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Yoga from your guts can flush out fear

With head supported on blankets, students applied a flushing exhale in adho mukha svanasana, downward facing dog pose.
With head supported on blankets, students applied a flushing exhale in adho mukha svanasana, downward facing dog pose.
Christie Hall

“Only the yogi can know the fine dividing line between body and mind, mind and soul, and become master of himself.” – B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali

A new year brings resolutions. Time to be smarter, stronger, healthier. Clear your body of toxins, get strong in your core. Yoga may seem no different when a class comes up titled: “ABC of Abdominal Integration, Alignment and Support”, held Saturday, Feb. 16, in Los Angeles.

But this is at the Iyengar Yoga Institute, where the body is the laboratory for exploration; it’s the background, not the endpoint, of the investigation. And this is Los Angeles teacher Lisa Walford, whose home page on her Web site is pure philosophical pondering, and who holds Iyengar certification at the senior intermediate 1 level.

Take time to unlearn

This “ab” workshop started in an astonishing fashion, with supported poses on the floor.

Lisa gave a heart-touching chant of Yoga Sutra 3.1: “Desa bandhah cittasya dharana”. She invited us to engage in dharana, to fix our concentration on the nabi chakra, that we might come to know Sutra 3.30. This sutra advises that in becoming absorbed in concentration on the chakra at the navel, we might come “to know the disposition of the human body”. (Translation, B.K.S. Iyengar.)

She asked us to engage in a foundational yogic practice. She asked us to pay attention, to direct our awareness and breath around the dimensions of the abdomen.

“To experience something potentially radically different take some unlearning,” she explained later in an e-mail.

“To sequence an entire class with the quiet inward turning asanas in the beginning to invite a new awareness and progress from there is new,” she wrote.

Using the brain between ears, we explored what has been called the “second brain”, the intestinal tract, which has the same capacity to generate neurotransmitters as the brain above our shoulders.

Flushing out fear

After engaging in dharana for some 45 minutes, we turned to somewhat more active poses, most married to a form of breath work, what she called flushing breaths, when we emptied the lungs as fully as possible with an exhale, separated by some normal breaths. Then we engaged in subtle abdominal actions at the end of the flushing exhales, during the period she called “the no-breath”. Only one pose, ardha navasana – half boat, could be considered “core” work.

The work was exhausting. Through the rest of the day and evening, I attributed it to the hours of deep concentration.

Two days later, in my home practice, I realized something much deeper had occurred, another kind of toxin cleansing. In paying attention so well to the nabi chakra, I had indeed learned something about the disposition of the body. I had acquired knowledge, our greatest weapon against fear.

I brought all my awareness to the navel as I lifted up into urdhva dhanurasana, and the fear that had haunted me for years in the pose simply didn’t exist. As I came up, lightly, with little effort, my arms straightened underneath me.

For a moment I was cleansed of the toxin of fear and had the guts just to be in my pose.


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