Photo: Robert Thivierge
The Root of Centering
Centering begins in the belly
BY THE MAGAZINE OF YOGA STAFF
Part 2 The Root of the Rest of You
Part 3 Five Minutes of Focus
You’d be selling yourself short if you think of abdominal work as being about a flat belly.
I’m not going to fault people whose fitness work generates a fine figure, but the over riding importance of strong abdominal muscles is the distribution and guidance of life force seated in the center of the body.
In Taoism and Buddhism this center is called dan tien, and in yoga it’s spoken of as manipura. In contemporary science and medicine it’s called the enteric nervous system, and between ourselves in conversations we call it a gut instinct.
We feel our fear, disgust, intuition, and pleasure in this center, we digest our food there, and from our centers, we bear our children.
The origin of energy
Last month we talked about breathing and about sitting up. These two basic practices are transformative. Both require strong abdominal muscles.
If we take up these two practices each morning and patiently reconnect to our commitment moment by moment all day, mood, self-awareness, physical strength and health all improve.
If we brush aside or give up on our daily posture and breathing, nothing we do in yoga class will be enough to reclaim us. We know this is true, and we see it in the bodies of everyone around us. The time to practice is always this moment, this one.
Life force is neither a metaphor nor a psychological phenomenon. Collapsing in the torso pinches off the center of the body and impedes the flow of life. When you watch Nicole sit up in this video, you can see her wisdom, compassion and energy flow into her face.
The center of the body -
Our bodies move in three planes: sagittal, coronal and transverse, or
- Front to back (sagittal)
- Side to side (coronal)
- Crossing both these planes (transverse)
Movement in these directions begins in the center of the body. Strong abdominal muscles protect and support back muscles, and ward off compression in the spine and low back.
- at the center of practice
Posture practice that balances each of these directions of movement creates a sensation of completeness.
For most of us, once we learn to identify and actively engage abdominal muscles, all the postures we’ve been doing change. We expand gracefully from our center in a supple flow of energy.
In headstand, open the ribs subtly with the intercostal muscles, lengthen the torso through the pelvic floor and upward toward your feet through the muscles of your inner thighs and feel yourself float. Begin your posture with the abdominal muscles and try the same thing in ardha chandrasana.
In warrior postures, the side body is long and lifted out of the hips. When the abdominal muscles are engaged, the back isn’t arched. The sternum is open and energy moves under the arms to the finger tips, all of it from the center of the body and strong abdominal muscles.
Tomorrow, how to strengthen abs in five focused minutes each day.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.