Tag Archive for: shakti

5 Prana Vayus – Learn About & Restore The Vital Energies In Moving Meditation

This meditation in motion honoring the 5 Prana Vayus has been part of my morning routine for the past 2 years. It can be beneficial standing or in a chair. It has energized me when I wake up slow, coddled me when I struggled to get out of bed, quieted my mind when its running before my feet even touch the floor, kept my lungs vibrant, prepares my body and mind for seated meditation and allows me to celebrate the joy of breathing into my body for another day. Like getting to know a new friend, it has transformed and grown into a practice I cherish and am delighted to introduce to you. The video is short and basic, but the creation and daily practice of the meditation has been profound for me. I hope you enjoy continually learning about and experiencing the 5 Vayus intellectually, practically and energetically along with me. If so, please send me a comment!

Peace and Light, Megan

Shining One,
Breathing out, let go
And fall into knowing all of creation
As existing within space,
And you are absorbed in that
Vibrant empty fullness.
In this moment your body is intimate
With space, exchanging essence for essence.
Balance in the midst of vast emptiness,
Know utter freedom.
– The Radiance Sutras, Verse 35

Prana is the life force that is always moving and changing within us; it is what sets our life in motion and it is the power of becoming. We experience it physically as it rides the breath, but the underlying current of this animating force is energetic. Prana follows attention and responds to intention. As Prana enters the body, it separates and takes on different purposes in the body. These specific personalities of Prana are called the Vayus. The Vayus function as a whole like cogs in wheels, though they maintain their their specific location, movement direction and purpose.

Tasmin sati svasa prasvasaho gati-vicccheda pranayama
Pranayama is the conscious, deliberate regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath replacing unconscious patterns of breathing. It is is possible only after reasonable mastery of asana practice.
– Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2.49

Pranayama is the practice of refinement of breath as the source of Prana. Even though the nature of Prana is to always be moving, the practice of pranayama with intention and visualization allows us to command where the energy goes. Physical purification is first.

Working with the Prana Vayus, we can initially improve the physical breath and disperse the energies to resolve imbalance and blockages. Once stability is attained, psycho-emotional purification takes place, opening the door for expansion. What starts as a physical relationship between movement and breath eventually provides the energies to build the positive life force within us. This is the supplier of health and vitality of body, mind, and emotions.

Remember the cogs wheel analogy; working with the Prana Vayus is like realigning the cogs with the center wheel in the naval. As blockages are resolved, the machine is balanced. In a state of balance, each of the Vayus feed the flame of Samana Vayu in the naval center, building the positive life force. The inner light of passion and discipline brightens and radiates outward. Like a good belly laugh, Samana Vayu can not be contained; its heat energy merges with the all pervasive, expansive power of Vyana Vayu. Vyana Vayu lives within and beyond the boarders of the physical body. When it is visible outside the skin, this luminous glow is referred to as the aura or biofield and often depicted in ancient art as a halo. Vyana Vayu is also the power that energy healers tap into when using their hands to clear and balance their client’s biofield.

Bahya abhyantara visaya aksepi caturthah
The fourth type of pranayama transcends the external and internal pranayamas, and appears effortless and non-deliberate. An entirely different state of breathing appears in the state of yoga. Then the breath transcends the level of the consciousness.
– Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2.51

Prana combines with Shakti to allow us to live our lives energetically as humans – to speak, think, move, etc. By bringing mind and breath together at the forefront of our awareness, we are intimate with Prana Shakti. Unfortunately, our Prana Shakti is limited and we can exhaust it when we do too much or are constantly overstimulated. Meditative practices counteract the exhaustion of the Shakti power. With time and in an act of surrender, these practices go deeper toward the subtle level where Prana Shakti is used to access and awaken Kundalini; this is the force of creation that is always available to us in its awakened form. Unlike Prana that is malleable (changeable), Kudalini energy is the power of being that is unchanging; the place where our true nature unfolds. Kundalini is the entirety of all of our energies of body, mind, senses, breath, and consciousness as well as the energies in the natural world we live in. It is the steadiness of Kundalini Shakti that stills Prana. Progression toward internalization is greatly benefited by bringing awareness into the heart with a positive thought, image, word, feeling etc. This is the development that goes beyond physical changes, like feeling as if you are breathing more efficiently, into spiritual cultivation. What spiritual development looks like to you is individual and depends on your background and beliefs.

Tatah ksiyate Prakash avaranam
The regular practice of pranayama reduces the obstacles that inhibit clear perception and removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and wisdom.
– Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2,52

Yoga philosophy uses the analogy of wearing mental “veils” to describe the unconscious obstacles that cause suffering and pain. Klesha means “poison” in Sanskrit, and the five Kleshas are veils that give rise to mental toxins. 1. Avidya – Ignorance, 2. Asmita – Ego 3. Raga – Attachment, 4. Dvesha – Aversion, 5. Abhinivesah – Fear of death. We know when the energy of Kundalini Shakti is accessed because our normal patterns like fear, attachment and ego in the lower chakras no longer pull us and determine our behaviors.

Access my 5 Prana Vayus In Moving Meditation on YouTube:

Udana Vayu = rising air
Location: from naval to crown of head
Focus: throat
Direction: upward and outward, exhaling, ascending,
Function: growth, communication, creative expression, enthusiasm, self-expression, universality, moving from ignorance to enlightenment
Element: ether and sound
5th Chakra: Vishuddha (throat)
Movement & Breath: Place heals of hands on the forehead. Inhale while lifting forehead to open throat, exhale to release.

Prana Vayu = vital air (this is prana vayu, as opposed to Prana itself as the life force)
Location: from head to naval
Focus: heart, chest and head
Direction: in and up, intake, inhaling/inspiration, propulsion
Function: internalization, energizing, receiving sensory impressions, forward charge, interpreting, thinking, consciousness, self knowledge and reflection, sushumna nadi
Element: all elements
All Chakras
Movement & Breath: Place hands on heart center. Breathe into heart center while opening arms to the sides and lifting head. Exhale hands and gaze back to heart.

Samana Vayu = unchanging air
Location: naval
Focus: abdomen
Direction: periphery to center, inner absorption, contraction
Function: discernment, equalization, assimilation, independence, metabolism, integrity, digesting food and oxygen, will, self esteem and definition, inner light
Element: fire
3rd Chakra: Manipura (solar plexus)
Movement & Breath: Place hands at naval center. Inhale while taking arms out to the sides and overhead, exhale to return to sides, inhale while taking arms forward and overhead, exhale to release. Repeat alternating direction of arm movement.

Apana Vayu = downward air
Location: from naval to soles of feet, lower abdomen, colon
Focus: pelvis, legs and feet
Direction: descending, outward
Function: elimination, grounding, steady, childbirth,, security, sexuality, self preservation and gratification, being in the moment, connecting to the earth
Element: water and earth
1st & 2nd Chakra: Muladhara (root) and Svadhistana (sacral)
Movement & Breath: Place hands at pelvis. Breathe into the back side while rounding the spine like a cat, exhale to bend knees and drop pelvis downward. Inhale to stand. Exhale to visualize grounding energy down into pelvis, legs and feet.

Vyana Vayu = diffused air
Location: from naval, heart, and lugs to entire body
Focus: whole body
Direction: from center to periphery, all pervading, integrates all other Prana Vayus
Function: expansiveness, circulation, coordination, reacting, distributes food, water, oxygen and energy to all parts of the body, initiates mental activity, love, compassion, healing, self acceptance, expanding, moves through gross nervous system and subtle counterpart (nadis), experienced as aura
Element: air
4th Chakra: Anahata (heart)
Movement & Breath: Focus on one side at a time. Focus on left side. Breathe into left lung while extending out through left arm and leg. Visualize energy flowing freely through Ida Nadi and entire left side of body. Breathe out to return to neutral. Repeat on left. Switch to right side. Breathe into right lung while extending out through right arm and leg. Visualize energy flowing freely through Pingala Nadi and entire right side of body.

 

Helping Clients Overcome Challenges

Helping Clients Overcome Practice Challenges through Somatic Space

This article was originally published by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Yoga Therapy Today, Winter 2018, Yoga Therapy in Practice, www.iayt.org 

Increased interoceptive awareness—the deep knowledge of what’s occurring in the physical body, the soma—can be a negative experience for some. Notwithstanding the long-term benefits clients gain through heightened self-awareness, we yoga therapists may find ourselves needing to help clients navigate uncomfortable sensations and emotions that arise from yogic inquiry. Yoga, perhaps initially perceived as a purely physical activity, can move students through the three psychic layers of the gunas (qualities). I use somatic yoga and the pancha kosha (five-sheaths) model to guide people toward sattva (balance); here I offer practical ideas to help others to do the same.

When muscles fail to perform, it is not necessarily because they are strong or weak. Muscle inhibition occurs in athletes and armchair quarterbacks alike. The ability to control muscles comes partly from nervous system communication. Somatic Yoga was developed to increase communication among the nervous system, brain, and pranic body. My eyes opened to the benefits of a regular Somatic Yoga practice as a result of experiencing chronic pain in the sacroiliac joint (nervous system), post-concussion syndrome (brain), and energy-body consciousness (pranic body).

I liken the journey through the somatic space to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey; separation, initiation, and return. In yogic terms, The Hero’s Journey translates as the gunas, or subtle basic components of life. Tamas (often translated as “darkness”) is the road of separation—appearing wide and easy, it represents ignorance and inertia. Innumerable people are breathing a lackluster survival breath and walking the black road of tamas without even knowing it. Perhaps they cannot or chose not to be present in the body. Often in the depths of physical or mental despair, they receive the call to action. Rajas (passion) is the winding, uphill road of action/initiation.

Yoga practices, particularly Somatic Yoga, in my experience, can delicately guide clients through rajas when they feel agitated (or, for some, when they feel anything at all) and when they face off with the things they fear the most—the kleshas (obstacles). Students who view this awareness as a negative may be scared, sad, angry, or in denial. They may discontinue the practice and go back to tamas because it is safe and familiar. Initially, rajas requires surrender. With guidance and regular practice, rajas is where we start to see we have control of our lives. Tamas is the victim mentality. The discomfort of rajas is where you learn to love yourSelf, dragons and all, to get to the purity of the sattvic state. Yogic philosophy doesn’t see the journey as acquiring a new strength, as Campbell does; rather, in Somatic Yoga the superpower is something that was always there. Remembering and returning to awareness of the Self is the steady state of sattva.

 

Demystify the Somatic Space

A starting point for somatic inquiry may be to take the mystery out of movement with a brief overview of the nervous system. The somatic system, or voluntary nervous system, includes both sensory and motor neurons, allowing communication to flow freely to and from the muscles, sensory organs, and skin. What we call muscle memory is really one of the jobs of the nervous system. Habitual movement, aging, and trauma (conditioned reflexes) can cause the nervous system to “forget” how to move with fluidity and freedom. We should explain to our students that both physical and emotional trauma can result in the inability to feel ourselves. Psychological trauma is held in the brain, but we also hold trauma in the body in the form of unconscious contractions. Despite being voluntary, much of our somatic movement takes place below the level of conscious awareness; the fact that this does not always have to be so is a tremendous asset that we can use to empower our students.

How do you guide those who encounter difficulty doing what on the surface appears to be a simple practice? Let the goal be to stay present. Teach them that they have the tools within themselves to heal; they need only to listen to their bodies. When physical or mental challenges arise, normalize movement and emotional response. Give such clients veto power. “Veto” means “I forbid” in Latin and can be absolute or limited.

Working with a sensation scale rather than a pain scale teaches clients that it is safe to be present in their bodies, even in discomfort. The body communicates through sensation. Discuss pain as a complex communicator that is about structure and emotional response, much of which is attached to previous experience and fear. Don’t make the scale all about difficulty. Encourage them to remember the sensation of pleasure: massage, eating something delicious, petting a furry friend, sexual satisfaction, or a simple hug. The traditional ayurvedic techniques of garshana (gentle dry-brushing of the skin) or abhyanga (warm oil massage) can be intimate gateways to reintroduce the nervous system to the sensation of pleasure through the skin.

What happens when a student discovers structural imbalance or an inability to feel a muscle? For instance, when working with the quadratus lumborum, a client may feel an immediate muscle response on one side of the back and think the muscle doesn’t exist on the other. Similarly, Somatic Yoga is a recommended postpartum practice to reconnect to the pelvic floor and transversus abdominis, but these muscles may be difficult to locate kinetically. Guide the students to bringing their awareness into the area with the intention to visualize it; visual aids such as a photograph of a particular muscle and thoughtfully placed props can accentuate cognitive connection. In the case of movement disorders where there is an inability to move or movement cannot be controlled, guide clients to imagine the experience of the movement.

Give people ample time to “mind their Ps”: pause, present, precious perception. Allow them to experience how much sensation can exist in stillness. When doing asymmetrical movements, take a full minute of inactivity between the two sides. The mind loves to entertain contrast in the body. The first side can communicate the experience to the brain to prepare the second side for the movement. Learn from the experience but don’t anticipate how the second side will respond. When both sides of the body are done, pause again, noticing the similarities and differences.

Ask clients to describe recurring and unfamiliar sensations as fantastically as they can and to label perceptions as something other than “good,” “bad,” or “okay.” Remind them occasionally that you are the DJ choosing the song, but they control the volume knob of bodily sensation.

Work within the Kosha Model

What door would enable a client to enter the body: spanda, shakti or grace?

Spanda: Annamaya Kosha

Spanda is play and spontaneous expression of aliveness! Let the practice be “sloppy yoga.” This often works with those who are more physically oriented, like to overdo movements, and have difficulty stepping away from the bigger, stronger, faster philosophy. Sitting too much, rigidity, and habitual movement patterns are what get us into trouble in the first place, so play! One approach is to ask students to invoke their inner child and do the practice as if just learning to move. Suggest they give themselves permission to approach the movements like their favorite animal would. Ask them to continually notice when bodily sensations move, increase, dull, or subside.

Even when the practice is familiar, invoke the beginner’s mind; don’t just go through the motions. The practice may at times appear uneventful, but fascinating things are happening at the subtle-
body level. Enthusiastically encourage curiosity and amazement. Freedom of expression in the body inspires creative thinking. If it adds to the creative pulse, somatic yoga can be a breath-centered practice. The inhalation deepens the student’s experience of expansion and elongation; the exhalation allows release. As Carl Jung said, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.”

Shakti: Pranamaya Kosha

The vital force of prana shakti makes itself tangible though the breath. This approach is for those who are more devotional, spiritual, or who enjoy meditation. A healthy dose of skepticism works, and yoga nidra can be used to develop conscious awareness of the pranic body. A goal of yoga therapy is to create energy and distribute it to all parts of the body. It can be valuable to offer your client a simplified explanation of the subtle body that may include nadis (energetic channels), chakras, vayus (“winds,” or functions of prana), and/or marma points. When the students can sense where their breath originates or can connect to their spiritual heart, they are ready to explore the power of creating energy through awareness and intention. Explain that pain can be thought of as congested energy. Ask them to breathe into the body, noticing where they feel tension or discomfort. Then on the next inhale, breathe into the tension; exhale the energy out. If a specific point in the body needs healing or release, the student can use all their senses to create an active image in their mind and fill the particular part of their body with the image.

As prana is experienced on the subtle level as touch, placement of hands can result in clearer communication. This is different from manual manipulation, which may fall outside the scope of your practice and can be interpreted by the students as “doing it wrong,” “not doing enough,” or that you are fixing them. Use your hands to teach them to use their own hands as feelers for the nervous system, transmitting their own life force from their heart (the seat of prana) through their hands. When finished, have them ask the subtle body if it has any messages.

Grace: Manomaya Kosha

One aspect of grace is the ability to surrender all limiting beliefs and previous experiences. Make the practice about self-acceptance over self-improvement. This is best received by those who feel more emotional, those who present with low self-esteem, or those for whom healing needs to triumph over curing. Two influential words are “allow” and “trust.” You may also want them to start by creating an affirmation or sankalpa (heartfelt intention) and to keep repeating it. Teach them to let go of self-judgment. In a society that rewards “perfection,” teach that it is okay to make mistakes! Stay away from language that leads to what the movement should look or feel like. Offer the understanding that the senses are intended to bring joy. Explain imagery as the language of the mind: it listens to what is outside us through our senses, then speaks in images that can turn into words. We decide to attach a positive or negative association to the words, and therein lies the difference between pain and suffering.

Hold Space: Vijnanamaya Kosha

Always hold space for your clients. We hold sacred space for them by asking for their highest good and offering unconditional love. The greatest gift we give our students is to teach them to cultivate that same sacred space for themselves outside the safety of our guidance and to continually stay present and objective when experiencing signals within the body. Witnessing consciousness of self and experiencing this awakening through yoga gives the client a glimpse of the illumination of pure consciousness.

Sukha: Anandamaya Kosha

Yoga teaches that we need to have sweetness (sukha) in our lives to bring us closer to our Source—bliss. Recognize and praise the joy of small successes with your students. A benefit of a traditional asana practice is that we purposely challenge ourselves, stress the physical body, and consciously watch the mind’s response. In Somatic Yoga, we undo by underdoing; there is personal accountability in recognizing and doing only what makes us feel good. The more we experience joy, the more it becomes our natural state of being.

Somatic Yoga is highly adaptable and achievable, but needs to be structured for the individual. Yoga therapy clients have often tried several modalities before they find you. They are familiar with the failure of checking out mentally and the unfulfilled expectation that someone else would “fix” them. Start with a thorough and thoughtful intake, which may hint at the client’s current level of self-awareness. The intake should include a discussion of any history of physical or emotional trauma, even when the trauma does not have any obvious correlation to the issue the client is presenting with. Ascertain the mental and spiritual state of your client using the qualities of the three gunas. Let the client do the talking with words and body language. To the best of your ability, give the client a voice in creating their yoga therapy plan. Continually adjust the plan based on feedback. Using the kosha model, ask them what door they are most comfortable with: the body, the breath, or the mind. As the client gradually increases her or his awareness of internal body sensations in your presence and in the rest of life, the practice is no longer about overcoming pain or dis-ease, and joy can be developed in the purity of the sattvic state.

Peace and Light,

Megan

Access a printable PDF copy of the article here: YTT_Winter 2018_MacCarthy

Yoga is Not About Getting Your Toe in Your Ear

Before we get into our new blog post, I have some exciting news to share!  My new studio Bear Foot Yoga Healing is opening next month with classes starting soon in Burlington, Wisconsin.  More details coming shortly, in the meantime, visit our Website!

Yoga Journal

I’m about to “paint my masterpiece” in the words of Bob Dylan and open a yoga studio, but first I have a confession. I stopped reading Yoga Journal magazine in the past year, which in my industry is like a trader choosing not to check the stock exchange. In part, my time is better spent doing studio preparations. That is not the reason for ditching YJ though. I haven’t been able to get beyond the cover photos lately. In the vein of “a picture is worth a thousand words” my preconceived perception of the cover is that it frustrates potential yogi’s more than it motivates them. Yes, the models are always gorgeous and wafting with a Shakti power that any woman (and man for a different reason) would want. That is not a truthful representation of yoga.

Truthfulness, or Satya is one of Yamas (principles)of yoga. The YJ cover makes any pose look flawless and effortless. But this is not the truth. Or at least the full truth. It has been drilled into me in every training – yoga is not about attainment of the perfect form. It is about the process not the pose. Why doesn’t YJ get this? Perhaps I am stretching it a bit by discussing Satya . I assume the intention is not to purposely deceive, but very few bodies are capable of achieving YJ photo perfection. With the exception of some Cirque du Soleil potentials, these woman have put countless hours in on the mat to achieve near perfect form for that one photo. Still it is not their beautiful physical bodies that keep them coming back to yoga.

When I look at the current cover, all I can think is “who in their right mind would wear an all white spandex outfit to class”? By the time I unrolled my mat, I would be wearing a patchwork quilt of spilled morning java, kiddie goo and dog prints among other things. Furthermore, what woman would dare, if she could, stick one leg straight up in the air a foot above her head wearing see-through white pants and smile? Too young for mentalpause, obviously, the model does not have her mensies. At least this month’s model is not in some funky version of handstand, abdomen fully exposed, sans Buddha belly and muffin top. Hair is not a point for discussion just on the assumption that the models most likely showered before the photo shoot. Until the glorious day they put a woman on the cover with messy hair, panties hanging off a sweaty bum, and an “I don’t give a crap if I look like hell because I feel good look”, I will not offer to model.

 

Perhaps I am being a bit hard on YJ. Please YJ people, don’t hold this against me. Your articles are informational and interesting. For decades, you have brought yoga to the people. I also get that it is good to have goals. And for some that may be the ascertainment of one of what I label the “party poses”; usually when some tiny part of the body is grounded to the earth and one of the four limbs is wrapped around it like a scarf in a blizzard. Even after years of practice, your cover shots are unattainable to most yogis. Until there is a camera that shows what yoga does to the body on the subtle level, your cover photos are intimidating art. Beautiful, but laughable. Even if you read YJ, please come and visit me when the studio opens. I will have copies available for your viewing pleasure. Just know that that the goddess cover models don’t have anything on you. Because what they don’t tell you on the cover is that if you breath you can do yoga. And even if you can’t smile in a pose, yoga will make you smile in the heart.