Lesson 3: The Origins of Posture and Movement

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Lesson 4
Orienting to Weight and Lightness
and the Origins of Posture and Movement

     We continue bringing mindful awareness to the breath, to the moment, and now we bring our focal attention to the felt sense of weight, the felt sense of lightness, and the perfect balance of those in a body that is awake, and either moving, or ready to move. We see this in Serena Williams, mid serve. She loads her left leg with weight, preparing to generate power from the earth while simultaneously rising up to follow the ball, tracking with her eyes, as she leads the racket with her back arm. This is a snap shot of an ongoing action, but all posture, yoga poses included, have this balance of weight or down, and lightness, or up, as the foundation. It arises as the possibility of all movement.images

Contrast Serena with Mr. Iyengar in this classic photo from “Light on Yoga”. As a yoga student we have to feel that the aliveness of tadasana has no rigidity; just dynamic possibility.  Iyengar’s tadasana is filled with hidden subtlety. His stillness is as dynamic as Serena’s, but because it is a posture, he sustains the pose, where as Serena’s flows into the completion of the serve. Finding dynamic stillness is the Holy Grail of asana practice and it all begins in the feet.

Amazingly enough, before we can pay attention to, or attend to anything, we have to first, consciously or unconsciously, orient ourselves to gravity and then the space around us. We need to locate ourselves in the world. Only then can we make sense of the myriad sensations that are bombarding the nervous system moment by moment, can we isolate one group of sensations and inhibit or diminish the others. If, in your travels, you have ever woken up in the middle of the night in a strange bed, you may remember the disorienting state while the mind tries to answer the question “Where am I?”. From the point of view of the nervous system, this is an on-going inquiry.

UnknownThe fundamental orientation of the body is down, to the earth, to gravity and the felt sense of weight. The first cranial nerves to myelinate during fetal development are the vestibular nerves. These innervate the vestibular system, the series of bones, tubes and fluids in the inner ears that give us a felt sense of a stable ‘down’ and the corresponding capacity to orient to the space around us. Although ‘down’ can be felt anywhere in the body, the soles of the feet contain the major gravity sensors related to movement and the human upright posture.

Unknown-1In “The Brain That Changes Itself”, there is an amazing story of a woman who had sustained damage to her vestibular sense and constantly had the sense of falling. Even lying on the floor, her embodied experience was that of falling. Her vestibular sense could not find ground. A pioneering neuroscientist devised a helmet, connected to a sensor on her tongue, (an extension of the nervous system), which sat on her head, to recreate the vestibular information not coming from the damaged areas. This sensor fed the brain with moment to moment information about her position relative to gravity. By practicing with this sensor, she gradually reprogrammed her nervous system, weaned herself off of the helmet, and restored her innate sense of balance and stability.

The complimentary orientation is to space and the felt sense of lightness. How do we experience the space around us, including the sky above us, and the beings, objects and sets of conditions that occupy this space. In order to move through the world, we need to make sense of where things are in relation to how and where we are moving, or else we will keep bumping into or tripping over things. In earlier times, this skill was crucial in finding food and avoiding danger.

Because the human nervous system does not emerge fully formed, (see the Neuroscience section) some developmental aspects can need extra help in becoming integrated, and this fundamental orienting system is one of them. Now a days there are many children who are diagnosed with various degrees of “sensory integration” dysfunction and my son Sean happened to be one of them. ” Sensory integrative dysfunction is to the brain what indigestion is to the digestive system.” Although this is a complex subject, this essentially means that their nervous system has difficulty processing sensory information and this will in turn affect activity and behavior.

My son was hypersensitive to many sensations coming from the world around him, but very insensitive to the sensations coming from his own body. As an example, when he was in kindergarten, he just could not ignore the random sounds coming from the heating pipes from the floor below, thus could not pay attention to what was going on in class, and would often get in trouble with the teacher for not cooperating. On the other hand, because he could not feel his own body, he would often push or poke other kids to increase his own physical sensations, to ‘find himself’, to help orient himself to the room. As we discovered, these are classic signs of SI dysfunction and we had him evaluated to images-2learn more about what could be done to help. He was not intentionally being a trouble maker, but was struggling trying to organize his nervous system to handle the complex environment of the classroom.

One of the primary therapeutic interventions introduced for Sean was to have him add weight to give him a stronger sense of ground and to help him find where his body was in space. We had a weighted vest for him to wear, sand bags to put on his legs when sitting, and had him push against heavy objects to increase the feedback of his muscles and bones. His teachers were asked to give him tasks such as carrying stacks of books, even push-ups when he seemed to be distracted.

What fascinated me was that I had been doing such things for myself in my yoga practice for many years. The Iyengar system had taught me how to carefully use sandbags and barbell plates to weigh down the legs, arms and other parts of the body in specific supported poses. My experience has always been feeling the muscles slowly relax as a surrendering shift of the weight into the bones and from the bones to the gravity and the earth. In the integrated state there is a simultaneous feeling of both weight and lightness. But until Sean’s challenge, I had never realized the deeper implications of a deeply felt sense of weight, felt sense being the operative phrase here. My body has weight and is being supported by the earth. I can relax, and my whole nervous system shifts gears!

Many years later, Sean is very embodied, active in sports, and much more (relatively speaking!) relaxed. He was never interested in soccer (needed to be grounded in his legs) but very interested in baseball, swinging and throwing with his upper body. He finally found his legs through the surprisingly demanding discipline of fencing and it is amazing to see how his personality and self confidence grew by the day with his practice. He can feel his own embodied strength and actually continue to increase his own self integrating capacities. Today he is a serious hiker, and does weight training and running. This whole process has been hugely influential in my understanding of how the yoga poses can be utilized to accelerate our own continuing integration process.

Tadasana

We humans, as bipedal creatures, rely tremendously on our feet to be the energetic link from our nervous system to gravity. Our feet, all 52 bones of them, provide the foundation for integrated body movements and the key to understanding the nature of the upright posture. For an untrained body, the feet are a place of tension, confusion and suffering. Plantar fascitis, ankle sprains, achilles tendon problems, and bunions are just some of the challenges that are felt in the feet. In yoga, we learn how to use the feet wisely, how to distribute the flow of support through all of the bones into ground. (Feet as Tensegrity Structures)

In this course, we are going to use the skiers pose for tadasana, our staring point of exploration. In skiing, (or ice skating, snowboarding, skateboarding, roller blading etc) the knees are relaxed and slightly flexed to allow the felt sense of ground to come into the feet. You would never try to ski with straight legs because you lose resilience and connection. Why should a yoga pose be different? As theimages-1 body learns to relax downward into the feet, and beyond the feet into the center of the earth, there is a felt sense of balance and flow. Even though there is no obvious outer movement, as in skiing, the ease of relaxed balance remains, and we discover balance involves non-stop micro-adjustments and subtle movements. Visualize a tight-rope walker Unknown-2like Philippe Petit, sustaining balance with relaxed sensitivity. This is the crucial reference for all of our yoga postures. Can I feel relaxed, fluid and grounded. Iyengar’s tadasana is deceptive because he is so open energetically from years of intense vinyasa practice. He is able to create a very dynamic extension through his legs without any locking of the energy. What he does is actually a very advanced pose, from an energy point of view. We can arrive there, but by first finding effortless flow everywhere in the body.

A deeper look at feet offers us more insight into how to create this. From standing we begin to move and we use our feet to initiate movement. Both walking and running involve the feet having a dynamic relationship with the ground underneath us. How we push off determines the speed and direction of our movements. Take a walk around the room noticing your feet. What parts of your feet do you feel? Where is your weight? What happens with the heels, the arches, the toes? Stop and pause again in tadasana.

An important insight arises if we are attentive. We never lift our arches to move! On the contrary, we push down through the arches into the earth to create a springing rebound that propels us through space. Visualize skiing or skating and how you push down through the edges/blades to create movement. This is fundamental very much misunderstood in the yoga world as so many teachers ask student to lift their toes or arches to wake up the feet. While it is of utmost importance to awaken the feet, lifting the arches actually hardens them, makes them less elastic, and blocks the healthy flow of grounding energy necessary. images-7Notice the energy lines demonstrated on this structural arch. The keystone is supported and rises because all the weight is channeled DOWN! The arches of the feet work the same, they are just dynamic rather than static.

All yoga postures are expressions of natural movements of the body that flow from a balanced relationship between weight and lightness, earth and heaven. If you cannot move into and out of a yoga pose relatively fluidly, you do not belong there! All beginners should learn how to move into and out of postures easily before staying longer in them. Do not “hold” postures, but sustain them like a singer will sustain a note. No constrictions or dullness, no rajasic or tamasic activity, but a balance of stability and mobility to sustain the pose.

Next we will look at going into and coming out of postures as we look to sustain this felt sense of balance at all times.

 

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Beginning: Related Links
1. Introduction
2. Deepening Your Practice
3. Spiritual Maturity

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Recent Posts

Micro-Cosmic Orbit: Pt 2

Exploring and Embodying Three Dimensions

In the previous post we explored the micro-cosmic orbit as a means to refine our focal attention (samadhi) through bringing our attention to specific points along the orbit and linking these points into lines, arcs and circles. As we work more deeply this way, we may discover that we can find these points at three levels. The first is out beyond the confines of the skin, in an ‘orbit’ in the energy field around the body. The second is directly on the skin, where an acupuncturist or shiatsu practitioner would apply needles or pressure. The third is in the interior of the body along the planes of fascia interwoven through the organs, blood vessels and nerves. When we can feel all three of these levels simultaneously, we are inhabiting our spherical energy field and can begin to fully realize the possibilities of having three dimensional/spatial sensitivity, perception and consciousness.

images-5The girdle vessel (Dai Mai,) the fourth vessel we use, is a latitude line and is essential in finding our three dimensional perceptual field. This yang vessel pairs with the yin ‘thrusting vessel, the vertical center axis, creating horizontal stability, and allowing us to rotate/twist. Rotation inherently builds the third dimension of depth ( A circle has length and width. To create a sphere you add depth. ) and is the gateway to cosmic awareness as well as a more vibrant embodied presence.

Rotation drives the whole manifest universe. In our solar system, the planets spiral around milky_waythe sun. In our Milky Way galaxy, the stars, including our sun, spiral around a center (probably a giant black hole! If you can find Sagittarius in the night sky, and you will probably have to wait until next summer, look through and imagine 26,000 light years off in the distance.) The earth rotates on its own axis creating weather patterns as well as a sense of day and night.

The spinning top (one of the oldest toys known to humans, found in archeological sites all over the world) demonstrates the cosmic principle in physics we are embodying. The faster it rotates, the more stable the vertical line. When the top slows down it starts to wobble and when it stops spinning, it falls over. To keep the rotation, you need to keep feeding it with energy. The bicycle uses this same principle, flipped 90 degrees. Another aspect we explore is the radius of the horizontal circle. Rotation pushes from the center outward (yang) in what is called centrifugal force. As this is counterbalanced by theGM2434B-1 yin centripetal (center seeking) force, we can change the volume of the energy field by playing with this ‘expanding – condensing’, yang – yin relationship.

In this top, the widest circle with the most outward thrust, the purple one, is below the center of the vertical axis. Lowering the center of gravity adds even more stability, which is why we emphasize the lower dantien in our breathing, movement and meditation practice. When we discover how to work with this principle in the energy field, our twisting poses can actually help expand the body. If we work muscularly, you will feel constricting in twisting poses.

SBK_1711254-24Traditionally the ‘dai mai’ girdle vessel surrounds the body at the level of the pelvis in the lower dantien. but we can move our attention to awaken other ‘latitudes’ of the body. To begin in the feet, stand with the right foot forward, the left foot back, as if you are about to move into a standing twist (without the forward bend), but haven’t yet begun. Before you move any further, imagine a spiraling coil of energy beginning below the floor (the Antarctic Circle) and traveling up the center. Notice how this mimics the girdle vessel. Now imagine the coils widening as they rise up from the base ( moving toward the equator), as the yang energy expands outward. The girdle vessel is very yang so this is quite natural. Feel the energetic volume expanding and condensing with the breath, but slowly expanding in overall volume

To awaken the front body-yin energy field, we can take the hoop forward to fully engage the arms and shoulders. Now imagine the hoops extends through the back body, receiving the rising spiral and expanding as the action of twisting. SBK_1711254-2SBK_1711254-9Most students eventually leave half of the body behind and end up contracting rather than expanding, especially along the spine column. Imagine the center of the spinal canal opening outward in an expanding circle/spiral, melting the tissue, feeling spaciousness, transcending the limitations of structure.SBK_1711254-4 (My front foot turns out much more than average to release the inner groin. Don’t feel you have to imitate this, but find out for yourself where openness and balance meet.) The hoop is moved to the front to expand the yin/organ/front body qi field and expand the ‘wings’ of the body, but also feel the back body softening and opening. This feeling can be evoked in sitting, lying and inverted twists as well. If you do not have a hula hoop handy, you can also use a thera-ball to find the volume.SBK_1711254-8

 

Another key component awakened here is the Pericardium 8 point, PC-8 (or P-8) in the center of the palms. Analagous to the K-1 points on the feet, P-8 is a gateway between the inner and outer qi fields. The SBK_1711254-11Pericardium, the fascial connective tissue membrane surrounding the heart, arises embryologically from the same cells and tissues that create the diaphragm and liver. The ‘heart protector’ literally does this, on many levels. As someone with a well-armored heart, I am finding that opening and nurturing the heart protector so that is does its job with over doing it is awakening a level of sweet vulnerability that is both precious and scary.

SBK_1711254-12In acupuncture, the pericardium meridian is part of the JueYin channel and connects all the way through the femoral canal to the legs. For those of you who have been practicing ‘climbing the wall’ for the last few years, you can actually trace the whole fascial continuity of the Jue Yin. (Use imagination to fill in the blanks.) Rise up from K-1 (not the heels, even though they do rise on their own) (DFL for those of you who know Tom Myers’ ‘Anatomy Trains’ system) to P-8, passing through liver, diaphragm and pericardium.

You can also track the qi from P-8 back into the body horizontally, again using the wall.SBK_1711254-14 Using the tip of the  middle finger of your other hand (PC-9) to feel the connections, trace the qi from the the wall and P-8 into the area around the pec minor muscle and then go inside the body to the pericardiam itself, along with the liver and diaphragm. Use the breath and your imagination. Then go back and try the twistings shown above with these new perceptions.

SBK_1711254-20To continue our building of a three dimensional perceptual qi field, we can return to the thera-ball to provide sensation and visualization. I like the feel of my third chakra having organ support, so I find placing the ball there and using a wall creates a powerful presence on the inside. Embryologically speaking, this is the extemely yin yolk sac which becomes the entire gut body. The conception vessel points on the micro-cosmic orbit are stimulated by the ball, bringing sensation and perception here. The liver comes from the yolk sac, so I can use this position to also find the Jue Yin channel we explored above. Lying SBK_1711254-19over the ball in a forward bend creates a similar feeling, with even more yielding and softening to the yang back body erector muscles. By moving the ball to the sternum, I can activate a new set of points on the conception vessel and engage the inner tissues surrounding the 4th chakra

If I want to build up my back field perception, I use the ball from behind and awaken sensation on the yang Governing Vessel.SBK_1711254-16 Here I have dropped it a bit lower to find the sacral-lumbar junction and here I can feel the possibility of both lumbar flexion and extension, from S curve to C curve and back.  The very important GV-4 Qi gong Image‘gate of vitality’ is here The inner abdominal space also opens and the front back and center plane begin to become conscious. This becomes trickier as you move upwards towards the liver. You can place the ball anywhere and feel different points coming alive. Feel their inner as well as outer presence. Back support can also help open the front. I haveSBK_1711254-17been trying to open my throat more for my sax sound and using the ball (or any elastic support) helps soften and melt tight tissue.

SBK_1711254-21Fish body support, opening some Gall Bladder Meridian points is another way to use the ball. I am using the wall, but this can be done on the floor as well, with slightly different effects. All of these ways of playing with the three dimensional field are ways of awakening and establishing a dynamic energetic field, centered in your heart, and radiating out throughout the whole of the cosmos. When you are out in Nature, feel this. When you are out and about in the human sphere, feel how you respond. It is fascinating to see what happens.

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