In posture and activity, stabilizing and or moving from and into a center point can be great feedback. You start noticing what is your attitude of your body, breath/prana, and your mind. Where do you stand or sit from? Where do you move from and into in your life? What are the effects of the postures we take–both physically and mentally? How could we organize our postures of our body, breath/energy and our mind?
It is this latter question we wish to speak of at this time. The other ones are of great interest also and we will allude to them as well.
Coming to this center means finding a balance point within these three systems of the:
- Body System
- Breath or Pranic or Energy System
- Mind System
Let’s look at posture. Sitting posture is one place to start. Sitting for meditation is a great place to start. To sit well can be a lifetime endeavor. As you will see or know, all these systems (body, breath and mind) relate closely to each other. So only for convenience are we separating them out here.
Sit with the head neck and trunk straight. This is a popular guideline in meditation. On this site there is an outline (here) for how to arrange the body to sit. We will not go through that detail but add some other points and emphasize some previous points.
Center All Spinal Junctions
- Where the head meets the top of the neck (O-A joint)
- Where the bottom of the neck meets the upper back (Cervico-thoracic joint)
- Where the bottom of the rib spine meets the top of the low back spine (thoraco-lumbar joint)
- Where the bottom of the low back spine meets the sacrum or pelvis (lumbo-sacral joint)
Let’s pick one of the above areas to talk about a bit more. The thoraco-lumbar joint on many people who try to sit erect or even stand erect is often not placed in the center of its excursion/range. or of it’s tone. Often I see many people place this area in to much extension. That means we are leaning backwards too much from this area. Leaning backwards is part of not leaning forwards. It is just that this T/L junction placed into too much backward or extension movement.
To understand or appreciate this over extension of the T/L junction we need to see this over effort as a compensation. It is usually in part taking place in the adjacent areas above and or below. That means the rib spine or Thoracic spine is too forward or flexed. The same can be true of the waist spine or lumbar spine (it can be too forward or flexed).
The effort at straightening up in sitting in this example is just taking some common postural dysfunctions in order to elucidate the issue of centrating the junctional areas of the spine.
This over extended T/L junction causes tension and impedes normal tonic flow of information both grossly and subtly. This means it is crimping this area like you would crimp a garden hose–it interrupts the flow along the spine. (whether we talk about a facilitated/inhibited vertebral segment or talk about impeding pranic flow–in principal they are coming from the same problem–postural imbalance of not centering properly)
How to center at the T/L junction
Easiest way to come to center is to first explore the two ends. So sitting like the above is moving the T/L too far forward–flexing too much and relaxing or over stretching the posterior elements, tsk, tsk. You are trying to arrive at something in between after you literally flex and extend this area. You can see that extending at the T/L junction allows one to nicely lift the chest. If the thoracic spine is stiff and bent a bit forward in flexion, then lifting the chest at this area is a compensation for a problem above. (a dysfunctional compensation for many)
So as you explore moving in flexion and extension at the T/L, make the movement excursion smaller and smaller. Find this in-between place. Check the lower ribs that meet the belly to see that they are not lifting nor depressing. The erecting of the trunk comes from the anterior rotation of the pelvis and less activity of the lumbar lordosis than many perform. The centering of the T/L junction is supported by activation of the belly. The front lower ribs and the front of the pelvis maintain the upper trunk from leaning backward at this junction.
The belly is not rock hard. Proper diaphragmatic breathing continues and is a check that the belly tone is just right. If you are breathing only in the belly like an infant, then you are not breathing efficiently. (Belly breathing is a good first start vs chest breathing. It is only a starting point, not an end point. Get instruction if needed.) Breathing now should be felt more three dimensional. The belly in proper tone that helps centrate the T/L junction, allows the breath on inhalation to expand laterally and slightly posteriorly.
This centrating or centering the T/L junction often places people with a forward head posture in an exaggeration of their postural dysfunction/problem. Also many people with a forward head over extend the T/L junction as their compensation. Then when they try to correct the forward head they over lengthen their O-A junction, by incorrectly doing the turtle movement or head retraction to stand tall. (isolated cueing without respecting the pattern of compensations is a recipe for failure and adding tensions in order to be correct, which in this case is incorrect.)
Weight of the body is placed through or slightly anterior of the hip joint axis
Most people sit straight with the too much activity of their muscles along the spine, the paraspinals. First let the weight go through the pelvis with a properly rotated pelvis (slightly forward) and ones normal lumbar lordosis (similar to in standing). Allow the hip joint to be flexed while the lumbars are in their normal lordosis. The sacrum is also anteriorly nutated. (meaning that the lower lumbar spinal segments are supported in extension because the base of the sacrum, the top, is slightly forward.) This hip position will automatically activate the hip extensors, slightly. Also the hip flexors are involved in stabilizing the spine. There is a symphony of balancing activities going on here. Some of which we have a better idea than of others. (probably there is more to say and these things said will be revised over time.) Here the hip extensors are acting eccentrically in a tonic fashion. (meaning that you are not extending the hip per se but you are using these muscles to control flexion–eccentrics are lengthening contractions, like when you do a push up and lower your body your elbow extensors are controlling the elbow flexion activity vs extending the elbow at that time.)
Breath, Energy or Pranic System
In Yoga the Pranic System is more familiar. It is often misunderstood. The breath is on a continuum. There is gross breath that everyone knows. Then there is subtle breath. We now get into “weird” territory for many. One thing to think about is if you have a dead body and try to just push air into it there is no effect for life. It does move the chest up and down, but that seems to be it. There is a life that is carried by the breath, that yoga speaks to as the prana. Other systems talk about the chi. What ever you call it the Yogis have spent a long time (thousands of years) in refining and teaching it.
One starts with the breath and establishing diaphragmatic breathing. There will be a separate post on this later.
There are junctions in the pranic system, just like there are junctions in the physical system. (imagine that) These junctions are described with the terms of chakras and marma points. (as well as other designations) Just think of them as meeting places of energies of a more subtle nature. (meaning of subtle here is just a descriptor of less easily noticed, that’s all)
Bandhas and Mudras
In yoga, one way we learn more about the pranic system is through practices of the Bandhas and Mudras. They are simply a way of channeling these energies. They have strong effects on the neurological system. A common Bandha is Moola Bandha. At the gross level it is tensing of the anal and pelvic sphincters. It is interesting to note that more and more people are utilizing the pelvic floor activity in functional movement training and diagnostics. It is a area that is included in describing musculoskeletal coordination in ontogenesis of children or child development.
This means that proper stabilization of various movement patterns have this activity of the pelvic floor being recognized now in mainstream function. Well the yogis have refined it to a great detail. I don’t say I understand it completely in that way. It is just an experience which I wish to share.
When sitting for meditation we will activate this Moola Bandha. Also the Khechari Mudra (tongue lock) is utilized. Another Bandha that is helpful is activation of Uddiyana Bandha (stomach lock). These bindings/redirecting of energies will not be technically taught here. There are some erroneous claims and methods of applying them. I only wish to mention another way of working with them once you have some basic experience with them.
Method of working with Bandhas and Mudras
In order to make ones posture steady and stable–and absolutely still these methods will compliment your postural work of coming to center more deeply. You will be using these Mudras and Bandhas to align your centers and use these energy centers to align and centralize yourself.
- Activate the centers with the traditional practices of learning the above mentioned Mudras and Bandhas
- Next subtle activate these same Bandhas and Mudras. This means that in the first step you grossly contracted the muscles and felt and saw the effects. This second step is were there is only a slight activation that would be barely noticed. You practice at this level until you feel it easily.
- Next you make it more subtle. There is no perceived body activation now, there is only the sensation of the area within the mind. It is as if the mind’s awareness becomes activated in that area, which actually is felt as calmness and great stability there.
- Next you will find that these Bandhas and Mudras will seemingly spontaneously activate. You will experience a deep stillness and sharper focus inward. The outside focus of sensations and thoughts, etc just subsides.
Bring the mind to it’s center. Easier said than done. To stabilize the mind and bring it towards it’s center we withdraw it from the outside and bring it inside.
- First get your minds attention
- Second withdraw the mind from the outside sensory input–we do this by quieting the body through relaxing it.
- Use the Breath as described above
- Increase ones breath awareness with further refinements
- Increase the minds focus with sound like a mantra as replacement for the thoughts that just percolate into our awareness
- Then slowly shift to observing even the mind as it watches this breath and sound and thoughts that arise
- Slowly expand your capacity to remain in this place of observing the mind’s focus
- Slowly as you further deepen this state of observing, you will at times loose the focus of the mind
- You will enter into a deeper stillness and silence
- This stillness can be expanded all on it’s own
- At some point there is just nothing
- Not sure what continues as one holds or is held in this later step
I have an inkling that there are connections between many of these levels. These connections are not linear or incrementally progressive. You can fall in and out of them in both directions. That is why slowly training the mind in an incremental way is so important. Otherwise it’s like a chutes and ladder game then–it’s good sometimes and then no good other times. This change is a part of the journey. Is it always?
As they say come to that center and find out. Also enjoy the comings and goings. Life certainly can be such a drama. We can over do it and under do it. This center can create stability and life which is lived as we are. Lived both from the inside and outside. Such fun stuff this life stuff.
OK, now let’s go practice.