Friday, July 27, 2012

This Week: Jim Oschman Introduces Somatic Learning

Jim Oschman,

Dear Friends,

Since I was first introduced to Jim Oschman's work over thirty years ago, he has been an inspiration and one of the few sources of scientific research and theory that went beyond the determinism, materialism, and reductionism of general science at that time.

He is such a pioneer in his field of understanding the bodymind and its intelligence, its capacity for healing and renewal that I recommend to everyone that you read his books and explore the research he's done at depth.

It has been a great privilege to have had the honor to teach with him, and I am so grateful both for the beautiful foreword he recently gave me for my book Awakening Somatic Intelligence as well as this excerpt of an introduction he did for one of our Somatic Learning video series.

Click the links below to easily order Jim's books, and don't forget to pick up your copy of Awakening Somatic Intelligence.

- Risa

**Click here to order your Somatic Meditations DVDs**

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quick Spinal Release from Supine

This week's post is an excerpt from the book Awakening Somatic Intelligence, and its companion video.

Gravity Referencing Scan
Lie with your back flat on your bed. If this feels uncomfortable, raise your knees. But if you can lie flat for a minute, do so. Take a moment to sense what you notice in this position. Where do you not make contact with the ground? What would the imprint look like if you had ink on you? Notice any differences between your right and left sides.

Now shift to a more three-dimensional perception and see if you can feel the shapes; for instance, where you don’t touch the bed or mat. How high do the bridges span over the surface? Could an ant crawl through? A mouse? Or a kitten? How big are those spaces underneath the neck, the lower back, underneath the shoulders, underneath the thighs, and the wrists?

Now sense your weight distribution. Does your weight fall to the bed in clumps? If you were to drop a sack of potatoes on the bed, certain potatoes would be held up by the others, and some would be held directly by the mattress. Do you feel clumpy? Or to what extent is the weight distributed throughout your system fluidly? There may be some places where it is fluidly flowing and others where it is simply sitting there on the bed. Sense where you are held by the tightness of your musculature.

Take a moment to notice your breathing, just to sense what moves when you breathe without trying to do anything. Maybe you feel it in your belly, or your chest. You might try to sense, Where does the movement end? Which ribs move and which do not?
Do you feel it in the lower back, or the arms or neck, or is it contained within the chest and belly? Sense what moves.

Then notice how you are attending to your experience. Are you scanning it from the outside with your mind’s eye—using your visual-perceptual mode? Or can you sense this proprioceptively—meaning through the tissues themselves? And can you sense through the whole structure without focusing on any part, while paying particular attention to specific movements or parts of your structure within the context of the whole? This will reveal whether you have employed your visual perception where it does not serve you best. Using visual perception, you have to track—as though you were moving a scope around you. If you are using your proprioceptive mode of intelligence, you can sense everywhere at once. Because you sense from the tissues themselves, there is no observer, and no object being observed. Notice how you are now sensing this. Do not be concerned if you do not sense everything mentioned here, or if it feels differently inside of you. Listen to what opens now and reveals itself to you. With continual practice your sensing can open infinitely.

Note: While practicing the ground reference scan, refrain from making any mechanical adjustments to your structure unless you are uncomfortable. Otherwise, it will prove more valuable to discover ways of self-organizing from the inside-out during the practice. You need to close the door to mechanical interventions (self-management) to discover a non-mechanical mode of self-renewal. For instance: do not adjust yourself when you notice any bilateral asymmetries. Simply notice them as references to gauge change against later.

Quick Spinal Release:

Set Up:
Lie supine on a firm mattress (you can also do them on carpet, or a mat. If you are using a yoga mat, position the bottom of your torso two feet from the bottom of the mat, legs on the floor.) Position yourself on ground where outstretched arms can comfortably, with a gentle grip, above your head, hold onto a post or legs of a piece of furniture that will not move; or if in bed- use your bed board (often, even if your bed board is solid, you can squeeze your fingertips beneath the frame just below the top of your mattress line). If there are corner posts on your bed, you can lie on a diagonal. Lastly, in the worst case, if you have no bed board at all, you can use the upper edge of your mattress to grip with your fingertips with your arms still resting on the mattress. However, if you do not have firm support from your mattress, we do not recommend that you do this in bed.

Do Not Strain: If it is uncomfortable to rest the arms on the ground (meaning mat or bed) or if they cannot touch the ground—place a pillow under your elbows to provide support. It is important not to leave the arm hanging unsupported or feeling strained.            

Practicing: The Quick Spinal Release

When you bend your knees so that the feet are standing, the lower back rests on the mattress or floor. This practice supports you in releasing your spine so that even with the legs extended, the lower back rests on the ground.

From the ground reference scan, bend and lift one knee, as if it was a marionette hanging off a string, passively, placing your foot with your lower leg as close to perpendicular to the ground as comfortable, aligned with your hip. As you slowly pour the weight of your leg through your foot into the ground, especially through the heel, feel the support ripple up through your spine, all the way out your crown.

Resting your lower back into the ground begin your exhalation from the floor of your pelvis, using the snake breathing, (making the “hissing sound.”like a snake, placing the tip of your tongue on the upper palate while exhaling, especially in the beginning of your practice.) Often people will hold their breath and use it as leverage to push from, without realizing it. When your exhalation is accompanied by a sound, you will notice when the sounds stops. The snake breathing also helps you bring the breath back along the spine. (For more info see Snake Breathing in chapter 6.)

Do not try to push the surface of your back into the ground, but rather deepen the pool of your lower back by becoming more fluid. Enjoy a few elongations in place, gravity surfing on the waves of your breath. As the pelvic floor diaphragm lifts, anchor the sacrum extending the base of the spine toward the feet and the center of the earth. Invite the wave through and beyond your physical structure. As the diaphragms move, space opens and the sacrum anchors naturally. (Review the instructions for gravity surfing in chapter 6 as necessary.)

When you feel ready to move, slowly extend both legs on your exhalation, (heels first, flexing the feet, so the toes point towards the ceiling), while gently drawing the support of your head board or post through your hands and spine. Pour the liquid crystal matrix of your bones down into the ground like salt crystals through an hourglass especially at your elbows, even as you use the resistance of what your holding in your hands, to draw support though your arms and spine. You are extending your spine on the exhalation, anchoring the sacrum towards the ground and through your feet- as one continuous motion. The legs should not feel like appendages attached at the hip but as fluid extensions of the wave traveling omni-directionally: down from the waist and up through the rest of the spine, head and arms. Maintain the connection and flow all the way through, so there is no break. The extension of your spine continues to flow through the extension of your legs.

At the end of the exhalation, as you slowly release the diaphragms, gradually relax all the tension, receiving the support from the ground as it rises up through your bones. Imagine your bones were logs lying in a dry streambed, in which rising water causes them to float. Do not begin the next elongation until you relax the entire surface tension, so that you begin each new elongation fresh, holding onto nothing. In this way, surfing the waves of your breath, gravity can deliver you from density and habitual tensions.

Repeat the quick spinal release a couple of times until you feel the space between each of your vertebrae and joints open. As your tension melts sense your fluid presence like a clear lake, feel the thirsty earth drink you in on each inhalation. As you interpenetrate with the earth, you will come into a much more pervasive extension of presence, that is both relaxed and alert. This alertness does not arise from stimulation and can be as easily taken into a deep restful sleep or into a wakeful attention, according to your needs at the moment.

Bring your arms down to your sides one at a time. While keeping your shoulders down, slide one arm along the mat or mattress till it extends out from the spine at a 90-degree angle (we call this “arms on the horizon”). Moving the arm from the horizon the remainder of the way to your sides represents a new challenge. Keeping the space under your armpits from collapsing necessitates shape shifting through your arm. As if you were gliding your hand down through water, use the resistance of “the fullness of empty space.”to invite space into the structure of your arm. In this way, the energy releasing from your spine on the exhalation, will flow through the open channel of your arm. As the breath flows in, the arms will float gently on the waves of your breath. Then repeat this process to bring your other arm to rest at your side.

When we use resistance to more fully experience the wave of elongation, it feels like what I see when a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis. The way the butterfly presses against the walls to unfold the wings, drawing blood through them. I have been told, that if someone tries to help a butterfly out of the chrysalis, it will never be able to fly and so die. It is in the act of breaking out of the chrysalis that they extend into themselves, and emerge fully into their new life.

I have seen the quick spinal release used very effectively during a human birth. I held the hands of one of my students in this position while she gave birth, and she used the flowing support I offered her to extend her elongation, getting even more out of the way …  so that the baby seemed to emerged without strain.

Pour your bones further into the ground as the soft tissue disorganizes into a more fluid matrix. You may notice as the relaxation deepens with each subsequent breath, how quiet the mind is: relaxed, alert, and extensional. As you rest, repeat a ground reference scan to notice what is changed since you began.

Getting up from a practice without resting at least enough for the system to settle into a new order, meaning that the structure has self-organized to functionally integrate the new space you’ve invented and discovered, is a little like preparing the soil, planting the seeds and leaving before harvest. You lose what you gained too quickly, rather than coming into a new integration.

This is why it is so helpful and efficient to do before sleep as you will be naturally resting for the remainder of the night. However, even in the morning, you can use the time before rising from bed to extend your presence, to receive the infinite as beloved, drinking in and kissing back—so that when you do rise to start your day, you do so with your energy in alignment with your deepest longing …  to live in love, fully awakened in creative, compassionate and empowered participation with all that is.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

This week: Demian Mckinley, Structural BodyWorker

This week we interview Demian Mckinley, a teacher of yoga, somatics, and structural bodywork therapies in Hawaii:

"Though Dr. Kaparo’s work is still new to me, I almost immediately recognized her work as a missing link between the physical and spiritual.  She has been the only one who has guided me into an understanding of how these two aspects, physical and spiritual, interpenetrate and are one and the same. She then gives a map to explore it as a real practical experience, not just philosophy. Because the path to her understanding was entirely experiential, she has been outside any spiritual system, which showed me how the spiritual is inherent in nature, not something born of eastern or western spiritual or religious traditions.   This knowledge almost immediately switched my inquiry away from looking for the “spiritual” or being on a path, to having an appreciation and direct experience of the vast beauty that I am composed of, and the incredible intelligence that is the foundation of my being. I have been able to relax and trust the process of awakening for the first time, not as something to figure out, but as something to rest in and savor.  This understanding has allowed my potential and talents to be actualized much quicker, and has accelerated my authentic creative process."

Demian Mckinley

What do you think of the relationship between your embodiment and spirituality?  Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!