Non Duality Yoga

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“If you have been sold on the ‘core stability myth’ and are actively engaging your core, it could be time to think again” 

by Jay Rossi


I was flicking through some Sky T.V. channels yesterday and happened to stumble on a yoga class and the first cue I heard this well known American teacher say was “come on guys, engage those cores to protect your back”.  To be honest my first thought was, this teacher has just been sold on the core stability myth, without really enquiring into her own functional anatomy.

Then I remembered talking to a good friend of mine, who with a lot of time on his hands in between jobs, goes to his local gym and does about every class that they offer. He tells me that few gym workouts are conducted without the cue ‘engage your core.”

Then to push me into writing this article, this morning I took my young daughter and her friends to the park and I was delightedly watching lots of children playing on the climbing frame; they were laughing ,stretching, reaching, using their natural strength to climb and hold to swing, whilst having lots of fun exploring what’s natural to them. Then I thought how ridiculous it would be for me to shout to the children “kids engage your core, come on, navel to spine guys you have to protect your back.”

I’m going to present just a few of the many reasons  why we need to question this whole idea of engaging stomach muscles in yoga.


If we are going to explore this matter we really have to look at the fact that our bodies have been designed to absorb and generate forces. If say for example you looked at one of the strongest and longest bones in your body, the femur, you would see it is beautifully curved and spiralled because in every second of movement your bones will generate a rhythm, a spiral to absorb and transfer forces. There is a counter-rotation between bones because the body uses all three dimensions to absorb, store and generate power for movement. This fact is often overlooked by so many people including bodywork specialists from all approaches.

One of the world’s most respected spine authorities is Prof Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics. He says “In studies we have done, the amount of load the spine could bear was greatly reduced when subjects sucked in their belly buttons. What happens is that the muscles are bought closer to the spine, which reduces the stability in the back. It becomes weak and wobbly as you try to move.”

It’s interesting that in the ancient arts that require amazing strength and power like Judo and Tai chi, they train the abdomen area to be very elastic and resilient and therefore derive tremendous energy and power from this childlike tonus.

In all of the most profound energy work and meditations I’ve ever practiced, the emphasis has always been that the more you relax in your energy centres the more powerful and activated they become. By the way, when I say “relaxed”, I mean resilient, fluid and elastic with good tone. If soft tummy muscles were the cause of a weak or painful back, then every child would moan with backache, and every adult that relaxed their tummy would expect to have back pain. So it seems obvious that if we have back issues we have to look at our whole organisation, taking into consideration the totality of ourselves.

Functionally, there is not a single part of you that exists separately from your spine, or that is not being expressed through it into movement.

The body’s centre of gravity is located approximately 2 inches below your navel. The largest muscles of the body pass or attach through the pelvis, our muscular powerhouse. In the ancient way of thinking your physical centre is so important for attaining  not just power but also a centred mind. In the Eastern energy traditions they give immense significance to this area they call the Hara.

As soon as we engage our tummy muscles our centre of gravity rises away from the seat of our true power and energy. We can easily be off-balanced and unstable.

In my workshops we do an experiment where we discover that when you let your abdomen relax fully, you actually get much more flexibility in your movement. Everyone discovers it, it’s so easy.


The diaphragm is the most important breathing muscle. Over millions of years we have evolved in such a way that during inhalations our organs are pushed down. The belly has to expand to make space for the organs, so the pelvic floor also has to widen to accommodate the pressure coming down. As we exhale the pelvic floor and stomach muscles contract to push the organs upward again. Stomach muscles and pelvic floor muscles have to work together to balance and support natural breathing.

If you have the habit of engaging your abdomen you are literally gripping the diaphragm and your organs suffer, because they rely on the massaging effect of the pushing down of the diaphragm to keep them toned and free of congestion.

Also, when you hold in your belly, you compensate by breathing in the upper chest, raising your centre and making you less stable for flowing movement and balances. This may also raise your blood pressure.

This also brings into question the idea that some yoga people have adopted of keeping the pelvic floor lifted in their practice, which of course would be detrimental to the natural functioning and the force absorption that has to happen for safe and efficient movement.


I’m not sure if you have ever noticed, but when you are under strain or are fearful the tummy muscles naturally tighten, the neck shortens and your breathing changes dramatically. It’s a natural response of our limbic systems. So whenever you manually engage your core you are sending a message to your nervous system, saying  “I’m under pressure, prepare”.  Your centre of gravity will rise and your sympathetic nervous system gets you ready to fight or run. Is that really want you want from your yoga practice?

Look into the eyes of some of the teachers from those yoga approaches that emphasise engaging their cores and drawing up their pelvic floor, and usually you can see that their eyes are very big, pupils dilated, almost staring without blinking, because they have been activating the stress phase of their nervous systems for so long with their practice it’s become their default setting.

In ancient medicine, the kidneys are thought to be our energy reservoirs. When your abdomen is being held in, what do you think is happening to your kidneys? Your kidneys are being gripped and starved of what they crave, they thrive on moment to moment movement and massage.
So do you think that holding in your abdomen is going to build your life force, or deplete your life force?

I recall a young woman from London, who came to have some private classes a couple of years ago. I would guess she was in her late twenties at the time and she had practiced, quite intensively, one of those yoga styles that emphasized holding in abdomen and lifting the pelvic floor whilst breathing with a heavy noise.

She had followed this approach for over 5 years. Over the course of our first few yoga lessons she admitted that she not had a period for the previous 6 months, while practicing the other style.  She told me that even though she had back pain over the last year or so, she had loved the practice she had been doing, and was addicted to it. However until she got back to 100% she was coming to me for private lessons for a gentler approach.

I remember as soon as she was beginning to get back to 100% I was told she had booked back onto another retreat with her previous teacher and I’ve not heard from her since… that’s yoga for you….


The abdominal muscles are actually intercostal breathing muscles without the ribs. The external intercostals weave right into the external obliques,  and the same nerve that innervates the lower intercostals also innervates the abdominals. As we have evolved over millions of years to be warm-blooded and hence to need a lot of oxygen, the diaphragm has developed to make breathing more  effective and efficient.


I’m not saying one should not have good tone in your abdominals, and if someone’s life goal is to have a “six-pack” then that’s fine, but it does not mean you should grip your diaphragm, and make the organs tense. When you take a long breath in you feel your abdomen expanding slightly and when you exhale the tummy muscles will contract, so they are being exercised 24 hours a day. If you have good deep breathing these muscles are being toned all the time.
When do you think are they being exercised more, when you are holding them or when you allow them to move ? 

So what about the people who will say that engaging their core has really helped with their back condition?

Well I feel that very often for those once or twice a week yogis who haven’t really developed the inner feeling of what they are doing, and the yoga teachers who have always been trying to perfect and deepen their poses, the manual holding in the abdomen will give them a temporary feeling of some engagement and strength. Plus if they really believe in the coach or the teacher’s authority, it can produce a placebo effect, a kind of temporary short-term help so things may seem stronger and more supportive for a while.

Also it can help some people because it can wake up an awareness of this general area, therefore making it a little more conscious. A lot of people have a kind of “sensory amnesia” of their centres. However that will only be of short term benefit, because the flexibility of the spine and hip will always be restricted, along with the vibrancy of the internal organs, so the movement of the pelvic floor and all its connections will lose elasticity and tone over time.


My real hope is that those in the yoga world who may have adopted the spin of the “core stability myth ” and worse still are applying it in their practices (no matter how subtly) will explore and enquire more fully.

Core strength is very important, but only when you take into consideration the totality of the rest of your body. Even if you are one of those people who are flexible and strong enough to get away with engaging your core and you do it because you like the feeling of engaging it, you are never going to reach your full potential. You are going against function, the deepest wish of your body, and somewhere down the line you will have to pay a price. Perhaps this is why a large percentage of dancers end up with so many body problems in later life.

The moment we bring attention to any movement, new connections are made and the brain’s organizational abilities improve. Once we turn down the effort in our practice the brain senses so much more. When we reduce force in our practice, we naturally become more fully present. We experience what we are doing so much more. By actually reducing effort has we practice we achieve so much more. This is the sacred heart of what we call intuition.

Each bodymind is unique, there has never been and will never be one just like you.  When we start to question and explore we start finding the true meaning of yoga for ourselves. We start to touch the many colours and depth of our own personal practice. Then the true energy and potential inside us all will be cultivated and nourished.




The Direct Path of Kashmir Yoga: The pure Zen of yoga

by Jay Rossi

"Any technique or system keeps the person in the vicious circle, because it is trying to heal what is fundamentally an illusion." Jean Klein

When we were very young children we were just pure being, no sense of identity at all, and though the child cries because of the need for food, it is just an expression of simple crying because hunger is happening.
Then what seems to happen is there comes a moment when the child looks into the mirror and the parents tell the child, "you are Christine" and that the face in the mirror is them. Then comes the first contraction of energy and consciousness, as we become at that point a separate person, and therefore comes an embodied feeling that the skin is our limitation, our boundary with everything else outside and separate from us.

From that time there is a sense of loss with a deep longing to return home to that sense of childlike wonder and expansion. The whole idea of making your life work, of clearing your chakras, perfecting asanas, drinking, drugs, forgiving your mother, are attempts to return home.
The real problem with searching and seeking is that it fuels the separation. In fact from my observation the more bodywork and yoga you do as an individual the more energy gets compressed.

You see the individual needs a target, a journey, a path, a place to going the longing to return home. But this sense of loss can never be found through techniques or meditations, in fact there is nothing that needs to be done because an apparently separate entity can never draw itself nearer to its own end.
We actually live in two dimensions; we are here in form and space or awareness.
Space is actually what you are, a spacious awareness.
Life to me is the dance between form and space, the bridge.

When you look around you now as you read this, there are objects, things and the space filling the room, and there is your own space observing.
Objects and space make up everything, yet every object at its quantum level is also space.
No-thing or space is not merely nothing. Nothing, in fact it is a wonderful healer and is critical to the health and the balance of our nervous systems

Scientists have discovered that when a person attends to the space around objects or within their own bodies, the brain responds immediately by dropping into a whole brain synchronous alpha state.

A very relaxed, yet alert state.
The brain when attending to space has nothing to grip on to, or make sense of, to objectify. Space sometimes can be the only true intelligence, 'not knowing' is a powerful energy field. Sometimes magic arises from allowing stillness to speak.

The wonderful news is there is no technique we have to learn, it's simply just a re-directing of attention. Spaciousness or presence is our natural way of being.

I'm not suggesting that we become zombies and just be open space, non individuals, letting life throw us around. I'm not suggesting that at all.
The personality continues, maybe an even more colourful personality, but everything becomes new each moment. Fears worry, anger can still arise but there is no one who takes possession of it now. So it doesn't anchor, stay home, it simple falls back into nothingness.

So what happens when you come to a Jay Rossi's Kashmir yoga workshop?

I am not teaching you anything you don't already know inside, just simply a rediscovering of what has never left you. We meet in space, there is no you or me in space, but a oneness. Spaciousness is really what you are; emptiness is already fully present in you.

Yes we use breath, asanas to assist in the exploration of what's most natural to you. We enquire and attend to facts, exploring bodily sensation and breath.

The goal of our exploration is not a relaxed or healthy body or even a more sensitive body but to know the perceiver of the body.

Usually health and vitality arise much more when all the energy that has been compressed by getting stuck in form has been liberated into the totality by our enquiries and explorations. You may discover your vibrational frequency changes with space because we free ourselves from being stuck in form.
Students have said these Kashmir workshops are liberating because tension seems to melt away. The tension of thinking I am inside a small, separate 'body thing' melts as I enjoy being once again boundless, airy and light, full of energy and full of the world. You can allow your energy to fully expand to its natural dimensions.

The experience of fundamental Openness is very natural and familiar; just as we were when we were children, spontaneous and relaxed, creative and very playful.
You see really what's happened is consciousness is liberated.
"I myself have no idea or sensation of my body being limited.
Whether my eyes are open or closed, I am everywhere, expanded in space. I cannot say how many meters or how far this expanded body stretches."
Jean Klein

Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian sage was acknowledged by Zen monks, and the highest yogis in India as a great teacher. Trusted by millions of people in India as one of the greatest mystical teachers of the century said that liberation, (which is the seeing who you really are) is the easiest thing in the whole world.
However let's be honest here, most yoga practioners & teachers have no real interest in awakening, or finding their true nature. They may want to heal their back, or relax more or increase their flexibility, or increase their energy and let's face it that can still be a rewarding practice at a certain level.

Such people are not really interested in surrendering to this available ever present ordinary, openness, beingness. The individual is very clever in creating avoidance in very subtle ways because the nature of the seeker is to seek to be separate, to look for the next book, or technique or teacher.
Your central reality is spaciousness, presence and is direct, and as simple and natural as breathing and it's very ordinary. It is usually not filled with bright lights or ecstatic states. It's just very ordinary but absolutely wonderful and can change everything.

We discover in this approach the secret is really an open secret, it's always been there and available all the time, it's just been covered up by an idea of separation. We are not importing anything new into our lives or yoga practice except a re-direction of attention.

The Kashmir approach has its origins in the remote valleys of 8th century Kashmir and differs markedly from the well-known practices formalised by Patanjali. Dr Jean Klein bought this approach to the west from India in the 1960s having lived in India for a number of years and studying the Kashmir approach there. I studied with Dr Klein & his most senior students Francis Lucille & Eric Baret for the last 16 years. I have explored, questioned and expanded this approach to make it very accessible to the complete beginner & the most advanced meditator or yoga teacher.

Jay Rossi


Further reading:

Yoga of the Ancient Kashmir Tradition by Jay Rossi

Transmissions of the Flame Jean Klein

Both available at Amazon UK