Affirmation of the Month:
On your inhale, say: "The more I breathe...
On your exhales, say: ...the more [fill in the blank]."
“The more I breathe, the happier I am
The more I breathe, the more money I receive
The more I breathe, the more love I feel
The more I breathe, the better I feel
The more I breathe, the more beautiful I am”
-Cristina Diaz from “What is the Best Affirmation?”
Jeffrey Goldberg’s Practice Tip: Drishti in Yoga Practice
Our past tips discussed proper alignment in the poses and all of the benefits that come from proper alignment, both in terms of safe physical practice and to increase the proper flow of life force (prana) throughout the body. Then, we discussed the importance of proper breathing and aligning your breath with the movements of the poses. Last month, we talked about the use of the main “bandhas” or energy locks in our practice. All of these work together in your yoga practice to give you physical strength, increase the flow of life-force throughout the body, and train your mind to direct the energy with willingness or intention.
In this month's tip, the use of Ajnabandha (Spiritual Eye Lock) and Drishti (Eye Gaze) during asana practice will be explored. These are tools for directing and taking control over your own subtle energy. They work to solidify your intention and to concentrate upon it.
To execute Ajnabandha, gently bring your eyes and your attention to the space above the brow at the frontal lobe of the brain, between and just above the eyebrows. This lock magnetizes your energy to flow naturally inward from the periphery of the body to the spine, and then upward from the base of the spine to the spiritual eye. To reinforce this lock, it is helpful for the palms of the hands to be facing upwards in yoga poses or between poses resting with the palms in prayer position at the heart center (namaskar) or at the spiritual eye. When the spiritual eye lock is activated spontaneously, it is characterized by the eyes moving up and back, the eyelids lightly quivering, and the eyebrows slightly raising. If it feels uncomfortable or a strain, the gaze should be tried with less effort or stopped.
Ajnabandha is a form of Dristi or eye gaze. Many beginning yoga practitioners do not realize the importance of inner practice of the postures. The yoga postures are not merely physical exercises. They are primarily inner, energetic and mental exercises. The three energy locks discussed last month, and especially the Root Lock (Mulabandha) together with Ajnabandha should be actively engaged in every asana. To engage them you simply direct your Dristi (eye gaze) and mental attention to these areas. This gaze to the spiritual eye gives power to your inner intention, drawing upon your life-force to the areas of the body awakened by each pose, and then magnetizing that energy by the power of your own will-power to draw it up to the seat of your intention at the frontal lobe of the brain. With practice, you will become master of your energy and therefore master of your own self.
Dristi is a factor in every pose because eye gaze gives natural focus for your mental intention. In some poses, your inner attention is brought to the Uddiyanabandha (Upward Navel Lock), bringing your navel inward and upward towards the spine while directing your gaze and your mental powers to that area, or Jalandharabandha (Throat Lock), bringing your chin to your chest and drawing your life-force past your Throat Center up to the brain. Every pose of the hot yoga sequence unleashes life-force through various areas of your body, releasing life-force stored in the body as physical and mental tension, and allowing stored trauma to dissipate safely. The use of the bandhas, especially Ajnabandha, will improve your yoga practice over time.
Once your mind is firmly in control of your body and your energy, the next area of yoga practice to consider is the quality of your thoughts. Yoga Master Parmahansa Yogananda taught that "energy follows intention." All yoga postures are a demonstration of this truth. Every time you tense your muscles, you are sending life-force to that area of the body and when you relax your muscles, you are releasing the life-force to return to its source in the frontal lobe of the brain. As you practice, you become aware that you are in command of your life-force at all times and you begin to understand that in all areas of your life it is important to retain awareness and control of your life-force.
It is precisely your own intention and the life-force that answers to your mental command that is responsible for everything that occurs in your life. Therefore, getting control of your thoughts is key to manifesting in your life what you really want in every area of life: career, relationships, health, and happiness.
How do you get control of your thoughts? This will be answered in our discussion of setting your intention for your practice and using affirmations during yoga practice, in next month's edition.
Bri Winton’s Dynamic Human Anatomy:
Last time we discussed what Dynamic Anatomy is: recognizing that all of life is simply a dance between the opposing qualities which are spiritually one; dynamic human anatomy embraces constant change, activity or progress. Our bodies are constantly changing, active, and progressing and hatha yoga embraces this dynamic unity of the opposites in your body.
This time, let's play!
We will begin playing with Dynamic Anatomy throughout different yoga poses. Our first one: Camel Pose, aka Ustrasana.
I've seen many things come up in this pose, but limited back mobility is the obvious one to mention. I have seen people try so hard over and over again...in a way that actually limits spinal movement...and then get upset or defeated because they couldn't complete the 'look'. First it is important to reject any pre-conceived notion of THE LOOK. Yes, the Instagram girls with the drop back handstands are beautiful and artsy, but that should never be the end goal. If it is going to happen for you, it should be more of a happy surprise along the journey that is yoga.
As we release the way we think we are supposed to 'look', we will find that our own version of the look just happens, in a safe and easy manner. Proper practice is always effortless!
In Camel Pose, an anterior pelvic tilt can limit spinal movement. The anterior pelvic tilt, or duck butt, is often a result of the "I want to achieve the look" goal. The irony of this act is that it crunches the spine rather than lengthening it. Part of the lengthening and 'back-bending' of the spine is due to the spinal extensors; however, even more of the movement is due to gravity. In reality, there should be a more neutral to slight posterior tilt on the pelvis, based on your own anatomy.
While the front part of the body may 'look' like it is stretching; anyone that has sat in camel knows that there is a lot more than passive stretching going on there. There are actually muscles on the front side of the body that are actively contracting while being lengthened, or stretched. This is called eccentric contraction, and is responsible for the fact that you don't just fall back onto the top of your head when gravity takes hold of you from behind. The most obvious muscle group that does this is the abdominal muscles. This active engagement while lengthening is what makes breathing so difficult in this pose. Another important muscle group to mention is the anterior neck muscles, or the muscles on the front of the neck. They are responsible for protecting the top part of the spine while also being lengthened due to gravity in the back bend.
If you aren't sure exactly which muscles are which, or how your anatomy affects your yoga, reach out to a local teacher or to me here. It's super important to study and learn things on your own...but NOTHING beats having another person watch you and double check how you are doing as well as share all of their knowledge with you.
Quotation of the month:
“You are God in human being…. In deep meditation you are not a human being, you are bha-ga-va, meaning God. Please ask Him to teach you how you may be absorbed in Him. Take a little breath, not watching the nostrils, but watching God, who is abiding on the top. See that He is taking a very feeble and faint breath, or even no breath. In a moment you will be able to experience the samadhi state, completely absorbed in divine love.”
Paramahamsa Hariharananda, The Beauty of Scriptural Wisdom, p. 146.
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