Friday, January 3, 2014
GURUJI - THE JUNGLE PHYSICIAN
By Tarik van Prehn Praça
When I went to Mysore for the first time in 2001, I had finished my Chinese Medicine degree one year before, after 5 years of intense study. I was already practicing and teaching Ashtanga Yoga at the time. I was also treating a few patients with Chinese Medicine. To complete my Chinese Medicine course I needed to do a two month Internship in China, at the Nanjing University's Hospital, and for that I had been saving money, to cover all travel expenses and tuition, etc.
Meanwhile, I came to know that Rolf Naujokat and Kiersten Berg were teaching Ashtanga Yoga in Bali at the same time as my Internship in China. I was committed to finish my studies but could not resist two months of Yoga, surfing and sun, opposed to two months in a hospital, treating sick people in a over populated city, where the sun never shines. So, instead I postponed my China trip and went to Bali to do an Ashtanga Yoga and Surfing Internship. Since then I never looked back. After that trip to Bali, I dedicated all my time and travels to learn Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore. The trip to Bali was in September 2000, in March 2001 I went to Mysore for the first time.
During that first trip to Mysore, my Chinese Medicine studies were still very present and fresh in my mind; I saw the world through the eyes of Chinese Medicine Theory. I was constantly visualizing the Meridians in every asana, trying to make energetic sense of many of the postures. I started noticing something very interesting: every time Guruji adjusted me in Pascimattanasana after back bending, he would press both his thumbs on my feet in a very relevant Acupuncture / Acupressure Point, located on the dorsum of the foot in a depression distal to the junctions of the 1st and 2nd metatarsal bones. This point in Chinese Medicine is called Tai Chong or "Great Surge," the point number 3 of the Liver Meridian. He would do it every time, and that made me very intrigued. Was Guruji consciously trying to influence the flow of Prana in me? Thirteen years later, with a bit more studies and practice, I came to some very interesting discoveries, hence the reason I am writing this "text."
Similarly, in Yoga, as in many other Ancient Eastern disciplines, Chinese Medicine considers the human being as a "fraction of totality," a microcosm on the macrocosm. Like Yoga, Chinese Medicine was also developed by very evolved sages, who understood the flow of Qi (Prana) on the body. Qi is to Chinese Medicine, as what Prana is to Yoga, and much importance and emphasis are given to the "free flowing of the energy".
When the "free flow of Qi / Prana" is obstructed, disease and/or imbalance appears. That can be caused by external factors, such as weather, or by accidents/injuries, poor nutrition, unhealthy lifestyle, etc. However, the mind has the greatest effect on the flow of Prana/Qi . The mind can have the power to "heal or to kill." A balanced mind can smooth the flow of Prana, but when there is mental tension, obsessive thinking, worry, anger, etc., the flow of Prana becomes obstructed, causing pain and disease. Hence, the importance of learning to discipline the mind.
There are many ways of influencing the flow of Prana/Qi in the body, such as the practice of Asana and Pranayama, Qi Gong, Tai Chi Chuan. All these practices are primarily intended to discipline the mind. Once the mind comes under control, the Prana can be gathered and directed along specific Meridians/Nadis towards "higher realms" where the seer can "Reach" or "Understand" the Spirit, Purusha or Shen.
Yogis have traced 72.000 Nadis in the body and it is no coincidence that Krishna had 72.000 lovers, the Radha Krishna Love is a metaphor for the internal alchemy that takes place when all the 72.000 Nadis (Krishna's flute represents the sushumna nadi and the 7 holes are related to the 7 Chakras)
merge and enlightenment happens. The Chinese simplified it into 12 main Meridians and 8 extraordinary. Acupuncture points are called "Marmas" in the Yoga/Ayurveda Tradition. These points have direct access to the Meridians or Nadis, and when stimulated they can change, move, increase or decrease the flow of energy in the body.
Whenever someone asked Guruji why crossing right leg first on Padmasana, his answer was always the same, "liver and spleen Nadi." While most Westerners are worried about the correct "anatomical and external" implications of the Asana, Guruji was concerned with the "correct flow of Prana."
Coincidentally, the Tai Chong point that Guruji used to press when adjusting me, is the "Earth" point of the Liver Meridian, it balances and harmonizes the energy between the "Liver and Spleen Meridians/Nadis.
The Liver is responsible for the free flow of energy within the body, and partially responsible for the free flow of Blood. Subsequently, the Tai Chong or "Great Surge" is a very powerful point, which is the exact same point Guruji was pressing. This point is used to ease and to stop the mind, restore the flow of blood and energy in the body and harmonize the "Agni."
*Tai Chong has many therapeutic applications so if you are interested you can see more here (http://www.yinyanghouse.com/acupuncturepoints/lv3).
I also did some research to see if the Tai Chong coincided with any important "Marma" Point. I came across this very interesting article: http://www.vedanet.com/2012/06/marma-points-and-the-practice-of-yoga/. I also found a very interesting article relating to the importance of stimulating specific marmas in order to awake and direct the Kundalini: http://www.denverchinesemedicine.com/PadaK.html
Tai Chong corresponds with the Kshipra Marma or big toe Marma, and the article above relates Marmas and Pratyahara: Marmas as Control Points.
Was Guruji pressing this point on the foot consciously? Honestly, I do not know. What I do know is, when it comes to Yoga, there is much more to study, learn, understand and research. It is good to remember that yoga is an energetic system, based on the understanding of the flow of Prana or Life Force (Nature). Unfortunately, that knowledge is being quickly diluted and lost in the "Main Stream" of the majority of Yoga styles, including Ashtanga Yoga. We Westerners have tried to understand and to explain Yoga (Asana) through anatomy, which has only contributed to the "externalization" of the practice. In my opinion this vision of Yoga has limited Yoga's vast knowledge to a mere physical and mechanical practice. After all, how well do we need to know about the body to be able to transcend it? The Body will eventually decay and parish, as will the mind, that is known, but what happens to the life force after dearth... That remains the greatest mystery.
On a more simplistic note, the Tai Chong is also commonly used to alleviate lower back pain. So, maybe Guruji knew that, and after all, the last Pascimattanasana adjustment is a strong compensation to what is arguably, the biggest source of low back pain for many Ashtangis and first timers visiting Mysore, as they try to "walk their way in," in the Shala, pushing too much in Back Bending.
As Guruji said, "No pain, No Yoga."
Tarik van Prehn