The Deep Life Force of the Legs
As yogis, we engage upaya or skillful action along with prajna or wisdom through asana, pranayama, and meditation to cultivate resilience in the pranic body, emotional body, and mind. Our yoga practice could be viewed as a dance seeking a point when we are aligned with gravity and all forces on our lives, the vital channels of the body open and flowing optimally. At this point natural stillness or peace arises. We turn our gaze to our inner biorhythms, tracking our life force and thus adapting our practice to nourish and sustain. The experience of practice can be simply engaging a technique while observing its effect; successful practice being one that nourishes and brings greater ease.
In asana practice we begin by getting grounded; establishing tone and stability in the feet and legs through standing poses. The feet and legs receive the energy of the earth and if well aligned with gravity, the energetic channels from the feet to the skull remain open and clear. "Sthirum sukham asanam" is an often quoted sutra, one of only two Patanjali wrote about the practice of asana. The word sthira means to be steady and contains within it the word asthi meaning bone. Sukham literally means "a good space", and when the bones are aligned without undue force, the marrow of the bone receives its vital circulation. The marrow of the bones is where life is formed in its rawest state in the form of red blood cells.
Blood is the tissue we work with most intimately in yoga, as good circulation is the key to vitality. Blood is connective tissue, our most vital fluid, and can be viewed as straddling body, mind, and emotions. We have all experienced the change in circulation when anger, fear, or embarassment arise. As we age (around 35 or 40) circulation starts to break down and practices that refresh circulation become essential. Blood circulation in the legs is primary through the inseams, with the femoral arteries and veins connecting the legs and pelvis. By toning the inner legs with standing poses, and stretching the inner legs with supine and inverted poses the circulation is supported. The arches and inner legs are facially continuous with the pelvic floor and psoas muscles which provide a support network for the organ body~specifically the kidneys, liver, and spleen. These are vital blood-filled organs considered yin in the Chinese system for their deeply nourishing capacity. The liver and kidney meridians trace the inseams up into the organ body. Additionally, the vital nadis of the femoral nerve and lymph supply all transit the seam of the inner leg and groins. Often due to fatigue, stress, or habitual contraction, these lower regions erode causing collapse in the inner arches, knee pain, prolapse of the pelvic and abdominal organs. Inhibition is also common in the inner leg region, causing a lack of energetic circulation. While toning and stretching the inner leg channels is essential, we must also release the binding that happens on the outer legs and back of the pelvis. These muscles groups are our prime movers, propelling us through life and tend to be habitually tight.
In asana practice we harness or draw the inner legs upwards, while releasing restriction around the outer legs.
Sequence poses that access the channel of the inner leg with those that release the lateral leg and hip. Practice trikonasana, parsvakonasana, and ardha chandrasana daily with emphasis on lifting the inner arches of the feet, the inner knees, and external rotation of the femurs to access the inner thigh area. These poses also open the front of the pelvis and widen the belly, increasing blood and lymph flow. In trikonasana and parsvakonasana the outer back leg receives a powerful stretch, releasing patterns of habitual gripping. Anantansana or Vishnu's couch is a challenging supine pose which brings deep opening to the inner legs and informs the alignment of trikonasana. Work this pose with the sole of the bottom foot to a wall or with a partner supporting the back body and top foot. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog) or tadasana practiced with a block to the inner legs directly energizes the inner seams. To restore the body when fatigued practice poses to passively open the inner legs such as supta baddha konasana, supta padmasana, and inverted poses with the legs wide. This directly encourages blood flow through the feet, legs, and pelvis back to the abdomen, heart and brain.
To unbind the outer legs offer parsvottanasana, parivrtta trikonasana and parsva supta padangusthasana, accessing the muscles of the lateral leg and gluteal muscles.
The disciplines of yoga foster alignment in the body and mind to support our life force and ultimately lead to greater freedom. Through this skillful discipline combined with observation and acceptance of the fluxing of our vitality we touch the wonder of our own inner light, which is yoga.