Welcome to spring and Kapha. Kapha (Kaap ha) is a term from Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, used to describe one of the ways life force is made manifest. Kapha is described a blend of the earth and water elements, and predominates in the spring.
Underground, through the winter, all of the seeds have been sleeping and dreaming into their new lives. Each year, these little geniuses obey their genetic messaging, breach their protective casings, and reach for this new life. Wisely, they send a root downward and a shoot upward, simultaneously providing a foundation and a burst of delight into the unknown.
The soil has to be soft enough to make way for these actions, and firm enough to support those tiny white root hairs and tender green shoots. Mud is the perfect medium, a blend of water and earth.
You may be feeling some of these energies running through your body and mind recently. The mind tends to skip into future thinking, planning trips perhaps, fantasizing about doing things we used to do. But our roots may be confused about their role.
How do I create stability now? I might refer to last spring, when I behaved more like a strawberry plant, sending runners out and accepting any available place to extend roots downward: no work? OK. Unemployment, OK. Teach on Zoom, OK. Wear a mask, bathe groceries, detox mail, keep your distance….rapid, continuous adaptation has been the story. The strawberry fruit found a way to come forth, complete with seeds, and I made it all the way around the cycle to this day.
For a life that feels more resourced, let’s follow the lead of grander plants, the wisdom of the great trees. When we work with breath, or prāna, we’re harnessing the water element. We can learn to direct this breath/prāna/water into the density of our earth-like bones. We can also become more like the steady, slow mud, that sustains gradual growth. I love to breathe slowly and fully, into injuries: it encourages intimate communication and a pathway for healing. Spring is the best time for these practices: by summer, the soil may be too hard to receive this nourishing drink.
Prānāyāma is the regulation of breath, and the 4th of the 8 limbs of yoga, and is a profound practice.
I integrate prānāyāma into my āsana practice and teaching.
Using breath mindfully is like irrigating your body with nourishing life force.
As we deeply water the tree’s roots, we can then enjoy the fresh new life that’s coming to the branches: youthful green leaves, quaking and oscillating in the wind, peeping and squawking birds, tittering and dashing in jolts of excitement.
BKS Iyengar says that all beings have a certain number of breaths to use over a lifetime. If we pant, high and shallow, like a baby bird, we’ll use up that allowance pretty quickly. Should we follow the elephant’s lead, a longer life might be our reward. Could we learn to breathe like a giant Sequoia? Try this practice and notice how you feel.
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes and begin to listen to the sounds around you. Do you hear birdsong? Traffic? Just listen.
Next, feel the entire foundation of your seated posture: bum, legs, feet. Invite yourself to become like a grand old tree, with stout strong trunk. Feel that you have roots reaching down from your foundation and begin to inhale into those roots. Each time you breathe in, send prāna and consciousness down through your roots. Extend further down each time.
As your tree’s base becomes stronger, start to breathe into your back body – back of hips, waist and chest. Use your exhalations to get more and more relaxed, like softening mud, making way for the breath to really penetrate the fibers of your skin, muscles, bones, etc., Next take breath up the front and sides of your torso. Let breath move down your arms, each inhalation extending your prana’s territory. Relax more deeply with each exhalation. Feel your strength, your groundedness.
When you feel your tree is firmly seated, allow the breath to move into your neck and head. Imagining these regions to be more like the branches of the trees. Are there fresh green leaves emerging from twiggy branches? Are there tiny blossoms oscillating in the wind? Maybe a bird’s nest has gaping, cheeping mouths? Feel the lively quality of spring that is here. Enjoy the movements, the airy spaciousness.
Now, listen again for the sounds around. Notice how this is, having spent time and energy growing your sturdy tree.
Enjoy the day.
I am delighted to be able to offer scholarships again for yoga therapy. Please don’t be shy if you are in need of support or if you know a frontline worker who you could refer to me for stress relief. Likewise, if you’re moved to support this program as a donor, please contact me.