As I was driving to my brother’s bachelor party, I was thinking about how much time and preparation goes into a road trip. The list of things to do for the trip is long: vehicle maintenance (brakes, fluids, etc.), packing of clothing (different outfits for different activities) + toiletries, details for accommodations, activities and meals… sometimes we pack food or snacks and drinks for the drive itself.
All of this reminded me that preparation and care are not only part of how I was going to get to a bachelor party in one city and a bachelorette party in a different city all over the course of the same weekend safely and relaxed – this is what we do for our life journey’s as well.
When we decide to embark of a journey of any kind – road trip or spiritual journey – preparation is required. In terms of a spiritual journey, one of most important preparations is that of the container, our body-mind. This body-mind container is what houses our deepest essence; it is the vehicle through which we experience the journey. This vehicle needs care and maintenance in order to be ready to house the deeper and more intense experiences our life journey will encounter.
In Yoga, deeper experience requires the ability to work with ever increasing amounts of prana, the vital life force energy. Everything we do in Yoga connects us to prana – increasing the flow of prana, taking in more prana, managing excessive outputs of prana, moving prana is certain ways…. Yoga practices are all about prana.
An integral part of working with increasing amounts of prana is to have a container that can handle whatever amounts of prana we are working with. A container that lacks in integrity, on any level (physical, energetic, emotional, mental or spiritual), is like having leaky or busted plumbing – messy and potentially dangerous.
On the path of yoga, the first three limbs of practice are designed to purify and strengthen the container.
Practicing the yamas (social ethics) help us to purify and strengthen the heart-mind through compassion, honesty, generosity, moderation, and simplicity.
The niyamas (self care) move the focus from our outer world experiences to our inner world and experience through purification and cleanliness (from our homes to our bodies), contentment and gratitude, the fire of transformation, self-study (body-mind and spirit) and faith in a higher power.
Asana, postures to attain ease in being, are intended to open and strengthen the physical container of the body and stabilize the nervous system.
I like to think of the physical body as a series of tubes. Prana flows best through well-integrated and interconnected tubes… not so well through tubes with dents and kinks in it (think of drinking through a straw folded in half – how hard is that?). Ideally, the tube of the torso is well integrated and functions as a whole (shoulders and rib cage are well integrated with the pelvis). From there we inter-connect the limbs (arms and legs) in order to enhance the flow of prana through the limbs as well. In terms of functional anatomy or movement talk we would say “appropriate range of motion in the joints”… moving the joints the way they are designed to be moved, and in accordance with our available pain-free ranges of motion.
Getting prana to flow through the tubes of the body has been fascinating to explore over the years (ever since my teacher Mary pointed out to me that my tubes were all kinky and disconnected. Thank you Mary <3). I learned that being very flexible and dysfunctionally hyper-mobile leads to kinky tubes, which impairs the free flow of prana through the body. For a while I wondered why it was so hard for us flexible folks? Then I realized that those who are very tight and have less flexibility are also challenged - when the tubes are compressed (say by tight muscles) this also impairs the flow of prana. Turns our we all have our stuff 🙂 Once we are working well within the first three limbs of practice, then the body-mind is ready for the fourth limb of yoga practice known as pranayama, the expansion of prana. Once the container has integrity (is strong and stable), then it is beneficial to increase the flow of prana. I am always awed at how well thought out Patanjali's writing about Yoga is - I love discovering the "method behind the madness" :) Enjoy your container, and your practice! Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love), m xo Mona L. Warner, ERYT500 Janati Yoga, RYS500