Contraction & Expansion: The Rhythm of Life

Have you ever noticed that after you take a leap of faith and make a big change in your life, it’s often followed by a time of shrinking back? Or that a period of agitation or feeling stuck or contracted in your life is followed by a period of expansion and growth? Have you noticed that there is a time of darkness every single night that is unfailingly followed by the return of light?

About 900 years ago a text called The Yoga Spandakarika was written by an Indian philosopher and scholar named Vasagupta. In Sanskrit the word ‘spanda’ can be translated as vibration or tremor and refers to the pulsation of life that exists within each of us.

The Yoga Spandakarika teaches that everything in our world IS vibration, pulsing at different levels of frequency. Future generations would echo this concept; Albert Einstein recognised that everything we see has a vibration, and today we learn in basic chemistry class that atoms, the basis of all forms of life, are in a constant state of motion.

Our bodies are a perfect repository for this never-ending throb of life force. Every time it beats, your heart contracts, causing a wave of pressure that pushes fresh blood into your arteries. Between these contractions it briefly expands to allow more blood to come in. As long as you’re alive, this pattern never changes. It’s as reliable as the rising and setting of the sun each day. Your breath has a rhythm, your organs and glands pulse. Even your bones gently throb with the energy of life, which we know in yoga as prana.

In yoga, the form that you hold changes both the reception and transmission of prana. Breathing and movement affect the energetic channels of the body (nadis) and their placement, which enables life force (prana) to move and flow freely. On the other hand, misalignment can cause an impingement of the very pulse of life that sustains and keeps your body healthy, and your mind and spirit thriving.

By tuning in to and moving with the pulsation of this energy in our bodies, we move closer to understanding our own true nature, and the nature of life. There are times where we naturally feel expanded, literally ‘swollen with light’. There are other times when we feel dull or agitated, contracted. Both states are normal, and they’re natural elements of the ebb and flow of our lives.

Sometimes doing the work of becoming more fully alive requires us to cultivate the ability to sit with the discomfort of a contracted position, knowing that it will eventually be followed by a time of expansion and growth.

If you want to tune into this pulse, get very quiet. Watch your breath as it moves through your body as though you were watching someone else breathe. Let the inhale begin when it’s ready. Receive the inhale rather than grasping or trying to ‘take’ it. Be filled first in the lower belly, then the ribcage, then the collarbones. Everything expands as you receive the breath. Now pour out your exhale from top to bottom, without rushing it. See if you can wait for the exhale to begin on its own. What you just felt in your body is what happens in every aspect of nature, whether we choose to pay attention to it or not. The movement of your breath. The pulse of your heart. The rise and fall of a day, year, season. The trajectory of a life. You have to expand before you can contract. You must contract in order to expand.

Yoga is a way to tune into and line up with the the throb of life that pulses at the very core of who we are. If we move in harmony with the natural pulsation of life; if we cultivate practices that support its freedom, then we’ll find ourselves more present, more available, more spacious in both phases of the cycle.

©Julie Smerdon 2021

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