by Kara-Leah Grant
Welcome to the second Creative Sun Salutation flow here on The Yoga Lunchbox.
This week we add on to the beginning of our abundance sun salutation, moving through halfway lift, high plank, low plank, upward dog, downward dog, three-legged dog and knee to nose.
Most of you will be familiar with these postures, yet in that familiarity sometimes we start to lose a real sense of presence. We think we know how to “do” the pose.
The challenge then becomes how to make the postures come alive by being fully present in each one.
One way to do this is to be fully aware of the way energy moves within each postures. This week, I look briefly at two kinds of energy that balance each other out – the in-drawing energy where we cultivate our core and draw everything towards us, and the radiating energy where we release everything outward, radiating through our limbs.
I covered this more in-depth in the first creative sun salutation series, in part 2, which you can watch here.
This energy is the giving and receiving which is necessary to experience a state of natural abundance.
in our practice, these two energies create a sense of integrity and activation through postures that require strength like high plank and low plank (chaturanga dandasana ). The energy connects our core with our limbs and ensures that there are no energy leaks or breakages – this shows up in the physical body as sagging for example.
It’s as if you decided to inhale through your navel centre, or just below the navel centre. As that happens mula bandha and uddiyana naturally begin to turn on and energy is collected and connected from mula bandha and up toward our heart centre. Then, when we exhale, we take that collected and connected energy and we radiate it out through our limbs towards the earth and sky.
This action – of cultivation and radiation of energy – keeps us 100% inside our bodies and gives our postures integration and integrity. The limbs are firmly connected not just at the hip joints or shoulder joints, but all the way to the centre axis of our body.
When we first learn these bandhas they’re mostly in the gross, or physical realm.
We learn mula bandha as an engagement of the muscles around the perineum, as if we were lifting that skin between the anus and the genitals away from our underwear.
In time, our perception of mula bandha becomes more refined and it shifts from being predominantly a muscular action to being predominantly an energetic action.
It can be the same with uddiyana bandha. Initially, we learn it as a scooping in and up of the stomach muscles – for many of us this meant we used our rectus abdonimus (the six pack). However, better core stability is achieved by using the transverse abdominus which transverse our entire stomach area, like a corset. This feels more like a narrowing of the waist, as if you were drawing the strings of a corset tighter. (See this excellent article by Jenni Rawlings for more on this.)
However, narrowing the sides of the waist, and scooping the stomach in and up have a different energetic sense.
This suggests that as an access point for cultivating the energetic qualities of uddiyana bandha, it makes more sense to scoop the rectus abdominus in and up. But, one should take care not to get stuck there, and to realise that uddiyana bandha is primarily an energetic lock within the body and focusing only on rectus abdominus neglects the other muscles we need to use in our yoga postures.
As your ability to perceive more subtle sensations increases, then the gross muscular contraction can lessen.
At this point, when working on postures that require core stability, focusing on narrowing the sides of the wait is a more effective muscular cue than scooping the stomach.
As this is only a short video, I didn’t have time to go in-depth into either of the bandhas, however, I invite you to play with the bandhas in your own practice.
The key to realise is that within the postures, both of these actions balance each other out. If you’re only cultivating your core and drawing energy into yourself you would implode, like a black hole. If you’re only radiating energy outwards you would dissipate completely and lose your centre.
These energies apply to abundance as well. If you’re only pulling things into yourself, you’re hoarding and hiding away. If you’re only giving things out from yourself, you’re depleting your energy and resources. In order to experience abundance in our lives, we need to be able to both receive – draw in – and give – expand outwards.
Witnessing how the energies move in our practice help us to understand where the energies might move in our lives. Do we have trouble cultivating our core? Or do we have trouble radiating from our centre? How might that show up in our lives?
The flow of energy needs to go both ways – in and out at the same time. Within our practice, this stabilises and provides integrity for the postures as it connects your appendages – your head, limbs and tailbone – to the axis of your body – your spine from the sacrum to the occiput. (Thank you to Tara Judelle for finally giving me a language for what I’ve been experiencing in my practice! Skype video interview coming soon!)
The second element we play with in this part of the abundance sun salutation is freeing the head in Upward Dog.
Often we can crank the head all the way back, collapsing the back of the neck when we come into Upward Dog. In this variation, we stay in Upward Dog while looking straight ahead. On an exhale we release our head around to the right, just moving our head. We inhale and bring it back to centre before exhaling and releasing our head to the left. It’s as if our heads were a periscope, swivelling on top of our spines to survey the world around us.
Freeing our heads and becoming more mindful of how we move our necks becomes important later on in the sequence.
Remember, this video is designed to be used after you’ve learned and integrated Week 1 into your practice.
After you add this segment to your sequence, you may wish to finish off the evolving sun salutation anyway that works for you.
Next week, we’ll add a third part, until at the end of our six weeks we have a complete Abundance Sun Salutation.
The reason for taking it so slowly is to give you time to really integrate each posture and part of the sequence into your home practice. Even if you’ve done the postures hundreds of times, it’s about learning how to be in the postures, not just do the postures.
This means creating space for the postures to naturally reveal themselves moment to moment. If you watch me closely in this video as I demonstrate you’ll see how I play with my legs and pelvis in Downward Dog to create space for my hip joints and length in my spine. Your body, when you’re tuned in and moving from your breath, will naturally move in ways that support your individual unfolding of openness.
If you have any questions about the practice, please leave a comment.
And if you’d like to sign up to become an Insider, which costs only $NZ35/yr or $5/month, you can do so here.
How to Cultivate Abundance on the Yoga Mat Part 2
Want to experience more Abundance on the Yoga Mat?
You can sign up for workshop I’m teaching in Napier, December 12 & 13 2014, The Bhavana Immersion.
We’re covering four feeling states, including abundance. Find out more here.