You are water, the essence of all forms, yet formless. You are the point from which each direction flows and you are the flow. You were the one that feels. You were the one that moves. You were the one that embraces the other.
– Anodea Judith, Wheels of Life.
As humans, we are 70% water. It’s our natural inclination to embrace spontaneity, go with the flow, and adapt to new surroundings. Yet, we may oppose change and go against our natural instinct. This is represented as a blockage in the second chakra, svadhisthana. Located at the sacral area close to the womb and the sex organs, the second chakra embraces themes such as fluidity, creativity, change, relationships with others, and pleasure. As we move up from the root chakra, Muladhara, which connects us to our individual strength, groundedness, and a sense of surrender, we come to the second chakra where we begin to explore how we express ourselves and connect to the world around us.
Svadhisthana was featured this week as a part of the Chakra Series we launched in June. Balancing duty with desire, relating to others, and going with the flow are some of the central themes of the second chakra that Clara and I discussed in this week’s podcast. We go into a brief introduction of Prana Flow Yoga by Shiva Rea, who was Clara’s teacher in vinyasa and prenatal yoga, to show how Prana Flow helps one heal by connecting with one’s natural state of fluidity. We also discussed prenatal and postnatal yoga; the poses to avoid, the body parts to strengthen, and who else may benefit from these class styles despite not being (or having been) pregnant!
Svadhisthana, Second Chakra Themes
Clara: The second chakra is Svadhisthana and the element is water. Generally, it deals with our emotions and our sexuality, and our creativity because this is literally where our sexual fluids are. This is the space where we connect to our fluidity, going with the flow. When we work with the second chakra, we’re working with how we relate to others. We would examine the second chakra when we want to work with our relationship, not only to our bodies but to the people in our lives.
The second chakra deals with desire and pleasure, so the question I would ask is, what is your relationship to pleasure? Do you seek it? Do you shy away from it? Do you indulge it? Is there balance between duty, what needs to get done, versus pleasure? Discovering the right balance is important because you need to feed your spirit, you need to feed your soul. if your heart’s not in it, then what’s the point?
Stephanie: Another theme of this chakra is the idea of the empath in discovering our emotions and how we relate to others, and adapting to fluidity.
Clara: Yes, and that’s where the whole idea of boundaries.The second chakra is also how we create boundaries in relationships and come together with those around us.
Stephanie: How does Prana Flow by Shiva Rea help one embrace this idea of fluidity?
Clara: This is a style of Vinyasa Yoga that my teacher Shiva Rea created and I’ve studied off and on with her since 2003. Prana Flow was born out of her creativity of playing with styles of dance, as well as yoga, and being in her own body. Shiva realized that there was so much power in fluidity. Prana Flow deals with what she calls moving meditation. So you start every single class in the moving meditation, similar to the moving meditations for the rituals for the chakras in the coming weeks.
The idea is to remind ourselves of this flow that is naturally moving through us since we’re made up of at least 70% water. We walk around thinking that we’re mostly solid, even though we’re actually mostly liquid. And so connecting to that liquidity reminds us of our natural state.
And generally, that’s very healing for most people. When I met Shiva in 2003, I felt like I had come home. Because here was a woman that was creating movements that I’d been naturally doing on the dance floor and the nightclubs of New York City.
In Prana Flow, we’re connecting to the natural contraction and release of the breath, but also the fluidity of your body with the breath itself.
Prenatal Yoga - What Not To Do
Stephanie: Tell us more about what you offer in terms of the prenatal and postnatal series on the #PracticeWithClara site. When you’re expecting, what are some of the poses that you don’t want to be doing in the practice?
Clara: This is a bit of a controversial topic because it actually depends on the school of thought in terms of prenatal. I did my prenatal training Shiva Rea, but I’ve had friends who were also prenatal certified who come from different schools of thought. What I’m saying is only one school of thought and you’ll read all kinds of things on the internet, especially those of us who were expecting. Before I even go into this, the first thing I’ll say is that anybody who is expecting, meaning who is pregnant, should really listen to their body. In terms of prenatal yoga, every pregnancy is so different. Every woman is so different. And the biggest signifier of whether or not something works is your body itself, and your body will tell you pretty strongly.
A few common things to check and watch for would be nausea and vertigo. Pregnant yogis probably wouldn’t do a lot of deep standing forward bends or downward dog. In the forward bend, I would put my hands or forearms on my thighs and bend my knees, but not so much that my head dips past my heart. For downward dog I would recommend child’s pose, or I just come onto hands and knees so that my head and my heart were on the same level.
When you take a child’s pose when you’re really pregnant, your knees always go out to the sides, and then the bigger you get, the more your knees go out. And then your third trimester for child’s pose, you’d put a bolster or a block underneath your forehead or your forearms, just so your belly is not touching the ground at all and so you’re not putting any pressure on the little one.
A controversial topic is whether or not to do core work. That’s a big one that comes up for pregnant yogis.
Generally, it’s said that you don’t want to do too intensive core exercises after your first trimester, meaning crunches and things like that, because you don’t want to be crunching the baby. However, you definitely still want to be strengthening your pelvic floor muscles because that’s really going to help with childbirth and it’s also going to help its support holding the baby up as the baby gets bigger and bigger.
So you definitely want to be doing core work, but in terms of the intensity that’s what is going to change.
I include a lot of back strengthening in the classes on the #PracticeWithClara site because as you get bigger on the front, your back needs to be supported? As the pelvis widens to prepare for childbirth the lower back may be compressed. Some women may start to feel sciatica or lower back pain because of that. So the more we can strengthen our backs, the more supported you’re lower back as you get bigger in your pregnancy. In the third trimester we generally drop all core strengthening but would continue back strengthening.
Backbends are the other controversial family of poses at all when pregnant because you’re essentially opening up the front body and can squish the baby. I come from the school of thought that mild backbends are great because it opens up the chest. If you focus more on opening the chest and not creating a deep arc in your spine, then you generally are not creating too much compression for the baby. The other reason why we generally don’t do very deep backbends is that your rectus abdominals, your core muscles that are in the front known as the six-pack, they separate when most women become pregnant. I’ve definitely known some women who’ve done deep backbends right up until they were giving birth. For me, in my own body, deep backbends stopped feeling good in my second trimester. I did a lot of camel, but very gentle camel, more to focus on opening up the chest.
The last controversial family of poses I’ll mention is twisting. Twisting is great but you want to have lots of space for your belly which means you would do an open-armed twist. You want to avoid any deep twisting but its fine to twist if you keep your arms spread really wide.
Postnatal Yoga - What To Strengthen
Stephanie: What do you strengthen in the postnatal series- who else may this type of work be good for?
Clara: Depending upon how your pregnancy went and how your birth went, your body is in a state of healing.
I’ve been creating a postnatal trimester for a set of five classes to ease back into the practice if, you’re like I was after having Karmen, and you’re not ready for a vinyasa yoga class. The postnatal series could be geared towards those of us who have just given or anyone who wants a slower class.
I focus on rebuilding the core and the pelvic floor through very, very small core exercises in order to start strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. I also focus a lot on the upper back and shoulder strengthening because holding a baby for six or eight hours a day and rocking her to sleep starts to strain my shoulders and upper back.
And I also focus on leg strengthening.
The thing about the postnatal series is that it could work for anyone who is new to yoga. Or those who sit in an office all day. I open the chest, shoulders, and top back in the postnatal series- muscles that are tense from sitting at a desk. I strengthen the core, back, and legs, which anyone might benefit from.