What happens when we do less to try and steer a situation in the direction that we want it to go? Lately, I have been noticing what happens to my experience of myself and how I am relating to others when I just allow a situation to unfold as it is. I, for one, am inclined to want things to work out my way, and I often am inclined to want to actively influence a situation to this end. I constantly confront these inclinations while parenting my 12 yr. old son. For me, parenting is a constant balancing act between knowing when to say something and when to keep quiet, when to assert the family values and when to let my child assert his desires. In so many situations, when I remember to just allow him to be as he is, who and where he is at this moment, I am more often than not pleasantly surprised.
This experience with our son is the same thing I experience in my practice, especially in regards to my breath. Can I allow my breath to be as it is, where it is, how it is without controlling it? What happens when I just become conscious of the fact that I am breathing in and breathing out? Can I become curious about the movement of my breath without putting any manipulations or instructions on top of my breath? What if the definition of pranayama was not practices of breath control, but actually a practice of breath observation in which the breath was allowed to be without doing something to it?
When I am not working to control my breath and am instead experiencing the pleasant surprises that come with watching things as they are, I often am able to tap into a sense of the bodies diaphragms. Our bodies have many diaphragmatic structures that modulate the flow of things; life energy, fluid, vitality, and general movement. Diaphragms are a source of support that are continuously moving in various rhythms and that move based on both voluntary and involuntary responses. We have many diaphragms in the body, a thoracic diaphragm, a thoracic inlet shoulder girdle diaphragm, a pelvic diaphragm, a vocal diaphragm, a cranial diaphragm, upper palette diaphragm, a urogenital diaphragm, hands and feet have diaphragms and many other diaphragms not listed here, as well. Becoming aware of the very existence of these many dome and bowl-like structures inside the body helps me awaken to areas in myself that might be holding on too tightly, becoming rigid and restricting the flow of breath to travel throughout my body more freely.
How do you begin to allow the breath to flow more freely or become more natural through the diaphragms without controlling and telling your diaphragms what to do and when to do it?
Below is a practice that might help you get to know your breath and diaphragms more intimately, a perhaps that might allow you to experience more ease with yourself and with the people around you, and might even allow you to find one of those golden pleasant surprises.
Get what you need to be comfortable and lie down on your back. Perhaps place a bolster under your knees or a blanket beneath your head. Take a few moments to settle and yield into the earth.
Watch yourself breathing in and breathing out. Begin to notice what is moving as you breathe in and what is moving when you breathe out. Don’t try to control, manipulate or make the breath any different than it is. Allow the breath coming in and going out to be as it is, however it is at this moment. Observe how is the breath responding, as opposed to engaging in the predictable inner monologue of telling your breath how it is supposed to respond. This could be enough of a practice. And, if you want to explore your diaphragms, please continue.
Place your hands on your pubic bone and bladder and continue observing your breath in and your breath out. Begin to move your pelvis side to side, down and up, try making gentle circles with your pelvis and allow your pelvis to move in anyway it desires. After a moment, quiet this movement and observe your in breath and your out breath. You have a pelvic diaphragm that attaches behind your pubic bone to the front of your coccyx and between your two sits bones, shaped like a bowl. Without telling your pelvic diaphragm to do anything, just become aware that it exists and see how this changes your breath? What do you notice?
Place your hands on your low ribs, on the front and then on the sides, if comfortable, and observe your breath in and your breath out. Begin to move your bottom ribs side to side, then down and up, then in gentle circular movements. Finally, allow your ribs to move in anyway they desire. Quiet the movement and observe your in breath and your out breath. The edges of your thoracic diaphragm attach to the interior of your bottom ribs, all the way around this elliptical form. When you become aware that you have a thoracic diaphragm, shaped like a mushroom cap, and you don’t tell it do anything, what do you notice about the movement of your breath?
Cross your wrists in front of your chest and place the heel of your hands on your collar bones and breast bone area and fingers drape over the top of the shoulders. Observe your breath in and breath out. Begin to move your shoulder girdle area side to side, down and up, and in gentle circular movements and allow your collar bones in front, breast bone, thoracic spine and shoulder blades to move in anyway they desire. Quiet the movement and observe your in breath and your out breath. You have a thoracic inlet, shoulder girdle diaphragm that attaches behind the top of the manubrium to the front of the spine at T1 and T2, and to either side at the acromioclavicular joint ( often referred to the AC joint). Without telling your thoracic inlet diaphragm to do anything, just become aware that it exists and put your attention there; how does that change your breath? What do you notice?
Take the next few moments, if you desire, to move in micro or macro movements continuing to observe your breath moving in and your breath moving out. As you breathe in how does your body want to be moved and when you breathe out how does your body want to be moved? Does it want to curl into a little ball or open into a wide X shape or maybe it wants to rock, sway, jiggle or be still? Does allowing the breath to move the body have an effect upon how and where your breath is traveling? What does it feel like to allow your body to have an experience of being moved by your breath, moving freely without telling it do something? You have so many possible pathways in which your body can breathe. Can you allow all the ways your body can breathe to be experienced, to be discovered in a pleasant surprise?
The more we learn about and allow the structures of our diaphragms to become conscious and part of our breathing choices, our tissues become more resilient, and our responses to ourselves and the world around us become more resilient, too. Continue to follow the natural movement of your breath without doing something to it and see what happens; see what happens to your breathe, see what happens to your sense of self, to the relationships in your life, to your perception of your 12 yr. old child. Be pleasantly surprised.
This past month I have been teaching and exploring the endocrine system. One thing I appreciate very much is that each system highlights a completely different quality of my being. I observe differences in my movement and breath options, as well as my state of mind. I can see these differences reflected in my student’s bodies from week to week as we dive into various systems.
Sometimes a particular part of the body needs or wants attention, and that was very true for me as I explored my kidneys and adrenal glands this past week.
I was feeling really tired and could feel the weight of inertia sinking in. So, I filled up a water balloon with warm water and started to hold it and live with this warm, weighted, cozy, and highly responsive object close to my body. I walked around the house with the warm balloon held in my hands or tucked in my shirt or pants when I needed my hands, just kept it near me as I went about my morning. And, surprisingly, the balloon did not create a stronger sense of weight and inertia in my body which is why I was drawn to it in the first place, but it began to nourish me with the opposite quality. My body began to feel light, buoyant and resilient. I began to feel the conversation with the downward pull of gravity and the upward force of levity. I became a conduit between heaven and earth, and my tissues began to feel their own sense of choice and agency. Now, this response doesn’t always happen to me which was why I was surprised by the effect. Often, the balloon helps me remember to slow down, rest and yield more deeply, which I also need to remember. This past week, I could feel my kidneys and adrenal glands, that sit like a cap on top of the kidneys, being this wonderful gateway between the flow of energy moving up and down through my body, as opposed to a place that often holds or is congested.
You never know what you will feel until you start inquiring.
If you have ever wondered what your kidneys might want to teach you, keep reading on and let’s explore a little further.
Take a moment and place your attention on your kidneys…
Here is a brief description of where the paired organs of your kidneys generally live in the body. About the size of a large fist, 4-5 inches, shaped like a bean, the right kidney is a little higher than the left kidney because of the fatty liver taking up more space on the right. They live on either side of the spine, in front of the 11thand 12thribs in the back of the body (the last two ribs at the bottom of your rib cage), and behind the level of the pancreas, stomach, and liver intersection in the front.
Sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor. Take your hands and rub them together until you have created some warmth and sensitivity in the skin and cells of your hands.
Place your hands on the back of your body, about the level of the 11thand 12thrib, and just let your hands meet the skin over your kidneys. Begin to breathe into your hands, into your kidneys and also begin to breathe from your kidneys. How do your kidneys respond to this recognition of their existence?
Give a thoughtful jiggle to the place in which you are touching as if you are jiggling a water balloon gently. Do your kidneys want to move? Organs can slide, glide, give weight, roll and pour, and so much more.
Try sliding one kidney up while the other glides down, initiating this movement from the kidneys, allowing subsequent subtle shifting of the spine and ribs according to the desire of the kidneys. Try moving one kidney forward and the other back, so a different rotation in your spine is being initiated by your kidneys. Is there any other movement that your kidneys want to express or explore? What movement in your body wants to be initiated when the movement stems from this attention to your kidneys?
To further awaken this relationship to your kidneys, try humming or sounding from and into your kidneys. Is there anything else your kidneys want to express to you or reveal to you? Follow the impulses that arise as you tap into your kidneys.
And, then release your hands and sit quietly for a moment. What do you notice? Can you still feel the warmth and impression of your hands on your back? What is the quality of your mind? Any change in your breath or awareness after spending a little time with your kidneys and adrenal caps?
I am continuously intrigued and inspired by moving from different systems in my body. It is endless play. Body Mind Centering® is, among other things, an approach to moving, connecting, sensing and feeling the body from all of the various systems of the body. The approach is in many ways simple, and sometimes the effect of attending to our body can be rather quick and, yet, at other times it can feel complex and inaccessible. I highly recommend being patient with yourself; slow down and take the time to notice what happens when you attend to your body differently. It is the time you take to listen and feel that changes your relationship to yourself and the world around you. It is well worth the time.
For years, I practiced a style of yoga that valued alignment. I often remember hearing that where I placed my body parts mattered and that aligning my body in a specific way was an essential goal of the asana practice. I was drawn to this approach of the asana practice because I thought that if I aligned my parts in a specific way, I would get it right, master the pose, and achieve something great through my dedication to proper alignment.
I have no idea if I ever did get it right, and I am not worried about this because something else happened along the way; I discovered that alignment is not an end point, but rather a process. The practice became a process of inquiry.
I moved away from caring whether my parts were in the right position and more interested in how my parts were relating to each other in any given moment. I became interested in how my experience aligned with various relationships in my body.
Alignment implies relationship, it is about relative position. Now when I practice, I play with relationships, I explore the never-ending variety and endless possibilities of how I experience alignment/relationship in my body. For me, the thing that I now work to align myself with is my capacity for responsiveness and adaptability. And, in doing so, any relative position of my body parts is a source for discovery and creativity.
When we don’t have a strong and deep relationship to ourselves, to our body, we look outside of ourselves for what is right and true and good, in terms of alignment or wellness or truly anything else. And, I have found it absolutely necessary to seek out the guidance from informed and skillful teachers who have helped me harvest a deep connection and relationship with my own body.
A teacher allows space for the student to begin to trust their own experience and hear their own voice, better and better over time. This teacher/student relationship grows from the same spirit as the developmental relationship with self, full of inquiry rather than finality.
Through the practice of trust, inquiry, exploration and play, we learn to find the alignment, with our teachers, with our self or with the parts of the body, that is helpful and useful in the moment. An assertion about alignment needs to be a starting point rather than an end point. The practice helps bring us back to ourselves, over and over, so that we learn to trust our own natural intelligence and discover what relationships are most valuable to remember.