Postures To Prayers. Movement As Medicine Week 1: SHOW UP - Empowered U

Photo 2014-09-25, 12 34 25 PMIn the first week of Empowered Yoga: Postures to Prayers. Movement as Medicine challenge, we will be focusing on the first two chakras: the seed and the roots, as well as the muscles and nerves of the legs and pelvis.

Most ancient interpretations of the chakras focused on transcending our physical reality; shedding our mortal coils as if the physical reality was inferior to the spiritual world. Life is full of suffering and disease and the only antidote is to transcend the physical “worldly” plane of existence. The spiritual path was often correlated with extreme control and dominance over our innate biological tendencies, they very things that bring us connection and pleasure, the very stuff that makes our life so rich with experience.

The modern era on the other hand seems culturally obsessed with the body, how it should look, how it should feel, what it should be able to do and yet this obsession seems less about connection and more about control. We are taught to control the body with the mind and medicine often silencing the innate wisdom of the body. The body speaks we have just forgotten how to listen; reconnecting with our physical body, its sensations and our natural rhythms is the foundation on which all else is built.



Close your eyes and bring your attention to those times in your life that brought you the most joy and happiness. Write down whatever comes up. What you may notice is that these moments of joy and happiness were of times when you were fully engaged through your senses in ordinary moments that were turned extraordinary through your attention and not necessarily from the mystical experiences that the ancient books speak of.



The root chakra (muladahara) is the first chakra and is located at the base of the spine. Muladhara is associated with earth element, instinctual desires, stability, safety, stillness, infancy and monetary existence; it is your survival center. Our very existence depends on our ability to relay on external and material support therefore the sympathetic fight-or-flight response and the adrenal glands are often correlated with the first chakra. Our right to be here and our right to have live in the root chakra and in its shadow is fear.


Our roots are our connection to the earth and therefore serve to ground us. Grounding orients us in space and time. It allows us to SHOW UP in the moment, detaching from future based expectations and fears as well as past retreats and defeats. To be strongly grounded allows us to stand on our own two feet and face what is in front of us without flinching, to remain anchored to our truth in the face of opposition. Without grounding, we are unstable; we get swept off our feet. By losing touch with our ground we also lose our sense of connection with the earth and the intricate web in which we are connected, leaving many feeling isolated and out of touch.

From security we can then safely explore the idea of movement and creativity which is found in the second chakra; only when we feel safe and grounded can we learn to let go and flow. As we lift the energy from the roots up into the pelvis (much like a plant draws water up its trunk) we create inertia, momentum and desire, allowing us to become un-stuck as opposed to uprooted, propelling us forward in the direction of our goals.


Mulabandha is a technique for arousing the powerful grounding/manifesting energy. It is located at the root of our spine, in the perineum. Mulabandha or “root lock” is for the most part over engaged and over-emphasized. Often language like “do a Kegal” or “contract and lift your anus” is used. In a society that is plagued with, control, material possessions, digestive issue and sexual dysfunction, this practice is not necessarily helpful and may over-stimulate an already overactive area. When we become excessive/deficient in the root chakra this leads to rigidity, heaviness, lethargy, fear, hyper vigilance, obsession with material possessions for survival and resistance to change. The effective usage of mulabandha comes from the SUBTLE lifting inside the pelvis, combined with subtle contractions or bandhas of the muscles surrounding the pelvis, legs and feet. When mulabandha is engaged in this way it becomes the internal “safety net” that calms the fight or flight response through stability while drawing the energy upwards into the second chakra to further energize the pelvis.

Mt friend and colleague Heidi Mason  is a Yoga teacher and Physiotherapist just as passionate as myself about bridging the gap between the ancient philosophies and modern biomechanics. She will be offering a Yoga for seniors training with Empowered Yoga in May. Here is what she has to say about Mulabandha

Physically the muscles we are engaging here are: the levator ani (3 muscle loops together roughly running from the inside of the pubic bone around the openings of the pelvic outlet (urethra/vagina if you got one/and anus) to the coccyx and back to the pubic bone) and the coccygeous (literally right below the priformis from ischial spine/interior pelvic bone to coccyx/sacrum)…theres others and sooo much info that could go into here but basically this IS our root and we have a tendency to either have zero connection to it with no ability to recruit/connect with it at all…or we are clenching it like a mo fo and rendering it just as ineffective…either way it tends to be weak and not really very well attended to with asana…it is an aspect of the muscular activation of  mula bandha along with transversus abdominus …and I think we’ve thought in the past and still currently that the more and stronger we can activate it the better…but this isn’t really serving us and we can do better, as always we need a balance of sthira and sukha at the root…..and rather then cue and hold when it comes to this area (and any core activation in general which is basically the trunk canister made up of our respiratory diaphragm on top, pelvic floor muscles on the bottom, transversus abdominus in front and multifidus in the back) we need to move towards an align and allow mentality
…if we align the joints we shouldn’t have to try so hard to get the “core” or appropriate stabilizing muscles to kick in (in any region)…the alignment will allow it…if we’re out of alignment or adding too much superficial compression cueing (whether its well intentioned cueing to get the deep muscles working or not) we get it the way and our innate stabilizers cant do their job/kick in/recruit even if they wanted too. Somewhere along the way we may/must have lost our sense of connection with what roots us/unites us and lost our sense of intuition/faith/courage to follow and allow it…we’ve learned and felt the need to force it/control it/make it happen…resulting in superficial compression and energy depleting pressure down and out through our pelvic floor….like I said above tends to be one of two:  a loss of connection with and integrity of the physical equivalent of our 1st chakra…or a death grip/fear based strangulation of the same area…pick your poison.

…so in asana…cueing neutral spine and giving students an opportunity to feel and find this on there own (as there is no one cue to get it for all of us) is of soooooo much importance…and I think its missed simply because we don’t tend to know how to do it…it involves letting students move through an ant and post pelvic tilt in various positions and begin to feel where they settle between the 2 extremes…have an openness in the hips and a natural curvature/arch in the lumbar spine.

The other important factor in asana is to get people to breathe into their pelvic floors…literally feeling the gentle downward movement and action at the pelvic floor region (diamond shape between sit bones, tail bone and pubic bone)on inhales (necessary for proper respiration: as respiratory diaphragm drops so too does the pelvic floor diaphragm need to drop) and a gentle feeling of lifting in the same area on the exhales…and maybe we work with an active engagement of the “core”muscles on the exhale but so often to start people need to figure out how to let go…especially if they’ve been mula bandhaing the shit out of this area for the duration of their yoga careers
…so again the theme of needing to let go and breathe into this area vs contract more 

…wide leg childs pose is a great place to connect with this area and learn to breathe here…as is sukhasana or any seated postures and then connecting with this same letting go action at the end of our standing forward folds…and then playing with the activation of the area to support us in coming out of postures and playing with the breath here in any of our asana.

Heidi Mason PT

Pelvic Floor Muscles


The pelvic floor muscles attach between the pubic bone in the front and the tail in the back and from side to side from one ischial tuberosity (sitting bones) to the other. Above the pelvic floor are the pelvic organs: in the female pelvic floor we find: Bladder, uterus and vagina and rectum. In the male pelvic floor we find the:Bladder, prostate and rectum. A functioning  and healthy pelvic floor is essential for bladder and elimination control as well as a healthy sex life. The  pelvic floor is also an important  part of core stability, which we will discuss in greater detail next week.  We often only think of the midsection when we think core stability however core stability also includes the pelvis and spine.  A healthy pelvic floor is  both strong and flexible. During lifting or pressing up into handstand, the pelvic floor and TA’s should work  together to increase the stability of the spine and pelvis.

The pelvic floor consists of three muscle layers: Superficial perineal layer: innervated by the pudendal nerve, deep urogenital diaphragm layer: innervated by pudendal nerve and pelvic diaphragm: innervated by sacral nerve roots S3-S5. These nerves all branch from the sacral plexus which we will discuss below in the second chakra.


Muscles of hips and legs:

Because the hips and legs are the support system for the entire body and a major weight-bearing joint they are surrounded by the largest muscles and penetrated by the largest nerve and held together by the toughest fascia. It is clear from this structure that the pelvis and legs are the roots of the body: Strong, stable and supportive. The legs are also home to 6 of the 12 major meridians in TCM. 

Hip Extension


Gluteus Maximus (Urinary Bladder) The largest and most posterior of the buttocks muscles. Extends and externally rotates the hip, upper fibers also assist with abduction. When the leg is straight the gluteus maximus also helps to stabilize the knee by cinching up the IT band. This muscle is often overlooked and ignored in yoga creating major instability in the hips and low back leading to many issues such as: anterior femoral glide, hamstring issues and low back pain. The posterior hip is home to the urinary bladder channel. An imbalance in the Bladder meridian is associated with fear, and low self condidance. Dr. Motoyama believes that the ida and pingala nadis correspond to the Urinary Bladder meridians, because they run along either side of the spine. Learning to engage your gluteus maximus along with the other gluteal muscles, adductors and adductors creates profound grounding and stabilizing energy.

To Awaken Squeeze the buttock as you extend the leg at the hip joint

bridgeoneleg Supinelegextension Heeltaps1 Heeltaps2


Unknown-1Abductors (Gallbladder)

Gluteus Medius Fan shaped muscle that is active during standing and walking. This muscle abducts and internally rotates the thigh, counteracting the external roatation of the gluteus maximus.  It is responsible for helping to maintain balance in the pelvis especially on one leg. During forward bends, back bends and inversions I instruct to engage these alongside the Gluteus Maximus  and adductors to create pelvic stability. You can engage these by either internally rotating or imagine wiping the feet apart.



Tensor Facia Lata-Originates on the iliac crest in front of the gluteus medius and inserts on the It band. It assists the Gluteus medius with internal rotation of the thigh.

The gallbladder chi is associated with discernment and stability. It relates to our ability to follow our path and avoid getting distracted by external influences. When we do get knocked off centre the gall bladder chi helps us regain equilibrium.

To awaken these muscles lie on your side for side leg raises or try activating them in Mountain, Forward-bend or Bridge by pressing down into the feet and wiping them apart.



imagesAdductors: (Liver/ Spleen Meridian) Pectineus, Adductor Magnus, Adductor Longus, Adductor Brevis, Gracilis. As the name implies these muscles adduct the thigh and are located on the inner thigh and constitute what is known as the groin.

The liver meridian is highly correlated with the second chakra and is in charge of balancing the emotions. When there is imbalance in the liver we have a tendency to be irregular, irritated, explosive and angry. Liver imbalance also gives rise to stagnation. Some women may notice they become a little more irritable prior to and during menstration as the liver is more active during this time flushing out toxins. Liver The more we can turn inward and connect to our feelings the more we can begin to bring balance to the liver.


 To awaken bring a block between the legs and squeeze.



UnknownExternal Rotators: Piriformis, Quadratus Femoris, Gemellus and Obturators. These muscles are responsible for external rotation of the thigh at the hip. The most popular of these muscles is the piriformis. The sciatic nerve runs behind the piriformis and can be irritated by tightness or inflmation of the piriformis, nown as piriformis syndrome.


To Awaken Lie on Your side with the knees bent and feet stacked open and close the top leg.

Clamdigger2 Clamdigger1


Quadriceps MusclesQuadriceps (Stomach/Spleen) Muscles that form the front of the thigh. There are 4 muscles that combine to form 1 tendon, which inserts onto the kneecap. Together these muscles extend the leg at the knee. The rectus femoris is unique as it also crosses the hip joint and is therefore a hip flexor. The quads tend to be a very powerful but sticky muscle group, that often become tight and guarded, effecting the alignment go the knee.

The stomach meridian deals with both physiological and psychological nourishment. Imbalances are associated with hyper-sensitivity and restlessness.

Disharmony in the spleen chi is connected with guarded dogmatic thinking, rigidity, obsessiveness and inflexibility.


images-1Hamstrings (Urinary Bladder/Kidney) The main action of the hamstrings is the flex the leg at the knee joint, however because they originate on the pelvis (ischial tuberosity) and attach to the lower leg, they also assist in extension of the hip as well as external and internal rotation of the lower leg. Often if there is weakness in the Glutes the Hamstrings become over worked and angry. The Kidney is associated with fear, shock, and willpower. There are many references to this exist, such as describing a weak person with no ability to stand up for themselves as “spineless” or “having no backbone“, which especially makes sense from the Eastern perspective since the Kidney and Bladder acupuncture meridian pathways actually travel through the back and spine areas.


Foot-  Our fundamental source of energy for the earth is through the soles of our feet, what the Chinese call the Bubbling Springs right below the ball of the foot. anatomically this is the arch. When the arch acts like the bridge and flexible shock absorber it is designed to be, planting and standing on the feet creates energy.

Flexing of the arch moves muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, all of which tug on the periosteum of the tarsal bones. This movement generates energy all the way up the leg and pelvic bones up the back side and into the forehead. The intelligence of the body becomes energized and connected through the feet.


Unknown-3Svadisthana Chakra

The second chakra is located in the low belly just below the navel and above the genitals. It corresponds with the sacral plexus, which eventually turns into the sciatic nerve . A good analogy of the second chakra is that of a planted seed and it is often referred to as the “seat of life” The seed has roots that grow downwards that in turn feed and support the plant that grows upwards. The second chakra is the center of sexuality, emotions, sensation, pleasure, creativity and movement.


“ If desire is the seed to movement, then pleasure is the root of desire and sensation is the medium of pleasure. Pleasure is essential for the health of the body, the rejuvenation of the spirit and the healing of our personal and cultural relationships” Anodea Judith

The right of the second chakra is the right to feel and have pleasure and the shadow of the second chakra is guilt.

Where in the root chakra our focus was earth element, stability and survival, our focus in chakra two shifts to water element, movement and connection. You could say that the first chakra is the container that holds the water of the second chakra.

Through paying attention to the way our bodies move and feel we can uncover hidden or stuck emotions and issues stored in our tissues. Instead of a walking autobiography, jaded and desensitized by everything that has ever happened to us, we can reclaim our passion, pleasure, creativity, vulnerability and connection that are essential for growth and transformation.

There are also mini chakras in the knees and feet, which are grounding outlets for the first and second chakra. These outlets transmit sensations from the ground to our central nervous system for proprioception similar to a compass.


The parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system(rest and digest) is also called the cranio-sacral division because it arises from the brain and sacral region of the spinal chord. When the sacrum is stable and the muscles corresponding to the sacral plexus and gently stimulated, this signals the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sacral plexus is the nerve plexus which provides motor and sensory nerves for the posterior thigh, most of the lower leg, the entire foot, and part of the pelvis. It emerges from the Lumbar and Sacral Vertebrae (L4-S4) The nerves forming the sacral plexus unite to form a flattened band, from the anterior and posterior surfaces of which several branches arise. The band is continued as the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve supplies nearly the whole of the skin of the leg, the muscles of the back of the thigh, and those of the leg and foot. Another major nerve which branches of the sacral plexus in the pudental nerve which supplies the pelvic floor.


Asanas for week 1: Show Up

Each day we will focus on a specific grounding pose. Keep the anatomical and energetic information from above in mind as you explore the metaphors and questions next to each pose. If you wish to participate in an open dialogue with others please share your insights, answers to the questions and a picture on instagram using the #posturesasprayersmovementasmedicine and tag @empoweredyoga @susidragonfly @daniellemurrayyoga


Photo 2014-09-23, 6 44 29 PM

Mountain: Strong. Immovable. I am here. Earth element. Here, Now = not hiding or playing small (you are a mountain)

Questions for Contemplation

Where am I?

Where is the weight in my Feet?

How do I show up for myself?

How am i limiting myself, playing small or not showing up?

What does it feel like to be grounded?




Photo 2014-09-23, 6 45 45 PMTree-From roots we rise. Trees are strong but flexible. A tree cooperates with and sustains other natural forms such as birds, mammals and insects. Trees breathe life-giving oxygen into the world and all the life forms and in turn are feed by the environment. The strongest trees are the ones who have survived the greatest winds.

Questions for Contemplation

How do you feel when the winds of change begin blow? Do you feel grounded or uprooted?

What dead branches do I need to trim away in order to thrive? What are some of my beliefs, stories and theories that are limiting my growth?

Can you use some of your “shit” as compost for your roots?

What feeds my spirit?

How am i connected to and supported by the environment: Physically, mentally, emotionally



Photo 2014-09-23, 6 47 39 PMTriangle– Connecting mind, Body and spirit. Dependency and interdependency. Support system.

Questions for Contemplation

How much can I support?

What supports and sustains me?

How well can I resist pressure?

What are my 3 biggest strengths?

What are my 3 core values from which all else is built?


Photo 2014-09-23, 6 56 54 PM (1)Warrior 2 Presence. Suspended in the moment. Strong in your stance. Clear and concise. Fierce but gentle. Future and Past

Visualize Arjuna suspended in moral dilemma on the battlefield confused and afraid in which direction he should move. If you are unfamiliar with the Bhagvad gitta imagine any instance where you are suspended in dilemma. The front leg and your arm can represent the future or one choice while the back leg is in the past or the alternate choice. 

 It is in the clarity from awareness  in which intelligent action is derived.

 In this pose there are muscles that need to be engaged to support us in strength, however there are also places where we unnecesarily creating tension in our body. Awareness shows us that the unnecessary tension distracts and drains often leaving us at the mercy of our frustration, anger jealousy etc .

 Find the dynamic balance between seeking, working at your edge and completely yeilding.

Questions for Contemplation


Where am i unnecessarily fighting, resisting and tensing? Serenity

Where am i leaning, or hiding? Courage

What insights are found at the center? Wisdom


Photo 2014-09-23, 7 00 15 PM (1)Chandrasana- Reflectivity. Feminine. Yin. Presence. Grace. Balance. Intuitive. Receptive. The sun and moon are of central importance to Hatha yoga, its name being derived from the sun (Ha) and moon (Tha). When practiced with awareness asana can help us to harmonize the opposing energies so that we can find balance in our body and life. As the moon affects water element it also influences the emotions found in the second chakra.

Questions for Contemplation

Do you identify with your emotions?

Do you change like the tides?

Are you accepting of your feelings? Negative and Positive

Do you feel safe exploring your emotions?

Notice how the strength in the legs and pelvis may allow you the freedom to explore depth in this pose, despite the challenge.


Here is the Roots sequence for week 1

Please do this sequence at least once this week

Here is the low body strength training for week 1:


Squats 2-4 sets of 20 reps-focus on form. I like to use TRX to help maintain an upright torso

Deadlifts 2-4 sets 10-20 reps

Leg Circuit

*do all of these exercises together without rest

Step Ups 10-20 per leg

Single Leg Lunges 10-20 per leg

Single leg Squats 10-20 per leg

Walking Lunges 20-40


Swiss Ball Circuit

Swiss Ball Psoas Awakening

Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls with Hip Extension

Swiss Ball External Rotations

Swiss Ball Bridge and Adduction



Boat with Ball or block

Rolling Boat

Lying Tuck and Extend with Ball or Block

Scissors-Flexion and Extension. Abduction and Adduction

Pelvic Peels

Rope climbers



Myo-fascial Release for Week 1

*you will need 2 tennis balls or racquet balls


Other  grounding exercises this week: