Writing& Model: Chrisandra Fox
Photography: Faern, Faernworks.com
The Divine Shakti, celebrated as the life force behind all manifestation, animates the whole universe just as the vital force (prana) sustains the body through all of its [life] phases and flows most powerfully from the heart to the crown of the head.
[sage Ramakantha, commenting on Kalottara Tantra, c. 8th century – trans. Christopher Tompkins]
Yogic study and practice weaves the story of our human lives within the greater context of the story of the universe. The individual microcosm of practice allows us to embody and experience a larger macrocosmic concept.
In the Tantric universe, Shakti is associated with the macrocosmic intelligent feminine power that animates all creation and is inherent in all creative potential. Shakti unifies and empowers the universe into its many unique limited forms.
Traditional hatha yoga, the “forceful union method” gives systematic guidelines for awakening Kundalini Shakti, the microcosmic creative energy and spiritual potential inherent in each individual. This “serpentine power”, coiled three and a half times, sleeps at the base of the spine until She is aroused and inspired to journey along Sushumna Nadi, the central channel of the spine, to meet her beloved.
Upon reaching the crown, Shakti, feminine principle of creation, unites with Siva, pure consciousness. Meanwhile, the bindings of the chakras, or energy plexuses along the “Supreme Highway” are pierced, releasing and rewriting old patterns of thought, emotion, mind and matter and bringing forth an integration of the masculine and the feminine, and the opposites inherent in duality.
The ancient texts describe this beautiful process of spiritual unfolding and give simple, yet comprehensive practices to awaken Kundalini Shakti primarily using pranayama (regulation of breath), bandha (the valves or “bindings” to efficiently regulate the flow of prana), asana (mostly seated positions), mudra (seals) and sometimes mantra, after sincere preparations through diet and purification are made under the guidance of a teacher.
This month’s column offers a pose that can give of a taste of awakening the energy, heart-opening and deep surrender that is associated with Kundalini Shakti. Scorpion Pose requires steady concentration of body and mind, internal support of the breath and deep yielding of spinal movement to the pulse of energy that circulates from root to crown on the waves, crests and peaks of prana.
Scorpion combines deep spinal extension with an inverted arm balance. You may want to practice this pose with a teacher or yogi friend. Shakti manifests in many ways – this short sequence provides several poses to work with so that you may begin to experience the heart-warming waves of prana shakti, or your own life energy. May they lead you to the bliss of realizing the all-pervading, cosmic embrace of Mama Shakti.
Begin your practice with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar, Virabhadrasana I, and Utkatasana to warm up. Cultivate a steady rhythm of breath and movement to prepare your body for the quiet strength in stillness you will find in Scorpion.
Next, you’ll open your hip flexors with a lunge at the wall.
Place a folded blanket at the wall and kneel so that your back faces the wall. Place your right knee into the wall joint, weight resting on the fleshy part of your thigh above your kneecap. Rest your shin against the wall with your toes pointed up. Step your left foot forward, stack your knee above your ankle. Place your hands on your left thigh and press your right shin strongly against the wall for a few breaths.
Cultivate a feeling of curiosity and even friendliness as you observe the sensations in your hips and thighs. You’ll want to remember this quality of friendly detachment in the intensity of Scorpion.
Then, bring your pelvis back to the wall so that your right foot rests just to the outside of your right hip. You’ll feel a deeper stretch in your quadriceps. From here, you can raise your arms up overhead, turning your hands to face the wall. Notice the pauses in your breath. Can you lift and engage the muscles of your pelvic floor and tone the space behind your navel as you exhale, balancing the rhythm of dynamic energy in your body and internal stability?
Bend your right knee more deeply toward and beyond your right toes. Sink your pelvis toward the floor, bend your elbows toward 90° and walk your hands down the wall. Turn your palms to face the wall and draw your inner elbows in. Coil your spine into the backbend. Bring your head back, and deepen the base of your sacrum toward your front body. Keep a rhythm of support and surrender – work your arms strongly, engage the deepest layers of your abdominal muscles and feel a sense of lift through your pelvic floor, all while softening your eyes, your inner ears and to the steady flow of your breath.
Inhale slowly, rise up.
Step back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog Pose) to restore your sense of equanimity. Then, practice on the second side.
Lie down on your belly. Bring your elbows beneath your shoulders with your hands in the line of your elbows and lift your chest up so that weight is resting on your forearms. Press your fingerpads against the floor and lightly “drag” your forearm flesh toward your torso without moving your arms. Draw your upper arms back and your shoulder blades more deeply into your back ribs. Press the tops of your feet into the floor.
Cultivate breath in your heart space. As you stabilize your arms, can you begin to coil your back ribs toward your front body? Feel the deepening of your upper thoracic spine toward your front body.
Now you are ready for Scorpion. Place your sticky mat perpendicular to the wall. Kneel on all fours facing the wall and lower your forearms to the floor so that your hands are somewhere between a hand’s width to a foot from the wall (experiment to find the right distance for you). Rest your forearms shoulder-width apart.
Curl your toes under and press your thighs back to Dolphin Pose.
Anchor the lower points of your shoulder blades toward your hips. Guide the weight of your forearms into the flesh between your thumb and index finger.
Lift your head and set your drishti (gaze) toward the tip of your nose or to a point on the floor just beyond your hands.
Inhale, lift one leg up. You can bend the other leg and kick up to Pinchamayurasana (Feathered Peacock Pose or Forearm Balance). Bring your heels to the wall and press the soles of your feet up. Release the sides of your neck so that the crown of your head faces the floor. Draw your legs in towards the midline of your body, lift your heels up, engage your abdominals and navel center.
Then, deepen the shoulder blades on your back ribs and lift your head, return a soft and steady gaze toward the floor to help create a sense of “grounding” in body and mind.
From here, bend both knees and press your feet against the wall. Press the top of one foot against the wall, pointing your toes toward the floor. This will draw your spine into a deeper backbend, so keep your upper arms pressing back, as in Sphinx. Lightly drag your finger pads against the floor to keep good balanced action in your arms.
With steadiness in your shoulders, deepen your breath in your upper body, widen your chest and heart space. Press the top of the other foot against the wall. Work both feet strongly into the wall as you lengthen your tail toward the backs of your knees.
Slow your breath, allow it to deepen and draw the energy in your limbs toward your spine, as though you are creating a cord of pranic power in the central channel of your spine to help support your body in the pose.
This may be enough, and, if so, enjoy a few more breaths before releasing your feet. You’ll walk them back up the wall, then lower one or both feet to the floor. Rest in Balasana, Child’s Pose.
If you are steady and ready for more, hug your upper arm bones back and deepen the extension of your spine by melting your heart space lightly between your arms, move the wind of prana into your chest. Walk your feet down the wall. On steady, balanced arms, lift and spread the wings of your sternum, deepen your sacrum. Draw your navel toward your spine to stabilize your sacrum.
Coil your spine more deeply into the backbend, lift your head up, bend your knees more deeply and allow your feet to gently strike your crown, uniting Kundalini Shakti with her beloved.
When the feet rest upon the head, maintain the steadiness in your breath and your gaze, remembering the sacred toning at your navel center and the upward pulsations of pelvic floor energy toward your crown. Soften your eyes, your inner ears and the corners of your mouth. Allow the quality of friendliness in as you ride the waves of your breath with sweet humility.
To release the pose, engage your abdominals and spinal muscles to lift your legs back up, uncoil your spine and slowly release your feet to the floor.
Rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose) or Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), or continue your practice, still abiding in the sweet surrender to the power of Shakti.
Chrisandra Fox guides you to surrender in 5 Shakti-ful classes a week at Yoga Tree. Click here for her schedule. She leads the Heart of Renewal Retreats in California and beyond.