Sometimes in life we find ourselves holding on to things. "Things" can take on many forms, from the gross (keeping mementos, clothes, cards, etc., even think of the modern-day phenomena of the storage facilities where we can pay to store all the stuff that no longer fits in our homes) to the subtle; think of the memories, emotions, attitudes that we can't seem to shed even though we know they don't serve us.
The journey of yoga addresses this stuff. How? There are many ways actually, but I'd like to focus specifically on the energy of Apana. Yoga physiology identifies vayus - these are subsets of the Vata dosha that act as animating forces in our body - of which there are five. Apana is in the lower torso and it is the descending force whose function is elimination.
What does elimination look like (not literally!)? Think about what is "eliminated" through the pelvis - stool, urine, menstrual blood, ejaculate, parturition (child birth) are examples. Perspiration is also related to Apana as the body is eliminating toxins this way. On a mental level elimination is related to the oft-heard "letting-go". When we "let go", when we "release", when we "surrender", these are all functions of Apana. And they are so helpful and large part of the yoga journey.
Many of us, as a result of our busy modern lives, suffer from depleted or imbalanced Apana Vayu and Prana Vayu (the revitalizing, regenerating force). Think of the number of us who have constipation issues, menstruation issues, heck they've even come up with a "disease" called erectile-dysfunction to address erection issues. Now think about the mental level. How many of us struggle with one of the biggest aspects of "letting go" which is forgiveness? We tend to hold on to things to a point where they eat away at us. But we don't have to. When the animating force of Apana is working both the physical and mental aspects of elimination balance themselves out. Like all things in yoga this takes time and practice.
So what techniques help to address Apana? Most of us understand yoga poses well enough, so think about forward folds; when the torso is brought towards the thighs the pressure in the lower torso affects Apana. Poses related to the pelvic region, be it wide-legged folds (Upavista Konasana is an example), squatting poses ( think of Malasana), poses where the thighs are squeezed inward (Garudasana is a great example), poses where the hips are opened deeply (Baddha Konasana is classic), and all strong standing poses draw energy up the legs into the pelvic floor. So there are many poses that affect Apana. But that is not to say that doing these poses alone will address Apana-related issues if you are not doing your practice in a manner to facilitate this.
How should you practice then?
- Work with a breath ration of 1:2 (inhale:exhale). The longer exhalations plug right into Apana.
- Use kriyas (visualizing the movement of energy) that draw awareness into the pelvis. A good example is to inhale awareness down the spine (multiple of one) and exhale awareness into the pelvis (multiple of two).
- Bandhas, or energy locks, are very helpful. Bandhas should not be done with tremendous force. Mula Bandha is like a refined Kegel, or men can think of the physical process of stopping the flow of urine. Engage a lifting of the perineum muscles in a refined manner. For Uddiyana Bandha the abdominal wall draws back on the exhalation and then a retention is engaged and the organs drawn back and up, creating a hollowed belly.
- Agni Sara is a pumping action of the abdomen that activates both Mula and Uddiyana Bandha as it's done.
- Use a releasing meditation where the inhalation draws consciousness down the pathway of the spine, allow for a short pause at the root, then see the energy releasing into the Earth - releasing mental and physical toxins. Do this for 10 repetitions then simply rest your awareness at the stillness of the pelvic floor feeling the grounding and centeredness the techniques unfolds.
These are all options to explore.
The more we can activate the force of Apana the more healing we will realize from our practice. If you would like additional information don't hesitate to drop me a line. You can also check out my on-line stability class which has many Apana enhancing aspects.