It’s up, down, all around. But we have the ability to track onto an energy flow and move more energy in our chosen direction. You set the intention and follow it. In classes this week we follow convergent flows deep into us to experience samana vayu, located at our navel centre. Samana vayu’s energy is used to process and distil the nourishment we draw into ourselves- food, air, information, experiences. It is a concentrating force.
So how do we access it? We can redirect our apana energy in the pelvis upwards into our navel centre with the help of our Uddiyana Bandha- our “flying upwards” lock. This draws our abdominal organs inward and lifts them, locking and concentrating the energy. We can send some of our prana energy in our heart centre downward with the help of the exhale.
Like building pressure in a container, the energy gathered in the navel centre creates heat and power that we can explore in our yoga asanas. Twists are a great way to draw our awareness to and activate this energy, as are forward folds. Our counterposes teach us to notice the energy dissipation here and help us restore balance.
Use your practice time to explore focused effort, but also its release, the ability to let it go when it is not needed. Carry this skill with you off the mat: give each activity your full attention and devotion. But know when it is finished, and take a few mindful breaths as you let it go- from your body, mind, and emotions. Cleanse yourself of it, ready to apply fresh focus to whatever comes next.
We interact with the energy around us whether we are aware or not. So let’s focus on that life energy we draw into ourselves that nourishes us- with air, food, ideas, love.
This week we consider the vital air of prana vayu. Prana with a BIG P is the energy that animates all beings. Yoga philosophy breaks these down into 5 flows which helps bring our awareness to different aspects of this energy within us.
We touched upon apana vayu last week. This week, we focus on prana vayu, the flow that draws this Prana energy into the body. Our heart and lungs become the focal area for prana, feeding our cardio respiratory system, our life blood. Pranayama practices help us to alter this energy interaction, and we learn to modify and control it according to our needs.
This week our asana practice focuses on channelling our breath to open our heart centre. Maintaining a firm foundation with apana’s downward energy, we can harness the prana flow to bring lift and lightness, vitality and flow.
I was watching Leslie’s Kaminoff’s video clip on building your asana from the ground up http://yogaanatomy.net/bos/.
He reminds us (with some humour thrown in) of the grounding energy of gravity, and the need to have stable foundations to build up from, or gravity will pull them back down. (Think leaning tower of Pisa).
Our bodies are a microcosm of these same forces, and the vayus, vital airs or energies within us and around us, also have a role to play in keeping us grounded- physically but also mentally and emotionally. We can harness Apana vayu’s downward energy to stay grounded, especially when there are active rising energies trying to uproot us. Autumn winds can leave us feeling scattered and unsettled, so digging our roots deeper can help pull us back to our centre.
But each of us will find our equilibrium in a different place so it makes sense our foundations of support will also be different. Whilst we can approach the stance of an asana similarly, you then need to find your own ground, play with what feels most stable and not get distracted by what is happening higher up in the asana- that can come later, be patient!
So have a clear vision of the edifice you are creating with your asana to determine the foundation you will need to support it and then start building from the ground up. As your asana rises up, renew the strength in your ground. Keep these forces in balance and you may be amazed by how far you can go.
Imagine yourself awaiting sunrise at dawn. As the sun rises, you feel its warmth. You open your arms, inviting its warmth into you with literally open arms. In yoga sun greetings, we replicate this action as we open our arms and open our heart centre.
But this can be a vulnerable position in terms of defending ourselves- physically, mentally, and emotionally. It takes strength, awareness, but also courage to sustain such an open posture. For many of us, it is not a familiar way to hold our bodies, so it can help to consider how to assist ourselves.
As always, the breath is with us to help open us up. We can deploy Uddiyana Bandha, drawing belly muscles inward and upward, to contain the breath higher up in the chest cavity. We can contract the back muscles, rolling shoulders back and drawing shoulder blades toward each other, to direct air to the front side of the body. Like squeezing an end of a balloon, we increase the pressure in the remaining area, the front chest. Then as we fill the lungs, the expansion opens our heart centre further.
As we work to open our hearts in classes this week, our asanas gradually become more demanding. So the challenge becomes to keep that open heart when things get difficult- a metaphor for life perhaps!
Outside the yoga class, you would look a bit odd doing all of this, and I would not encourage you to habitually hold in your belly! But you can develop the habit of rolling your shoulders back and down, and lifting your gaze, perhaps whenever you are walking. This open hearted posture will resonate in the energy you project to those who cross your path, especially if you throw in a smile!
Ruth is a yoga therapist and yoga teacher based in Cheltenham, UK. She emphasises yoga as a tool for well-being, for individuals and in her classes, in person or via zoom.