Thursday, April 17, 2008

Forrest Abs and Agni

Ana Forrest is leading a teacher training at one of the studios where I teach. I've had the chance to practice with her four times now, and I'm extremely impressed. Her decades of practice are palpable in the clarity and energy she brings to each word and movement. She works you hard, but in a very compassionate, friendly way. In yoga terms, her shakti is flowing!

I often hear Forrest Yoga described as "lots of ab work", which doesn't do it justice, but there is a lot of ab work. After a few classes, I'm especially aware of my very lowest belly muscles, from navel to pubic bone. All her different, tortuous variations involve a strong lift of the tailbone, which forces the deep, low abs to wake up in a way that normal gym-class crunches never do. She also does a lot of work with uddiyana bandha, agni sara, and nauli - all techniques based on pulling the abdominal organs up and back when the breath is held out. This requires a total relaxation of the abdominal muscles, so it's the perfect complement to the strength work.

At the same time, I've been working through a training program by Rod Stryker, a Tantric teacher. He says one of the purposes of asana practice is to unblock the lower part of the torso and pelvis: from the navel to the pubic bone, and from tail bone to low back. "Unblock" is kind of a vague term. "Awakening the nerves" might work, too. Why is this needed? To make the unconscious conscious.

According to the energetic anatomy of yoga, the muscles, organs and nerves from the belly downwards map to our primal concerns: survival, sexuality and power. I think it's safe to say that we all have unresolved issues in those areas - unconscious reactions that influence our behavior and attitude. To become happier, more conscious, more powerful, we need to bring these energies into full awareness and air out anything that's gotten stuck and started to ferment. We can do this by opening up the correlated parts of the body.

I can feel this happening in the ab work with Ana Forrest. All the heat, effort, and awareness required by her precise directions create a new, vibrant sense of presence in my low belly. (And muscle soreness, to be sure.) And I do feel more confident and powerful after her classes - qualities attributed to the belly center.

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