On Practice & Teaching
Groundedness & Spaciousness
When casually standing or sitting, the tendency is to connect passively with the earth. The effect is that the body collapses into itself, each joint compressing as the body slumps and sags. But the moment you consciously root down into whatever is on the floor, the immediate effect is creation of space in the body. Referred to as the “rebounce effect” by Dona Holleman (1999, 26), this relationship between roots and extension is an expression of the “normal force” explained by Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
To the extent that you apply effort through intentional muscular action—for example, pressing down more firmly through your feet and into the floor when standing—the “equal and opposite reaction” of energy drawing up the body occurs. Emphasizing the application of consciousness in the discovery of foundational elements in each asana, yoga teacher Chuck Miller has referred to this as the intention of seeking the origin of every action.
In rooting down we naturally stimulate muscular engagement and manifest space through the joints, particularly through the spine, creating the foundation of structural stability and ease that is increasingly important as students move into more and more advanced asanas. The specific point or points vary in the different asanas, but the practice of establishing and exploring from the basis of this foundation is consistent throughout all the asanas.
While maintaining this initial foundation, students can find further stability and ease in asanas by consciously applying what Joel Kramer (1980, 19) coined as “lines of energy.” Bringing conscious effort to the radiation of neuromuscular effort (or “current,” in Kramer’s terms) through the body creates lines of energy. By radiating out from the core to the periphery, these lines of energy expand your body from the inside out in every direction, creating spaciousness while maintaining the stability that is created by drawing the body’s muscular support system to the skeletal structure.
Consciously running lines of energy through the body is a way of accentuating the principle of roots and extension. This technique can be variously applied by students in exploring the level of intensity that is appropriate in their personal practice, listening to the body-breath-mind for feedback that suggests when, where, and how intensely to move energy through their body.
Remind students that it is not important how far they go in an asana; rather, keep them focused on how they go, cultivating steadiness and ease as they explore the relative intensity of asanas that are simultaneously grounded and expansive.
Mailing: Mark Stephens,
c/o Santa Cruz Yoga, 402 Ingalls St., #11
Santa Cruz, CA 95060