It’s all in the prana by Jessica Blanchard

I’m beginning the fourth week of the Teachers’ Intensive with Richard Freeman.

Intensive it is.

I had the idea that I would have time to write weekly or even bi-weekly inspiring blog posts. Just being able to attend the sessions with my little one has been intensive.

Each day we’ve broken down yoga postures, practiced slowly and with awareness, laughed, scratched our heads in wonderment, and sometimes had bewildered looks as Richard spirals us deep into yoga philosophy of the Upanishads, Yoga Sutras, or Bhagavad Gita.

Although I’ve studied with Richard periodically for nine years, each time I pick up new gems of knowledge.  The mind likes to take theories and information and categorize it to fit our particular situations. What I absorb depends on my particular situation and context.  This time I’ve been amazed at how deeply Richard can link the philosophy of yoga into the asana (posture) practice. The postures are a tool to channel pranic energy in the body.  This allows us to undo knots on many layers, physical, emotional and even spiritual.

You might be surprised to learn that physical alignment is key to this energetic and spiritual process. In Ashtanga often we tend to gloss over postural alignment, focusing more on the flow, breathing and being able to get into a postures.

After spending the past three weeks breaking down the postures, a complete guided primary series on Friday was an exquisite experience. Like taking apart an old broken down car – cleaning and shining its parts, then putting to together again. I left the class feeling completely different on may layers.

We are entering the fourth week of the four week intensive. We spent the weekend in a sitting mediation at Boulder’s Shambala Meditation Center with a foremost scholar and practitioner of Tibbetan Buddhism, and close student of Chugyam Trungpa.

In four weeks, this intensive has brought the limbs of yoga together in a clear, compassionate and authentic manner.

Despite having made 13 or so trips to India over the years, and studied extensively with two of the foremost Indian yogis, I find myself focusing on the physical aspects of yoga. I would rather do physical postures than sit and practice pranayama or mediation. And now that I have so little free time with my year-old baby, I tend to let those limbs slip often. The most amazing transformation for me in this training has been uncovering how to practice yoga postures so that we can allow these other limbs of yoga to unfold.

Richard and Mary’s focus in the training is how we keep the postures balanced so that the pranic energy can flow in the body. I could write thousands of words on this topic alone, but I’ll save these nuggets for later. There are two primary directional flows of energy in the body – up and out – prana and down and in apana. They are both vital to life. You can think of prana controlling what comes in, and physically how our body is open to receive it. Apana controls what goes out, and physically how we allow that to happen.

When we balance the prana and apana we physically practice yoga so that our body is happy. Each asana or yoga posture must balance prana and apana. They are linked in how the shoulders, hips, feet, and back are positioned in a yoga posture.

That key balance lets the breath flow. Then the prana can flow. That lets the mind rest and be at ease. Balanced prana and apana allows us to find “Sthira sukkham” which is what the sage Patanjali wrote about in the Yoga Sutras.  We are looking for that balanced, steady state that lets the mind and body rest and release.

We can reach a state of mediation in postures when we balance our energies.  One of the major reasons is that our spine is free and happy when the energy is balanced. Our nervous system is unfettered and open.

The goal of our yoga practice is to be able to let our mind be still. When we reach that stillness we were no longer impacted by our thoughts, and we realize the temporary nature of our existence. We are trying to get in touch with that part of us that is permanent and the same across all of us. We are all interconnected. That is yoga.

And now, get out there and practice.  On and off the mat.  All the time.  Life is yoga.

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