Ok… Energetic? Do you mean running around, jumping up and down, and getting a good sweat going? Well, no. Not really. You can get a really good sweat going with a solid yoga practice, but I’m addressing something different altogether. I’m talking about prana. Chi. Vital energy. Call it what you will, it’s what channels life through the body, what sends thought and feeling impulses running through our consciousness, and what turns these impulses into motion.
One of the things that makes yoga such an amazing practice is that it was developed with a deep awareness of prana, of how it is influenced by breath, by thought, and by the engagement of muscles.
Those of you who have practiced tai chi understand that when you tense a muscle, you block the energy flow through it. Relaxed muscles allow the energy to flow freely. Yoga is an art of contraction and relaxation. For example, when you tense the front of the leg muscles in a forward bend, stretching the posterior muscles, you are also relaxing the posterior muscles. You direct the energy specifically through those muscle groups.
Smooth, flowing breath steadies the flow of energy, as does a steady mind. By keeping the eyes on a drishti, a focal point, and keeping the breath slow and even, you circulate the prana through the body gently and without obstruction. Selective contraction of the muscles with the postures then concentrates the energy in the relaxed portions of the body. This is reflected on the physical level with the circulation of the blood. Just as you send more blood through the area that you are stretching (relaxing), so you also send more prana through that area. This means life, growth, healing, and awareness.
Another important element of the circulation of energy through the body with the practice of yoga is the bandha. A bandha is a muscular contraction, but it is known in yogic terms as an energetic lock. The uddhiyana bandha, the slight lifting and contraction of the solar plexus, blocks the energy at the mid-spine. The mula bandha, or lifting of the perineum, creates an energetic constriction at the base of the spine. These two locks work together, creating a bowl of prana that circulates through the region of the lower spine. With each breath, the energy gathers and intensifies in this area, circulating through the organs and lumbar region.
The physical and the energetic are interconnected; there is no clear dividing line. The prana follows the blood, the blood follows the breath and the body. Breath is one of the most powerful keys, because it can lead the body or be led by it. As we learn to breathe with awareness, we bring the previously unconscious influences into the province of the conscious. We bring our attention into those dark and neglected areas of being, and energy flows where attention goes.
This is only the tip of the iceberg about this subject, but hopefully it’s enough to highlight some of the inner workings of the yogic practice. It’s time to bring the Eastern and Western understandings together. When we begin to do so, we’ll realize how much the venerated tradition of yoga has to offer the established scientific paradigm. Energy is the key that links these perspectives and that offers the deepest and most valuable understanding of the inner workings of yoga.