Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Inhale through your... anus (?)

I had a very interesting experience during practice this morning. I was in Prasarita Padottanasana D, breathing, grabbing my toes, and doing my best to engage my bandhas. I could feel my bandhas engaging, and the area around the anus and perineum felt very sensitive and charged full of energy. And then it occurred to me that it almost feels like the breath is coming into the body not through my nose, but through my anus! Or at least through the perineal area around the anus.

I can't help feeling that this sensation of inhaling through the anus has a lot to do with the engagement of mula bandha. Of course, this is not expert opinion or anything even close to it; I don't know if visualizing the bandhas in this way--as involving an imaginary inhalation through the anus--is even "correct method". But when it comes to practice, I have always been very into how things feel "from the inside", so to speak. Especially when we are trying to approach something as subtle as mula bandha. I wonder if an explanation like this would be helpful to somebody who is new to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga? (For a list of some other ways of explaining mula bandha that I have encountered over the years, see this post.) Or would it be more confusing than anything else?

At any rate, I can't imagine that such an explanation would be very elegant in a typical yoga class. Picture this: In a serene yoga class in a fancy-looking yoga studio in some nice neighborhood of some nice city. A Lululemon-pants-clad yoga teacher is standing at the front of the class, the rest of the class bent over in Prasarita Padottanasana D. In her soft, soothing "yoga teacher voice", she murmurs, "Now engage and gently rotate your inner thighs inwards. Spread your butt cheeks wide and generous, bring awareness and energy to your anus and perineum. Now inhale through your perineum. And then exhale..." (Students: "What did she just say?! Inhale through the what?!") Meanwhile, in some corner of the room, some student who has too much gas in his belly takes the "exhale" part too seriously, and lets forth a mighty fart, shattering the serene atmosphere of the classroom with the thunder issuing forth from his bowels.  

Well, I'm probably going into too much graphic detail here (should have issued a disclaimer at the beginning of this post. My apologies...). But I'm guessing you can see how this explanation probably might not work in a standard studio environment. But nevertheless, I still find it very compelling, this image of breathing in through the anus. What do you think of this way of explaining and visualizing mula bandha? Is it "correct method"?

13 comments:

  1. Absolutely. "Breathe through your anal mouth" was one of Darby's catch phrases. Not only for during yoga, but while you're walking down the street, or sitting at your desk, or on your bike. Something about it makes sense. So good luck with that. I would say... Continue!

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    1. "Breathe through your anal mouth"... I like that :-) Thanks for the expert confirmation of my experience. I'll try to practice this "anal breathing" more often in my everyday life from now on.

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  2. Great post!!!

    This instructional language on the anal mouth might have been learned from BKS Iyengar. That language still used in authentic Iyengar classrooms today.

    Because almost nobody actually goes to Iyengar classes, sometimes it's easy for the few who do to get away with using the insights of that method without citing the source. John Friend is the biggest example, but there's actually kind of a lot of good Iyengar teaching being incorporated into other styles and off as original these days. Understandably, the Iyengis feel sort of exploited.

    At least we're not knocking off their bloomers. ;)

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    1. Yes, one can practice anal mouth breathing while keeping one's bloomers on :-)

      Interesting... actually, come to think of it, I'm really not surprised if the Iyengis are the source of this instructional language, with all their talk about moving the skin of the buttocks and all that.

      As for (not) citing the source, well... yoga teachers aren't academics, so I'll cut some slack here. Moreover, I have it on fairly good authority that contemporary Indian culture isn't exactly known for respecting sources (think Bollywood songs copying each other). But this is getting into neither-here-nor-there territory. So I'll leave it at this.

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    2. Totally. Intellectual property is a capitalist concept.

      Indian culture has a whoooole other set of traditions and values around the provenance of information. Pattabhi Jois' refusal to take creative credit for the ashtanga system is, to me, a beautiful and fascinating expression of a whole web of cultural meanings I'm only beginning to appreciate.

      That said, I am often in a position to take credit for instructional insights that I am merely passing on. Citing other ashtanga teachers when I'm passing on what they taught me, personally is a matter of respect and very much part of my attempt to practice asteya and aparigraha when it comes to my relationship with information. (And in that context, my Iyengar teacher - one of the best in the world - has asked me not to mix what I learn from her haphazardly in to my transmission of ashtanga method. So I don't. )

      Clarity of method, baby. Personally, the discipline of keeping the channels clear feels like saucha - respecting the boundaries between things - even if it's also ever so academic. ;)

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2gTFBhQ7Ko

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    3. Yes, SKPJ's refusal to take creative credit for Ashtanga is beautiful indeed. :-)

      I like your reminder that intellectual property is a capitalist concept and your interpretation of saucha as respecting boundaries. Actually, I'm beginning to wonder if putting these two things together might help to explain my feeling less-than-fully-well-adjusted in academia: Perhaps there's a certain tension between the sort of syncretistically taking whatever works and running with it that characterizes so much of contemporary yoga practice, and the fastidious (almost obsessive) attention to intellectual property that characterizes western academia? Or maybe I'm just in bad faith, and trying to find an excuse for my own maladjustment? I don't know...

      I look forward to studying with you one day, and benefiting from all these instructional insights that you are passing on :-)

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  3. Do one employ ujayi when breathing through one's anal mouth? Or just breath with sound? Or is that called farting?

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    1. You really got me thinking with this one, Tom. I've always assumed that the breathing sound I hear in shalas comes from people's throats and mouths. Now I'm not so sure...

      Well, perhaps some people fart with their mouths? Or is this called burping? Then again, maybe regular farting is actually burping with one's anus? The possibilities are endless...

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  4. In Singleton's "Yoga Body: The origins of Modern Posture" he quotes the Gheranda Samhita, a 17th Century text on the prelimiary stage of the hatha discipline consisting of 6 purifications. Number 2 is Basti, or "Yogic Enema," effected by sucking water into the colon by means of abdominal vacuum technique (Uddiyana Bandha); nearly fell out of my chair when I read that one. I'm reading it on the Kindle edition, it's 11% in.

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    1. Interesting. So I suppose this means that if I inhale hard enough through the anus, I will one day be able to generate enough suction to suck water into my colon. Not that I'd want to try, but interesting nonetheless. :-)

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  5. looked it up on Wikipedia which led me to this guide to the practice of basti http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1991/cmay91/basti.shtml

    It actually contains the warning that the practice should not be performed in cloudy or stormy weather! If you are sucking water up your anus I guess the prospect of a lightning strike takes on a whole new perspective :-)

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    1. Thanks for the info :-)

      "If you are sucking water up your anus I guess the prospect of a lightning strike takes on a whole new perspective :-)"

      Hahaha...

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