Hari Om, Yogistas!
Lets explore the body/mind/spirit complex you call home!
When we look at a body, Somebody, what do we see?
The physical body, the attitude and expression they convey, and the energy they generate.
The basic body structure is created by the muscles.
The muscles build up in layers, connect to the bones, and create a compact, powerful machine, covered and protected by the skin and fat layers.
The overall musculature of the body is a highly sophisticated and complex piece of superb engineering, allowing movement across multiple planes in gross and fine control. (Grand or tiny movements – to you and me!)
The strength, tone and balance of musculature, create the look, but also the feel of a body! So for the person IN the body it affects the way they feel, their energy levels, their posture, and of course their self image!
Humans are generalists, we are able to walk and run for considerable distances; we’ve got strong flexible arms, hands capable of grasping all sorts of objects to use them in different ways.
We are built to climb, hang, jump and contort into all sorts of shapes and positions.
This is achieved both by having strong major muscles groups, but also myriad small and tiny muscles which allow for adjustments, balance, holding limbs immobile or with small incremental movement.
We also have all those tendons, bits of cartilage and gristly bits that lend support, cushioning and extra flexibility and protection to joints all over the body.
The face especially, has loads of small muscles which allow us to speak, eat, and make a hundred different facial expressions to express every nuance of feeling we are wanting to communicate.
Finding balance and Wellbeing
In order to have a good general sense of wellbeing, the health and comfort of our muscles is key.
We need to find a balance between inactivity and overdoing it. We need to come from a place of neutrality; so activity, whether mild or extreme, flows smoothly, and finishes where it began, in neutrality.
The body in neutral is not 100% relaxed. Muscles work in opposition, and as long as you are up and about, they are constantly balancing and rebalancing, one against another.
So standing, sitting, lying, each position has its own relative relaxation. The key is to do as little as possible!
For most of us though, inactivity does not equate to being relaxed, but rather a chronic state of readiness that has dulled the body’s ability to respond either quickly, seamlessly or joyfully. That is to say, because we fail to release fully following any activity, we carry habitual tensions in the body tissues, which send contradictory messages of what is required, forcing our finely-tuned reactivity to dull down and tune out!
If we sit all day, drive home and then sit all evening, there is a lack of contrast in activity, so we are neither comfortably relaxed, nor in full play of muscular magnitude. Gravity and low-level daily activity, keep a level of tone, but strong firm, sleek muscles only come from daily stretching, power work and release. And well-being comes from the regular pulse between high-level activity, and quiet release.
What kind of exercise?
All kinds of exercise are good for the body.
Swimming and walking are great all-rounders.
Sports are good. But their downside is, that, typically, their goal orientation, and focus away from the sensations of the body, mean there is a tendency to develop imbalances in order to do the sport, and also, potentially, injuries.
So golfers, focusing on their swing, and the trajectory of the ball, unknowingly create tensions and imbalances in their body which they then fail to release after the game and they then live with.
Exactly the same with gardening (Hey thats not a sport!!
No, but you certainly notice those imbalances when you have spent the day weeding!)
Running is controversial, as so many people run on roads. Good shoes are essential, and attention to warm up, cool down and posture.
Gym work, like weights, aerobics and other classes all have pluses and minuses.
All these activities challenge the body in different ways, and none facilitate balance!
Done mindfully, any activity can be good: fun, uplifting, strengthening, aerobic, calorie-burning. But almost without exception we can each benefit from the practise of yoga to rebalance and retune our bodies to mitigate and minimise problems, and allow us to enjoy our sport even more.
A well-managed body will be strong and toned, so that sudden and unexpected movements, like tripping on a kerb, don’t rip and tear the muscle or fascia, but are able to stretch and flex to cushion the body from an accident, without injury, whether in sport or our daily life.
But why yoga?
Yoga is extraordinary in its versatility and range. Regardless of our need, those yogis in their caves, (you’ll hear a lot about these guys from me!) these old yogis with long beards and bad pants and nothing to do all day but chant and contort, they have found a way to fix it!
If you have an achy bit and you can’t find a way to stretch it out or ease it, they have the answer! Somehow they can fold, twist, extend and hold you, till that bit is addressed, stretched, released and, at last, it can let go and let you get on with your life!!
Hundreds of different poses are there for us to choose from!
To challenge the strength of various parts – upside down poses are good for strengthening necks; all-fours or hand balances strengthen wrists and arms; leg lifts challenge the abdominals; and all the standing poses develop strong balanced legs, co-ordination and good posture.
To develop balance – standing on one leg( in 50 different variations!), hand balances again, inversions, side lifts.
For flexibility – twist your arms in wierd contortions, afterwards twist your body into similar contortions, then do the same contortions while standing up and balancing. Closing your eyes is optional, and far more difficult!
Then you have endurance! I have been in classes where we simply held our arms horizontally in front. . . .
For 25 minutes! Whew!
And now . . . Relax!!
The different aspects of healthy muscles include strength, flexibility and resilience, but most important is the ability to release fully once the need for strength, flexibility and resilience is over.
We may not even notice, but tension and stiffness build up over years, as muscles forget how to let go.
We sit a certain way, stand, carry a bag. Our muscles do what’s required, but we don’t tell them when they can let go.
So they hold patiently and obediently. We have forgotten them. But they are still holding.
And then we use them again, so they get used to the work but never come back to neutral.
This is why we can tell what people do, from their body shape. And I don’t necessarily mean body development like weight lifters and such.
I heard a story of a chap who was a bus driver. His route was full of left turns, and he did it for 40 years!
He left his body to science, and when they examined him, they discovered his chest muscles full of diagonal striations where the constant turning of the large steering wheel had set up lines of stress for the left turn, that had never been released, or balanced by right turning!
We are creatures of habit. We cross our legs the same way, step up with the same foot, focus on our stronger hand, eye. We carry our bag on the same shoulder, frown with the same expression.
Yoga stands alone, as a holistic body/mind/spirit practise.
Yoga challenges all our conceptions about effort.
Not the heaviest weight, the most reps, the sweatiest towel!
Not man of the match, fastest, strongest, highest, longest.
Yoga is Unique!
Yoga is about listening to your body.
Working into the pose, allowing the pose to do for us what only it can do.
Allowing the muscles to gently lengthen, giving them time, moving smoothly, slowly.
Thinking about what you are doing, rather than how you look, or what everyone else is doing.
Its about listening to, and then gently challenging the voice inside that says ‘You cant do this, its stupid and who would want to do this anyway?’
Its about exploring, sensing, allowing yourself to enjoy the pure sensation of the move, like a child, with curiosity and wonder.
Our most favoured pose is savasana, basking in the release of a class well done!
We lay on the floor, letting all the stretch and effort drain away.
Allowing the floor to support us, there is no need for us to hold onto anything.
Letting go of holding our limbs, our hips, our head, – especially our head!
We can’t release easily until we have practised (you ARE joking I hear you say).
But regular practise, releasing in savasana, scanning through the body, progressively releasing every tension you become aware of, (only to scan again, and release again,) creates a response in the muscles of deeper and deeper relaxation.
When I teach I use the same phrases and words, to begin, to close, between poses.
This programmes the listeners to develop this response even more quickly, so their muscular memory, (triggered by my words,) reminds them of last time I said those words and their ‘then’ state of release.
So they start this ‘now’ relaxation at a slightly deeper level, so they can now release even more.
This is the way to reclaim the natural ability to be chilled out, with every muscle benefitting from the free flow of blood, energy and deep deep calm!
This is why you lay on the hardest of floors and have the most comfortable, peaceful,delicious time.
You could stay there all day, but when you get up you feel excellent.
Energised, light, centred!