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Where do you go for refuge when you need support?
This was the question offered to us to contemplate during butterfly pose, the Yin Yoga version of cobbler or bound angle (badha konasana). Such a simple question that relates directly to not only your external support system, but the kinds of internal resources that you may (or may not have) cultivated. The interesting thing about settling into a deep posture and then contemplating a deep question is that really clear images and thoughts can sometimes emerge. In this particular experience, it was like a door to a very bright room opened up - a touch more profound than just a light bulb going off.
Aaaand this is why you send yourself on a retreat… sometimes you need to eject yourself from your every day life in order to create the space for dramatic ah-ha moments.
What I ultimate came around to is that despite the fact that I have a lot of tools to help me navigate difficulty, somehow I have allowed myself to be drawn into circumstances where I no longer have even small increments of time to tend to myself on a deep level. Much of this situation is born of my own choices. I chose to get married and have a child. I chose to take on, perhaps, a bit more work than I can comfortably sustain. In many ways I choose a lifestyle that makes me exhausted at the end of the day.
And this is the normal landscape lately. When stress starts to mount, the lack of a refuge creates more stress. It’s like I don’t have a valve for my my internal pressure cooker. Then the snippiness starts, the impatience, the exhaustion… it’s a bad cycle.
But what we sometimes forget about choices is that we can unchoose many of them. I’m not going to take back the promises to my family, and nor do I want to. But I can certainly pull the throttle on other parts of my life. And in doing so, I can reincorporate personal time to take refuge, recalibrate my mood, and hopefully be a better member of my family in return.
And this is why I tell my yoga students that taking care of yourself is not selfish. When you are happier, centered, more grounded, and able to draw on your own internal resources without depleting yourself, then you have a heck of a lot more to give to those around you.
So, why not put yourself into butterfly pose and ask of yourself: Where do you seek refuge when you need support? Such a simple little exercise could change your life.
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“We use the postures to get to know our body, not use the body to perform postures.” - Sarah Powers, Insight Yoga Training, August 2012
Let me first just say that this is probably not a precise quote, but definitely very close to how Sarah introduced our first session on Yin Yoga today. I’m sending updates from a training program I’m attending at Kripalu Center because I wanted to create a framework for thinking about what I’m learning each day. Often when I attend these yoga intensives, I cram as much as I can into a little notebook hoping that one day I’ll review it. But mostly I end up just trusting that the essence will bubble up in my classes. And actually it does.
This is a more concerted effort to process, in real time, what I’m learning. I’m glad that I decided to do this because not a single word of what Sarah says is extraneous. I can’t possible write fast enough to capture her teachings. It is, at times, frustrating. I don’t want to miss anything or forget anything. So, I’m sharing in order to process and dial it in.
Back to the quote…
Even before this program, I have been spending a lot of time contemplating just exactly what we’re supposed to be getting out of asana (posture) practice anyway. On the one hand, it’s a no brainer because our practice feels good and sets us up for a healthier lifestyle. Quite a lot of health consciousness begins with that first child’s pose. Since I began practicing yoga, many aspects of my life are fundamentally different for the better.
But along with this emphasis on the postures comes this near obsession with the right way to do postures. Am I doing this right? Why don’t I look like that woman in this posture? She’s obviously a better yogi than me. My teacher isn’t going to like me because I can’t do this posture.” Etc. Etc. Etc. This isn’t yoga, and it certainly isn’t healthy.
It’s important to remind ourselves that our asana practice is not about marking off a checklist of how many poses we can do or even how precisely we do them (I believe there’s a reasonable amount of latitude for safety in most poses). Asana practice is an environment for self-inquiry and reflection by way of the physical sensation. Through asana practice, we initiate a process for knowing ourselves more intimately. Asana is not the end game.
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You are amazing. You are energetic. You are effective. You can do it. With mindful determination, you can do anything.
Manipura Chakra, the lustrous gem, is located at the center of the body at the solar plexus. Physically, it is the largest convergence of autonomic nerves in the torso. Energetically, it is the fiery, soul-ar battery. While the body processes food and nutrition, creating the vital energy for life, the third chakra is harmonizing your sense of self and personal power, giving you the get up that you need to go.
Manipura is the center of personal transformation. When balanced, you are spontaneous, you take risks, you assert yourself with confidence and kindness. You are warm and caring, and you move through life with the ease that comes from deep inner power. Building upon the structural stability of Muladhara and the creative flow of Svadhisthana, harmony in Manipura establishes an environment where ideas become action.
An overcharged third chakra can lead you into an endless cycle of striving for power, recognition and status. This leads to suspicion and an erosion of relationships, for you never know who might steal your throne. Stress, high-blood pressure, and poor digestion are slowly eroding your strength from the inside out. Take care because your fire will eventually burn out.
A depleted Manipura Chakra manifests in low self-esteem, turning you into a victim that can be easily manipulated by others. You seek fulfillment from external sources, drawing you into a roller coaster of hope, guilt and denial.
Yoga postures that stimulate Manipura focus on warrior energy and the deep core to fire up your strength and stamina: boat pose, sun salutations, and chair. Lower-torso twists are also invigorating. Passive backbends and cat/cow stretches can cool the fire.
Pranayama to stoke the fire include Kapalabhati and Bhastrika. Slow, diaphramatic breathing is calming.
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You are a mighty river. You flow through challenges when necessary, but you can just as easily find a new path. You ride the waves of a rich and ever-changing life. Tap into the watery energy of Svadhistana Chakra to cultivate resilience and adaptability.
Translated to “one’s own abode,” Svadhistana is the origin of consciousness, creative energy, and intimacy - our inner home. A sensuous, orange hue, the second chakra represents your emotional, sensorial and sexual health. Physically, it symbolizes the reproductive organs, sense of taste and all things watery in the body. Svadhistana resides at the sacrum, two fingers above the root — a potent position between the grounding First Chakra and the fiery Third Chakra.
When balanced, Svadisthana helps you to ride life’s waves with grace and dignity. Its fluid motion helps you to relate to change with interest and curiosity rather than resistance. When you are open and receptive, you will find that life is much more pleasurable as you pause and enjoy what the world has to offer.
A depleted second chakra results in fear of intimacy and resistance to change. An overcharged Svadhistana drives emotional drama, poor boundaries, sexual addiction, and a never-ending quest for pleasure.
To harmonize and balance Svadhistana, cultivate strength and flexibility in the hips, lower back, and lower abdomen. Strengthening postures such as cobra and locust can stimulate the chakra. To release it, try pigeon, hanumanasana, bound angle and wide leg folds. Particular potent for this chakra are yogi squat and goddess pose: they each strengthen the legs (stimulating Muladhara) while opening Svadhistana.
On the energetic plane, connect your thumb and ring fingers while sitting in siddhasana, and let your voice ring, “VWAM.” Center your attention on the swirling, orange disc as you breathe deeply into your lower abdomen.
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Connect to the Mula, the root, at the base of your spine. Its luminous disc glows red, the color of ancient clay. Chant “LAM” (laaaahm) as you lightly press your thumb and little finger together. Be aware of the obvious and subtle sensations percolating through your body. You are here. Right now. This is you, in your body, and you are steady, steadfast, and stable.
The deep roots of a harmonious and balanced Muladhara Chakra give you the courage to rise up and meet the challenges of life with grace and dignity. You take healthy risks because you know you have a place to land. You feel nourished, receiving the Earth elements that you need to thrive. You feel supported by and connected to others.
When the Mula is depleted, you are fearful and unsure. Your basic needs are not met. You are disconnected from your body. You seek attention and pleasure through the actions and whims of others. Be careful — in this vulnerable state you are easily manipulated.
With an overcharged Muladhara Chakra you are driven to aquire more and more material things, seeking pleasure and support from that which cannot last. This leads to frustration and disappointment as you know on a deep level that objects cannot fulfill you. Appearances matter most, and you are disconnected from your inner environment. You are as stubborn and unyielding as a mountain. Mountains have a way of erupting violently.
Yoga to Build Up a Depleted Muladhara
Focus on grounding postures that primarily fire up the feet, leg and thigh muscles. Standing poses such as Warrior 1, Warrior 2 and Chair pose can reaffirm your footing on Earth and help you cultivate strength. While in your standing poses, consider that your feet are suction cups grounding you to Earth. They draw up energy into the legs and up to your core. The feet and legs nourish the body like the roots of a tree.
Yoga to Relax an Overcharged Muladhara
Stretch and lengthen the leg muscles, turning stone into malleable clay. With toes curled under, sit back in hero pose. Bend one knee at a time in downward-facing dog to release the calves. Stretch the legs in standing or seated forward bends. Reclined twists bring flexibility to the outside seam of the legs.
Pranayama for Muladhara
Practicing deep, diaphragmatic breath can stimulate and harmonize Muladhara. Visualize your inhalations flowing down to the base of the tailbone, fueling your root. Follow the exhalations up to your heart center. This imagery helps to draw awareness out of the thinking mind and into the primal intelligence of the body. Listen closely to the messages the body reveals. Cultivate a more holistic relationship to your whole being.
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