Balancing tension & compression

Tensegrity

As it relates to the structural integrity of our bodies, strength & length are systemic bodily concepts that involve a balance of both compression (through our hard tissues like our bones) & tension (through our soft tissues like our musculature & fascia) to achieve holistic balance, adaptability, & responsiveness throughout our physical & energetic bodies. In understanding the body as a strain distribution system, we are able to train our bodies to properly support their structures & recruit as needed to orient, release, or engage as it relates to the specified movement or hold.

© 2014 by Functional Patterns

Raja, Sattva, & Tamas

3 gunas

As it relates to our practice, the goal is to achieve balance both within the individual energy centers & holistically overall. The three gunas, translated as thread or rope, are the qualities of nature. Together, they intertwine in varying ratios & proportions to create all of nature. Everything we perceive, including the concept of “everything” & human consciousness itself, is comprised of the three gunas. We practice cultivating our awareness by feeling how they intertwine in the present moment. These may be integrate in different practices in different ways through our physical, mental, & emotional bodies both through our felt interpretation & expressed authenticity.

In any given practice, limb of yoga, or energy center, balance remains the goal. Balancing our body, mind, & soul is a dynamic practice that requires our responsiveness awareness to the present moment. Sometimes a rajastic energy must be applied (in the case where the energy is lacking) & sometimes a tamastic energy must be applied (in the case where the energy is overly active). The practice that is needed is dictated by what is lacking or overly active. This evaluation is based on & specific to the energy practitioner. 

Personally, I like to think of the spectrum of raja, sattva, & tamas as volume controls. To turn up the energy, we apply rajastic heat, movement, activity, & strength postures. To turn down the energy, we apply tamastic heaviness & inertia. To achieve holistic balance, sattva, is the goal. These apply to both mental & physical energies.

The Taoist concept of yin & yang explores complimentary, yet opposite, forces in nature. In our asana practice, we practice hot yoga as the yang (rajastic), physical practice & yin yoga as the tamastic physical practice. Within each of these, balance, sattva, is attained by working towards the complimentary opposite of the dominating energy in our mental & emotional practice. 

Life is a balance of holding on & letting go.

Rumi

cultivating
balance

Tamastic Physical Practice,
Rajastic mental Practice

SURRENDER to
the practice

Both in our yin yoga as well as our ropes practices, we tend to hold poses for several minutes, longer than we might in a vinyasa, flow-style yoga practice. While the physical practice of yin & rope bottoming may be described as having tamastic qualities, being that once we are in the shape we do not move our bodies, our mental landscape may become quite rajastic as we are confronted with the mental chatter that tells us to escape, fidget, or generally not be present. Sattva may be found if we commit to posture & allow those rajastic thoughts to dissipate & feel the calm that washes over us once we surrender to the pose & allow it to open & cleanse our physical & energetic bodies. In not avoiding the sensation, we don’t avoid the emotions behind the sensation, & the thought or attachment behind the emotion. Here, we see the interwoven nature of the three gunas. We use the tamastic energy of our body, to address the rajastic energy of our mind, to experience the sattvic nature of the spirit. We ground through our bodies, even when our minds seem as though they are far away.

raja

Raja is the opposite end of the spectrum from tamas & corresponds to heat, movement, activity & passion. 

sattva

Sattva is the balanced state between raja & tamas. It corresponds to truth, illumination, intelligence. 

tamas

Tamas is the opposite end of the spectrum from raja & corresponds to cold, heaviness, dullness, & inertia. 

yin yoga

just melt

Yin is the stable & unmoving while the yang is the moving & the changing. Yin Yoga primarily targets the deep connective tissue while yang yoga focuses on the musculature of our bodies.

Our yin yoga practice allows a restorative stretch while giving our bodies a deep sense of grounding as we melt into the floor. The practice is to consciously become aware of any tension, & then breathe into the space as you release it. Our intention in this practice is to feel grounded in the body while releasing any & all engagement as we passively lengthen our tissues.

listen to your body

Without agenda or a specific image or goal in mind, breathe into your body. Allow your body time to relay any feedback & listen to that feedback as you allow your body a restorative resting position. Allow your body to surrender so that there is no forceful or active engagement present. 

commit to stillness

Once you have found your shape, do not move. Do not fidget, or try & adjust the pose. There is nothing to “fix” & nowhere to go or be. Do not try & intensify the pose or adjust to avoid sensations. The only movement should be passive as your muscles release their tension & allow your body to fall deeper into the pose.

Rest

In our yin practice, we typically hold poses anywhere from 1-7 minutes or  more depending on the targeted joint & experience level of the practitioner. Using a timer allows us to set it & forget it so we are not distracted by needing to look at the clock. During this time, our mind may become quite busy. Just breathe, rest, & hold until the timer goes off.

gentle release

Being that we hold the pose for a good while, our bodies are able to open at a very deep level. Be kind & gentle with yourself as you come out of each pose, perhaps even returning to corpse pose to allow yourself to reset. This slow, gentle movement helps to target our parasympathetic nervous system allowing our bodies & minds a deep rest. 

Rajastic physcial practice,
tamastic mental practice

Purification by fire

Sometimes, we have an excess of mental energy & chatter. I like to call this “the crazies”. How do you know you have some crazies to burn off? If you’ve tried grounding exercises like deep breathing, reflecting on owning your emotions, talking it through with your partner, journaling, meditating, listening to music, or whatever usually grounds you, & your head is still hotter than hades with the fiery emotions of anxiousness, anger or jealousy, you have some crazies to burn off. Great news – you are in the right place! Here is where we “burn off the crazies” & abundance of thought by pouring it all out on the mat. In our yang practice, we flip the script & strive towards balance (sattva), channeling a rajastic energy of the body to ground towards a more tamastic energy of the mind.  

raja

Raja is the opposite end of the spectrum from tamas & corresponds to heat, movement, activity & passion. 

sattva

Sattva is the balanced state between raja & tamas. It corresponds to truth, illumination, intelligence. 

tamas

Tamas is the opposite end of the spectrum from raja & corresponds to cold, heaviness, dullness, & inertia. 

yang yoga

some like it hot

Yang is the moving & the changing. Yang Yoga focuses on the musculature of our bodies.

The benefits of hot yoga are many. The heat allows our muscles to really open to a depth of flexibility that we may otherwise not attain in a cool room. The high temperature creates a rajastic physical practice, causing our heart to really get pumping, aiding our cardiovascular health, increasing our respiratory capacity, & causing an increase in our bodies circulation. This increased circulation cleanses our bodies of toxins that we release through the massive outpour of sweat. This is also a regenerative practice for our lymphatic & immune systems. 

While at first, the heat can be something to get used to, any yogi knows (who has stuck around past the initial three-week torture period while their body acclimates to the heat), hot yoga can be quite addicting – mostly cause it feels so good

If you can adapt to & balance in a world that is always moving & unstable, you learn how to become tolerant to the permanence of change & difference.

Iyengar