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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Maya and the Financial Crisis: What does this have to do with your sacrum?

I've been struggling to understand the origins of this financial crisis, and for as many times as my sweetie explains it to me, it still seems obscure. But the other day I finally understood, at least, why it's so obscure: the financial system was built on bad maya, the power of concealment (also called illusion, delusion, deception).

My teacher Douglas Brooks always says "you don't experience the world, you experience your experience of the world." That's maya. It's the representational experience of reality, because we can have no direct experience of reality. For many yoga traditions, this is a problem: maya stands between you and the world. From the perspective of the Rajanaka Tantra, this is your empowerment: maya is what allows you to negotiate and navigate your experience. In this way, language is a great example of maya. We use words to gain access to reality (things, thoughts, emotions), but no one would say that they are identical with the thing you're trying to express. They are representations. They point to a reality that is not the same thing as the words you're using.

We are constantly constructing the maya of our own experience. The thing is, we can create maya that is useful and empowering, in that it brings our experience into alignment with reality, or we can create maya that is delusional and disconnected from reality. To my understanding, this is what happened with the financial markets: the maya of the markets was not aligned to reality.

In Anusara Yoga, we use the Universal Principles of Alignment as a kind of maya that gives us access to a deeper reality, a deeper experience of ourselves. And this is the best kind of maya, because the principles are empowering. Quite simply, they work. Sometimes, however, we create ineffective maya around the principles.

I've noticed this in particular with Inner Spiral. This principle takes the thighbones back into the hip sockets and draws the top of the sacrum and lumbar spine in and up, creating a more lordotic curve in the lower back. It's easy to shortcut and just stick the butt out, or just arch the lower back, creating a form that looks like Inner Spiral. But that's a maya, like the one created in the financial system, that will not be empowering over time. The actions of Inner Spiral must be powered by the legs to create alignment; the curve in the low back is a result of this action.

Today we'll use the principles of alignment as an effective maya to open the lower back and create stability around the sacro-iliac joints. In a healhty S.I. joint, the sacrum should be able to slide between the ilia (pelvic bones) in movement. For example, in walking, when one knee lifts in front, the top of the sacrum will tip into the body but the pelvic bone should anchor downward. If the S.I. joint is stuck, you'll feel the hip lift with the leg/sacrum, or you'll feel the sacrum tuck under with the pelvis. Here's the cool thing: to re-align the sacro-iliac joint, all you have to do is "mimic" good alignment, and it will slide right back into place. (See the "walking in place" bullet to learn how to reset your own SI joint.)

Let's go through it:


  • Open to Grace: Set up a good foundation, with the feet parallel and the pelvis squared off to the front.
  • Muscle Energy: The component of Muscle Energy that hugs the legs and outer hips to the midline is the critical aspect of this principle that stabilizes the sacro-iliac joint.
  • Inner Spiral: With Inner Spiral, the top of the sacrum and the lumbar spine draw in to the body and up. Knowing this, when I first started practicing with this principle I substituted arching the lower back for the action of Inner Spiral. This is the kind of maya that is like a house of cards, and it will collapse over time. The action of Inner Sprial must be initiated by the legs in order to be effective. Specifically, it's the inner upper thighs drawing back and widening into the resistance of Muscle Energy that moves the lower back.
  • Outer Spiral: For the purposes of aligning the sacro-iliac joints, the important part of Outer Spiral is that it wraps the outer hips back and under without compromising the curve in the lower back established by Inner Spiral. This creates a dynamic alignment around the sacro-iliac joints, with the sacrum moving in and up while the pelvic bones move down.
  • Organic Energy: When the pelvis is the focal point (standing, seated, supine poses), the expansion of Organic Energy splits at the bottom of the sacrum. This means that while the pelvic bones (most of which are below the bottom of the sacrum) move down, the sacrum moves up, again creating a dynamic alignment at the sacro-iliac joints.
  • Sukhasana: Sitting cross-legged, place your hands on your inner knees. As you engage Muscle Energy in the legs and hug to the midline, your knees will lift up into your hands. Use your hands as resistance to magnify that action. As you do, you'll feel the muscles around the sacrum area tone. This is a crucial action that you'll create throughout practice to help stabilize around the SI joints.
  • Tadasana: Start with a block between your upper inner thighs, so that you can feel Muscle Energy to the midline and how the action of Inner Spiral is powered by the legs. Hug into the block, and feel that embrace all the way up through the pelvis, so the muscles around the sacrum tone. Keeping the legs strong, turn the inner thighs back (block back) until the lower back arches and the top of the sacrum draws in and up. Make sure the upper body isn't tipping forward to achieve this (that would be ineffective maya). Keep that action going, and then add Outer Spiral, wrapping the pelvic bones around and down. Note that the sacrum draws up and the pelvic bones go down. This is good alignment.
  • Walking in place: This is the best maya I have yet found to re-align the sacro-iliac joints. Standing in tadasana, engage the legs and add Inner Spiral, turning the inner thighs back. Then lift one knee to just above 90 degrees (the side where the SI is out, if you know which one; otherwise, alternate between sides). As the knee bends in toward your chest, it will help you to get more Inner Spiral on that leg. Accentuate that, turning both inner upper thighs in, back and wide, until you feel the top of the sacrum tip in and up into your body. Keeping that, draw the pelvic bones firmly down (this is Outer Spiral, and Organic Energy), using your hand on your hip as needed. Then release the leg. Do this 2-3 times on the side.
  • Ardha Utkatasana (Downhill skier): In utkatasana, rest your hands on your thighs, right above the knees. Use your hands to help hug the legs to the midline, without letting the knees knock in. Hold the midline until you feel the muscles around the lower back/sacrum tone. Then add Inner Spiral by turning the legs in and back and wide. (Watch that the knees don't turn in, and watch that it's not the upper back that's opening.) This will create a curve deep in the lower back. Keep that, and then draw the pelvic bones down and under as you lift and extend up out of the belly.
  • Parsvakonasana (and other standing poses): I originally learned to get the thighs back in the hip sockets by leaning forward in the chest and sticking the butt out. But this stopped being effective over time. Try this instead: bring your front forearm to the front knee, and use your other hand to feel the engagement of the sacrum/lower back. Notice when you come into the pose, before adding any actions, what the shape of the lower back is. For many of us, it will be flat, espeically if the back thigh is poking forward. Now engage the legs by lifting and spreading the toes, and sweeping the feet energetically toward each other. This will create a muscle tone all the way up the legs and through the pelvis. Now add Inner Spiral. As the inner thighs turn in and back and wide, the chest won't need to push forward. Fell how the action of the legs affects your lower back. When you get Inner Spiral, the top of the sacrum and the lumbar vertebrae will draw up into the body. Then add the Outer Spiral and Organic Energy without losing the curve in the lumbar.
  • Parivrtta parsvakonasana (and parivrtta trikonasana, ardha chandrasana and utkatasana): Twists are among the most challenging poses to stabilize the SI joint, because in the effort to deepen the twist, the pelvic bones and sacrum can move at different rates and get knocked out of alignment. Try this pose first from lunge position (with the back heel lifted). Starting in the straight ahead lunge, take your arms to the sides and squeeze the midline, as if giving someone a hug, until you feel a tone in the lower back. That will create an engagement that stabilizes the pelvic bones and sacrum in alignment. As you move into the twist, the foundation of the twist (pevlis/sacrum) should remain stabile (note that the back leg side will tend to drop). Keep the legs strong and hugging in to the midline, and then lift powerfully through the back thigh and widen the inseam of the leg, pelvis and waistline more to the back leg side. Now twist from that place, without letting the pelvis or back leg drop. Once you're deeper in the twist, draw the outer hips back and extend.
  • Ardha makarasana: Start on your belly, with the hands placed for cobra pose, and then bend one knee in so that the shin is vertical and the foot flexed. Notice if the pelvis turns to the back leg side when you do, and if so, square it off again so that both hip points are facing straight down toward the floor. Then engage the legs and press the knees into the floor; notice how when the knees go down, the tops of the thighs lift and this will tip the top of the sacrum into the body. Keep that, but now anchor the pelvic bones back and down until you can get the pelvis more flush to the floor. Then use your arms to come up into a cobra pose in the upper body. As you move, keep both knees pressing down firmly, and both hip points facing straight ahead. Then extend organically, rooting the pelvis and legs back as you draw the sacrum and lower belly forward and out of the pelvis. This pose, too, can be good for setting the SI joints back into alignment.
  • Ardha bekhasana: Try this thigh stretch with all of the same alignment points as is ardha makarasana. You may find that the knee on the leg you're stretching wants to lift off the floor. If it does, that means that the top of the thigh is pushing forward, flattening the lower back. You want the stretch to be more in the belly of the muscles, not near the groin area, for the safest stretch.
  • Supta virasana: This is always a good pose for working on the SI joints, because you can see the alignment in the pelvis very clearly. When you set up in virasana, make sure that the inner thighs are flowing down and that this creates a natural curve in the lower back. You may find that one thigh is more pushed up than the other. If so, manually Inner Spiral the opposite leg to make more room for that thigh to rest back. This will also help level out the pelvis and sacrum for resting back into supta virasana. As you lie back,
  • Janu sirsasana: As a twist, this pose can be challenging to find the optimal alignment around the sacrum. Start facing between the legs, rather than twisted over the front leg, and create a strong muscular action to the midline that you feel all the way up through the pelvis. The back leg (bent leg) side will need more Inner Spiral, to get the top of the sacrum to draw in and up as you twist to the front. The front leg side will need more Outer Spiral, rooting the pelvic bones back and into the earth. Together, the sacrum will be held in a dynamic alignment.
  • Ardha matsyendrasana: Again, create good alignment for this pose even before going into the twist. To stabilize the sacrum, hug the legs and hips to the midline, using one arm crossed around the front knee to help create that action. Then turn the inner thighs in and down, until the top of the sacrum lifts in and up and the lumbar has its natural curve. Then anchor the pelvic bones down, especially on the front leg side, without flattening the lower back. Keeping all of that, twist from the back side toward the front. The pelvic bones should not move at all (although the front hip will try to draw back, keep it anchored).
  • Upavista konasana: In seated forward bends, like upavista konasana, the spine will be in a rounded form but the top of the sacrum still draws in and up. Start in a stage 1 forward bend, with the spine vertical and your hands supporting you behind the hips. Engage the legs toward the midline, and then turn the inner upper thighs in and down and wide, until you feel the lift at the top of the sacrum and lower back. You must be able to keep this lift in the upright position before moving into stage 2, the forward bend. As you bring your hands in front and take the forward bend, keep the upper inner thighs pressing strongly into the floor to create good action in the sacrum even while grounding the pelvic bones down.