There seems to be an epidemic of poor body awareness, rounded shoulders and spinal slumping taking place. A de-evolution in posture which is not only aesthetically unpleasing but can create serious imbalances in the structures of the body, leading to a loss of mobility and function and ultimately creating pain. Hyper-kyphosis of the thoracic spine seems to be an adjunct of modern sedentary living, put simply the body is designed to move.
Is the kyphosis being caused by genetic, physical or emotional factors? The yogic philosophers and sages tell us that the body and mind are inseparable, what happens in the mind will be reflected in the body and what happens in the body will be reflected in the mind. Just observe a person who is upset, they breath shallowly, become very closed in posture by rounding their shoulders and upper back. They become very protective of the heart and the corresponding ‘anahata’ chakra.
The anahata chakra which is part of the subtle body and is associated with unconditional love, compassion, warmth and joy, it’s literally the energy centre of emotions and reflects how you relate to yourself and others. In Sanskrit ‘anahata’ translates as “unhurt, unstuck and unbeaten”.
A temporary emotional upset isn’t going to close you physically or emotionally but consecutive and prolonged “hurts” will. Conditions such as depression and anxiety will cause both physical and emotional blockages which can manifest physically as closed posture (slumped upper back, forward head position and rounded upper back) as the person attempts to protect their heart. Emotional feelings such as fear of rejection, feeling unworthy of love, paranoia, loving indiscriminately and an inability to support anyone else at an emotional or deep level, basically they become emotionally dysfunctional.
Yoga can help. A properly structured asana practice which emphasises back bending, chest broadening and heart chakra opening poses can help realign posture by addressing the short tight and subsequent long week muscles associated with kyphosis. Certain breathing techniques (pranayama) will help with lung and heart function, developing both physical and subtle energy. Meditation techniques, chanting and relaxation practices combined with visualisation can help open the heart chakra and relax the mind.
If you have a restriction in your physical body, you’ve been practising a certain pose for a long time and it’s just not working, you don’t seem to be improving or you’re not feeling any benefit. It may not necessarily be a physical restriction that you have, it may be an emotional or subtle energy blockage that you’re experiencing.
Remember the body and mind are one.
Kim and Brodie opening the front of the body and opening the heart under the anahata symbol.
Yoga asana (movement) is much more than exercise. If practiced correctly it’s a moving meditation or a relaxation in action. Mindful, intelligent and structured movement is what separates asana from an exercise routine.
An understanding of the 5th limb of yoga “pratyahara” meaning ‘withdrawal of the senses’ is crucial in developing a yoga practice. Pratyahara forms a link between external and internal focus which moves the practitioner to higher states of concentration and meditation.
A technique used to develop focus and concentration is drishti or gaze point (conscious seeing), the drishti established reflects the alignment of the pose, there’s 9 drishti’s relating to various parts of the body, candles and mandala’s can also be used. If your eyes are darting around the room while your practicing your scattering your energy. Establishing drishti allows your mind to focus on a single point without distraction from other external stimulus. Where ever you focus your gaze (drishti) your energy (concentration) will naturally be directed to that place.
I’ve had a few interesting drishti fails in my classes. One person established a drishti on a billboard advertising pizza outside the studio, I realized her mind had definitely drifted from practice when she sat on her mat and ordered a pizza mid class. Another person thought that I was jealous of her because she felt her asana practice was superior to mine. It may well have been true but making that comment is ego driven and indicates a lack of understanding of the body-mind connection.
As you move through the various poses the bio-feedback from your body allows you to discover your inner world. Your trying to make your body comfortable in what you might be finding to be an uncomfortable position. Your assessing whether you can take yourself deeper or do you need to practice a modified version of the pose, do you need to come out of the pose completely, what sensations are you experiencing, where can you strengthen or relax your body, where can you direct your breath, have you established a gaze point.
The aim of asana practice is the body-mind connection, being present, being now! You can’t change the past it’s happened, you can’t live in the future, it hasn’t happened. What you have is the present moment. Yoga offers all the tools to live in the “now” particularly if you take your moving practices beyond the physical
Yoga the Body – Mind Connection
The body and mind are inseparable! Whatever happens to your body will be reflected in your mind, whatever happens in your mind will be reflected in your body.
If you suffer from an emotional or stressful blow it will have a subsequent effect on your body, it will show up as tightness, tension, imbalance or a blockage of subtle energy (prana).
If you injure yourself physically it will have a subsequent effect on your mind, sometimes the mental effect of a physical injury is far worse than the injury itself.
The very essence of Yoga practice is to bring the body and mind together as one entity that is focused on and tuned into the elusive present moment.
The conscious and mindful physical movements of Yoga asana (exercise) keep your body healthy creating a dynamic vehicle for you to live your life. Techniques such as meditation, relaxation and breath work (innercise) have been developed to control the incessant stream of self-chatter of the mind, allowing you to find inner peace.
Yoga embraces a wide number of practices that create wellness of both body and mind, to simplify exercise for a healthy body – innercise for a healthy mind, connected through the breath.
To quote James Joyce in his novel the Dubliners “Mr Duffy lived a short distance from his body”, for all round wellness make the body-mind connection.