Tias Little on Tuning In To The Subtle Sensation of Flow in Yoga

By: 
Lynn Crimando, MA, C-IAYT

The word "flow" is often used in the context of yoga practices–primarily asana–in which each posture or asana melds seamlessly into the next to formulate a movement sequence. But applied in an energetic context, the word can take on a much more powerful connotation as it can describe the subtle pulses and vibratory rhythms within the body. 

Tuning into those subtle sensation of movement within the body, the breath, or changes in our mind states sets us on the true meditative path of yoga notes master yoga teacher Tias Little, author of Yoga of the Subtle Body: A Guide to the Physical and Energetic Anatomy of Yoga. 

Tias maintains that cultivating more awareness of the nuanced sensations and flow within the body can yield a deeper, richer experience of practice. This passage from the introduction of his book offers a partial explanation of why:

When imagining the subtle body, the mystics and yogis of India and Tibet designed elaborate systems for navigating the body’s interior, akin to the network of circuitry of a computer. These systems map the flow of breath called prana whose dynamic potency pumps, flows, and trickles through myriad channels, called nadis. The exact nature of these pathways is difficult to articulate in any one biological system; their potency suggests a physio-spiritual force that transcends scientific rationale.

Tias’s interest in the subtle body was inspired by years of practice, guided by his own direct experience. “I was sensing and feeling the pathway of nerves through my fascia, or the pulsation of blood in my arteries, or what happens when I do a Downward Dog and what happens to the blood pressures and the neurovascular changes,” he explains.  

“The Indian tradition of yoga and the experimental work that was done two thousand years ago really detail out in prescriptive ways how the spine and the life force is described and how it exists in the Indian architecture of the Chakras and the Nadis and the Bindus. I was curious to see how that esoteric language relates to the experience of blood flowing through the arteries or the shift of bone or the movement through the spine. And so, my aspirations have been really bringing together the Eastern and the Western view,” he continues.

 “The whole idea of the subtle is used in a many of the spiritual teachings as a guide towards the infinite or the spaciousness. And yogis knew that in order to contact this boundless awareness, one had to move very slowly and really attune to the most sensitive, vibratory rhythms that reverberate inside.”

Tias points to the nadis, described by the ancient as yogic energy currents through which prana flows, as having a similar flow quality to nerves, arteries and veins, lymphatic channels, and cellular synapses that send neurological signals from one neuron to the next. 

“The yogis mapped these rivers of energies in a very detailed way–as extensive maps which are beautifully seen on images of the chakras. They have color, sound, and resonance,” he states. “Through practice we can either accelerate the flow or we can slow it down, depending on what’s most necessary for any given person. Connecting to these little rivers throughout the body is something we do in the subtle body.” 

The primary “river” of connection is the breath, Tias says. “But underneath the breath, there are many, many layers and pulses. There are many different rhythms that one can connect to. And the beauty of practicing yoga is starting to really sense some power and to sense and feel the aliveness of this pulsatory flow inside.”

Tias describes the need for a free flow of information through the nadis as being akin to keeping the plumbing below the sink clog-free. To maintain health, these channels must remain open, much like the body’s digestive or nerve tracks. 

At the moment, he’s particularly interested in exploring the quality of flow through the lymphatic system. 

The tonsils, spleen, adenoids, and thymus are all part of the lymphatic system, a main component of the body’s immune system. Via the transport of lymph, a clear fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body, the lymphatic system rids the body of impurities, toxins, and waste. Lymphatic fluid is passed through vessels connected to lymph nodes, located throughout the body, where the lymph is filtered. 

“The yogis have been interested in purification for many years,” Tias informs, “The whole idea of Saucha or cleanliness is very much connected to that. Through various practices we can really tonify the lymphatic system, which is connected to light and the body of light. Lymph exists everywhere through the body as our defense system. So yes, keeping the clarity and maintaining the discriminating capacity of the lymphatic system is very much of interest to me,” Tias states.

To maintaining health, hydration is important. Toward that end, movement is critical, particularly the slow, mindful movement of a practice such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong.  

“We’re seventy-five to eighty percent water, give or take, so maintaining a hydrated state is so important,” Tias explains. “But that doesn’t simply come from drinking. You can drink water all day long without hydrating tissues. Movement is what does that. We want to enable greater flow through the little rivers in the body.” 

Movement becomes all the more important during those times when we are prone to less physical activity, such as during the winter or during extended stints at the computer.  Neglecting movement around the gut, diaphragm, and chest can diminish the local flow of lymph and subsequent drainage of toxins, broken proteins, and unwanted cellular debris. Tias likens this to not having the recycling truck or the waste management people come around to your house for a couple of months.

“What’s fascinating about the lymphatic system is the lymph channels are just feather fine--they’re very, very delicate,” he explains. “When we move in subtle ways, like taking a back bend over a bolster or taking one leg up the wall and bringing one knee to the chest, we’re facilitating the local squeezing pressure, creating compressive forces locally through the body. This can really help clear the lymphatic channels in these feather fine kind of silvery arrangements throughout the body.”

A proliferation of lymphatic ducts in the throat region makes movement that stimulates the throat, tongue, and nasal passages important. For that, Tias recommends Shoulder Stand, Bridge, and Supported Fish Poses to cleanse tissue through the upper chest area.

Practicing discriminating awareness of what we bring into our bodies is also important. A long-time student of Buddhist tradition, Tias point to both yogic and Buddhist meditation practices that elicit discrimination in the thoughts we give voice to, the foods and drinks we consume, or what we watch on television. The yogic term for this discriminative awareness is Viveka. 

To create a resource of positive thinking that positively influences the lymphatic system, Tias recommends Mindfulness practices, Lovingkindness Meditation, and taming the judgmental inner critic in our heads. 

Noting the close link between the endocrine and lymphatic systems Tias says our attitudes can determine immune health.  “The yogis knew that focusing on the third eye, the heart center, or the region of the gut where there can be so much malaise, one can create internal states of a positive environment. A healthy environment supports immunity and the body’s capacity to protect itself,” he elaborates. “I think that the yogis mapped out the immune system in ways that were before MRI’s and before the kind of microscopic investigative capacity we have now with science. 

“The lymphatic system is all about discriminating what’s wanted versus what’s unwanted,” Tias clarifies. “As we practice and connect to the subtle body, we systemically build this intelligence or discriminating awareness. With the recent emergence of viruses that keep mutating and changing, this takes on more importance. We want immune systems that are strong and radiant enough to be able to protect themselves. May each of us stay free of the flu this winter season!” he laughs.

Yoga for Lymphatic Health

 

Tias Little YogaTias Little synthesizes years of study in classical yoga, Sanskrit, Buddhist studies, anatomy, massage, and trauma healing. Tias began studying the work of B.K.S Iyengar in 1984 and lived in Mysore India in 1989 studying Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with Pattabhi Jois. Tias is a licensed massage therapist and his somatic studies include in-depth training in cranial-sacral therapy. His practice and teaching is influenced by the work of Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais and Thomas Hanna. Tias is a long time student of the meditative arts and Buddhist studies beginning with Vipassana and continuing in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen. Tias earned a Master’s degree in Eastern Philosophy from St. John’s College Santa Fe in 1998. He lives in Santa Fe New Mexico where he directs his school Prajna Yoga with his wife Surya and is author of three books, The Thread of Breath, Meditations on a Dewdrop and Yoga of the Subtle Body.

 

Lynn Crimando

Lynn Crimando, MA serves as the teaching mentor for YogaUOnline's Wellness Educator Program. She is a yoga teacher, C-IAYT Yoga Therapist, board-certified Health and Wellness Coach, and a Buteyko Practitioner. She has a private practice in New York City and teaches classes throughout the city on behalf of Health Advocates for Older People. In addition, Lynn is on the faculty of the IAYT-approved Yoga Polarity Therapist Training in Malverne, New York. To learn more about Lynn, visit her website: yogalynn.com.

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