16 September, 2012

Questo ritorno non si piega (ancora)

This evening was Power Vinyasa + Restorative yoga (which I am starting to feel less justified about referring to as Yin) with Sue.

We spent the first half of class today, through the lens of a pretty standard Vinyasa series, discovering the location and function of our serratus anterior muscle. It's a group of muscles that are located under your armpit, running from the higher ribs around and under the latissimus dorsi, attaching to the scapula. A decent description of it can be found here. When doing yoga, it can be a critical muscle in supporting the arms and upper body in poses such as the Warriors (including Chair), Crescent Lunge, Downward Dog, Plank, and all sorts of inversions (and probably more). Unfortunately, one little sneaky aspect of this muscle is that, if you don't get all your parts aligned and oriented with proper form, you may not engage it. The result is that other muscles need to pick up the slack, or that other parts of your poses are compromised, or maybe not even possible. Example: if your shoulders are getting tired as hell in Warrior II, it may be because you have not engaged the serratus, resulting in your deltoids needing to do much more work.

So, today, we got into every nuance of how to engage this muscle, how to feel that it is engaged, and how the engagement of it impacts the array of poses. I had a hard time actually feeling that muscle. I am not entirely sure if I have one. When I try to engage it, I think I am getting a lot more lat engagement than serratus. One example of how to engage it is to push your hands away from you and down into the floor in Downward Dog. It helps (in fact, maybe required) that you get the insides of your elbows facing forward to facilitate this. There are a lot of instructions that we hear in yoga class that are given without explaining the underlying importance. One of the things I loved about this teaching technique with Sue is that she got to the anatomy. It was just telling us that the form should be a certain way because some ancient guru said so. It's telling you that the power needs to come from engaging precise muscles, and that there are ways of orienting our bodies to achieve that. This is something we've done with a variety of poses, and when you start to learn these subtleties, it becomes quite evident that yoga is not about achieving a shape through whatever means possible. It's really about a balanced recruitment of all of our muscles, including the smaller, more esoteric ones that you may not have even heard of (like the serratus, or the psoas, both of which are critically involved in commonplace poses like Side Angle.

This was good.

Then we got to the part of the class where we all tried to do handstands or headstands. And, when working through my form, using a wall for support and walking the legs up the wall, we discovered that my upper body does not presently achieve the arch that is required to safely do a headstand or handstand. It requires a certain amount of backward rotation of the shoulders (which it appears I do not possess yet), and a certain amount of arching of the upper back (which is also a limitation for me, as discussed regarding Wheel pose the other day). So, this dissection of the pose helped me realize that part of the reason (besides fear) that these inversions have seemed so daunting is because my body is just not ready to do them.

I need to work on flexibility in hips (known), shoulders (assumed), and upper back (sort of new knowledge). This means spending a lot of time in poses that are uncomfortable at this point, and being patient.

The second half of class was a gentle restorative series, focusing mostly on hips and upper back. We spent 5-10 minutes laying relaxed in a series of 5 or 6 poses. Very peaceful.

This was a huge shift from the morning practice, where I felt so down. I remember once reading in a meditation book that practice won't make us never feel bad, or angry, or sad, but that it helps us to let go of these feelings more quickly, when they do occur.

I think I am getting that. But I see that where I am right now is having progressed from taking days to let go to taking minutes or hours. And I believe that there's the capacity to let go of many things instantaneously if one is diligent about practice.

And that's compelling.

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