In this article I would like to show how the body functions. Many people do a lot of positions, and often they damage the body in the process. If you understand, however, how the body functions, you can do all the positions without damaging the body. It is an education to understand as clearly as possible how to do the positions.
When we work using the muscles, putting too much tension in them, we strain the joints, the body. Tense muscles “break” the joints. So we have to learn to relax the muscles, we have to learn to release the muscles and to go deep inside the body, into the joints, not to remain in the muscular periphery of the body.
For instance, when you stand in Tadasana with the lumbar spine (the lower ribs and the upper abdomen) pushed forward, you “break” the trunk in the middle, and so you have to use a lot of muscular tension to stay upright.
The trunk consists of two main parts, the lower part and the upper part.
In the lower part of the trunk we produce the energy (from the food we eat) which keeps the body going. The pelvis has to uphold all the weight of the trunk, and therefore the bone structure here is rather heavy, and the spinal vertebrae (the sacral and coccygeal vertebrae) are fused together to lend more strength to them.
The rib cage, on the other hand, is a light structure, containing the lungs (air) and heart. Technically speaking, the weight of the body should rest on and be upheld by the pelvis (the heavy structure), but many people hold the weight of the body higher up, in the ribcage and shoulders, and so they create a lot of tension in those areas. Thus they have to learn to lower the centre of gravity, to uphold the weight of the body in the pelvis.
As the spinal vertebrae of the sacrum and coccyx are fused together, many people think that they form part of the pelvic (iliac) structure, and so they bend forward and backward from the joints in the lumbar spine, completely ignoring the sacro-iliac joints where the spinal column (the sacrum) connects with the pelvis. This puts a great strain on the lumbar vertebrae, especially on the joint between the fifth lumbar vertebra and the sacrum, the so-called lumbo-sacral joint.
So we should always remember that the spinal column ends in the tip of the coccyx, and not in the fifth lumbar vertebrae. We have to learn to do the positions using all of the body and the spinal column, not forgetting any part of it.
LIE DOWN IN SAVASANA
When the helper pushes the lower ribs down on the earth, the shoulders lift up. When he pushes the shoulders down on the earth, the lower ribs lift up. This is a seesaw action around the shoulder joints.
So to open the rib cage harmoniously the helper has to push both the lower ribs and the shoulders down on the earth, only then will the sternum lift, the upper part of the chest will open, and the thoracic spine will move into the body by elongating.
Do not shorten the neck at the back by lifting the chin up to the ceiling, but elongate the back of the neck so that the forehead and chin are parallel to the ground. This is very important, especially in poses like Head balance. You have to make sure that the forehead and the chin are on the same level, parallel to the ground. If the chin is too much in, the neck is overstretched. That is also wrong.
The ribs and shoulders should widen, so that the sternum lifts up.
The body is very tricky, you have to awaken the intelligence of the body. We have many habits, and one is that we use the body mainly on the front, we are not conscious on the back of the body. If I say “Elongate the neck”, you pull the chin in. We think of the front of the body, not on the back.
Lie on your back.
Let the back of the neck lengthen, so that the chin comes down. Do not keep the legs too far spread apart, as that caves the lumbar too much in. Keep the heels together, and then let the feet drop sideways.
The pelvis should rotate slightly backwards, so that the lumbar spine is elongated and the coccyx moves down towards the heels. Then concentrate your attention on sinking the complete weight of your body to the ground, do not withhold any of this weight.
When we stand, sit or walk there is always the risk of falling, so the muscles are always in a state of alertness in order to prevent this. In Savasana this risk is absent, the body has already completely fallen, there is no way it can fall further. Thus the muscles have no reason to grip or hold on to the bones. You have to gently convince the muscles to let go of their grip on the bones, and to relinquish the entire weight of the body to the gravity of the earth.
To do this the brain has to be very alert, it should not go to sleep. The brain should be the protector of the body, helping the body to release its weight to the ground. For most of us the brain is the attacker of the body, and this attacking manifests itself in physical tensions, the tensions of the muscles gripping the bones.
In yoga the brain should become the protector of the body, it should neither attack nor indulge the body, but it should help the body to regain its own inner level of peace.
So if you go to sleep in Savasana, it means the brain is not interested in doing this, but is only interested in indulging in its own tamasik (dull) state of being. The brain should not be tamasik, and should not indulge itself, but it should be crystal clear, piercing the body with clarity and attention, helping it to release the parts where it has stored its anxieties. The brain should help the body to release those tensions, those anxieties, to undo them.
Watch inside, watch the upper chest between the shoulders, from one end to the other. Tension is always from the periphery of the body towards the centre. Watch how tension pulls the shoulders nearer to the sternum, reducing the width across the upper chest. This is the psychological defence mechanism of the body.
See if gently, internally, you can convince the muscles of the upper chest to let go of the shoulders, to undo that tension that pulls them in towards the sternum. If you do that, you feel how the shoulders automatically, by themselves, move away from the sternum, away from the thoracic spine, sideways, thus widening the upper chest across the front and the back.
You can do the same thing in the solar plexus. Most people have a certain tension underneath the lower ribs, a tightness in the solar plexus, a squeezing inwards from the periphery towards the centre. So here also, watch that unnecessary tension, and gently, internally, see if you can release that grip from the periphery to the centre. Again you can feel how the solar plexus widens as it releases.
In the same way watch the skin, everywhere in the body. See how the skin is hard, see how it forms a hard barrier between you and the external space around the body. There is a barrier between the inner body and the external space, and that barrier is the skin.
The relaxation of the body is when you manage to separate the muscle, the bone and the skin. Release the skin from the body, mentally take the skin away between you and the external space. If you can do that you will feel how the body kind of swells up.
That swelling is the relaxation of the muscles which let go of their grip on the bones and flow out through the skin into the space around the body. It is like a sponge. If you squeeze the sponge, it becomes smaller, harder, but when you let go of it, it swells up to its natural size.
The same thing with the body. If you take the skin away, the muscles swell up like the sponge.
Tension is from the periphery to the centre, relaxation is from the centre to the periphery, from the bones towards the skin. By separating the bones, the flesh and the skin one from the other tension is released.
In sitting the same process has to take place, but the skeleton should remain firm. In Savasana everything should fall apart, the bones, the muscles, the skin, but not the brain, the brain has to be very clear, not sleeping. If the brain sleeps, there is no intelligence in the body to undo its tensions.
The brain should be firm and non oscillating, penetrating all the parts of the body.
At the end of Savasana turn over onto the right side and open the eyes.