Playing Your Intelligent Edge

What is playing your intelligent edge in asana practice? First, we must define “edge.” The intelligent edge in any given asana is a place of simultaneous challenge and ease. It embodies the yogic concept of sukha, or ease, and sthira, fufilling, steady, conscious engagement.

The edge is also where the things that don’t serve us can be cut away and released. The edge is a place where light severs the unnecessary from the essential.

I’ve seen students assume a yoga pose without energy, engagement or focus. They are assuming the shape of the pose without energy, concentration or application of their whole being. The next step for such a student is to begin applying the complimentary opposites of reaching, pushing, grounding and pulling within the context of the particular pose. Finally, the great potent elixir of the the diaphragmatic breath is injected as the catalyst of consciousness.

Sustaining the pose at the edge, in a sweet fire is where we will make progress, both physical, mental and emotional. This edge is a crucible for human development.

Michael Lee, the yogi who originated Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT), had a very deep experience of the edge many years ago that led him to the basis for PRYT. While being assisted in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) by a friend, Michael felt that he was ready to release the pose. His friend encouraged him to persist for awhile longer. As the pose became more challenging to his endurance edge, Michael deepened his breath and witnessed strange noises coming involuntarily from his mouth. When his persistence met the limit of his endurance his hip felt like a “volcanic eruption.” His body vibrated as tears poured down his cheeks. Michael had broken through fears that had haunted his subconscious since childhood.

I had a similar experience in Ustrasana/Camel Pose years ago when my marriage was unraveling. The deep heart opening of Camel Pose allowed me to release the anguish and fear that had built up over an intense period of turbulence in that relationship.

I’m not saying that all of our edge experiences will deliver us to such complete redemption, but these emotional releases are not uncommon. As we practice working with our minds and bodies on that edge, we will be transformed. This is where our issues will arise and resolve. By bravely persisting at the edge of our endurance, suspended between pleasure and pain, asana facilitates our rebirth, bit by bit.

Depending on our own issues and constitution, the poses that challenge us the most will lead us to our moments of transformation. As we listen and dialogue with our bodies in practice, we accept the challenges that yoga or union with the divine presents to us. Because we trust our practice and the assurance of our own loving kindness, we know beyond doubt that we can trust this process of transformation. It is a psycho-physical therapeutic method of achieving permanent human change.

One thing to notice about asana practice is poses we avoid. Our aversion to those poses is a message that those poses are just what we need to process our deep, perhaps unspoken issues. These intuitive promptings will lead us to experiences of liberation as we address the edge and play with the spirit of faith and expectation.

Though these kinds of experiences sometimes occur spontaneously during our daily practice, the help of a trusted teacher or yoga therapist can help us reach deeper states of liberation in a more concerted way.

Either way, whether these achievements come upon us during the solitary moments of our personal practice, during a class or a private session, know that you are being guided by the infinite loving consciousness that resides in us and binds us all together in pursuit of our full human potential which is our birthright.

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The Manifest Destiny of Yoga Practice

The wonders of asana never cease. As we push into the borders, the frontiers of our individual, self-prescribed limitations we touch consciousness itself, fertile ground, fresh insight, greater freedom, a taste of bliss. This is the manifest destiny of yoga practice. I know this term carries a lot of baggage in American history, so I want to reclaim it for this non-violent practice of expanding our reach into the unknown. Rather than invading, subduing and violating the sanctity of a new land, we are answering the invitation of the Universe to respectfully walk into places we not only have not been, but places whose existence we have not even been able to conceive.
When we consider the “tree of yoga” as B.K.S. Iyengar wrote in his book of the same name, we may see the branches as separate, individual yogic attributes. When we practice the physical postures of asana we may not necessarily think of dharana or dhyana, concentration and meditation. Broaching our personal frontiers requires us to drink the sap of the tree of yoga from all of the branches simultaneously. As we salute the sun, stand solidly in Mountain Pose or extend into Warrior II, we follow the lengthened breath. The breath is the sap of the tree of life. The practitioner, by uniting motion and breath, becomes the living, growing tree of yoga in union with the mysterious, unlimited Universe. Asana, properly practiced, demands concentration. Sustained concentration becomes meditation, or more simply put, cultivation of the mind. Cultivating the mind with persistent practice quells the fluctuations of the monkey mind so that we become a steady receiver for the wondrous transmissions of the attuned soul.
I know this all may sound a bit far-flung, lofty or even impractical perhaps, but this is our destiny. This is what this life is all about. Discovery, exploration and ever- increasing knowledge can be accomplished without violence and destruction. This is why we have yoga and so many other contemplative arts, to lead us to our true potential as human beings.
So, the next time you roll out your yoga mat, become the tree of simultaneously living, breathing limbs. Move, breathe, focus and take a step into the new land that is your birthright, the land of union, infinity and unforeseen wonders.

Body Mind Centering: Creating Prana Flow From Asana

Whether we are yoga practitioners or not, whether we meditate or not, or whether we even have spiritual inclinations or not; we’re all seeking balance on the human journey. We may not even be conscious that we are seeking balance. We are always trying to balance the different aspects of our lives like our diets, our professional ambitions, our love relationships, our family obligations et cetera. Nick Wallenda, the tight rope walker, isn’t the only human being trying to pull off the ultimate balancing act; we’re all engaged in this process every minute of our lives, even as we sleep.

Practicing yoga asana is not simply about fitness or achieving the perfect yoga butt. Creating balance and alignment with the universal life force, or prana, is what yoga asana is all about. Through asana practice we become aware of our internal biological gyroscope that is constantly orienting us to the flow of prana, our connection to unlimited energy. As we practice with awareness we develop extraordinary or even super normal sensitivity to the prana flowing through our bodies and how to refine our connection to the boundless source that powers the entire cosmos.

This may all sound rather esoteric or theoretical, but we can begin to understand this immediately when we practice poses like Warrior I and Warrior II. After we establish the basic architecture of the pose, we energize these asana by grounding through our feet and legs, lengthening through the torso and energizing the arms in various ways. These movements bring us awareness of our muscles, bones, joints, connective tissues, organs and glands. As we push down and out with our feet we feel the simultaneous engagement of our feet, ankles, and the muscles of the legs and pelvis. As we sustain the pose with focused breath we feel how the torso is centered over the pelvis, and how minute degrees of movement change the amount of energy required to continue the pose. Fatigue helps us define the balanced pose by encouraging us to recruit a concert of muscular support that balances the burden of gravity and teaches us how to access a more efficient flow of energy.

This is why B.K.S. Iyengar always insisted on proper architectural alignment in asana. Energy flows through the body most efficiently when the musculoskeletal system is posed in the proper geometric relationship to its connected members in its association with gravity. For example, in the warrior poses the most efficient alignment of the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (largest bone in the foreleg) is 90 degrees. If the knee is ahead of or behind the ankle, more energy will be need to sustain the pose. Try this out yourself and you’ll soon see how balancing the torso over the pelvis and aligning the knee over the ankle allow you to center your body and mind as you breathe with an easier flow of energy.

Architects and builders are quite aware of these principles of stability when they consider building design. Stress within a structure, or how energy flow is managed in a building or a human body, can be managed by efficiency in design or posture.

Our awareness and practice of these principles of alignment allow us to access what author Katherine Howe calls our “secret reservoir of power.” This is the power to have mastery over our minds and bodies, thoughts and emotions. As we practice we learn how to access prana from the air, water and food we ingest. We learn the alchemical magical art of transmuting what nourishes us into a state of balance that resides in the calm, blissful center of our souls.

In asana we are not just lumps of meat hanging unconsciously from our bones. We are attuning our individual frequency to the unlimited universal power source so we can be pipelines for prana flow. In so doing we increase our capacity for compassion and acceptance of ourselves and others. We build determination and perseverance. We become the kind of human beings who can be useful in this world so fraught with trial and difficulty.

This is why asana is so important. We are physical beings. As we attune our physical receiver to the eternal frequency we refine our ability to align ourselves with excellence, goodness and unlimited accomplishment.