Tag Archive: muscular energy

“Hugging to the Midline” (and discipline/discipleship)

Last night in group practice a student asked what she could do to keep her standing leg upper thigh/outer groin from cramping in ardha chandra chapasana (sugar cane pose).  I responded that she probably was not using her inner thighs enough; she need to hug more to the midline.  Another student pointed out that it is very challenging to hug to the midline in an asymmetrical pose.

Anyone who studies Anusara yoga has heard the teacher say “hug to the midline.”   The physical instructions most often given to help the student do so, are “shins in” (coupled with “thighs back and apart”) or “isometrically draw your heels/feet together” (or hands in an arm balance or elbows/forearms in pincha mayurasana or sirsasana).  “Hugging to the midline” is one of the three aspects of “muscular energy,” the second of the five “Universal Principles of Alignment” in Anusara yoga.

To help find the midline in an asymmetrical  pose, I invited the students to do a partner exercise in ardha chandrasana (balancing half moon pose).  One student went into the pose.  The other student stood behind the one in the pose and place a hand or forearm underneath the lifted ankle of the student in the pose.  The student in the pose then pressed down energetically into her friend’s support.  The student was then able to find how to do “shins in” with the lifted leg.  What all the students discovered was that by working with far more enthusiasm and power to the midline, it was much easier to open the heart into a deep back bend in the pose.  As it was a backbending practice, we also explored the principle in various one-legged backbends, including eka pada ustrasana (one-legged camel pose) and eka pada urdva danurasana (one -legged wheel pose).  The students who might not otherwise have been able to find these poses, discovered that if they hugged with heartfelt enthusiasm to the midline, they found an ability to do a pose that they might otherwise have thought beyond their reach.

This alignment principle was a perfect way to illustrate the theme of the practice, which was discipline as discipleship to the light (see yesterday’s blog post).  All of the alignment principles in Anusara yoga are designed to get us deeper into our hearts; it is an added benefit that they make us stronger, more flexible, more secure in our bodies, healthier, and more energetic.  Hugging to the midline will definitely help us engage our core muscles, thus giving us more strength and tone.  As an energetic matter, hugging to the midline draws us into the central channel, the sushumna nadi — the place of grace where the kundalini energy rises.

When we are practicing sincerely, we are not just seeking to achieve a pose or get stronger or even to have kundalini experiences.  We do not discipline ourselves for some external goal.  Rather, out of the deepest longing to connect, we engage the principles to align our energetic and physical bodies so that we can be more in the flow and find more capacity to soften and expand our hearts and carry that into our lives, lifestyles, and relationships.  The physical practice can show us how this works, and then, when we are aware, pulses us back to our true desire.  More than the physical act of hugging to the midline makes it easier to do a heart-opener (backbend) and the energetic act of drawing to the midline may stimulate the flow of the kundalini energy, the discipline of drawing in to find the light will help us soften and expand the heart center so that we can reside more deeply there, and thus experience and share more joy, love, and compassion.

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Shins In/Thighs Out (and Rabbi Hillel)

Rabbi Hillel is famous for having said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me; if I am not for others, what am I? If not now, when?”  Taken in its best light (and not as the recruiting technique for going to war this quote has served), this means we must, as they say on the airplane, “put on our own oxygen mask first before helping others.”

I often think of this principle, when I am emphasizing the fundamental physical alignment principle of shins in/thighs out.  If you have taken even just a few Anusara classes, you have probably heard the teacher say “shins in, thighs out.”  It is really short hand for the action of muscular energy that hugs the legs to the mid-line, followed by the spiraling upward and backward expansion of inner spiral.

When applied with enthusiasm and in the right sequence, “shins in/thighs out” protects our knees and opens the groins, hips, and pelvic floor in a way that gives us greater access to finding the strength of our pelvic floor, low back and abdominal muscles.  It is a perfect example of an appropriate personal boundary:  it leaves us open and available to receive and observe all that is good, while creating a protective and appropriate boundary from which we can grow safely better to serve.

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A Graywater Inspiration from Friends (and opening to grace/muscular energy)

When we are on our mats, being open to grace — the first Anusara alignment principle — includes being open to the teachings so that we can receive and act on them in a healing and loving way.  Adding to that muscular energy by lovingly embracing skin to muscle to bone in a conscious embrace, drawing into our center to recognize our inner spirit, and drawing from periphery to the focal point brings us into optimal balance.  This pulsation serves as a way off the mat to open, inspire, and engage us in progressively more intentional and uplifting ways of living.

Being open to inspiration from friends and about town, open to learning new ways to be kind to the earth and to ourselves, is a way of bring the principle of “opening to grace” off the mat.  Actually keeping the intention and acting on it has the attentive embrace of muscular energy, which draws us onto our inner light in a loving embrace so that we can better serve.

I was thinking about Anusara principles off the mat, yesterday when I went visit a friend in NW one of whose roommates fosters cats.  There is a community garden in the back and the house is warm and friendly.  In the bathtub were two buckets filled with water leftover from showers.  Instead of using fresh, potable water to flush the toilet, when it is time to flush (honoring the drought axiom about yellow mellowing, etc), the house residents fill the tank with the gray water from the shower.

Find it too complicated an idea to shower with a bucket in the bathtub with you?  You can still save water by filling your watering can or bucket when you run the water to warm up enough to get into the shower.  That will save a few gallons.  Not up to using the water to flush the toilet?  Use it to water houseplants or for cleaning floors, etc.  Or take it outside to water potted plants.

First step is opening and witnessing the possibilities and understanding where you are ready to expand.  The second step is to try to more consistently live your inspiration.  I know when I see people living with such intention I take better care to move in that direction, even if I am not ready to go as far.

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