Expansion (bast) and contraction (qabd) are states of the heart. In Sufism, expansion describes when one feels proximity (qurb) to the divine, and thus enjoys a shower of blessings and grace from the divine presence. It also represents a state in which one feels their limitless love pouring forth into every existent thing in the cosmos. Contraction describes when one feels distance (bu’d) from the divine presence. In this state, sometimes one can feel that the contraction is some sort of punishment. But, in fact, contraction serves an important purpose on the path, because it is in the contraction of our hearts that we find the true medicine needed to heal what remains as an obstacle in our souls to our truest happiness.
Taken together, expansion and contraction work in harmony to produce the natural vibrations of the universe (spanda in Sanskrit), the natural beating of the physical heart, the vital rhythm of the breath, the fundamental essence of sound amongst many other things. Above all expansion and contraction are the rungs of the ladder one must climb in order to reach a state of utter stillness and stand in the splendid fullness of true reality.
Like a tuning fork that is struck and vibrates from side to side to produce sound only to dissolve into silence, expansion and contraction represent the creation of something that ultimately paves the path to one’s return to absolute stillness. Without having ever been struck, the tuning fork only potentially creates sound. Once struck, the silence that reigns afterwards is one that is pregnant with actualization and not hollow and empty like the initial absence of sound.
Expansion and contraction are my favourite states to think about–there’s so much to learn from them! If we understand the inherent beauty in the rhythm of expansion and contraction, we don’t have to feel so bad when our lives follow their natural ebb and flow. We know it is all part of a greater pattern of harmony that lends itself to eventual stilling and absolute peace.
Exploring Expansion and Contraction
In your yoga practice today, explore every asana dynamically at first. See if, with every inhale, you can expand outwards and extend, and, with every exhale, you can ground down and deepen into the pose. In Anusara yoga speak, the inhale invites organic energy into your pose, while the exhale invites muscular energy. After 3-5 rounds of organic and muscular expansion and contraction, settle into stillness in your asana for a full 2 rounds of breath–experiencing the stillness as fully as you can–before moving on to your next pose. Tune your movement to your breath, and in your stillness tune into the beating of your heart before melting into utter silence, just being with yourself as you are in this very moment.
Notice how your body opens up more with dynamic movement and how the ensuing stillness is that much more strong and silent when it follows dynamic movement. Meditate on how the rhythm of expansion and contraction help you clear the way for utter presence. Meditate on how the ebb and flow of life can resolve itself in perfect self-fulfilment.
Any asana will work for this exercise. Here are a few suggestions:
- Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
- Crescent lunge (Anjaneyasana)
- Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
- Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
- Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
- Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
- Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
- Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
A few little updates: Thank you so much for being here with me, and I am particularly grateful to the beautiful souls who have graced my comments section with their wise insights and words of support. I am so utterly blessed to be sharing something I love so much with such a special group of people.
I am just about to graduate my Yoga certification program!! Being able to interact with you all here has been such a source of inspiration for me and has really helped me figure out how to shape my Sufi yoga journey. I recently bought the fourthchakrayoga.com domain and am now in the process of launching my business (hence some of the changes to my website, including my new Offerings page). I ordered business cards and everything! I am very excited about this new beginning, and I am so very happy to be able to share it with you, beloved readers and friends. I look forward to many more meaningful exchanges with you and I wish you all the joy and happiness in the world. Namaste and peace be upon you all.
Next on our journey is Renunciation, the third stage of the Sufi Path and initiation into a process of true self-reflection.
May you be filled with peace,
See my introduction to this series: The Sufi Journey through Yoga.