Tip Tuesday: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Agni Sara

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

I get a lot of questions about agni sara.

Agni sara (agni meaning “fire” and sara meaning “essence”) is a pranayama (breath exercise) that literally stokes your inner fire. Fire is what you might feel in the abs, as this in amazing core strengthener!

What you do: You can do agni sara in other positions, but I find it to be most effective when done in horse stance. Take a wide-legged stance, turn the toes out, and bend the knees over your heels to sit deeply into horse. Brace your hands where the thigh and hip meet and straighten out the arms to provide traction for the back.

Agni sara is done completely on exhale when you’re empty of air. Inhale, then exhale all your air out strongly. Keeping press with the arms, pull the belly in and up, flaring the ribs (but without pulling in air) then push the belly out. Alternate between pulling up and letting go completely. A round is as many back and forth pumpings you can do before you need to take a breath. You can do agni sara slowly or experiment with fast rounds moving the belly in and out as fast as you can.

Questions I frequently get from students:

Am I doing it right? This pose feels ridiculous.
You will likely feel pretty ridiculous flapping your belly back and forth. If you’re feeling inhibited and serious, agni sara will change that really quick. Speaking of inhibitions, try lifting your shirt to show the belly when you’re doing agni sara. You’ll be able to see the movement you are able to create in the abs and start letting go of the self-consciousness you may have about this area.

I feel like I need to breathe almost immediately when I start pushing my belly back and forth.
It will take awhile to build up the length of your rounds of agni sara. Yours might be short when you first begin. How aggressively are you pushing the belly out? If you are too forceful with your pushing out of the belly (and/or the pulling in), you may find yourself gasping for air. Explore how you can move the belly smoothly, yet strongly back and forth.

Should I be bent over or should my torso be upright?
When you first start agni sara, you may be bent over more to get a sense of the pose. Eventually, you want to have the torso more upright, as this will help you lengthen and flare the ribs as you draw the belly up. The press from the arms into the thighs helps telescope your ribs up from the waist to free up the lower back too.

You could feel that agni sara is agony (it certainly could be if you tried to do it after a big meal or see question #2 above) Perhaps you didn’t know that agni sara is also ecstasy? Agni sara is a powerful tool for sexual healing as it
wakes up your orgasm muscles. When we told the teenagers at juvenile hall about these particular benefits of agni sara, specifically that it can help with stamina, they started requesting it every week!

Yoga Journal San Diego Day 1: Journey to the Core Forrest Yoga Intensive

I wake up with a start.

“Oh no!,” I yell.

My husband jerks awake. “What’s wrong?”

“Do you realize what time it is?,” I scream. By now the whole hotel was awake. “IT’S 8:30 AND I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AT THE CONFERENCE AT 5:30! THE SESSION STARTS IN HALF AN HOUR.”

“But Megan, it’s Thursday. The conference is on Friday.”

Luckily that was my nervous Wednesday night dream and not the real beginning of my conference experience. I’m happy to report that I was not late nor did I wake up the good people staying at the Sheraton San Diego. I arrived at the conference for my 5:30 AM practice with Ana Forrest and the other assistant, Brian Campbell, one of the Forrest Yoga Guardian teachers from Los Angeles.

The purpose of the early morning practice session is for us to practice one of the workshop sequences Ana is teaching during the day. It gives us all a chance to have the class in our body and get a sense of what we’ll be assisting with (and thinking ahead to props the students might need, modifications for beginners, etc.). It’s also an opportunity for Ana to tweak the class plan as needed.

Friday’s workshop was an all-day intensive, “Journey to the Core”, that consisted of a long morning session and an afternoon session after a lunch break. The fun part of this format was that we had mostly the same students for both sessions and it was a smaller group than the shorter conference sessions. That meant we were able to get around to everyone and give people a lot more hands-on attention.

The morning workshop went deep into backbends with all varieties of lunges and deep core work. Backbends are rough. In Ana’s classes, you get in deep with intense poses that demand a lot of internal focus.  As such, it was hard at first for me to gauge how students were responding to my assists. However, I could see the impact the poses were having. Looking around you could visibly see people releasing all kinds of tension and emotions.

In the afternoon, the workshop delved into the hips. Folks were definitely feeling the earlier backbend class, but going upside down in downward dog at the wall and handstands brightened everyone right up.

I felt so incredibly proud of everyone. They all worked so hard in the practices. It felt so gratifying to be a part of their inward journey (or as one student put it, “an odyssey”) as a guide to help steady them along their path. One woman looked as if a lightbulb got turned on internally and she walked out of there radiating a new sparkle.

People were so receptive and grateful. So many students came up and thanked me afterwards and several even commented on how much they enjoyed my assists. My aforementioned gratification overflowed.

After the workshop, San Diego sunshine and water called out, so Ana suggested a walk out by the water. As we walked, it became apparent to me how much Ana really walks (pun intended) the talk. In Forrest Yoga, you are constantly redirecting your attention to feeling and paying attention to what is happening. On our walk, Ana often pointed out interesting things, be it the trees with branches like curling snakes or paper-like bark or the boat skeleton being erected near the marina.

I realized how often I blow right by little details of life sometimes because I am too wrapped up in thinking and not being focused on the here and now. The whole day for me was a good lesson in remembering that I want to be truly present in my life for all those cool moments: a student releasing tension, an amazing tree that makes you want to climb it, and taking in this challenging new assisting experience.