Thanks to Alisa who left a comment on the Jalandara Bandha post and asked about Mula and Uddiyana. I loved her description of the method she’d been using and tried it:

“So far, the best practice I know if is putting my hands on a sticky mat and my feet on a tray and sliding the tray backwards and forwards without bending my knees.”

What a fantastic idea! I think this process really gets to the feeling of the bandha, but maybe isn’t ideal for discriminating among the deeper layers that reveal themselves over time. David Life has  great article on the layers and how Mula Bandha relates to two distinct mudras in the same area on the Yoga Journal Page under “Practice”, called “To Infinity and Beyond!”

I usually begin to teach Mula Bandha as part of a breathing practice called kalabhati, rapid and forceful exhalations generated from rapid contractions of the low belly. When you compress the transverse abdominus which runs laterally between the pelvic crests, you naturally also lift the pelvic floor from pressure and attachments (not the egoic kind, the connective tissue kind).

From there we work imaginitively, because the most important and difficult part of this process is to actually feel with nuance this area of your own body. Most people don’t, thank you very much, and it can feel uncomfortable to refer to these areas when you’re unused to feeling them.

I begin with the usual references to Kegel Excercises, with the caveat that this is starting place. Mula Bandha begins with a contraction of the pelvic floor which is an intricate network of fascia, other connective tissue and muscles with either two or three openings, depending upon your gender. Kegel gets to the front opening. “Contract Uranus!” gets to the posterior. What we’re aiming for is a subtle lifting sensation above the perineum, and when you engage it you’ll feel instantaneously bright minded. It’s like your energy just bounced up from a trampoline.

And that is the final image I like with this exercise, usually performed sitting in Sukhasana or Virasana. Imagine a flat drum stretched from sitting bone to sitting bone, and from your tailbone up to the front of your pelvis. As your breath lands gently on this drum, it snaps gently back into the body, sending the breath upward. If in Virasana, press the knees together gently to tug the sitting bones slightly and tighten the trampoline.

Breathe, Love, Live!

This morning I’m experimenting with a white bean & pear pancake, listening to Sunday Edition and simply soaking up home: the way the light trickles and dashes through windows and prisms creating pools of light where white, black and red dogs soak up their colors; the one wall we have yet to paint in the front room (which is famlivchen: family room, living room, kitchen, dining room) that has become familiar from neglect; the knitting that’s come undone in my box of rose petals; the dog snout on my lap, a gentle breakfast bell; my orange tennies beckoning a walk for the starving dogs, and the scent of pear sugar caramelizing as the “cakes” take form.
I started with one can of white beans & 2 whole pears, blended in a food processor. That tasted wonderful, sprinkled with nutmeg while on the griddle. But it wouldn’t bind and became mashed white beans when I tried to flip it (I already make mashed white beans with onions & roasted garlic for breakfast, and recommend them highly: lots of fibre and heft to start the day, but still light enough for brain brightness. Here, though, I’m hoping for a sweet, fruity pancake experience). So I tried just thinning it & going toward crepe… no go. The addition of half a banana & some baking powder (thank you vegan cooking site) made some progress toward unity: A bit more cakey, but no flippy. So another can of beans, the other half of the banana & 2/3 package Mori Nu silken tofu. Ahhhhh. This one would have flipped if I hadn’t covered the entire bottom of the 9 inch skillet. Lovely golden brown color, smooth and consistent enough to flip and serve!
I’m not sure why or how I get obsessed with creating yummy you’d never guess vegan goodies. I’m not vegan. I’m not even vegetarian. I still eat cow. I drink wine. I eat shrimp and crab and sometimes even cheese. True, not daily or even weekly, but I do eat eggs almost every day and fresh wild fish every week. Why do I not just crack an egg into this blissful pear & bean concoction, flip the cakes and call it a breakfast?
I’m fascinated by the chemistry of food, of how it goes together, how it puts us together, how it feeds and binds and loosens and extracts, and of how my moods and feelings of wellbeing are so intimately connected to it. I’m fascinated by vegan recipes, simultaneously convinced that I am lighter, healthier and freer when I eat this way, while equally persuaded by lightheadedness and animal craving that I’m best off when I occasionally eat meat. True, the lightheadedness doesn’t really start for a couple of weeks and the near criminal lust for blood and flesh doesn’t hit til near the third month. (That’s even combining foods, watching my nutrient balance, not relying on processed cheesey subs or even vegan burgers, but rather eating fruits & veg & nuts & legumes by the boatload… or so it seems to me.)
And so I am content with my little bit of this, little bit of that, tailor made for me, thank you very much diet. I may secretly hope and desire that my forays into vegan culinary miracles (they really are miraculous, you have to make these things to believe the yummy goodness) are a sign and a method of my gradual transformation into vegan lightness.
The smaller cakes are in process right now; I’ve also reduced the temp for slower cooking. Et voila! More crepe like now, I simply lifted with my fingertips the delicately curled, caramel hued edge and turned. At which time I realized that the dogs, who are used to being walked and fed by this time, were languishing and naughtyizing by turns in their upendedness. The second side took precisely the amount of time I used to feed three dogs, complete with fish oil caps (I have to bite the one for Oso open, or he won’t eat it) and kisses. The second batch proved that size really does matter – no more than ¼ cup on the griddle. And you really don’t even have to turn.
These were so yummy even Oso wanted seconds! For a dog who won’t eat his food with a gelcap full of stinky fish oil in it, unless you pop and drizzle the oil for him, that’s an endorsement.
So, having persisted so long, you may wonder, “What has any of this to do with yoga?” Just this: so often, too often, maybe every class and every day, we think we will be “real” yogis (growups, people, mommies and daddies, artists, writers…) when…. We compare ourselves, we improve ourselves, we grasp for the perfect expression of urdva baddha trikonasana (yes, I made that one up). What if all it’s really about, all it really takes is responding to the calls of the moment – the dogs naughtyizing, the light caressing, the cans of beans and the surfeit of pears. That’s all. Just respond to what is, and your response and reflection and desire and creativity will transform you like eddying currents of an oxbowed stream toward… yourself. No goal, no destiny, no fantasy – Only method in the moment, the highest form of experimentation: a jazz riff in the key of om.
OmCakes
1 can white canelli beans, rinsed nutmeg for sprinkling
1 pear
½ large banana
¾ t. baking powder
1/3 package of Mori Nu silken tofu
¼ – ½ cup of water: the batter should pour lightly

Whirl in food processor til smooth, nearly the consistency of loose pudding.

Warm griddle to medium, lightly dress with your favorite nonstick cooking treatment (grapeseed oil is my fave) and drop by the tablespoonful (no more than 2 at a time). Sprinkle with nutmeg as it begins to bubble and cook through. ~4 minutes, lift off and enjoy!

Write & tell me how you experiment and tweak, with this recipe or with your practice and how it makes you more self and less striving.

To abide is to remain, to witness, to sustain and to look upon with kind regard. To abide is one definition of meditation: to remain with one’s own mind in a state of kind regard. To abide is a gift, a discipline and a way of love & I have the most loving readers in the blogosphere!

I’ve been AWOL for months, focused on other areas of my practice, following lights I didn’t at first realize would lead me away from blogging. And yet, you keep visiting, reading & letting me know you are out there. My own practice has become more vigorous and maybe you’ve been following the CampNYoga developments on Twitter or Facebook. How has your practice evolved in recent months?

So while the Dude Abides, I come & go and I’M BACK! I’ll be posting about weekly and next week I’ll have an update on the first, invitation only CampNYoga, complete with photos 🙂 Twice daily yoga and meditation classes, dharma talk with Kirtan on Saturday evening, massage in camp, gourmet organic camp cooking, wine sponsored by Meagan the Wine Goddess at ABQ Whole Foods. We’re not calling it a retreat, because it’s an advance: we’re retreating from nothing, we’re embracing our lives with Love. Love, Truth, Beauty: Here, Now. Peace.

The Sanskrit name for the heart chakra is “Anahata,” translating as “unstruck.”

The first time I let this sink in, I could feel my world slightly shifting to take in the implications and the truth. The heart chakra designates more than a literal or even metaphorical heart, it refers to a “region” and a process of being. In one of the Upaya ZenBrain lectures I referred to yesterday, one of the scientists speaks of his struggle to make sense of the yogic system of koshas, or layers of being. The problem with the notion of  “layer” is that it’s spatial, and things extended in space should be detectable & interact with other things extended in space in way recognizable with visual, or at least wave detecting, technology. The same problem comes with our language about chakras, but what resolved the conflict for this scientist was to recognize that the spatial references designate processes and ways of being that describe the spatial phenomena from different experiential perspectives.

Anahata is a way of being accessible to any person with a heart: unstruck. Unstruck by the things that strike us and occasionally knock us down. Our original nature never left and is not covered over or lost, it arises from our heart in each and every moment.

Satchidanda’s reflection on this Sutra is simple and challenging, because its often the obvious things we gloss over in pursuit of accomplishment.

“You can imagine a brilliant divine light which is beyond all anxieties, fear and worry – a supreme Light in you. Visualize a brilliant globe in your heart representing your Divine Consciousness. Or imagine your heart to contain a beautiful glowing lotus. The mind will easily get absorbed in that, and you will have a nice experience. In the beginning one has to imagine this Light, which later becomes a reality.”

Nice experiences are important. If getting on the mat or cushion was a drag every single time,  you might persevere, but human history says that without any signs of progress or pleasure or effectiveness you’ll turn to something that seems more worthwhile. I would. So the experiences we have along the way are important. But the being there is the real game, and it’s what we’re learning to be, and so I would go so far as to say the Light is always a reality, but before training in being present our most subtle way of interacting with the world – our bodies, our experiences, feelings, & others – is imagination, so we start there. As you enter the space of your Anahata, or unstruckness, or original nature, through imagination or visualization, you learn new ways of interacting and recognizing the world and the light becomes more stable because you are better able to apprehend it.

Yogis need yoga, teachers need teachers and bloggers… need bloggers!

Here’s one I discovered today & I just love Davidya’s title “In2Deep“. “Basic Skills” is an extended reflection on attention & intention, but what grabbed me was the opening. She spoke to me where I am, reminding her readers that when our influences feel unsupportive, our attention can change our influences and that support is a breath away.  Speaking of a seemingly unsupportive “culture,” she says “it’s more a boogy than a monster.” Indeed, our focused awareness contributes to our culture and our support.

This next one is my current obssession: The Zen Brain Lecture Series. Time to get your geek on, and I mean seriously. If you’re not scientifically minded or not in a space where you can concentrate, pick something else. These are some smart people – neuroscientists, pathologists, researchers, journalists – reviewing recent research and making hypothesis and reporting on results of experiments with meditation. It’s about way more than Zen, or Buddhism. It’s about being a human being. This gathering in January was influenced by the gatherings initiated by the current Dalai Lama, during which leading lights come together to discuss the intersection of science and mindfulness. Goldmine for inspiration as well as confirmation that your yoga mat & yoga butt are “worth it” as well as some ideas to expand your notions of “mind” & “body.”

And finally, this on HumanKind this morning over our local public radio station, KANW: An interview with Bernard Lown, a Nobel Prize winning doctor speaking out for healing as part of the medical “model”.  His voice, stories and wisdom regarding the role of compassion in well-being are deep and touching.

What happens when the yoga teacher gets gimpy?

Well, denial is a great first shot. Right? Isn’t it? I mean, I’m healthy, I have healthy habits, aches & pains – phww! These things come & go, the practice goes on. Right? Right? Anyone?!?

OK. So the practice is to cultivate awareness of what is, which includes the aches & pains. Paying attention to the space between the feelings is a great way of taking perspective, but if I forget to be with the feelings, then I’m just avoiding, not meditating.

In practice, we can vacillate between poles, diving deep into a contemplative bent and swimming back to experiential, just to find how the currents mix & mingle and are never seperate. I tend to dive in deep, at least, and maybe you do, too. It’s one of the reasons that I keep a little bit of yoga mat (active yoga asana & pranayam) and a little bit of yoga butt (sitting meditation) in every day.

But even with such habits as safeguards, fear, pain and my inner control freak easily override my best intentions at times… because my “best” intentions aren’t the only ones I have. In my case, chronic hip pain is one of the little beasties that dance around my campfire and whom I befriend. But sometimes I slip into thinking my practice should safeguard me against aches & pains, keep the beasties at bay. There’s some Protestant Calvinist strain of virtue dispelling sin & pain spilling from sin that tells me all the good things I’m doing should prevent injury, pain & discomfort.

So I “address” the pain, practice relieving asana, stay “aware of” the pain. Instead, I aim to seek pure, clear awareness, with pain, without pain, in the moment. Sometimes the hardest thing is to dive in, and sometimes even when I think I’m diving in, I’m dog paddling away like a golden retriever. How do we ever know???

Certainty isn’t what I seek. Just the ability to recognize what’s in front of my face. I help people who are in pain, seeking relief from pain whether from lifestyle, spinal stenosis, tightness in the hamstring or the heart. I have gained this ability and priviledge as a result of having worked with my own, studying, seeking guidance, integrating.

And so have all the other yoga teachers &  meditation masters. So why have we built up a culture that damns pain, scowls at injury and tsk-tsks those who dare to acknowledge all the shadings of their experience? Maybe its just the circles I’ve frequented, or maybe it’s a “studio” culture: those with the “right” to teach are those who are able to cover any trace of their struggles with the smooth, even facade of a socialite emerging from a spa.  

One of my lessons from this current emergence of my little beastie called pain is to find a way of being who I am in any given moment without hiding under seaweed entanglements of guilt & shame that engender fear and running. One of my lessons is rest.  One of my lessons is to recognize when I’m exceeding my limits. These are heady, exciting, invigorating times of growth & learning, with deeply rewarding accomplishment and pride in re-learning old ways of being. And, such exciting, invigorating times require the roots to go as deeply inward as the leaves are reaching out.

More restorative practice, more meditation, simply breathing with the pain- not to make it go away, but simply to be with it. It’s true that it & “I” will change – such is the nature of time dwellers. But the change is not to be sought or resisted.  Observed, smiled upon, witnessed. Inhaled & exhaled.

Inhale, Exhale. Maybe pain isn’t the enemy. Maybe the notion of opposition is part of the pain. Maybe the glossy studio notion of yoga as skillful facade is as much running as other Hollywood excesses.  Maybe healing comes not in never limping, never falling out of headstand, never feeling let down by your practice. Healing thyself comes from truly embodying well-being, which translates “eudaimonia” from the Greek. A more literal translation is well-demoned. Time to practice with the demons 🙂

What is the relationship between our senses and our minds? Whether this is a bottom up or top down system differentiates millenia of philosophers. One thing is for sure, though, the more we take in, the more we must digest, and the excess becomes mental fat. The “vrttis” – vacillations – aren’t of themselves mental fat, but any unprocessed intake gets stored – whether its Twinkies (do they still make those any more?) or Desperate Housewives, cross words or imaginary what-ifs we call “worry.”

Sensation – sight, sound, touch, taste, smell – the information we bring in from our embodied existence, makes up our being & life as much as the greens in our salad or the tofu on our forks. By using time on the mat to simplify and observe our sensations, we get to know ourselves better. We can recognize patterns in how we relate to this information, and even the systems we use to buffer it.

One key when observing the role of the senses in my life is to note the double edged sword that is recursive consciousness. Recursive consciousness is this ability we have to have “second order mental events.” Mental events can be thoughts, ideas, concepts, feelings, emotions, whole stories even, or just attitudes towards first order senses, thoughts, emotions. Our ability to be aware of the fact that we are aware of something is precisely what gives us the option to be present. It’s also what gives us the option to “space out” or worry or plan or… do whatever we do that is not being present.

We can event have eleventh order thoughts! Thoughts about thoughts about feelings about what-ifs about imaginations about …. you get the idea. The point where the thought or feeling has grabbed you by the intestines and you’re off to the story-telling races with the what-ifs and not-that!’s, that’s the stickiness that I’ve learned from listening to Pema Chodron is called shenpa. My husband & I love this word: it’s so economical. Rather than getting caught up in the stories when one asks the other “what’s up?” or “where you at?”, we just say, “oh! I was having some shenpa!” It’s fantastic to break up the story and bring us back to the present.

What does this have to do with the role of the senses? One of the ways you can break shenpa – or unconsciously having thoughts about thoughts about… also called “living in your head” – is to come to the nitty gritty of our senses. What am I feeling right now? Seeing? Smelling? Hearing? Tasting? Feeling?

You may have heard the word “Pratyahara” in yoga class at some point. Pratyahara – or sense-withdrawal – is one of the eight limbs, or components, of yoga . Sometimes the best way to investigate is to simplify. Short of a sensory deprivation tank – which is way cool if you ever have the chance – intentional withdrawal from sensation can be a great way to investigate how we relate to sensations. There are many ways to go about this, from simply turning off the TV or radio, to going to a quiet place like the woods or a chapel or a yoga room, to more specific withdrawals. Brahmari Pranayam is one way of experiencing pratyhara: you fill your consciousness with the vibration of your own breathing even as you close off your years, eyes, mouth and to some extent your nose. Meditation after Brahmari, or Bumble Bee Breath, can increase your sense of clarity.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this paragraph from Sri Swami Sachidananda’s Commentary, because I think it’s sweet and true:

“One example is to concentrate on the tip of the nose. Do not strain or you will cause a headache. Do not actually stare at the nose; it’s as if you are looking at it. Keep the mind on that. If the mind is really one-pointed, after some time you will experience an extraordinary smell. You may even look around to see if there is any flower or perfume nearby. If that experience comes, it is a proof that you have made the mind one-pointed. It will give you confidence. But in itself, it will not help you to reach the goal. It’s just a test, that’s all. Don’t make concentrating on the nose and getting nice smells your goal.”  ~SriSwami Satchidananda, Commentary on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali