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Working with Your Energy Levels

by BethMorning Glories by Heidi Santschi of Heidi Santschi Garden Design“Aging is not for sissies. I bet you’ve heard that one somewhere. It typically means that growing old is hard. Here’s another one I heard from a member of my book club, “Aging is a bitch!” This one means that growing older is even harder than you thought.” The above quote is from a previous post of mine on aging Three Shades of Grace. That was two years ago. As I approach my 75th year on planet earth, I am noticing a few new changes. The gray hair and the effects of gravity on my body were totally expected. The gradual loss of energy and the need for a slower pace with more down time was not. I know I’m not alone in this. Many of you may be grappling with the reality of energy—specifically physical energy—and having enough of it to move and do all that we’ve always done and want to continue to do. There is the desire that we will always have the boundless energy of youth and the very real concern that our energy levels are changing as we age but perhaps not in the way our ego desires. To understand energy and how it applies to our lives, we can view it from two perspectives.1. From the western medical perspective, we have reliable sources such as The Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Harvard Medical School,  and The Rush University Medical Center. They all have tips for what we can do to delay a decline in energy and stay active as we age. Here’s what Rush says about aging and energy:“The further we get from the boundless energy of childhood, the quicker we seem to run out of steam. Usually, our energy declines because of normal changes. Both genes and environment lead to alterations in cells that cause aging muscles to lose mass and strength and to become less flexible. As a result, strenuous activities become more tiring.”2. When we talk about energy from the yogic perspective, it’s called prana and involves more than feelings of tiredness and alertness. B. K. S. Iyengar says:“Prana is the energy permeating the universe at all levels. It is physical, mental, intellectual, sexual, spiritual, and cosmic energy. All vibrating energies are prana.”In his post May the Prana be With You, Baxter provides an explanation of how energy is both universal and individual. Prana moves from the tip of our heads to the tips of our toes through nadis (channels) and prana vayus (winds). In other words, we have an energy anatomy that intersects with and affects our physical anatomy. This can initially be felt through sensations of tingling and pulsing in the palms of the hands or the bottoms of the feet. This became real to me when I began practicing mudras (see About Mudras for Healthy Aging). Like pranayamas and mudras, asanas also have energetic qualities. In Joseph LePage’s Yoga Teacher’s Tool Box, he offers an asana scale ranging from 1 to 10 with Savasana being the coolest at number one, Downward-Facing Dog pose (Adho Mukha Shvanasana), Mountain pose (Tadasana) and Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) at the mid-point of five, and backbends like Locust (Salabhasana), Bow (Dhanurasana), and Wheel (Urdva Dhanurasana or Chakrasana), the most energizing, at number nine.Sometimes the energy of an asana is clear and present. I direct a children’s yoga program titled “Wake Up! and Relax with Yoga!” While I was teaching a group of stressed out 11 and 12-year old inner city kids Standing Forward Bend, one boy smiled as he came out of the pose and said, “Wow, miss, that was calming!” Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) comes in at number four on the scale. I have found it helpful to apply both these perspectives to my yoga practice. For example:1. I no longer find vigorous vinyasa flows helpful or invigorating. This energizing practice was surprisingly effective when I went through menopause. I had expected that a calming cooling practice would lead to symptom relief but it was just the opposite; the more rigorous and fast moving, the better I felt. Counterintuitive but effective.2. These days my asana practice consists mainly of holding poses from: 30 seconds to 1 or 2 minutes, depending on the posture and my body’s energy needs. I’m drawn to stabilization and strengthening postures, such as Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana) (5), Lateral Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana) (7), and Plank pose (Phalankasana) (8). I used to avoid Plank pose but now it’s one of my favorites. Life, and the practice of yoga, is full of surprises!3. The goal for my asana practice is finding an energetic balance and a relaxed state of awareness. For example, when I’m running hot—and I run hot a lot, (mostly mentally and emotionally as opposed to physically these days)—I look for postures on the scale that range from one to four. For example, Child’s pose (Garbhasana), at number two, fosters cooling and grounding along with a sense of calmness and connection to the earth. Other postures on the cooling side are Knee to Chest (Apanasana) and Knee Down Twist (Jathara Parivartanasana). Being able to sense where energy moves through your body, along with shifts in energy levels depending on the time of day, the season, and stage of life, is important for gaining needed self-awareness to develop your practice from scratch rather than depending on someone else’s yoga recipe. Here’s one way to deepen that awareness.Working with Your Energy Levels These are the steps for practicing a brief body scan to sense your energy levels. 1. Bring awareness to your feet, lower legs, knees, upper legs and buttocks and ask yourself “What is the quality of energy here?”2. Sense your belly, low back, rib cage, mid-back, chest, and upper back and ask yourself “What is the quality of energy here?”3. Shift awareness to your neck, head, face, chin, and throat and ask yourself “What is the quality of energy here?”4. Allow your awareness to move across your shoulders and down your arms to your wrists, hands, and fingers and ask yourself “What is the quality of energy here?”5. Finally, bring your awareness to your whole body and look for sensations like pulsing, tingling, a sense of movement, temperature changes, feelings of openness, emptiness, or being blocked. Notice where sensation is and where it is not. Finding a balance and adjusting your asana practice to address and manage your energy requires deep inner listening and finding ways to give your body some of what it wants and some of what it needs.Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.For information on Beth Gibbs’ classes and upcoming workshops, see Beth’s Classes and Workshops and for information about Beth, ProYoga Therapeutics, and Beth’s book and CD, see

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