The Suspension Bridge Within

Dear Sweet Community,

Do you know that the bones in your body are not fused together? I used to think that my posture and body was "preset" from the time of birth. So I always just blamed my bones for my posture; "That is just the way my body is". 

But the truth is that our bones are floating in this amazing web of fascia or soft tissue. It's more like our bones are hanging in this suspension bridge with padding in between them. So though the bones themselves are not particularly malleable, their position is. Therefore how we stand, it has more to do with the soft tissue than the bones themselves. Soft tissue is highly responsive to the nervous system. It will soften and be elastic when we are relaxed and it tightens and becomes rigid when we are stressed. Asana and pranayama calm the nervous system and stretch the soft tissue. But I find this compelling when I think about the way I stand; the choices I make with my bones. As an exercise, try just standing in your posture and notice what thoughts or stories come up about yourself. Remember, your bones are not predetermined, you may bring more or less curve to the spine, unlock your knees, spread your toes, loosen the pelvis etc. 

Alignment Tip of The Week

The past two fridays we focused on The spine and the baby backbends; salamba bhujangasana (sphinx pose), bhujangasana (cobra pose) and urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog).

It is really useful in your asana practice to know how the spine works and the function of each part. 

The Cervical spine or the Neck- These vertebra like flexion and extension and have some rotation. They like lifting the chin 3/4 of the way to the sky and pulling the chin down to the chest. Thoracic spine or upper back- Enjoys arching and curling. Lumbar spine or middle to lower back- The middle of the back enjoys twisting. We twist from the middle of the back NOT from the shoulders. The lower back balances the upper back ad again, like to arch and curl. Sacral spine or tail- The sacrum is like an arrow- it directs the low back. When it points up the back arches and when it points down the back curls. 

As I said twisting needs to happen from the middle back. Conversely, back bending happens from the upper back and lower back. Because the low back has the capacity to hinge a lot, it is important not to take the burden of the backbend into the low back-that bend needs to be balanced between the upper and lower back. The baby backbends are great ways to work the upper backbend. The three poses all have straight legs with the tops of the feet pressing down into the earth. The heels roll slightly away from one another. Try placing a block between the legs so that you are using the inner line of the legs and press back through the heels so the arrow of the sacrum points slightly down. Think of these three poses as a progression in the upper back and shoulders:

In Sphinx pose the forearms are on the earth parallel, elbows slightly in front of the shoulders. Press the hands flat into the earth pressing the earth away, as you do this, draw your shoulder blades down your back. Breathe into your collarbones widening them from left to right. Breathe into the back of your head, so it stacks right on top of your shoulders, chin is level to the earth. Remember, the neck is fragile and cannot take the full burden of the arch in the spine.

Cobra is the same as sphinx but the hands are placed right beside the shoulders on the floor. Cobra can be just a few inches off of the floor or arms almost straight. Your elbows squeeze into the ribcage so the shoulder blades come down the back just like sphinx. If the shoulders come up by your ears, you need to bend the elbows more. It should feel like the heart is reaching through the shoulders and up to the sky. 

Upwards facing dog is just like cobra except the legs are off of the ground. Again, the legs are straight and you are resting on the tops of the feet. Try keeping the elbows slightly bent in up dog and keep working the heart to the ceiling with the elbows squeezing in and shoulder blades down the back. 

These three backbends are in the vinyasa because they really warm up the upper back and help us protect the low back. Please take the time to do them correctly so you really care for your spine in this practice. Heart opening should feel expansive and liberating, not contractive. Happy upper back bending :)

I look forward to seeing you all on the mat,

Sweet day,