Panto season may be over, but it can be helpful to be reminded of what is behind us, what we cannot see. In classes this week, we use our sense of touch to become more familiar with our lower back: alignment, tension, symmetry, space. We can feel the muscles each side of the lower (and mid) back, and whether their tone feels the same or different; then guide fingers from the upper rims of the pelvis behind and downward, toward the spine to find the sacrum. We can also feel our bellies as we engage and release Uddiyana Bandha, whilst we use our inner eye to feel what changes in the lower back and pelvis as we do this. The sacrum connects spine and pelvis. As we explore asanas which tilt the pelvis forward, back, to the sides, we can again roam with our inner eye to notice where we feel muscles contract, which ones are stretched, and how small shifts in the pelvis within a pose change this. Notice too how a shift in our intention e.g. to make the sacrum feel broad and spacious causes our bodies to engage differently. As we learn to feel what is happening with our bodies, our in-sight develops and we are free to roam and explore.
We have spent quite a few weeks exploring energy themes in our yoga practice. We move back into the body now, and more specifically, the spine. Given that many of our Chakra energy centres were located along the spine, we do not cast this aside, but bring it along with us as we explore directions of motion of the spine and how we experience them. The following link has some nice diagrams showing the five directions of movement of the spine http://sequencewiz.org/2015/03/04/movement-of-the-spine-in-yoga/ .
Last week our focus was primarily axial extension, that sense of lifting up at the crown of the head, creating space along the spine. When standing, this action works in opposition to gravity, so we need to exert some effort to extend the spine upwards. If we are lying on our backs, gravity can help to create a sense of space as we completely relax the body. When standing or seated, we can notice this lifting action results in the weight of the torso being more self-supporting, rather than resting on the pelvis. Hence axial extension helps create more space in the hip joints (and as the upper vertebra lift, in the shoulder joints as well.)
This week we move the focus to spinal rotation and lateral movement, yet axial extension is still there. And it features too in extension (backbend) and flexion (forward bend.) We can notice the difference in effort between a seated twist versus a supine one that harnesses gravity. Where the hips are not well anchored e.g. in standing or kneeling twists (e.g. Revolved Utkatasana), we can draw attention to the natural tendency for the pelvis to also rotate. We can then take action to leave them out of it, to isolate rotation through the spine, and then feel the effect this has. We can reflect on the difference in the mind state too.
Once you let go of the idea that you are trying to reach some final destination, it becomes easier to simply be where you are, noticing, learning, exploring. There is a directional intention to our movements, but as you apply your focused effort, know that you are exactly where you need to be, and enjoy the ride.
Ruth is a yoga therapist and yoga teacher based in Cheltenham, UK. She emphasises yoga as a tool for well-being, for individuals and in her classes, in person or via zoom.