Learning to Stretch-Practicing Sensitivity and Control

Relaxing a muscle and contracting it are both aspects of controlling our body. We can improve our ability to stretch our muscles, activate them and strengthen them by learning to feel our muscles and control them. We can focus feeling the belly of the a muscle since this is the part that does the work. We can also learn to feel our bones and the points of attachment between muscle and bones.

Focusing on the belly of a muscle we can feel when that muscle contracts and relaxes.

Focusing on the endpoints of a muscle, the points at which it attaches to bone, we can move these points away from each other or towards each other to help stretch a muscle or activate it.

This article focuses on learning to feel, control and relax the belly of a muscle so that we can stretch it.

Related Articles

Contents


Muscle Layout

Some muscles cross and act on only one joint. Some muscles cross or act on two joints. Yet other muscles cross multiple joints. The better we understand the “Layout” of a muscle and the bones that it attaches to, the easier it will be for us to direct our awareness to the appropriate place so that we can feel our muscles activating or relaxing, and so that we can control them. If we have an understanding of where a muscle is located we can put our awareness in that place to feel it.

Looking at any anatomy book, we can see learn where the belly of a particular muscle is and then try to may that awareness to our own body. As an example, the biceps is located at the front of the upper arm. The belly of the biceps is located between the elbow and the shoulder. To feel our biceps, it helps if we focus our attention on the front of our upper arm. If we then bend our elbow and straighten so that the biceps contracts and relaxes we can then practice feeling our biceps.

If at the same time we are aware of how the biceps connects to the shoulder blade and lower arm, we can notice any pulling sensations at the shoulder and elbow and based on those sensations decide whether we are actually engaging the biceps or some other muscle as well.

We may find that we are engaging the brachioradialis or the coracobrachialis, the first of which attaches the upper arm bone to the radius, the second of which attaches from the upper arm to the coracoid process on the shoulder blade.


Muscle Actions

So that we can learn to activate and relax muscle tissue at will some basic understanding of how muscles work with and against each other can be useful.

Bones connect at joints so that they can move relative to each other. Muscles act on bones across joints to either change the relationship of the bones at that joint or maintain that relationship.

  • A muscle can contract and “close” the side of the joint it works on. The greater the force it works against the greater the muscle needs to contract
  • Muscles can work against each other with unequal force so that a joint closes in the direction of the stronger muscle
  • Muscles can work against each other with equal force so that a joint is stable
  • A muscle can gradually relax and allow the side of the joint it works on to “open.”
  • All muscles that act on a joint can be relaxed so that the joint is able to move freely.

In the first case, a muscle might be working against some outside force, or the weight of the body part it is acting on. Holding one arm straight out in front, we can bend the elbow and cause the biceps to engage. Since it is only the weight of the arm that is moving, the force required is minimal.

Holding a weight with our arm down by our side, the greater the weight the greater the force our biceps would have to exert in order to bend the elbow.

With the arm in front or by our side we could tense the triceps, at the back of the arm, and then engage the biceps. If the force of the triceps is only slightly less than that of the biceps then the elbow will slowly bend. We can thus use one muscle to help us engage another muscle.

If we slowly relax the biceps, reduce the force that it exerts, or we increase the force that the triceps exerts, then we gradually open the elbow.

Thus we can use body weight, the weight of some external object or an opposing muscle to help contract a muscle. To relax a muscle we simply relax or release the force that it is working on.

If our focus is on relaxing muscle tissue so that it can be stretched we need to be aware of any opposing forces that a muscle may be acting against, whether body weight, an opposing muscle, or some external weight or force, so that we can negate that force and allow the muscle to relax.

Note that if for some reason we feel unsafe, we may tense muscles in opposition to create stability and safety. This can work against us if our intent is to stretch. If we can figure out the reason why we feel unsafe or position ourselves in such a way that we feel safe it may then be easier for us to relax and stretch.


Relaxing and Contracting

When the fibers in the belly of a muscle contract, the muscle tries to shorten and pull the bones it attaches to towards each other. I say “Tries to Shorten” because if a muscle works against against a greater force then it will actually lengthen. However if it is working against a lesser force then it will shorten. If it is working against an equal force then it will stay the same length.

When a muscle is relaxed or inactive it tends to return to its resting length. If the bones that it is attached to are moved away from each other then the muscle will be lengthened. If moved gradually beyond it’s resting length the muscle will actually be stretched.


Tendons-Connective Tissue that Transmits Force

The belly of a muscle is attached to bone via connective tissue called tendons.When a muscle contracts it pulls on tendons which in turn pull on the bones that they are attached to. When the bones that a muscle is attached to are pulled apart these same tendons then help to lengthen the belly of the muscle. When the belly of the muscle creates a pulling force, it is the tendons that transmit this force.

Tendons are made up of connective tissue and this connective tissue extends into the belly of the muscle itself. It defines bundles of muscle fibers and allows them to move relative to each other as well as giving them something to pull on when they contract.

The connective tissue within the belly of a muscle has some elasticity so that they help the belly of the muscle return to its resting length when relaxed. It is this connective tissue that is lengthened when a muscle is stretched.


Positioning The Body to Relax So That we can Stretch

Since muscle tissue can lengthen even when active (because it is trying to act against a greater force,) just because a muscle is lengthening when we pull on it doesn’t mean we are stretching it. If we want to stretch a muscle we need to relax it so that we stretch the connective tissue within the belly of the muscle. One possible way of doing this is to gradually relax a muscle as we lengthen it. We can practice gradually lengthening to the point of total relaxation, hold for a moment, and then gradually contract.

Part of relaxing muscles at will is positioning the body in such a way that the muscles we want to relax can relax. In general this can mean providing a stable foundation for the muscle(s) that we are trying to stretch. This means making one of the bones or body parts to which that muscle is attached stable. Then the other part can move relative to the stable part.

As an example, in a standing forward bend we are trying to move the pelvis relative to the legs to lengthen the hamstrings. Since the hamstrings attach from the lower leg to the pelvis, we can stabilize  the lower leg, including the shin, ankle and foot, to give the hamstrings a stable foundation.

Laying on our back and pulling one leg back and down, we are moving the leg relative to the pelvis. So that the pelvis is stable we can activate the abs to unify it with the ribcage and stabilize the lower back. We again give the hamstrings a stable foundation.

So that we can give the muscle(s) we are stretching a stable foundation we need to know which parts of the body a muscle attaches to, and which of those parts we are moving relative to the other. We can then stabilize the other part so that the muscle in question can be stretched.


Leading with a Clear Idea

Another part of stretching or allowing ourselves to stretch is having a clear idea of what we are trying to do. If we define a foundation as something that allows us to do what we are trying to do, whether it is erect a building or stretch a muscle, then we can say that a clear idea is a foundation of sorts because it allows us to get on with what we are trying to do. Without a clear idea we don’t know what we are trying to do, and so we may have an idea of getting more flexible but not knowing how we are trying to get flexible while in a particular pose.

For example, in a seated forward bend we can reach our legs forwards and push our pelvis back to create space in the hip joint so that it is easier to bend forwards.

There are four hip muscles that connect the thigh to the pelvis which can be used to create space between the pelvis and the thigh bone. When focusing on reaching the legs forwards and pushing the pelvis back we can help to activate these muscles.

Since these muscles also cause the thighs to rotate externally, we can counter this tendency by engaging the outer hip muscles. Since the outer hip muscles can also be used to tip the pelvis forwards, this is doubly advantageous if we are doing a forward bend.

If we also focus on the idea of reaching forwards in a forward bend (as opposed to downwards), the process of reaching forwards will gradually bring our chest towards our legs. For this to happen we have to tilt our pelvis forwards. For this to happen, our hamstrings have to lengthen and prior to that they have to relax.

The clear idea we can then focus on is reaching our torso and legs forwards (while pressing our pelvis back.) This clear idea holds all of the smaller ideas together. In the process we lengthen the hamstrings which is the big idea of what we are trying to do.

If we aren’t focused on that one clear idea, other ideas may be occupying our mind. “When will this be over…. I hate this stretch…. I can’t do this… this is so uncomfortable.” All of these are also clear ideas but they are also ideas that hinder what we are trying to do. If we want to lengthen a part of our body then that is what we can focus on doing. Our body is then more likely to follow.


Using Weight or Supporting It

When a muscle is “tense” it is more than likely working against some outside force. When we are stretching, a muscle may be tense because it is trying to prevent part of the body from falling or collapsing so as to not be overstretched. In fact, our body is working against what we are trying to do.

To help a “tense” muscle relax we can try to relax or negate any forces that it is acting against.

In a forward bend where we are trying to stretch the hamstrings, the hamstrings may actually be engaging to help support the weight of the upper body, to prevent it from moving forwards. So that we can negate this tendency we can support the weight of our upper body by using our arms. We can then wait for our hamstrings to relax and then we can lower our upper body slightly by bending the elbows. Our hamstrings then may engage again but here again if we support the weight of our body in this new position then our hamstrings may release again at which point we can lower our upper body further.

Once we’ve trained our hamstrings to stay relaxed we can use the weight of the ribcage that we were previously supporting to actually help stretch the hamstrings. We can slowly and smoothly reach our hands off of the floor so that our ribcage is unsupported and we can even add weight by reaching our arms slowly forwards.

If we do this slowly and smoothly we are less likely to cause our hamstrings to tense up in fear. If at the same time we reach our arms and ribcage forwards, the weight of our body can be used to gradually lengthen our hamstrings.


Practicing Relaxation and Activation

One final technique bears mentioning is using slow, rhythmic repeated movements to both stretch muscle tissue and activate it. Such movements can be done in time with the breath if we can breath slowly enough but they can also simply be done slowly enough and smoothly enough that we can feel our muscles and bones as we move our body.

As an example, in the forward bend we can support our upper body with our hands so that our hamstrings can relax, we can then smoothly take our hands off of the floor and then reach our arms, ribs and head forwards while inhaling. We can put our hands back down on the floor and relax and then repeat.

We can add “clear idea” practice to this by focusing on reaching forwards when inhaling (and making the lower legs stable at the same time since we want the pelvis to move relative to the legs) and focusing on relaxing while exhaling.

While inhaling our upper body reaches forwards and our pelvis tilts forwards. While exhaling we support our upper body and gradually allow it to relax downwards while relaxing the hamstrings at the same time.

As we practice this movement we may then find that we can keep our hamstrings relaxed even as we lift our upper body and reach it forwards. We thus help to lengthen the connective tissue that is within them.

The Meridians-Allowing Energy to Flow

Within our body Qi flows along channels called meridians. These meridians run along the surface of our body along our arms, neck, torso and legs. They also run within our body connecting our organs to each other as well as to our extremities. These meridians are located mainly in the connective tissue of our body.

By maintaining or improving the health and function of our connective tissue we can maintain or improve the ability of our meridians to transmit change or Qi.

Related Articles

Contents


Electricity, Information and Change

In computer systems electricity can be used to supply power, transmit information or do both at the same time. As an example you can use the USB port on your computer to recharge the battery of an mp3 device or download more music. Whether as information, power or both electricity causes change or creates the potential for change.

Qi (or Chi) is like electricity. It causes change to occur. Like electricity Qi can be used to transmit power or information or simply as a means of creating change.

Stretching the Meridians and Energizing Them-The Theory

One possible mechanism for creating charge in the meridians is from stretching and relaxing the connective tissue of the body. It may be that the connective tissue of the body has a piezo electric quality which means that it generates charge when it undergoes a change, such as when being stretched or relaxed. Repeated stretching and relaxing of Meridian/connective tissue, may then be used to generate a relatively constant flow of change.

As an example, we might be stretching the front of the torso. In so doing we stretch the connective tissue along the front of the belly and that which spans the front of the ribcage. As the front of the body is stretched and then released, a buzzing or tingling may result. The longer we stretch and/or the deeper we stretch, the bigger the “Charge” that we then develop and subsequently release. This “charge” may stay in the connective tissue where it was generatated and/or it may release to other parts of the body.

Another possible source of energy flow could be from the contraction and relaxation of muscle tissue. Since electrical activity occurs in muscle tissue when activated and relaxed, it may be that the connective tissue within muscle tissue acts as electrical wiring to carry “charge” away from the muscle when that muscle relaxes. Thus stretching and releasing muscle, and activating and releasingmuscle tissue can both be used to “charge” or energize the body.

  • Lung (white),
  • Pericardium (black),
  • Heart (red)
  • Large Intestine (white),
  • Triple Heater (black),
  • Small Intestine (red)

Stomach (yellow)

Spleen (yellow)

Bladder (blue)

Gall Bladder (green)
  • Spleen (yellow),
  • Liver (green),
  • Kidney (blue)

Transmitting Information via Tension

Continuing with the idea that the meridians are “embedded” in the connective tissue of our body, then one other way in which these “wires” can transmit change is through tension. This tension can be supplied by our muscles contracting. It can also be supplied by the weight of our bones being allowed to sink downwards with gravity. It can be relaxed by relaxing muscles tissue and supporting relevant “bony” elements (e.g. relax the meridians of your arms by supporting your elbows on a table.)

That tension can transmit change from one part of the body to another and it can also give us information about the state that our body is in. We can learn to listen to our body so that we can sense tension or its absence. We can then respond to that information.

As an example, if we sense that our shoulders are lifted and tense we can allow our shoulders to sink down and relax. That our shoulders do relax is the feedback we need to assure us that our body has done what we asked it to. We then control our body based on what we sense.

Creating Separation as Well as Connection

As well as connecting parts of the body to each other, connective tissue also allows creates separation between parts of the body. It allows muscle fibers or muscles that are right next to each other to slide relative to each other. This “lubricating” action also takes place between the organs and between organs and the bone structure that supports them.

For example the connective tissue that separates the lungs from the ribcage allows the lungs to move relative to the ribcage. By allowing the lungs to move freely connective tissue allows the lungs and ribcage to function efficiently together to draw air into the body and push it out.

Connective tissue transmits change and it allows change to happen in such a way that some parts of the body are affective and others are not. As a further example, connective tissue attaches the bottom of the lungs and the pericardium to the diaphragm so that when the diaphragm contracts it pulls down on the lungs and the pericardium. But connective tissue also connects the top of the stomach and liver to the bottom of the diaphragm so that when the diaphram moves upwards it carries the lungs and liver with it.

By maintaining the health of our body’s connective tissue and meridians, we maintain our body’s ability to transmit change and its ability to allow change to happen.

In places where connective tissue sticks together where it shouldn’t, stretching can help to losen it. In places where connective tissue has tightened, or become in-elastic, stretching may help to restore it.

Stretching the meridian/connective tissue while relaxing muscle tissue and energizing it by  activating muslce tissue we can encourage the natural flow of energy within our body. Health and Vitality can be the result.

Changing Our Mind-Focusing on What We Want to Do

One of the interesting things about stretching the connective tissue or the meridians within that connective tissue is how our state of mind can affect our flexibility.

The ability for our muscles to relax so that our connective tissue can be stretched might directly relate to how happy, fearful, worried, relaxed or present we are while stretching. (This can be true in some people, not true in others. If we are aware of our degree of flexibility and out mental health on any given day we can draw our own conclusions as to whether this is true for ourselves or not.)

In this case the meridians do truly transmit the change that we are thinking about. If we are worried, our body tightens. If we are happy, our body losens and is more flexible.

Another way in which our mind can affect our body is in our ability to get more flexible. If we believe that it is too difficult or too hard then we either won’t stretch because of that belief or we limit ourselves to stretch when we are in the process of stretching.

One possible solution is to focus on what we are trying to do instead of what we can’t do. Doing a forward bend we can focus on tilting our pelvis forwards (as opposed to focusing on how difficult it is.) We could also focus on lengthening our spine, on breathing and or moving slowly and smoothly. We can also focus on feeling our body and responding to what we sense.

Trying to lengthen our hamstrings we can focus on relaxing them so that we can stretch them, and if that doesn’t work we can focus on positioning our body in such a way so that they can relax.

Changing our mind may very well be the first step towards being more flexible as well as towards gaining sensitivity and control of our body.

Stretching the Meridians-In Practice

Meridians run along well defined lines which in places correspond to muscles or groups of muscles while in other places they correspond to “joint mobilities”-directions in which the bones that make up a joint can move.

To stretch a particular meridian we can simply focus on stretching along the line that the meridian runs. So that we can do that it can be helpful to learn the pathways of the 12 ordinary meridians. Once we know the pathway of each meridian we can figure out how to stretch it or energize it or we can analyze a posture or action to see which meridians are stretched or energized.

If a meridian crosses the front of the hip (like the stomach meridian does) then we can stretch the meridian at that location by opening the front of the hip. We can do a lunge and reach one leg back so that the front of the hip of that leg is stretched.

If a meridian runs along the length of a muscle then we can lengthen that muscle.

As an example the stomach meridian runs down the front of the leg along the rectus fermoris which attaches the front of the pelvis to the front of the knee. We can stretch this meridian and the corresponding muscle by bending the knee completely and then tilting our pelvis and upper body backwards. We thus stretch the rectus femoris by bending the knee and opening the front of the hip joint. For a complete stretch of the stomach meridian we also stretch the front of the ankle as well as the front of the belly and ribcage.

We can try try to stretch the stomach meridian all at once or focus on each part one at a time.

Because of the interconnected nature of the meridians it is hard to just work on one meridian at a time when stretching or energizing the body. Generally, whenever we stretch one meridian other meridians are affected. If we are aware of the pathways of all of the meridians we can also realize which meridians are being stretched at the same time.

As an example, both the Stomach and Kidney Meridians run up the front of the torso. Thus we know that if we bend our spine backwards we not only stretch the stomach meridian but the kidney meridian also. As a result we can use single postures to stretch multiple meridians at the same time.

If we are aware of the interconnectedness of the meridian network as a whole, we can use this to guide stretches and even to design our postures. For example, the large intestine meridian runs up the back of the arm, up the side of the neck and then across to the opposite side of the face. From there it connects to the stomach meridian which runs down the front of the body and leg. We can stretch the Large Intestine and Stomach Meridian at the same time by doing a lunge while pulling the front leg arm across the chest while tilting the head to the opposite side.

Knowing that the three inner leg meridians all connect via the front of the body to the three meridians that run down the front of the arms, we can accompany or follow stretching or energizing the inner thighs with positions that stretch or energize the front of the arms.

  • Lung (white),
  • Pericardium (black),
  • Heart (red)
  • Large Intestine (white),
  • Triple Heater (black),
  • Small Intestine (red)

Stomach (yellow)

Spleen (yellow)

Bladder (blue)

Gall Bladder (green)
  • Spleen (yellow),
  • Liver (green),
  • Kidney (blue)

Learning the Meridians-The Meridian Pathways

The meridians are connected as follows:

  • Lungs, Large Intestine,
  • Stomach, Spleen,
  • Heart, Small Intestine,
  • Bladder, Kidneys,
  • Pericardium, Triple Heater,
  • Gall Bladder, Liver.

The Lung Meridian

The Lung Meridian runs down the outside edge of the front of the arm to the thumb. The Large Intestine Meridian startsat the index finger and runs up the back of the arm along the outside edge.

The Large Intestine Meridian

The Large Intestine Meridian runs up the neck and across the space between the bottom of the nose and the top of the upper lip, crossing the body’s center line to connect to the stomach meridian.

The lungs and large intestine both run along the outside edge of the arm. They are both associated with the element of “metal” and the color white.

The Stomach Meridian

The Stomach Meridian runs down the front of the body. Running down the toro it crosses the nipple and runs down the outside edge of the rectus abdominus and down the front of the thighs and lower leg to the foot where it connects to the big toe and the second toe.

The Spleen Meridian

The Spleen Meridian runs along the front edge of the inner thigh. It starts at from the top of the big toe. Running up the torso it follows a line to the outside of the stomach meridian.

The spleen and stomach are respectively yin and yang aspects of the earth element which is represented by yellow.

The Heart Meridian

The Heart Meridian runs along the inside edge of the front of the arm ending at the pinky.

The Small Intestine Meridian

The Small Intestine Meridian runs up the back of the arm along the inside edge. It starts from the back side of the pinky. It zig-zags across the spine of the shoulder blade, runs up the side of the neck to the outer corner of the eye and then to a point just in front of the ear.

The heart and small intestine are yin and yang aspects of the fire element which is represented by the color red.

The Bladder Meridian

The Bladder Meridian runs down the back of the body and back of the leg. It starts at the inside corner of the eye, runs over the top of the head and down the back of the body. To either side of the spine it has two lines on each side. These two lines zag outwards and down at the buttock and then recombine to form one line just behind each knee. The Bladder Meridian runs down the back of the calf to the outside of the heel and down the outside of the foot. It ends at the tip of the small toe where it then connects to the Kidney Meridian.

The Kidney Meridian

The Kidney Meridian runs up the back line of the inner thigh. It starts at the bottom of the foot from the the little toe back and to the inside edge of the foot where it follows the inside of the arch to then do a circle around the inside of the ankle. It then ascends the back edge of the inner thigh to the perinium and then runs up the front of the body close to the center line, connecting to the collar bone just inside the point where it connects to the sternum.

The kidney and bladder meridians are yin and yang aspects of the water element which is represented by blue or black.

The Pericardium Meridian

The Periciardium Meridian runs down the center line of the front of the arm to the tip of the middle finger.

The Triple Heater Meridian

The Triple Heater Meridian runs up the center of the back of the arm from the ring finger. It ascends the neck and circles behind the ear.

These two meridians have no associated element.

The Gullbladder Meridian

The Gull Bladder Meridian runs down the side of the body and side of the leg. It starts from in front of the ear, and coils back and forwards along the side of the head, each zag taking it higher up the skull. It then descends down the front of the shoulder and down the side of the body.

The Liver Meridian

The Liver Meridian runs up the inner thigh between the kidney and spleen meridians. It completes the meridian circuit by connecting back to the lung meridian at the front of the shoulder.

The liver and gull bladder meridians are related to the wood element and the color green.

Meridian Summary:

The lung, pericardium and heart meridians run down the front of the arm towards the hands. The large intestine, triple heater and small intestine run up the back of the arm and the side of the neck. The stomach meridian runs up the front of body, the bladder down the back of the body, while the gall bladder runs down the side of body.The spleen, liver and kidney meridians run up the inner thighs.
Metal Element, color white:

  • Lungs-Front of Arm-Outside Edge
  • Large Intestine-Back of the Arm-Outside Edge

Earth Element, color yellow;

  • Stomach-Front of the Torso, Front of the Leg
  • Spleen-Front Line of the Inner Thigh, Front of the Torso

Fire Element, color red;

  • Heart-Front of the Arm-Inside Edge
  • Small Intestine-Back of arm, Inside Edge

Water Element, color Blue or Black;

  • Bladder-Back of the Torso, Back of the Legs
  • Kidneys-Back Line  of the Inner Thigh, Front of the Torso

No Element;

  • Pericardium-Front of the Arm-Center Line
  • Triple Heater: Back of Arm-Center Line

Wood Element, color Green;

  • Gall Bladder-Side of the Torso, Side of the Leg
  • Liver: Center Line of the Inner Thigh.

Folding Time and Space or Moving Beyond Time and Space

The more we understand our body, a piece of equipment, ourselves, the people we are with, the easier it is to use our body, work with a piece of equipment, be with other people or with ourselves. The better we understand consciousness and the universe the better we can tune in to our own desires and realize them, while being in tune with all that is around us.

Moving Beyond Time and Space

Usual explanations for wormholes talk about folding Time and Space to bring to points in space-time together. We can then jump from one point to the other easily-without too much effort. The effort then is in learning to Fold Time and Space.

What if instead of folding space-time we learn to move beyond it?

The Folding Time and Space model assumes that time and space is a fabric.

What if instead of a fabric (gabardine, linen, tartan, cotton polyester blend…) space-time is a set of limits within something bigger.

We could call this something bigger “Hyper Space, Ultra Space… the Realm of all That Is.”

(If there is an even bigger realm beyond, we could instead call it “the Realm of almost all that is…”)

This would be a realm that we could move into when we move beyond time and space. This realm would in comparison to time and space be “unlimited” or “infinite.”

If this realm beyond time and space contains time and space, then there is no need to move into it, we are already in it. We are in it just in a limited fashion, like being locked in a room in a house not understanding that with a key we can access the rest of the house, and its a really huge house.

Having a model of time and space and the realm that contains it, we may be able to gain the understanding necessary to move into this space at will. The idea then is so that we can define the limits that we want to play in at will-like having access to the whole house and being able to choose the room we are in, and being able to move freely between all the rooms in the house…


The Realm of the Real and the Realm of Potential

What if the realm of the infinite has two major aspects, The Realized, Real, or Realm of the Real, and the Realm of the Yet to be Made Real-Imaginary Space or the Realm of Potential.

We could also call these the inner and the outer, yin and yang, but even this is a limited view since it too is divided into “What is” and “What is Possibly Yet to Be” and so beyond that we could model yet another realm even more unlimited that the previous two, the realm of “All That Is.”

Outside of science fiction novels (which I love by the way. Favorite authors include Iain M. Banks and Peter F. Hamilton) how does this help us?


Consciousness, Time and Space

We can model consciousness as something that is limited in time and space. It can be expanded in time, in which case we are thinking, using our mind. It can also be expanded in space in which case we are using our senses.

The more it expands in one realm the less of it there is in the other, hence it is limited. We may expand so much in one direction, say into space that we leave the other completely. We become completely present in the realm of the real. Or expanding completely into time we pop into the realm of not-yet real or field of potential.

Once we leave space-time by expanding completely into one or the other, consciousness then becomes unlimited or infinite.

What that means is that we have access to all that potential or all that sensory data.

What then?

We can choose what to do.


Choosing to Unlimit Our Selves

Limited by time and space our choices are restricted. In the direction of time, until we become infinite we only have so much processing power. In the direction of space, using our senses, our senses are limited by what is happening now.

Becoming unlimited what we can sense becomes more. Our “now” becomes bigger, we can sense a little way into the future while retaining the past at the same time. Or we know what we have to do even as we are doing it and the more present we are the more we know, the more we can handle all at once because we are unlimited.

Likewise, becoming unlimited in the realm of potential, we move beyond our limited imagination and perhaps connect to the imagination of the collective, of all.

In either case we become more powerful, more free.


How Do we Limit Ourselves?

What if we are all limited by what we think, or what we think society thinks? Forgetting about time and space, we can apply this model to ourselves. How do we limit ourselves? What are the constraints that we place upon ourselves that limit our ability to use our senses or our imagination?

Limits can be handy, but imagine if instead of having limits imposed upon ourselves we have the ability to choose the limits that we work within.

We gain the ability to choose.

That can be daunting. All that choice! But here again if we access the idea of infinity, we can choose how much we limit ourselves. We can choose limits in such a way that at whatever level we are making choices, those choices are readily apparent and easy to choose from. And if we don’t like the choices our current limits impose on us then we simply choose new limits, new definitions or a new point of view.


A General Model

Time and Space is a set of limits. These limits give us a way of experiencing the world in a way that is understandable. As a result we can learn and grow. Once we’ve learned to deal with time and space we can then practice moving beyond them, unlimiting ourselves in the same way a parent does when he or she takes the training wheels of their child’s bike.

(Watch out for that tree. Oh damn.)

Beyond time and space we have the realm of the imaginary (potential) and the realm of the real. Again this is limited, but with slightly more room to play. We might go into the realm of potential to see what we’d like to do. This is like going to a super market to pick out tonight’s dinner. Or better yet a market place in some provincial french town where you can pick up produce fresh.

Remember, this space is unlimited which means we can choose the metaphor that suits.

In so doing we can then bring what we have chosen into the realm of the real.

In the realm of the real we then use our senses while “Knowing” what we are doing. The thing we know, the thing that we have chosen to make real we can call “The Idea,” the thing that we Know.


Knowing

We pick the idea that we want to make real in imaginary space and then we use our senses while we are in real space to look for the opportunities to make the idea real. The idea could be that of a car, a backpack, a motorcycle, a website, a dating agency, a dish, a restaurant, a painting, a book, someplace we’d like to visit, something we’d like to do, the perfect mate.

Knowing what we are looking for or trying to do we can look for and wait for the opportunities to allow it to happen. We thus bring something from the imaginary to the real.

As for the “perfect mate,” because what we are looking for is another conscious entity, we can choose the qualities of the person that we want to be with and then wait for the person to appear. Or we can choose a person at random that we think we like and accept them as they are… assuming that they say yes to the first question and accept us as who we are unless we are perfectly willing to change.

In any case, when we know what we want or what we are trying to do, we can become present, we can use our senses and look for the way to make it happen. The more present we are, the more we are in real space, the less limited we are and the more likely we are to see or sense the opportunities to create the reality of our dreams.


Know What you Want

Going back to the idea of limits, constraints, money is an idea that can limit us.

We need a job to make money, or we need a business or a product that we can sell to make money so that we can go after what we want. The important thing (I believe) is knowing what we want to make money for so that we don’t get lost in an endless loop of making money without a reason for using it.

Speaking for myself, the thing I often do is think about making lots of money but not knowing what I want to do with it all.

It’s kind of like having a lot of blood and no body to put it into. Knowing the idea of what we are trying to do, we can look for the way to make it happen, and we can choose the limits or sense the limits within which it is possible to make it happen.

Another instance of ideas and limitation is in relationships.

Often times, I want to be in a relationship, but I don’t really know what I want to do in that relationship (aside from having lots of sex.) I’ve talked to people who have been part of a couple who share a common goal and then when the achieve that goal or lose it, they lose themselves, they lose the reason for being together.

So the question I ask myself now, is what is it I want from a relationship. Rather than just “a relationship,” how would I like to define that relationship?

The more women I meet, the more I am able to define what it is that I want in a relationship. And that can be true of anything, the more we experience of life in general, the better we can define the ideas that we want in our life. If we are aware of what we want out of life, we can recognize it when it arrives.

When we know what we want, we can look for the way to make it real. We become present in the idea of what we are trying to do. And even though we are limited by the idea, we can expand our consciousness in space and become unlimited in the Realm of the Real and perhaps even in the Realm of All That Is.

Handstands-Center, The Pelvis and the Psoas

Handstands and Controlling Center


Center

Previously I was talking about the middle position, a position of the body, that gives us the most possibility given what we are doing at the time.


The Psoas

Another way that we can practice being centered is to focus on feeling and controlling our pelvis. One of the ways that we can control our pelvis is via a muscle called the psoas. Actually this muscle can be used to control more than just the pelvis. It can be used to control the spine and its relationship to the thighs and legs.

If we view the ribcage and pelvis as extensions of the spine, extra large levers that we can use to change the shape of the spine or maintain its shape, then using the psoas we can change the relationship between the ribcage-pelvis and legs.


Controlling Center

Because the belly of the psoas extends to the space that is within the pelvis we an often “feel” and control the pelvis and psoas as one unit.

Since our center of gravity is usually located within our pelvis (it depends on what posture we are assuming at the time) this can be quite handy. What it means is that if we control our pelvis, and our psoas, then we control our center of gravity.

If we can position our center of gravity over our foundation then we can balance. This is true whether we are standing on our hands, on our feet, on our head or even on our forearms. When our center is over our foundation, and assuming there are no other forces in play other than that of gravity, then we are balanced.

Using our psoas to help control our pelvis and center can make it easier to balance.


Using Our Center to Lead

When we are standing on our feet, we can use our legs to move our pelvis and in turn we can use our pelvis to drive the movement of our upper body. When we are on our hands we can use our arms, shoulders and ribcage to move our pelvis and then we can use our pelvis to move our legs.

When we are on our hands, so that we can give our pelvis a stable foundation, we need to use our hands, shoulders, and abs. So that we can control the relationship between our pelvis and our legs, as well as the relationship between our spine and our legs, we need to use the psoas.


Activating the Side Gluteals

To make using the psoas easier we can use our side glutes. These are the muscles at the sides of the pelvis that move the thigh bones outwards. They are the glute medius and minimus and also another muscles, the tensor fascae latae which pulls the thighs outwards as well as causing the legs to internally rotate slightly. These muscles can also be used to both flex and extend the thigh. Using these “functions” together they can also help to stabilize the thigh.

For our purpose we can activate them by trying to pull the thighs outwards. We thus help to stabilize the thighs relative to the pelvis and we also give the psoas some resistance against which it can then pull the thighs inwards.


Activating the Psoas

Once we’ve activated our side glutes one of the ways that we can make it easier to activate the psoas, is to focus on feeling our kidneys and in addition make them feel full. This involves tilting the pelvis back far enough that the lower back is straight. But rather than just making the lumbar spine straight, adjust the position of the pelvis so that the back of the waist feels full. Keep this feeling while jumping.

In addition keep the side glutes active while jumping and as you jump focus on “closing” the thighs to the stomach or chest.

It can feel like you are resisting this action even as you are doing it.

You may also notice a sense of your awareness being inside your belly as you do this. For myself it literally feels like I am pulling my pelvis forwards and up from the inside.


Final Notes

If you watch the videos and pay attention to the orientation of my spine you’ll notice that the times I get up and stay up the longest-even getting up into handstand, are the times when my spine is nearly vertical. My shoulders are over my hips.

When practicing, first get your shoulders ahead of your hands. From there, then get your hips/pelvis over your shoulders. Then you upper body will be in front of your hands and they then balance your legs which are behind your hands.

If from here you move up into full handstand, then as you lift your legs, brings your shoulders back slowly so that they are over your hands.


Videos-Large View

Handstands and Controlling Center

Handstands-The Middle Position

Practicing the “Middle Position”

In martial arts, the middle position is a place where we have the most options available to us. Depending on our environment, our opponent or our partner and even ourselves, our middle position may vary.


Being Able to Respond to Change

Generally whenever we respond to a change we have to leave the middle position. If after having responded to a change we return to the middle, we are then ready to handle any new changes as they occur. Being in the middle position makes it easier to respond to a change no matter where it comes from or what form it takes. Being in the middle gives us options, possibilities. If we continually return to the middle after having ventured away from it, we can be ready to handle new change.


Being Able to Create Change

If we are creating change without having to worry about external factors then finding the middle position, and returning to it, we can continue to create change and we can be fully flexible in the change that we create. To create the change that we desire we need to be in a position that is stable, balanced.

Even if we are moving to a position that is unstable, starting from a position that is stable will allow us to move to the new position more easily.

The middle position is the stable center that we can start from.


Having Options

In handstands, the middle position or middle handstand is a position from which we can do the most things. If we jump up into a handstand and keep our legs at the same level as the pelvis with knees either straight, bent or just slightly bent, and we can balance, then from this position we can easily pull our legs up into full handstand. We can also drop down with control into chataranga dandasana (A push up position with the elbows bent.) We can lower our feet to the floor between our hands as if jumping forwards from down dog. We can even swing our legs through our hands so that we end up sitting.

Practicing the middle position we make it easier for ourselves to do handstand, we also make it easier to do Ashtanga style sun salutations, Vinyasas, and Arm Balances as well. As an example of the latter, from the middle position we could lower down into Bakasana.

Going into the middle position we give ourselves the option of moving into anyone of these poses should we choose. Or we can simply hold it.


Moving into the Middle and Out of it

In the video I jump into middle position and from there alternate putting my feet down or pulling them up. This is an exercise I can use in my classes to teach the benefits and flexibility of this position.

In the video, I don’t quite actually make the middle position on my first jump… bad teacher! On the last jump I swing my legs through my hands… only my feet get stuck along the way! Oh well.

I could have crossed my ankles to have given myself the clearance but didn’t. If I ever do get the jump through then I would like to do it with my legs straight and ankles uncrossed and so not crossing my ankles is the way I am working towards that.

As a final note, If we can move into this position and hold it we are more likely to be able to maintain balance or a floating like quality even as we move out of it. Also, in the video I jump into it from down dog. We can also pull up into it from the forward bend position.


Video Enlarged

Practicing the “Middle Position”

Tai Ji, the Psoas and the Low Back

When I first started practicing Tai Ji in Taiwan I got some flack from my teacher for my lower back being bent backwards too much. Initially I used the excuse that my butt being so big made it look as if my lower back was bent, but then I started to practice keeping my lower back straight. Teaching classes, to make this action easier to both do and feel I had my students practice straightening their lower back and then releasing it in time with their breath. If I was going to teach people to keep their lower back straight, I thought the best way to do it was to make the action as easy as possible to practice, and comfortable too.


Practice Straightening the Lower Back

This action can be practiced while standing with the knees slightly bent. Slowly inhale and while doing so tilt the pelvis back far enough that the lower back straightens. While exhaling, slowly release.

Try to make both actions as relaxed as possible. If you like, when inhaling you can focus on pulling the lower belly inwards and upwards. You can then adjust this action so that it helps to tilt your pelvis backwards while inhaling.


Bagua Zhan-Feeling and Moving the Spine

A friend started a Bagua class and invited me to attend. I’ve always wanted to learn bagua becuase I felt that it was the perfect complement to tai ji.

Where tai ji is rooted and fixed and we use the center of the earth as our center, in bagua, the center of our body is the center we move around. In tai ji we might be radiating outwards. In Bagua we radiate inwards. In Tai Ji we are a part of the earth, in Bagua we are separate from it. In Tai Ji we wait and respond, in Bagua we test and create openings.

In my friends class, one of the movements involved moving the hands in vertical circles, both forwards and backwards but while focusing on the c7 vertebrae (The bottom most vertebrae of the neck. It connects the neck the to thoracic spine.) The idea was to move the arms in such a way that this vertebrae traveled in a vertical circle (from front to back as opposed to from side to side.)

Then we did a practice where we bent our spine backwards vertebrae by vertebrae from the tail bone up while inhaling. Then from the tail bone up we bent it forwards while exhaling. I couldn’t do my whole spine in a complete breath so while bending my spine backwards, I’d pause to exhale, and then continue bending backwards on my next inhale.

Yet another exercise involved squatting and straightening the spine while inhaling, and then relaxing and standing while exhaling. We also had to pull the chin in so that the neck felt long.

In yet another exercise where we were walking, I learned to lift my knee high enough that my lower back became straight. This feeling, of having the lower back straight, was the same feeling I used to teach my yoga students to look for when doing utkattasana (chair pose) in yoga class. When you tilt your pelvis backwards just the right amount it makes the lower back feel full.


Standing Meditation

Most mornings when I go to the park my morning practice nearly always starts of with a standing meditation. I stand with my feet about hip width, my knees comfortably bent, ribcage, and head balanced over my pelvis, and my arms hanging down from my neck and ribcage.

Depending on how I feel I might focus on the individual bones of my body, scanning them gradually. Or I do the same with my muscles. Or I focus on the meridians or my internal organs. Sometimes I might focus on a point in my body and then see where that leads me, chasing “sensations” or going to areas that need my attention. Actually, it’s like I’m exploring my body with my mind. At times I’ll be focused on a particular point and some part of my body will release and I will feel slightly more relaxed, more settled.

This morning, bearing in mind some of Jared’s lessons, I focused on moving my awareness up my spine. I did this without moving my spine. Instead, each inhale my mind traveled up my spine, vertebrae by vertebrae. Its much quicker when I’m not moving. Then each exhale my mind did the same. Usually when focusing on my spine I inhale up my spine and then exhale down the front of my body. This was different.

At times I inhaled up my spine while at the same time being aware of energy circulating down the front of my body. I did the same while exhaling. In this way I sometimes stayed aware of the energetic circuit or the complete flow of energy within this circuit. After all, if we are paying attention to one point in an energy circuit, it isn’t just that one point that flows, but all points of “energy” within that circuit that flow. Anyway, this practice felt really nice.

I carried the same feeling into my Dance of Shiva practice. I focused on feeling the moves and on knowing where my arms where going so that I could “feel” the smoothest path. Even now, a few hours later, I still feel good.


Awaiting the Impulse to Start

Afterward I worked on a sword routine but doing while holding the sword in my left hand as opposed to my right.

Standing still, getting ready to begin, I felt my body and waited for the impulse to start. Rather than forcing the movement, I felt myself internally and waited for the feeling to come from within me. So that I could continue to lead from within I did the movements slowly and kept staying relaxed. I used my legs to move my pelvis and I used the movements of my pelvis to drive the movements of my arms and the sword that I was holding. It felt pretty good.


The Psoas Accessed Via the Kidneys

Remembering something from Jared’s class, and perhaps also something from somewhere else, I continued to do the sword routine (6th duan sword) but now while focused on keeping my kidneys feeling full. I continued to maintain this feeling when I next did an open hand (no sword) form, the 42 competition form, which is classed as yang style but is actually a blend of a number of different styles.

Yet again I made my kidneys feel full. Doing so I realized I could go low, like really low, hips to the level of my knees low, and it felt easy. I felt like I looked like the Chinese guys who go low but who also seem so relaxed, as if it is easy. Going low it was as if something was holding me up from the inside.

Usually when I try to sink low my thighs will soon start to quiver and shake and I usually end up standing higher at some point. Now I could go low and it was easy. While my thighs did some work it was nowhere near the amount that they had to work when I was doing this same practice previously. And it wasn’t because my legs where stronger. It was all because I was making my kidneys feel full.

What I later figured out while waiting in line at the hospital for a check up was that when I had the “Full” feeling in my kidneys, my lower back was straight. As a result the weight of my ribcage and head could press down through the back of my pelvis making the whole upper body want to tilt backwards. If you’ve ever slumped back in a chair or on a sofa, you back naturally rounds and your pelvis tilts back. I was getting a similar sort of action, but rather than slumping completely, I was doing so just enough that the weight of my body was balanced over the back of my pelvis. My upper body was actually on the verge of falling back but my psoas, anchored by one or the other of my thighs, was engaged enough to help prevent my upper body from tipping backwards.

Experimenting further with keeping my kidneys full, I found I could turn my hips easily with a feeling of looseness and I could kick easily with a sense that I was easily transferring momentum to my leg.

The joy for me was in finally realizing why in Yang style Tai Ji we are taught to keep our lower back straight, it’s so that we can use our psoas to make the actions easier.

How does this relate to making the kidneys feel full? The kidneys are in front of the psoas. Feeling the kidneys, moving the kidneys, is one way of “Finding” and controlling the psoas.

Doing the Dance of Shiva Slow and Smooth

Slow Warp Warm Ups (Horizontals)
Slow Warp Warm Ups (Verticals)
Warp Math
Slow Warp 1 from 1-1
Slow Warp 1 MCL from 1-1

I’ve recently discovered that doing the Dance of Shiva slowly feels really good. It gives me time to feel what I am doing.

My inspiration for doing it slowly comes from a number of sources, one of the main ones being Tai Ji.


Tai Ji

I’ve been doing Tai Ji for a number of years now and what I now find is, that having learned to feel the movements while doing them slowly, it is easy to carry that “Feeling” into doing those same movements fast. In either case, instead of thinking about what I have to do I feel it. And I adjust what I am doing when I need to so that what I am doing feels good.

While learning to do a Gong Fu sword form which is supposed to be done fast, I’ve been practicing the movements slowly to get the feeling for them so that once I have the feeling I try to then carry that feeling into doing the movements gradually faster and faster. Any time I notice a movement where I don’t yet know the feeling, I simply practice that “segment” until I get the feeling and then I try to string the movements all together again.

The overall feeling can be like riding a wave, allowing the energy of one movement to carry me into the next movement, and so on until the whole routine is done.

This doesn’t come easy. I’ve had to practice. As an example, to learn the sword form, I first play the relavant section of the DVD, watching the same piece over and over again so that I understand what I am supposed to do and so that I can then try to mimic it when I go to the park to practice. Often times I’ll think I understand the movement but I’ve forgotten to look at some key element, perhaps the direction I should be facing in, which foot steps first and where, or even what I am doing with my sword hand and my free hand.
However, I’m now getting better at knowing what to look for. Once I’ve got the choreography mapped out, then I can start to feel the moves, making adjustments according to the way the moves feel each time I do them.

Eventually I get to a point where I can practice in such a way that it feels like my whole body is involved-in such a way that I can feel my whole body in each movement. That doesn’t necessarily mean every part of my body moves, but it does mean that each part of my body supports what I am doing whether that part is stationary or dynamic.


Relaxed and Smooth

Generally, in order to maximize my ability to feel my body I try to be as relaxed as possible given the position or movement that I am trying to do. If I deliberately engage any part of my body it is to provide support, positioning bones relative to each other and the forces acting on them, so that other parts can relax. Staying relaxed and smoothly connecting one movement to the next, I can then use the weight of my body or the weight of the sword, or momentum to carry me from one position to the next.

Smoothness is another important aspect of body learning to flow and flow itself.

Being relaxed is important, feeling the body is also important, but when we move, smoothness is how we transmit energy, how we allow the energy of what we are doing to carry us from one position to the next. Smooth is efficient, and it can also be beautiful. Smooth and Slow leads to Smooth and Fast.


Feeling What we are Doing

Applying this to the Dance of Shiva, if we practice doing it slowly and smoothly we can focus on feeling the movements and positions as we do them. As a result we become present. Doing something fast is another way of becoming present, especially if you have to focus on what comes next. However, if we learn slowly first, then we can carry the smoothness that we learn from doing slowly into doing it quickly. As a result we are less likely to suffer injury or be sore the next day.

In the videos my friends and I are doing the movements slowly. For my friends, the movements are still relatively new. However, because we are doing the movements slowly they have time to feel the movements even though they are still beginners.

As for myself, because I am focused on feeling what I am doing there is little or not sense of “when is this gonna be over with.” All I’m focused on is what movement is next so that I can do that movement smoothly.

Doing the movements slowly, over time we gradually realize the best path for each movement, the path that takes the least energy while still maintaining the shape or intent of what we are doing. And this path may be different from day to day, depending on our body and the environment, but if we now the feeling that we are looking for then we can find the place of smooth movement anyway.

Using slow practice to practice feeling our body, as we practice longer and longer sequences, we can keep the transitions between movements smooth. Better yet we can start to involve our head, neck, ribcage and spine into our movement. The better we can feel what we are doing with our arms the easier this is to do. The next step from there, apart from simply practicing doing it faster and faster, is to add the legs. But for now we can focus on feeling our arms, and in addition our breath.


The Breath

The breath is a movement that we can learn to feel. In the video’s my friends and I do a very simple breathing technique. While exhaling we allow our spines to bend forwards slightly and we allow our ribs to sink down. While inhaling we gradually straighten our spine, at the same time pulling our head and ribs up. Breathing slowly and smoothly in this fashion it is very easy to feel our ribs, head and even the parts of our spine.

The feeling feels nice.

Once this rhythm has stabilized we can then add arm movements, using both our inhales and our exhales to do one movement each.


The Positions

The four horizontal positions are shown below in the first row of pictures. They are the same for both hands. The are named 1, 2, 3 and 4. The four vertical positions are shown in the next picture and are called a, b, c and d. I’ve included them here so that you can recognize them in the videos, and so you can follow along if you wish.

For more details on the positions click here.


The Movements

There are seven basic movements from each position. They are called: Forwards, Backwards, Transquarter, Change Forwards, Change Backwards, Change, Change Transquarter. We can use these movements to connect each position to every other position.

In the videos the sequence is designed so that we we practice all of these moves from each position. So for example, from position 1, we do a Forwards move and then we return to 1 using a Backwards move so that we can then do another move. Then we do a Change Forwards followed by a Change Backwards.

For more details on the movements in general click here.


Sequence Tables

The movement sequences for the first video are in the first row below while those for the second video are in the second row. The left hand column for each table is the movement while the right hand column in each table is the position the arms are in after each move. Notice how after every two moves the hand returns to the starting position.

If doing these movements, I would suggest getting comfortable with the choreography first and then once you are comfortable, focus on feeling the position of your hand, elbow and shoulder while doing the moves. If that isn’t enough, focus on feeling your ribs and spine at the same time.

Try to make the movements feel as connected as possible while also having a clear idea of each position as you move to and from it.


Warps and Warp Tables

Warp 1 from 1-1
Warp 1 from 1-1 MCL

Once we’ve learned the basic movements and positions with one hand we can learn to use both arms at the same time. Slow Warps are one way of practicing positions and movements that use both arms at the same time.

A “Warp Sequence” consists of four movements that we repeat four times in order to return the arms to the position from which they started. In the two tables to the right, the left hand column of each table shows the warp sequence for Warp 1. Each of the other columns represents one repetition of the same warp sequence, going from left to right.

Notice that the bottom table is the mirror image of the sequence in the top table. The actual Warp Sequence for Warp 1 is
CF-T, CF-CF, CF-B, F-CF
which is what we have in the Table 1. This is read from left to right and applied to the body from left to right. If we read or say the exact same movements (and their accompanying positions) but apply them to our body from right to left, then Table 2 is the result.

The advantage of using the same sequence is that we only have to remember one set of movements, then all we do is mirror the movements, from left to right, for a balanced practice.

In the first Slow Warp video my friends and I apply the formula from right to left. However, while watching and doing, you can mirror what we do so that you apply the coordinates from left to right. Then in the MCL (Mirror Cross Link) video, we do apply the coordinates from left to right. You then do the opposite, from right to left.


Warp Math

Now you may have noticed in third video my friends and I writing the tables out by hand. This is one way of practicing or understanding both a Warp and the movements that make it up. Plus we can then use our table as a cheat sheet.

You’ll notice that I write from right to left. That is because I’m writing out the Mirror Cross Link Table while my friends took turns writing out the Warp Table.

As a final note, in the video we are writing out the warp table for Warp 1 starting from position a-a. In the other videos, we are doing the warp and its Mirror Cross Link starting from position 1-1.


Videos-Large Size

Slow Warp Warm Ups (Horizontals)
Slow Warp Warm Ups (Verticals)
Warp Math
Slow Warp 1 from 1-1
Slow Warp 1 MCL from 1-1

The Dance of Shiva-Basic Positions and Movements

Practicing Movements from
Horizontal Position Starts
Practicing Movements from
Vertical Position Starts
Horizontal Positions (right)
and Vertical Positions (left)


Horizontal Positions

Four horizontal positions of the Dance of Shiva are shown in the first column on the right.
In each of these positions the palm is held facing horizontally upwards. In positions 1 and 3 the fingers point out to the sides while in positions 2 and 4 the fingers point inwards.


Vertical Positions

The four vertical positions are shown in the second column. These are called “a, b, c and d.”

In all of these positions the palm faces outwards so that the surface of the palm is vertical. In positions a and c the fingers point forwards. In positions b and d the fingers point backwards. The elbow is straight for positions a, b and d and bent for position b.


Same Plane Movements

If we focus solely on positions in the horizontal plane we can use three movements to connect those positions to each other. The same movements can be used to connect positions in the horizontal plane to each other or positions in the vertical plane to each other.
These three movements are called: Forwards, Backwards and Transquarter.

They are summarized below.

Forward
1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4 and 4 to 1
a to b, b to c, c to d, d to a

Backwards
1 to 4, 4 to 3, 3 to 2 and 2 to 1
a to d, d to c, c to b, b to a

Transquarter
1 to 3, 2 to 4, 3 to 1 and 4 to 2.
a to c, b to d, c to a, from d to b


Change Plane Movements

So that we can connect positions in one plane to positions in the other plane we need four more moves. These moves are as follows:

Change Forwards:
1-b, b-3, 3-d, d-1,
a-2, 2-c, c-4, 4-a

Change Backwards:
1-d, d-3, 3-b, b-1,
a-4, 4-c, c-2, 2-a

Change:
1-a, 2-b, 3-c, 4-d,
a-1, b-2, c-3, d-4

Change Transquarter:
1-c, 2-d, 3-a, 4-b,
a-3, b-4, c-1, d-2


Movement Icons

We can use the following icons to summarize all movements:


Cyclic Moves and Jump Moves

Looking at these icons we might be inclined to class the Forwards, Backwards, Change Forwards and Change Backwards movements as “Cyclic” and the Transquarter, Change and ChangeTransquarter movements as “Jump” moves.


Videos Enlarged

Practicing Movements from
Horizontal Position Starts

Lifting the Back Ribs and Bending the Spine Backwards

Basic body elements and relationships are parts of the body that we can practice moving and feeling so that we can use them as part of larger movements or positions.

By learning to control these relationships or do these actions individually we can more easily call them up like functions as required and as part of a larger program.

In this article the focus is on bending the spine backwards using the spinal erectors while sitting, standing or bending forwards, and on lifting the back ribs to create space in the back of the body.

Bending the Spine Backwards

Bending the spine backwards, particularly the lumbar and thoracic spine, can result in the front of the belly being lengthened and the front of the ribcage being opened. We can cause this action by using the spinal erectors, located at the back of and to either side of the spine.

To use the spinal erectors to bend the spine backwards, we can focus on this area of the body while bending our spine backwards. We should then be able to feel our spinal erectors contracting. This can be especially important while bending the spine backwards in a standing, sitting or bending forwards position.

Bending the spine backwards can cause the side and front ribcage to lift and expand. Likewise, lifting and expanding the sides of the ribcage can cause the spine to bend backwards. If we learn to differentiate between these two actions we can also learn to differentiate between the muscles that we use to cause them.

For example, we can use the intercostals, the muscles located within the spaces between each set of ribs to expand and lift the ribcage. (These same muscles can also be used to “contract” the ribcage.) We can thus use the intercostals to bend the spine backwards slightly. Or we can focus on using the spinal erectors. Once we can feel the effects of using these sets of muscles individually, we can choose which ones to use depending on the situation we are in… or we can use them both together.

Because the spinal erectors can be used to deform the ribcage, they can thus be used to assist in the act of breathing. As a result, while breathing we can practice activating them and deactivating them. We can first focus on using the spinal erectors to bend the lumbar spine backwards. Then we can focus on using them to bend the thoracic spine backwards also.


Experiencing the Spinal Erectors and the Lumbar Spine

In a seated position, either on a chair or on the floor, slowly bend your lumbar spine backwards as if bending around a barrel that is behind your body. While exhaling allow your lumbar spine to bend forwards. While bending your lumbar spine backwards your pelvis will tilt forwards. When bending your lumbar spine forwards your pelvis will tilt backwards. If you have tight hip muscles or tight hamstrings (which cross the hips and the knees) you may find this easier to do while sitting in a chair.) Because in this exercise we are trying to focus on feeling and controlling the spinal erectors, focus on the movements of your spine rather than on the movements of your pelvis.

The Lumbar vertebrae are about three inches wide from side to side, so limit you awareness to an area about an inch and a half to either side of the center line of your spine. Contract this area while inhaling and bending backwards, allow it to relax and lengthen while exhaling.

Move slowly and smoothly, so that you can notice the sensations that occur when your lumbar spinal erectors contract and when they relax.


Experiencing the Spinal Erectors and the Thoracic Spine

When bending the Thoracic spine backwards we can focus on an area about three inches to either side of the center line of the spine. That is because in this area the spinal erectors connect to the ribs as well as to the vertebrae of the spine. If we start by tilting the pelvis forwards, we can then slowly and smoothly contract the lumbar spine spinal erectors so that the lumbar spine bends backwards.

Working upwards, we can contract the spinal erectors to cause the thoracic spine to bend backwards. The feeling created can be like drawing the spine forwards into the ribcage. Also note, that because of the design of the thoracic spine, it may actually just straighten instead of assuming a backwards bent shape. However, the direction we are moving in when using the spinal erectors is a backwards bending direction.

To stretch these same muscles, we can then bend the spine forwards while exhaling, allowing the back to round.


The Head and Neck

Although the spinal erectors to extend through the neck and head, in this exercise we can focus slowly on feeling and controlling the lumbar and thoracic spine. However, rather than ignore the head and neck, we can pull the head back and up and the chin in towards the chest each time we inhale so that the back of the neck lengthens. You may notice that a side effect of this action is that it assists in lifting the front of the ribcage. While exhaling we can allow the head to move forwards and down.


Side Effects of Activating the Spinal Erectors

With enough practice (slow and smooth) you should be able to both feel and control your spinal erectors. You can then expand your awareness outwards to notice the side effects of using these muscles. You can notice and feel how when you bend your lumbar spine backwards you move the front of your ribcage away from the front of your pelvis, causing your belly to lengthen. You can feel and notice how when you bend your thoracic spine backwards your front and even side ribs lift and perhaps expand.

Lifting the Back Ribs

“Lifting the Back Ribs” is a slightly vague term. If we lift the back of a rib the whole rib lifts.

In this article, the term is used to convey how we direct our attention.

By focusing on the back of the ribcage, we can more easily activate the levator costalis and more easily notice the effect of using these muscles.

A set of muscles that is closely related to the spinal erectors in terms of position is the levator costalis. They can be use to lift the back ribs. These muscles reach down from each thoracic vertebrae to the first and second set of ribs directly below the relative vertebrae. Their bodies are located in a space about two to three inches either side of the center line of the spine.

If you can feel your spinal erectors activating in this region, then in may be relatively easy to then use a similar feeling to cause the back of the ribs to lift.

As mentioned before, we can use the spinal erectors to cause the ribcage to expand. We can also use the intercostals. Now we are going to focus on using the levator costalis. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to say that one set of muscles isn’t better than the other, rather it is to learn to use them all so that they can all act freely or so that we can choose which ones to focus on given what we are trying to do.


Experiencing the Levator Costalis

If you can already feel and control your spinal erectors, especially in the area of the back of the ribcage, then the levator costalis may be easier to feel since the feeling of the muscles contracting is quite similar although the effect is different.

(When the spinal erectors contract the spine bends backwards. When the levator costalis contract the back ribs move away from the pelvis or towards the head.)

Start with slow rhythmic backbending of the spine using the spinal erectors to cause the spine to bend backwards as you inhale. Relax slowly each exhale. Once you are comfortable with this action focus on reaching the back ribs upwards each time you inhale. Lengthen your neck first, pull your chin to your chest and then move your back ribs towards your head.

If you have a friend handy, you can have them place the palms of their hands on your back ribs. Have them slowly and slightly lift their hands as you inhale and try to move your ribs with their hands. Have them move their hands down while you exhale. And then you can switch.

You may notice that you entire ribcage lifts as a result. So that you know that you are using you levator costalis to cause this action, focus on pulling upwards on the back of the ribs (to either side of the spine.) As mentioned, the feeling is very similar to that of activating the spinal erectors.


Using the Levator Costalis and Spinal Erectors Together

The nice thing about using the levator costalis is that they help to create space in the back of the body. Not only do they cause the lower back to lengthen by drawing the back ribs away from the pelvis, they make it easier to bend the spine backwards because of the change in angle between the ribs and the spine. (Note that in this case, lengthening the “low back” actually means the “muscular lower back, the space that is filled with muscle to either side of the lumbar spine. This space is in part filled by the quadratus lumborum which attaches the top of the back of the pelvis to the lowest rib.)

This action can also cause some of the spinal erectors to lengthen, particularly those fibers that attach the pelvis to the back of the ribs, making it then easier to contract these same muscles.

Try doing wheel pose with or without the spinal erectors, but in either case while using the levator costalis.

See for yourself whether this helps to deepen your backbend or at least make it more comfortable.

Because of all of these factors, it can often be helpful to use the levator costalis and spinal erectors together. The former create room so that we can bend the spine backwards while the latter cause the spine to bend backwards. But even in back bending postures where we aren’t using the spinal erectors, using the levator costalis can still be beneficial, creating room for the thoracic spine to bend backwards passively.


Forward Bends

Apart from in backbends, where else might the spinal erectors and levator costalis be useful?

In forward bends for the hips.

For beginners especially, and for anyone with tight hamstrings, the tendency in a standing or seated forward bend is to focus on bending the spine forwards in an effort to get the head to the knees.

However, if they learn to feel their spinal erectors and when they are active, they can focus on keeping this feeling while at the same time tilting their pelvis forwards. In addition, if they keep their hands on the floor and slowly bend their elbows, they can use the weight of their upper body to slowly help to lengthen their hamstrings.

If you do try engaging your spinal erectors while in a forward bend (or some variation of a forwards bend) I would strong recommend pulling your head back and up (relative to your ribcage) and you chin in towards your chest so that the back of your neck lengthens.

You may find that this action helps to further accentuate opening your chest.

As a final note, when using the spinal erectors to bend the spine backwards while forward bending at the hips, you may find it helpful to engage the side glutes to widen the thighs slightly. Or you may find that this happens naturally when we bend your spine backwards.

If you do try this action, try reaching your thighs forwards at the same time, as if pulling your thigh bones our of your hip socket.
Take some time to feel both the action and the result of the action. Try engaging and then disengaging your side glutes (gluteus minimus and medius.) See if forward bending happens easier as a result.