Foundations-Fixing the Feet

Doing yoga or tai ji or any other activity where we are standing or moving from foot to foot, one basic set of actions that we can learn is how to activate the feet. The purpose in doing so is to create a stable foundation so that we can do what we are trying to do whether it is holding a pose or doing something with our arms or simply balancing on one foot.

At a muscular-skeletal level, any one muscle generally attaches one bone to another, in the process crossing one joint, two joints or many joints. A muscle can be used to change or maintain the relationship between the bones that it connects. So that we can control our muscles and via them the bones that they relate, we may find it helpful to give the muscle that we are trying to activate or relax a stable foundation. If we make one of the bones to which it attaches stable, then we can use said muscle to change or maintain the relationship we desire.

Working from the ground up while standing, if we learn to stabilize our feet, ankles and lower legs, then the muscles that cross the knee joints have a stable foundation from which to act on the thigh and pelvis. We can use these muscles then to position our thighs and pelvis. Our thighs and pelvis then provide a foundation for muscles that cross the hips and span the lower back and spine. Those then in turn act as foundations for the ribs, shoulder blades and arms.

For myself, I have found that making the feet, ankles and lower leg strong and stable makes it easier to release the back of my thighs while doing a forward bend or make it easier to relax my hips or create space in them depending on what I am trying to do. In general, making my feet strong while standing makes it easier for the rest of my body to do what I want it to do with a minimum of effort. I find that just activating my feet doesn’t help. However, activating feet, ankles and lower legs does make it easier to do what I am trying to do.

Generally the first step I teach in activating the feet is rolling the shins outwards. While initially I thought this happens mainly in the ankle, I recently realized that what I am actually teaching people to do is rotate the shin at the knee joint. In so doing the two lower leg bones act like a wrench on the ankle bone (talus.) The back part of the foot including the instep are then forced into a shape where the inner arch is naturally lifted. I think I came about this action as a way of dealing with my partially flat feet.

To practice this action I normally have people slowly and smoothly rotate their shin outwards and inwards with their feet about hip width, parallall with knees slightly bent. The slower and smoother the action the more you improve control and the ability to feel your feet.

The next action I add on to this (and it can be done in time with the breath-rolling outwards on the inhales, release smoothly on the exhales) is to press down through the outer edge of the foot. Do this without lifting the inner edge. The next step is to then add on the inner arch. This means pressing down through the base of the big toe. You can focus on pulling back and down on the base of the big toe while rolling the shin outwards and pressing down through the inner arch. Practice by moving with the breath.

As you do this action notice how your shin and knee move together. At the end of the action you may find that your knee points in roughly the same direction as the toes. As a game you might try aligning your knee with your big toe, second toe and then third toe all by feel. Do first and then check afterwards to calibrate your senses.
Once you have the hang of these actions, practice holding the foot active. Now do it with the minimum effort necessary. See how much you can relax the feet while still engaging the arches.

One final action for the feet is to lift the center of the outer arches. You’ll feel this along the side of the lower leg.

These actions all together involve muscles within the foot as well as muscles that cross the ankle. To make the foot and lower leg solid, stable, practice then squeezing the bones of the lower leg from all four sides using the muscles of the lower leg.

Practice activating and releasing in time with the breath (inhales activate, exhales release) and then practice holding for about five breaths.
the goal is to be able to do this at will without having to think about it or try too hard.

Then you can use this action as part of any standing pose or standing movement.

Applications

In warrior 1 (virabhadrasana), parsvotanasana, revolving triangle (pravrtta trikonasana), you can activate your feet and try relaxing your hips to allow your pelvis to naturally face the front.
In warrior 2, side angle (parsvokonasana), triangle (trikonasana) you can try using your front foot as a foundation for rolling the pelvis open.

In any pose where you are grabbing a foot it may be helpful to make that foot active, particularly if it is not on the floor.

Going Slow to Flow

The other day my calligraphy teacher took me to her teachers class room for my lesson.  While I was painting he quietly commented to her in Chinese that I was painting too fast.

Initially I resented his observation but kept it to myself. After class I thought about what he said. I also thought about how I’d been doing Tai Ji recently; very slow, very focused, pausing at points to feel my center and my connection with the earth, checking to see how they were aligned, taking the time to organize my whole body in whatever posture or action I was in at the time. Then thinking back to before that calligraphy class, I’d been a bit put out by a girl I thought had given me a P.T.A.

(“Permission To Approach…” It’s actually  a reference to a line from an Iain M. Banks novel called “Matter”, where a ship’s Avatar uses a signal laser in his eye to signal to another culture agent requesting permission to open communications. A very cool book though a little sad at the end as most of his books can be but none the less they have some sort of meatiness that is really nice to sink your teeth into. One thing, take the time to read them slowly. You need to read his books slowly, especially near the end, to allow his text to sink in. The easy tendency is to read too fast and then you miss it.)

I thought she’d given me an indication of interest and perhaps even an invitation but then she seemingly blew me off, or I was just being too sensitive.

Anyway, I was in a mood while painting and was trying to hide from it by painting fast, and without feeling.

There are times when I can paint fast and with feeling. This wasn’t one of them. I was painting fast but not feeling the brush and not focusing on what I was doing.

Moving slowly we have to notice what we are doing and what we are working with. In the case of using a brush I could focus on feeling each brush stroke from start to finish and also on feeling where to place each subsequent brush stroke.Moving slowly, painting slowly, it is easy to make our body and mind act like one so that our body does exactly what our mind asks it to and our mind can sense exactly what our body can do.

Moving slowly we move out of our head and into the world around us. We use our senses and as a result are no longer thinking. It’s a good way of forgetting about the things that bother us. And if we are having difficulty using our senses or controlling what we are doing, like when cleaning we can focus on little bits at a time, and repeat those little bits until we get it right-like vacuuming the same piece of run over and over again to get that one annoying piece of lint…
We just may find that in the process we get into a sort of flow. The we know we are present in what we are trying to do.

Handstand Demos-Failing to Stay Up

Handstand demos-Failing to Stay Up

In this collection of video clips I jump up to handstand (or try to) from downward dog, or pull myself up starting with my feet between my hands.

In most of the clips I don’t succeed.

The point of these exercises in failure is to show you why I didn’t get up.

The key points to watch out for is the relationship of my shoulders to my wrists and the relationship of my pelvis to my wrists. In most cases, when I balance my shoulders are in front of my wrists (look at the angle of my arms.)

Warps, Change and Little Ideas

Dance of Shiva Warps are a way of practicing change. The change is in the form of the Warp Algorithm itself.
Instead of the same movements, each movement is different… to an extent. We use the same moves over and over again but from different positions. So it is a way of practicing to handle change on a small scale.

Handling Change

Driving a car or riding a motorbike, we learn a small set of skills or ideas, braking, accelerating, steering, changing gears.

On a road with traffic, we use those skills according to what is happening at the time. We sense changes in the road or on the road and we make changes so that we stay connected to the road. We notice intersections, cross roads, on roads, off ramps, rest areas and we act depending on how we feel now and where we are going to.

In the Dance of Shiva, we can think of the movements as the idea elements that we can use to practice responding to change.

The change comes in the form of the algorithm that we have memorized. Although the algorithm is memorized, it has to be repeated four times in order to return the hands to home (to where they are going) and in addition there are 16 different starting positions we can use so that if we are practicing them all one after the other, the feeling can be the same as trying to handle external change. Because there are 64 possible arm positions, at any point in the algorithm we have to know where we are within the algorithm as well as where our arms are and then based on where we are in the algorithm we decide where to go next.

With enough practice, all movements of the algorithm become familiar, they become a part of us in the way that the basic movements are a part of ourselves and so we move on to the next algorithm so that we can continue to grow.

Generally, with driving, riding, or any other activity that we do regularly, whether work, passion, hobby or past time, the more experience we have doing it and handling it in different circumstances, the better we get at it. And the better we get at doing it in any circumstance. The experience helps us to understand the essence of what we are trying to do as well as the options for doing it.

Part of our experience may be that we become familiar with the little tiny details of what we are doing and that familiarity with the details allows us to become more flexible in the ways that we can do what we are doing.
And so one way of making experience more efficient is to try various combinations and prior to that pick smaller and smaller elements so that we have greater and greater flexibility. Then working at understanding those elements in different circumstances.

Driving the same stretch of road over and over again, even if the patterns of traffic are different every day, we eventually gain enough experience that we can handle all possibilities on that road. We know the ins and outs. If our goal is to improve our driving, then we try out different roads or even tracks, different settings so that we constantly grow, constantly improve and get better.

If we get down to the basics, driving is a simple set of skills that can be used in a variety of circumstances. Driving in different settings is what enables us to practice those skills in all their possible combinations.

If we look at using the brakes, gear box, accelerator and handle bars from another perspective, we can say that we have speed control and steering. With steering we learn to handle right turns and left turns. There are various types of turns and various sequences. The better we become at speed control and turning the bike the better we become at riding in any circumstance.

Looked at from yet another perspective, both of these functions, speed control and direction control, are a result or our interface with the bike or car. The better we can control our body and use our senses the better we can ride the bike or drive the car and the better we can handle change while doing so.
Dance of shiva is a way of practicing working with elements in different circumstances. It is also a way of learning to break down or think in terms of systems/complexity and the small/simple ideas that make them up. In addition it is also a way of practicing sensing the body and controlling it.  As a result practicing the dance of shiva allows us to do anything else with more sensitivity, control and intelligence so that we gain experience and understand faster. It can aid in learning, doing and understanding.

The Organs and the Chakras-One Set of Possible Correspondences

References

Learning the parts of our body and how they relate we can use the parts of our body that we know as references for mapping the parts that we don’t know. If we can feel our ribs we can use them as a reference for sensing where our lungs and heart may be. Using the bottom of our lungs as a reference we can then put our awareness in the right place for sensing our diaphragm while belly breathing. Feeling our diaphragm we can then figure out the location of our kidneys, liver, stomach and so on.

The better we know some parts of our body the easier it is to learn to feel the other parts that we don’t know. As we get to know the parts of our body we can then sense how those parts relate to each other. One set of relationships we can learn is that between the organs and the Chakras.

The Organs

One way that we can affect the organs is by putting our awareness on them. This is like listening to a friend when they are talking but the friend is inside of ourselves. So that we can listen to our friend that we need to know where they are. When we learn our organs and how they relate, we can then learn to feel how they are affected by actions like breathing and twisting and bending the spine and ribcage.

Lungs, Heart and diaphragm

Our lungs fill the volume of our ribcage. If we can feel our ribs, the sides, front and back, then we can infer the position of our lungs from the position of our ribs. The bottom of the lungs sit on top of the respiratory diaphragm. We can feel this muscle when belly breathing or when going to the bathroom to do a number 2. It provides the “pushing down” feeling that we use to push stuff out of our exit orifice.

Attached to the front of the ribcage and situated between the lungs is the heart. Behind the heart is room for the trachea and esophogus as well as major blood vessels to the abdomen and lower limbs.

Next time you have a bite to eat take time to notice the swallowing sensation that connects your mouth to your stomach and takes food from your mouth to your stomach. This can give you an idea of where your trachea is located. Your heart sits in front of this passageway.

While breathing using your ribcage, take time to notice the sensation of your back ribs lifting and lowerering. Adjust your mental map of your lungs and heart accordingly.

Moving your diaphragm while breathing take the time to notice the downwards pressing feeling that happens when you inhale. Because the diaphragm moves down and up the bottom of our lungs and heart move up and down with it.

Kidneys, Liver and Stomach

Directly below the lungs on the left and right sides of the spine are the kidneys. In front of the kidneys are the liver and stomach (and spleen.)

The liver is attached to the bottom of the diaphram directly beneath the right lung. The stomach is to the left of the liver and slightly below it. It attaches to the bottom of the diaphragm and to the bottom of the liver.  The spleen is to the left of the stomach between it and the side of the ribcage. These organs are all suspended (or attached to) the bottom of the diaphragm. They in turn support the organs below them. When our diaphragm lifts, these organs lift with it. When the  diaphragm descends, these organs move down.

Externally we can use our belly button to fine tune our awareness of where these organs are. The spleen, stomach and liver are all above the horizontal plane that passes through the belly button.

Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Gall bladder and Bladder

The small intestine is coiled up below the stomach and liver while just below it in the bowl of the pelvis is the bladder.

The bladder rests on top of and a little between the psoas and illiacus muscles. My own experience indicates that the psoas can be used to lift the bladder and tip it forwards. If this is indeed the case we can use an awareness of where our bladder is (learn it next time you really have to go for a pee) to reference the location of our psoas.

The gall bladder sits below the liver.

The large intestine starts at the lower right side of the abdomen. It passes up the right side of the body to the right of the small intestine, passes up over the mass of the small intestine, and moves down the left side of the body and from there connects to the rectum. It is suspended in part from the stomach.

Pericardium and Triple Heater

The pericardium is like a bag that surrounds the heart while the triple heater is the container that contains all of the above organs. For myself, I relate these “organs” to the sides of the brain.

The Organs and the Chakras

The organs are associated with one of the five elements as follows:

  • Stomach and Spleen-Earth
  • Kidneys and Bladder-Water
  • Lungs and Large Intestine-Metal
  • Liver and Gall Bladder-Wood
  • Heart and Small Intestine-Fire

My own tendency is to associate these elements with the chakras as follows:

  • Earth-Root
  • Water-Sacral
  • Metal-Solar Plexus
  • Wood-Heart
  • Fire-Throat

The two non-elemental organs can be associated with the third eye and crown chakra.

The following Chakra-Organ correspondances then result

  • Root-Stomach and Spleen
  • Sacral-Kidneys and Bladder
  • Solar Plexus-Lungs and Large Intestine
  • Heart Chakra-Liver and Gall Bladder!
  • Throat-Heart and Small Intestine
  • Third Eye and Crown Charka-Left and Right Sides of the Brain