A Yoga pracitioner who recently resumed practicing wrote to me that “[Yoga] has had a wonderful impact on my body and mind”. I feel that the credit in this sentence is misplaced.
Yoga is essentially a “guide for better living” based on an assumption that existence is a meeting of Spirit & Matter (as described in Samkhya philosophy). It is a rich set of tools and techniques that can be used to play the magical instrument that we are. Yoga has no self-inherent existence or value. It comes to life only as an individual and intimate personal experience in practice.
We live busy and demanding lives – interacting with so many people in so many ways with so many self-reflections coming back at us that we become super-self-conscious. Something gets lost amongst a mirage of self-consciousness – to the point that we lose sight of it. Then, when we are gifted with a graceful Yoga practice – the busy-ness settles – sometimes long enough to enable something else to shine forth.
It isn’t Yoga that has a wonderful impact – Yoga has no “is-ness” that can make any impact. It is your interpretation and application of yoga – your practice that has a wonderful impact. Even that isn’t quite right … what you’ve “impacted” is disturbances that got in the way.
This isn’t about self-congratulation or taking credit – it is about clear perception and the responsibility that comes with that.
It is you that comes to Yoga – sometimes disturbed, sometimes peaceful.
It is you that practices Yoga – sometimes distracted, sometimes present.
It is you that walks out of Yoga – sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter.
It is you untangling knots you created.
It is you that are wonderful.
It is you that gets lost and found and lost and found …
Bandhas seem like a very popular topic amongst western Yoga practitioners. Bandhas are “locks” that are used to effect the flow of energy in the body. Energetically, bandhas are effective and relevant when there is already a good flow of energy. But bandhas have another quality which can be useful for almos all practices and practitioners – they create focus.
I will start this conversation of bandha with a less known and less popular but very useful bandha – Jihva Bandha – the tongue lock. Jihwa bandha is performed by placing the tongue on the roof (upper palette) of the mouth. It’s that simple. It has an immediate and gratifying side-effect of silence – it’s hard to talk with Jivha bandha in place – so if you are a teacher it’s a great way to start a class 🙂 It becomes an interesting and sometimes challenging focus when you try to hold it in place during an entire practice. It demands attenion on focus – you’ll be able to perform any posture regardless of the position of your tongue – so it is entirely a practice of mind.
The effects of Jihva bandha are described in it’s more extreme form of Kechari in the “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” chapter 3 sutras 32 – 41. In the practice of Kechari the tongue is lenghtened so that it can reach deeper into the physical mouth and where there is an energetic “hot-spot” – where there flows a divine nectar “Soma” of concentrated life-energy. The tongue is lenghthened by stretching it, shaking it and gradually cutting the tissue beneath it which keeps it in place!
I don’t recommdne Kechari – but I highly recommend adding Jihva bandha to your practice.
My current practice includes numerous assymetric postures. These are postures in which one side of the body is placed in a different position then the other. They are usually performed in sequences in which both sides of the body are practiced – either in alternating form or in separate sets of movement.
One of the assymetric postures in my practice is Janusirsana – an assymetric forward bend in which one leg is folded in and the other streched straight. I practice each side and then a similar symmetric posture (Pascimatanasana) in which both legs are stretched straight. Here is a simplified version of this sequence:
Assymetric postures are an opportunity to observe differences between two sides of the body. In a seated posture sequence like this you may observe differences in leg stretches, in hip movement, in the lower back, etc. My spine feels the same on both sides but sometimes I experience a tension in my lower back on the left side. Stiffness in my lower back sometimes translates into stiffness in my shoulders. My right hip feels more open and dynamic then my left hip. My left leg is more stretchy then my right leg.
Having a symmetric posture following the assymetric sequence is good practice. For the body it recreates a sense of center and balance between the two sides. But what is more interesting to me is what happens in the mind. If I was present and observant in the assymetric practices – then I sometimes also find I am curious to see how the two will come together. How will the tension in my left-lower-back, my stretchy right leg and less stretchy left leg come together? The symmetric posture then becomes an experience of integration.
For me, it isn’t usually a comprehensible/analytical understanding (that would take me out of the experience itself) – but an appreciation of how the body is naturally capable of bringing it all together into a fluid and integrated movement. It is a reminder to me that my body is more then my mind can comprehend and that without my mind I wouldn’t be able to appreciate my body.
I found a paper in my Yoga teachers training pile – and on it is a short phrase written in large capitalized letters that cover the entire page. If memory serves, I wrote it down during a retreat as my teacher was talking. I don’t recall if it was a sponatenous phrase or if he was quoting another source – but it is a gem of wisdom:
A change in breath can diminish the experience of limits. A breathing pattern is usually committed to memory and the limits are associated with it. When the breathing is altered, the memory of the limit disappears and we can explore beyond.