Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Emotion=Energy in Motion

Observing and noticing is part of a mindful movement and meditation practice. Acknowledging emotions or feelings as a non-judgmental inquiry of what is happening to us and in us moment to moment is an element that can inspire or inhibit this process.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor." I believe emotions are energy in motion, and emotions are meant to move through us, not linger, stagnate or obstruct. There are some theories that suggest illness and disease occur from unreleased emotions that are held hostage in our bodies. Deb Shapiro wrote a book called, 'Your Body Speaks Your Mind', and it is filled with interesting ideas of where specific emotional imbalances cause symptoms in our bodies. These symptoms are the language of the body, a way that our body attempts to communicate with our mind. Our bodies are amazing. When we are truly sad, we cry. This is a great release, and eventually the body will allow a deep breath to occur with a long slow exhale. This brings the body/mind back into balance and helps restore homeostasis. When we are sad, grieving, or angry the emotion can get locked into our tissues, muscle and bones if it is too painful to confront. There is no good or bad assimilation here, it is just a way of coping. Awareness and being ready to address these imbalances takes time, patience and courage.

Our personal energy is our life force, or our ability to do work. The subtle 'life force energy' is the primary energy that sustains us, it is our source, inner guidance, and the innate intelligence of the body. This energy of life is an animating force that flows through and around every living creature. In other cultures there is a word for this life force energy that moves through us. It is known as 'qi' in China, 'ki' in Japan, 'gi' in Korea, 'khi' in Vietnam, 'sekham' in Egypt, 'pneuma' in Greece, and 'prana' in India. Supporting this vital energy is a process of caring and supporting the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of our body.

Life force energy is meant to flow freely within our system. Emotions can influence the flow of our life force, just like physical issues of pain, injury or trauma. When there is disturbance in the body (heavy emotions, physical discomfort), our life force energy becomes sluggish, or deficient.

Finding space to feel into difficult emotions, but not become them is a process I continue to focus on.

I am a work in progress, I am human, I make mistakes, and I feel all of it. It takes me on a bumpy ride some days, and it's easier to ignore, push away, turn inward, and not face the feelings that need to be processed. Timing is important too, as we all have responsibilities of work, school or caregiving, but in my exprience these feelings don't go away until the effort is made to release them. Happiness, excitement and passion are emotions I would like to have stay with me all the time, but the reality is I wouldn't have persepctive without sadness, anger, or frustration. Moving is the key, so all the heavier emotions that weigh you down don't find residence in your body.

Letting go is an overused phrase and a bit cliche, but necessary to do. We are all unique and carry our emotions, responses and reactions to life differently. A practice of moving, breathing and meditating has been helpful for me to accomplish this release of emotions that can cause 'dis-ease' in the body. I share ideas, images and thoughts as a way to write and work through what is on my mind. When I'm feeling stuck in my body, I share to help others and hope that a small part of living my yoga has a deeper impact on the world around me.

Exploring 'Sirsasana' or headstand is a wonderful way to quickly change your perception, mindset, and move energy in the body. I am inspired by watching my kids move their bodies in interesting ways that help them to release stagnant energy, or relax to refuel their deficient energy.
Going upside down immediately shifts the internal physical workings of our body. Gravity helps to return venous blood to the heart. Mentally, this pose increases concentration, enhances the sensory faculties, and increases circulation to the upper body. Headstand balances the endocrine system by stimulating the pituitary gland (the master gland), assisting to secrete hormones within the other glands that lie along the length of the spine to the brain. This pose strengthens the shoulders and arms, improves digestion, and promotes lymphatic drainage. Headstand is an inversion, which stimulates the vestibular system of the body. Arising in the inner ear, this system is responsible for processing and sensing change in the position, direction or movement of the head.

Contraindications include high or low blood pressure, pregnancy (greater than 4 months), glaucoma, detached retina, or any eye problems. This pose is not recommended for anyone with head, neck or upper spine injuries, or any recent neurological diagnosis that prohibits increased intracranial pressure. Staying safe with your body, listening to how you feel, being guided by your breath, transitioning slowly, and meeting yourself where you are in the present moment will help you work through difficulties or challenges that may arise.

Fold a padded mat in half, start in table pose (hands and knees), clasp the hands around the back of the head. Place the crown of the head on the mat, with the head firmly pressed against the clasped hands, gently tuck your chin. Curl the toes under and engage your feet and legs. Line up your elbows with your shoulders, the weight is evenly balanced in both arms, forearms and shoulders. STAY here for a while, connect to breath and feel the benefits in this transition pose. 

Once you feel strong in the previous pose, shift the weight into your lower body and lift the knees. Raise the hips up so that the body forms an inverted "V". Keep pushing down into the elbows and forearms. Extend the legs and feel the stretch in the backs of the legs and spine. BREATHE here in dolphin pose. This is a wonderful preparatory pose to headstand, as it will strengthen the arms and shoulders and enable you to hold the position correctly for longer periods. Feel free to shift in and out of these first and second prep poses for a few practice sessions.

Slowly begin to walk the feet towards your face. As the feet come closer to the head, feel the back straightening until the hips are over head: aligning the spine, neck, and head. Bend the knees and lift the feet off the floor, practice one leg at a time if you are working with balance. Try not to jump the feet away from the floor, utilize the strength of your legs and abdominal core- stay steady, focused and strong. At least 90% of the weight is on the elbows. 

Using a wall or home support is a great prop so you don't flop! Keep in mind, the wall is a safety net. It is not a replacement for doing the work of the previous prep poses. Holding the knees in a flexed position, hug them in close to the mid line of your body. You may press the feet into the wall to feel out the weight within your upper body. Keep weight in the aligned elbows, forearms and shoulders. This pose is known as half headstand, staying in this pose comfortably for at least 30 seconds is important before proceeding further. 

If you are ready to rise, slowly straighten the knees, bringing the feet toward the ceiling. Extend through the soles of the feet, point the toes toward the floor to strengthen through the heels and keep the back body supported. In this picture, you will see breath filling up my rib cage, as I exhale my pelvis tucks under slightly keeping the abdominal muscles engaged, so not to over arch the back. Keep the weight on the elbows, and try to hold for at least 30 seconds, increasing slowly for a goal of 1 minute or more. Before you are too tired, come out of the pose by first bending the knees, then the hips. Hold half headstand for a few seconds to help shift the body as it transitions. Bring the feet to the floor and then drop your hips back onto your heels. Relax in child's pose and enjoy the benefits of headstand. 

Once you have mastered the basic headstand you can add in variations. Creating space to play adds a lighthearted quality to the essence of this pose, remembering how it felt to go upside as a kid.  Some options are externally rotating the knee and hip, placing the foot on the top of the opposite thigh, or opening the legs in a letter "V". You can alternatively lower one leg towards the floor, keeping it engaged and hovering while the opposite leg stays lifted. Exploring the transitions of this pose add depth and dimension, the options are up to you! 

In his book, 'Light On Yoga', B.K.S Iyengar calls 'Sirsasana' the 'king of yoga postures' because of its magical effects on the intellect, body, and spirit. "Regular and precise practice of sirsasana develops the body, stimulates the mind and widens the horizons of the spirit. One becomes balanced and self reliant in pain and pleasure, loss and gain, shame and fame and defeat and victory." (Light on Yoga-p. 179-193)

Image taken from the 1830 manuscript, Joga Pradipika.

'Sirsansana' is a relatively new name for the original Sanskrit 'Salamba Shirshasana'. Salamba means "supported", and Sirsa means "head", and Asana means "posture" or "seat".

Headstand is a physically challenging pose, utilizing strength in the upper arms and abdominal core. It can feel exhilarating, increasing one's confidence and excitement in achieving such a dramatic pose. Competition and success are emphasized in our culture. Slow down and take the time to set up new postures in stages. Perhaps staying in the 'prep' poses for a few practice sessions to build endurance before overextending yourself in a pose that you aren't ready for. Don't underestimate the power of 'balasana', (child's pose) and 'adho mukha svanasana' (downward facing dog), inversions to get your energy in motion.

If this pose is new for you, and not a regular posture in your practice, these notes and pictures are not to be replaced by proper instruction by a professional guide. It is best to have a trained person assisting if it is your first attempt at "sirsasana'. 

Sometimes going upside down is the only thing that makes you feel right side up! 

Have fun exploring movement in your body. 

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