Last week’s blogpost explored the idea that we can very quickly position vertical postures such as warrior II or tadasana by balancing the weight of the head, torso and pelvis like three teeter totters on the central axis. Once the three blocks have been balanced in this way, the next step is to stabilize their overall positioning by allowing your body’s weight to channel into the spine while increasing muscular resistance in the front body.
We refer to this conscious redistribution of body weight and muscular tension as “flowing up the front and down the back”. In my experience, this motion is very similar to the action of a bicycle chain – when we flow up the front and down the back we consciously draw muscular energy up the front of the body by drawing the abdominal muscles gently inward toward the spine and upward toward the throat. We then imagine that the same current of energy could lengthen the body axially upward by traveling under the ribcage and upward toward the top of the spine. Once this has been accomplished, the energy then crosses over the top of the spine and flows down the spinal column toward the tailbone itself. From there the energy travels under the pelvis and up the front of the body to begin the process again.
When done with awareness, this act of flowing up the front and down the back without displacing the balanced position of the ribcage keeps everything in balance and results in general equilibrium in the skeletal structure as a whole. This in turn will release a large amount of tension from your back muscles and make neutral alignment in your vertical poses much easier to accomplish.
Is it o.k. to channel weight into the spine?
Yes! According to Andre Bernard, the human spinal column is clearly designed to support body weight as a compressive member due to its wide base of support, overall length, shock absorbing disks and its flowing distribution of curves over a relatively long distance. Since the spinal column serves so well as a compressive member, adding muscular tension by shifting the pelvis out of neutral position and pulling “up” on the lower back muscles simply serves to unseat the load from the spine and creates unnecessary muscular tension in the process.
Allowing the spinal column to channel the weight of your upper body to the pelvis will help you lengthen your tail-bone downward while releasing tension from the back by bringing your pelvis to a more neutral position.
Why do I need to add tension to the front of my body in a vertical pose?
Any object in the gravitational field can be supported by a compression member, a tension member or by bracing. Since the sternum is not attached to the pelvis by any type of bony connection, (if it were, you’d look like a turtle!) and we cannot support the front of the body by bracing, the only other choice for support lies in muscular tension. Increasing muscular tension in the abdominal muscles of the front body while allowing the compressive forces in the back of the body to channel through the spine will help hold the weight of the pelvis and ribs closer to center, lengthen the spine and relax the muscles of the back.
How do I flow up the front and down the back?
- Come to tadasana. Think inward to your central axis, and level the weight of the skull, rib-cage and pelvis like three teeter-totters.
- Place your hand at the top of the sternum between your collarbones, and one hand at your lower back on the sacrum. Allow your belly muscles to rise gently up and in and imagine the current of energy created by the lift flowing upward toward your hand without lifting the front edge of your ribcage.
- Use the tension generated by the lifting of the belly muscles to hold the pelvis in neutral position. Actively imagine that this current could continue flowing upward and under the sternum, broadening and opening the chest muscles without lifting the ribs. Finally, feel the current extending up the front of the neck, drawing the hyoid bone upward and inward into the body which in turn will help balance the skull upon the spine.
- Next, imagine that your body weight could flow into the spinal column just like water running down a drain-pipe. As the current begins to flow down the spinal column, feel the tension melting from your back muscles as the spine begins to channel the weight of the head, torso and pelvis downward into the legs.
Once you have identified what the basic flow feels like, practice coordinating it to your breath by flowing up the front with your inhales, and down the back on your exhales in poses like warrior II and the tree pose. Doing this will help direct your focus to the tensile and compressive axes, and help you to balance your body’s weight close to center through the course of your practice.