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Lions Roar : July 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2009 51 “i now See how each lineage is a transparent map, which when placed on top of the others widens my ability to chart a course through my inner labyrinth,” writes Powers in insight Yoga. “the various traditions act as guides rather than absolute au- thorities.” in our interview, she adds that her meditation practice doesn’t simply enhance her yoga practice; to her, it is yoga practice. they’re integral paths of self-discovery that are not separate. as for the taoist element in insight yoga, it is primarily chinese medicine—the healing branch of the tradition. “i’ve used western medicine for surgery and been very thankful that it was there,” Powers says. “but western medicine tends to work more with suppressing symptoms through the use of some kind of invasive agent, and chinese medicine tends to have a more holistic view.” according to traditional chinese thought, everything in the universe, both organic and inorganic, is composed of a vital es- sence or energy called chi, and this chi flows through the human body along certain invisible pathways called meridians. For good health, chi, which moistens the joints and connects the interior and the exterior of the body, must have proper strength and flow. the concept of chi can be compared to the prana of buddhism and hinduism, and the concept of meridians to the nadis. Powers has studied meridian theory with dr. hiroshi Mo- toyama and his student, yoga teacher Paul Grilley, and she has learned from them that there are three ways one can posi- tively influence the flow of chi while practicing yoga: putting the body into particular shapes to pull and pressurize tissues; manipulating the breath through pranayama, yogic breath- ing; and focusing the mind on our movements. She learned what is called yin yoga from Grilley. Yin and yang are the two ways that chi manifests. when we refer to something as yin, we mean it’s cooler, less mobile, more hidden, and feminine. when we refer to something as yang, we mean it’s warmer, more pliant, superficial, and masculine. yin and yang are relational terms. that is, neither exists in a vacuum, but one or the other is dominant at any given time. yin yoga is a quiet practice that emphasizes holding poses for long periods in order to work with one’s deep tissues—the bones and ligaments. yang yoga is more active. it involves rhythmic movement and engaging the muscles. Powers incorporates both yin yoga and yang yoga in her practice. both are important, she believes; yin yoga helps us relax when we’re under stress, and yang yoga invigorates us if we lead sedentary lives. Powers works with meridians when doing both yin and yang styles. when she was first studying chinese medicine, she would look at diagrams showing where in the body the meridians begin and end, and how they flow. then she’d practice a pose to try to feel which meridian was influenced—which aspect of her physical or emo- tional health. “it became a piecing together puzzle,” she says. in the foreword of insight Yoga, Grilley writes, “Sarah employs taoist terms, buddhist terms, and Sanskrit terms, depending on which most clearly and succinctly describe the underlying ideas. it is a historical accident that chinese taoists elaborated certain energetic ideas better than others, that the tibetan bud- dhists elaborated subtler mental processes, and that the Sanskrit peoples elaborated deeper inner and outer cosmologies. all these systems describe aspects of reality that were most pertinent to them at the time of their creation. “Sarah’s book,” Grilley writes, “is a yoga book. it is not merely taoist or buddhist or Sanskrit. it embodies what the term yoga Above: Powers teaching yoga during her pregnancy; and (right) doing the crow pose. Photo by Michael Sexton