embodied anatomy of yoga: your body’s diaphragms

In this series on embodied anatomy you will have the opportunity to experience some of the nature of your anatomy, in a way that directly has relevance and meaning in your life. The clearest and most senseful way to experience embodiment is close to the way it’s designed – the body in relationship to the world. It’s a theme we will return to in each exploration.

Your Diaphragms form one responsive system, like the skins of a drum.               

The way you receive the world through your hands and feet can serve to modulate this whole system, so it’s good to remember to be generous in this receiving; let your feet welcome the ground and let what you touch, touch you back. The state of responsiveness of your breathing diaphragm, that’s also an expression of dynamic aliveness, depends a lot on the whole system and particularly the way you choose to relate to the world around you.

Asana in the landscape and asana only in the body are two very different things. If there is a fixed relating, only a touching, only action based in the body, this will be reflected in all the diaphragms, they stop talking to each other.

In general when we withdraw or disconnect from relationship we tend to feel the need to control.

So enough of the talk, let’s try it out!

Ideally you need a tennis and golf ball. Throughout this exploration, see if you can find an easy ‘peripheral attitude’; so that means also with your senses, we could almost add a metaphorical diaphragm in the eyes – peripheral vision, simply receiving. Notice when something closes, when you over-focus; there’s no need to control, if it’s too much just back-off, or pause – this is all about exploring choice. It may not always be appropriate to be completely open, that we learned after the 70’s. It’s simply a question whether you are willing to be available to the exchange, or not – more like witnessing a dialogue.

So observe your breath throughout, only listening, it’s a guide – if you’re too ambitious you want to know it, to be sensitive to your own timing. It takes time to re-open the capacity to be touched, especially if you live in the city. Many of us are partially ‘touch-blind’, especially in the feet –and these are our ‘postural feet’.

Let’s start with the tennis ball. Since your curiosity will support you most, forget that you know it’s a tennis ball, forget everything you think you know – this will be the same every time we come back to receive ground or any ‘other’. The words are not important, it’s more the experience of how this object touches you. Start with one hand as if the ball is inked-up and you want to slowly paint the whole underside of your hand. First only with a very light touch, just the skin. Not focusing, stay peripheral, not-exclusive. Now observe what you can feel of this object touching you, its texture, temperature, is it wet or dry? Where do you feel this more or less clearly? You are starting at the level of the pores, so which pores are more or less open? If you want them to open, be curious, or you can open a metaphorical tap – to allow the inflow, to be touched. Take your time, it’s ‘bringing the horse to water and waiting till it drinks’, again and again that will allow you to learn to trust your capacity to deal with what touches you.

Then allow it to touch more deeply, feel how this object touches your flesh – so you can discover something more about it, its shape, if its hard or soft, its density. Notice that in some places you lose the object and feel more your hand, if it’s too much back-off or check you didn’t lose your peripheral attitude – this is an important reality checking mechanism. Focusing more on discomfort is like ‘sitting on a branch you are trying to cut’ – come back into circulation. This is the flow of Prana , that we simply allow. Whenever we meet a lot of ‘stuff’ and here its sensation between you and the other, this is key – it will be the same in all your relationships. Then put your mind in the bones of your hand, trace them, but by receiving the impression of the other. When we first meet the world as babies we learn so much about ourselves in this way, this is no technique – this is the language of touch that your body understands, it’s before the words. Then in the wrist, how does this object feel in your wrist? All your ‘sophisticated’ control will only obscure this question, your concepts of tennis ball can never answer this. It may take you weeks to get this far. Then the forearm diaphragm, between the bones. Then the elbow, shoulder, spine, or even your other diaphragms, face – these are both beauty treatments!

Now before the second side try dog and see what happens. Notice what’s fixed in the relationship between you and the ground and space, and what’s breathing, with no augmentation on your part, not interference – the breath is one of your finest listening tools.

When you have ‘done’ both sides, the same with the golf ball and feet – till the ball touches your jaw, till you feel how one side of your face blooms, how this supports your eye and ear to receive the world. This blooming is beautiful, its why even ‘ugly’ babies are beautiful. After one, walk to listen to the language of responsiveness, to compare the music of fine articulation, the sound each foot makes as its touched by the ground. Your foot knows how to respond – there’s nothing to do in Tadasana.

I often know which student is approaching, much about the state of their nervous system and more just from the sound of their walk.

Now try some postures that involve an active relationship of hands and feet with the ground, listen to your breathing diaphragm to see how impressed your hands and feet are by the ground, or if you are only talking and not listening. There is much to learn to here.

Leo’s first book in the Alive Anatomy series will be out later this year; stay tuned: facebook.com/leo.peppas

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