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!

The Yoga Antedote for Running, Cycling & Plain Ol’ Livin’

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A few weeks ago, I visited a good friend and body-worker. I first began visiting her office several years ago when a hamstring injury that just wouldn’t go away needed attention. We worked through that problem and now I see her regularly for maintenance and care.

During this recent session, we were talking about the bike ride I had just completed 150+ miles in two days(MS Cape Cod Getaway! I highly recommend doing an event for charity!)  and her triathlon training.

Wellfleet

I should mention, that my hamstring injury, while not running related  (definitely Yoga, primary series related) affected my running. During training for my most recent marathon, which was a disaster (epic fail), my calve muscle began seizing after long runs. I would wake up in the morning unable to get my heel to the ground.   I bought compression socks, I ate more electrolytes and bananas and greens.  During the marathon, I tied my shoe laces WAY too tightly and coupled with the already angry lower leg, walking became unbearable.

So, back to the present. A few years later, I’m still working on figuring out how exactly to keep my legs happy after lots of forward folding and use running or in yoga.   While exploring this simply fascinating topic, of course, I’ve learned other things about my left leg and namely my adductors. A chiropractor suggested that lymphatic fluid buildup in this area may trigger that party going on in my leg.   So the body-worker whose table I was laying on as we were discussing cycling and training, suggested I do legs up the wall after running.

As it so happens, around Boston marathon time, my husband complained about a sore back and hamstring soreness and the FIRST thing I told him to do, was to put his legs up the wall.  This man doesn’t stretch but I figured, even if he doesn’t stretch, he could listen to a  baseball game with his legs up the wall doing nothing and do some good for his body. IMG_4501

So the one-trillion dollar question is -Do I put my legs up the wall after a run? I prescribe it!  Friends talk about it! Mmmmm…So, why did it take me so long to practice what I preach?

During my MS bike ride where I rode 115 miles, I put my legs up the wall for a good 30 minutes and on the second day of cycling 75 miles, I had no problems. Day later? week later? no soreness.

So now as I write this post I’m lying on my back after 7 mile run with my legs up the wall. So why is this Viparita Karani or legs up the wall such a magical pose?  As part of any first aid training, problem?  RICE! Elevate and ice and so on.  After pounding the pavement incessantly? Repetitive motion of hips, quads, calves, knees?  It would make sense that to reinstate R&R we should elevate them. I’m no medical practitioner and I won’t suggest that when we go upside down into an inversion, our circulation goes upside down; At least I would hope not:  I always want blood flowing to my heart, but it makes sense for other lymphatic fluids to move away from a raised area.

I often suggest legs up the wall for my prenatal students when they suffer from swelling feet or ankles.  I suggest legs up the wall for students who were ever troubling trouble with adrenals. Legs of the wall seems like it’s your cure-all.  Hooray! I fixed everything! It’s a pretty accessible pose. I did it camping,  between rides and at home.  The hardest part is nudging your butt against the wall to get your legs up in the first place.  Besides that – piece of cake! Like I said before, you can listen to the baseball game read a book or record a blog entry. Easy Peezy! #PracticeWhatYouPreach #YogaEveryday