Subtle Body: Posture, Anatomy, & Energy (Foundations 3 + 4)
At any level of experience during your yogic journey, it’s always nice to get back to the basics. It’s important to understand how your body, your breath, your alignment and your energy are incorporated into the practice. You always have a choice in yoga, you can simply go through the motions, or you can really focus the attention inward and go deep. Once you truly understand your foundation, you can build a strong base to reach new heights in your practice.
Start with balance. You always work a posture (asana) from the ground up. Sounds simple enough, right? Let me tell you a little secret, no matter what position you are in yoga, you should always have equal weight distribution in your feet. This is true even if one (or both) feet are off the ground. The architecture of the body is critical. In both basic and advanced postures this allows you to cantilever your weight so you can feel more stable.
Get to know your body. Take the time to learn your anatomy and study your own body structure. We all have different personal strengths and areas we need to improve within our body. Every body is different, but the structure is the same. When you learn to distinguish between parts of the body you become more in tune with where you need to focus your energy.
Align yourself. In general when you stack your joints it is the strongest and most protected position for your body. This helps you move through postures safely and prevents injury. If a teacher corrects you in class it’s a compliment, not a criticism. (It means they care!) Bad habits are hard to break, so pay attention to specific alignment cues that are given to avoid risk. Especially when practicing in the heat, it’s important to know your limits, work your muscles and not overstretch your ligaments.
Tune into your own energy. Your energy is constantly shifting and certain parts of your body will often feel more open than others. Sometimes subconsciously it’s possible to even develop blockages from physical trauma or mental/emotional pain. At times you may feel that you are “stuck” in an area of the body where energy has remained dormant. There are energy channels called nadis and centers called chakras within your body. Think of these as pathways to get reconnected. Subhumana Nadi is a psychic energy channel at the base of the spine made up of two intertwining energies, Ida (yin) and Pingala (yang). There are seven main Chakras (Muladhara - root, Svadhisthana - sacral, Manipura - core, Anahata - heart, Vishusddha - throat, Anja - third eye, & Sahasrara - crown) that are vital to our health and wellbeing. It is often thought if you are blocked in one area for too long it can result in sickness or disease. In this way, your practice presents a feedback loop for you to communicate with your body and gain valuable information about your energy.
Deepen your breath. Prana (breath) flows in everything that exists in life. When you practice, Pranayama (controlled breathing) you are able to regulate your energy flow. Scientifically, when you focus on the breath, you are not to actually bringing more oxygen into the body (that is a myth) but you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system. When you focus on your breathing, it helps to bring your attention aways from the chaotic world around you and feel what’s happening internally. The most common form of pranayama is Ujjayi (victorious breath) a diaphragmatic relaxed breath through the nostrils. Eventually this becomes second nature when practicing yoga and it often used because it has a very calming affect on the mind and slows the heart rate. There are also other forms of breath that have a different effect like Kapalabhati (skull shinning breath) and Bhastrika (breath of fire) which feature rapid inhalations and exhalations. These types of breathing are very detoxifying and improve blood circulation building internal heat rather than Ujjayi which cools the body.
The practice of yoga aims to go beyond the limitations of the physical body and tap into the layers of the subtle (psycho-spiritual) body. It’s important to acknowledge that when you are practicing yoga the experience is more than just surface level. This can be hard to understand at first, but eventually you will realize this is what separates yoga from all other forms of exercise. If you want to take your practice to the next level and dive deep within, come check out our Foundations courses. It’s an amazing way to learn how to incorporate this ancient wisdom into the life long journey that is your yoga practice.
Insights by Laurel Erilane