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Functional Anatomy: Where Science meets Spirit

Asana, pranayam, meditation are the strategies designed to help us step into the mindfulness moment from the Yoga tradition. Each lineage has their own interpretation and even variations of the practices, based on the experience of the original teachers. My origins rest in both the Kripalu and Himalayan traditions and focus on the empowerment of each individual to customize, adapt, and build a personal practice within the larger community.

Brene Brown, social researcher and Shame expert, has confirmed through her research that happiness is a state of our conditions. It’s a recognition of what is here with us in the moment. When you feel gratitude for your experiences, that is the sensation of happiness. Whereas joy contains not just the gratitude but an element of hope. Hope that enduring these circumstances will unfold, will bloom forth into even deeper peace and ease and alignment. So whatever your circumstances, maybe they are hard and challenging and burdensome, can you be there ripe with strife and pain? Breathe and be. Yoga practices remind us that when we pause to breathe, we can align our body and our mind and in that alignment we can shift. We can be with what is and prepare for the beauty that is unfolding next.

Before we can hope to have clarity and peace of mind, we need to establish a sense of safety and grounding for our body and our mind. There are numerous strategies and techniques for soothing the nervous system, not the least of which is safe touch. Whether its self-soothing or guided support through mirroring, Yoga is an excellent strategy for down-regulating the nervous system and improving the overall tone and function of the body’s systems. This objective of restorative soothing is the heart of Life’sWork Yoga and the foundation of Thera-Yoga.  In the coming weeks, I will be sharing more about Functional Anatomy, which goes way beyond knowing the names of your muscles and bones, and yet is also much more accessible, even for those who have never studied anatomy. The truth is, you’re living it. Biology, Psychology, Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology and so much more. These disciples can all be studied from the Yoga perspective. Its where Science meets Spirit.

As we begin again this journey of living well, let us cultivate kindness and patience, for ourselves and each other.

A Simple Practice

Today, I’d like to share a simple practice for you to try.
Begin in a seated or reclined “Landing Pose” with props and permission to customize as you feel called. This is opening to Spirit, or intution and wisdom.
Notice as the breath comes in. Where do you feel that breath?
Perhaps you can feel it at the tip of your nose, perhaps you can feel the breath in one nostril more than the other. Trust that that’s okay. That’s normal, in fact.
Where do you feel the body expand to receive the breath? Where do you feel that breath leave.

We’re using the breath to help us cultivate this conversation between the body and the mind. This conversation is the practice of being mindful through the strategy of meditation.

Now add some arm movements to the breath. Perhaps you lift the arms on the inhale and settle them again on the exhale. Let your body move in whatever way it feels called to move. Use the breath as your metronome for pace and effort.

Breathing in, I calm my body.

Breathing out, I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment

I know this is a wonderful moment.

-Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathing in I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.
Breath in.
Breath out.
In.
Out.
Calm.
Smile.
Rest in this space you have created.
Then, perhaps, take a moment to journal and reflect on your experience. You could draw, write, or simply visualize having a conversation with yourself about your experience.

It’s a Practice

In our busy society it is a great fortune to be able to breathe consciously from time to time. Our body and mind become calm and concentrated bringing us joy and peace and ease.  We can breathe consciously anytime during the day. In that simple paragraph Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that to breathe and to linger in this depth of concentration is not meant for every hour of every day. Rather, this focus and concentraton is meant for practice. A practice that is readily available at any time. He explains, breathing in and I calm my body. This line is like drinking a glass of cold water. you feel the cool freshness permeating your body. When I breathe in and recite this line I actually feel the breathing calming my mind and body.
What do you notice? What do you feel?
Anatomically the inhale activates the body, awakens and sympathetic nervous system and prepares the mind for what’s next. By balancing that activation with the mindset of calm, the intention of steady, we enable ourselves to respond calmly to what ever awaits. Then, as the breath leaves, we shift back into the parasympathetic. Our blood pressure lowers, our heart beat slows, if only slightly. We open to healing and digestion, the restoration and relaxing side of the breath through each exhale. It’s an ebb and flow, or a Spanda pulsation to use the Sanskrit word.
By directing attention to the breath, we cultivate pause in order to unite mind and body. The breath is the door way, the threshhold between the mind and body. Noticing the breath is itself an invitation to be calm with what is and plant the seeds of witness, to observe being with what is. Doing so allows us to be at ease no matter what the circumstances. We can smile and embrace this wondrous beautiful moment.
Breathing out I smile, TNH explains. “A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face and make you master of yourself. That is why buddhas and battisatvahs are always smiling.” Somewhere between 5 and 53 muscles are invloved with the smile. When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress. Then other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins come into play too. The endorphins act as a mild pain reliever, whereas the serotonin is an antidepressant.
How easily can you access a smile? On your lips? Up to your cheeks? How about your eyes? Belly and your heart?
Smiling is an uplifting energy and yet we’re asking our body to be calm with that exhale. Inviting the body to find rest and the joy of smiling and the relationship of efforts and ease in the waiting for the growth and transformation. Dwelling in this present moment, while I sit here I don’t think of anything else. I sit here and I know where I am. I sit here and I know that I am safe. I’ve chosen to live here in this moment. To be here, and it’s enough just to be here and breathe. As I breathe and layer on this intention to be calm and to welcome joy through my smile I’m establishing even more connection with this state and calm abiding space and gratitude for what is.
I know this is a wonderful moment. It is a joy to sit stable and at ease. It is a gift to return to ourselves, our breathing, our half smile, our true nature. We can appreciate these moments. We ask ourselves, if I don’t have peace and joy right now when will I have peace and joy? Tomorrow or after tomorrow? What is preventing me from being happy right now?
Breathing in and I calm my body, breathing out I smile.
Breathing in calm my body
Breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.
Breathing in I calm my body, reminding myself I am safe in this moment just as it. Just as I am. In my exhale I smile and choose what seeds to plant where to direct my attention and my efforts. My life is blooming with beauty and hope and love. I am opening to clarity and ease.
I smile.