Holiday Wishes for Us All
“I stand not on the shoulders of those before. My steady stance comes from returning to the that same place those who have stood before. Over time the work of this continuing practice exposes an ease and relaxation of effort that before was not available. A bringing together of all postures and directions into an experience of holding only one which is all. Then these differences of where one stands is no longer an effort of finding the right place or thing–it turns into a continuous flow of this stream of consciousness which is this form and love of ones life.”
This quote comes from the thoughts and experiences of working ones practice. It follows the references made in the first and second pada of the Yoga Sutras. These teachings come of course from the practices of those before. It is only because of this connection that has been afforded to me in this Himalayan Tradition that these thoughts and experiences arise. It is these teachings that are the teachers. It is an expression of the work and love that is yoga.
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:
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.
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)
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.)
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.)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is the main issue:
Do we talk or think at one level and practice at another?
Many of us start this journey of yoga from different backgrounds. Those of us who stay are often enamored in it’s tradition and practices. That is a good thing. Then in practicing year after year (yes yoga does take time, darn), sometimes we notice increased flexibility and a more calm mind, but…
This “but” is that after time we seem to still remain the same person under stresses that we were before. How many of us have reached enlightenment. OK–so we are benefiting some. This journey in yoga of coming to the self is not unlike climbing the highest peak of the Himalayas. Think of the preparation training needed to reach the top. Take any great endeavor. Look at the amount of training a Gold Medal Olympic athlete puts in everyday. Look at how we view our training. Are we more into romanticizing where we are going vs doing the work to get where we want to go. (and don’t start with saying we are already there–that is philosophically true but practically an overly romantic and erroneous viewpoint-in my opinionated opinion)
What is our practice really like? Do we have a program design from week to week and month to month? Do we just start practicing and not pay attention to how we will progress from one plateau to the next? Do we train a lot of meditation and leave the body not attended–or vice a versa. Are we always working with gross mind and gross breath? Do we use our imagination in thinking about training but lack incremental and progressive training schedules to assist in taking us towards our goal? Are we more romantically imagining that we will reach such great heights of understanding and being by not doing simply a “ton” of very rigorous practice?
Lots of questions are put forward here. No point in answering them all here.
Let’s look at what we need to do in our practices. It is not any different than any great performer or athlete must do in their training. Find a coach/teacher and then implement good program design and practice a lot in a skillful manner.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has in the 1st Pada, three sutras about practice (Sanskrit: Abhyasa). Now there are many great teachings that have been given on this subject. I only want to speak about one aspect of our practice. The third sutra (YS 1.14) on abhyasa/practice states:
That practice, however, becomes firm of ground only when
- Done for a long time
- Done without interruption
- Done right
- Done completely, fully and regularly
Now what does this mean to someone who is practicing and looking for clarification of this yogic path to climb this steep mountain. (Of course this mountain is really the stuff of ourselves that is in our way. We in yoga spend most of our time cleaning up to allow what is already there to be seen/heard/felt/lived, etc)
Another definition of practice has to do with the etymology of the Sanskrit word, Abhyasa. We won’t break it down and teach that part today. We will use the meaning (slightly altered) from Swami Veda. Abhyasa is to repeatedly sit again and again facing towards this goal (of the true self) that is evidently right there in front of our noses. (Also we could launch on the reference of the tip of the nose, is not really the tip but is more related to the center of waking consciousness, up to and including the absolute center of consciousness, etc–but again, not this lesson).
So we have to have goals. In training we want to define a proper goal. For example:
It is absolutely imperative to write down and record on a regular daily/weekly basis your actual practice. After you have your goal, you then design a practice routine that will be the road map which will take you naturally to your goal. You know it doesn’t do this by itself. It is a great tool to outline what you think you need first. Then as you do the work as described in the Yoga Sutras (in this case YS 1.14), you can get feedback from your journal on whether it is taking you towards your goal. Revise it as needed. You can see if you are walking the talk. Are you just philosophizing and imagining or once again are you closer to your goal? Does your practice give the fruit of your labor? Can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear–they say. Planting dandelion seeds and expecting roses just doesn’t give you the grace of the rose. Come on we know this stuff–what is holding us back from reaching what it is that we truly are?
Get perspiration going because inspiration is over-rated.
OK, you get the idea. The above is just a possible outline (in part) of how to utilize these ideas. I know some of you are familiar with this material. It is what we used in part in the training at the Gurukulam in SRSG in Rishikesh, India. This type of training can be done by anyone. Modify it as needed. The main idea is to have a goal, a training program, keep a log, use it for feedback and guidance, work for long time, without any significant interruption, work smart and very hard, be fully involved in giving this practice the value it deserves for the goal that you wish to achieve.
Again if there is any way I can help you. Feel free to comment and/or email to me. Also consider scheduling an appointment if you are this Northern California area. Contact me here.
Best of luck in your training.
Invite your mind and body to come sit with Swami Veda Bharati on the Full Moon Meditation.
Come to the place where you are simply able to sit comfortably. Use you’re own location where you will not be disturbed.
Thursday, September 23d
USA time zone is 7pm Pacific Standard Time
Check here for other time zones
No experience is needed. Just find you place you can sit with the least disturbance.
These are the basic guidelines to use without a mantra or sound
Remember to make this sitting
You don’t need to analyze or learn or do anything. In fact you are at an advantage if you know nothing about meditation and simple sit and observe your breath–over and over again.
Swami Veda says to invite the mind to sit down at the calm flowing stream of the breath–it will take you inwards to this still and quiet place that we all have and share.
Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Do you know the greatest therapy for a movement problem. Practically if we are walking and talking, over time we will all experience life’s aches and pains. This problem could be based on a recent trauma or just accumulated over our natural course of living the “way” we do. So what do we do?
We often see someone who is an expert or helped someone we know. Maybe we first see someone in a medical field or sports/rehabilitation area. Let’s say we have developed a chronic neck complaint. It comes and goes somedays. It is aggravated by turning our head to look behind. Our local MD told us to take some Asprin and get some exercise. Anyway we aren’t getting any younger and this pain in the neck (we are told) is to be expected.
OK–now if this sounds familiar or even possible–we still would like to know what is the best thing to do. What is the greatest therapy that could relieve this problem? There are certainly lots of advertisements and no lack of recent claims for guaranteed relief. Over time we have seen so many different types of therapy for similar problems. The interesting observation is that some of them do work and many of them don’t. It seems like we have ranged in our search from prayer to medication. We have used tried body works of many kinds. There are have been a variety of energy medicine approaches. Proper exercise and a variety of modalities have their adherents.
Paying attention is key in anyone using some of the above mentioned methods (body work, energy medicine, exercise, modalities).
First realize that the above observation outline is way to brief to properly address all the inquiry that is needed. It is just a reminder that in finding what therapy to select, you start with observing yourself first. Do not blindly follow an advertisement or blindly follow some anecdotal recommendation on who to see. Let’s say you want to get going and get some relief or help.
In my over 30 years of experience as a Physical Therapist and Yoga Teacher, I haven’t found it. Wait, don’t leave just yet. My point here is that I have seen so many different approaches come and go. Many of them are still around as the time frame of even 50 years is relatively short. It’s like the above waterfall picture–much has come and gone in this world of therapy. (mainly gone in popularity of the ever changing present).
When I was a younger in the 50’s-early 60’s, if you had a sore neck you just continued along your way. If it got bad for some of the older folks, they saw a medical doctor, who usually advised drugs and surgeries (many of which we don’t do anymore–we do new and improved ones now days). A few saw a Chiropractor, often for a lengthy amount of time. Physical Therapy was often palliative using modalities (heat, cold, ultrasound and cookbook exercises). Some people did massage but not for these kind of pain problems (mainly a rub down after a workout at one of the athletic clubs).
I did not hear about energy medicine until that later 60’s and 70’s when therapeutic touch and acupuncture started to be known to me. Later in the 70’s and 80’s Yoga and Osteopathic Manual Medicine came into view. I trained to become a Physical Therapist in the late 70’s and started teaching Yoga in the 80’s.
Since then I have trained in many disciplines and continue to participate in continuing education in fields of health and fitness and yoga.
This topic is the wrong topic for looking for help with pain and movement problems.
The Greatest Therapy or the Best Exercise or the Perfect Posture, etc is only a guide to begin.
Look to the Way in which these methods are used. It is in the details of how a practitioner implements these helpful therapies. It is in the details of how we practice these therapies or methods.
Note the variety of the therapies or methods used today. There are certainly some popular ones. As I have said before, they do tend to come and go. Some of them have been around for longer though.
There are many helpful approaches. The approaches under the guide of a skillful eye is what is most productive in the relief of the problem. If the underlying problem is eliminated or eased the accompanying symptom must improve.
If I can be of any assistance in your practices, please do not hesitate to call or stop by for a class or session. Contact me here.
Ability to maintain your structure in balance with ease and grace. Look at the picture of a Mountain woman. See the ease of alignment in this snapshot of posture. Note that the posture is not static. It allows for efficient organization for a task–whether it be active or passive in nature.
Posture is not holding a position. Posture is a recognition of stability that can be expressed statically or in movement. The different factors that go into posture can be easily perceived from first looking at a static arrangement. A posture that is easeful, graceful and efficient is strong.
There are many excellent models to demonstrate this integration of the structure in space. The body can be looked at as an assembly of parts that we place in a certain relationship with the adjacent part. This reduction of the structure to parts has advantages for ease of learning. One of it’s main disadvantages is one is often left with trying to do and hold a particular alignment. Again not always bad, just incomplete if one stops with the postural process at this point.
So keep all the parts aligned–OK. Well first of all we all are a bit different. Our structures have limitations in range of motion or flexibility. So keeping your head with chin tucked and your chest up can be a problem for some. If you have a flexed thoracic or chest spine that is rounded forward, you attempt to move the chest UP, can lead to increasing your lower back to thoraco-lumbar backward bending curve.
This pattern of our individual differences can and does lead to increased mal-alignment vs improved alignment. These compensations we all make are often unnoticed. They are silent in our sense of our posture. If we have an experienced practitioner with us they can point this out. Sometimes a telling view of (unknown) tagged photo, reveals these postural mis-alignments.
Our ability to feel is often more limited to our ability to see. (Not true for all). So seeing it helps. Having a skillful eye give us feedback can be very revealing.
Also training our sensory positional and movement feedback system becomes integral. One way to aid in this training is to start appreciating where you feel weight throughout the different areas of the body.
Actually we start with developing a feeling sense of where the body is aligned. The above sense of alignment is based on seeing our alignment usually. This next aspect is complimentary and uses not the visual sense but this ability to sense weight and pressure.
Often we can start at the feet. Always start with a question also.
Where do you feel the weight on your feet as are standing?
Do you feel more weight on the front or back of the foot–or is it even feeling?
Now for background on this section–it is important to notice that the question is on what you FEEL, not on what you Think you feel or just notice what your mind in your head would estimate, etc. This discrimination of feeling vs thinking/knowing, can be actually hard for some people to distinguish. They haven’t paid attention to what they feel in weight or pressure or force for a long time. Their response is on what they think it should be.
Also when someone says they feel the weight evenly on their feet–you might observe that they are leaning backwards more and have more weight on their heels and very little on the front of their feet. Are they wrong in what they said?
Absolutely not! That is important to understand. The question asked above was based on what they felt. It was not based on what they are doing. Do you see the difference here? Intellectually I am sure you do. As we work together I find that many do not really “get” the difference. It is important to understand this distinction between knowing and feeling of weight when we are trying to develop greater and broader ways of sensing.
Remember doing is based on feeling/sensing information. You can not button your clothing or zip your zipper if your finger tips have been numbed from the freezing cold. Do you remember how fumbling your actions were then?
OK. This training of posture is more than just standing tall or lengthening, etc. There is as much training here as with any skill acquisition. It can be made simple at first. In relearning it doesn’t have to become laborious. But in teaching it well you would be served well by knowing and feeling all these aspects that underlie sensing, learning and doing for creating strong yet dynamic postures.
This can be a very long section. Let me give a simple example of what I mean here. In classes I teach, I will look for someone who stands in a classic sway back and has more of their weight obviously on their rear foot. We will go through the above section of feeling weight, etc.
Next I will simple muscle test their elbow flexors as a group in standing. Their elbow flexors 99/100 times test weak in their sway back and back weighted position. Then simple manually help them stand in an easy neutral. So there isn’t an extension pattern bias in their posture. Retesting their elbow flexion results in demonstrably stronger elbow flexors. Wow it seems like magic. It is amazing every time. The flexors are suddenly stronger. Why? I propose that the extension pattern in their first stance was inhibiting their flexors. Simply balancing out this inhibition of the flexors through postural readjustment allowed more normal function of these same flexors. No weeks of strength training needed.
This balancing of facilitation and inhibition patterns exist throughout posture and movement. A lot of positive training changes can be accounted for from this model and this type of work.
When working to improve posture we must look at how it functions in movement. Often when I just correct someones posture, they do it by holding something more. They are trying to just do it better. Standing better in the above example often is demonstrated by being stiff in ones posture.
If posture is looked at as a transition between movements, then we can become less stiff quickly. If we have a forward head position. Say we just correct it my doing that popular turtle movement of retracting the head and neck. Well there are many things to feel in this relationship. We will not cover the method of helping someone with a forward head posture per se at this time.
The idea is not in the simplistic and isolated cue of correction. I want you to focus on how easy it can be to make these corrections if thinking about movement. Now you have simply placed the head more over the upper back. (I know this is artificial without addressing the other relationships–but bear with me, thanks). Ask them to move the head by turning to look left and right. Again work on this isolated cue of correcting the posture, but just add movement and then posture. Repeat the posture with the movement. Slowly or quickly sometimes the posture will become more easily repositioned without the previous stiffness.
There are many other ways of working with posture and movement together. It becomes more dynamic. I’m sure many are doing this combination. It just can be refined more and more with all of these points together.
This is a key in life. Right? Not only because if you don’t–then you can’t (continue life). But breath here helps coordinate all the aspects of the bodies reflex mechanisms with the voluntary mechanisms. There is much to say about breath. The most important is to establish normal diaphragmatic breathing rhythms in the new postures. If you can breath well you can do well. You will even be more sensitive in what you are aware of in posture and movement.
Breath is key not only for life itself, but in living of this life
Notice when someone stops breathing. They stop feeling. They become stiffer. Posture implies movement. Breath is the support of this movement. Stop the breath or breathe shallowly and your posture and movement becomes shallow and imbalanced.
Oh, this is so important. In training, especially posture we not only hold our bodies but our emotions and mental focus. Non of this is bad. Just simply try encouraging:
Have a pleasant mind or
Are you enjoying?
Immediately I find them smiling and relaxing and enjoying. Wow, this is also magic. Having a pleasant mind while training is like breathing. It makes all the difference in learning and acquiring new skills.
Now find out about your posture and work with some of these aspects. Include those that may not be as familiar or used as much. If there is any way I can help, just let me know. If you are in the Northern California area, please consider a consult at one of my offices.