Category Archives : Workshops


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


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


Simon Borg-Olivier: Souls Singing in Balaclava

The Workshop

Simon Borg-Olivier embodies and indeed quotes Sri B.K.S Iyengar:

‘Yoga is when you make every cell in your body sing the song of the soul’

Although I love the imagery of the cells singing not all my cells were singing throughout Simon’s workshop ‘Internal Health, External Power’. Yet I can say that I felt ‘sthira steadiness’ and ‘sukha ease’ in all the yoga synergy postures he offered to participants. This is the first time I have felt both sthira and sukha consistently in my practice and I’ve been enjoying sharing the spinal flex series with students at the beginning of classes in the hope that we may take the sensation of this gentle flow throughout our class. Thank you Roman of Southside Yoga for bringing Simon into our neighbourhood.

 

The Mind

My problem was thinking too much not allowing the mind to dissolve out of its analytical state as I entered the physical movements and yet even for me there were moments of bliss when my body was completely in the flow reflecting without attempting to ‘copy’ Simon up on the podium. Reaching back into the mind, of course, I asked myself how did my body ‘know’ those movements? The Bhagavad Gita discusses this restlessness and inconsistency of the mind and in many ways the workshop was a practice in the teachings of Krishna to Aruna. A natural undeclared lecture and demonstration of life practices, life challenges and a release from tension to bliss.

Godfrey Miller Sketch

Godfrey Miller Sketch

Indeed the format followed in three hour sections ‘internal energy – mudras’, ‘internal cleansing – shatkriya/shatkarma’, ‘internal stability – bandha’, ‘internal power – pranayam’, ‘internal bliss – dharana, dhyana, samadhi’. The weekend finished with a dynamic to static meditative Yoga Synergy sequence and I can honestly say that this method of practice did not leave me tired or hungry – I walked out each evening well fed.

Less everything

Simon was very fond of repeating: eat less, breathe less, heart beat less, tense less, think less, sleep less. If we bring into our practice a little less of all things imbided, our bodies will respond and carry us toward bliss. The mat is not the place for ‘hyper’ anything the mat or practice place is the place for the dissolution of pain and sorrow…to unite with the divine as Iyengar says ‘it means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will, which that yoga presupposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly’.

Jewels

Little gems I walked away with:

  • Inhale into most postures letting the abdomen rise with the breath because in this way you create spaciousness and when when you settle exhale…inhaling frees the spine. this is particularly wonderful for twists and sit ups
  • Think when approaching a posture if a bandha can be created, that is the coactivation of opposing muscle groups e.g. internally rotate shoulders and round the back activating armpits and shoulder muscles as you move through spinal flexion series
  • From standing when raising a leg a subtle tilt up of the pelvis will let the bent knee float up without effort and then extend out into straight leg rising to your ability
  • Learn lolasana before yogic push ups…in fact take care to prepare the body through preparatory postures before attempting anything prematurely
  • Kechari mudra although traditionally taught as taking the tongue to the back palate and eventually right through nasal passages with focus at the third eye – could be practiced externally tongue to chin, tongue to nose drishti/gaze at the third eye
  • Generally we can all, when in seated positions, check in with ourselves hips back/ribs back and although it feels like we might be rounding we invariably aren’t our spines are now straight!
  • I also walked away feeling like a kindergarten student in the face of the pranyam techniques Simon shared ….that’s a whole other discussion

During intensive workshops such as these it is easy to get disenchanted as a teacher as you realise your journey has barely begun and you have the audacity to TEACH! Yet Simon took care of each and everyone one of us by framing the closing of each day with an emphasis on:

Ahimsa to not bring any suffering while you are learning, to yourself or others

Tapas discipline in your practice

Santosha contentment at the end

…and so with santosha we all walked out inspired into a hot Melbourne sunday afternoon