Yoga Therapy: Strengthening the Core

My self-prescribed yoga therapy for the last several months has included  a great deal of uttihita chaturanga dandasana aka plank pose. I’ve had low back pain for as long as I can remember due to a combination of my personal body composition (long torso, short legs) along with the years of abuse I’ve heaped upon it through excessive running and innattentive asana practice. Add to this the toll that pregnancy, childbirth, and carting around an ever-growing child take and it is no wonder that my back is constantly crying for some attention.

In the few months since I have added plank to my daily yoga therapy sessions I’ve gone from holding it with proper alignment and breathing for about 30 seconds at a time to up to 8 minutes. My back feels better than it ever has, and my arms and shoulders and abdominal muscles are stronger than they’ve ever been.

Beyond these physical benefits is where I’ve found the really good stuff, though. At our core resides the manipura chakra, right in our solar-plexus-manipura-chakranavel, and it is from this place that we act courageously. Our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth, our fire comes from this energy center. By strengthening and nourishing this life-affirming energy, we can move through the world from a more solid place.

Sometimes when I talk or write about the chakras it feels a bit … fluffy. The language surrounding the energetic body doesn’t seem quite right – always a bit too esoteric and theoretical. And yet, the experience is very real. By strengthening the physical center of my body and attending to the weakness and pain in my spine, I am inhabiting my body in a more assured and comfortable way. Feeling at ease in my body helps me to be more in tune with myself and more grounded in general.

It seems strange that performing a physical exercise with your body can affect your psyche in such a way, but it does. There is something incredibly meditative and calming about plank pose once you move past the initial 45 seconds or so. Breathing deeply, relaxing the jaw, and drawing all of your energy into the space behind the belly button.

It’s done great things for me. I feel solid, strong, capable and this, in turn, empowers me to act courageously; to choose to behave in a way that reflects who I am at the very center of my being, even when I’m fearful of an outside situation or the opinions of others.

Yoga can do all that? Yes it can.

Namaste, yogis.

 

 

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Wholeheartedness

I recently got a message from someone I’ve never met in person. This message was honest, open, and real. I was immediately struck by this DGbadgeperson’s willingness to be vulnerable, with me, a near-stranger. The admiration I felt was immediate, especially given my interest and enthusiasm for the research of Dr. Brene Brown into vulnerability, shame, authenticity, and courage (see previous post).

The definition of wholeheartedness in most dictionaries is usually something like “unconditional commitment” or “completely and sincerely devoted”. What Dr. Brene Brown means by whole-heartedness goes a bit further. In her own words: Here’s what is truly at the heart of whole-heartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.

Feeling worthy as we are, right now, in whatever state we find ourselves in, is not easy. As Yogis, though, this is at the heart of our practice. When we begin, we slowly start to observe the Divine nature of all things. As we progress, we recognize that we ourselves are part of the Divine and worthy of the same admiration, love and respect that we afford to those things that we deem “good enough”.  We are not separate or other. We are it. As we are. Right now.

If this is a concept you struggle with, congratulations! You’re one of us.

Early on in my own Yoga practice, it occurred to me that I was allowing my practice to become yet another area of my life where I wasn’t measuring up. When I sat in meditation and my mind began to wander, I started to feel like a failure. When I wasn’t as flexible as I had been the day before, I resented my body’s limits. When I struggled with equanimity, I would berate myself. Basically, I was completely missing the point. It took me a while to climb out of the whole I’d dug for myself, and to be honest, I sometimes come dangerously close to falling back in. But falling in, climbing out, dusting ourselves off, and being honest about our struggle – that is being whole-hearted. Making mistakes, learning from them, and being courageous enough to keep making mistakes is what it’s all about.

Namaste, yogis. Wholeheartedly wishing you wholeheartedness.