Monday, October 10, 2011

Practice, Mula Bandha as cessation of thought, confessions of a yogic stalker

This morning, I did full primary and second up to Ardha Matsyendrasana. Why no Karandavasana? Well, my SI joint has been feeling dodgy the last few days. In particular, during full primary on Saturday morning, I felt this twinge in my right SI joint area as I was getting into Kurmasana, and for the rest of the day, my back just felt wrong. I couldn't sit for more than half an hour without feeling my lower back stiffen up.

So this morning, I decided to work slowly from primary. I paid special attention to the first few postures, especially the Suryas. In particular, in Surya B, I tried to apply a few of the things that PakistaniAshtangi recently shared from her workshop with Dena Kingsberg (I'm quoting directly from PakistaniAshtangi's notes here):

(1) "Go deep (and I mean deep) into a squat in the Utkatasana bit – this will help develop strength in the legs needed for standing up from UD, while also developing your ability to do Pasasana (by stretching the Achilles tendons) – then come up from the deep squat to lift the hands overhead, and come up far enough so that your back becomes comfortable (i.e. not scrunched, no butt sticking out), and neck comes up last. When folding over on the next out-breath don’t straighten your legs until your torso is flat against your legs, then straighten the legs. When jumping back, land with arms straight so you can set up your Chaturanga by rolling the shoulders back, lifting the heart, and squeeze the bandhas tight, then lower to chaturanga."

(2) "In upward dog: Keep feet pretty close together, no more than hip width apart (though Dena actually does it with her feet touching to get the maximum effect). When you protect the lower back with your bandhas this will, apparently, minimize strain and pain in lower back and make the other, stiffer parts of the back bend. All toes should press into the floor, and there should be a tension, a stretch, pulling your toes one way and your chest/upper body the other way – which is really important, Dena talked a lot about stretching things in two directions, the tension between two ends of a pose. Only that way will you get the backbend you want."

I discovered that paying attention to all these things really helps you to get so much more out of Surya B. By the time I finished standing, I felt strong enough to go through primary. I tried to apply the same things that Dena emphasized in Surya B to the updog portion of the vinyasas: I realized that I have a tendency to just kind of move quickly through the updogs without paying too much attention to the posture. I discovered this morning that emphasizing the concept of there being an active tension (pulling toes one way, upper body/chest the other way) really makes a difference in stretching and lengthening the front body in between the many forward bends of primary.

When I got to Kurmasana, I paid close attention to getting into the postures without trying to push or yank my way into position. To my pleasant surprise, there were no unpleasant sensations in Kurmasana. I even managed to sit up and get into Supta Kurmasana via Dwi Pada Sirsasana without incident.

Through it all, I think that being mindful of one's breath and movement and paying attention to the bandhas really help to make the practice safe and productive. Speaking of bandhas, I just read Kino's latest blog post. She was teaching her workshop in Chicago last week, and met Richard Freeman (who, incidentally, was conducting a Teacher's Intensive in Chicago at the same time) for coffee and attended his yoga philosophy class. In this class, Freeman discusses Shankaracharya's views on mula banda. Here's Kino's notes on Freeman's talk:

"Mula Bandha – 114

yanmulam sarvabhutanam yanmulam cittabandharam/
mulabandhah sada sevyo yogyo’sau rajayoginam

That which is the root of all existence and on which the cessation of the mind is based is called mulabandha, which should always be served since it is fit for raja-yogis.

Richard says that mula bandha is the cessation of thought so it cannot be something you think or try to do. It is more of a seva, which means service or to attend to and the idea is that mula bandha is treated like a deity and you do seva to the deity at the sacred temple sitting deep within the pelvis. The balancing of energies on the pelvic floor is the way to consecrate the temple and then the goddess serpent Kundalini will stand up when she wants to. The voyeur of the ego prevents the goddess from awakening because you have to invite her as the sacred flame at the root of the pelvic floor so that she inhabits the temple. Mula bandha according to Richard is not a mechanical thing but more like a devotional experience. He suggested doing a bhakti puja to Ganapti in the pelvis to get mula bandha and to invite the god into the temple at the base of the pelvic floor. In the form of the goddess, “sri” is her name. Then with a cheeky smile Richard said that this is the secret part of the lineage and that he shouldn’t have even told us this. I thought for a moment about not sharing his definition of mula bandha but I decided to share it anyway. I hope I haven’t committed an Ashtanga crime."

I find all this really fascinating, especially the idea that mula bandha isn't actually something you do or engage. The idea, as I understand it, is that our daily practice is a daily act of service and devotion to this sacred power that we all possess deep within the pelvis. Over the course of consistent practice, the kundalini will arise of its own volition "when she wants to." Seen in this light, we don't actually try to achieve anything through the practice; the practice is more like the actions of plowing the soil of our being, planting the seeds and watering them consistently. The fruit (kundalini) will arise when the time is ripe. Or, as Guruji would say, "Do your practice, and all is coming."

Speaking of Kino's workshop, on a more personal note, I can't help noting that I was at her Chicago workshop around this time last year. I just couldn't find the time (or money) to go this year, because I am already doing quite a bit of traveling in the next few weeks for academic purposes. You know, when I read about her encounter with Richard Freeman, I couldn't help wondering: What if I had gone to her Chicago workshop last week? If I had, perhaps I would also have had the good fortune of meeting Freeman myself too, if I were thick-skinned enough to shamelessly hang around Kino, and maybe "shadow"/borderline-stalk her to that Starbucks at the time when she met Freeman (hmm... you didn't know I am a yogic stalker, did you? :-)). Well, you know, maybe I could just hang around for a few minutes outside the Starbucks, and then "coincidentally" show up at the Starbucks ("Hey, Kino, you're here too! What a coincidence! Oh, aren't you Richard Freeman? I'm such a great fan of your book (although I haven't actually read it...")). Oh well, I just realized how ridiculous all this is starting to sound. Well, now you know what a ridiculous person I am... 

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