Fish live in streams
Birds nest in trees
Human beings dwell
In warm hearts
Japanese Folk Saying from ‘A Zen Harvest’ by by Soiku Shigematsu (repeated in ‘Living Your Yoga’ by my teacher Judith Hanson Lasater)
Dwelling in a warm heart, we soften and we open. Perhaps we, quite literally, have more space to breathe.
Try it right now!
Can you imagine your lungs like a fabulous mansion, with a deep basement, an East Wing and a West Wing, a beautiful front balcony, an attic, and oodles of space out the back?
Can you think of your ribs, not so much as a rigid cage but more like a strong wicker basket, with a bit of give in it?
Can you cultivate softness in the space behind your breastbone, the centre of your chest? Call to mind something which “melts your heart” – ahhhhhhh – and breathe deeply into that soft, warm heart?
Perhaps we also have more space now inside us for kindness and for patience.
It must be the yoga.
Yesterday my 11 year old son and I did a short practice together. We lay down on the kitchen floor and both did a supported variation of the bridge pose which my regular students will know as “two blanket backbend”. Rowan responded immediately by closing his eyes and breathing more deeply – it was like watching ice cream melt – gently softening. We stayed for about five minutes.
Later in the afternoon he offered to help me with some heavy bags of vegetables I was carrying into the house. I’d love to say this was a usual occurrence but I have to say I expressed genuine surprise at his chivalry and courteousness.
“I think it must be the yoga.” he explained, deadly serious.
I think he might be right!
Taller in the Morning
Last week in Blast Off I wrote about astronauts ‘growing’ while they are in space. This is due to their spines being free from the pressures of gravity. The spinal vertebrae are able to move away from each other and create an overall length of up to 3% of the astronauts height (that’s 2 inches or 5cm for a person who is 6ft tall). You can read more about it here – https://www.space.com/19116-astronauts-taller-space-spines.html.
Fortunately there are more earthly ways for us to release our spines from the downward pull of gravity. Simply lying down (face up, face down or on your side) will already give your spine a massive break, allow the vertebrae to separate lightly and the shock-absorbing cushions in between (aka intervertebral discs) to be plumped. In fact, research has shown that each and every day we are up to 1cm taller in the morning than the evening as a result of simply lying down to sleep. Here is a cool video explaining why.
Taking things further, and actually reversing the spine’s relationship to gravity (ie going up-side down) can have an even stronger, quicker or more potent effect. As well as the release of pressure between the spinal vertebrae, inversions which get the head lower than the heart are known to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – causing us to breathe slower and feel calmer. (I saw this happen to my son in the story above, even with a relatively small inversion like bridge pose). I like to think of all the ‘heavy’ stuff in my brain, just sliding out of the top of my head…
The effects of inversion are so strong it is important to weigh up the benefits over the costs, and pregnant women, those who have head and neck issues, high blood pressure or glaucoma should all choose their inversions very carefully or avoid altogether.
A common inverted pose is downward-facing dog. I dug out some more photos from the family archive (2014) to remember the time I found the perfect place for a fully supported variation, and have a laugh at my baby girl apparently advising on my handstand!
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