I had another weekend of teacher training at the start of the new year, and on top of all of the challenging and inspiring information that I received, something from our anatomy module is what stood out to me, far and beyond the rest. It was on Saturday afternoon, toward the end of our eight-hour day, and a difficult time to sit and talk about the intricacies of the human body. However, one of the first pieces of information that my teacher, Christina Sell, shared with us stayed with me. She said that during fetal development in utero, the spinal cord is the first thing to form: a sheet of cells on the back of the embryo folds in the middle to form a tube, which becomes the baby’s spinal cord.
This was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. If you’ve been in a few public yoga classes, you may have heard the energetic cue to “hug toward the midline.” Coined by John Friend, founder of Anusara Yoga (and now Sridaiva Yoga), and meant to cultivate muscular energy by accessing the strength of your core energy to support a pose from within, rather than simply replying on the outermost muscles to hold the pose.
I like to explain it to my classes like this: imagine there is an energetic line drawn from the crown of your head all the way down between your heels, as if the spinal cord were extended from head to floor. This energetic cue is meant to tone the inner muscles to support the more delicate and often over-stretched parts of the anatomy, like the hips, hamstrings and back. The midline acts as our backbone, then, creating a steady and firm foundation on which to build each asana, or posture.
There are various ways to draw toward the midline in our physical bodies during asana practice. Take a standing pose like Tadasana (Mountain Pose), for instance. Standing at the top of your mat, spread your toes wide and then plant them firmly to your mat. Hug shins and thighs in toward your midline, hug heels energetically toward hips, and squeeze your knees (lifting your knees by engaging your quadricep muscles). Your belly button hugs toward your spine, engaging your low belly (or uddiyana bandha). Slide your shoulder blades together on to your back, and then from there you can confidently shine energy out of your heart, the crown of your head, and all 10 of your fingertips.
However, practicing asana is just the tip of the yoga iceberg. Once we begin to open up the energetic blockages in our physical body, we enter a state of receptivity from which we can begin to learn and grow.
Just like the energetic midline holds space for our muscular energy to support the more fragile parts of our physical bodies, drawing closer to our center in difficult times help us to support ourselves and make us stronger from the inside, out.
One way that I practice drawing to the midline, not physically, but intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, is by journaling. When you begin to open up your body through the practice of asana, the energy begins to flow, and you open yourself up to the emotions and experiences that can come pouring out of your body, right out in to the open. If you’re not prepared to deal with whatever comes up during your practice, it can get messy. Journaling allows a way to take all of that energy, all of those thoughts and feelings, and have a place to put them.
Think of it this way – if you have kind of a small house like I do, space can get cluttered pretty easily. If you come home from work every day, throw your pair of shoes off to the side, throw your jacket and your bag on the floor, and then you continue to repeat this process with different items each day for a couple of days, your space is going to get cluttered – quickly! If there isn’t a specific place for your belongings to be placed every day when you get home from work, then you have no way to effectively deal with them, and then what happens? The mess comes crashing down around you. Sound familiar?
If we continue our asana practice, releasing all of our past hurts, current regrets and disappointments, but don’t create any way to deal with what comes up for us from inside, we’re creating an impending implosion of epic proportions. Write in a journal after class, meditate, or talk to someone you love and can trust. Hug back to your center. Find out what’s important to you, and then stick with it! Hold firm. Be strong. The entire light of the universe shines from within you.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from DCOY contributor Sean Devenport. She is currently completing her 500-hour RYT.
A quiet and curious observer by nature, Sean was drawn to human psychology as an undergraduate at Ripon College. Determined to learn just what it is that makes people “tick”, she travelled the globe studying some of the ways we, as humans, can be – spending a semester on the golden beaches of Australia, and another in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Sean returned home to discover the key ingredient to understanding others was first to understand the Self. Since 2009, Sean has been a dedicated practitioner of yoga and life, dabbling in every style from Bikram to Kripalu. As a former dancer and dance enthusiast to this day, the fluidity and dance-like quality of Vinyasa was what really spoke to her soul. After studying under Gioconda Parker in 2011, Sean began teaching her own personal style of Hatha Flow, a melding of Vinyasa, the dedication to precision and alignment of Anusara, and Iyengar, and the core teachings of Hatha Yoga. Sean was highly influenced by William J Broad’s 2011 best seller The Science of Yoga, and strives to offer a safe and judgement-free environment for practitioners of every level to seek higher understanding of themSelves. Sean encourages students to pour the compassion and love that they cultivate for themselves on their mats, in to their every day interactions with others. Under the guidance of Gioconda and Christina Sell, Sean is currently pursuing her 500-hour teaching certification, The Alchemy of Flow and Form, at the San Marcos School of Yoga. Connect with Sean on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Photo credit: lululemon on Instagram