I’ve been practicing Buddhist meditation for many years. Over the years I’ve learned to sit still not only in my body, but also in my mind.
The fight or flight response that I had in reaction to many of life’s unexpected stresses has been replaced by a pause: I can stop; I can breathe, and I can—most of the time—remain calm.
But until recently, I was still often confused by the advice to just “go with the flow.”
I got it on an abstract level: we can’t control the world, so it is better to be in alignment with it, to work with the current instead of against it.
But for me—as for so many people who have experienced violence or injustice—this advice sometimes still seems off: many of my greatest triumphs have been achieved—like those of my greatest heroes and heroines—by not going with the flow, by going against the grain and standing up in the face of discrimination or injustice.
But recently, fortuitously, I’ve been noticing a new way to go with the flow.
And it isn’t coming from simply letting go. Instead it’s coming from strengthening myself.
A few months ago I took on a yoga challenge: I would do a yoga set that focused on strengthening the navel center every day for 40 days.
To be perfectly honest, I took on the set largely because I wanted to firm my belly.
But I noticed other things happening too.
It was paradoxical. The more I did the strengthening exercises, the more I found I could relax and let things take their course.
Or maybe it’s not paradoxical.
The navel center is the third chakra, the fire chakra. The seat of will and power, it provides connection to the earth and to our sense of stability and well being.
As my core got stronger, I felt more stable on a physical level—my posture was better, my lower back and shoulders more comfortable.
And I felt more stable in my emotional and spiritual selves as well; I felt more self confident.
And if something happened that I didn’t like, that was upsetting or that was stressful, I found myself with a new tool set: Yes, I could—and did—pause and breathe. But I found myself also doing something else. I found myself feeling my core. I would do a slight mula bandha—a tightening of the sex organs and navel center—and feel my own strength and stability.
After the first 40 days, I committed to doing the yoga set for another 40 days.
I found myself able to imagine going with the flow.
That didn’t mean letting my muscles go loose and being swept down stream.
It meant letting whatever happen around me just happen without being knocked over by it.
I’m not a surfer but I did try surfing a few times, and I discovered it’s hard! In order to stand up on that board and let the waves take you, you need to tap into your core strength and stand on your own two feet on the board.
To go with the flow is not necessarily to give into the flow around me, but instead to tap into my own inner flow so that I can stand up straight—either literally or figuratively—wherever life takes me.
Here are four exercises that will help strengthen your core and your inner sense of self so that you can go with your own inner flow:
1) Mula Bandha—root lock. This is one of the foundational yoga poses. To do it, contract the perineum, pull up on the sex organs and rectum and pull in at the navel center, which is roughly three fingers below the belly button. Mula Bandha stabilizes and calms the body; by strengthening the root of the spinal chord, it allows energy to flow along the rest of the spinal chord. The exercise can be done at any time during the day, while you are standing or sitting, moving or still.
2) Breath of Fire: Agni—Prasana. To do breath of fire, breathe like a dog panting, with equal breaths in and out, but with a closed mouth. This is a powerful cleansing, energizing breath. Try this for five minutes a day.
2) Double Leg Lifts: Lie on your back with your arms by your side. Lift both your legs to a 90 degree angle, keeping the small of your back on the floor. Work up to five minutes at a time. This strengthens your three lower chakras.
4) Stretch Pose. This is one of the most powerful core strengthening exercises. Even a minute a day can adjust your navel center and awaken your energy center. Lie with on your back. Lift your legs six inches off the floor; lift your head a few inches off the floor and lift your arms off the floor palms facing each other. Do breath of fire. Work up to three minutes.
Author: Nadia Colburn
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Margaret River/Flickr