Wednesday, July 6, 2011


"I got a jump rope today, but man, that thing’s just a rope.  Turns out you gotta make the jumping thing happen yourself!" 
-Mitch Hedberg

The practice of yoga provides us with an abundance of theory, texts and intellectual instruction. However, without practical application they are nothing more than words on a page - a jump rope without the power and will of the jumper.

If you’re looking for a quick fix, a magic bullet, a fast forward button to harmony, inner peace and freedom, it doesn’t exist. The only force with the power to help you find peace or to deeply absorb and live the benefits of yoga is YOU.

The truth is that no amount of reading ancient texts, intellectual discussions about yogic theory, or “mastering” postures will help you to actually achieve yoga (being in a state of complete awareness and tranquillity).  You have to want it badly enough for yourself, to take what you've learned, and have the presence of mind to figure out if you’re on the right path…or you won’t.  Dedicated, daily, honest exploration over a long period of time (your whole life!) is what helps us to achieve a lasting state of yoga.

In his “Zen Fables for Today”, Richards McLean retells the following story:
“Why must I meditate in order to achieve enlightenment?” demanded the student of the teacher. “I can study, I can pray. I can think on issues clearly. Why this silly emptying of mind?”
“I will show you,” said the teacher, taking a bucket of water into the garden under the full moon. “Now I stir the surface and what do you see?” “Ribbons of light,” answered the prince. “Now wait,” said the teacher setting the bucket down.
Both teacher and boy watched the calming surface of the water in the bamboo bucket for many minutes. “Now what do you see?” asked the teacher. “The moon,” replied the prince.
“So, too, young master, the only way to grasp enlightenment is through a calm and settled mind.”

The simplicity of this story illustrates the purpose of practice very clearly. To practice yoga and/or meditation is to see into one’s “own nature”, which is pure and calm and has been from the very beginning. Every being in the world has this.  We can turn to teachers for guidance and instruction but ultimately WE are the ones that have to do the work.

One of the most beautiful things about yoga is that it is very much an internal practice.  Although we have ancient texts, mantras, meditation, group classes, and teachers to help guide the way, we get a chance daily to turn inward and journey through the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring landscape we can ever imagine.  It's all there waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.  It's just up to us to work that jump rope.

Until next time... get jumping! :)

"In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand.  Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself." 
-J Krishnamurti

Home practice: Finding and accessing the power of Mula Bandha in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing Dog)

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
I like to refer to the pelvis as a “bowl”. In Latin, "pelvis" means basin or bowl, so in Tadasana we want this bowl to be in a neutral position so that if it were filled with liquid (think: liquid sunshine!) it wouldn’t spill out of ether the front or the back of the bowl.  To find your body's version of neutral, stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides (called samasthiti in sanskrit).  Take a deep breath in and as you do, draw your hips and buttocks slightly backward, increasing the curve in your lower back (lumbar spine).  One of my teachers, Erich Schiffmann calls this “dog tilt”, so that's what we'll call it.

Then, exhale and bring your hips and buttocks forward, flattening the lumbar spine and pulling the pelvis into a posterior tilt.  Erich calls this “cat tilt”. 

Do this several times, and begin to notice that when the pelvis is in the dog tilt, the muscles in the lower back tighten and the inner groins shorten. When it is in cat tilt, the buttocks clench and, again, the groins shorten.

To find neutral, stand with your pelvis in dog tilt, then lightly lift the pubic bone and then the pelvic floor as you lengthen the groins—this is Mula Bandha. To find it from cat tilt, draw your hips slightly back until the buttocks relax and the lumbar spine regains its natural curve. As you do this, lift the pelvic floor and lengthen the waist and groins—again, this is Mula Bandha.

When your pelvis is neutral and you find Mula Bandha in Tadasana, you'll feel a sense of stability without gripping...yay!

Adho Mukha Svanasana variations (Prana Dog and Apana Dog)
(A practice by one of my wise teachers: Tim Miller)

Downward-Facing Dog is an excellent pose in which to practice Mula Bandha, especially if you explore two different expressions of the pose: Prana Dog, which is linked to the inhalation, and Apana Dog, which is linked to the exhalation.

From Downward Dog, inhale and extend your spine by taking your head and shoulders toward the floor, drawing your hips away from your hands, and lifting and spreading your sitting bones. This is the Prana Dog.

Then exhale and flex your spine by tucking your pelvis, slightly rounding your shoulders, drawing your ribs up, and looking toward your navel. Now you're in Apana Dog. Notice that at the end of the exhalation, the pelvic floor naturally draws upward—this is Mula Bandha.

With the next inhalation, create Prana Dog by extending your spine from your tailbone, but don't allow your ribs to sink too far toward your thighs. Keep lengthening and lightly lifting the area between the coccyx and the pubic bone, between the pubic bone and the navel, and between the navel and the lower ribs. As you exhale, return to the Apana Dog flexion position of the spine, and again focus on how the pelvic floor lifts.

Here's why: In Prana Dog it is more difficult to access the lift of the pelvic floor, because that lift happens naturally at the end of the exhalation in Apana Dog. With the subsequent inhalation, there is a natural tendency to release the pelvic floor and allow the rib cage to drop toward the thighs.

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