Rush hour service. No available seats. No accessible pole or overhead rail. Hello classic subway slide-and-stumble.
And, it’s too crowded to whip out reading material. How can rush hour transform into something more productive than mentally reciting my “To Do” list as I bite my lower lip in agitation, or keeping a hyper-vigilant watch on the smelly guy picking his nose who is encroaching on my personal space?
A call to bandha (binding) action. (Cue super-yogi music. Ummm…would that be kirtan or Sanskrit rap?) Trying to find both physical and mental repose during a sinuous C-line ride from Fort Greene to Lower Manhattan can be a real bandha buster, but also a unique opportunity to practice one of the keystone yoga tenets––the indelible bond between breath and bandhas, or internal muscular and energetic valves that redirect the flow of energy within the body.
The concept of bandha is seemingly paradoxical. By consciously and gently contracting certain muscle groups on the physical level, such as the perineal, abdominal and/or cervical muscles (depending on the posture and desired result––remember form follows function), a subtle ‘unlocking’ simultaneously unfolds both physically, mentally and energetically. There is a sense of inner buoyancy and release. This type of focused alignment and fine-tuning is reminiscent of accessing the sweet spot of 440 Hertz when tuning my flute.
~ Breathe through the nose. Create a soft, sibilant sound with the breath by ever so slightly constricting the back of the throat (epiglottis). Continue breathing with this even, oceanic sound.
~ Root through the triad of each foot, comprised of the center of the heel and the base of the big and pinky toes. Anchored by these three points, dome the space in between these points like suction cups. The rebounding energy from this secure foundation will give additional lift and strength to the inner arches of the feet. You may even start to feel the breath initiated from the heels all the way up to the apex of the soft pallet. That’s when you know you’re on the road to deep breathing. Bazinga.
~ Encourage this lifted sensation to travel from the inner arches of the feet up through the ankles, legs and groin.
~ Sense the connection between the sit bones and the heels. If you could draw a plumb line from the sit bones, it would connect with the heels.
~ Draw the pubic bone up and back toward the spine, which will help scoop the tailbone gently under, as the spine lifts and lengthens out of the pelvic bowl.
~ Imagine the pelvic bowl filled to the brim with coconut water. Do not allow any spillage over the rim by tipping the pelvis. Keep the pelvic in a neutral position.
~ The shoulder heads (which are the ball like structures connected to each upper arm bone) and collar bones roll up, back and down, as the bottom tips of the shoulder blades (which are draped on the back of the rib cage) gracefully dip into the torso to encourage and support an open chest.
~ As the collarbones broaden away from each other, the shoulder blades balance this action by simultaneously spreading apart and wrapping around the side ribs.
~ Release any facial tension. Place the tip of the tongue on the hard palette behind the two front teeth to help release the mouth. Feel the soft palette parachute or dome up.
~ Allow the eye sockets to soften and deepen, inviting the eyeballs to be couched comfortably in their abode.
~ Imagine the brain dropping away from its helmet, the cranium to create space between the container and its contents.
You may find it helpful for the first few attempts of ‘The Drill’ to be on sturdy ground, like the office floor and then kick it up a notch by testing your skills on a moving elevator before taking it underground.
And there you have it––an awesome, albeit challenging 20-minute stealth yoga session sans accouterments. Hang tight, but dangle loosely.
Editor: Lindsay Friedman
Nicole Newman is an Ashtanga practitioner and enthusiast. She studies with her favorite teacher Eddie Stern at the Sri Ganesha Temple.