Take a moment and check in with your body. Feel your right arm. Now feel your left leg. Focus on your right pointer finger. Now pay attention to your left ear.
Did you notice a difference in your experience of the now as you focused on different parts of the body? I bring your attention to this because the way we conceptualize the body in our minds affects how we experience our SELF. Do you experience yourself as a unified whole or a component of parts? How does this affect your understanding of an injury and its subsequent rehabilitation? Does this inform the way you view your place in the interconnected web of the universe? How might this change if you began to view your body differently?
Consider the nature of perception. On what scale do you view your reality? Think first at the level of the body. We assume that our individual body functions as a complete and integrated unit, separate from the human being next to us. And yet, the same could be said of planet Earth. Earth is a planet separate from the planets next to it with unique and varying characteristics. If we expand our perception to the scale of the universe, it too appears to be a unified whole, interconnected but differentiateable from the space around it.
The truth is, we choose, for simplicity and understanding, to segment whole entities in to smaller units or parts. The body, for example, can be broken down in many different ways. Often, in yoga we break things down in to anatomical parts such as a: leg, arm, shoulder-blade, sacrum, the arch of the foot, etc. Even though we break the body in to parts, it is no less a complete interconnected unit or web.
Appreciating the big picture of the body, even though we tend to talk about the body as a component of parts, is important so that we may remain an integrated being and allow healing and growth to occur on a systematic level.
Today, I wanted to focus on the power of “follow-through.” I have come to notice that when I’m opening up a particular part of my body, for example my chest muscle, my entire body become more alert and the potential for an entire body shift is possible. ( Notice, that this same phenomena holds true when I work to strengthen a particular part of my body.)
Asana Practice: An excellent way to open up the chest and biceps is against the wall.
In the West, people often have tight chest and bicep muscles from playing sports and sitting at a computer.
I think its best to remain fluid while doing this pose, gently moving the head left and right, up and down, as well as moving in and out of the pose with a steady controlled rhythm. I also find it useful to place my hand at varying heights compared to my shoulder. This allows my muscles to open up on different planes as opposed to carving one open channel and leaving the others tight. And finally, I recommend keeping your hands active, reaching through the fingers, gripping with the finger tips, and generally wiggling the hand. Notice how different my recommendation is from the picture above where the woman’s arm and hand seem to limply lay against the wall.
As a general rule, you will see faster results if you move between passivity and activity while doing asana.
In anusara yoga, external rotation of the arms is emphasized in order to guide the shoulder-blade down the back. I find this action very useful in this pose. In the picture above, in order to emphasize external rotation, the woman would keep her pinkie against the wall and continue to rotate her thumb away from the wall. While doing this try to avoid any crunching in the side body and try to keep the spine erect.
Many people do not realize the far-reaching implications of having a tight versus open chest and biceps. Tightness in these areas can put pressure on the neck, cause nerve compression, and can reduce circulation to the extremities. In addition, it can put too much pressure on the sternum or cause a collapsing in the upper body leading to compression of the internal organs.
I have found these muscles in my own body to be pretty resistant to change (I am undoing years and years of high intensity athletics) and therefore, in order to open them up, I try to do this wall stretch as often as possible. I weave it in to my asana practice, I do it while I’m waiting for a bus or standing in line at the grocery store, and I make sure to do it whenever I’ve heated my body up through cardio such as running or swimming. (See http://365yogastudy.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/january-30-fifteen-minute-fix-vol-iii-made-for-runners/ for a fifteen minute post running asana practice)>
Today, I started out my asana practice doing this stretch against the wall and then emphasized chest opening and bicep opening throughout the rest of the session. I then returned to the wall later in the session to feel how the pose felt at different levels of openness.
This leads me to today’s lesson on follow-through. From a western medical perspective this stretch is a relatively isolated exercise that targets specific muscle groups. However, if you take a yogic perspective to this pose and think about the body as a whole instead of merely as a bunch of independent parts, this pose can inform the entire body.
For example, when you do this pose, it is important to keep the rib cage open rather than crunching the side body and back. If you are able to do this, you will inform the spine and rib cage how to move with breath even in a twisted position. Additionally, this opening through the bicep can extend in to the forearm and hand, especially helping to open any tension found in the pad of the thumb. You may just find that opening up the muscles that revolve around the upper extremities will have an opening effect through the throat, ear cavity, and generally throughout the muscles of the head. Lastly, as I go deeper in this pose, I gain space in my trapesius, or those pesky neck/shoulder muscles where we hold most of our tension. As this tension releases, you might find that you grow taller and your tailbone will start gently turning under. Ahhhh, so good.
Lesson Learned: Approach your practice with a wholistic mindset. When practicing a pose that targets a specific muscle group, see if you can allow that pose to inform other parts of the body. Eventually, see if you can allow the pose to inform your body as a whole.
While we may talk about the body as a series of component parts, all these parts are intricately woven together like a complex web, and should be viewed as a whole. The more sensitive we become the more powerful this practice will be, allowing us to follow the most minute energetic shift throughout the entire body and even throughout the entire universe. How exciting!