Yogic movement - How to use somatic spine explorations
These six spinal investigations may help you see your movement practise in a new light. In my Dance of the spine programme, we'll do all of these things and more to help you tune into your spine as an organ through the power of sound, sight, and environment.
Okay, I have a few questions to get us started...
In what part of the body do you find your spine?
Your spine is located where on the body?
Is it the trunk or the seat? Maybe at the top of the head, or down at the sacrum, between the shoulder blades?
How does your back feel right now?
Can you tell that there's a skeletal framework there? How about a column that stays put, or a spring that stretches?
When I inquired about their spinal perceptions, my friends gave me a wide variety of responses. Just two examples are listed below...
Just like an eel can feel the water with its spine, I can feel my spine with gentle awareness by simply being present in my body and rolling around on the ground. Compared to the feelings you get first thing in the morning, this feels more like spring. - Rachael
The tension in my neck seems to have accumulated from elsewhere in my body and mind, and it's making my spine stiff. - Steve
The following exercises, as well as those performed in my Dance of the Spine classes, will help you visualise your spine as a living, breathing, spring-like organism that houses your centre or your core. Is it possible for us to attune to the spinal cord and hear the pulsations that travel from the brain to the pelvis?
Learning to see the spine as an organ
An organ can be defined biologically. An example of a description is provided below. "A collection of tissues within a living organism that have evolved to carry out a particular task." Interestingly, "organ" comes from the Latin word for "instrument," "organum."
Is it possible to conceive of the sensations experienced by an organ? Consider the cardiovascular system as an example. Feel its rhythm, locate it in your body, and perhaps you'll pick up on its colour, texture, and the way it's spiralled in on itself.
When we move our back, how do we feel that muscle? How do we let ourselves sink into the sensations that arise from the base of the spine in response to our own breathing action, the conditions around us, the vibrations of sounds, and the images we conjure up in our minds?
To help you discover how sensing your spine as an organ can enrich your movement practise, I'd like to suggest a few avenues for you to try.
Gary Carter says, "The spine is the pivot point for all of the body's systems."
1. Breathing exercises and body awareness
This is something I taught in my Dance of the Spine-inspired Roll and Rotate Your Spine to Happiness class.
Get in a back-lying position first.
To practise this, lie on your back (from head to sacrum), draw your knees up to your chest, and roll. The next step is to lie on your side with your legs together and slowly touch the ground from your head to your tailbone.
Relax by lying flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Let go of trying to control your breathing and instead fall into your natural rhythm. Try tuning in to how your spine sways to the beat of your breathing. Make contact with the spine from all angles and take note of any changes, such as lengthening, expanding, floating, or springy sensations. So, whose breath is this, anyway?
How do the sternum, clavicle, and ribs relate to the spine? How are they manipulating the head? Join up with our other two miniature spinal structures, the nine-bone sternum and the five-bone sacrum.
Is it possible, when moving your spine in a snake-like motion, to feel movement passing through these 2 structures as you embrace waves, spirals, and curves without using any muscle?
The next step is to roll onto your side so that you can feel your spine through your ribs and make a connection to your movement and breath through your lungs' inner outer wall. How do you truly feel without filtering your responses?
In the final step, roll onto your front with your head resting on one side, or prop up your head with your hands or a blanket. The question is, can you feel...
Do your tissues have rhythms and pulses?
The spinal column?
The joints between your spine's vertebrae? Listen to your facet joints, as well as the other bony processes and wing-like structures along the back and sides of your spine. And are you sensitive enough to feel the suppleness of the cervical spine?
2. The fluid spine: a visual experiment
Watch the video clip down below and try to put yourself in the situation.
3. Take action; the snake is in your own back
Try striking a Hare pose (child pose with wide legs and resting on your elbows with a neutral head position.) Breathe deeply into the side ribs and out through the armpits to get a full 360-degree feel of the lungs.
Next, visualise a snake coiling around your spine and opening up to the waves and spirals.
Feel your spine using the same method:
Try hanging upside down in an inversion pose like downward dog, or use a sling or aerial yoga silks if you're comfortable doing so.
In a tabletop position, on your hands and knees
Twist yourself around while lying supine on the floor in whatever fashion makes you most comfortable.
While standing on one leg and propping the other foot up against a wall at pelvic level.
Resting on your forearms and elbows, Dolphin pose requires your hands to be in a straight line. Test the waters and see if this new vantage point improves your situation.
Insert convenient, effortless micro-movements whenever necessary.
Take some time to relax and take stock of your vast, expansive self.
4. Integrate your footwork with your spinal column.
After massaging the front of your ankle for a few minutes, you can try balancing again. Do you feel like you have more footing and stability? The retinaculum is a densely packed cluster of sensory nerve endings that activates proprioception.
Then, just go for a normal walk around your room, but pretend your legs start somewhere else on your body. Here's an example: picture yourself 'dropping legs' from
The auricle and inguinal cartilage
This is the core of your body, the solar plexus.
The middle of the belly
Kinematics of the Hip Joint
Take note of the things that help you feel more in tune with the movement of your spine as a whole.
5. Try out some new images, like the lungs and the spine.
Thanks to Gill Hedley's dissections, we now have unprecedented knowledge of the human body.
Please check in with your emotions before watching these clips featuring cadavers. https://www.gilhedley.com/clips
In this video from a dissection lab, you can see a set of "exquisite lungs breathing" being inflated and deflated just below the fold.
Followed by a reiteration of the steps from the third exercise.
6. A physical activity that focuses on the relationship between breathing and the spine.
Put the soles of your feet on the floor and lie on your back with your knees bent.
Feel the air enter at the base of your spine, and as you inhale, it rises up the front of your body to your head. Take a moment to pause, and then, as you exhale, gently let your breath sink all the way to your tailbone.
You could see a circuit if you switched the direction around. The microcosmic orbit describes this phenomenon.
Keep an eye on how your jaw moves and try different tongue positions (either on the roof of your mouth or with the tip of your tongue resting on your upper palate behind your front teeth).