Postures to Prayers. Movement as Medicine Week 4: Let Go & Flow - Empowered U

Photo 2014-09-27, 11 20 40 AMThis week we will flip our perspective as we explore the 6th  and 7th chakras  and dissect the anatomy of the inversions.

What does headstand have to do with enlightenment?

The pose itself has nothing to do with enlightenment at all. In fact i know several ignorant people who can do a headstand. The only thing headstand and enlightenment have in common is: AWARENESS. It is more about the mindset we are cultivating as we are practicing or learning to practice a headstand than actually doing a headstand. In fact based on the biomechanics of the body there are more intelligent reasons not do a headstand then there are to do one. Executing the difficult asanas, like headstand requires we get really quiet and clear. SHOW UP!  We connect with the feeling self in such a way that it can guide us into the postures safely, not by ignoring fear but by remaining in constant conversation with it. STEP TO THE EDGE! This also might look like honouring your body enough to not do headstand or go further into any posture for that matter, despite the nudge from your cognitive mind and ego, if that is the feedback you are getting from your intuition. RADIATE LOVE!  When we approach these postures too much from the thinking self we lose the conversation with the intuition, which is the goal of the pose in the first place; to connect with ourselves beyond our ideas, labels, judgments and stories. The more clear we get the more connected we become to something that is greater that ourselves. Some call it god, spirit, soul, flow sate, universal consciousness etc. LET GO & FLOW!

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” Patanjali

This week will be about the dynamic balance between the feeling self and the cognitive self. While i am a huge fan of studying biomechanics, anatomy, chakras and philosophy, I also feel that this information must be applied in a practical sense and sorted. When we get to tied to our models, theories and belief systems we clench our fists. We can’t receive with clenched hands. When we let go of who and what should be, we become what could be. Too often when we show up for any situation in our life we come in with too many expectations, agendas and judgments. We have literally rehearsed, planned and prepared for the moment so much that we are no longer receptive to the possibility that is actually presented when the moment arises. We lose the connection to our intuition; the internal feeling self. We may even leave one of the most powerful moments in our life, feeling unimpressed, bored and unfulfilled.

When we try to control everything and overintelectualize we tighten up, we close the gaps, reduce space and we become infertile. We lose connection and our life, our teaching, our parenting and our lovemaking becomes a performance, mechanical, stale, a means to an end.


When we try to control and over intellectualize we lose those special opportunities and possibilities, you know, that magic and sweetness that just seems to arise spontaneously in the moment. Those moments are referred to as “Flow States”

“It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows.”

― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

When we let go of our attachments, we create fertile space for possibility. The problem arises when we become so fixated on crushing our goals that we cease to pay attention to the moment; we cease to take in, savor and juice everything we can from our experiences.

“In order to taste my cup of water you must first empty your cup. My friend, drop all your preconceived and fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is useful? Because it is empty.” ~ Bruce Lee

Because life is a series of moments and ultimately the attention we are investing in the present is what will move us in the direction of our goals, if we are paying attention in the moment we can make intelligent decisions based on the feedback we are receiving from the feeling self and not just the thinking self; like having your finger on the pulse of the universe. LET GO & FLOW

If our consciousness is like a garden, we get to choose what we water and fertilize and also when we are paying attention, we begin to recognize the weeds, the roots of our discontent and obstacles to optimal experience and starve them out.We use the term “paying attention” for a reason. Your attention is a precious resource, like money and we get to choose how we invest it.

If it is true that what ever we “pay” our attention to gets stronger then we should invest and spend more wisely.

Often when setting goals we get blind sided by the achievement of success and what we “think” that might look like or what we think success is in the first place and completely miss out on the process, but the process is the path; YOUR LIFE IS THE PROCESSWe get so focused on trying to get somewhere that we lose the connection to the experience we are having; we lose the flow.

“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side effect of ones personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” ~ Viktor Frankl

Yoga sequences are not just intense physical exercise, but also a method of drawing us deeper into the innate wisdom of the body. You lose yourself—your conditioned way of living and relating with your body and the world—and get lost in the ebb and flow. The mind begins to quiet down and you become fully absorbed in the moment, no past and all the regrets, comparisons, judgments and doubts that have grown from it, no future and all the expectations associated with it.

In the moment there is no such thing as success or failure there is just sensation and pure experience and consciousness, nothing to hold you back or to force you forward, inhibitions turn into innate wisdom and “knowing.” We cant always control the waves that the universe churns out, but we can learn to surf them.

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless—like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water…Running water never grows stale.” ~ Bruce Lee



Psychology 101

To understand the inner workings of the human mind, perception and fear and how we are fundamentally controlled I have given a brief outline of the nervous system below.There is many deeper layers to the study of the human mind and this at best is an oversimplification. I will be offering a 25 Hr advanced anatomy module called: The Brain and Beyond in February. We will look at the Nervous system and how it works with both the Endocrine system (chemical) and the Myofascial system (mechanical) as well as the Chakras (energetics) and discover where and how the coalesce. There have been many studies published recently on the effects of asana, pranayama and meditation on the human brain. A couple great books that are easy to read on this subject are: Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom  and Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hansen. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The Nervous System

The Human nervous system is composed of 3 main parts

  • Central Nervous System (CNS)

The Central Nervous System Consists of the brain and the spinal chord.The CNS receives information from all of the body parts and replies with instructions to all tissues and organs

  • The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)
  • The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)-Contains the Symathetic Nervous System (Fight or Flight) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest and Digest)


The Brain

The brain is composed of three parts: the brainstem, cerebellum, and cerebrum.

  • The cerebrum is divided into four lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital. The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and is composed of right and left hemispheres. The surface of the cerebrum has a folded appearance called the cortex. The cortex contains about 70% of the 100 billion nerve cells.
  • The cerebellum is located under the cerebrum. Its function is to coordinate muscle movements, maintain posture, and balance.
  • The brainstem includes the midbrain, pons, and medulla. It acts as a relay center connecting the cerebrum and cerebellum to the spinal cord. It performs many automatic functions such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, wake and sleep cycles, digestion, sneezing, coughing, vomiting, and swallowing. Ten of the twelve cranial nerves originate in the brainstem.
  • The right and left hemispheres of the brain are joined by a bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum that delivers messages from one side to the other. Each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body. Not all functions of the hemispheres are shared. In general, the left hemisphere controls speech, comprehension, arithmetic, and writing.The right hemisphere controls creativity, spatial ability, artistic, and musical skills.
  • Hipocampus: relays information to the cortex for long term storage and retrieves it when it needs to be recalled.
  • Hypothalamus: is located in the floor of the third ventricle and is the master control of the autonomic system.
  • Pituitary gland: is connected to the hypothalamus. Known as the “master gland,” it controls other endocrine glands in the body. This gland is associated with the 7th chakra
  • Pineal gland – is located behind the third ventricle. It helps regulate the body’s internal clock and circadian rhythms by secreting melatonin. It has some role in sexual development. this gland is associated with the 6th chakra.
  • Thalamus: Relays visual, auditory, taste and touch information to the cortex and determines which information reaches consciousness. Keeps each part of the brain aware of what the other parts are doing.
  • Limbic system – is the center of our emotions, learning, and memory. Included in this system are the cingulate gyri, hypothalamus, amygdala (emotional reactions) and hippocampus (memory).
  • Amygdala is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. Shown to play a key role in the processing of emotions. Most refer to it as the “Fear Center.” It’s a part of the brain that is responsible for many of our initial emotional responses and reactions, including the “fight-or-flight” response.
  • Insula: the part of the brain that monitors bodily sensations and is involved in experiencing “gut-level” feelings. Along with other brain areas, it helps “guide” how strongly you will respond to what you sense in your body…. is this sensation something dangerous or benign?

Psychology of Fear

Fear is a strong, intense emotion experienced in the presence of a real, immediate threat. It originates in a system that detects dangers and produces responses that will increase the individual’s chances of surviving them. In other words, it triggers a sequence of chemical reactions (hormones) and behaviours that allows us to: defend ourselves (fight) or get the hell out of the way (flight)  In humans, fear can also arise at the mere thought of a potential danger. The main alarm system is the Amygdala

Two Pathways of Fear

When the brain receives a sensory stimulus indicating a danger, it is routed first to the thalamus. From there, the information is sent out over two parallel pathways: the thalamo-amygdala pathway (the “short route”) and the thalamo-cortico-amygdala pathway (the “long route”).

  • The short route conveys a fast, rough impression of the situation, This pathway activates the amygdala which generates emotional responses before any integration has occurred
  •  The long route has been processed in the cortex and reaches the amygdala and tells it wether or not the stimulus is a real. This assessment process requires many steps and takes longer. Obviously in the case of public speaking or executing a handstand this is the route we want to leverage, whereas the short route is the winner when it comes to life and death situations.

UnknownThree Brains and Evolutionary Look

  • The reptilian brain, the oldest of the three, controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Our reptilian brain includes the main structures found in a reptile’s brain: the brainstem and the cerebellum. The reptilian brain is reliable but tends to be somewhat rigid and compulsive. It only concern is SURVIVAL
  • The limbic brain emerged in the first mammals. It can record memories of behaviors that produced agreeable and disagreeable experiences, so it is responsible for what are called emotions in human beings. The main structures of the limbic brain are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus. The limbic brain is the seat of the value judgments that we make, often unconsciously, that exert such a strong influence on our behavior. Again this part of the bran is quite primitive.
  • The neocortex first assumed importance in primates and culminated in the human brain with its two large cerebral hemispheres that play such a dominant role. These hemispheres have been responsible for the development of human language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness.

 Yoga Psychology

The mental body (manamaya kosha) consists of 4 parts, which constantly interact with each other

  • The Mind (manas)-forms the outer layer of consciousness. Unsteady and unable to make good choices. The mind’s job is to make sense of the world as we experience it. It responds to the perceptions of sensory input  (from the 5 senses) and sorts and stores the information. If need be it can evoke the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system, fight, flight or rest and digest
  • Memory (chitta) The memory is the storehouse of past experiences
  • The Ego (ahamkara)-Our personality. The sense that sets us apart from the outside world
  • Intelligence (buddhi)-lower levels of consciousness or the “rational mind” (different from intuition) able to make good choices-associated with the prefrontal cortex

Whichever layer of consciousness is most active, expands, causing others to retract. Meditation allows us to sort through the various layers of the mind.


UnknownAjna Chakra

The 6th chakra is called the third eye and is associated with vision. Its shadow is delusion. Adonea Judith describes the sixth chakra, like a stained glass window, through which the light of consciousness shines on its way to manifestations. When the sun shines through the coloured glass, it projects the image on whatever surface it hits. The light of consciousness shines through whatever pictures we hold in our minds, shaping what we create.These images are filters through which we see things, sometimes distorting our perceptions

The sanskrit name for this chakra, anja, means both to perceive and to command. We see images with our physical eyes, but the third eye holds the images in memory, which can distort our perceptions. From these perceptions we command our reality. Vision uses imagination to create something that has never been seen before. A vision is a possibility, a goal to inspire us constantly changing and evolving. Enlightenment means “to bring light to” in order that we may see, as we begin to see more of ourselves, we also see more clearly the world around us.

It is postulated that the pineal gland is a “physical manifestation” of the ajna chakra (On A Possible Psychophysiology of the Yogic Chakra System by Roney-Dougal, PhD is an interesting read as well as Theories of the Chakras: Bridge to Higher Consciousness by Hiroshi Motoyama PhD (1988)

Judith describes intuition as an unconscious recognition of a pattern. The development of intuition enhances our psychic abilities and is a central focus of chakra six. Since intuition is passive it requires surrender. We need intuition to grasp the mystery that opens the larger world.

Watching my children learn gymnastics made me realize that children learn so much faster and easier than adults. A child’s imagination is constantly engaged, uncluttered from knowledge about the way things are, their imagination is free to explore all possibilities. Because their cup is empty it they can receive the new information that will allow them to learn something new.

images7Th Chakra

We think of consciousness as our thoughts, but thoughts are what consciousness creates, not what it is. We think of consciousness as our perceptions, but there is a faculty that not only perceives, but also remembers, discriminates and integrates our perceptions.To become aware of our own consciousness is to witness a miracle. The fact that our mind can decipher meaning from words, we can remember words to songs, identify faces, voices and smells, all of these mundane skills are miraculous. The consciousness is sometimes referred to as the witness. The witness observes without judgment all of our emotions, thoughts, impulses and attachments. The witness is above and beyond the body and its experience, beyond memories and dreams. To become aware of and embrace the witness is to become aware of the reality of our being, beyond what we can see and think. The witness is awareness Adonea Judith

According to Adonea Judith in her book Eastern Body Western Mind: Attachment is The demon of the 7th chakra. Attachment denies the constantly fluid state of the universal system. It keeps us anchored in time, unable to move forward, unable to embrace a larger vision, which prevents flow. Some attachment is very necessary and healthy, letting go of attachment does not mean letting go of responsibility. To let go of attachment is to release our fixation on something external, to relinquish the desire for things to turn out a certain way. We can also be attached to our belief systems. Certainty can be the best friend of ignorance. When we are sure we know something we run the risk of closing the crown or becoming closed minded. New information requires us to expand our belief system.

Levels of Human Consciousness outlined by Erich Jantsch and illustrated by Adonea Judith in her book are as follows:

  • Rational level-sitting on the riverbed watching the water flow-analyzing, studying. Knowledge comes from science and other logical means. We learn from the outside, eventually leaning in. many people choose to remain on the bank, forever gathering information. They watch and learn but never become part of something larger. The stream bank is our familiar world, our rational mind, our safety.
  • Mythical level-immersed in the river- when we fall into the river, we shift from observation to experience, we are no longer outside looking in, we become immersed in the current and let the river take us. This is the aspect of spirituality that involves letting go. Becoming one with the river does mean we lose ourselves. If we simply gave up and surrendered to we could drown, this is the challenge most meet on the spiritual path. Once we jump into the stream of energy flowing through our bodies and lives, we are forced to evolve.
  • Evolutionary level-learning to swim. This is the expansion to the universal mind, the union with the divine. By learning to swim until it is a glorious free flowing dance we enter into this third stage. LET GO & FLOW


 Asanas/ Poses for week 4

Photo 2014-09-23, 7 04 58 PM (1)Shoulderstand/ Salambasana Sarvangasana

Sarva translates as “whole, entire.” Anga means “limb” or “body.” Salamba is support. In this pose we support the whole body upside down in an inverted position.  With the hands placed on the low back we can use the elbows for support, taking some of the pressure off the shoulders and neck. As you learn to invert yourself, we must shoulder our responsibilities. I discussed this concept in August during the Empowered Yoga Handstand Challenge: shouldering your responsibilities. Basically this concept has to  with our ability to support ourselves and set things up responsibly by tuning into the sensations (feedback) from the body and progressing intelligently. In the first week we discussed the roots. Our feet and legs are normally our roots however, in the inversions our feet reach upwards to the sky and the shoulders, head or hands become our roots, which requires we create some stability in the unstable. However sometimes too much support can lead to heaviness rigidity. As you look upwards to your toes stretched to the sky, notice the shift in perspective, somehow the feet look different and new. Become curious and explore with a whole new perspective.

How do I shoulder my responsibilities?

What burdens can I drop?

Where could I benefit from a change of perspective?


Photo 2014-09-23, 7 21 41 PM (1)Headstand/Sirsasana

The execution of headstand has nothing to do with enlightenment UNLESS headstand is practiced with awareness. Increased awareness allows us to become more engaged in the feeling self. We can suspend our incessant nature to judge, label, overthink, second guess and criticize. LET GO & FLOW

Clearly based on the biomechanics of the body we were not meant to stand on our heads. The fear that is present in some for the pose often is a result because the body KNOWS we are not ready yet. Do not rush this pose. When we rush we panic, the body gets scared and then we get lizard brain. When we get lizard brain all of the blood moves into the muscles (fight or flight) and the brain and guts (second brain)  become depleted. This is when we make very irrational and unintelligent decisions fuelled by survival and instinct. The work in this pose is to remain calm and clear by staying in constant dialogue with the feeling self. From here comes the sensation of oneness

Try to understand that most of the time we privilege the cognitive self over the feeling self. So much so that the feeling self can become distant, strange, alienated, untrusted. How often do you absorb yourself in the feeling self alone?” Matthew Remeski

What happens when I look at problems from a different perspective?

Can I stay clear and connected even in the midst of challenge?

Can I maintain my integrity (wholeness) when flipped upside down?

How often do you absorb yourself in the feeling self alone?


Photo 2014-09-23, 7 27 21 PM (1)Feather of the peacock/ Pinchamayurasana

In many traditions the peacock is a symbol of both pride/arrogance as well as grace/beauty. Peacocks don’t fly, the feathers fanout and reach upwards, which in the case of the feather of the peacock it is symbolic of the strong connection with the earth (stability) while at the same time reaching upwards to the heavens. If you have ever witnessed a peacock fan its tail, it is quite a majestic and powerful display. For most this is a difficult pose as there are many structural obstacles to hurdle in order to align the body correctly balancing on the forearms. Because of the difficult nature of the pose there is a tendency to overpower and become ridged and tense. When you are having difficulties with the pose notice if there is any fear of failure and pride associated with it.

What am i motivated by: Ego or heart?

When you are stuck where does your mind go?

What is your internal language when you are struggling to learn something new or master a pose?

What is the difference between Power and Force?


Photo 2014-09-23, 7 30 27 PMHandstand/Ado Mukha Vrksasana

 One of the most coveted poses in modern yoga, at least on social media anyway. In the marketing of yoga there seems to be a correlation between physical capabilities (flexibility and strength) and higher levels of consciousness. There is no enlightenment at the end of this pose. While it looks victorious almost as though you could be engulfed by white light and it may even feel that way for a while, just like everything else the novelty wears off. The reason this pose is so coveted is because its hard. We were not meant to stand on our hands and therefore there are several things the body must do in order to execute this pose. Again the enlightenment comes not as a result of doing a handstand (trust me it won’t change your life) but as a result of the focus, sensitivity, perseverance and patience that is required to perform one. These are the qualities that will change your life.

Where am i spending my energy and unconscious loyalty?

Am I listening?

How am I as a listener when I don’t like what i hear?

What is the rush? Where am I trying to get to? What then?

What am I truly seeking?


Photo 2014-09-23, 6 58 09 PM (1)“Savasana/Corpse Pose

This pose is a complete surrender of all effort. While death is one of the only certainties of life, it is also a great mystery. Man kind has been perplexed by this mystery for centuries and it has inspired many of the religious philosophies and spiritual practices today. What happens when we die? Where if anywhere do we go?

The word faith is often used for times like these, when there is an internal sense of “knowing” that allows you to completely commit and believe in the outcome, rather than just wishing or hoping for it to happen. Faith is living in the present and knowing it will all work out. With hope on the other hand, there is still a seed of doubt.

To die peacefully requires faith. To know that you have done your best in this life. To set a vision for your life and live in alignment with this vision also requires faith. To do a handstand or learn anything new requires faith.

I believe this “internal sense of knowing” is the result of a commitment to the moment.


One of my friends: Jana Roemer offered these insights on Savasana. You can find her on instagram @jana_roemer on on her website at:

Savasana might be one of the most important poses in Yoga Asana. It’s one of the rare places we actually practice Pratyahara :: withdrawaling of our senses (the fifth of the eight limbs).
Savasana translates as corpse pose. The practice for our Ultimate transition from this life to the next.
In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it teaches us of the 9 Stages of Dying. Our body will paralyze & our senses withdrawal one by one with the exception of our sense of hearing. As this is happening we begin to see ourSelves as we truly were in this life beyond ego and delusion. One of the biggest challenges they say we face is our attachments. Our attachments to our body, our stories, our family & friends. To move through the stages of dying, we have to let it all go. IF we can do this during what the Tibetans believe to be 49 days in the Bardo (the land between death & rebirth), we get to choose our rebirth. If we are bound by attachments, at the end of the 49 days, we get thrown into another life based off our Karma).

We spend our entire life preparing for these final moments, whether we realize it or not. Our deepest imprints come alive.

Often under taught, yet equally important is the pose we take right after Savasana :: the Fetal position. This is the pose of rebirth. The first shape we ever take in our mothers womb. A shape, I believe, filled with hope & the imprint of our purpose in this life.

Practice these poses. Teachers: leave time for these poses. We have big work to do here. They require a level of surrender that cannot be found in five minutes or less.


Dissolve into nothingness-Allan Watts


Wings Sequence