THE THREE CLOSING LOTUS FLOWERS
I wanted to take a look at what is happening in body, mind, and physiology of the closing lotus flowers in the ashtanga practice. You learn them in your very first ashtanga class and do them every time you practice. These are important postures to finish your practice with.
The finishing lotus flowers are mudras. An area of yoga I have mostly ignored other, other than an occasional mention of anjali mudra and it’s meaning of balancing the masculine and feminine energies in our body or to place your thumb and index finger together as we sit to breathe and meditate. As I deepen into pranayama practices I am experiencing more mudras, and enjoying practicing them. Turns out a lot of the poses in the ashtanga series are actually mudras, and there are some cross overs between mudras and asanas.
Mudras are about breaking our mindless habitual tendencies.
As I have journeyed through the mindstuff side of yoga and dappled with my meditations and my thoughts all throughout the day, tuning in to what I am saying to myself in the back of my mind and the quality of my thoughts, I have come to realize much of our maturation through the yoga practices leads us to be aware of our default natures, or the subconscious patterns, attitudes, and behaviors we fall into without consciously wanting to.
I have come across this in my scientific research and writing on the practices of yoga and science of the body; in science this is our default mode network (DMN). The simple explanation of our DMN is it is our programmed behavior from our childhood days that we relied on to get us what we want, or simply to feel safe in our environment.
A child who got what they want through temper tantrums will most likely be quick to anger as an adult, is an example. The DMN is your brain’s default mode you fall into when you are resting or doing a repetitive activity that does not require a lot of brain power, or when stressed or under pressure.
There is some recent research coming out on our default mode networks finding a connection between default mode network and cognitive challenges such a Alzheimers and dementia. Those whose default mode network is rumination or worry, may be at an increased risk for cognitive decline than someone who’s default mode network is more productive.
Part of our work with our yoga practice is to be more aware of what is flitting through your thoughts and brains all day long as we do our everyday activities of daily living. Can you change your thoughts toward spiritual and emotional growth and not worry and rumination? An example in my life would be when I am thinking about these talks or workshops that I teach; it is easy to worry about what people are thinking about my work, to worry they don’t like it, think I’m crazy, or judge me in some way over my writing and teachings. Instead thinking about what I’m going to say and exactly how I want to teach it, or where I want to dig into a little more research is a much more productive way of brewing over my talks while I am doing dishes or little daily chores that don’t engage my brain.
Mudras are explained in yoga science as providing a means to access and influence these unconscious patterns, reflexes, and primal instinctive habits people fall into. These patterns originate in the primal parts of our brain, our amygdala and hippocampus located close to the brain stem, this is the area of our brain that takes over when we feel threatened — our survival mode. It seems easy for adults to subconsciously shift our brain power from our prefrontal cortex where we are more conscious, make better decisions and think clearer to our amygdala and consequent stressful thoughts.
Mudras are postures and gestures designed to snap the practitioner out of instinctive habits into more conscious behaviors. Mudra translates as gestures or attitudes. They are a combination of physical and subtle movements meant to alter our mood, attitude, and perception. In the book “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha” it traces the root mud as meaning delight or pleasure, and dru being a derivative of dravay which means to draw forth. So mudra means to draw forth delight and pleasure. That’s a nice thought. Most likely it is referring to the release of dopamine and serotonin, our feel good and rewarded hormones.
So we use mudras to alter which hormones we are releasing into our blood stream, instead of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline we are encouraging the release of dopamine and serotonin helping to improve our mood.
A mudra may involve the whole body using asana, breathing and pranayama, bandha, and visualizations — or it may just be a simple hand position. Bandhas used to be known as a type of mudra, Mula, uddiyana, and Jalandhara bandhas used to be mudras until their practices become popular, then for some reason they got classified as bandhas instead of mudras.
Mudras are one of the more subtle practices of yoga and are introduced after some time and proficiency is attained with the practices of asana, pranayama, and bandha. They are more common in kundalini and kriya yoga practices. Mudras are touted as helping ones kundalini to escape and rise; in other words shift energy flow in the body and the brain away from primal habits to more conscious behaviors.
There are 5 groups of yoga mudras:
- Hasta, or hand mudras. These are more meditative mudras where we are trying to direct the body’s energy flow to hands back into the body. The most common one being jnana or chin mudra, the touching together of the index finger and thumb, which creates a loop of energy flow from the hand back up to the brain. They also engage our motor cortex in our brain improving our coordination.
Until recently I did not make the connection about the amount of energy in our hands that we redirect with the practices of yoga. There are a lot of nerve endings in the hands and fingers that are constantly sending messages to our brain. It is those nerve endings we are connecting back to the body, keeping the energy those nerves send out to feel and interpret looped back into the body where the body can use it.
- Mana, or head mudras. Mana mudras utilize the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and lips. They encourage deeper meditative states. Drishti in the ashtanga practice is an example of this type of mudra.
- Kaya, or postural mudras. These mudras use asana, breath, and concentration. Examples of these in the ashtanga practice would be Janu Sirsasana series, Karna Pidasana in closing where we squeeze our ears with our legs, inversions in general, even the way we initially grip our big toes in Paschimattanasana is the beginning of a mudra, and our 3 closing lotus flowers are all mudras.
- Bandha, or the lock mudras. These mudras combine mudra with bandha and are said to “charge the system with prana”. Janu sirsasana B done with the tongue mudra khechari where you reach your tongue backward toward your throat, hold your breath while engaging mula, uddiyana, and Jalandhara bandha, and in your mind rotating from ajna, vishuddhi, and muladhara chakra is an example of this type of mudra.
- That is Maha mudra which means “the great attitude”. Whew, that’s a lot to do in one mudra, it makes you be present.
- Adhara, perineal mudras. These mudras are believed to direct our energies from the lower centers of our body to our brain. Aswhini mudra where the anal sphincter is contracted and lifted is an example of this type of mudra, and mula bandha can also be a mudra.
All these mudras help to engage the cerebral cortex of our brain shifting our brain power to the higher more productive areas of our brain. The head and hand mudras effect the interpretations the nervous system is sending to the brain, this calms the nervous system, brings our awareness from the outside to the inside where we can better look at how our thoughts are shaping our whole perspective and reality.
As mentioned in Minding your Mindstuff, we are all doing the best we can trying to interpret all this information our senses send to our brain. Your thoughts directly effect what you see as reality. The great thought leaders in yoga speak of reality as if there is no real reality. This is why 2 people can go through the same experience together and each come out with a completely different experience of the situation. The best we can do to have a clear picture of what is reality is to not allow our preconceived notions, past experiences, and expectations to influence the current situation. Back to that presence thing…
Our lovely ashtanga yoga gave us these tools before we were ready to comprehend what we were doing with them. One of the reasons I love this practice, the tools are there and as we grow into the yoga we better understand how to best employ them.
Mudras can be done in combination with asana and pranayama practices, or after them. Our three finishing lotus flowers are the mudras we do at the end of our practices because the practice has cleared out our body and opened up the pathways that allow us to tune into he subtle aspects these mudras offer.
The Inside Out of the 3 finishing Lotus flowers
Now I understand why these poses are so important, in the ashtanga practice you learn them your very first time, and practice them every time you do your practice. These poses offer a lot of benefits, and are worth their time. These poses will also identify you as an ashtangi, while these poses are sometimes done in other yogas, ashtanga is the only one that closes every practice with them.
When you don’t have time to do a full practice these 3 lotus positions can give you much of the benefits of doing a full hour long practice. They can really be of use on the days you don’t have time for a full practice. Don’t fall into the western mindset that if you can’t do an hour it’s not worth your time, 10 minutes of sun salutes and breathing in the 3 finishing lotus flowers are just enough to shift your nervous system, calm your mind, and release those feel good hormones of dopamine and serotonin. Then take that feeling with you off your mat and into your day or evening. Try it, you’ll see!
The first lotus position is a mudra, Yoga Mudra, however Baddha Padmasana occurs first.
Baddha means caught or restraint. In this pose the body is caught between the lotus legs in the front and the bound hands in the back making one puff out their chest.
- This is therapeutic for the shoulder joints and helps to bring blood flow to the heart and lungs.
- This position with your chest expanded opens up your breathing airways and stretches your muscles of respiration allowing them to function optimally, giving you more breathing space to inhale and exhale deeper.
- This position historically in India has been used for children with poorly developed chests, it encourages normal healthy growth.
- This position is helpful for the spinal column, helping to realign and release a hunched back.
If you are not able to catch the double bind, clasp your hands, wrist, or elbows and squeeze your shoulder blade toward each other to get the action of puffing out your chest expanding and stretching your muscles of respiration.
- Place your legs in full lotus right foot first, half lotus, or siddhasana (legs crossed with toes tucked up between calf and thigh).
- Reach behind the back with the left hand and grasp the left foot, then reach behind and clasp the right foot with the right hand. If you are not able to bind, clasp your hands or grasp the elbows or wrists behind your back, or clasp the left wrist with your right hand, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- After you fold forward over your legs you can adjust your hand position again. Hands can be clasped with arms straight behind you, in prayer position behind your back, or crossed behind your back holding your wrists elbows or toes. Any hand position theat squeezes your shoulder blades together. When not bound I like to start with the hands clasped, then change them to one of the other positions.
Inhale: Lengthen your spine lift your chin and heart, tilt your face upward. Traditionally this is only held for one inhale, however for therapeutic reasons you can hold this pose for a couple breaths before going forward into yoga mudra.
Exhale: Fold forward into Yoga mudra, placing your forehead or chin on the floor if possible. If you are unable to make it all the way down to the floor, be mindful to not let your head hang down and do not hold long until you can rest your head on something. Remain here for 10 deep breaths.
Yoga mudra is classically translated as “The psychic union pose” or “yoga seal pose” representing the seal of awareness. It is believed by some this is position stimulations the psychic energy points and helps you to channel psychic awareness, improving your awareness of both the seen and unseen.
If you do not do full lotus you can get the same internal benefits by placing your fists in between your thigh and abdomen before you forward bend.
Iyengar teaches when you exhale forward in this pose, you first come straight forward then exhale touch chin to your right knee, inhale center, exhale to left knee, then inhale center and exhale forward fold. This would get a little more circulation out of the posture as you move from side to side you are squeezing one side and opening the other helping fluids to circulate.
While holding this asana it states in Yoga Mala and other texts to meditate on your chosen deity while directing your gaze softly between your eyebrows and breathing strongly.
- Yoga mudrasana increases peristaltic activity (movement though the tubes in our body) by helping to push down food through the colon relieving constipation and increasing digestive power.
- The head down position does help bring fresh blood flow to the brain, this helps to calm the mind relieving stress, and may be why the pose is called psychic union pose and be used to enhance spiritual awareness.
- Due to the heels pressing into the liver and spleen, this posture is touted to be therapeutic for many diseases, specifically for the liver, spleen, and anal canal. The combined lotus and forward bend massages all the internal organs.
- The forward bend over your crossed legs stretches the vertebrae allowing fresh blood flow to the nerves and discs in the spine helping to keep them healthy, and helps to loosen the knees and hip joints making it easier to sit in lotus or with crossed legs.
- This position reduces blood flow to the legs, increasing blood flow to the pelvic organs which can improve their functioning.
- It is also useful for the practice of meditation, breathing, bandhas, and mudras, and is therefore used in the texts to start the kundalini awakening process. It is a great prelude to meditative practices.
Padmasana – The Lotus Posture
Placing your thumb and index finger together into jnana mudra, lay the backs of your wrists on your knees.
The Lotus Flower: Floating in the water and yet anchored firmly to the earth below by a single strand.
The lotus flower is very symbolic for me, it is the flower that is in my logo.
The lotus flower grows in mud and muck
and thus is symbolic to rising above the muck in its life and blooming beautifully, despite the obstacles. In yogic lore, the lotus is a metaphor for how all past experiences, especially negative ones, can be used as fertile soil for blooming into a more awakened being.
Resilience and growth from our experiences, that’s what the lotus is symbolic of.
This is the famous yoga meditation position one sits in to ‘draw their prana upward and raise their kundalini’. In order to work on these benefits while in padmasana, pranayama, bandhas, and mudras need to be added, padmasana alone is not sufficient.
Raising the kundalini lies within your vagus nerve and brain function, helping tocreate balance in our brain patterns which then influence our entire body.
When we sit in lotus, control our breathing, focus our mind, and still our body with mudras, the higher faculties of the mind are stimulated or awakened because we are activating more of our brain. This activation requires more prana or energy from the body, hence we have to still the body to allow the energy taken for bodily works and the energy taken by the senses to be redirected to the brain. When the body is taking less energy, our brain has additional energy to engage more areas of our brain leading to higher consciousness. This is the process of increasing your prana to raise your kundalini.
The ethereal side of the science
All living matter is the combination of energy and consciousness.
According to yogic thought, the left hemisphere of the brain functions according to time, and the right hemisphere operates according to the principals of space. When these two opposites come together there is higher awakening because both hemispheres of the brain are functioning together. We are combing the linear structured thinking side of the brain with the open, expansive, creative and intuitive side of our brain, this makes for a nice balanced approach in what you are thinking and/or doing.
In science, when time and space meet in the nucleus of matter, the matter explodes into thousands and thousands of particles which is the basis of creation.
When these two opposing poles unite in the brain there is an explosion of energy that awakens the mind and body according to yogic belief.
Not everyone can attain padmasana, certainly not the average person, and for many people it takes years of practice to be able to do this, and still many will never be able to.
Lotus Postures require flexibility in the adductors and internal rotators (gluteus medius and minmus, TFL or Tensor Fasciae Latae, and some of the hamstring muscles – the semimembranosis and semitendinosis). The lotus posture is difficult for most Westerners to get into due to the positioning of the hip and knee, and years of sitting in chairs and toilets.
- It is important to not force the lotus posture if your hips are tight, this puts a strain on the knees.
To help attain lotus postures; don’t sit like a lady or gentlemen, sit like a yogi.
- Don’t sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, this disconnects your upper and lower bodies. Instead sit with your feet up under you, crossed, or half lotus, or tuck one leg back, or put a leg in Marichyasana A position, or whatever position is comfortable for you. And fidgeting is good, switch your leg positions around when you are seated for long periods of time. This is especially nice to do while you work on a computer.
- Sit on the floor often.
- Adductor stretches, baddha konasana and poses where we externally rotate the thigh will help prepare one for lotus.
It is not only tight hips that can keep you out of lotus, but tight quads can too; if your quads are tight you will not be able to fully flex your knee joint.
If tight knees/quads are keeping you out of lotus:
- sit in virasana most every day with a pillow under your buttocks for a few minutes. Be careful not to overdo this asana.
If you have any knee issues avoid placing your legs in lotus postures.
Working into full Lotus For knee integrity make sure you work your leg into lotus while keeping your knee fully bent, a partially bent knee in lotus strains the knee. Janu sirsasana series -specifically Janu C, can help prepare the knee joint for lotus.
- Point and invert your right foot, fully bend right knee, place heel close to navel and your foot toward your left groin (if hip does not allow your heel to at the very minimum get within one inch of your hip bone do not proceed, instead spend more time sitting with your legs in half lotus or underneath you.
Envision full lotus as two half lotuses, to complete the full lotus, just think of placing your left leg into another half lotus
- Test by bending your left knee and placing your left foot under your right knee, if this is somewhat comfortable you can proceed.
- Fully bend your left knee, lean back, lifting your legs off the floor, dropping your right knee as low as possible, try to slide your left foot on top into the lotus position.
- Sit up tall and breathe deeply for as many breaths as you can comfortably hold the position.
And if lotus is not happening for you, ahhhh no worries! The main benefits of this practice come from the internal work, not what the physical body can do. After many years of practice lotus may come or it may not; either way our work is acceptance. Find a comfortable meditation position, and continue your inner work. Siddhasana is also a lovely and beneficial posture.
Folding your legs into padmasana makes it easier to sit longer as the legs crossed over each other pull the spine to sit up straighter requiring less activation of the back muscles to sit straight. The body becomes “locked” in this position and reduces fidgets and unnecessary movements. The legs make a firm foundation to support the body and head. If you can’t do lotus, you can make up for this just by putting a pillow or towel under your tailbone and/or sitz bones (ischial tuberosities).
When your legs are folded into lotus, it applies pressure to the lower spine which can be calming to the nervous system. The coccygeal (tailbone) and sacrum are benefitted by the extra blood supply that is normally going to the legs, this position will reduce blood flow to the legs. Additional blood flow will also go to the abdomen helping to improve both digestion and detoxification. Why this pose is known as the “Destroyer of Diseases”.
Also when your legs are locked into lotus it stimulates the meridians of the stomach, gall bladder, spleen, liver, and kidneys hence another reason why its called the destroyer of diseases, when these organs are healthy our body will remain disease free.
In yoga this position is used to help direct the flow of prana or energy upward from the lower spine to the higher centers in the brain heightening the experience of meditation, and allowing one to do the inner work of minding your mindstuff
It states in Yoga Mala, the practice of Padmasana destroys not only diseases of the body, but great sins as well. This is the best and the greatest of the asanas, and is relatively easy to practice in all respects, it should be performed by everyone. Not too many things in life destroy sins, I was quite tickled to read that. It is sure worth a try!
- Sit in full lotus (right foot first) or legs crossed, choose an option that allows you to sit comfortably. Drop your tailbone lengthening your lower back, gently let your heart and chest lift or float just like the lotus flower. It is important to keep the spine long and shoulders back so the lungs have the optimum amount of space for expansion. Think of expansion 360o around your rib cage as you inhale, expanding the back ribs along with the front and side ribs. Use your exhales to reinforce engaging of your bandhas, gently pulling your navel inward and upward as you exhale.
- Place the back of the hands on the knees, arms straight. Position the thumb and fore finger so they are touching and three remaining fingers point toward the floor.
- Slow the breath rate, to about a 5 second inhale and a 5 second exhale, saturate the entire body with oxygen and life giving prana. Listen to the sound of your breath. Keep it rhythmic and soft. Feel the stillness and the unseen forces moving within.
- Remain here for 10 deep breaths. Take this breath with you when you go, this is the breath you want to fall into naturally all day long. Practice it here, so it becomes easier to recall throughout your busy days.
Resonance Breathing in Padmasana
Here we use padmasana to retrain our body to breathe correctly all day long while we are unconsciously breathing.
Resonance breathing is the act of slowing down your breath to a rate of 5-7 breaths per minute, which is the rate we breathe at for our meditations — this has also been called coherence breathing (when adding mindfulness to it). Most people normally breathe at a rate of about 15-18 breaths per minute which can be adequate to ensure the body has the oxygen it needs.
When feeling anxiety or stress the breathing rate usually increases to around 20-25 breaths per minute — when the breath speeds up but there is not a demand in the body for more oxygen — or faster breathing — it sends a message to be on alert and can activate the sympathetic arm of the nervous system raising blood pressure, inflammation or other stress responses.
When we slow our breath down, it stops this process and balances the two sides of our autonomic nervous system bringing our body back into homeostasis. When we meditate, chant, or sing — and even sometimes just talking our body falls into this slower breathing rate.
When we sleep we fall into a slow breathing rate with our exhales slightly longer.
The inhales and exhales can be equal or the exhale can be slightly longer for example;
- 5 second inhale / 5 second exhale (or 4 or 6 second inhales and exhales)
- 4 second inhale / 6 second exhale
- 5 second inhale / 7 second exhale
The breaths do not need to be real deep, it is more important to keep it smooth and a little slower than your normal breath. Sometimes when we try to breathe deeply we put a little tension in our breath.
I like extending the exhale — the exhale is under used (and under-rated!) when people breathe unconsciously. During the exhale is when the O2 we just breathed into our blood transfers to our tissues — we don’t want the oxygen to stay in our blood, we want the oxygen to get from our blood to our tissues.
Resonance means when 2 or more things are in harmony, in this case we are harmonizing our inhales and exhales, sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system, heart and brain waves, and blood pressure.
When we inhale it activates the SNS when we exhale it activates the PNS, with each breath our body is saying “inhale do something, exhale relax” or in other words do something relaxed! When we breathe conscious and slow it brings both the sides of the nervous system into balance; the body can heal and digest and repair – be in homeostasis and yet also be alert and move about our business. When we have too activation of the sympathetic arm we are stressed, when we have too much activation of the parasympathetic arm we are sluggish, we want a balance between the two.
One of the primary benefits of breathing this way is the balancing effect it has on blood pressure. When we do sun salutes (or prostrations if your religious belief practices those) it exercises the baroreceptor reflexes which are wrapped around our carotid artery in our neck, when we change positions the baroreflex-ers send the message to your heart to pump harder or slower depending on whether we need our blood pressure elevated or decreased for the position we are in.
When we breathe slow it also balances the baroreflexers to nice smooth waveforms. It takes about a 5 seconds for the message sent from the baroreceptor reflex to reach the brain, meaning within about 5 seconds we can start to influence a better balance in our own blood pressure. This is why when you stand up quickly after sitting for a long period of time — or when you come out of a forward bend too quickly — you get light headed briefly, your blood pressure was low for sitting, when you suddenly stood up you needed more blood pressure and it takes about 5 seconds to send the message to the heart and brain for the dizziness to go away.
Sun salutes and movements that exercise your baroreceptor reflexes will shorten this time and improve the synchronization of heart rate and blood pressure.
More info on resonance breathing and coherence here.
The 3rd Lotus Flower, Uth Pluthi
I can’t take full credit for this explanation of how to remember the three finishing lotus flowers, I heard or read it somewhere … I think from David Swenson but I am not sure … It goes like this:
- The first lotus flower where we are in baddha padmanasana is the bud of the lotus before it opens.
- The second lotus flower, padmasana, is the lotus in full bloom.
- The third lotus flower is where the flower pops off its tethered stem and floats away.
Before I dive into our last lotus flower where we ‘pop off our stem and float away’, I want to explain granthis. Granthi is the yogic word for knot, a knot that blocks the flow of prana from raising our kundalini through our nadis and chakras.
In Yoga Mala it states the “The three granthis, located in the sacrum, gradually open up completely.” P. Jois has a different explanation of granthis than other sources, he states the 3 grantis are in between the bones of the tailbone and that mula bandha opens them up. It seems he is referring to something physical in the body while other yogas refer to them as psychic only.
In all the other yoga textbooks that I looked at, the 3 granthis are not all in the sacrum. 1 is near the muladhara or 1st chakra, 1 is around the heart center or anahata the 4th chakra, and one is in the area of the 6th or ajna chakra at the 3rd eye center. And from textbook to textbook the locations are slightly different but in those general areas.
The granthis are psychic knots. They are related to our attachments in life and what holds us back. The granthis also seem closely related to the chakras, each granthi deals with the elements of the chakras in the area they reside.
I’d like to remind you of the chakras and their attachments, and what it looks like when your kundalini is able to get past the 3 granthis and rise through your chakras Here I will try to put in tangible terms what it is like when our “kundalini begins to rise”:
- The first chakra is located at the bottom of our spine and deals with our family (sense of belonging to a community), our home (food water shelter). As we learn to accept the predicaments we were born into and love our family members even though they may be radically different than us (or me radically different from them!), this would be higher minded … For example if your yoga makes your family uncomfortable you don’t need to talk them about it or push it on them. If you choose to be vegetarian or vegan don’t push your food religion on other people. And if we live modestly, a comfortable home without being wasteful or indulgent, this does not waste our resources. These may be signs your kundalini has pierced your first chakra …
- Second chakra in in our lower gut and is the energy of relationship energy and vocation energy. Signs of kundalini rising through your second chakra is when you feel like everyone is your friend, people you see in the stores, and people you know who may have different opinions or political views than you — they are still your friend even though you have opposite views. Other signs of kundalini energy in your second chakra might be choosing a vocation that gives back to humanity, not just choosing a vocation to make yourself money. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, ideally we get a job based on our strengths and skills, and hopefully something we enjoy as well that serves the community. Then pray to God we can earn a comfortable living from it! There is a balance with money; too little and you are struggling with no time for Spiritual pursuit, and too much comes with another whole lot of issues that block the spiritual path.
- Third chakra energy is the core of our personality it is our solar plexus. Our ego is housed here. Kundalini piercing the third chakra might take the form of something along the lines of giving up the “ego”. This gets a lot of attention when starting on the yogic path — the absence of ego. This might include things like not talking about yourself so much, not always trying to get attention, not trying to pretend that your job makes you more important than someone else who has what might be considered a lesser job. Not putting your self worth in how well you can do yoga postures — this is big for many yogis and especially for yoga teachers. Not putting your self worth into how well you do something, or your body figure is a good sign your kundalini has made it through your third chakra.
- Fourth chakra kundalini rising is all about love, the fourth charka is at our heart. Unconditional love. Give love even if you don’t get it in return — loving someone that does not like you — and the flip side of that is finding something to love is someone you don’t like. Respond with love in all your dealings and doings.
- Fifth chakra kundalini rising is something like giving up your will — not forcing hour will on something you are trying to do, or someone else. Letting the universe guide you, for example if something just keeps not working out for you no matter how hard you are banging on the door, it might be time to “knock on a different door”. Have faith you will either be given solid ground to stand on or wings to fly, and then roll with it. Also the fifth chakra governs what goes in our mouth and what comes out. Eat smart and speak kindly. I like how satya or truth is described; Speak the truth, but don’t hurt. Very difficult.
- The Sixth charka is at our 3rd eye between our eyebrows. Sixth chakra piercing gives us clear visions and clear thinking. Realizing the big picture, not getting caught up in the little details. When our kundalini makes it to our 6th chakra we are easier able to operate in a meditative state most of our days, not feeling the emotional roller coaster, able to stay calm throughout the fluctuations of life.
- And the kundalini reaching the 7th chakra at the crown of our head; the 1000 petal-ed lotus flower on the crown of our head where we connect with our spirituality and find enlightenment. Wow … I guess when that happens you go sit by the River all day …
What this is saying is the practices of yoga first get us healthy, then help us get grounded in family and community, give us self esteem and strength, help us respond with love, have faith in what the universe throws at us, and develop the ability to see the big picture in life. When these fall into place we are able to follow a higher path of understanding and serving our communities. More on this here.
The granthis, or knots, literally keep one knotted up and unable to progress in their life, and while not physical or visible to the human eye each granthi is associated with a location, emotion, and psychological correlation. The granthis are in the nervous system nadis blocking the inflow of information from our senses to our brain. Within our nervous system is where we perceive what is going on around us, coordinate it, and communicate it to the brain, having knots interrupt that flow of information is where the problem lies with granthis, they literally can blur our senses to the point we are not seeing reality.
The 3 granthis are called “the granthi traya”
- The lower granthi is called the Brahma granthi which ties us to our survival function and material belongings. It is in the sacral area, the area of the 3 lower chakras. It attaches us to physical pleasures and material objects. It is associated with negativity, ignorance, and laziness.
To resolve this granthi we need to resolve our defense mechanisms, realizing when we slip into the stress response or survival mode and shifting our perspective. Gratitude can help to start untying some of this knot. Exercising your freedom of choice by not being pulled by physical pleasures that are not serving you, being able to break the ties that bind you to something unhealthy to choose a better way for yourself.
- The middle granthi is called Vishnu granthi and has emotional bonds or attachments. Keeping us emotionally attached to another person in not such a healthy way. This granthi is located between the heart and throat. To unravel this granthi we have to realize who we are emotionally attached to and why, what it is they do for us that we perhaps don’t feel we can do for ourselves. Empowering yourself with what you feel they give you is a step to wanting to be with a friend, spouse, or relative — but not needing to be with them.
This granthi could also arise from a desire for power and recognition. This granthi has a tendency toward passion, ambition, and over-assertiveness.
To untie this granthi we need compassion — but not too much compassion. When we are overly compassionate with someone we interfere with their opportunity for growth by trying to “protect” them from pain or something unpleasant, this limits the person we love from the growth that comes from facing your own issues face to face.
Treating everyone as if they have a broken heart, being tender in life helps to loosen the ties that bind this granthi. Our lesson here too is not to allow life’s betrayals and struggles to close us off from life, to shut us down from connection and love. Walls built around us for self perseverance quickly become walls of self imprisonment.
- The 3rd eye granthi is called Siva or Rudra granthi and binds us to our intellect and “who we think we are”. We must transcend or surrender our individual ego to make further spiritual progress.
The main attachments around this granthi are our opinions, prejudices, beliefs, thought patterns, and what we think we know. Remaining open minded and not being stuck on one idea, not thinking your way is the only way for everyone. Realizing we all can be successful together with our different ideas will short circuit conflict and separation.
To untie this knot we must be wiling break apart our biases, broaden our beliefs and recognize when we let our opinions limit us in our life. When we are stuck in one point of view we will miss a lot of opportunities for growth — and we miss parts of life itself.
Losing our identification with ourselves in life opens up a world of possibilities, broadening our horizons and our circle of friends, gives us more love in our life.
Someone very close to me but no longer with us showed me this lesson. She was very identified with being wealthy; wearing rolex’s, diamonds, driving Mercedes’, and living that life. However she herself could not support it, and in an effort to do so she would often choose relationships that could give her some of those things, but they just never seemed to work out. She literally expended her life energy trying to live this identity.
And I have seen lesser extreme examples of this in the yoga world, when someone first falls in love with yoga and they are in their yoga honeymoon, they identify themselves very much with being a yogi — so much so, they want to eat like a yogi, sleep like a yogi and live the yoga lifestyle … however their spouse does not … I’ve see yoga tear apart morerelationships than bring them together, when the yogi way of life does not work for their significant other.
Though the granthis are emotional/psychic in nature, there are many yoga poses that help remove the granthis as if they are physical. And perhaps there’s a physical manifestation in the body from the granthis or thoughts the mind is thinking — and as we learned our thoughts create neuropeptide chemicals that get released in the body. Perhaps granthis are clusters of those endocrine chemicals such as cortisol or adrenaline blocking the flow of information.
Yoga has a series that helps to remove the granthis that bind us, its called the Shakti Bandha Asanas. This series brings back memories <3, these are the asana I did after giving birth to my daughter (my 3rd child) to help restore my pelvic floor and abdominals.
What I like about this series is it helps us engage and use our core. Many times I see yogis who view their body as 5 limbs, 2 legs, 2 arms, and a trunk. And while they do all kinds of stretching around the legs, hips, and shoulders they never get malleability in their trunk. We want to be able to move our “trunk” around which will improve circulation around all the important abdominal organs.
This is also an energizing series, once you learn it, it can be done in 10 minutes or less. It’s great before a big meal to help with digestion, to break up computer time — take a 10 minute break from the computer with these Shakti Bandha exercises and you will feel refreshed and energized. In addition to helping with digestion, this series can also help with detoxing, it’s a nice series when you feel stagnant to move the stagnation right out of you.
Shakti Bandha Asanas (core re-strengtheners)
Sit in dandasana
1. Rope pulling (Rajju Karshanasana) – Place hands on knees. Inhale reach and stretch your right arm over head grabbing an imaginary rope and exhaling pull the imaginary rope down engaging your muscles and abs. Repeat on left side. Do alternating arms 5-10x each.
2.Dynamic Spinal Twisting (Gatyatmak Meru Vakrasana) – Sit with legs in upavishta konasana, Stretch both arms out wide at shoulder level.
Exhale (or inhale!) and twist to L bringing R hand to L toes while keep L arm reaching out, inhale to center Exhale repeat twisting to R. 10-20x
(For more pressure on the abdomen breath backward of how we normally do: Inhale to twist and exhale to center.)
3. Churn the butter (Chakki Chalanasana) – In dandasana position with legs only a foot apart.
With arms straight out at shoulder level, hands clasped. Inhale lean back and move your arms in a big circle like you are churning a bit vat of butter, exhale as you lean forward churning. Do 5-10x each direction.
4. Rowing the boat (Nauku Sanchalanasana) – In dandasana with knees slightly bend and feet a little apart.
Reach out as if grabbing oars, inhale lean back (engaging abs) as you row in towards your abdomen taking your arms and shoulders in a full range of motion, exhale lean forward out over your legs as you row away from your self. Repeat in the other direction as in rowing backwards.
Do each direction 5-10x
5. Chopping Wood (Kashtha Takshanasana) – This can be done standing with a squat or squatted, it is traditionally done squatted, but I like it this way better. My version:
Take a 1/2 squat position, feet flat on floor about 1-1/2’ apart.
Clasp the hands together and holding them low.
Inhale stand up talk, raise your arms overhead and back as if swinging an axe, looking up to your hands
Exhale with a Strong hhm! squat and make a downward stroke with the arms as if chopping wood.
6. Full Squat breathing (Namaskara) – In a full squat with feet 1-2’ wide, hands in anjali mudra with elbows on inside of knees. (This can also be done standing, knees slightly bent with hands on knees)
Inhaling slowly arch back lifting face to sky, pause briefly and hold breath in (if standing Inhale arch back as in cat/cow posture, and exhale round back.)
Exhaling straighten your arms in front of you, round your back and move chin toward chest, pause with breath out.
7. Wind Releasing Pose (Vayu Nishkasana) – This one can also be done from a half squat or full squat.
Pasasana squat position with mula bandha– legs slightly apart, but no twist.
Inhale Pasasana like squat, placing hands on floor.
Exhale to standing forward bend with hands on floor for stability.
Repeat 5-10x End in samastithi.
8. Crow Walking (Kawa Chalasana) – squat position with feet apart, and buttocks above heels, palms on knees.
Take small steps in this squatting position, bringing opposite knee close to floor. Taking a half breath with each step, inhale step R foot forward, exhale step L foot forward, and so on.
Up to 50 steps
9. Abdominal Stretch pose (dymainc spinal twisting) – (Udarakarshanasana) – Squat with feet apart, hands on knees. Inhale deeply.
Exhale twist left bringing right knee to floor by L foot, pushing left knee slightly inward. Hold breath out briefly. Inhale to center and repeat other side.
10. Half Surya Namaskar positions, 1,2 & 3: From Samastithihi – Inhale reach up and arch back as in first position of surya namaskar with an exaggerated back bend.
Exhale to forward bend.
Inhale head up, exhale forward bend.
Uth Pluthi – Uth Pluthi means “spring Up”. We literally spring up off the floor while in lotus on our hands alone.
The breath in this asana is much more powerful than the rest of the practice. Each inhale and exhale should be consciously drawn in and pushed out thru the nose with a deep ujjayi sound using your abdominals to push and your diaphragm to pull the breath in and out strongly.
The breath in this posture is to help the liver and kidneys clear out the toxins quicker. During the practice, we start the detoxification process moving toxins out of fat tissue and into our bloodstream, in essence moving toxins out of storage where we don’t feel them as much to the bloodstream where we do feel their negative side effects.
So we use the breath to help rid the toxins quicker by aiding the liver and kidneys to remove them. Some of the worst toxins need to be burnt up by the process of combustion from our breath, we literally exhale fat from our breath, fat is where our body stores toxins so as we exhale fat we are releasing toxins and hopefully burning them up in the process. As I learned during my studies of pranayama we do most of our detoxifying through our breath. Habitual shallow breathers are challenged with their detoxification.
The action of deep breathing stimulates the lymph to flow, the lymph fluid does not have a heart to pump it like our blood does, so lymph movement is reliant on our movement and deep breathing. Our lymphatic system is the drain that removes the toxins, while the kidneys and liver get the glory for being our detoxifiers, most detoxification takes place between the breath and the lymph.
There is a high concentration of lymph nodes in our neck, underarms, and groin. Lymph nodes are the filters of our body, they contain white blood cells, they lie along the lymphatic vessels, the interstitial fluid (fluids around our cells and tissues) gets sucked up through the lymph vessels. If you notice on the picture, lymph vessels are not solid, but are flaps overlapped
through which the interstitial fluid is sucked into, it then gets passed through the lymph vessels to the lymph nodes where the fluid is filtered, and bacteria is destroyed by the white blood cells within the lymph nodes.
Lymph is plasma in our blood. This fluid contains pieces of cells, proteins, salts, waste, urea, glucose, and various substances that change composition depending on what is being leaked from our capillaries. Capillaries are call little leakers because they leak plasma from the pressure of our heart pumping. Our lymph vessels are sucking up this leaked plasma all day long, if they weren’t we’d be walking around like big water balloons.
The cleaned fluid is then transported via the lymph vessels to the thoracic duct, a large duct behind the sternum –It is the largest lymph vessel in the body, being about 16 in (41 cm) long and 0.25 inch (0.6 cm) wide.
From there the interstitial fluid goes up to the left subclavian vein where it is dumped back into our atrium and gets mixed back into our blood by the heart. It’s interesting to note; our right head, neck, chest and arm lymph fluid is delivered directly to the right subclavian vein, while the rest of body’s cleaned lymph is dumped back into the left vein.
The body has a hard time getting the cleaned lymph from the vessel in our chest upward to where it can get dumped back into the heart, the best way our body can get the fluid from the thoracic duct upward to the subclavical vein is through our breath (due to pressure changes). Deep thoracic breathing is especially beneficial in moving this cleaned lymph fluid. If deep thoracic breathing is not done toxins will build up in the body, and even more so if a person in inactive for large periods of their day.
Exercise and movement help to stimulate lymphatic flow through the superficial lymph nodes in the arm pits, neck, and groin. The deep lymphatic drainage system is in our chest, diaphragm and lower abdomen and can only be activated through deep diaphragmatic breathing; we use breath to activate a part of the lymphatic system that can not be reached through movement alone.
And this is what we are doing in Uth Pluthi, not only are we breathing deep stimulating the deep lymphatic system, we are also engaging our arms and lower abdomen when we lift off the floor stimulating the superficial lymphatic system while our breath is stimulating the deeper lymphatic system for a 1-2 punch to all your toxins!
This posture is about so much more than strength and fitness as many people state those benefits of this posture. And it continues to amaze me when I look into the deeper physiology behind this practice, it was intelligently designed. We are moving the toxins out during practice, then burning them up at the end of practice just before we rest, then while we rest the liver and kidneys can finish the job and clear out any remaining toxins. If we just got up and walked away after uth pluthi we wouldn’t get this final cleansing step.
In Yoga Mala it states this asana is useful for strengthening the waist and perfecting abdominal and anal control. The three knots in the sacrum gradually open completely to allow prana to flow freely through the lower two chakras.
- Exhale: Place your hands on the floor beside the hips remaining in full lotus if possible. Press down through your hands and tuck up your hips—your hips lift as the torso shortens by engagement of the bandhas and abdominals.
- Inhale: Spring the body away from the floor tucking your hip bones up toward your ribs–hover in that position for 10 deep breaths or more.
If you are not in lotus the lifting will be more difficult, you may remain seated and draw the knees toward the chest without “lift off”. You will still get all the same benefits whether you are in lotus or not, what is most important is the strong breath.
And here is another area where there is a lot of controversy, how to breath in this posture and how long to hold it up. First I’d like to state if you are trying to hold off the floor for what is traditionally told, 100 breaths, don’t. Not only is that getting into the ego, it makes one breathe shallow and fast to stay up for 100 breaths. As you just learned deep diaphragmatic breathing will better move the deep lymph in the chest, that is the breath we want; a strong, deep, loud breath where we are actively using our abdominal muscles and diaphragm to push and pull the air, not a shallow quick breath. I keep my breath a bit slower and stay up as long as is comfortable, about 10-20 slow, strong breaths. No suffering in my classes and practices!
This is another area in the ashtanga practice where something meant to be fun or a joke is turned into grunt work. P. Jois used to always play around with losing count and joking in this posture til people collapsed down. Or maybe it’s just the western mind thinking if a little is good, more is better. Once you understand what we are doing here you quickly see how performing this with quick shallow breaths is not the goal.
Some people compare this posture to lolasana or maha vedha mudra:
- Lolasana is lifting up in lotus or legs tucked up underneath you and swinging your body like a pendulum. It is more about strength and fitness. It is basically what we are doing in ashtanga every times we pick up and pull through for a vinyasa.
- Maha Vedha Mudra is getting into lotus lifting up off the floor and dropping back down with a little thud on your buttocks and sitz bones. That posture is about stimulating your kundalini to rise and removing blockages in our nadis. It also stimulates the endocrine system by activating the pineal gland, and helps one pull their senses inward awakening the psychic faculties. Through its stimulation of the pineal glad it is believed this mudra keeps one regenerating reducing symptoms of old age. It is a powerful mudra, I’ve done it in various classes in NYC and more recent pranayamas, you have to be able to do full lotus to do it safely though. It’s fun but not something I practice regularly.
While those are postures may have some valence, the stimulation of superficial and deep lymph movement is what we are trying to attain after a practice to aid the body in clearing toxins, so our practice leaves us refreshed.
The 3 finishing lotus flowers are first and foremost about important shifts in the body, from autonomic nervous system balance, to brain function, to hormone balance to helping the body rid itself of toxins preventing disease. They and are safe and easy enough to do everyday, and for the benefit they bring to body, mind, and spirit they are worthy of your daily time.