Mula Bandha & Birth

Let your inner reptile bite: Yoga Theory for Type A’s of the Childbearing Age

Let your slithering sneak on in, bare those fangs, hiss, howl and roar! Pounce! Attack! Kill! Okay, Not literally. This is yoga. We practice non-violence. Ahimsa style. No duka or suffering yogis.

Last year, when I studied with Richard Freeman for the first time, I also learned about apana energetically for the first time. Although I can’t be sure I’d never heard the word apana before, [it may have been like when you teacher says “if you flex your foot, your knee may stop hurting” and only after your teacher has said this 20 times, do you hear her, flex your foot and protect your knee. After class you tell her that you loved her new cue about flexing the foot. She looks at you (kindly of course, because she’s a yoga teacher) and says, “I think I say that all the time, I’m glad it worked for you!”] So, perhaps, I’d heard this term APANA before. I only actually listened and heard it when I was doing a three day workshop with Richard last year. Apana is the opposite of prana. If prana is heart opening, growing and uplifting, apana is grounding and closing in. Think back bend (prana) and child’s pose (apana). Both have their place, just different. A practice that encourages prana when you need to wake up is purposeful and irresponsible when you already had 12 cups of java before noon. Same for apana. If you are living in Alaska and haven’t seen the sun for months, you might not need more apana on Dec 21. But, If you’ve had 12 cups of jive before noon, its called common sense. In yoga we work on balancing energy both the PRANA and APANA energy.

But what’s that have to do with letting your inner reptile out? Connecting with your mammalian sense? Carry on. We’ll get there.

After the immersion, I felt how when I folded forward in an apanic pose, I needed to channel and lift the upward, opening energy of prana. Physically, that’s like when a teacher encourages you to keep your upper back active and the collar bones spreading as in up-dog during a seated forward-bend; while that is sometimes true, the apana/prana dualism resonated, finally for me. I had been feeling, physically and mechanically, that in order to be truly aligned; I had to make sure I was counterposing every pose within the pose. If I did a pose properly, I would be able to exit the pose and not need to do anything to “fix it” or help it settle into my body. If I rushed or let my ego guide me then I would strain a muscle or need to take 10 breaths to catch my breath after a pose. Not so healthy! The stated concept is the balance of sukha and sthira in my muscles but more nuanced and perhaps more fundamental to the practice is that energetically it is the subtle body forces of prana and apana constantly riding the wave against and towards each other. I reach my arms up and feel grounded through my feet. I fold forward and bam! Now that’s mulabandha. No, that’s REALLY mulabandha. Of course, you don’t want to walk around all day, everyday, engaging mulabandha like you have a stick up your you know what. That’s like when your friend does Ujayyi breath so loudly that you can hear her down the block. There’s as much in undoing as in the doing. That whole self-awareness thing, unattachment jazz is yoga.

Moreover, Richard also mentions that the back of your throat, the palate is connected to mulabandha. Whoa! [BRING OUT YOUR MAMMALIAN SELF NOW!] Here’s this strong, solid astangi.-This MAN-person who encourages feeling the pelvic floor engage in the back of your throat. And of course, the first thing I thought of was Ina May Gaskin, midwife extraordinaire. So, here’s this man, who is wise and patient who is telling me to smile before I backbend and the backbend will be easier. He’s telling me to relax and chillax into a pranic, enegry inviting  pose. And over in a different camp (or is it), Ina May is telling women about orgasmic birth and that smiling and relaxing your mouth will relax all the other orifices in your body. She calls it the sphincter rule. (if your mouth smiles, the other oriface relaxes, too).  There’s Ina May telling women to ride their rushes and flow with them AND there is Richard telling me the Vinyasa is sending currents back and forth. There’s Ina May encouraging women to make noise and find your inner mammal, and prenatal yoga teachers everywhere encouraging women to be comfortable making noise. Then Richard says, that yes, finding that inner serpent, that scaly, silly, fierce hissing thing inside you and adding some audio, can help some poses.  To be clear, Richard encourages one to make those noises in the privacy of their home practice and not on the Mysore floor or a led series and of course, Ina May Gaskin would tell women that birth is an intimate thing.  Once again, these two master teachers are saying the same thing. And so, here I am, hearing it for the first time: ASTANGA Yoga and all the bandha engaging (and releasing) is really PRENATAL YOGA. My mammalian mind has been blown!

*Michel Odent, MD coined the fetal ejection reflex.

*Ina May Gaskin & the sphincter law. Smile, relax your mouth and you’ll relax the other orifices, too.

For Further reading check out Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth.  It’s excellent!

My Running Story: the marriage of stretch & sprint

Many of you know my yoga story.  This is my running story.

In high school, I remember hyperventilating at every indoor track meet. Could I win? probably not. But if I worked hard enough, I probably could earn points for my team.  Would I earn enough points? I was scared to fail. And it felt terrible to come in 2nd or 3rd each time. I never won.  And, my high school’s track was in the center of the gymnasium.  If you watched the swim meet, the viewing deck opened out onto the track.  Watching wrestling, fencing or squash?  Just turn around and see us running. It seemed the 400, my better race, sometimes had a big crowd. But the 50m dash ALWAYS happened during the other sports’ halftime.

During the spring season, I could figure out how to use the blocks to my advantage. They slowed me down. But I still had to use them.  I pulled my groin once pushing off too hard. I remember I loved track workouts but the meets were dreadful.   I despised being the last one in during cross country but loved that out of body experiences where it felt as though my skin was trying to keep up. My mind was trying to keep up with legs that kept propelling me forward.  I remember the NCISWAA (or whatever) champions of the year trophy. I remember being written about with the star Ashley Brennan as a freshman phenom.  The reporters were just being nice about me.

I loved running. But in the evenings, after study hall and before going to bed, I would flip out and try yoga poses from a book I bought. It was an Iyengar book. Then I got an Astanga book without knowing the two traditions had a history.  My favorite pose was karnapidasana and janusirsasana. I loved hamstring stretches and eventually pulled my hamstrings only I didn’t know it.

I got injured running. I got injured stretching. But I never stopped doing either.

In college, I did sit ups over what I would now, in my new life, call a birthing ball.  The house thought I was athletic but because I’d never won anything, I didn’t believe them.  Housemates told me I should join the XC team. I thought I was too slow despite training 3x week with a winning team member.  One fall, I witnessed my only collegiate track meet in Ainsworth Gymnasium. And stayed away. I still did yoga in my room.

On most weekends after college I would drive up Rt. 2 to watch my sister and her team compete in field hockey. I would run the back roads in the happy valley and then sit in the car for 2 hours. If I missed my run, I would jog through Williamstown and into NY (that happened just once -thank goodness). At the old age of 25, I took home a trophy with my own name on it.  I’d only ever received a medal for placing.

I moved to Boston and a friend in Law School suggested that the only way we’d see each other now that she lived in Wisconsin was if we trained for a race and then saw our other friend in California. I ran 9 miles a few times and then ran my first ½ marathon with an awful hamstring injury and couldn’t walk for a week.

The following year, I enrolled in yoga teacher training and ran the Boston Marathon.

People who I run with don’t understand the allure of yoga: “slow and just stretching=boring.”The yogis “’ think running is unhealthy for the body. Too much stress. Cant’ be good for you”  Both ignore science that confirms stressing the body in long holds makes you more flexible. Stressing the body through strength work makes you stronger. Probably applies to breathing and VO2 max- something runners and yogis care alot about.

I’ve been injured running (1998 groin so bad I slid down the stairs in my dormitory, unable to hold myself up). I’ve been injured practicing yoga (hamstring attachment strain in 2007 that still haunts me). And still, both ways of being are essential to my knowledge of self.

I consider living in an average body. Apart from my chocolate addition, I take care of it, but I’m not a contortionist nor am I a world record holder. Sometimes my flexibility in yoga is curbed by a PR on the road. But, my flexibility has gotten me into trouble. Other times, when running, focused on breathing, I’ve gotten from mile 5 to 18 without knowing how because I’ve just been with myself and only myself for hours. Runners would call that being in the zone, yogis call being present. It is not autopilot, It is clarity that cannot be anticipated or forced.

For me, Running and Yoga augment one to the other. They are similar in that reflection is always relative to your personal best or what your body did last time. Sometimes tempo runs are on the agenda and sometimes holding back to maintain a steady cadence is key.

 

Prenatal Yoga Workshop – Movement for Birth & Labor

 

ImageThis workshop explores the various yoga postures, specifically those poses beneficial for ease and comfort during each of the three stages of labor. We’ll talk about yourbaby’s position(now and in labor) and poses to move into depending on your baby’s position. 

Breathing techniques and a guided meditation & visualization will follow our practice. 

Bring a partner, spouse or a buddy to help assist you in some postures that reduce the discomforts of labor and of course, someone to laugh with always makes it more fun. Appropriate for all levels and all trimesters of pregnancy. 

$30/couple in advance, $40 same day registration.

Register here:
https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/ASP/home.asp?studioid=2559

Hope to see you there,
Devon Wilson-Hill, E-RYT,PYT