Last Thursday, we started a new series at the Yoga del Sol Studio – Pranayama, Meditation & Relaxation. Three of my favorite things! Apparently, the relaxation part was the strongest in our first class and by the time we got to our anatomy experience, it was hard to follow along and process. I am so glad to hear that relaxation was happening! BUT, I am sorry I asked for your brainpower instead of letting you just enjoy it. 🙁
So… here are my notes from our exploration of subtle movement, boney landmarks and diaphragmatic action that we explored for the last part of class. These are my notes in full, so more than we actually covered. I hope you find it helpful.
For more resources, check out last Thursday’s post on the how and why of breathing for a great video about breath anatomy and more. As well, if you enjoy this type of anatomical exploration and want to explore more, I highly recommend Richard Rosen’s book on Pranayama and Donna Farhi’s book on breathing (all anatomy images here are from this book), both of which provided much inspiration to the practice below.
The breath anatomy practice:
Mapping the gross body, the Annomaya Kosha, the Food Sheath. Anatomy of the body/breath , breathing naturally, no control.
Lie on your back and feel the movement of your breath as your body relaxes into the mat.
Bend your knees, bringing the soles of the feet to the floor. Rest your fingertips on your inner thighs, just to either side of your pubic bone. Right below your fingertips, about a hands-width apart are the ball-shaped heads of your thighbones or femurs which nestle into the cup shaped hip sockets.
Lift your right foot up until the thigh is perpendicular to the floor. Imagine there is a pencil attached to the kneecap with its point touching the ceiling. Begin to draw a large circle on the ceiling, rotating the thigh clockwise a few times, then reversing direction. Spiral your large circle in until you come to stillness with the thigh perpendicular to the floor. The femur head should now be centered in the hip socket. Allow it to sink through the socket to the back of the pelvis and release the foot to the floor. Do the other leg.
Spread the feet a little wider, turning the heels out and allow the knees to rest against each other.
The pelvis is shaped like a big bowl. When we talk about bringing the pelvis to neutral, we mean that, when upright, if the bowl was filled with soup, we wouldn’t spill a drop.
At the back of the pelvis is the sacrum, made of 5 fused vertebrae and shaped like a downward pointing triangle. The sacrum is the back wall of the pelvis. At the very tip of the sacrum is the tailbone, the coccyx.
The pubic bone, public synthesis, or pubis, is one of three parts of the hip bone. Its located at the front of the pelvis, where the 2 branches of the hipbones join together. The hip points mark the front ends of the top crest of the pelvis, about 6 inches to either side of the navel.
Now, find the 2 hip points and press your middle fingers against these knobs. Reach your thumbs around toward the back of the pelvis and imagine pressing them into the dimples that mark the top of the sacrum. Spread the buttocks away from the sacrum so that the bone rests broadly and evenly on the floor.
Push your feet lightly against the floor and funnel the back of the pelvis toward your tailbone. Imagine that the tailbone is unfurling toward the heels like a long tail. Feel your low back release toward but not flatten toward the floor. Pull the dimples of the sacrum apart, widening the back of the pelvis. At the same time, push the hip points toward each other and the belly button, narrowing the front of the pelvis. Imagine that the sacrum is lifting lightly away from the floor into your pelvis. Resting the fingers lightly on the hip points, notice how much space there is between the fingers and the floor. Take a few slow deep breaths. Feel the fingers move with the breath.
Slide your fingertips down into and along the hip creases. Poke gently to find the pubic bone and the front base of the pelvis. Press the fingertips on the ends of this bone where it joins the inner thighs. Press the ends of the bone toward the middle. Feel the narrowing of the bone. Imagine the space between the sacrum and the pubic bone. Bring your attention to the bottom of the pelvic area, the pelvic floor. There’s a diaphragm at the bottom of the pelvis that expands and contracts with the breath. There is a muscle called the Diaphragm we will talk about soon. In this case a diaphragm is simply any muscle that stretches horizontally across the body. There are, in fact, 3 layers of muscles across the pelvic floor that form the small d diaphragm here. This is the 1st diaphragm we will explore of our three. Can you feel its movement? Can you feel the gentle rocking of the pelvis with the breath? This requires relaxation This rhythm is important as it helps keep the circulation of spinal fluid healthy. Try exaggerating this movement. Try the reverse of the movement, notice how it affects your breath.
These actions help soften the muscles of the buttocks, out hips and low back. Which helps to balance the pelvis on the femurs., finding that neutral position. Making postures more comfortable and steady. Improving your posture.
Let’s move our attention up to the rib cage.
The heads of all the ribs attach through joints to the thoracic vertebrae. The top seven ribs attach to the sternum. Reach up and feel them. The next few attach indirectly to the sternum through the cartilage of the higher ribs. The lowest pairs are called floating ribs, because they have no attachment to the sternum. The ribs are in constant movement as we breath. Feel them moving in and out, up and down, forward and back.
They do this by rotating subtley in their joints with the thoracic spine with the help of the scalenes and intercostals. You can’t breath without this movement.
Lay your hands on the front ribs, starting with the lower ones and progressing upward over time. Feel the movement in your hands and against the floor. Breath equally into the front and the back.
The diaphram. A huge dome-shaped muscles that sits in the chest like a parachute. The heart sits just above it, the liver, spleen, stomach just below. The movement of your diaphgram massages all the organs. It attaches to the bottom of the sternum, on the inner surfaces of the cartilage of the 7 – 12 ribs and down the front of the spine to the 1-4 lumbar spine. The diaphragm presses down with the inhales, up with the Exhale, just like the pelvic diaphragm. For most people.
Let’s take our attention up to the Shoulders. The shoulder yoke includes the clavicles (collarbones) and the 2 shoulder blades. The yoke hangs via muscles and ligaments from the base of the skull and sits on top of the sternum at the attachment of the collarbones. Each shoulder blade is shaped like a triangle, the top parallel to the shoulder, the inside parallel to the spine. More or less, when there is no muscular disfunction. Give your shoulder blades a wiggle.
Lift the pelvis off the floor so that the weight of the torso presses the shoulderblades firmly into the floor. Let the floor push the blades into your back. Press the feet down to move the blades toward the tail, as you did with your pelvis. Hold for a few breaths, then roll the low back and pelvis to the floor.
Reach your arms straight up toward the ceiling. Rock slightly from side to side and think about spreading the back ribs away from the spine. Imagine that your arms are rooted not in the shoulder joints but at the inner borders of the blades. Without narrowing the back between the shoulder blades, return your arms to the floor. Touch your fingertips to the front of the shoulders and lengthen the back. Rest the hands palms up. Relax them to the floor, relax the thumbs toward the floor. Feel your breath move in the shoulder girdle.
Let’s move to the spine.
We discussed the sacrum and tailbone. Above that are the 5 vertebrae of the lumbar spine. Then the 12 of the thorasic, then the 7 of the cervical. Feel the gentle curve of each as it is relaxed. Feel the back of the spine and lengthen, the right, front, left. Gently rock from side to side to find the place where your weight balances evenly on the back. Lengthen the front of the spine up, the back down.
To the Neck and Head…
With your fingers, gently pull the skull away from the back of the neck. Relax the head and neck. Bring the chin perpendicular to the floor. Check that the ears are equidistant from the shoulders, so that the head isn’t tilted and the sides of the neck are equally long.
The vocal diaphragm is a disc shaped structure in the upper part of the air massage – squeezing and releasing, like wringing a sponge, at the base of the tongue. It is instrumental in helping us make sound. Like the Ujjayi Pranayama. When we are relaxed, this makes our voices deeper. This is also responsible for the grunting exhale we make as we effort. Opposite of the other diaphragms, it lifts up on the Inhale, down on the Exhale. Be very aware of the position of the head and neck as you breath. It can cause breath strain if off balance.
See if you can begin to feel the movement of all three diaphragms as you breath here. The lower two diaphragms pressing down as you inhale, the upper pressing up. The lower two diaphragms pressing up as you exhale, the upper pressing down. All the diaphragms helping to create space for the breath within your body. The main Diaphragm actually helping to create your breath.
Body balanced, breath relaxed. Feel the embrace of gravity. What does it feel like? Are there places in your body resisting gravity? Imagine your body filled with thick liquid. Sink this mass into the pull of gravity and let it settle down onto and spread across the floor. So that the front of your body grows light and spacious, the back heavy and broad.