The other day I got an email from a friend. She wanted to know how I stay balanced while on tour as a musician especially when things get tough. I gave it some thought and didn't really know how to respond just in that moment. The answer however, came last night, when things got challenging in our household.
My seven year old daughter was asking to see if her aunt had sent her a message on my phone. In our family, we have a rule that we do not engage in media at bedtime. This has proven to be very helpful in being able to wind down. For this reason, I had said no to her request to get on the phone and she was upset. As a parent, these kinds of experiences can whip you right into reaction and worst of all, the no return "freak out stage." I remember, as she lay in the hallway, refusing to get up and brush her teeth, I prayed for grace. This led my awareness to my navel center. From this awareness a clear calm "no" emanated from my navel center and out of my mouth. Moments after this, my daughter made a dramatic crying sound that perhaps went a little too far, because she cracked up. Just like that, it was over. I joined her in giggling and we finished our bedtime routine.
The next morning I knew the answer to my friend's email. The capacity to handle stress in the moment and rise above it, with your love and consciousness intact, comes from the miracle of grace and a strong navel center. Grace, I feel, comes from the Divine and although we cannot control if we get it or not, we can ask. I have found that it is within this asking process that the truth is always revealed.
Now, something that is totally within our control is the navel center. In Kundalini Yoga, the navel center is a key energy point. It is in the navel center that there is a mixing of Praana (upward moving life force energy), and Apaana (downward moving energy of elimination and death). When this mix is complete and the sum total is at a neutral zero point, the Kundalini energy, the unbroken experience of consciousness and the flow of life, can rise up the spine bringing deep healing to the being. As my spiritual teacher Yogi Bhajan said,
"Kundalini is the cycle, the circle, of the entire productivity of this Earth and all there is." (1)
Coming to this place of neutrality is no easy task when we are living in the ways of the world. But when we access these ancient technologies, it is as easy to experience, as a child allows giggles to heal her. I have experienced this sensation time and time again through the practice of Kundalini Yoga which encompasses yoga postures, breath, Mantra (sacred chant), and awareness. The focal point of all of this activity is right at the navel center. So, let's understand exactly where this is in our body.
If you take your three fingers, index, middle, and ring finger and place them right below your belly button, with the top of your index finger just lining the bottom of your belly point, find where your ring finger lies against your belly. The navel rests in the center of your being in between this point and your spine. The size of it is like a robin's egg. It is not only where the Kundalini energy can rise, but also has incredible benefits as an energy center in our body. It is within the navel center that we have the capacity to hold our ground. It is the center of Chi, as seen and experienced in many spiritual traditions. When our navel center is strong we are secure, we are able to stand up for ourselves, and for others from a place of truth and love. We vibrate courage.
For this reason, my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan, taught that it is really important to keep your navel center strong and in balance. Just the simple practice of Kundalini Yoga has incredible benefits for the navel center. However, Yogi Bhajan also gave numerous exercises to strengthen and balance the navel center. I try to practice at least one of these every morning. It is really through repeated effort that we can obtain the greatest benefits and have a strong navel center bank account to draw from in times of need.
Here is one exercise that works wonders for me and it is called Stretch Pose. Although it is quite challenging for me, I know that after practicing it in the morning, I have the strength, energy, and fortitude for the challenges of the day.
You can begin by lying on your back and placing your arms at your sides. Engage the root lock by lifting the muscles of the anus, sex organs and navel point. Ensure that the navel point is pulled in firming up your strength and connection to the floor through the low back. Bring your shoulder blades down your back so that the neck and chin can slide back into a position with the heart lifted. Raise your head and legs six inches up, allow the arms and fingers to straighten, with the palms facing each other, slightly over the hips. Point the toes, and keeping your eyes focused at the tip of your toes, begin Breath of Fire, which is a rapid, equal in and out breath through the nose. I suggest practicing this for 1-3 minutes. It is advised to not practice this if you know you are pregnant or on the heavy part of your menstrual cycle.
To modify stretch pose, bend the knees to a 90 degree angle and lift them up so the hips are bent and your thighs are perpendicular to the floor creating a table top with your lower leg. This allows you to engage your navel point without putting pressure on your low spine.
(1) Yogi Bhajan, The Master's Touch (Santa Cruz, NM: Kundalini Research Institute, 1997), page 286