There’s an article in today’s Science Times about kidneys that we may find interesting from a yogic point of view. The kidneys filter impurities from the blood, impurities which are then eliminated. Yoga itself is a purgatory or purifying movement and practice. So we do yoga to purify, eliminate toxins physical, mental and even spiritual.
The kidneys have a powerful role in our health and wellbeing and even our beauty. I have a friend who got a kidney transplant and when i saw him afterward i did not recognize him. I thought, “This must be the younger brother who donated the kidney.” because he looked so young and so well. But it turned out that this was my friend, and i didnt recognize him because he looked so much better with a new kidney! And I gained a new respect for the importance of healthy kidneys. Luckily for us, Hatha Yoga asanas have a salutary effect on the endocrine system, the glands of the body, including the kidneys. With yoga we palpate the glands, massage them through our bodily motions
I have chest cold today because I had to do my own filtering job over the weekend. My mother is moving from her home of 40 years and I was asked to go through the books, dusty books we have been carrying around for a couple of generations, and sort through what should be kept, what should be given away or recycled and what should be thrown out. I was asked to do this because it was decided that of all the family members I was the one who was the most ‘ruthless and unsentimental’. And I was proud to be considered ruthless and unsentimental! Because this is a skill and a quality we acquire through the practice of yoga.
We get to be ruthless with our own self, our wonderful story and our personal history and our attachments – our ego, what some Buddhists call “self-cherishing.” It seems that letting go, renouncing and discarding, is a core theme in yogic texts such as the Upanishads. There’s the famous statement in the Isha Upanishad (also in the Yajur Veda) saying, “Tena Tyaktena Bhunjitah” Meaning: Renounce and enjoy! The idea is that true joy in the world is possible only insofar as one is able to let go. It reminds me of what the poet Wm. Blake wrote: “He who binds to himself a joy/does the winged life destroy. /But he who kisses the joy as it flies/lives in Eternity’s sunrise.”
So what we’ll concentrate on is that aspect of yoga which is the skill of relinquishing. Our culture is of course very focused on acquisition, and the ability to acquire and grasp is wonderful but we also need to cultivate the power, the skill, to let go and to relinquish, even to eliminate. And if we don’t have that, we build up toxins physical and emotional. And we become miserable.
There’s a type of muscular contraction called “eccentric” which means the controlled release from concentric contraction. This is like when we take the barbell and contract the bicep, bending the elbow to lift the barbell to the shoulder. The release back down is the “eccentric” contraction, the muscle actively lengthening to release and apparently most injury comes from letting that phase of the movement be uncontrolled. An uncontrolled eccentric contraction can injure the joint. It is wise to practice letting go smoothly.
So much of our practice of yoga asana is training the body in a vocabulary of alignment and in movements of release, showing the body how to let go gracefully.
As we now breathe in, draw the prana in, we filter it through our awareness. Here’s what I do – I filter the prana, the breath, through the awareness of Love: the feeling of love, the image of love, the word love, the image of the beloved that I’ve chosen – you can change it and choose the way that suits you – filtering your prana through the purifying awareness of Love. The best thing to do is to take our tendencies of clinging for dear life,take our resistance to letting go, and apply them to our God, our Higher Power. Focus, hold fast, to the Beloved. And you will feel the confidence to release other attachments.
I know it sounds a bit corny, but perhaps history’s greatest “Jnana yogi” the yogi who taught the rational, intellect-oriented yoga of knowledge was Shakaracharya, who said: “Of all the instruments of emancipation, Love is supreme.”
So we know, nothing gets out stubborn stains like love. Hey, it’s almost a sin how easy it is to brighten and cleanse the subtle body by infusing it with love! So that’s what we are going to do – filter our prana through feelings of love. First we are going to breathe out and hold the breath out, keep the diaphragm lifted. That is a concentric contraction of the diaphragm muscle. As we hold the breath out, the breath really starts to get our attention, all the scattered threads of consciousness start to draw home to the inner being. Then we are going gratefully and gradually to relax the diaphragm and inhale – in a long ‘eccentric contraction’ of the diaphragm – letting go, relaxing, to receive. Let the inhalation come in with love – I do.
Next, we hold the inhalation in – this is a pranayama technique called “kumbhak,” a kind of breath retention.
Ruthless and Unsentimental – you will get that way in a moment when nothing else matters but the breath – okay – release it and let go of every thing now.
As we focus like this on the prana we are sharpening the sword of discernment, known as ‘viveka’ in Sanskrit.We’re taking our attention and holding it to the subtle edge of the prana moving in and out. That way we can use that serene and sharp edged consciousness to cut through our attachments without so much pain. You know, severing something with a blunt blade has got to be more messy and painful that to do so with a razor sharp instrument. We are making our awareness razor sharp, honing it with the blade of the breath; the spine of your body is the sharpening stone. With a keen edged consciousness we can more easily detach and let go.
Another pranayama that purifies is the “nadi shuddhi,” which is alternate nostril breathing. Shuddhi means purity and the word nadi refers to the subtle channels of the pranic sheath, and there are 72,000 of them! Lots of sweeping of those paths to be done. Lots of purification to do!
For the rest of your life, sweep the paths of the nadis with love, surrender, let go, release and enjoy.