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Embodied Anatomy of the Spine in Scoliosis

Look to the natural world where it reflects/expresses the topography of the body so that we can visualise our inner anatomical places and know them as felt experience, learnt through…

…my experience of EASS-y, an online course exploring the Embodied Anatomy of the Spine in Scoliosis – applied to yoga, developed and conducted by Narelle Carter-Quinlan.

 

Rhythm & Review

Spinal-sea-swirls

Spinal-sea-swirls

There is a natural rhythm to the online program EASS-y, a meditative quality and fluid movement in the way the course is structured. Perhaps this is a reflection of Narelle’s embodiment of dance. As a yoga teacher I entered the course with some apprehension as I am weak on anatomy and resistant to a perceived dryness in the discipline in comparison with the energetic and philosophical offerings in yoga. Yet EASS-y could not be more fluid, juicy and delicious. This course is beneficial for those inhabiting a scoliotic terrain, for those teaching and for anyone with a spine! Once you begin to harvest the knowledge contained within this course you realise that your own spine has it’s own unique terrain, whilst perhaps not scoliotic, it may well not be text book either – it may ask of you to enquire, reflect in stillness and in practice to move with what ‘you have’ to create or recreate a skeletal body that merges with the energetic. EASS-y takes you on such a pathway of observation into the poetry of fluid, living, changing bones and the terrain they create and inhabit.

The Course Structure

The EASS-y online course is structured in weekly modules with two PowerPoint presentations which are matched to an audio file per week. There is a relevant audio meditation for each week, practice notes to lead you on your exploration and videos of Narelle’s students who present with scoliosis in appropriate asana. Then there are bonus links and photographic images which allow us to imagine our inner embodiment. It was my practice to sit with the Powerpoint and matching audio then proceed to the video and finish with the meditation awakening the next day to begin the practice notes. The first two weeks immerse you in the anatomical structures, an understanding of which is essential for you to understand scoliosis and the following two weeks introduce asana complete with prop assistance and images. There is also a mid course class call where you can ask questions directly. Now here’s the irony, given my resistance to anatomy, whilst I was familiar and alert toward scoliosis when it presented in my yoga classes my familiarity was based on the anatomy without further enquiry.

Artist Dale Cox...a discovery in the Ballarat Regional Art Gallery

Artist: Dale Cox…a discovery in the Ballarat Regional Art Gallery

Enquiry

EASS-y demands enquiry. EASS-y offers you a physical and energetic understanding of scoliosis taking you by the hand and leading you into a world where other structures are compromised doing too much, doing too little, creating too much bone in the wrong places and compromising not just stature but the breath, mind, movement. A scoliotic terrain is tiring to inhabit not only because of the physical counter actions in the body but because your spatial sense is asymmetrical. Your sense of being in space is not marked by the classical centred axis. There is a different rhythm operating and connecting earth to crown. It is a journey off the classical anatomical beaten path. As a yoga teacher I realise (now) that choosing postures for the scoliotic terrain is not only about physical cues to accommodate, but the cues need to be built into an energetic, particularly breath sensitivity. I need to enquire more, visualise more, feel more how each of my students moves and responds. Narelle offers many slides to assist in this and in point of fact they are relevant to building a class for any ‘body’. In writing up a class Narelle suggests we ask more questions ‘Who’ am I teaching, ‘Why’ this asana/this way/in this sequence/with this class at this time – what change or benefit am I trying to illicit. Enquire and experiment in your own spine, know your own terrain, then visualise another – use Narelle’s images from the natural world and explore what it might be like to have a meandering spinal-river i.e a spine without the normal spinal curves within the sagittal plane. If I have a thoracic scoliosis how would this impact my lung volume and what would that then mean for my breath – where should I direct the breath? What could be happening to my transverse abdominis, multifidus? What could I then do? Enquire. Explore. Converse. Feel. Then perhaps you can teach! Perhaps you can even re-create or ease.

The Gems

• Scoliosis – impact of the scoliotic terrain & Adam’s forward bend test
• ‘Rationale’ for practice developed by Narelle
• Narelle’s ‘Lens of perception’
• Asana, props & the importance of touch
• The course knows when to repeat, consolidate, remind, mesmerise
• Meditation: ‘Hold a vertebra in your hand’
• Narelle’s land photography (also Photograph your own back)
• Use of sanskrit – vibration within sanskrit names resonates in the physical posture

Sandy concavity

Sandy concavity

Online Experience

The online aspects of EASS–y are ‘easy’ the production is seamless, flowing with ‘ease’ within the principles of sthira sukha. The progression through the course is meditative, you fall in to the learnings and find that each module is coming to an end before you are ready to leave – which you actually never have to do as the enquiry and practice are ongoing. I urge you to have a look at all that Narelle Carter-Quinlan offers on her website: http://www.embodiedterrain.com. Be brave, plunge in to the felt poetry of knowledge ‘harvested and distilled’ there.

References:

Influences in EASS-y Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen & Amy Matthews
The bonus links were thorough covering: Anatomy, Yoga & Science, Yoga and further links on Embodiment – not fair to divulge everything here!

Photographs

In this post photographs my own – explore www.embodiedterrain.com for some truly rich land/body resonating photography


Meditating on the World’s Soul

 

How did we become so Separate?

As I open the paper each morning – yes I’m still a hard copy newspaper reader – I keep asking myself how did we human beings become so separate? How is it that we appear to have lost our reverence for life, for each other? We shun the other and yet the other is us…locally we are affected: our humanity toward asylum seekers, child abuse, violence toward women, elderly abuse, homelessness, mental health negligence, murder, corruption; and globally: MH17, Gaza, Syria, Ebola virus, jihadist activities in Iraq…the list goes on and our language itself is weighted down with the words terror and fear. How did we become so separate?

Kali Yuga

In the Mahabharata this age is named Kali Yuga when the world’s soul turns black (http://www.grahamhancock.com/forum/DMisraB6.php) It is not an age of the Goddess Kali but of the apocalyptic demon Kali setting up discord, strife on earth manifesting as greed, anger, deceit, corruption, sin, animosity between peoples and an ever increasing gap between human beings and the divine, peace, faith. It is an age where extremes oscillate and the pendulum of virtue no longer has a centre point – the axis is degenerating toward loss. This concept of Kali Yuga seems evident in our histories of violence toward each other, toward other life forms and toward the planet. It is suggested only one quarter virtue remains and in that we may have some hope and yet it is predicted to dwindle to zero by Kali Yuga’s end.

There were preceding ages though, Dvapara, Treta and the sublime state of the time of SatyaYuga. Each of these yuga provided a better existence for all matter and living things.

Light or particle or universe?

Light? Particle? Universe?

Yet, yoga also offers us practices to transform this age. Yoga offers us space to see, feel and experience oneness. Patanjali’s Sutras offer a plethora of practices, something to suit all personalities, practices that encourage us to open into full communion with a greater consciousness. Connection, union, grace, love, trust, service…expansion and return to abundance and peace.

In La Luna’s classes this week we worked with verse 1:40 of the Yoga Sutras and ended our class in sivasana with this meditation:

A Practice for Verse 1:40

Begin to imagine what it would be like to see a sub atomic particle, smaller than the atom, composite or elementary… Perhaps focus on an elementary particle named the Higgs Boson or God particle what does this particle look like to you? Don’t worry if you can’t access a scientific textbook image…what does this smallest of all particles look like to you?
Is it spherical? Plain? Patterned? Coloured? If you have no visual can you sense the particle, conceptualise the idea of something so minute?…

Now bring the mind forward to the world that can be seen and imagine a tree the trunk, bark, the texture, the scent, then the branches, leaves, the textures, the colours of each – there is nothing else in your mind right now but this tree formed behind closed eyelids. Can you smell the earthiness, the fragrance of the leaves?

Trees and Consciousness

Trees and Consciousness

Can you sense the mighty root system offering nutrients out into the earthy floor below feeding other plants, animals, matter…generously sharing without an understanding of borders, or different species…without fear

Next extend your mind outward into the darkness of the night and observe a star, a solitary star, go deeper passed the twinkling light that you can see, feel the heat, see the luminosity, sense the magnetic field, the ancient energy billions of years old…the light, fill yourself with starlight, flood it in to your entire being…

Now sense the whole of the universe…which is a complex and orderly system – an example of a cosmos. Our universe composed of all matter and energy including the entirety of the earth, the galaxies and intergalactic space regarded as a whole. See the whole universe, sense the energy, feel the matter and experience cosmic vibration as you immerse yourself within the universe
Bring this state of being as one with the universe back into this room…be the universe
Return the light to the world’s soul.

Learn from the trees: The consciousness of Trees


Yoga Sutras – via an Elephant!

Elephant Practice

Chapter 3 Extraordinary Powers

Still inspired by Donna Farhi’s Heart Intensive I looked to Patanjali’s Sutras to theme my next class and landed on Chapter 3 Verse 34, 3.34: ‘By communion/saṁyama at the heart, knowledge [of the nature of] consciousness [is obtained].’* This hurtled my beginners mind back to the beginning of Chapter 3 to understand – at least a glimpse of – saṁyama. Perhaps the heart was a step too far, too soon, for students and myself when exploring this chapter on extraordinary powers.

Sketch of an elephant

Indian Elephant Wikimedia commons

I needed a tangible object to demonstrate and so I chose the elephant, 3.24, but more on that later, saṁyama first.

Accessing Divinity

This chapter on extraordinary powers reveals divinity as accessible, a result of the burning away of the ego through disciplined practice. It is not the actual powers that are valued, in fact it is more important to reach that place where you can remain focused and attentive no matter what extraordinary abilities develop.* The chapter itself is titled vibhūti/holy ash referring to both purity & detachment and it opens with, 3.1, a binding place of consciousness/concentration. We have thus entered into the wisdom of the fifth limb of yoga, dhāranā concentration on a single object or point; we then move to dhyāna meditation where the one who mediates is aware of the object and the ideas related to it in a single stream and we end with the final limb samādhi where any distinction between object/ideas [of] and the meditator have disappeared – the meditator is merged with the object and ideas of that object or subject.
3.4 reveals saṁyama in which the last three limbs are practiced simultaneously or are merged completely. Divine power flows and the object becomes manifest, becomes the practitioner. As the Dalai Lama offers in a prayer, ‘With our thoughts, we make our world…’ Thus it is wise to live with intention and clarity knowing that the universe will work through you and manifest what you practice at all times, all day – not just on the mat.

Elephant Practice

3.24
‘By saṁyama on the powers of elephants and [other such animals], their strength [is obtained].*

You might like to begin your practice with a counted breath focus either seated or in sivasana and introduce a contemplation on the merging of the last three limbs of ashtanga’s 8 limbs. The contemplation may be as simple as – ‘I make my world.’ Return to the breath and on your last exhale fully let go, saying in your mind – ‘I let go, I open space in my world for intention’.
Externalise the body fully aware of your physical form on the mat and roll to the right to come up to seated.

If it’s in your practice offer your prayer, make your intention, chant OM

Practice your asanas, but today take time to actually become each pose – I am warrior, cobra, sphinx etc. Play with truly merging with the object and the qualities of the object, or in deed, subject – if it is an extended leg pose try to merge with the benefits of the pose become the extended leg pose. Don’t excuse yourself because there is not an evident metaphor. Start with softness – move toward strength, easing away when your body speaks and slow with softness ending in sivasana – let the body be a corpse and access the flow of the divine to become the elephant.

Be an Elephant

For sivasana try this elephant practice:
Settle into your floor position – bring the breath in the navel centre – feel a rising of energy from the pelvic floor to the navel and simultaneously from the throat to the navel both energy flows meet at the navel x 6 With the exhale the energies return to their point of origin.
2. Watch this breath note it for temperature, depth, sensations in the body…
3. Release the prana/apana breath you have been practicing. Bring the mind to the eyebrow centre – Dharāna: think about an elephant the whole of an elephant the way the skin wrinkles at the R ear, L ear, how weighty its trunk, the small eyes, the R ear, L ear both ears together, the entire head, the torso and the weight of the torso, the L front leg, the R front leg, both front legs together, the R back leg, the L back leg, both back legs together, all the legs together, the feet, the roundness of the feet, the roundish-ness of the toenails – the whole elephant together. Full concentration on the whole elephant.
4. Dhyana: Draw into the mind the qualities of the elephant and meditate on these…it may be the strength, the memory, the sensitivity to sound, creativity, willingness to serve, obedience, touch, matriarchal/communal societies, groundedness, earth connection…any qualities of the elephant meditate on these…
5. Samadhi choose one or two of these qualities, bring them deep inside behind the eyebrow centre…let the qualities resonate there, in the beginning perhaps use one quality as a mantra. Then as you begin to merge your whole understanding of elephant right up until you are the elephant, embody those qualities you have chosen…if your mind wanders, as it inevitably does return again and again to your elephant word, your mantra…again and again…occasionally you may just ‘be’ elephant.

Elephant parts

Merge with all parts – be ‘elephant’

6. Very gently release your mantra and yet hold to the qualities you have infused within. Feel into your hand imagining it is as round as an elephants foot …and into your feet as though they two are round…then extend outward your own finger and toes opening them wide – feeling back into the physical body of you. Take your time and stretch as your body requests, bend knees, raise arms…respond to your external body as you need, then roll to your R side for a few breaths…before coming up to seated
6. Prana/apana breath as you settle into the upright, perhaps an Om Gam Ganapataye Namah or two.

Namaste

*Stars indicate referenced material Sutra translations from Govindan, Marshall., Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and read material Bachman, Nicolai., The Yoga Sutras Workbook. Any incorrect interpretations – the authors own.


Heart Aroused

Donna Farhi Intensive, Melbourne, 2014

Find the flow

Find the flow

Delving into the heart with Donna Farhi at her recent Melbourne intensive, I traversed an intimate terrain of my body…discovering the body below the skin, the muscles, the organs, the bones and deep down into the cells. I learnt to access body and mind using my head, heart and gut as my navigational tools. The doorway into the body is entered, according to Philip Shepherd, through ‘the brain in our belly’. This is an ancient idea that our autonomous nervous system is made up of 3 systems, rather than the generally considered 2: sympathetic & parasympathetic, we should return to adding the enteric system and offer due respect to the enteric system that governs the gastrointestinal function which nourishes us both in a digestive, mental and hormonal sense. The contemporary world, it is posited, has become lost in their heads and lack a connection to the body. Donna guided us through this material and challenged us each day to ‘find it’, find the body and then listen.

The heart-filled intensive was interspersed with shared materials: Philip Shepherd, Richard Miller – IRest, prayer, chants (called by the sublime Joan Miller from Mosman), meditation, asanas, poems, slides on the physiology of the heart, discussions, the Sutras, Tantra, individual enquiry and partner work. Too much to share in a single blog post! However I will endeavour below to share some key aspects that resonated with me.

The Heart

I can begin with the heart ….to discover the intelligence of this organ nourishing itself via the coronary arterial system and then flooding the body with oxygenated blood…the intelligence of this organ that transforms our breath into a transportable fluid that flows, feeds and sustains all other organs, muscle and tissue. This is the metaphor for us to approach ourselves so that we may continue to serve in this life we must nourish ourselves first. Begin each day with a ritual to nourish your self thereby creating an inner energy reservoir that can flow outward to serve humanity. Donna suggests: cutting a flower and putting it in a vase, a movement to welcome the day into the body, meditation, a breakfast ritual – find your own, ‘find it’.

Stacking the centres ….listening…instinct & intuition

Take a moment at anytime in the day to observe the posture, seated or standing, and make the enquiries: am I centred in my hub at the navel (also known as the ‘mind palace’)? Is my heart stacked above it? And my head? Can I sense the anchor of this energy centre, the anchor it provides for the centres above it? Do I tune into the gut and listen there to sense impeding events before the brain wakes up? This is instinctive intelligence. Donna answered the query about intuition by offering that intuition in comparison comes from the higher faculties of the mind & heart guiding us and assisting us to spiritually reach out to fulfil our potential in this life. The art is to listen to the intelligence within.

A guide to the bodies terrain

1. ‘Find it’ – explore & experiment, tune into the intelligence within and go deep, study the anatomy & physiology
2. Soften & hydrate particularly before stronger asanas to increase fluids and nutrients to the joints – key here is the breath
3. Lengthen & release with the breath
4. Find balance
5. Strengthen
6. Generalise all of the above – apply them all day, everyday

Sankalpa

Yoga Nidra arising from Tantric sources… an expansion toward liberation
Richard Miller’s ‘inner resource’ was introduced to have the resource sit with you in case the Yoga Nidra practice leads you into areas of the subconscious that are uncomfortable. Donna also set up a detailed list of enquiries to assist with Sankalpa (vow or commitment to your higher truth) development.

Nature's table

Inner Resource – Dream Place

Particularly pertinent, ‘remember the Yoga sutras begin with the word ‘atha/Now’ to call attention to the beginning: Sutra 1.1 ‘Now the exposition on yoga’. The present tense calls attention for the efficacy of a vow to self so that it rests with immediacy within the subconscious. Choose a vow/affirmation that feels right to your true essence, trust, have faith and remember a sankalpa may come to you as a form, colour, image or words…What would you do if you had no sense of failing? Enquire, enquire…to ‘find it’.

The Heart

I can end with the heart
Brahmavihara from The Path of Purification – Vishuddhimagga
Qualities of the heart:
Loving kindness to ourselves and others/Compassion suffering is universal not personal/Empathetic joy celebrate the good fortune of others/Equanimity not being overpowered by positive or negative emotions detach to find the strength at your centre

A Heart Practice

Explore the heart as you feel today – be honest – move through the below four quadrants and listen for the instruction
Am I at this moment…
1. Open heart or closed heart 2. Strong heart or weak heart
3. Full hearted or half hearted 4. Clear heart or confused heart

Community

I walked away from an amazing intensive. I walked away with friends and in our car pool we discussed and recapped and tried to share a deep inner sense of: ‘find it’, ‘listen’ ‘Now’. The joy of connection – heart-aroused community in dialogue.

References shared:
‘Out of our heads’ an interview with Philip Shepherd
The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie
Blessings by John O’Donahue
How Life Moves by Caryn McHose & Kevin Frank
www.donnafarhi.co.nz


Fire, Water and Offerings

Full Moon 16 January 2014

La Luna will provide occasional ‘moon cycle reports’ as they come to her here at the moon-bower…

Symbolism

The moon symbolises the feminine side of the human being, characterised by grace, cycles or transitions, wisdom, perception, illumination. She is both teacher and guide within us, she is hidden from view without the light of the sun.

Full Moon

The whole of the moon

This is where the full moon this week in Melbourne gets interesting – she is being revealed by a fierce hot sun. The first full moon of 2014 is becoming visible through heat. As the moon element is water, and her colour silver, the alchemy is fractious.

Meaning

What this may mean is, subtly since the new moon and more strongly as we approach the full moon, our emotions may be intense – anger, frustration, despair, doubt may be very present. We may find ourselves lacking the clarity of thought to make sense or meaning to what is a transition within. For Melbourne dwellers there will be a tinder box effect – a dryness building to fire – the emotions unchecked will have the potential to ignite. This could end with confrontation or it may create a burning away of old samskaras, old patterns of behaviour that no longer have any validation in our lives.

Practice

Take care in this time. Call to compassion for self, love for self and increase your meditation time.

Try this ‘swaahaa’ or ‘so be it’ meditation. A meditation of offering, a releasing or letting go into fire.

Fire offerings

Fire offerings

  • Settle in a comfortable seated position, choosing a mudra for yourself
  • Commit yourself to a time, you may choose to set a gentle timer
  • Close the eyes bring the focus to the breath – observe only
  • Shift the breath around the body so it is as if you are breathing in through the crown of your head, neck, shoulders, heart centre etc and breathe out the same spot you breathed in x 3 breaths per body section
  • Settle the breath to an inhale down to the heart centre – or wherever it lands down through the body and working with your diaphragm on the exhale release up through the crown of your head, continue for at least 6 breaths until this flow is natural to you
  • Check in with your self here, are thoughts distracting you? Consider how in all those thoughts, throughout your entire body and in all living things and matter there is shakti, the energy of the divine consciousness – release those thoughts to the understanding that everything that comes up for you is infused with shakti
  • Once you have welcomed the thought of shakti in all things introduce ‘swaa’ to the inhale to the heart and ‘haaa’ to the exhale.
  • Continue with the movement of the breath and your mantra
  • When you finish take time to let the meditation settle so that the offering is released – restoring the true calibration of the moon within as calmness and grace.
  • Know that there will be an easing with the illumination of the full moon and you may be very tired by the end of the week.

The above meditation was inspired for use at this time by Sally Kempton and her current Freedom, Ecstasy and Awakening Telecourse