Moving Into Stillness with Erich Schiffmann
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Lines of EnergyPrint View

Look at the palm of your hand and pretend for a moment that your hand is an asana, a yoga posture. The center of your palm is the center of the posture, and radiating outward from the center like rays of light from the center of the sun are five lines of energy, your fingers. Now gently, slowly, almost imperceptibly, spread your fingers as much as you comfortably can and stretch outward through them in the various directions they are pointing. Experience your hand as a mini-sun and feel the energy in your hand radiating outward from the center of the palm. Keep your hand as relaxed as possible as you do this, sustain the action, and feel your whole hand remolding itself to this new shape - this new energy configuration - by allowing the stretch to penetrate.

Give yourself a few playful moments to Experience this exercise with your hand. Release the stretch, then do it again several times. Give this your undivided attention, and understand experientially what it means to stretch and relax with intensity. Experience what it means to stretch deliberately and still be as effortless as possible.

This is what you will be doing in the various yoga postures, the only difference being that in the poses your whole body will be involved, not just the hand. You'll extend your energy outward from your center in a relaxed manner, in various directions simultaneously depending on the shape of the posture. You'll sustain the action for the duration of the posture and thereby energize and reconfigure your entire energy field.

Now, as a living being, you are an expression, a channel, a particular configuration or pattern of energy, of creative life force. You are a unique Expression of the Creator, and life force flows through you. Life force, or Mind, or Consciousness, is what you are. It is the reason for your being, the how and what of your being. Energy flows through you, enlivens you, and makes you you. And if the flow of energy becomes obstructed or lessened for any reason, much like diminished blood flow due to arterial constriction, then your health will suffer and problems will arise. If the flow remains unimpeded, however, if the channels can remain open, health is natural and easy.

Your body's ability to function as a clean and efficient channel is limited by stiffness, lack of strength, and lack of endurance. Your mind's ability is limited by the way it thinks about itself, by the way you think about you. The process of yoga is one of undoing the obstructions and limitations in your body and mind that inhibit the free flow of creative life force.

Each yoga posture is a specific template for this energy how, just as your hand was a specific template in the example above. These templates have evolved over thousands of years and are extremely good at opening tight and blocked areas. As you assume each individual posture and deliberately funnel your energy and breath through the pose, you are in effect cleaning the tubes and airing out the pathways that distribute the life force. Stiff and tight areas of your body inhibit the free circulation of energy and thereby strangle your internal supply of nourishment. These are the areas where you experience pain or discomfort to one degree or another. They are undernourished - crying for help. When clenched tightly this way, they remain separate, constricted, unrelated to the whole. As they open, they begin to receive nourishment once again. Physical discomfort and pain will disappear as healing occurs. When you restore lost movement to these tight areas of yourself, you rejuvenate them, bringing life to more of yourself.

As you loosen and dissolve the physical and psychological knots that bind your body and mind, you are literally enlarging your capacity to channel the energy of life. Creative life energy will flow through you more easily, with greater volume and power; and as it does, you will experience more ease and less disease, feeling and becoming more alive. With yoga, you nourish yourself at very deep levels, which causes you to glow with radiant health. You will become increasingly peaceful inside, less conflicted, and you will experience yourself more clearly as a uniquely beautiful expression of the creative God Force.

This is important because the fulfillment of your highest potential is directly proportional to your ability to function as a clean and efficient channel. It will occur more rapidly as you recognize yourself as the unobstructed, undiminished, and undenied specific presence of God. Yoga done properly is a matter of creating, directing, and channeling "energy" through these various templates. This involves knowing how to create a "line of energy" with specific "current."

Your Center

Let's go back to the spread hand example for a moment. The center of your palm is the center of the posture, and the lines of energy, your fingers, radiate outward from there. In your body, your physiological center is in the area of your belly that has traditionally been called hara, two inches below the navel. This can best be thought of as the whole pelvic basin, or pelvic bowl, that lies below the navel and above the genitals.

This area, your center, will always be in, or moving toward, one of two positions. It will either be in cat tilt or dog tilt. In cat tilt, as with a cat arching its back, the pelvis is rotated backward around the hip joints by drawing the navel backward toward the spine, tucking the coccyx down and under and contracting the buttocks. In dog tilt, as with a dog stretching as it wakes, the pelvis rotates forward around the hip joints. The alignment of your center is a function of your pelvic positioning, therefore, and since every line of energy originates at your center, these two movements should be the first you learn.

Start by getting down on your hands and knees to practice them a few times. Tuck your hips under, press the middle of your back up toward the ceiling in cat tilt, and gaze at the floor between your knees. Then turn your hips into dog tilt, gently arch your spine downward, and gaze forward. Go back and forth several times.

Most forward-bending postures, such as Dog Pose and the Seated Forward Fold, are done with dog tilt. Most backbends, such as the Locust Pose and the Upward Bow Pose are done with cat tilt.

The first thing you think as you do any yoga posture is "Should my pelvis be in cat tilt or dog tilt?" It will always be one or the other, or moving toward one or the other. You take a moment to establish the alignment of your center before establishing your lines of energy. Every yoga posture is a combination of at least two lines of energy, each line radiating outward from your center; and depending on the shape of the posture, you will have two, three, four, five, or more lines. The Tall Mountain Pose, for example, is a two-way stretch with one line of energy moving up the arms and one line of energy moving down the legs, with your pelvis in cat tilt. These two lines move in opposite directions from one another, and each line has its root at your center.

Stick Pose also has two energy lines. Here, however, your pelvis will be in dog tilt; it's rotating forward around the hip joints. From dog tilt, one line moves upward through the spine, and one line moves outward through the legs.

Tree Pose has three lines of energy. One line reaches up the arms, one line moves down the supporting leg, and one line stretches outward through the bent knee. Your center will be in cat tilt.

Triangle Pose has five lines of energy. One line reaches outward through each arm, one line travels down each leg, and one line extends outward through the spine in the direction it is pointing.

These energy lines radiate outward from your center and move your body in opposing directions at the same time. It is the movement and intensification of these various energy lines that help undo the tight areas and open the posture for you. It's this that gives you more flexibility. When you hold both arms outstretched and horizontal, for example, you have one line of energy moving outward through each arm in opposite directions. The outward stretch through each arm is what spreads, broadens, and opens your chest. In Triangle Pose, you not only open the chest, but elongate the spine, stretch the legs, and flatten the pelvis.

The most important line of energy in every posture, always, is your spine. Your spine is rooted in your center and grows upward, much like a tree growing upward from the earth. Other lines, your arm lines, for example, are also rooted in your center. Your arm lines do not start at the shoulders. They start at the root of your spine, travel up the spine first, and then extend outward through the arms, like branches of a tree. They are not separate appendages somehow disconnected from their source. Every line of energy is an affirmation of its source. The source is your center.

Single Arm Line of Energy

PART ONE

Sit comfortably erect and raise one arm to the side, parallel to the floor and straight. Keep your arm as relaxed as possible without allowing it to fall limply to your side. Experience your arm, how heavy it feels, how long it feels, how much energy is required to keep it there. Note, for example, that although your arm is not totally relaxed, it is as relaxed as possible.

Now gently squeeze the elbow straight, spread your fingers fully, and stretch outward through the arm in the direction it is pointing. From your shoulder, stretch toward the elbow; from your elbow, stretch toward the wrist; and from the wrist, stretch through your hand to the tips of your outstretched fingers and beyond. Feel a dynamic tautness in the muscles of your upper arm and hand.

This is a "line of energy," a flowing stream of intention, extending from the shoulder to the fingertips. The muscles of the arm and hand should be taut enough to be on the verge of a slight tremor. Push softly and then harder. Note the change in feeling. Relax the fingers for a moment and observe how this interrupts the flow through your line of energy. Make the hand taut, fingers spread, and once again feel the energy moving through the arm in a single direction, always in the direction the arm is already pointing. Lower your arm and rest.

This is what I call "channeling" or "creating" a line of energy. This is a fundamental technique in yoga. Here you are directing energy to flow along a specific line in your body. This particular line of energy extends outward from your shoulder and remains a "line" whether you stretch strongly or softly.

Remember, the arm line does not originate at the shoulder. It originates at your belly. Do the experiment again and notice the difference between energizing just the arm, as though it originated at the shoulder, and then energizing it by first lifting upward into your chest from your belly and then stretching outward through the arm. There is a qualitative difference between the two. When it is the arm only, the arm feels separate, disconnected, and less powerful. When the arm line comes from your belly, however, it becomes the natural outward extension of a whole body event, and therefore has a sense of integrity and strength to it. Lower your arm and rest.

PART TWO

Extend the same arm out to the side again, but instead of holding it parallel to the floor, hold it at a forty-five degree angle sloping toward the floor.

Create a downward-sloping line of energy here. First lift upward from your belly into your chest, then stretch from the shoulder downward into the elbow, from the elbow into the wrist, and from the wrist into the fingertips. Spread your fingers and stretch the skin on your palm. Push strongly for the duration of this part of the experiment.

You can create a line of energy here, but because of the slope it feels different. It may even feel as if the arm is "asking" to raise itself. Listen inwardly and feel if this is so. Keep stretching outward through the arm, and then slowly raise it to horizontal again. Do not rush this part. Continue stretching outward through the arm in the direction it is pointing, and see if you can sense an increase in energy as the arm comes up, an increase in intensity and feeling, almost as though you actually were putting more power into the line.

The outward stretch urges the arm to rise. You are not just lifting your arm. Your arm comes up as you stretch outward, and your fingertips circumscribe as large a circle as possible. Slowly raise your arm, continue stretching outward, and focus on the sensations of intensity and energy flow. Do you feel how it changes? Can you sense the intensity in your arm increasing as it rises? Try this a few times until you acquire a feeling for it, and then relax.

The horizontal line is more powerful than the sloping line. This is because when your arm is horizontal, it channels the flow of energy more efficiently. The difference in feeling between the two is often dramatic, though at first it may seem subtle. As you become internally more sensitive in your practice, you will sense these various subtleties more clearly. Subtle shifts in sensation and feeling will be more obvious.

The second part of this experiment is an example of following a line of energy and illustrates the self-corrective nature of this technique. In the last example, raising the arm intensified feeling. Lowering the arm would lessen feeling. At any time during a posture, then, if you would like more or less energy in any given line, simply search creatively for the positioning that will provide it. As you reach for an increase or decrease in energy, or for a feeling of stretch or energy flow that feels more right to you, automatically the posture will internally self-correct, realign, and adjust according to your subjective perception of what feels right.

In Triangle Pose, for example, the classical or traditional alignment of the posture is with the upper arm vertical. As you increase the amount of energy up the arm and clarify the arm line, though, and as the pose opens and becomes easier for you, you'll find that the top arm wants to be doing more than merely stretching straight up. You'll want more of a challenge. You'll want a deeper opening. If you experiment a little with the top arm, turning it in, turning it out, bringing it toward you or away, or a little forward or back, you'll find that the line can hold more energy and be a more powerful line, a more efficient line, if you reach backward with it and then fold it down behind your back to catch the thigh with the hand. That's how Stage Two of Triangle Pose came into being. The top shoulder then gets a powerful stretch, the trunk and rib cage rotate to their maximum, the chest opens more fully, and the pelvis flattens better.

The idea is to be creative and sensitive in the poses, to follow the lines into your tight areas so they can release and open, and to search for the alignment that feels perfect. Your job is to find the precise alignment of each line of energy so that the pose as a whole feels custom-made for you.

If your arm wants to roll in slightly while in a posture, be willing to let it do so. If your arm wants to roll out or come more forward or back, try it out and see what happens. Is there an improvement or not? Notice how the quality of the line changes. Note also how other parts of the posture are affected and be aware of your body as a whole. If some part of your body is asking for a change, be willing to accommodate it, trust the guidance you are receiving, and see the result. Allow your inner intelligence to dictate the alignment. You don't have to think about it, nor know in advance what you are supposed to do. Simply follow the line of perfect flow.

This is especially interesting because, as it turns out, what feels "right" is what will be technically correct. As you follow the line of perfect flow, you necessarily move in harmony with sound body mechanics.

This is an important theme. Listening inwardly allows you to hear and be guided by the intelligence that created you. This happens by paying attention to what feels right and what doesn't, and adjusting accordingly. As you practice, trust your inner sense of what feels right. Exercise that ability. That's the point.

Within the context of each specific yoga posture, you first establish an energy flow through that template. You then listen inwardly for guidance, trusting and adjusting, and continue listening as you continue moving energy through the shape. The more conscientiously you do this, the better you'll get at following the dictates of your inner intelligence, the intelligence of the universe as it expresses itself as you.

Current

Current is power/voltage - directly related to the amount of power, intensity, or feeling you generate in each line of energy. There are three distinguishing characteristics of a good line of energy, which the following examples should clarify.

Sit comfortably erect with one arm out to the side, horizontal and parallel to the floor, as before, and create a line of energy outward through the arm.

CHARACTERISTIC ONE: "RELAXED AS POSSIBLE" The first characteristic of a good line of energy is that it is as relaxed as possible. You do not want to use more energy than you need. You put the energy in, but you practice being as effortless as possible.

Here, for example, it is possible to create a subtle current of intention outward through the arm and for your arm to remain almost totally relaxed. Do it now. Make a line of energy outward through the arm and have it be as relaxed as possible. The hand is not limp, the fingers are not drooping, and though extremely minimal, this is a valid line of energy.

Every line of energy and, therefore, every yoga posture can be done softly like this. This is more difficult in complex and intricate postures. The significant point, however, is to be as relaxed as possible to "do" and "not-do" at the same time. This requires a certain minimum expenditure of energy. The idea is not to use more.

CHARACTERISTIC TWO: "DESIRED INTENSITY"  The second characteristic of a good line of energy is that you generate the intensity of current that feels best.

Gradually increase the current in your arm. Do this by squeezing the elbow straight, spreading your fingers, and stretching outward with more vigor through the arm in the direction it is pointing. Deliberately generate more intensity in the arm, more voltage, and thereby create a more powerful line of energy. The increase in current will define and clarify the line. You have total control over how much current you generate. Do not strain. By increasing the current slowly, you can gauge and discriminate among different subtleties with an accurate sensitivity that is crucial in advanced and intricate postures.

Stretch softly at first, then increase the current gradually. Increase it to thirty percent, forty percent, fifty, seventy-five, and for just a moment create a very strong line of energy, stretching outward through the arm as strongly as you comfortably can. Still, though, keep it as relaxed as possible as you do this.

The idea is to create the amount of current that feels best to you at the moment - sometimes strong, sometimes soft - and then maintain that level, hold it steady, acclimatize, as you release every unnecessary effort and every sense of strain. You want to be as relaxed as possible without losing the increased energy flow. This "desired intensity" will vary according to your mood, strength, and flexibility, as well as which pose you happen to he doing.

CHARACTERISTIC THREE "ALTERNATING CURRENT"
The third characteristic of a good line of energy is that it pulses with the breath. The breath brings it to life and pulses through it.

With the arm vertical this time, establish an upward-flowing line of energy. From your belly lift upward into the chest, from the shoulder stretch upward into the elbow, and from the elbow stretch upward through the fingertips. As you inhale, stretch upward through the arm. Use the inhalation to create and enhance the line, so that the breath and the upward stretch work as one. As you exhale, retain the upward energy flow and release every sense of effort or strain; even get the sense of increasing the line, making it longer, by releasing upward. Inhale again and increase the upward stretch through your arm, increase the current, and as you exhale, maintain the increase but release the effort required to increase the energy flow. Feel the stretch emanating from your center and moving continuously up the torso, through the arm and out the hand.

The basic pattern is to increase the current as you inhale and release any sense of strain and all unnecessary effort as you exhale. As you do this, feel how the arm pulses, the current alternately increasing and then purifying within the rise and fall of a single breath. Lower your arm and relax.

The idea is to enliven the lines with your breathing. Sometimes, as in this example, you will increase the current with the inhalation and purify the line with the exhalation, and sometimes you will do just the reverse. This is a valuable skill to perfect because it allows you to sustain a line of energy for longer periods of time without tiring and without strain. Endurance, strength, and stamina will improve quickly this way, enabling you to spend more time in the postures, thereby opening yourself to an even greater degree.

Skill in yoga involves creating the intensity of current that makes the stretch feel perfect. Being able to do this with each line of energy is a matter of inner listening and skillful tuning. If you were tuning a violin string, for example, you would turn the key just the right amount not too much, not too little in order to adjust the string tension and create the perfect sound. How much you'll turn the key cannot be known in advance. It all depends on the sound. This is exactly what you do with your musculature, your lines, the current, the breath, and the alignment of the pose. You can then skillfully open specific muscular and energetic blockages with just the right amount of pressure.

As your body becomes stronger and more flexible, you will desire and enjoy a stronger current more often, much like a fine horse enjoys running fast because it feels good. You will feel more alive as you are able to process more energy.

The important point, though, is to create the intensity of current that feels best  - not too much and not too little. More isn't always better. If you create too much intensity you may not enjoy your practice as much as you might, you may get injured and you'll eventually lose enthusiasm. It may feel as though you are attacking yourself, which becomes tiring. On the other hand, without enough intensity, if your practice is too soft or slack, it won't yield the benefits that now motivate you. The main thing is to create a balance. And loving your practice, enjoying what you're doing as you are doing it, should be your sole criterion regarding how much current to create, which poses to do, and how long to practice. It should feel good as you are doing it.

Your Whole Body

When you read the words "Spread your fingers and stretch your whole hand," you instinctively know what to do. There is no need for me to say, "Stretch the thumb, index finger, middle finger, ring finger, pinkie." You understand that the whole hand is involved.

In the same way, your whole body should be involved when you do the poses. Now, however, the words "Stretch your whole body in Triangle Pose" might mean that one hand is limp or drooping, your legs bent, or your spine hunched over. The overall action throughout your whole body may not resemble the overall action in your hand - that quality of total involvement. You may be reaching very attentively with one arm, for example, but forget the other completely. Part of the skill in yoga is learning to involve all of yourself, just as when you spread your hand, so that all of you is activated and filled with energy. One way to remember this is to keep your hands open and fingers spread whenever possible, as well as your feet and toes. This takes a small degree of attentiveness and can act as a reminder for the rest of your body.

Keeping the image of an early morning stretch in mind as you do the poses can also be helpful in understanding the dynamic and appealing nature of this line of energy technique. When you stretch first thing in the morning, you invest s energy and do it with enthusiasm, partly because it feels so good. You press outward, squeeze your muscles, and you stretch! And without even thinking about it very much, you adjust and readjust from the inside out-stretching here, stretching there, intuitively, almost uncontrollably. Adjusting intuitively is analogous to "following the stretch," and "current" is the result of the amount of intensity (voltage), oomph (power), or vigor you put into the stretch.

Learning the line of energy technique teaches one part of you at a time to stretch, like separate fingers. Eventually, you are able to add them all up and hold these "separate" lines together in one continuous awareness. In Triangle Pose, then, at first there are five separate lines of energy emanating from your center, and it may feel like five different things going on. As you become more experienced at yoga and more proficient in the poses, more skillful at what you're doing, it will instead feel like one glorious happening your whole body, mind, heart, awareness, and passion doing yoga ... breathing, stretching, moving, listening, trusting, adjusting, all simultaneously, all of you.

Instead of having a mental image of a completed posture as your primary goal and then trying to "put" your body into that position through force or effort - so that you are fundamentally always working externally - these lines of energy are the key to an inner yoga. As you learn how the postures work and how these lines of energy move, and as you learn to follow the lines into your tight areas and open them, the completed postures will come from inside, not outside, like a blooming flower that is gently expanding outward from its center. The delicate intensification of your energy lines and your ever-improving ability to stay with the energy flow - following the lines into and through tight areas of your energy field, erasing and releasing them - is what gradually reveals the completed posture.

This will all become clear as we go through the core postures together. For now, understand the basic techniques. I am going over each concept slowly and in specific detail, step by step, in order to clarify the techniques and save you time. The descriptions are accurate and stated exactly as intended. Take your time in reading and understanding these comments. The time you take now to absorb and understand these simple concepts will save you many hours, months, and years of trial and error in your practice.

Your yoga practice has already begun. If these comments are not yet clear, do not worry. You will only ever "know" or understand these techniques as you use them on a regular basis. The secrets are in the experience itself, in the doing, in the practice, and these techniques are the distillation of many years of practice.

 

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