We must learn how to train our mind to skim through our bodies, so we can recognize old tensions and begin to release them. We have so many muscles that have bullied us. Coming from the other extreme, some people have ignored some important strength building muscles. Most of us have the mixture of over-relying on some parts, while ignoring other parts. When we do exercises, it is likely that we are locking up the very area we are hoping to liberate. In most yogic systems, breathing into a posture can help us to open some areas, but how can we bring awareness to other parts that are taking the tension? How can we notice if we are stuck concentrating, or breathing into only one part?
We must learn to observe ourselves with seemingly 'x-ray"-like eyes. Notice the skeleton's symmetrical potential to align into geometric shapes. For instance, we have a "rectangular" torso, marked by the four corners of our shoulder and hip joints. If there is tension in any of the corners, the rectangle will be pulled into a tilted shape.
Running top to bottom through the center of this rectangle, is our head, neck, rib cage, waistline, and tailbone. This area, needs to be elongated, while simultaneously widening the shoulders and hips. We can learn to do that during any exercise or posture. It also helps if we can eventually train our breath to notice the tight points in our body, so we don't wind up holding our breath, and therefore taking tensions into our chest, jaw, lips, back of neck and various other less obvious tension-holding places. To do this, let's try this exercise ...
We begin our mental journey of skimming the mind through an orbit of important body places. First inhale and let your belly out, as if you are blowing up an orange balloon behind your navel. Exhale, and shrink the balloon so that the navel can touch the spine. Do that at least six times. It will relax and focus you upon your center.
Allow yourself to put your attention into your center (lower torso). From here, journey up the spine as if it were a ladder that a miniature version of yourself might climb. At the bottom of the spine ladder we step into the tail bone and up the sacrum vertebrae (five fused together vertebras). Then we can climb up our five waistline vertebrae called the lumbar vertebrae. As we pause and feel our weight on each rung, they seem to separate from each other a bit. Continuing upward, we can put our weight of concentration into each of the 12 thoracic vertebrae rungs. Each of these 12 are attached to our ribs which might also open up and separate by concentrating upon them.
All of this upward climbing might very well create some tension in the chest and shoulder, so think of melting those areas with your attentive mind. Then you can journey to the top via seven neck (cervical) vertebrae and the stem of the brain (medulla).
We can visit our brain, and perhaps give a thought to balancing the left and right sides, just by focusing with that intention. The top of the mountain is the crown of the head. As a baby, this spot on the skull was very soft. Feel it softening a little now... breathe through it. Now you can slide down the front of your face and torso on the return trip back to your belly.
Important places to breathe into on your way downward: 1) between your eyes anywhere from the center of your forehead to the bridge of your nose; 2) the throat; 3) the heart center; 4) the solar plexus (the crest of your rib cage); and 5) then back to your belly (home base!).
Learning this and other routes through our legs and arms, for example, can totally change the way we feel while stretching. We can direct our energy with much more efficiency and make certain that every exercise we do gives us its full benefit. Try it and youll be surprised at how quickly you will benefit from this more conscious approach to stretching.
Raven Merle is certified by Mantak Chia of the Healing Tao to teach Tai Chi and Iron Shirt Chi Kung Systems and Taoist meditation. Raven invented the anatomy stretch system in 1976 to help her in developing her talents as a dancer, contortionist and mime.
Reprinted by Silverback with permission from Limber Times No. 38
Minor edits by Tige Young