The focus of this blog is digestion: how we digest things we take in on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. Its just not about how we digest the food we eat, but how we take in experiences in our life and integrate them into ourselves. And when we talk about digestion, of equal importance is elimination. When I was sitting with this idea of elimination I came across a passage in Lama Surya Das' book Awakening the Buddha Within that spoke about renunciation. This was a piece in the yogic practice I always had some trouble wrapping my head around on a certain level, but he explained it this way:
“Trungpa Rinpoche said "Usually we think of renunciation as celibacy, poverty, obedience, shaving your head, going off somewhere and leaving everything behind." He then gave a wider tantric interpretation of renunciation: "Renunciation means to let go of holding back."...Renunciation refers to opening the tight fist of grasping and relinquishing our weighty burden of accumulated excess baggage. The heart of renunciation implies allowing rather than controlling. It requires letting go of that which is negative and harmful while opening up to sanity and wholeness.”
And this, in essence, is the goal of elimination. To "let go of the shit." Quite literally, but also to let go of all the harmful ways we talk to ourselves, our negative thought patterns and our ingrained behaviors that continuously hold us back from realizing our higher potential. And what better place to dive into this than in the fire of the 3rd chakra?
This mudra is designed to stimulate digestion in the body. To do this mudra, find a comfortable virasana (use blocks and blankets to support as needed). Bring the palms to rest on the thighs, face up, and bring the first and middle fingers to touch the thumb on the right hand while extending the remaining two fingers. With the left hand, draw the middle and ring fingers together while extending the pointer and pinkie fingers. Once you find this mudra, close the eyes and begin to breathe into the opening of energy lines in the body. As the energy begins to flow start to bring your focus to the 3rd chakra, located at the solar plexus, just above the belly button and below the diaphragm. With your focus there, on inhale, imagine drawing golden light into the body through the upper belly, as you exhale directing stagnant, dark energy and tension out of the body through the seat and into the floor. Take about ten breaths, continuing this visualization. As you inhale, taking light into the body, digesting it, and as you exhale, releasing an energetic waste from the body. After about ten breaths, release the mudra and rest with the hands turned palms face up on the thighs. Notice what you're experiencing in the body, notice the quality of the breath. As you are ready, let the eyes open.
Virasana: Hero's Pose
Hero's Pose can be an excruciating place for me to be sometimes. With tight quads and tight tops of the feet, it can be so unappealing on certain days especially after I've been out for a long run. But there is something to be said for this pose, especially when one considers the added benefits for digestion that it offers. To get more comfortable in the pose, you can take a block underneath the sit bones or bring a blanket underneath the shins and feet. Sometimes, I also recommend a rolled up blanket underneath the sit bones between the sit bones and the feet or underneath the curve of the top of the foot. Once you find a comfortable position for your hero's pose, drop in.
As we kneel, we stimulate the bottom portion of the stomach meridian in the legs. This helps foster better digestion and elimination and at the same time helps us create space in the abdomen as we sit. This is a great pose after big meals or if one is having difficulty digesting or eliminating. Spend at least 5 minutes in the pose and if you'd like, take this time to work with Eagle arms or neck stretches to avoid any tension that might take place in the upper body as you are seated. Once you release come forward to table top and the press back to downward dog, tread the fit and raise and lower the heels to help bring circulation back into the legs if necessary.
Asana for Digestion
There are numerous poses that help to aid digestion. Anything that involves working on the stomach (stimulating the organs), core work (stimulating the agni, digestive fire) or twisting (ringing out toxins and promoting elimination). Here are some practices that I recommend adding to a practice to help invite digestion into your practice:
Lying Over a Roll
I will readily admit to students that this can be one of the most challenging poses out there, yet as one student shared with me after class the other day, after a little while in the pose it starts to feel really good (its getting to that yummy place that's hard!). This pose not only stimulates all the internal organs, promoting digestion and elimination, but it also provides a detox by gently squeezing the liver. In addition, this is an excellent pose for those who suffer from low black issues as it gives more space around the sacrum and very subtly stretches the low back. To do this pose, take a blanket and roll it up into a burrito about 4-5 inches in diameter. Come to lie over the blanket with the blanket resting in between the low ribs and the crest of the pelvis. The entire blanket should be resting on the squishy part of the belly.
Note: this pose is contraindicated for pregnancy, anyone suffering from any kind of stomach issues like hernias or ulcers or if you have just eaten. Once you lie down, start in Sphinx pose, then transition to a pillow with the hands (as shown above) and finally to arms extended long, forehead on the floor. Breathe here for a few minutes. You can stay here or intensify the practice by working into half bow, spending about 1 minute on each side. As you are finished, transition back to Sphinx on the blanket and finally press back to child's pose.
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