Updated: Oct 5
As a down-to-earth, science loving, atheistic cynic; when I first discovered Yoga I found it daunting. The esoteric language, the seemingly unsubstantiated claims, and 'holier than thou' style teachers bugged me.
The truth (or what I have come to believe) is that some Yoga teachers simply teach in a way that doesn’t resonate with us ‘westerners’, especially if we have no idea what their hippie dippie language and assertations actually mean.
Frankly why on earth would one mention anal sphincters (Mula Bandha) at all in a Yoga class? What the hell IS a Chakra, and is it really acceptable to queef in Yoga??
I can still remember some of the cues I was given in my first few classes, and my initial cynical reaction to them...
“Soften your Spleen, gall bladder and kidneys”. (do what to my where now???)
“Tell your body including your genitals you love them” (please stop making me think about my vagina, I’m trying to exercise god dam it!)
“Abduct the leg whilst tilting the sacrum” (are you asking me to kidnap a priest???)
“Imagine your thighbones are rainbows spiralling out to the sky” (I think I did this once at Glastonbury…)
“Fold forwards and let your brains spill out of your head” (Jesus!)
“Blossom your anus” (Not even my boyfriend gets me to do that…)
“Align your chakras” (Ok this is just silly now, I’m leaving. I hope I never see this ridiculous hippie again. I hope her cats eat her face.)
It was all very confusing and felt pretty inappropriate. I spent a lot of time rolling my third eye…why on earth should my anus and/or genitals get involved with anything? It took me a long time, lots of Yogic study and visits to India to get on board with some of this language. Over the years, some of this stuff has started to make sense, even to me. So I wanted to share some of that education with you and explain in Lehman’s terms some of the more seemingly 'ridiculous' aspects of Yoga:
Anal sphincter contraction: AKA ‘Mula Bandha’ or ‘root lock’. Most of us know that pelvic floor (‘front bottom’ sphincter contraction) exercises strengthen bladder control and can heighten orgasm for both genders, and for women improve vaginal tone, and restore pelvic elasticity after childbirth. Anal sphincter* contractions offer similar benefits (improving excretion and facilitating peristalsis in place of bladder strength). You may sometime hear talk of ‘energy being locked’ and ‘kundalini awakening’, and there are many layers of reasoning in traditional Yoga – putting it very simply it’s supposed to have a psychosomatic effect on posture and energy levels, and stimulate aspects of the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, and endocrine systems.
Chanting: The Sanskrit chanting and Oming happens for many reasons; partly just as a way to delineate the time of our practice from the rest of our day and classically condition us to start being mindful, but also because when we make these deep noises it creates vibrations which resonate in the facial muscles, throat and various other structures acting like a kind of self made power plate to loosen and stimulate muscle fibres, encouraging them to relax. Scientifically speaking different sound wavelengths resonate in different size muscles; ‘OM’ in D flat is the most neutral all over massagy vibration we can make. You might also feel a slight tickling in the ear which mobilises the ear bones (closely related to balance) which can be done no other way. Oh and repeating mantras is a good way to focus the brain, and stop you from getting distracted when you’re trying to focus/meditate. Most chanting is done in the form of beautiful Sanskrit poetry, which also carries a deeper, usually multi-layered, meaning.
Perineum touching: There are often postures in which resting your heel (or something) on your perineum is a thing. Technically speaking the perineum is simply the middle of your ‘base’ or seat, so lining up on top of this helps your posture become very upright indeed. There is also a band of muscle connecting both pelvic floor and anal sphincter, so stimulating and encouraging it to contract helps with all that sphincter stuff too.
Chakras: This one’s not as tricky as you might think; chakras are pretty much just glands. They were named “chakras” by old Yogi sages (it’s a 5000 year old practice) who were pretty smart chaps actually and a lot of their medical writings on Yoga anatomy were pretty accurate compared with modern knowledge; they even worked on cadavers to locate all the glands and other bits and bobs. By stimulating different glands (by stretching, twisting, compressing etc. which is what we do in Yoga) the effect of the hormone said gland produces can be witnessed. The old Yogis would say :”A blockage in the sacral chakra can cause emotional overreactions, flightyness, excessive emotional attachment to people or objects and maladapted relationships. It must be rebalanced”. Translation: “using yoga techniques we can stimulate the adrenal gland, help reduce the production of adrenaline and chill everyone the f**k out”. These Yogis and ancient medical men also believed there were deeper ‘layers’ and functions of the body not visible to the eye other than simply chemical and kinetic. You can decide whether that’s an insightful or primitive idea.
So now you know. What I don’t know is whether or not my helping convert from ‘east’ to ‘west’ is actually that important. I think the key is not to take yourself, your Yoga practice, or teacher too seriously. I think in general the whole point of Yoga is that is is an holistic practice; yes in the west we are mostly focussed on the physical benefits, or ‘Asana’ work, but we all need to connect more to our emotional mental (and maybe even spiritual) selves don’t we? Perhaps the language of Yoga is so ‘out there’ and esoteric for a reason – it inspires even the most rigid people to open their minds and hearts (and of course bodies), if only for a little bit 1hr at a time.
I know that as a Yoga newbie this otherworldly syntax is confusing and/or hilarious, BUT try think of it simply as poetry, close your eyes and enjoy the use of transcendental synonyms, let it inspire some creativity in you; better still let your imagination drift off to the place of fairies and floating clouds, because frankly, most of us haven’t done anything like that since we were children, and I for one enjoy the frivolous escapism. I also believe I might just enjoy life a little more if I keep my mind open and my head (at least some of the time) in the clouds. Love Laura (the moderately cynical Yogi) x
p.s. I know I didn’t expand much on fanny farts, but just so you know, if you do ever queef in one of my classes, I will take it as an enormous compliment.