embodiment etudes

short somatic studies applied to yoga

the hyoid

by julee snyder

The hyoid is a horseshoe shaped bone at the top of your throat, above the larynx, just below and behind the chin.  It is suspended in a web of muscles known as the supra- and infra- hyoids.  I call these muscles, along with longus colli, the belly of the throat, because they function similarly to the abdominals.  Interestingly, the tongue is also attached to the hyoid.  You can sometimes find the bone by slipping your fingers below the chin to the throat, a little wide, and feeling for the bone to move by sticking out your tongue.  Don’t press too hard as this is a delicate part of the body.

Many students struggle to find their head placement in a soft supported way.  Awareness of the hyoid and the belly of the throat can assist spatial orientation of the head.  What I see most often is a forward head posture with a collapse of the throat.  It helps to soften the reach of the eyes and the senses, generally. From there, find the support through the lower body and then add a slight knitting of the belly in the throat as the hyoid draws slightly back.

Baby Sphinx
Review the baby sphinx study from the abdominals post.  Coming onto your belly with your hands in line with your shoulders and ears, engage the base.  Reach the toes and the tailbone back.  Add a slight lift of the pelvic floor and the belly.  Begin to yield and push through the hand and forearm.  As the chest begins to lift, feel the soft knitting of the throat as the hyoid draws back.  The head will lift just enough to clear the nose through center.  As you release, turn the head to the other side, and rest.

Once you have cultivated the feeling of the belly in the throat, try to feel it in different poses.  Start with table.  If you tend to hang your head low and round your shoulders, try drawing your hyoid back and see if that is enough to address the problem.  In sitting or standing, start with the base.  Use everything we’ve talked about so far to find support from below.  End with a slight lift of the top rib – most of us collapse it – and then draw the hyoid back bringing the ears over the shoulders.  Back off if this causes too much tension in the throat.  It is not the same as tucking the chin.

Triangle and Half moon
What about sideways poses like triangle and half moon?  Begin with the head in neutral, nose lining up with breast bone, naval and pubic bone.  Establish the front mid-line and lots of length from head to tail.  Begin the turning of the head from the belly.  Let the ribs respond.  Continue the subtle spiral through the throat, the soft palate, and the head.  If it helps, consider turning through the horns (cornua in the diagram) of the hyoid.  There is a ligament attaching the greater horns to the mastoid process behind the ear.

As always, happy practicing!

integrating hand to ribs

by julee snyder

Last month we integrated the hand to the shoulder using some of the principles from Body-Mind Centering (BMC).  Today, we will explore the relationship of the hand to the ribs.  This comes from the BMC developmental work.  In utero, an infants’ hands are curled up into little fists, usually with the thumb inside.  The hand begins to uncoil from the pinky toward the thumb in the process of learning how to push down with the hands to lift the head.

Baby Sphinx revisited
Review the baby sphinx study in the post on the abdominals.  When the baby is resting belly down, his little fists are usually under his chest with the pinky side down.  The baby begins to push through the outside of the pinky and ulna as he begins to separate himself from the earth.  Over time the pinky finger comes out and the dorsal surface presses down.  As it does, the first two ribs begin to lift away from the floor.  As each finger opens and roots down, another two or three ribs are able to leave the floor.  Working in this way, find the following connections: ribs 1-2 to the pinky finger, ribs 3-4 to the ring finger, ribs 5-6 to the middle finger, ribs 7-9 to the pointer finger, and ribs 10-12 to the thumb.  Continue to explore these connections in other poses.

Telescoping arms
Another great study that I first learned in dance, I believe from the Bartenieff fundamentals, is telescoping arms.  Rest on your right side with your head on a blanket, right arm straight out from the shoulder, and legs bent.  Stack your left hand over your right hand.  Find a gentle rocking rhythm, spiraling the spine from the tail and rotating gently through the ribs.  Each of the following instructions can be repeated several times allowing for a gradual progression.

Let the top hand slide past the bottom hand and then to the wrist.  Slide the top hand to the bottom elbow and then back out beyond the fingers.  Continue to the bottom shoulder and back out beyond the fingers.  Let the hand come to the heart (or mouth) and then back out beyond the fingers.  Slide to the top shoulder and back out passed the fingers.  Then let the top arm brush along the bottom arm, across the chest and suspend like pulling back an arrow.  Then rewind, sliding back out and passed the bottom fingers.  Finally, let the top arm sweep open all the way to rest in a twist.  Take a couple of breaths.  Then curl the fingers in, slide across the chest and back to resting, hand on top of hand.

Now reach the fingers passed the bottom hand and begin to arc the arm up toward the sky, opening like a book into a twist.  Curl the finger in.  Slide the hand across the chest, the bottom arm and passed the fingers.  Repeat several times.  Then reverse, sliding the hand across the bottom arm, across the chest and open into a twist.  Coordinate the initiation of the tail and the fingers together to reach back up toward the sky, closing the arms like a book, and stacking the hands.  Repeat several times.

Pinwheel arms
This study is a continuation of telescoping arms.  Rest the arm overhead alongside of your ear.  Keeping the arm close to your head, begin your rocking motion.  Initiate the movement from the tail and let it spiral toward your head.  Notice the rolling through the ribcage.  After a few, let the arm separate from the head a bit.  As you rock forward, let the arm fall forward.  As you come to center, let it suspend or reach slightly through center.  As you rock back, let the arm fall backwards.  Let it be lazy at first – close to the body.  After a few of these, let the range of the arm get a little bigger.  Find a natural rhythm of suspending in space and falling into gravity – little overcurves.  Eventually begin to add a stronger reach as you circumscribe arcs overhead, letting the top arm sweep passed the bottom arm, arc overhead and then open into a twist.  Rewind.  Coordinate the reach of the fingers with the initiation of the tail.  After a few repetitions, let the arm circle all the way around, on the floor if you can, brushing lightly over the hip and belly.  Make sure to incorporate the spiraling through the ribcage.  And explore the perfect balance between a relaxed lazy arm and that little bit of effort that extends the reach through space.  When you are ready, reverse your direction for a few rounds.  And then rest, letting your body absorb before switching sides.

Happy practicing!

the ribs

by julee snyder

The ribcage consists of 12 pairs of ribs attached to the 12 thoracic vertebrae and the breast bone.  They arc around from the back body to the front body forming the circumference of the thorax, protecting the heart and lungs.  Most people think of their ribcage as rigid.  Maybe it’s the cage part of the term.  It does actually look much like a bird cage if you remove the shoulders.  It’s narrow at the top and fuller at the bottom.  But there is a lot more mobility in the ribcage than many of us think.  The ribs have some capacity to in-flare and out-flare.  This is partly due to the pliability of the cartilage attaching the ribs to the breast bone.  They also lift on the inhale and fall on the exhale, respectively expanding and reducing the thoracic volume.  The intercostal muscles, in between the ribs, are the muscles that lift and lower the ribs.

Opening the side body
Come to sitting sideways on your mat with the long edge of a bolster (or rolled blankets) on one side and bent legs on the other.  Slide out so that you are side-lying over the bolster, pelvis down, knees bent, and shoulder either on the ground or just hovering.  Let your head rest on your bottom arm unless that is uncomfortable.  If it is, place your head on a folded blanket and bring your arm forward of the shoulder.  Take a few easy breaths letting your spine softly mold over the bolster.

From here, reach your top arm away from your ear and arc it up toward the ceiling, pausing right over the shoulder.  Softly reach from your hand to your fingers with a soft spread over the front and back of the hand.  Now bring your attention to the side of the ribcage facing the ceiling.  The position will limit the breath in the underneath side and allow more breath to fill the side of the body facing the ceiling.  Focus your attention here, allowing the ribs to lift and lower like handles of a bucket.  The ribs will lift one away from the other up towards the sky on the inhale and fall back down toward the spine on the exhale.    Begin to feel the connection of the expanding lungs and lifting ribs to the reach of the arm.  As the lung fills and the ribs lift, begin to reach the arm a little ways over head.  On the exhale, pause and re-stabilize your shoulder blade.  Continue until the arm is reaching overhead.  The bottom hand can grab hold of the top arm and add a gentle tug.  Take a few breaths here.

When you are ready, add the reach of the legs.  Notice that the abdominals wrap from the back body around the breath toward the front mid-line.  Softly press through the feet.  If you would like to take this into a twist, keep the hips stacked while separating the legs; top leg forward and bottom leg back.  From here roll the top side into the back space, letting the head fall to the floor or a blanket and the top arm or elbow reach into the back space.  If that is painful for the shoulder, let the hand come to rest on the belly.  Find the pleasure in the pose.  Breath and rest deeply into it.  To come out, rewind back to sidelying, bend the knees in, let the hand fall to the floor, and slowly push to sitting.  Switch sides.

Spiraling the ribs
Just as we began to divide the pelvis into two halves, it can also be interesting to look at the ribcage as if we had two ribcages, a right one and a left one.  Imagine for a moment you were in tadasana with your arms reaching overhead.  It’s possible to conceive of the body as two long tubes from the foot all the way up to the hand with a spine in between.  Each tube can rotate toward the front mid-line (in-flare) as well as away from the front mid-line (out-flare).  And each tube can spiral on its own individual axis.  The two tubes can also spiral around each other like the image of ida and pingala – two snakes coiled around one another with shashumna in the middle.

Consider a simple seated twist.  Begin sitting tall with the legs in your favorite position.  Let’s turn to the left.  Feel the little turn begin in your pelvic floor and then let the belly begin to wrap.  Pause.  Starting in the diaphragm and the base of the ribs, begin to spiral from the sternum to the left along the length of the ribs into the spine, wrapping the left rib cage into a spiralic out-flare.  Then from the spine, follow the length of the lower right ribs toward the sternum, wrapping the right ribcage into a sipralic in-flare.  Continue to travel this way through the ribcage.  Letting both sides spiral on their individual axes as well as spiral wound the central axis of the spine.  Continue the spiral through the soft tissues of the throat and cranium.  When you are ready release and go to the other side.  Remember to keep the spine nice and long in the middle.

Happy practicing!