You’re about to learn more about your “pelvic floor” than you thought was possible or maybe even what a “pelvic floor” is and how squeezing your anus can change your life. Or at least, your pelvic floor. Irresistible title, I know.
Not long ago, In October of 2015, I wrote “Ashtanga Yoga – A primer” passing on my introductory knowledge of Ashtanga derived from two classes which consisted of the advice of “skip class and have a friend hit you in the stomach with a shovel.” Ashtanga a primer Imbued with this new found knowledge my logical thought was, “I should go to a class every week after the holly days.” (Not very smart, I know)
A slightly more elucidating description of Ashtanga is “This form of yoga is intensely physical and athletic. Ashtanga yogis practice a prescribed set of asanas, channel energy through the body using bandhas (locks), and concentrate on singular points using drishti (gaze) in asanas.” (An asana is a pose or movement running from the easiest of, “bend over and touch your toes” (or the floor or put your palms on the floor and bend your elbows out) to a more complicated form of twister where you fashion yourself into a pretzel and look at parts of your body you’ve never seen before. Like this.
You don’t even want to know how to get into this. In one class, a girl said someone should clone a life alert bracelet into a yoga alert bracelet – “help, I fell into this pose and I can’t get out Just for the record, I can not do this now, nor ever imagine it happening.
After happily surviving NOT passing out the first two classes in January I follow my plan of regular weekly attendance when I see that internationally know Ashtanga Yoga teacher, is coming to the studio to do 10 1/ hours of instruction on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday in April, and I look at the individual classes with a la Carte pricing, and one fixed fee for the whole shebang, including waterboarding and I think, “YEAH, that’s me”!!! (Again, not smart. If you’re a regular reader you know good judgement is not my hallmark. Although, Senator Bob Packwood did say, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment )
Today is Sunday and I have survived, however, I am using my last functional appendage, one hand, to type this message. By Friday morning, two days ago, I am anticipating the start of the first class Friday night with a mixture of fear and excitement. Or terror. Or dread. However, Friday was pretty much a 2 1/2 hour lecture practice on paranyama (breathing) and bandhas, (locks) (Hold on, we’re almost to the squeeze your anus part)
First breathing. Ashtanga uses a from of breathing called Ujayi (pronounced “ooo jay) in which “…Ujjayi (translated as “victorious”) breathing should be both energizing and relaxing. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali suggests that the breath should be both dirga (long) and suksma (smooth). The sound of Ujjayi is created by gently constricting the opening of the throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. Gently pulling the breath in on inhalation and gently pushing the breath out on exhalation against this resistance creates a well-modulated and soothing sound—something like the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out.” Ujjayi Breath. More simply, open your mouth an exhale as if you were fogging a mirror. Now, close your mouth and exhale, keeping the same restriction in your throat. MOST simply, I call this Darth Vader breath. Breathing through your nose with Mouth closed, do your best impression of Darth Vader breathing, this is Ujjayi breath. (Now, try to breath this way for an hour- Bahahahahahaha)
Ah, finally bandhas. Mula Bandha. “Squeeze your anus”, he says. “Huh?” This is probably not an exact transcription of what what he said but here goes at the very bottom of the bowl of your pelvis, you have a network of muscles attaching front to back and side to side like a warm apple pie’s top lattice Crust, nicely browned and perfectly weaved. (Ok, he didn’t say the pie part, but I was hungry ). The muscle part was true though (kinda)
and by contacting these muscles, you help to lift your internal organs from crushing each other and eventually, bring peace to the Middle East. Or maybe kill your craving for Cocoa Puffs. To do this, squeeze your anus. Then while doing that, contract the muscles you need to stop. Urinating mid stream. Now, you may be laughing, and you may be trying to squeeze your anus right now but if you’re trying to do both, when I tell you to hold this for the next hour, you’ll stop laughing. However, when he said this eventually reverses something of the natural incontinent type symptoms which advancing age brings, I though, “hell yeah, I’m in!!!). However, he did point out that your supposed to keep these muscles permanently locked (meaning squeeze your anus 24 hours a day) unless, you’re using the bathroom, giving birth, menstruating, or drinking tequila with a stripped named Mercedes in Guadalajara. I’m pretty sure I squeezed my anus once for 24 hours in college and it made me want to vote republican.
Clearly, I’ve summarized the 2 hours and thirty minutes but suffice it to say that by the end, I was thinking the last time I put so much focus on Darth Vader breathing and squeezing my anus was when my freshman dorm mate Pat and I double dated the two sorority girls to USC homecoming in 1975. Lesson learned, “remember where you park your car anytime your”re parking with 40,000 other cars- it’s a loong wait till the parking lot is empty and you can see it. Which equally applies to squeezing your anus for an hour)
My greatest fear the last seven years of yoga was being in a completely packed yoga room, mats only inches apart, 7-8 yogis in a row and I lose my balance falling over into the hot chick next to me creating a human yogis dominoes effect. I escaped that fear for 7 years. Until today. While the entire row didn’t fall over, I took her out like a linebacker sacking the quarterback in the playoffs.
On the positive side, she we very gracious about it, the class got some much needed comic relief (who doesn’t like being laughed at by 50 people?) and I lived. Reminder lesson, even when our greatest fear comes true, it’s not as bad as we have catastrophized.
My best moment? Yesterday morning, we’re over an hour in where we’re trying to do several of the harder poses in the middle of the sequence and I’m not even close to doing it right and looking around the room, literally dripping sweat all over my mat, and thinking, just as a matter of observation, that I have clearly the absolute WORST form of anyone in the class, and he comes over, taps my foot and says “good job). I only made it 6 1/2 hours of the 10.5 for the weekend, but hooray for me.
As I was leaving today, the studio owner goddess guru sweetheart asked if I was coming back for the last two hours, called “Do WHAT with my leg”, in which hip openers are offered to allow you to put your feet behind your head while sitting up. “No,” I said, “I have Chik Fil A hips, they’re closed on Sunday’s.”