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.