Author Archive for Peter Fabian

The Connected Feeling Part 1

The Connected Feeling
Part 1

Introduction

 

The preparation and program design for meditation is revisited here.  Favorite and popular methods can be mis-represented by both the current crop of teachers and students.

Meditation spoken of here is not just the casual quieting of our “monkey minds”.  It is not about becoming some great ego-centered teacher or accomplished practitioner of some arcane esoteric science.  Meditation starts with proper preparation that slowly and gradually leads to a laser like focused mind that moves deeper inwards to these states of absolute silence and absorption.  The beginning of meditation starts in that state.  Everything else is preparation.

Meditation seems to have it’s popular times and localities and experts.  Suddenly people in fitness are jumping on the bandwagon of “meditating” and finding wonderful success.  The East from India to Asia has the market cornered.  Buddhist teachers advise Yoga (meaning asana) practitioners to learn to meditate from them and then “do” Yoga.  In the USA, mindfulness meditation has taken the academic and general population’s fancy.

There is veracity in many of these above mentioned approaches and view points.  But what is needed to begin preparation for meditation?

Timing for Meditation

We all need many things in life.  Food/water and shelter can be a good start.  Maybe having a job or life purpose could be good.  How about a personal relationship that helps us understand ourselves beyond what we think at the moment.  Traditionally this meant getting married and raising a family.

There are all these basic needs that connect us to the world outside and the world inside.  Meeting these basic needs and stabilizing them are often a first step in the preparation for mediation.

If one’s lifestyle is too chaotic and unstable, relaxing and breath awareness is a good alternative.  Hey just eating better and exercising can be worth much more than forcing yourself to sit for long periods of meditation hoping someday to become enlightened.

Always re-evaluate your program to see if you are moving towards your goals in life.  But do not under value the power of proper lifestyle management.  Make it practical and doable first.  Then when your life allows, come into a proper practice regimen.

The Rush to Success

Is it not uncommon to want NOW what we want.  We want to be slimmer by tomorrow.  We expect our chronic problems to be better after just a few days of effort.  We wonder why have not met our “soul mate”.  We have been looking for years.  When asked what a person is doing to meet people they actually have only talked to their friends and not anyone much else out of their normal circle of relationships.

The actual methods we use are woefully insufficient to reap the benefits we are envisioning.  We do this with our 10 minute a day fitness routine for our 6-pack abs!  The proper preparation over the appropriate time is missing in many of our programs.

Often we don’t even have a progressive program.  We bite off way too much or way too little.  Our expectations exceed our efforts.  It is not for lack of trying for many of us.  It is just such poor program design and follow through that we end up not noticing much progress.

The most impactful and important things of our life that we want to achieve take time and good programming.  Mediation is no different.

Preliminary Steps for Meditation

First we have to realize that the mediation we are talking about here is that which leads to silence and absorption.  It is a very high goal.  So the first steps are basically getting ones life in order.  Check out your lifestyle and examine our thinking.  Are we over worked, over fed, under exercised and literally starving for love and affection.

Really take time to live life properly.  Establish a lifestyle that supports this interior journey of discovery.  If life is constantly taking our focus outward to deal with major stresses surrounding us, then address them first.  The power of life lived well will take us deeper than any artificial practice of meditating or whatever it might be.  This one sentence/thought needs to be considered more deeply than just a casual reading of it will give to us.

Examine not only what we are doing in life, but also what are we thinking and feeling in life.  This is not to prescribe a particular world view or provide some great psycho-therapeutic insight.  It is just important to examine where our thoughts take us.  Do we have a ton of negative thoughts that we are controlled by?

All the wisdom traditions and many religions have their commandments and guidelines for “right/good” thinking and actions.  Do not rush over the examination of what preoccupies our minds and hearts.  Do consider what is our philosophy and what guides our thinking and action.  In today’s world many have no philosophy of life that is lived—it is only thought of—and then only on Sunday or what ever rare occasion is which it is superficially and poorly addressed.  This topic is expanded greatly by others and will not be detailed here.

Realize that life is not lived in some uni-linear progression.  Even if at the moment our life seems in order, just hang on to your hat for that next moment when it totally seems to fall apart.

There of course will be times of both good and bad.  Those that remark that life is always fine and wonderful—are either very advanced beings (which there are probably a handful in history) or under a huge illusion both of themselves and life.

So these preliminary steps that we take over the years to properly prepare, will have periods of adjustment and interruption.  All of us will have to revisit and revise our lifestyles and re-examine where we need to be practicing in life.  Initially (probably many decades for many of us) life will take us up and down.  Much later as life continues to go up and down but we don’t rise or fall as far.

Slowly with a stronger and deeper practice we can stabilize our connection to our changing lifestyles.  We develop an equanimous capacity or even tempered ability in a difficult situation.  Again this capacity takes a lot of trial and effort over a long and arduous life.  A life lived with ease is often a very sheltered and control life at the beginning.  Many people fool themselves too early on their too easily arrived at accomplishments.  Only when life has given much and then taken away do we truly test ourselves.

Getting these preliminaries in order is not just in acquiring a good life.  It is in living that life and experiencing the losses of that life and then going on to live fully once again.

Life well lived is the preliminary preparation needed for mediation practice.

Progression of Asana Based on Alignment, Balance and Breathing

Bangkok Asanas of Old

Doing a complex asana and trying to maintain proper alignment/balance and breathing can be too challenging for some. We should evaluate in a progressive (easier to harder) sequence of postures that allow both the teacher and student to see/feel where they need to work first.

My concern here is that in doing asanas, sometimes we do not have the pre-requisites need at that level of that asana.  If one finds that the student is not repeatedly able to accomplish the instruction, maybe this level of the task is too difficult.  In this case, we should evaluate some of the preliminary skills and attributes needed.  Often this means regressing or making the posture easier.  The position needs to change so the posture itself is not so difficult.  

Look at some of the examples below for preliminary positions to evaluate and work on training of basic alignment/balance and the breath. 

Introduction

Briefly let me touch on these terms of alignment, balance and breathing.  These three terms have an implication of “proper” and “optimal”.  Proper use of these basic concepts and principles are primary guides for working properly in asana.  Remember the goal here in asana is move deeper into ones own consciousness from a spiritual perspective.  This point will not be expanded here.  It should be remembered for context, as most of this  article is about preparation in asana that normally is missed or distorted.

Alignment, Balance and Breathing

Alignment is the gross relationship of one body part to another.  Most of us have had lots of coaching with this aspect.  Some people confuse choreography with proper alignment.  Here the difference is explained in a simple standing asana.  You may align the trunk in extension in Trikonasana (triangle pose) because you choreographed it that way.  The alignment though is in extension.  It is not a balanced alignment.

Balance is not a term here about the capacity to balance say on one leg.  It is not balance related to inner ear and righting reflexes that sometimes is impaired.  Let’s look at the above example of Trikonasana when you are in trunk extension.  The balance between the front and back musculature is affected.  There is an over activity of the back muscles, driving the body into some extension.  There is an under activity to the front belly muscles that no longer create a balance of neuro-muscular activity.  The front of the body is a bit longer and the lower 1/2 of the back of the trunk is shorter.  Balance can be examined from side to side as well as top to bottom, etc.  It is mainly about one area of the body being neuro-muscularly turned up while another area of the body is neuro-muscularly turned down.   One area is more relaxed and the other area is more contracted or activated.

Does the proper amount of turning up and turning down of neuromuscular activity allow for better alignment and breathing?

Breathing here referring to proper diaphragmatic breathing rather than upper chest breathing.  Ideally a beginner starting out would have maybe more of a belly style of breath vs the upper chest.  Often with training it moves into a more three dimensional breath.  This latter style has less belly excursion and more lateral/posterior lower rib movement.  All these different styles use the diaphragm.  The orchestration of what is moved and how much is the main differentiation.  Full diaphragmatic breathing is optimal not just because of efficient neuromuscular coordination but for proper nervous system and blood gas regulation.

Asana Execution

If one is doing a simple triangle pose as outlined above, how can we help them find a better way of doing it.  Realize that this critique is not agreed by all.  The overall consideration here is a lack of balance between the front and back of the body.  So that we are not stabilized but actually backward bending when we want to side bend as in Trikonasana.  Also the resultant posture facilitates belly breathing as it is mainly emphasizing the diaphragmatic movement of the central tendon (versus the diaphragm of the lower six ribs).  Now we want them to be in a better posture so that they can breathe better too.  The beneficial detail is not described here.

So we often start with verbal and tactile cues to have someone try to correct the above.  This cueing should only be a temporary first choice.  It is “corrected” but it is not felt by the student.  They just “do” it better, not really deeply understanding it from a proprioceptive standpoint.  It is an image in ones mind, not a felt sense in the body often (not always though).

Asana Progressions

If one is having a problem in a standing asana, does that same problem exist when they in other positions?  We often see that it does.  The standing problem is preceded by the same impairments that were never learned in earlier positions.  

This is where some knowledge or appreciation of how children progressively learn movement from the ground upwards is helpful.  We can use some of these progressions in a simple way.

Check the persons movement and breathing patterns when they lie on their back.  For someone who is always posturing in trunk extension, do they lie with a big space under the lower back to lower thoracic spine.  Do they also then have the front lower rib borders lifted up?  Is their pelvis anteriorly tilted which also increase the arch of the lower back and increase the flexion at their hips?
Do they breath with their upper chest, belly or more three dimensionally?  If they breathe with their upper chest they need to do a whole other series of lying on the belly in Makarasana (crocodile pose)—and then working towards sandbag breathing, etc.

Let’s say they are lying in this extended posture.  Their front lower ribs are elevated and the belly is long.  The lower back is short and arched off the floor—the pelvis could even be tilted a bit anteriorly.  

Also we often see that the shoulders are anterior and up off the floor, the neck in back is short so that their collar/cervico-thoracic area is off the floor significantly.  (Not apparent in this picture)  Their breathing pattern is often to the belly primarily.

Now find out if they can shorten the front of the belly by bringing the front lower ribs towards their pelvis (and their pelvis rotating a bit also.  Both movements should shorten the front of the belly and lengthen the back of the lower trunk.

How do they breathe now?  Did they stop breathing temporarily?  Can they move the lateral and posterior lower ribs vs the belly now that the belly has greater tension?

Evaluation of Trunk Alignment 

What happens in this example of reaching overhead in standing?  In the first picture there is this overarching of the T/L (thoraco-lumbar) area—and you see the front lower ribs lift away from the front of the pelvis—a lack of proper bracing of the lower trunk.

Now you can correct it in standing, but you need to see if they repeat it in a very basic position in supine (lying on the back).

Lying on the back with knees bent you allow the arms to be raised over the head.  Note what happens in the head, neck and trunk.  Here we will focus just on the lower trunk area.  You can see the mal-alignment between the rib cage and the pelvis.  Again this under-activity of the belly and over activity of the back is the imbalance that allows this mis-alignment.  

Again note how the breath will be affected when the belly is more likely to expand as in belly breathing.  Well at least you might consider belly breathing once again to be more optimal than upper chest breathing.  It is fine for a beginner.  It is not the three-dimensional breathing we want to have available in many of our asanas. 

So we are looking to assess whether one can control these relationships.  

If they can, then we teach them to practice it during the activity.  If they cannot in this position, we do not keep using the standing position to correct them.  We regress the activity to the floor.  The floor is provides more stability and really works on this anterior lower trunk relationship.  It is a great position to use to evaluate and train someone to start to feel what happens when they raise their arms over their heads.  There are lots of cues one can use to include the sense of pressure their lower to mid back has on the floor, as well as the change of breathing pattern, etc.

Then you can make it harder by raising the feet/legs up