In yoga the progression and experience of a pose can be defined by its expression of Rasa, or the energy of human emotion. Rasa as sanskrit word translates as 'essence', and although 9 basic essences or emotions are presented, three are considered fundamental: Vira, Sringara and Shanti.
Vira signifies strength and potency, the fiery energy required to build strength and flexibility and refine alignment. It is vira that controls the breath, the mind and the body. Shanti describes a serene state of equilibrium or peace, perhaps akin to the 'steady seat' of Patanjali's sutra that is engaged with meditative movement and breath and sringara is the sense of unity that can be realised through the practice of yoga. The remaining 6 are:
- Hasya, humor or joy.
- Adbhuta, inquisitiveness and wonder.
- Raudra, stress and anger.
- Karuna, sorrow and empathy.
- Bhayanaka, apprehension or anxiety.
- Vibhatsa, self-pity and disgust.
We could liken the state of Shanti, to the action of correctly drawing into the core. As with the neutrality, and central openness of the shoulder wrapping, when we experience Shanti we are the at the point where the tensional demands of the posture are balanced, or dissolved such that it is simply blissful for us to rest in that pose, to operate from our core and to connect to our inner expansiveness. When we feel this good, and our bodies are literally resonating the vibrancy of that core connection, it gradually begins to spread beyond our physical borders to include others and help align them along that same axis. We experience sringara, unified internally and externally.
As we learn to utilise the energy of our rasa's appropriately we understand how our emotions can, when left unattended, become a force that can tear us open or seal us shut. Yet with the careful and constant commitment of our practice, tapas, and the energy of vira rasa we learn to direct the energies from our core as a reflection of the full spectrum of nature. Each with its proper place. Vira rasa here is inseparable from its root meaning "hero" as we use our practice to realise ourselves.
So, in part 1, we wrapped the shoulder, and described its essence as the balance of tension around a proper alignment that allows the inner spaciousness of the shoulder joint to be felt... how does that expand to encompass the rest of the body?
When we look at the upper spiral of Tom Myer's Myofascial Spiral Line, we can see the direct relationship between the shoulder and stabilisation of the core. As we allow the activation of the rhomboids and serratus to travel through its interdigitations with the external obliques to mesh with the linea alba of the transverse abdominus and contralateral internal obliques. When we consider how the spiral lines work in synergy with the deep core line, and the overlaps with primary, and accessory muscles of respiration we begin to understand just how intrinsically tied to our breath this process is.
In part one, we suggested using the mechanism of breathing to help facilitate the sensation of supporting the shoulder in its wrapped position as we engage the pectorals and the rhomboids. Levin (1997) proposed that within the a model of bio-tensegrity that we should consider the scapula as a sesamoid bone, in sofar as that it functions not as a fulcrum, but as a hub, resting in a tension of muscle and fascia and transferring its load to the axial skeleton through the balance of tension and compression forces. This means that the positional state of the scapula is therefore a representation of the overall tension of the shoulder girdle, and although we mentioned three key players in the action of wrapping the shoulder there are in fact another 14 (17 total) muscles that attach to, and therefore affect and are affected by the position of the scapula. Whether we look at individual projections, or fascial meridians, we have ample of opportunity for tension to be diverted, rather than addressed when we change the position of the scapula.
To recap then. Yoga, is the art of working on the total tension of the body in that moment. When we draw into the core we unite the body along its most optimal alignment, and also, its most potentially expansive arrangement. But, our innate response when our overall tensional state is exceeded it to discharge along the lines of least resistance, this will be experienced as a breakage, or an inability to re-engage a part of this core triad.
Two more movements to add then to our sequence of drawing in the core that ensure 'wrapping the shoulder' has successfully drawn our arms into our core as opposed to shifting the tension elsewhere. These two will also operate around the breath as we use it both as an indicator of working with our body, and a physical cue for correct directional engagement of our myofascial system. They operate as individuals, but operate most effectively when applied simultaneously. Both operate with the caveat as wrapping the shoulder; that the movement will become increasingly subtle as simultaneously our tensional state is reduced and our skillfulness of movement and sensation increase.
1) Drawing the lower ribs, down and funneling in to the pelvis.
This will facilitate engagement of the deep core, whilst creating a sense of broadening and space in the back of the ribcage and across the collar bones simultaneously as the spine lengthens whilst remaining neutral. We are equally balancing the action through the myofascial spiral lines (more on this in part 3) as we feel the lower right ribs to be drawn slightly towards the left hip bone and vice versa.
2) Drawing the chin slightly in and back.
Primarily we are engaging a soft cervical flexion such that the space around the atlas opens and the crown of the skull lengthens up. Leaving the neck and back of the skull feeling spacious. This movement further completes the action of engaging the tri bandha (more on this in part 3) bringing the deep core line into balance.
Well... lets put it together;
1) Stretch your arms straight out in front of your shoulders then raise them up to around a 45 degree angle with your palms facing in towards each other. Take a feeling breath up into your chest, shoulders and upper back and reach through your fingertips. As you exhale, imagine that your arms are being sucked back into the socket. Feel a strong engagement that also encourages the upper arms to externally rotate, turning the little fingers in and the palms ever so slightly up.
2) Inhale again, right up into the chest and shoulders whilst keeping the subscapularis engaged. Exhale reach out through the arm bones whilst drawing back. Feel the shoulder blade move around the ribcage and the armpit hollow.
3) Inhale. Notice the sensation of the chest and upper back engaging. Feel how the pectorals and the rhomboids facilitate creating a greater capacity for your breath. This time as you exhale, feel for engaging the wrap of the shoulder (subscap. moves down, serratus move around and forwards) whilst gently engaging the pectorals and the rhomboids to support the shoulder.
4) Inhale fully. Exhale lightly draw the chin in and back, feel the back of the head lengthen up, the crown lengthen and the space at the top of the neck open. Feel the collar bones broaded.
5) Inhale one more time, right up into your broad collarbones and all the way up to your crown. Exhale. Draw the lower ribs inwards and gently downwards whilst resisting the urge for the arms to lower... feel the upper back open, and the spine lengthen. Feel the muscles of the abdomen engage and join right in with the activation from the base the neck, down through the shoulders and into the pelvis.
Got it? Have a little practice! Then keep your eyes peeled for part 3... as we complete the action of drawing into the core and demonstrate its universality.