Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
Yoga as Self-Transformation (Page 5)
Joel Kramer Yoga Journal May/June 1980
Lines of Energy
In addition to breath and playing your edges, there is a third dimension to physical yoga. This dimension involves channeling energy to different parts of the body by creating what I call "lines of energy." These lines of energy are vibratory currents that move in different directions within each posture. Descriptions of internal states are approximations at best. Even the word "energy," when it is used to signify an inward level of activation, may seem vague. Yet we are aware of having more or less energy. If you pay attention, you may notice that some parts of the body seem alive and vital, while others feel dead and blocked. You may also notice subtle currents moving in the body. This should not be surprising since the body has a hydraulic (circulatory) and an electrical (nervous) system.
Most of the stretching done in postures primarily involves muscles and tendons. But there is another kind of stretching that I call "stretching in the nerves." Here you use the muscles to stretch the nerves, creating an energy flow, instead of to gain extension in the posture. The focus is on creating an internal current in the nerves that can be felt and intensified. The intensity of this current in the nerves can be controlled by the muscles and has a vibratory feeling, usually moving in an outward direction. For example, you can create an internal line of energy by holding your arm parallel to the floor and stretching it outward. This brings a vibration that moves from the shoulder out the arm, through the fingers. Each posture has its own lines of energy which can be created at different stages in the posture, and which complement one another and work together to involve the body as a whole.
These lines of energy affect your yoga in several ways by:
- increasing energy within the posture,
- toning and relaxing the nervous system,
- decreasing the likelihood of injury through over extension of muscular stretch,
- increasing strength and endurance in postures, and
- internally aligning the body in the pose.
Concern for proper alignment in a posture is important; however, many people exclusively use external methods to get aligned - such as having another person, who hopefully knows alignment. adjust their body, or trying to approximate a picture or ideal of a completed pose. External methods are useful at times, but I feel it is only when alignment is done internally, by the body's own intelligence, that a posture is truly "understood."
In the Triangle pose, the arrows in figure one mark the direction of five lines of energy. Strengthening the flow of the current along each of the linesTriangle Pose - Lines of Energy automatically aligns the body from the inside. When the posture is properly aligned, the currents of energy flow more freely. This can be felt. These lines of energy break through blocks in the body without "forcing" the posture and ultimately give greater extension.
If in the Triangle, you emphasize the line from shoulder through the raised arm to the finger tips, it opens the chest and aligns the pelvis. The back leg line moves from the hip down the leg into the outside of the foot, raising the arch. This line also aligns the pelvis and frees the hip. The front leg line moves from the buttock down the leg to the foot, aligning the front knee in a plane with the pelvis. The line moving up the spine outward elongates the spine, giving it room to move. This also unlocks the hip and works in opposition to the back leg line. The fifth line, from the shoulder down to the fingertips of the lower arm, helps keep the shoulders in the same plane as the pelvis, and also helps move the posture to greater depth.
These lines are actually moving the energy in five directions and creating different oppositions of musculature. Using muscle sets in opposition can allow you to separate different parts of the body (and in other postures, even vertebrae of the spine) from each other, creating control, extension, energy and release. It is learning to create and channel lines of energy that makes this possible.
In figure 2 the extension is much less than figure 1. Assume this is the place of firstLines of Energy resistance--the first edge. By deepening your breath and consciously increasing the five lines in the posture, you are doing what I call "stretching within the pose" or "nerve-stretching,'' instead of muscle-stretching, which is reaching for greater extension. This aligns the body throughout the pose, helping you let go of initial resistance, and allows the body to draw you in more deeply.
There are three basic kinds of "levers" or forces that help move the muscles:
- external levers (floor, wall, and other objects),
- body-on-body levers (where one part of the body moves another), and
- internal levers (where the muscles learn to lever themselves without external aid).
External levers are the easiest to use and internal levers are the hardest to learn. But it is important whenever possible to use internal levers, since they teach you how to move yourself from the inside. This builds sensitivity in the tissue and also gives the kind of control necessary to deepen your yoga. It is easiest to injure yourself using external levers because you are applying force to the body from the outside. Body-on-body levers also exert force from the outside, but allow more sensitivity to feedback. It is hard to injure yourself using internal levers because it's difficult for the body to push itself beyond its limits from the inside. All internal levers depend on lines of energy to work properly. (However, not all lines of energy are internal levers.) Learning how to use these levers opens yet another dimension in yoga.
Understanding the Posture
I have found that a more important framework than mentally aiming to "get" the final pose, is "understanding how the posture works." When attention and focus, edge-playing, levers, and lines of energy interweave so that these seemingly disparate elements become one, then you understand how the posture works. Understanding a posture is not just knowing with your mind how to place the body. The understanding comes when the muscles and nerves, and even the cells themselves, "know" how to work the posture.
There are many different ways of using breath, edges, lines of energy, alignment and levers in combination and separately. For example, you can focus on deepening and lengthening breath at the first edge; when breathing becomes regular, change your focus to creating one line of energy.
As soon as the body holds this in a relaxed way, you can add a second line of energy. You could also let go of one energy line and turn your attention to a different line. Another technically more difficult way of approaching the same posture is slowly to create and intensify all the lines of energy at once, using breath to control the intensity. Lines of energy bring what I call a dynamic relaxation to the muscles, for although the nerves are generating a current of energy, the muscles let go and eventually move to greater extension. When you understand how the posture works and follow where the energy of the body leads you, often you find that what you think is a completed pose has further extensions and possible variations.