I came back from vacation all fired up, with a to-do list a mile long and more than two weeks of stored up creative energy to make it happen. And somehow, within hours of getting home, all of my plans were turned upside-down by a serious bout of food poisoning.
This may be a very mundane example, but as I spent the next few days in bed, it struck home that we have to learn to live with what the world is offering us, even if it's not what you would wish for. We have to create an alignment between our desires and aspirations, and what's really possible for us, in this moment. If the two are out of alignment, we're bound for struggle and frustration. The world will feel like it's against us, when really we are the ones fighting against what the world is offering.
My tendency, as an optimist, is to look for the silver lining when what's coming my way isn't what I want. But I've come to see a different perspective as well: sure, you can always look for and create an opportunity from bad things that happen. But in a certain sense, you still have to learn to live with hurt, and disappointment. Finding that silver lining doesn't make the pain go away.
It's an interesting paradox for a yogi to explore: to be able to hold and release into what the world is offering, while simultaneously seeking to turn even the bad times into opportunities for your own empowered experience.
In the body, I've been holding this paradox in the crucial juncture point of the waistline, where the Pelvic and Kidney Loops originate. Both of them draw the sides of the waistline back, but then the energy flows split. The Pelvic Loop draws the waistline back and down, flowing down the sacrum and forward through the bottom of the sacrum and then lifting the lower belly up. The Kidney Loop takes the waistline back, but then flows upward, lifting the back ribs and kidney area, piercing the heart focal point, and then softening the front ribs down.
Together, these two loops hold a paradox. The Pelvic Loop feels like receiving the offering of the world and turning it toward empowerment. The Kidney Loop feels like receiving the world, and learning to hold it in your embrace, no matter what is being offered.
- Open to Grace: The first opening is to receive the world, the very gift of life, just as it is, just as you are. When you start with this, there will be a natural expansion of the inner body (including into the back waistline) and a natural softening of the outer form.
- Muscle Energy creates a strong steady embrace of all the muscles to the core. It's a radical affirmation of everything.
- Thigh Loop: Even though the focus for this practice will be on the Pelvic and Kidney Loops, you have to build the loops from the foundation up. So it's crucial to get the thigh bones rooted back in the hip sockets before activating the Pelvic Loop.
- Pelvic Loop: Both Pelvic and Kidney Loop start in the core of the body, at a point in line with the middle of the lumbar, below the navel, and they both flow initially to the back plane of the body. I think of moving into the back plane as a kind of receiving, like drawing something into your embrace. Pelvic Loop flows down the lower back, drawing the bottom of the sacrum forward into the body and toning the lower belly so that the energy flows upward from the pubic bone toward the navel. This is the turn toward empowerment, of taking whatever comes your way and making it an opportunity. Except that I find this part tends to be pretty lazy in my own practice. How often do we forget to take the path of empowerment, and end up feeling like the world is happening to us?
- Kidney Loop starts at the same place as the Pelvic Loop, but as it goes back it lifts up the back ribs, then moves through the Heart Focal Point (in line with the bottom tips of the shoulder blades and base of the sternum) and softens the front ribs down. In the back body, it feels like you can hold anything in your embrace, even the stuff that's hurtful. And in the front body, there's a sweet release.
- Organic Energy: Hold these principles as a paradox, and then extend fully from the focal point in all directions.
- Tadasana: Stand in tadasana and bring one hand to your lower belly. Feel the energy flow. Does it go down or up? Does it create empowerment, or does it feel subject to the world. Now engage the legs, lining up the tops of the thighs over your knees and ankles. Now add the Pelvic Loop, drawing the waistline back and down, so the bottom of the sacrum moves in to the body. Feel how the energy flow of the low belly lifts from the pubic bone up toward the navel. That's the path of empowerment. (Believe it or not, the energy flow of the lower belly should lift like this in every pose.) Keeping that, draw the waistline back again, but this time turn the energy upward, so the back ribs lift. As the Kidney Loop moves through the heart, allow the front ribs to soften.
- Surya Namaskar: You'll feel the effects of these two loops in all poses in surya namaskar, but I particularly got an opening in cobra pose. Start in a low cobra, with the pelvis anchored to the floor. Create a good alignment in the upper body by lifting the inner body, softening the heart, and drawing the upper arm bones back into the shoulder sockets. Keeping all of that, now add the two focus loops. Sweep the waistline back and then split the energy in the lower back, down through the bottom of the sacrum (yes, the lower belly lifts here too!) and up through the back ribs (and the front ribs will flow down). Then extend the pose on top of this.
- Anjaneyasana/High Lunge: In both of these poses, the pelvis tends to tip forward so that the lower belly distends. Fire up the legs and get the thigh bones rooted back, and then add the energy flows of Pelvic and Kidney Loops. You'll have to work the Pelvic Loop really strongly into the resistance of the Thigh Loop to get the front of the pelvis and the lower belly to lift up off the front thigh (especially in Anjaneyasana). Adding Kidney Loop will create a spaciousness in the lower back that allows for an ecstatic backbend.
- Pigeon pose: Notice if your pelvis is resting on your front thigh, and what direction the energy flows in your lower belly. Draw the knees energetically toward each other to activate Thigh Loop, and keeping that, lift your waistline to the sky. From that initiation point, again split the energy, down and up. Your lower belly should still tone here, creating space in the front hip.
- Uttanasana: In all of the forward bends, it's important to keep the action of the low belly lifting through the Pelvic Loop to avoid overstretching the hamstring attachments and crimping the hip flexors. Come up onto fingertips to allow more space, charge the legs, and press the tops of the thighs (not the knees) back, to straight. Then as you push your fingertips more actively into the floor, lift the waistline, and anchor the bottom or the sacrum to tone the lower belly, while also engaging the Kidney Loop. Keep the space between the tops of your thighs and lower belly as you bow all the way forward into the pose.
- Parsvakonasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana: In all poses (need I say this again?), including all of the standing poses, the lower belly needs to tone. Get the thigh bones back, and then activate these middle loops without the thighs pushing forward. You should be able to see the energy flow in the lower belly moving up. You can also bring one hand to your belly to feel that tone. Because the hamstrings are extended in Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrasana, getting the lower belly to lift is particularly important in protecting the hamstring attachments.
- Vrksasana, Garudasana, Virabhadrasana 3: I love the standing balances for playing with these actions. Start in Vrksasana, where you can use your bent leg foot pressing up against the opposite thigh to create tone on the inner thighs and set the standing thigh back in the hip socket. Then hold that as you ad the Pelvic and Kidney Loops. It's so gratifying (this is the path of empowerment, after all) to see and feel that tone. This will help tremendously to keep space in the hip flexors in Garudasana, and it will also help keep the front hip from cramping in Vira 3.
- Virabhadrasana 1: I always find that the back body shortens in this pose, and activating these two loops creates more support there. Draw both sides of the waistline back (the front leg side will need more Pelvic and Kidney Loops, in general), and then create space in the low back as you split that energy down and up. Together, these loops provide a strong support for the upper back to open.
- Handstand, Pinca Mayurasana: Now that you've felt it in so many right-side-up poses, try going upside-down. Keeping the waistline back, even while you're kicking up, is one of the key places to work if you're trying to learn to balance in these poses (they help to counter the infamous "banana back"). Note that that the energy flow of the lower belly is now downward (toward the floor) even though it still moves from pubic bone toward the navel.
- Sirsasana and variations: Pressing up into headstand with both legs requires moving deeply into the back body, so try working these loops as you press. Once you're balancing comfortably in the pose, try these variations with a focus on the split of energy in the back body that comes from the Pelvic Loop and Kidney Loop: virasana legs, with a twist; bringing one foot down toward the floor in front of you while the other stays vertical; hovering with both legs together as they lower toward the floor.
- Anjaneyasana and Pigeon thigh stretches: We already found that in both of these poses, because the front hip is flexed, the pelvis and low belly can easily rest on the front thigh. But that can jam the front hip. To create space there, you have to start from the back body. Set up the pose, then bend the back knee in for the thigh stretch. Keep drawing the back knee energetically forward on the mat to ignite the Thigh Loop (and those quads). Then use your free hand pressing into the front leg to help you move both sides of the waistline back (as if you could get your waistline to meet your back foot). Keep the waistline full, and then draw down through the bottom of the sacrum so much that you feel the shift toward empowerment in the front, in the lower belly lifting. Keep that, and then also lift the back ribs.
- Ustrasana, Laghu vajrasana, Kapotasana: In all backbends, you want to create space in the lower back so that there's not too much "bend" but rather more extension. In the set up for ustrasana, focus on pressing the thigh bones back, and notice how that creates more lumbar curve. That's a good start, but if you were to backbend over such a deep lumbar curve, your lower back will feel jammed. So keep your thighs back, and then move to the waistline flowing back. Draw the bottom of your sacrum down and forward as powerfully as you can without the thigh bones pushing forward. Then lift up the back ribs for the Kidney Loop, softening this energy down the front ribs. Note that backbends should not jut your rib cage forward. It's too much pushing in the world, and not enough receiving. Also, these two loops create a deep support for the upper back to curl and open into the pose.
- Supta Virasana: The back can easily over-arch in this pose, especially if the hip flexors are tight. So try this: Allow the inner thighs to release down, and then walk back just so you are on your elbows. Press down into your elbows to lift your hips off the floor, to allow more mobility in the lower body. Allow the waistline to release down with gravity, and then create space in the back by splitting the energy toward your knees and toward your head. Then release the pelvis back to the floor and come all the way into the pose.
- Upavista Konasana (and forward bends): Depending on the general openness of your hamstrings, you will either find that your low back tends to round (that would be tight) when you sit for upavista, or that your pelvis sits easily upright (that would be open), with the sitting bones energetically moving back behind you. If your back rounds, focus on getting the thigh bones rooted to the floor and the top of your sacrum drawing in and up (this is all from Inner Spiral) before moving further into the forward bend. If your thigh bones are already rooted and your pelvis is in a neutral position, it's important to work with the Pelvic and Kidney Loops as you do the forward bend to protect the hamstring attachments. One of the best landmarks to know that you've created enough Pelvic Loop is the energy flow in the lower belly -- it should be drawing up. Another key landmark is the relationship between the crest of your hips and your thigh bones: if the hips are resting forward on the thigh bones, draw your waistline back even more (you can use your fingertips pressing into the floor to help create this action), and then find these two loops.