When you change your perspective, you change your perspective. Tautology?  Not for yogis! Going up side down involves so many parts of our bodies and psyches which we mostly take for granted that doing it consciously really can help you shift your consciousness.

And the way I’ve been teaching headstands has helped me and my students focus on core strength, both abdominally as well as soulfully. So first, I will tell you that head stand is not recommended for people with neck problems, strokes, glaucoma. For me and many people I work with it also involves falling a bit, so clear out any obstacles – furniture, dogs, shoes – and arrange for a soft place to land. If you are worried, place blankets or pillows around. Mostly, practice mindfully: As always, practice honesty with yourself about your own body and practice nonviolence with yourself. Pushing beyond your own limits only grinds samskaras deeper, it won’t dissolve them faster.

So often when we’re getting into headstand we place our hands and forearms on the ground near a wall, interlace the fingers and put our head in the cradle we’ve created. If, however, you find you’re still using the wall to stay upright, take a step back and give yourself more support. Then you’ll find your core strength with more clarity and can explore how that feels while you build it.

The abdominal muscles and the back muscles work together to support you. The back of the belly is just the front of the back. The muscles that we count on, mostly unthoughtfully, through most of our lives to support us while sitting, standing, walking are the same muscles we’re using in headstand to hold ourselves up. So why don’t they work as well?

Because of the imbalances of everyday life right side up. Just as we overcome natural, instinctual fears of falling when we go up side down, we overcome the natural and habitual ways we “hold ourselves up” both physically and psychologically through the challenges and joys of our days. We’re learning new ways and connections to the deep muscles of alignment. So give some thought to what you align yourself  in your everyday life as you’re preparing for this sequence. (The sequence I’ll describe is tadasana – malasana – bakasana – shirsasana and reverse).

Start in tadasana a couple of feet from facing a wall. Close your eyes, hands in anjali mudra in front of your heart. Inner spiral your thighs, press them apart, connect through your feet. Feel the back of the pelvis become open and your abdomen firmly supporting your spine. Roll your shoulders up to your ears and melt them down your back, feeling your sternum curl up to the sky and your heart open from the strength of your stance. Relax your tongue, and open your eyes.

Move your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Squat. You might want to use a blanket under your heels so you are fully supported, if they come up off the ground. Press the outside of your elbows into the insides of your knees and visa versa, hands still in anjali mudra. You are now in malasana, garland pose. Melt into the garland.

From here, place your hands on the floor in front of you, inside your knees and just in front. Keep your knees on or near your elbows. Dive forward, intentionally placing the crown of your head on the floor about six inches in front of your hands (you’ll know where it feels a comfortable distance). If your knees aren’t already on your elbows, bring them up one at a time. You are now in what is commonly called “tripod”. Your head and the palms of both hands are on the floor, the knees supported on the rigiht angles of the arms. You can stay here to explore, or …

Bring your awareness to your belly. Spend a minute really exploring what you are feeling there. When you are firmly rooted in this place, consciously begin to bring your knees in & up using the strength of your belly. Feel the muscles come back and feel the stretch from your sternum to your pelvis. When your legs are overhead, notice the relationship between your belly and your back in keeping them there. Allow yourself to sway and notice the emotions coming up. Touch them with your consciousness gently but keep your attention in your core. Make your legs strong, inner spiral the thighs, point & spread your toes, feel your calves hug into the bone. Shine your heart out towards your hands. Notice how this affects your balance.

When you are ready to come down, Focus on your breath, steady and smooth. Bend your knees and tuck in & down til the knees are on your elbows again and then rock back through bakasana into malasana, resting for a moment before stretching back to standing. You may now be ready for sivasana, or you may want to explore some one sided balance poses, such as vrkasana or garundasana.

Always observe your own capabilities and needs, listen to your own inner guru (the only one who matters!).

Zzzzzzzzzzz….

 Yeah, so this was me today. All day. All through the day I’d been looking forward to being at the Sanskrit seminar.

Made me a feel a little like this when I shook it off:

C’est la vie.

Actually, it’s kind of a pretty picture, but I digress.

I’m not sure why I keep doing things like this…  I only work three nights a week, but they’re long nights & I’m really quite worthless for anything between except sleeping. Accepting this would be wise. But no,  I think, “Sleep?!? Sleep? I don’t need  no stinkin’ sleep!”

Luckily these days the things I get all excited about and try to plan into these nooks and crannies are things like yoga seminars. There’s something inherently incompatible between self abuse and the contemplative nature of these endeavors.

The worst thing: I love sleep! I love dreaming, I love waking up, I love the bed I sleep in & the sheets and the backs of my eyelids.

I guess the whole thing is that life is about choices. Action and devotion are how we create ourselves. It’s not whether or not I learn a little more about this amazing language that matters, it’s how I treat myself and my world in the process.

Come to think of it, I do feel more like this than I would’ve rousting myself from dreamstate 7 hours ago after a couple hours’ of sleep after a weekend of controlled chaos:

Perhaps I did the right thing, if only by accident. And perhaps I’ll drop the guilt of not following through on my plan, my goal, my intention. Perhaps, I’ll just let myself enjoy this one, gorgeous, beautiful life.

Perhaps.

Evolving

Change happens. But when we do something that later we regret, often we are drawn into a notion of radical change, wiping the slate clean, starting over. One of things I love about yoga is the subtlety of the underlying philosophy. T.K.V. Desikachar puts it best in The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, I think, but I’ll sum it up: Keep up the things that give you lasting joy. They will overtake your life.

“The conditioning of the mind that lets it continually take the same driection is called samskara. Samskara is the sum total of all our actions that conditions us to behave in a certain way. … Through yoga we attempt to create new and positive samskara rather than reinforcing the old samskara that has been limiting us. When this new samskara is strong and powerful enough, then the old distressing samskara will no longer be able to affect us. You could say we then begin a completely new life. When the new behavior patterns become stronger the old ones become ineffectual. When we practice asanas we carry out actions that are not determined so much by our habits, and yet still lie within the range of our abilities. … [T]he mind clears a little. … This kind of reoirentation is called parivrtti. Vrtti means “movement” and pari translates as “around.””

Abhyasa & Vairagya… or The Yoga of Effort and Surrender

The most important aspect of yogic practice is attention to, observation of and care for the breath. When you pay careful attention to something as essential and inescapable as your breath, it may seem elusive, impossible to observe because so inextricably intertwined with all your other sensations, thoughts, emotions, beliefs. And then, as you re-double your efforts to “pay attention” you do pin it down, but now it appears – and feels! – like a specimen butterfly, no longer what it is, no longer free, animated. You’ve lost – or lost sight of – what’s essential. And too often, this is where I give up.

But perhaps you are more persistent. You look away and try to catch it from your peripheral vision. When you sense its flutters on the edge of your awareness, you wait awhile waiting for it move closer… then you pounce! And it slides away like a soft butter, fragments like mercury. Perhaps you give up here, or maybe you are more determined and you lie in wait a while longer.

As you wait, you refine your approach. Perhaps you clear out the field where you hope to find your elusive breath. Perhaps you make it more inviting, changing your position or the tension in your body. And soon you feel the free flow of your precious breath once more. You are amazed at its variety, its motion and you simply smile, breathe and watch. If you’ve gotten this far, you are in the beautiful place of witness to your own mind.

There are many ways of speaking of the relationship between witness and content, but what it all comes down to is aware self-consciousness. Skillful use of our recursive mind – our unique and sometimes puzzling ability to watch ourselves. A dynamic balance of effort and surrender is required for this skillful practice. We always have the possibility of self-consciousness – this is inherent in the structure of our thought. We sometimes misuse it, ignore it, partially use it. But to cultivate a true witness requires both discipline and non-attachment.

Patanjali tells us that yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, and soon thereafter tells us that the path to this union is one of effort and surrender. In our experience as temporal beings, opposites occur sequentially. In order to court the deep union between these opposing forces, we require a practice ground where we can apply them in turn, repetitively, observing the changes.

Your yoga mat is your laboratory, the place of your beloved, sacred labor. Your asana is your crucible. Today, maybe it’s Virabhadrasana – Warrior – Series. Your effort to arrange your feet, legs, pelvis, torso, arms, head, gaze (drshti), spirals, energy, attention, breath, smile, heart, kidneys, waist, heels, shoulders – whew! You’re sweating. You pause to sink. You remind yourself to forget, for now, what you look like. You allow yourself to feel what you feel like. This is the surrender. You adjust your effort based on your observation – you sink again.

The turning from one supposed extreme to the other is often represented in yoga philosophy as the flopping fish. The poor dying fish will never be able to be both sides up, but in the flopping it reveals itself fully. In the eventual death of the fish, the opposites fall away. Of course, so does the fishiness of the fish. Some of us are naturally better at the effort, some at the surrender. Remind yourself to return to whichever is your challenge. In the midst of melting, reach for something. In the midst of sweating, feel what your sweating for. In the midst of it all remember to smile. Send your effort on the surrender of your exhale.

May all your experiments bring you the fulfillment of authentic experience. Namaste (the beauty in me recognizes and revels in the beauty of you and we are one.)