In our last post, we quickly explained what brain processes occur during balance postures. To fitness professionals like us, understanding neuroscience is not only fascinating but also helpful in assisting our clients to overcome challenges with movement including balancing. This information can definitely help boost your yoga practice! But you should also incorporate another bit of information to bring your practice to the next level: Organ Placement.
Organ Placement is not often included in the dialogue about improving performance in yoga postures. Big Mistake! It may not seem obvious at first, but for us (and those of us who are interested in the “fringe” somatics), organ participation is obviously pertinent in every aspect of movement/fitness. We all have moments of getting caught up in the popular definition of balance as involving or connoting symmetry. But this visually oriented concept is more of an imposed aesthetic or cultural ideal.
Let’s make this point very clear and put it into the context of asana. Tree Pose, Vrksasana, is a one-legged balance posture. Usually when we practice this asana, we try to experience this posture in the same way on both sides (we try to “feel” or balance on the left leg in the same way we did on the right). This seems appropriate considering that the skeletal body superficially does appear to be symmetrical. But upon examining the rib cage more closely, we can see how the asymmetrical arrangement of the internal organs affects the skeletal shape. Because of the placement of the liver, the right side of the rib cage may be rounded out more than the left. Don’t believe us? Go to the mirror and check it out. Touch both sides of the rib cage and see how they feel.
Each individual’s experience/performance in Vrksanana, on the left and right side, is affected by the placement of our organs. Your brain integrates information about the movement of the organs and the musculoskeletal system in order to make micro adjustments necessary to help you maintain your balance while standing, walking, lifting weights or twisting yourself into pretzel-like shapes in accordance with every breath you take. You are just not usually consciously aware of your brain/body on this micro level of functioning, which is not necessarily bad. Being conscious of every process in our bodies, big and small, would be time consuming and exhausting. Yet tiny processes, like the one described above, happen all the time.
Every so often you can take time to see if you can deepen your sensory experience by trying to get in touch with a part of body that often goes untapped in a conscious way. Can you feel your lungs move with every breath? Can you feel the movement of your diaphragm press against the liver, stomach, spleen, intestines and so on (maybe not sense the organs individually, but feel the shift of movement inside your abdominal cavity when you breathe)? Can you incorporate their movement as you flow through your next practice? If not, you should try it. Stop ignoring your organs! Making them a conscious part of your yoga practice could add insight and benefit you. With their asymmetrical placement inside your body, they have just as much to do with your sense of balance as anything else you can think of.
Tight shoulders, neck and upper back muscles are a common complaint amongst our clientele. Often the request during a session is to massage the muscles in the hopes of loosening them. This can help alleviate some of the tension in the moment and only temporarily. Whatever deeper issue that underlies the tightness will continue unless changed, like a movement pattern. Often times hours after a massage, the muscles return to the “tight” state unless the underlying issue is addressed. Sometimes the muscles could feel tight in order to protect an unstable joint. Or maybe they are just negotiating gravity from a place of poor posture. This is why the relief is sometimes only temporary. If attempting to address the problem externally then trigger point therapy and fascial release can be more effective than your typical massage.
But an option that is often overlooked for addressing the tight muscles and limited movement of the upper back, neck and shoulders is finding a solution from the inside. Read More
We come across many individuals who do not realize the depth of inter-connectivity between organ systems. They assume that an ailment that affects one system does not affect another. At some point, most of us have experienced some type of digestive problem. Have you ever thought about how the digestive system might be affected by breathing? Can the quality of your breathe determine the quality of your digestion? What is the relationship? One obvious connection is that we need to breathe well to oxygenate the body’s organs properly for optimal health. Isn’t there also a connection as far as movement is concerned? This post will focus specifically on the relationship between the lungs and the digestive organ ( stomach, intestines, liver and pancreas) through the lens of movement.
Optimally, during inhalation, the central tendon of the diaphragm moves downward and the lungs expand. Hopefully, we see the ribs move and the expansion of the lungs and central tendon of the diapragm pushes down and the internal organs are shifted. The belly may even protrude (especially if one is in a position where the transversus abdominus is not contracted). On the exhalation the lungs collapse, the central tendon rises, the ribs fall back into place as do the organs that had shifted in response. I love how Kim describes these organs as “dancing” with every breath. Such a helpful visual! This “dance” helps to further facilitate natural processes like digestion of food by enzymes, peristalsis (the snakelike movement that moves the contents of the gut along), absorption of nutrients into the small intestine, absorption of fluids in the large intestine and elimination of waste.
In fact, this movement of lungs and organs may be the reason that certain yoga poses like forward bends have been prescribed to assist with digestion and elimination. The enteric nervous system, which is one of the three branches of our autonomic nervous system, lines the walls of the digestive system from the esophagus to the anus. When the receptors of this system are stimulated by touch, they cause paristaltic contractions of the gut. Poses, like seated forward bends that can gently compress the digestive organs combined with steady and calm breathing may in fact stimulate the enteric nerves in a positive way. But if one is uncomfortable during such a posture and finds the compression stifling, alarming, or inhibiting to the breath the result can be a negative stimulation that can further impact digestive issues. This is a wonderful example of how the ability to relax, particularly through a breath practice, can allow digestion to be guided by the enteric and parasympathetic nervous systems. The parasympathetic branch is another branch of the autonomic nervous system and is known as the “rest and digest” portion and is associated with being in a more relaxed state as opposed to the sympathetic branch, which is known as the “fight or flight” branch. Existing in this relaxed state is what allows for optimal digestion.
If you are not experiencing all the lovely movement mentioned above there could be several reasons why the organs are not receptive to the expansion of the lungs and push of the central tendon. Tension held in the abdominal muscles, diaphragm and even the intestines themselves will interrupt the receptivity. The entire process is affected and ultimately can negatively impact one’s ability to eliminate.
Conversely, from the bottom up: If you overeat and bloat your belly you won’t leave much room for your diaphragm to function, therefore decreasing the amount of space and movement your lungs have to allow for air. Ever notice that your breathing may be a bit shallow after a large meal? That’s why it’s important to learn the difference between being satisfied and being overly full when eating.
So how do you work on this? A breathing practice and exercise can help. That’s why yoga can be such an effective tool for helping you get in touch with your body and how you breathe. So next time you approach your practice try focusing on pranayama.