Exercise in Awareness
Some students say that they “Do not feel anything” when practicing asana or when they are relaxing on their back . This is not possible. There are always sensations arising from our bodies, and we only have to focus our attention to experience them. Our chi will move to wherever we place our awareness. It is also true that wherever our chi moves it will bring our awareness with it.
Try this exercise : Sit comfortably and focus on your nose. Is it warm? Does it itch? Is there a pulse? Is the inhalation in the top of the nostril, or the bottom? Is one nostril more open than the other? Exercises like this are endless and demonstrate the impossibility of being without feeling— we need only direct our awareness to it.
If a student insists he is not feeling something, we can only surmise that he is not feeling what he imagined chi should feel like. It is a misconception to think chi only flows through the meridians depicted on a chart. Chi flows into every cell of the body. The meridians depicted on acupuncture charts are just the surface meridians accessible by needles. There are larger, deeper meridians referred to as “reservoirs of chi.” These are the source of the surface meridians. Chi circulates from these deeper meridians into the surface meridians and then back again. The movement of chi in these deeper meridians is felt in the bones, muscles, and organs.
I am not dissuading students from trying to feel specific meridian channels but I am encouraging them not to overlook the more obvious “physical” sensations of chi movement throughout the body and the pleasant calmness it brings.
Learning to Relax
One hundred years ago the American philosopher William James suggested an experiment to illustrate the mind-body connection: Relax on your back and become calm. Once you have succeeded in relaxing, then try to make yourself angry without tensing or altering your body in any way. In other words, try to become angry without tensing your muscles, changing your breathing, clenching your teeth, raising your blood pressure or your heart rate, or manifesting any other physical change. Impossible! Every thought, every emotion puts its imprint on our physical being.
In our highly intellectual, head-oriented world many of us are physically stressed and do not know it. We imagine that by masking our emotions they are not affecting us. But masking suppresses only the crudest outward display of our emotions—our bodies are still taking a beating. If we were more aware of the physical toll of our inner life, we might take more precautions against undesirable mental states.
Learning to relax in poses like the Pentacle helps us to identify and release tensions that are deep within us , not just in the skeletal muscles. Tension in the eyes, jaw, heart, diaphragm, and stomach can be isolated and relaxed. This healthy habit helps us to dissolve the negative tensions that accumulate in our bodies. This is a valuable skill in our heart attack-prone society.
Learning to be Still
Dr. Motoyama has demonstrated that the meridian system and the nervous system are yin-yang to each other. This means that if the energy in one system increases, the energy in the other system decreases. Yin yoga amplifies chi energy and reduces nervous energy; therefore a common reaction after doing yin poses is to desire to just lie still and not move. When deeply relaxed, the effort it takes to move the limbs just doesn’t seem worth it.
This inhibition of movement is a desirable state and it is a perfect prelude to meditation. Many people are so nervous they literally cannot sit still for several minutes. A yin practice can change this. If you find yourself wanting to extend your rest phases during your practice, don’t fight it. Recognize and enjoy it, and this will develop your ability to recreate the peaceful state of immobilizing inner calm. When you can do this you are nearly over the first hurdle of meditation, which is sitting upright and relaxed for extended periods of time.
Excerpts from: Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice — 10th Anniversary Edition by Paul Grilley.
Paul Grilley: A well-known master of yin yoga, Paul brings a thorough grounding in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga as well as anatomy and kinesiology to his teaching, which integrates the Taoist yoga of martial arts master Paulie Zink and the Chinese meridian and acupuncture theories of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul’s book, Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice, explains how yin yoga can teach us to relax, be patient, be quiet, and focus on the skeleton and its joints—a necessary counterpoint to today’s more ubiquitous muscular yoga.