Elemental ChromiumMetal as a music genre is identifiable by its attributes of strength and power. These sounds are performed by humans expressing power and strength as technique in their playing styles. There is nothing overly delicate or fragile, nor soft or forgiving in metal music. This characterization of being carries over to Metal Yoga, where the skeletal framework is aligned to positions, over a short interval of time, inducing structural integrity inherent in the biomechanics of the human body. The repeated alignment creates a memory and awareness that translates into the unlocking of potential power and ultimately empowerment through knowledge that contributes to wisdom.

Beginning a session, which I will call an interval, one may feel inflexible and hardened by the situations of modern life that irritate and wear one down. This beginning state of hardness can be called the Chromium state, a state of physical and mental hardness, a general rigidity. One can move through soft metal states like a Lead state, ending an interval in a state of Mercury, a liquid metal, or ultimately in the Gallium state. Elemental gallium does not occur in free form in nature, but as a brittle, solid, silvery metal it will melt in your hand above about 85 °F. Gallium in this sense is a good metaphor for the scarcely real experience among yoga exercisers and poor meditators with actual spirituality, awareness, and enlightenment. The molecular structures of the hardest metals form lattices that combine to exert stability and strength over the span of their surfaces and interiors, while others can be malleable; the combining of different metals with special attributes to achieve specific results has resulted in the most spectacular and most beautiful metal objects the world has seen.

Chrome Engine

To pick up where we left off in the last entry, we work on advancing out of Chromium. Because the majority of individuals move repetitively and cause muscle injuries that require healing through stretching techniques, it is most important to begin by carefully and slowly stretching from the center outward. At the center for these purposes is the spinal structure, and this muscular center spans the entire length of your trunk to the base of your skull; the spine is your power center. When radiating out from a point with an ever increasing radius, the most minuscule radial motion results in greater distances in circumference. These beginning motions should be small and gentle at first at the spine, but can result in appearances to be greater motions at the extremities which when outstretched will trace greater circumference distances. Because it is also paramount to choose at discretion beginning movements that take the spine into movements within all planes, a variety of movements are available at this stage of stretching and lengthening from the core that will lead to greater strength potential to be unleashed in movements of later states during the interval.

Since the first ten minutes of sitting and breathing covered in the last post is also a time to activate and focus on root chakra energy, the beginning spinal movements serve to move that energy up the spine to energize the rest of the body during the interval. Good spinal choices are Cobra, Lord of the Fishes, Bridge and its variations, Cat/Cow, Sphinx, Alligator, Canoe, even Child’s Pose and Sleeping Baby for initial relaxation, as well as poses that can begin by stretching the hamstrings so tightness of the spine is not exacerbated by the back of the legs. Staff Pose is a good opener to these, sitting as tall as possible and seemingly doing nothing while the tiny muscles around each vertebra are brought to action.

Next I will talk about standing strength poses that use an awakened spine throughout the extremities and our Metal state moves from Chromium to softer metals like Iron, Copper, and Bronze.

Taking Control of Eternity

December 29, 2011

Time meant nothing to me, except that I was stuck in it. The concept of what one second was had to be altered and then forgotten, dissipated into nothingness. I knew civilization was always going to operate on grids of delineated beginnings and endings and these were drawn with hard, merciless lines that spilled onto pages of personal histories like unstoppable disembowelings, until the entrails of every dream ever dreamt by every innocent child that ever lived composed the unimaginable description of time’s arrow flung with immeasurable emotion from time’s dawn for us to keep watching, witnessing in horror, unable to look away while writhing in agony to somehow wrench our flush faces and blood-filled eyes to some scene of immaculate beauty and serenity where we can feel showered with the golden warmth of being smothered with love until our hearts can agree to beat no longer.

I decided to breathe. Breathing helped. A lot. I realized that by not breathing, the heart kept beating and it started to leave like a train that I had just missed at the station. The only way to get on that train was to breathe, but it had to be the right kind of breathing, otherwise it would just be a pathetic uncoordinated and jagged tumbling forward, like tripping with each step and just watching hopelessly as the gap between me and my heartbeat widened. I took a steady and deep breath. This was the answer, the only answer, and it liberated me from the constraints of my memory, my conditioning, my thinking of what time is and was, and it narrowed the gap, synchronizing with my heartbeat, and the extreme pain that I felt in the arc of the breath lessened as soon as it became greater than I ever imagined it would be. Once the relief came I pushed on by straightening my legs more and lengthening them from the hips to the heels and I took another deeper breath and there. It was gone. All of the pain and difficulty and torturous inescapability seemed to have vanished and I had the strength to stay right where I was forever. Forever until the heart would agree to beat no longer. I did it, I found the serenity and immaculate beauty, not to look upon, but to be a component of, experiencing it directly.

This was my private practice today. I didn’t look at any clocks until it was complete, and about an hour had elapsed. There were no sounds, no speaking, no interruptions, no distractions. There were instead the very unavoidable sounds, words, interventions, and adjustments of being fully alive.

Awakening The Serpent Power

December 20, 2011

If you’re going to get involved in Yoga, you’re going to have to do it right. Don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is altogether waiting before you, here now in the present where you show up entirely (without resistance based on fears), and a redefinition of your past which is shed like the skin of a snake. Today’s entry is a basic movement with breath that is also the foundation of the power within all subsequent movements that build upon that power. This is the energy that lies dormant in many of us, ready to be awoken and identified as a process of vibrational spiritual development. The simple yet profound visualization needed for this movement is a coiling, spiraling energy that moves, or rises, up the spine beginning at its base from both the left and right sides. With your breath, you access prana, the vital life-sustaining force in the body, entering a state of pranic awakening. Kundalini in meaning refers to exactly this coiling like a snake.

To continue with stabilization training, Cobra pose activates the core with the intended purpose of strengthening this system. Keep in mind that core stabilization movements are less about sweeping action and more about sustained contractions of very specific muscles. These core muscles are the transverse abdominis, internal obliques, pelvic floor musculature, transverso spinalis, and multifidis. In stabilization exercises, there are other muscles that need to be activated to prepare for them, and this is done by drawing in the navel and activating the gluteals.

The Floor Prone Cobra, as it is called in ordinary gym-related workout terminology, has variations between exercise and yoga, and we will go over both just as we did with the Two-Leg Floor Bridge, or Two-Legged Table. For this exercise, instead of lying supine, you will lie prone on the floor with arms to the side of the body and palms facing toward the ground. Your arms are straight behind you, not bent in front of you.

Start by drawing in the navel, activating the gluteals, and pinching the shoulder blades together. Pinching the shoulder blades together can be done by lifting the straightened arms off the floor and imagining that the tops of your hands are moving toward each other in an effort to touch behind you. Lift the chest off the floor. Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds. Slowly return the chest and arms to the ground. It is also important to note that keeping the chin tucked throughout this movement will help to keep the cervical spine stabilized.

The yoga pose is called Bhujangasana, or Cobra Pose. It is intended to work the spine, arms, and legs. This seemingly simple pose with little movement actually involves many complex actions which we can explain further in detail below for those interested in the muscular anatomy of what is happening. To combine the movement with the breath, lying prone with palms on the floor and under your shoulders, follow the previous instructions to begin while pushing up with the arms, but only in the slightest amount, allowing the muscles of the spine to do most of the work; inhale on the upward movement, filling the ribcage with a further expansion of the chest. Time the inhalation with the arc of the motion upward and release with an exhalation and come down. The intricate spinal movement starts at the cervical (head) and one vertebrae at a time comes up off the floor. The hips remain grounded and the belly can slightly rise off the floor. The exhale begins with the lumbar (base) region relaxing to the floor one vertebrae at a time until the chin or forehead comes to rest and there is no longer tension in the spine. The breathing pattern can be reversed if belly breathing restricts thoracic extension and rib cage expansion. Concentrate on the serpent energy moving up the spine from the top of the hips to the nostrils, and be the present force of your awakening.

The joint actions involved are sacrum counternutation, hip extension, internal rotation, adduction, knee extension, ankle plantarflexion, scapula neutral, glenohumeral joint external rotation, elbow extension, and forearm pronation along with spine extension.

The entire spinal extensor group of muscles work concentrically to create spine extension. There is a synergistic action in the serratus posterior superior which overlays the erectors, assisting chest expansion. The rectus abdominis and obliques work eccentrically, preventing overmobilization of the lumbar spine. The arms are engaged through various muscles: the infraspinatus, teres minor, serratus anterior, posterior deltoids, triceps, pronator teres, and pronator quadratus. The legs are required through numerous actions to keep the joints in alignment: the hamstrings extend the hips and maintain adduction and internal rotation. External rotation of the legs is a movement that must be avoided, along with abduction. The muscles responsible for extending the hips are the adductor magnus and gluteus maximus while the knees are extended by the vastus lateralis, medialis, and intermedius.

To keep breathing uninhibited, focus must be on the deep back muscles, the underlying core, instead of the larger and more superficial muscles that affect the scapulae and rib cage. Shoulders don’t elevate, but the spine is lifted. Elbows should not flare out and forearms should stay parallel with each other with the push of the arms.

Like Krishna dancing on the serpents’ heads to subdue them, so are you using your ego energy and then releasing it. By grasping your ego energy and releasing it you become the powerful enlightened manifestation of yourself that cannot be trapped or defeated. By awakening the serpent power within you, you free yourself from all suffering of this world and can take the first step of your journey in this life.

Stabilization

November 20, 2011

Core stabilization training is the first phase of training anyone should undergo to lay a foundation for further physical training. The reason is that sedentary people in today’s modern societies do not engage their core muscles frequently enough to have endurance and strength for stabilization. This translates to people performing mundane tasks that recruit muscles used for movement, and with a weak underlying core compensations develop which lead to injury. These compensations are a lack of synergy, an absent functional balance that the human body operates in to execute efficient movement. It really is no wonder that yoga is so popular today when people are constantly in physical pain and hurting themselves without knowing why, and it is becoming known that just doing yoga fixes these problems even if it is not clear to everyone why their bodies are becoming healed.

If you hired a physical trainer and you were in need of core stabilization training, one of the exercises you would do is called a Two-Leg Floor Bridge. To prepare, you would lie supine (on your back) on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, with toes shoulder-width apart and pointing straight ahead. Your arms would be placed to the side pointing toward your feet, with your palms down. As with all stabilization exercises, the region just below the navel stays drawn in throughout the duration of the exercise, ensuring the intrinsic core stabilizers are staying activated. The movement starts then with drawing the navel in, and activating the gluteals, or buttock muscles. Lift the pelvis off the floor until the knees, hips, and shoulders are in line. Be sure not to raise the hips too far up off the floor and hyperextend the lower back, as this places excessive stress to the lumbar spine. Slowly lower the pelvis to the floor, and repeat. The timing for this movement is 6-20 seconds under sustained contraction, since these are slow-twitch, type I muscle fibers we are activating in this type of training. Sound like a lot of information? It isn’t actually, because there are a lot of gaps left in full comprehension of this movement that yoga fills in nicely, and I will explain how.

The associated yoga pose is called Two-Legged Table, or Dwi Pada Pitham, and it is classified as a basic supine vinyasa, meaning it is a dynamic movement that is coordinated with the inhalation and exhalation. Notice that in the previous description, there was no talk of breathing, and as it turns out this would be a very substantial omission to gaining the benefits of doing this movement in the most fulfilling way.

Lifting your hips is typically done with an inhalation and lowering with an exhalation. This simple practice can be used to release tension from the spine and breathing structures, while also supporting balance actions for  similar poses that go beyond this movement. Breathing, concentrating on the breath, and being aware of the breath is our connection to all that is beyond and within us, and here in this movement contextualized in yoga we can take a simple gym warm-up exercise and actually live in present harmony with the Cosmic Intelligence. For example, bhaya kumbhaka can be referenced in this movement, also called the negative breath or relaxing breath, and it refers to the time after exhalation and before inhalation, the time when the lungs have little or no air. After the inhalation and lifting of the spine, an exhalation and retention of the fully exhaled lungs on the lowing creates a natural lifting of the pelvic floor and abdominal contents toward the zone of lowered pressure in the thoracic cavity. The three bhandas, or interior body locks, can be very easily activated using this method of lowering on the external breath retention, and the subsequent inhalation can create a dramatic downward release of the pelvic floor and a noticeable sense of relaxation in this often tense region.

By combining knowledge and experience in this and other movements or poses from both perspectives of training in the gym for specific physical goals and training in the yoga class or your home for personal enrichment, fulfillment, and connection with the deepest sense of existence, you are gaining the most benefit from what can otherwise be flat and without purpose. Instead of doing gym warm-ups that can seem insignificant, you are paying close attention to who you are and what you are capable of. Instead of blindly following yoga poses with a notion of faith, while hoping for an understanding of spirituality, you are fully informed to what the point of it all is. That is Metal Yoga.

Before I explain why you don’t have to be a vegetarian to practice Yoga, let’s lay a foundation of where this idea comes from. Patanjali was an ancient Hindu sage who compiled the science of Yoga in a systematic manner. So, Yoga has to do with Hinduism when considering its origin. When studying the many aspects of Yoga, because of this origin, regardless of who you are and what your origins are, the information will be getting to you throughout this lens of Vedic Hindu tradition. As a first step in this Vedic Hindu tradition of disciplining the body, and thence, the mind, the Asanas are one way through which we get initiated into Hinduism, like it or not. But if you actually pay attention to the philosophy of Yoga and comprehend the teachings, it stops there as far as the practitioner either becoming Hindu or even merely imitating Hinduism. Yoga, although born of Hinduism, goes far beyond its origins and cannot be described rightfully and respectfully if it stays in the limited context of Hinduism.

Yoga is not an all-or-nothing kind of commitment. You aren’t expected to retreat into a cave wearing monk garb, cutting yourself off from society once you begin Yoga practice. This is also why although vegetarianism is suggested in Yoga teachings, it is also taught that Yoga is not about restricting yourself from what life has to offer and therefore vegetarianism is not required. To think it is required is to misunderstand the yogic path.

So it isn’t good or bad to be a vegetarian, but rather what you feel is right for you. What is bad is only what kind of vegetarian or non-vegetarian you are. Whether or not you eat meat is less of an issue than the quality of what you are putting in your body. Definitely don’t confuse vegetarianism as something that is right or wrong for animals who give their lives for us to consume their carcasses. This is a life-limiting approach and Yoga is about making life as enriching as possible, not a list of commandments that tell you what not do or what is allowed. Let’s save that for Christianity.

More Yoga Muscles

November 10, 2010

Do you, or have you ever gone to a health club? Whether you belong to a gym or not, it can be an intimidating place because of the way most health clubs are run. You enter through the front door and have to pass the front desk by either signing in or swiping a card across a laser, or having an employee enter a number into a computer for you. Now you enter the facility and it’s all up to you. Everyone is there for varying reasons, working toward different goals, and at different stages of attaining those goals. How do you know what to do once you join a health club? You’ve paid your money, you’ve shown up in your workout duds, and you’re in a sea of people off doing their own things. Some people may be coupled with personal trainers, guiding them through focused plans with supervision. The truth is, if you don’t feel confident that you know enough about your body and what brings results without hurting yourself or pushing you along that edge that will promote changes that you want, hiring a personal trainer is a good idea. And this brings me to Yoga.

No matter who you are, what level of fitness you are at, or what your physical fitness goals are, a personal trainer will tell you, among other things, that the suggested place to start is stabilization training. This doesn’t mean benching, or squatting, or curling, or pressing anything that comes near your maximal strength ability. Think of putting your fast twitch muscles on a temporary vacation so you can concentrate on your slow twitch muscles, the ones that require oxygen to work and can endure longer durations of use. These are the muscles that stabilize your body when you think you’re not doing anything, like standing straight, sitting upright, bending over, or moving your body to change positions for any reason. This is one of the reasons Yoga has become so popular here in the US as a fitness trend. As a whole, Americans do less from day to day because more of their work and home activities are becoming more automated, causing a deterioration in the conditioning of the stabilization muscles of the body. Yoga happens to condition exactly those muscle groups through the asanas, preparing the body for movements that can be built upon a strong core.

Of course, there are many different kinds of Yoga that one may choose to practice, and all or some of the above may not apply to your practice. Also, in order to build a solid stabilization base, very specific core adaptation variables have to be chosen for the possible goals of any individual. A general fact is that Yoga produces a stronger body, and is much larger in scope than stabilization exercise. Yoga goes beyond the body and tunes what can be referred to as the psychology, awareness, and spiritual aspects of living, something that is absent from all forms of conventional fitness training that deal only with the body, its systems, biomechanics, motor control, and flexibility. Yoga is not flexibility. If it is any one thing, it is steadiness. It is important to understand that while most people will be drawn to Yoga for fitness or social reasons, the goal is to move past all physical connotations and attachments, as these are only inroads to the destination. In the gym, the destination is just another road, and this is perfectly fine if you understand it.

When talking strictly asana, you are moving your body from starting positions, or neutral positions into very specific destination poses and holding them. You don’t have to hold them still unless you are advanced, but that is what asanas are, with the combination of integrating the breath the whole time, and also specifically to inhalation and exhalation throughout the movements. The breath is the source of your energy, so it is vital that you understand it and do not obstruct or limit your breathing. Even if breathing is compromised due to lung disease, simply keeping a smooth even breath is the goal. The beauty of Yoga asanas is that it is compounded threefold compared to what it looks like on the surface, a dynamic stretching exercise. With breathing and postures we also practice concentration of the mind. So, one hour of practice will give one hour of exercise, one hour of deep relaxation, and one hour of meditation, through developing the concentration powers within the pose.

The asanas will not only strengthen certain major muscle groups, but will awaken and enliven your core muscle groups. For example, if I were to attempt to dead-lift 315 pounds repeatedly, or even just once, the next time I went to the health club, I would most certainly hurt myself if my core muscles were not strong enough to stabilize my skeletal system under that force; it wouldn’t matter if my major muscle groups were indeed strong enough to lift the weight, and even if they did, I could walk away with an injury. Yoga allows me to lift 315 pounds repeatedly in a dead-lift with no injury. It is the whole-body armor, Metal Yoga, that one needs to perform great feats. It is no wonder that when personal fitness trainers suggest dynamic stretching postures to stabilize your core, they look almost like Yoga Asanas, with names like bridge and cobra.

My asanas are filled with the breath of lightning, filling my entire body from marrow to skin with electric white radiance, enveloping everyone around me with the oneness of compassion. I am not a solid form, but mostly empty space, and every movement of this body brushes through the finest of all matter that permeates all that is. As my arms grow heavy or my legs lose strength, I smile with the sight of the grace and beauty of nature resting on them for me to uphold. As I concentrate and still the mind, the sun is still, pouring its love and warmth over the spinning and rotating earth that we walk on, and at the same time, the earth is still and the sun passes countless times from east to west over the sky, quickly, with rushes of clouds sweeping across, between us, and I watch the fire of life, burning, and consuming, dying to be reborn, the eye opening and closing, the breath in, the breath out, the great wall Maya before me that I walk through as I get a glimpse of transcendence.

Shaucha is one of the Niyamas. It is purification. Purity is the result of purification, or the by-product of the process of purification. A student of Yoga will have to spend some part of the day practicing tapah, which encompasses the yama, the niyama, the asanas, pranayama, and some part of the day in study and observation – kriya yoga.

Observation comes after the studying, observing directly in one’s own life, because knowledge doesn’t become understanding unless verified by personal observation. It is the direct, immediate, intimate contact with the fact that you have with study, therefore a communion with the fact. This is Swadhayaya, both study and observation. Kriya Yoga is the yoga through activity and action together, so kriya yoga includes Tapah and Swadhayaya. The study purifies the brain, cleansing the intellect of all ignorance, of all imbalances, all impurities. After the brain is cleansed through study, the observation purifies.

Now, we can discern from clarity. When what is seen, perceived and communed becomes the substance of your life, then there is no possibility of forgetting, it is no more part of memory. It is a dimension of purity that is incorruptible, undamageable, inaccessible to confusion. When you have clarity you know it because there is no such thing as no longer having clarity at a later time. If you feel this happens, then you never had clarity to begin with.

Discernment in Yoga

May 5, 2010

There is at the core of Yoga, discrimination. One key thing to remember about yoga for yourself is that it is only about you and no one else, until you make decisions to include others into what may be your practice. Just as you may decide to include people into your life as friends or acquaintances, there is a process that each of us has that is a personal acceptance strategy. We all have our own reasons for acceptance or non-acceptance, and yoga should be no different, lest we prepare for distractions in our practice. Although the actions related to yoga lifestyle exude acceptance of everyone and love for all, it does not mean the inclusion of a level of comfort that invites lax behavior leading to a slowing or halting of growth. Through my personal yoga practice, I have attained everything I owe to yoga without the inclusion of another, by discriminating to keep all possibility of distraction in my power away from my practice. I am not convinced that a class setting can be as beneficial to a practitioner as this kind of practice where there is nothing to distract the mind, both conscious and unconscious. But this is my perspective, and others may vehemently disagree, and that is their path to take. The single most important step in discrimination I urge all to take is not to follow another’s move but instead to read and meditate and practice from a place within that is true and take the first moves forward from there. Yoga in the western world is being filtered through our culture and understanding of experiences that may or may not ordinarily exist without yoga. That sets up a lot of individuals for a misunderstanding of what yoga is, and it is very easy to have a class full of people utterly confused and in the dark. A common phrase these days is “to take yoga”, and is at the crux of this kind of misunderstanding, whether it is meant to be misleading or not, listeners are always interpreting and misinterpreting. I can go my entire life without taking yoga, because that is something I have no interest in. I must discriminate, however, in order to live and be yoga.

Resisting Yoga

April 25, 2010

Besides people who are frequent practitioners and people who have never tried yoga, there are also people who in the face of practicing, resist. I often hear that it is crisis that draws people to doing yoga, or to put it another way, yoga finds those in need. When bodies and souls have been neglected and become contorted and unable to operate freely without obstruction, asanas get right to the troublesome areas, expose them, and put the body in a position to begin healing. When I first began doing yoga and saw and felt firsthand all the physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits that less than 30 minutes each morning did for me, it was not difficult to suggest it to those who obviously could benefit the way I did. To my surprise, nobody I knew actually tried it or wanted to do it.

One day my mother was suffering from an upper back muscular discomfort that looked like a buildup of tension manifested into a shoulder knot. Days later I found about it, and it worsened to the point that her right shoulder was sitting higher than her left and she woke up in terrible pain. I immediately gave her instruction for tension-releasing movements in the area to massage the muscles back into shape. Ten minutes later she was beaming, ecstatic, walking straight, and so relieved that this wasn’t going to require a doctor’s visit.

If you resist yoga, you are only making a statement about your own inability to face something about yourself. You may not be searching for anything that yoga seems to offer, or you may be looking for them in other forums that are unfulfilling. One day yoga will find you and it will be your choice to listen or ignore.