I've recently returned from an amazing family holiday in the Northern Territory. One of our highlights was a day exploring Twin falls and Jim Jim falls in Kakadu. We loved seeing the ancient landscape and learning about the ongoing traditional connections. One of the things we learnt about was the role of fire in the management of the land, and we witnessed slow fires burning in selected areas of the park. Our guide explained that cool fires are used early in the dry season when there is still lots of greenery and moisture retains much more biodiversity than hot fires that burn later in the season. Many plants, including my beloved Banksia require fire to help them reproduce, so fire is a vital part of life.
This reminded me of Manipura Chakra, our own fire centre; and how we manage our bodies. Manipura chakra is responsible for generating a lot of our energy and drive, our internal fire if you like. It is located around the navel centre and connected to our digestive system. Our bodies have their own biodiversity, we rely on microbes to assist with digestion and health. Often however, to feed our internal fire and create energy we create the equivalent of hot fire in the body and loose a lot of this internal biodiversity. Using coffee, alcohol, sugar, refined grains and processed foods as energy sources all give our system a rapid boost,a bit like an intense hot fire- but often at the cost of our internal environment. Over time, the imbalance to our gut microflora can contributes to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease etc.
There are many ways yoga practices can be used to encourage a slow 'cool' burning of our system, to maintain our energy levels and drive. Yoga encourages a "satvic" (pure) diet of whole foods, especially plant based foods, so nutrition obviously plays a vital role. However diaphragmatic breathing into the belly is also important. If you allow the diaphragm to move when you breath the internal organs that deal with digestion and elimination are all squeezed and massaged to keep them stimulated. Focusing on the exhale breath also supports the nervous system, especially stimulating the vagus nerve, which allows us to go into the "rest and digest" response as opposed to the "fight flight freeze" response that much of our hectic lifestyle encourages. This will obviously also help the body to absorb nutrients better so they can be used as fuel.
Dynamic movement and asana using the breath, including twists, side bends, forward and back bends also help to maintain tone and flexibility through the entire torso, supporting the internal organs as well as the muscles and the bones of the spine.
One of my favorite poses is the Dynamic standing Twist. As well as massaging the internal organs, this pose helps to strengthen your legs and your shoulders, and is one of the poses that will support a cool burn for the Manipura chakra.
To try it at home start by Standing in Tadasa (mountain pose), and breathing for a few breaths into the belly. Then Step the feet wide apart. Bring the hands to prayer position in the chest and as you inhale bring the arms out wide and draw the shoulder blades together gently. Using an exhale, move the trunk and arms together as you bring the right hand to the floor in the centre of the legs, (or to the left foot or knee). Use an inhale to come back to standing, arms wide and exhale to the other side. In hale to raise once again and release the arms by the side before doing another round. You can continue doing this movement dynamically, or you can hold each side and allow the breath to flow for 3-5 full breaths.