Article by Heinz Grill:
One of the most important health effects of the various yoga exercises is to stimulate and increase the entire potential of the so-called energy. This energy usually brings about an overall regeneration and increases both mental as well as physical well-being.
The question arises, however, on closer inspection, as to whether the practitioner’s way of practising encourages a development which is regressive or progressive and whether he or she actually becomes able to add new dimensions to his or her life.
Very often practitioners on the path of yoga pursue a kind of unconscious regression, for example by withdrawing to their body, to the preservation of their well-being, and in a way to a mental state of being protected. The general safety consciousness of our time, which has now become exceedingly obsessive and disadvantageous, convinces people that they can hardly walk on the streets if there is no security camera or emergency doctor.
Following these materialistic ideas, yoga often expresses purely a conservation of human forces. Many people are frightened of taking new steps and of thinking of goals in an expanded scope, and therefore attend a yoga course in the hope of finding some calm and protection within themselves.
However if individuals do not develop their potential, both in a physical and also in a mental sense, they can only become fixed in their own thinking and create limitations in respect of their potential development. Real regeneration and an effective increase in mental and physical resilience cannot occur through these self-limitations and regressive processes of consciousness.
The meaning of “regeneration”
What meaning actually lies in the word “regeneration?” The word originates from the Latin1)Lat. Regeneration = renewal. Today the term regeneration is generally used only according to its biological definition, in the sense of regaining spent forces (recovery) or the ability of an organism to recreate lost or damaged tissues, organs and limbs (Wikipedia). and means that something is reintroduced into the genes anew, that a birth process takes place going beyond the old, that something originates, a new principle, a growth or transmission of power takes place. Only in the technical realm, for example in relation to machines, can an old state be restored; in human beings however it is a case of real new birth processes which describe in their best sense development with progressiveness.
The practice of a yoga asana should always happen with that progressiveness of a new, additional experience and development. The consciousness is expanded on the one hand by carefully observing the body, and on the other hand by transposing a possible idea onto the current physical and emotional condition in the best possible way, and contributing to a process of generation, or in other words to a growth process of the whole horizon of experience. The regenerative meaning of yoga exercises does not lie only in the gymnastic use of various movement-techniques, but quite particularly in the progressive development of an idea whose content is maintained, an idea which is led to a beautiful or apt form in the body. Through active work of consciousness, physical potential is expanded and a kind of birth process is opened up promoting the practitioner’s integrity2)Lat. Integritas = a state of being sound, untouched. The term describes a broad agreement between one’s own ideals and values and actual practice in life. in the sense of positive development issues.
The meaning of the splits
This very challenging position, which receives systematic training in ballet, dance and even in the various martial arts, can also attain a central meaning within a solid yoga practice. Although the exercise is difficult, it can be worked on step by step, in a sequence with preparatory exercises. Even before perfect success is achieved, a form of experience is acquired which gradually underpins the exercise with a deeper meaning. The meaning of the splits, hanumanasana, lies in the autonomous, dynamic movement of the legs themselves, which develops without pressure into the farthest stride on the ground. From the perspective of yoga, the so-called muladhara cakra, also called the root centre, at the lowermost end of the spine, forms the pivotal starting point from which an autonomous dynamic can be brought to flow through the legs.
Hanuman, after whom the position is named, relates to the monkey deity (strange seeming in the West) of Hinduism, who in battle spanned and straddled the ocean with his legs. The picture of the legend nevertheless clarifies the exercise’s meaning of utmost strength and outstanding performance. The practitioner does not sink passively to the floor, slowly giving in to the weight, until the legs have surrendered entirely to the stretch, but rather the legs span, extend and flow out into the farthest limiting points that the movement allows them.
Preparatory exercises for hanumanasana
There are a few exercises that can prepare for the splits in a relatively safe way. All of these preparatory exercises have the feature of being implemented with leg movements that have their own dynamic, without being pulled or receiving pressure from outside.
Lowering one leg towards the floor in the headstand while dynamically stretching the other leg upwards encourages flexibility in the second energy centre, the so-called svadhisthana cakra. Without the pressure of the body weight on the legs and without using the hands to move them further, the practitioner has to activate the leg movement purely concentrically.3)The terms concentric, eccentric and isometric describe the nature of the muscular activity. Concentric muscular work means that the muscle shortens as is contracts and the insertion and origin of the muscle become closer to each other. Eccentric describes a lengthening of the muscle upon contraction, so that insertion and origin become farther apart. In isometric contraction the muscle remains the same length, insertion and origin remain the same distance apart. Sprains or ruptures are not possible with these free movement elements.4)Medically, a sprain means an injury to a ligament or joint capsule. A ruptur describes a tear to a muscle, ligament or tendon.
Next, lying on the back, one leg can be taken with the hand and led systematically further into the stretch over the head – supta trikonasana. The pulling with the hand must be done carefully so that the dynamic can happen autonomously in both legs through the contraction in the pelvis, in other words again in the second centre. It is good if the practitioner guards against pulling too powerfully with the arms. The danger of spraining or rupturing the ligaments and muscles usually only exists when external influences move the muscles without centric activity. The strong tension exerted on the legs by pulling with the hands can count as an external influence. By practising on both sides several times, a strong gathering happens in the second centre and this enables the legs to stretch further as the exercise progresses.
Another exercise, which contains relatively little danger of injury, is the standing splits, the so-called leg position – utthita eka pada hastasana. The practitioner begins in a standing position and takes hold of one foot at the outside, guides this foot upwards until it comes beyond the horizontal plane further and further into the vertical line. The movement itself now starts in the lowest centre, in muladhara cakra. The arm gives the leg guidance while from the lowest centre, in other words from the base of the pelvis, this upwardly directed leg is pushed dynamically upwards.5)The pelvic floor anatomically runs between the pubic bone and the sacrum/coccyx as a double layer of muscle. It forms the lowermost end of the trunk and gives the pelvic organs, and consequently the abdominal organs, stability. The midpoint is the perineum. This force is applied out of a point in the lowest centre. The upper body remains light and upright. The breath always flows freely.
Finally, the exercise which is done directly before the splits is anjaneyasana, the half moon. Once again the practitioner stretches far into the leg dynamic and works above all with an active effort of the back thigh. The centres in this position are muladhara cakra and svadhisthana cakra. The upper body constantly remains light and the breath continues to flow without strain, as light as the air element itself.
The image of hanumanasana
Often pictures of ballet showing the splits are far more aesthetic than many of the demonstrations of the splits in yoga. Is this purely due to the dynamic lightness, made more accessible by dance than by the sometimes rather static yoga? A significant factor could be the breathing, which in dance is chosen to be free and also seems to leave the body freer, ultimately allowing an aesthetic expression in the exercises. Because in yoga exercises the consciousness is often fixed back onto the body with the breath, the body appears much heavier and more physical than it does in its graceful expression in free, joyful, light dance.
To develop an aesthetic picture of the splits that is as free as possible, light and free breathing is always necessary. The practitioner does not use any pranayama techniques in order to be able to stretch the legs more easily, but allows the breath to flow as if in a large space, lightly and without strain. Through the lightness of this flowing breath, an astonishing capacity for perception develops and the practitioner can start the movement in a more concentrated way in one centre, in this case of the splits in muladhara cakra. As the breath becomes free it allows a deeper access to the active forces gathered in the chakras.
The legs stretch widely along the ground out of the base of the pelvic floor as if in the farthest, most dynamic stride. The legs are pushed apart out of a centre. The upper body also stretches upwards and so lightens the body weight. The pelvic floor, which normally bears the pressure of the whole trunk and even, strangely enough – observing it sensitively – of the head, releases its constricting denseness, and now a force can flow out from muladhara cakra horizontally into the legs. As long as the pressing weight loads the pelvic floor, the legs cannot achieve their sovereign, autonomous dynamic in shaping the farthest stride.6)Raised abdominal pressure places a particular load on the pelvic floor. The head also has important anatomical connections to the pelvic floor. The base of the skull corresponds on the plane of the head to the pelvic floor on the plane of the trunk. Along the spine and right down to the coccyx there is a direct bony and also fascial connection. Women in particular often suffer from a weak pelvic floor with consequent symptoms of organ descent, so-called ptosis. Men, on the other hand, sooner tend, with incorrect tension, to become too tight in this area. The upper body is literally lifted up into the air giving the lower limbs the room to move.
Carrying out hanumanasana
Once sufficient preparation has been done and anjaneyasana has been practised several times, one leg is stretched forwards and the other backwards. The hands are used to give solid support on the floor so that the residual body weight does not place a load on the legs. Slowly the ground is approached. Now one arm is raised far up, off-loading the whole upper body with the stretch into the air and freeing the base of the pelvic floor. A dynamic activation takes place up into the middle of the trunk so that the weight can now no longer place a load on the pelvis and legs. While this upwardly directed movement is taking place, with light and free breath, the legs begin to be moved dynamically lengthways until they reach the floor in a solid way. Observing the distribution of tension, the movement develops until the greatest possible tension has built up.
Once the floor has been reached, the dynamic is still maintained in striving upwards and also in pushing the legs out. No stage of practice gets lost in inattentiveness, routine, or passive sitting. As long as the whole body actively works in this extended posture, which starts from muladhara cakra, the ligaments and muscles are integrated in a sensible way and the musculoskeletal system is protected from injury.
The sense of this dynamic, active approach does not in any way lie in passively stretching7)Passive stretching is a popular training approach in which individual muscles or muscle groups are stretched for a period of 20 – 30 seconds statically, in other words without movement. The insertion and origin of the muscles are brought as far apart as possible through adopting a specific position. The muscle then with time gives way through the resulting pull. the legs, but in active movement which gives form and strength to the autonomous muscles of the legs themselves.
The final phase of the exercise should also take place with the greatest attentiveness, maintaining the lightness in the upper body. Slowly the hands support the body again and the legs are pulled out of the exercise, back into their normal position.
Variations on the splits
One of the very beautiful, aesthetic variations of the spilts is the backward bending dynamic into the half moon form. By lifting the body from muladhara cakra in the farthest stretch and arching in manipura cakra, in other words in the middle of the back, into the thoracic spine, an elegant, rounded form is produced, expressing a very beautiful, aesthetic, artistic consciousness. In this position muladhara cakra develops into the highest possible dynamic, which is expressed in the fact that the legs are pushed, through their own activity, even further towards the ground. The central point of the position is exactly at the base of the pelvic floor.
Another variation is the dove in the splits. The thoracic spine is bent far backwards while the hands are kept balancing on the floor. The upper body is literally lifted out and the breath remains free. Now the shin of the back leg is bent up and the heel is guided directly to the backward-facing forehead.
A third variation is developed by bending forwards in the splits. Once again, the practitioner makes themself light, leads the arms right forwards and, without putting pressure on the leg, lowers themself systematically downwards. They keep moving lengthways in this movement until they can finally take both hands around the front foot. This movement should take place carefully and with the greatest attentiveness in order to largely avoid putting pressure on the buttock muscle or on the four-lobed thigh muscle.
It is best with the splits always to practise on both sides to whatever degree is possible. Usually differences in flexibility will be noticeable.
The regenerative effect of the splits
Usually people speak of passive stretching and commonly practise the splits by attempting to make the different sides of the legs supple. According to the instructions given here passive stretching has completely secondary significance, as a great deal of power is set free by developing the autonomous dynamic of the legs (both in concentric and also in eccentric muscle activity) from the lowest energy centre. This power flows into the legs, forming them with strength and suppleness, and also encouraging a thorough shaping of the whole upper body. Practitioners focus their attention mainly at muladhara cakra. The pelvic floor is contracted as if into a point; an experience which then directly enables the next experience of the strong and autonomous gliding apart of the legs. However, so that access to this lowest energy centre can be found with concentration, the upper body must become perfectly light and the breath needs a free, unforced space. The freedom of the upper body ultimately enables the dynamic downwards.
In muladhara cakra there is a high potential of life-ether-force, that is the ether which is rooted most deeply in the body and contains within it some of the greatest capacity for regeneration possible. By becoming free from the pressing weight of the upper body in the exercise, or by guiding the upper body far into the vertical line, thus freeing the lowermost pelvic region, the potential of muladhara cakra can be activated into the legs.
Muladhara cakra is felt as a physical centre out of which the so-called prana forces, or life-ether-forces flow in three directions, and finally even gather again into their centre, as if to a contracting point. Although the body is observed with concentration and attention, practitioners do not become fixed on their muscles but to a certain extent permeate the muscles with the forces of the ether by pushing them into the light and free movement. The legs are pushed out of the centre into the greatest possible stride and at the same time the upper body lifts up like a weightless, airy balloon.
Strength and detachment, streaming through and leaving free, these create the almost sovereign expression of hanumanasana. Etheric forces can best unfold their regenerating action when during an activity there is a centrifugal streaming through the limbs, and with this these limbs glide out into the movement, completely free from external influences. The regeneration does not only apply to the tissues of the legs, the muscles of the pelvic floor and lower back, but it applies above all to the whole lymph flow, and de-congests the whole body in a magnificent way.
In any zones of the body where fluid and lymph congestion occurs, the etheric forces can no longer flow adequately and with time it becomes impossible for the tissues to be permeated and formed . Through the strong centrifugal dynamic which the muladhara cakra possesses, and which now comes into play in the splits through a conscious and co-ordinated activity, the strong flow of prana develops and organises the active metabolic processes, so that congestion is dissolved and healthy formative forces, along with permeation of the fluid organism, come into effect.
Lastly, the centrifugal, strong dynamic of the life-ether or prana-flow from muladhara cakra, is extremely effective in relieving the nervous system. The nervous system carries the processes of perception and keeps the consciousness in a healthy state of alertness. The many processes of exhaustion, which these days generally weigh down the nervous system and tire the mental stamina of the human being, find a counter-balancing pole in the active streaming of the forces of muladhara cakra. It is a generally known fact that sport and sporting activity challenge the body and give a certain counterbalance to the overtaxed and overloaded intellect. Through activating the force-potential in muladhara cakra a very pure use of strength is trained even more than in sport, and this counteracts intellectualism with a kind of opposite pole.
Strength and perception are opposites, which however must complement each other in reciprocal actions. Every perception demands quite a lot of energy from a person and all thinking must activate processes in the metabolism involving sugar and even protein. Through a highly dynamic use of strength in the splits, the metabolic functions in the body are centred and that is a significant, physical and high activity. It has the consequence of relieving the perceptive and thinking processes.
Through the splits, a force is trained in muladhara cakra in a focused way. This is the life-ether force or the most deeply rooted energy potential, the so-called deep prana of the human being. At the same time, this exercise demands oversight, awareness and solid work of mental picturing to avoid injury through non-physiological or inattentive practice. By working at the splits in this way and tackling the idea of the different regions of tension, new experiences develop which also awaken a regenerative potential in the personality.
|⇑1||Lat. Regeneration = renewal. Today the term regeneration is generally used only according to its biological definition, in the sense of regaining spent forces (recovery) or the ability of an organism to recreate lost or damaged tissues, organs and limbs (Wikipedia).|
|⇑2||Lat. Integritas = a state of being sound, untouched. The term describes a broad agreement between one’s own ideals and values and actual practice in life.|
|⇑3||The terms concentric, eccentric and isometric describe the nature of the muscular activity. Concentric muscular work means that the muscle shortens as is contracts and the insertion and origin of the muscle become closer to each other. Eccentric describes a lengthening of the muscle upon contraction, so that insertion and origin become farther apart.|
|⇑4||Medically, a sprain means an injury to a ligament or joint capsule. A ruptur describes a tear to a muscle, ligament or tendon.|
|⇑5||The pelvic floor anatomically runs between the pubic bone and the sacrum/coccyx as a double layer of muscle. It forms the lowermost end of the trunk and gives the pelvic organs, and consequently the abdominal organs, stability. The midpoint is the perineum.|
|⇑6||Raised abdominal pressure places a particular load on the pelvic floor. The head also has important anatomical connections to the pelvic floor. The base of the skull corresponds on the plane of the head to the pelvic floor on the plane of the trunk. Along the spine and right down to the coccyx there is a direct bony and also fascial connection. Women in particular often suffer from a weak pelvic floor with consequent symptoms of organ descent, so-called ptosis. Men, on the other hand, sooner tend, with incorrect tension, to become too tight in this area.|
|⇑7||Passive stretching is a popular training approach in which individual muscles or muscle groups are stretched for a period of 20 – 30 seconds statically, in other words without movement. The insertion and origin of the muscles are brought as far apart as possible through adopting a specific position. The muscle then with time gives way through the resulting pull.|