Think of the word “core” not in its sense of abs and lower back, but in its sense of a deep axis of the body, like an apple core. That axis will follow the line of your primary hip flexor muscle, the psoas, extending in both directions towards your feet and your head. You can trace the line of your core channel from your inner heels, through your inner thighs and your hip creases, coming together behind your navel and lengthening along the front of your spine towards your head. You can even include the line of your inner arms, from your inner armpits, through your biceps to your index fingers and thumbs. Initiate all your movements from the center of that core channel, specifically from a place somewhere between your navel and your spine.
As you organize your poses, think of two interlocking V-shapes to help you integrate your limbs into your core channel. Reach your tail and arms away from each other as one oppositional pairing, and your head and legs away from each other as the second. In some poses or transitions, one paring might make more immediate sense than the other. If you find this to be the case, perhaps repeat the pose or transition focusing on the less apparent pair in an attempt to integrate it into your movement or organizational patterning. Working in this way can help develop ease and efficiency as you clarify the pathways from your extremities–fingers/hands, feet/toes, tail and head–to your core channel and the front of your spine.
This post was originally published at yogaunion.com.
More than just something to push off from or to travel across, or something to collapse into at the end of class in Shavasana (Corpse Pose), the floor is an integral partner in any physical practice, just as gravity is an essential organizing principle.
So often we move with much more energy than we really need. As we develop and grow, somewhere in our essential Self we develop misguided notions of effort and power and the way we need to hold ourselves as we move through the world. At deep levels we feel we need to “do” in order to be effective, to be valid, to be seen. These belief systems develop into patterns of holding within our bodies as our nervous systems instill tensions in our soft tissues that actually limit our ease and freedom rather than contribute to it. It’s as if we forget that we have strong bones and stable earth underneath us to support us.
Allowing yourself to enter into relationship with the floor and to truly release into its support can help guide your practice, and your everyday movements, into a freer and more integrated expression. Release, in this context, is an interesting word. It doesn’t mean let go completely and be floppy and un-energized. Tension has developed into a very bad word in our culture, but the truth is that a body that is alive is a body that has tension. Some tension is necessary for movement, but also for supported, open stillness. When I say release, I mean not collapse and floppiness, but release into the support of your bones and the floor.
A good way to develop and refine your relationship to the floor is in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) or other supported restorative poses, but even something uncomplicated like Virasana (Hero Pose) or Tadasana (Mountain Pose) can be a great place to start. Wherever and whenever you choose, allow yourself to feel a sense of surrender to the effects of gravity. See if any part of you is pushing down towards or into the floor, or trying to hold itself up away from it. Can you allow that to release into the support of your bones and the floor? From this surrender, allow the floor to rise up and support you, so that for every ounce of downward release your body gives, there is an equivalent rebound up through the earth up and out into you.
Even as you flow through your classes, take the occasional moment to be aware of the union of gravity flowing through you and your bones into the floor and the support of the floor rising up through your bones to support you. Experiment with the way you perceive this and observe its effects on the quality of your bearing and your movements.
This post was originally published at yogaunion.com.
Often when we move there are all sorts of narrowings and pulls that we perform without even realizing it that serve to compress our spines and torso. This all has the effect of interfering with our most efficient, inherent movement patterning. I this practice we will work with a series of directions to allow the spine to elongate to its fullest length in a balance and supported way. Throughout the practice, we will pay attention to the manner of movement as we attempt to undo our interfering habits and allow the underlying support of our musculo-skeletal structure to resolve itself.
As you go through your poses, consider the following points:
- Connect the Pubic Bone and Xiphoid Process to the navel.
- Allow the head to release away from the tail. Don’t “do” this in any muscular way. Allow it to be an organizing thought.
- Lengthen the sitting bones away from the head without tilting or tucking the pelvis.
- Lengthen the thoracic spine and the sternum evenly towards the head.
At the beginning of the year, we worked through a series of practices based around movement ideas developed by Irmgard Bartenieff relating to the way we connect to the core/mid-line of the body. In these practices we explored ways in which to move into and out of poses as a way of organizing the body in preparation for the poses themselves. As the series developed, we began to incorporate ideas developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen in her Body/Mind Centering system that were about organizing movement around the organs. Here’s a breakdown with links to the practices for you to explore:
- Moving from the Core: In this practice we begin to explore the relationship of the body to gravity and to the support of the floor. In addition, we begin to link the arms and legs into the core channel in a practice that includes floor work, inversions and a vinyasa that focus on standing poses.
- Moving from the Core 2: Here we begin to explore the core channel of the body in a little more depth, connecting the arms and legs into it, while exploring the space behind the heart and navel. This practice combines restorative and rope work with vinyasa, reclined poses and inversions.
- Moving from the Core 3: In this practice we start to incorporate twisting movements, sequencing around the the core channel and using the arms and legs to create balance, stability and support. The practice includes vinyasa, arm balances, reclined and core poses as well as standing poses and inversions.
- Twisting from the Core: Here we explore twist further in a practice that includes vinyasa, arm balances, inversions, standing poses seated twists and forward bends.
- Folding Forward from the Core: This exploration of moving into and out of forward bends includes, vinyasa, arm balances, inversions and variations as well as seated forward bends.
- Widening the Deep Surface of the Front Body: In this practice we take the time to become aware of the inner space of the body through which the core channel flows. It includes inversions, arm balances, core poses and back bends.
- Moving from the Organ Pillars: Here we take the idea of the core channel further and add to it the idea of taking support and initiating movement from the organs. The practice includes core poses, arm balances, inversions and a standing pose vinyasa.
- Moving from the Organ Pillars 2: Here we use the organ pillars as a support for twists in standing poses and inversions.
- Twisting from the Organ Pillars: Here we take the twists deeper, starting with standing poses and inversions, progressing through Mayurasana (Peacock Pose) to seated twists.
- Reaching the Legs out of the Large Intestine: I is practice we take the lower body connection into the core into back bends.
- Initiating from the Trochanters: In this practice we will be thinking of contralateral action, where the opposite arm and leg are moving away from each other. It includes inversions, standing and seated twists as well as Padmasana (Lotus Pose) variations.
- Balancing the Trochanters in Contralateral Movement: In this final practice of the series, we take our investigation of contralateral movement further into Marichyasana variations and revolved forward bends.
In this practice we will continue to think of psoas major and minor to stabilize and balance the pelvis, but we will also think of the movement of the sacrum relative to the lower back. In people with a tendency to tilt the pelvis back (“tuckers”) the head, or top, of the sacrum often never quite moves into the body enough when it comes to back bends. In people who have a tendency to tilt the pelvis forward (“tilters”) the head of the sacrum can already be too deep into the body before they even begin. In this practice consider the following:
- Tuckers: Lengthen along psoas major towards the feet while softening and expanding iliacus from back to front. Allow the head of the sacrum to gently nod forward, deeper into the body without gripping the lower back. Lengthen along psoas minor towards the head if the head of the sacrum pushes forward too much.
- Tilters: Lengthen along psoas minor towards the head while softening and expanding iliacus from front to back. Allow the head of the sacrum to nod back, moving closer to the skin without gripping the lower buttocks or the upper hamstrings. Lengthen along psoas major towards the feet if this starts to happen. (more…)
Even in poses where the shape is essentially symmetrical, left to right, focus on reaching evenly through the opposite arm and leg, or trochanters and shoulder. (more…)
As we continue our exploration of movement from the core, in this practice we will be thinking of contralateral action, where the opposite arm and leg are moving away from each other. These poses all involve flexion of the hip joint and deepening of the hip crease. If, however, we initiate from the hip crease itself, we run the risk of over-working and compressing the joint, potentially jamming the sacrum and lower back forward. Instead, we will think about initiating from the trochanters (see figure) instead.
Working with the trochanters gives us the added benefit of being able to work with the legs and hip joints to provide optimal support for the torso. We can also begin to work with our own tendencies and imbalances in an effective way. To this end, consider the following points:
For argument’s sake, let us consider the greater trochanter to be the outermost corner of the crescent-shaped hip crease, or groin, and the lesser trochanter to be the innermost. Anatomically speaking this isn’t quite the case, but this idea allows us to link the hips, thighs, pelvis and abdomen in a simple and useful way.
Our primary goal will to be balancing the weight and support in each of the four trochanters. In some poses, such as Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose), the hip creases tend to flow inwards, the weight falling on the lesser trochanters, and in some poses, such as Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose), the hip creases flow outwards, the weight tending to fall towards the greater trochanter. Widen the hip creases in the opposite direction from the tendency in order to balance out the trochanters.
In this practice we will be using the adductors muscles, the muscles that draw the legs in towards the midline of the body, to provide strength and support for a variety of poses, feeding into the deep core of the body. In each of the poses, consider the following:
- Strengthen the inner thighs. Do this not by squeezing, but by bringing weight into them and directing them either towards or away from the navel, down into the ground or up towards the ceiling.
- To complement and ground the strengthening of the inner thighs, lengthen the inner foot, sending the big toe away from the inner heel and the inner heel away from the big toe.
- Organize the body along the mid-line. Mentally draw a line along the inner feet, the inner ankle, the inner thigh, in front of the tailbone, behind the navel behind the heart and up through the middle of the head. Allow the two sides of the body, front and back, to spread out evenly away from this mid-line.
- Reach the legs, the arms, the tail and the head away from the navel. Allow the whole body, torso and all, to radiate out from the navel equally in all directions.
The primary goal in this sequence is to move with an economy of effort, especially in the back bends. Because even the baby backbends, such as Shalabhasana (Locust Pose) and Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) can be so challenging, we very often brace the limbs and torso, grip the buttocks and back and push into the floor, making something that is already hard even harder. Move slowly and intelligently, observing where things are working that do not need to and encouraging those areas to soften. Consider the following points as you go through the poses:
- Instead of the torso and limbs making up a hard shell that contain and constrict the organs, allow them to be supple and permeable, supporting and being supported by the organs. Allow the body to empty and to fill with the breath, deflating and expanding, to encourage this approach.
- Elongate the two sides of the large intestine to lengthen back through the legs. Trace a path from the intestine, though the pelvic bone, the hip, the thigh the knee, the lower leg, the ankle, the foot and the toes and back again. Reach through that path to energize and either anchor or lift the legs, depending on the pose.
- Widen the lungs away from the mid-line of the body and reach them out into the arms and towards the head.
Once again, we are trying to keep the two organ pillars made if of lung, kidney and sides of the large intestine elongated and the kidneys suspended.
In the twisted poses, one pillar will lengthen along the axis of the body, while the other lung will turn around the core channel of the body to deepen the twist.
As you twist, maintain awareness of the kidneys. In some people, the kidneys might jam forward towards the front of the body while in others they might bulge back. Instead of pushing in one direction or the other, create space behind or in front of the organ so that the kidney can soften back into alignment.
In every pose, trace a path from the lung to the fingertips through the ribs, the shoulder blade and collar bone, the upper arm, elbow, forearm, palm and fingertips. Reach through that path. (more…)