embodiment etudes

short somatic studies applied to yoga

Month: March, 2014

cranial diaphragms

by jsbodywork

Cranial diaphragms

You likely know that the central nervous system is surrounded by a connective tissue sheath called mater.  There are three layers: the pia mater, the arachnoid mater and the dura mater.  These three layers surround both the brain and spinal cord, lining the skull and spinal canal.  Many connective tissue sheaths in the body invaginate deeper into the tissue and the same is true of the brain. The pia mater is like the skin of the brain.  Whereas the sheets of connective tissue that we’re considering in this post are extensions of the dura mater which also lines the skull.

In the image above, you can see both a horizontal structure and a vertical structure.  The horizontal structure is the tentorium cerebelli.  It divides the cerebrum above from the cerebellum below.  One could experience it as the ceiling of the cerebellum or the floor for the occiptal lobes.  It attaches to the petrous part of the temporal bone (behind the inner ear) and travels backward to the occipital bone where it encases the transverse sinuses.

The vertical structure is the falx cerebri.  It divides the right and left hemispheres of both the cerebrum above and the cerebellum below. The falx cerebri attaches to the crista gali of the ethmoid bone anteriorly.  It follows the midline of the body superiorly containing the sagittal sinus.  It extends as far back as the internal occipital protuberance.

The two structures are continuous with one another as you can see below.


Close your eyes and begin to imagine these structures in you head.  Look at different pictures to help you orient these structures in relation to your ears, sinuses, eyes, palate.  Begin to include the falx cerebri in the image you have of your midline structures.  Practice aligning it with the center of your throat and breastbone.  Begin to imagine this horizontal structure – the tentorium cerebelli –  at about the level of your ears.  Let it help you find right-left balance in the head.

Happy practicing!

soft palate

by jsbodywork


I love many of Eric Franklin’s images.  This one is from his book Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery.  Here are some of his thoughts around the palate, tongue and mouth that have stayed with me and slipped into my teachings:

Imagine the dome-shaped top of the mouth expanding toward the top of the skull.  Watch from the inside as the dome becomes larger, as if you are standing inside an expanding balloon.  Imagine your whole body hanging from the top of your mouth.  Let the top of your skull and the neck soften and the tongue melt.  You may also think of the tongue deflating, as if filled with air that is now escaping from the edges of your tongue.  Imagine the tongue becoming permeable like cotton.  Let your breath float around and through your tongue.

He has another image in another book highlighting the round shape of the mouth.  Imagine the release of the jaw as the teeth separate and the mandible falls away from the skull.  Let the tongue be wide and soft on the floor of the mouth as the palate domes and lifts.  I like to suggest that students explore the cavern of the mouth allowing more space for all of its nooks and crannies.

Now run the tongue along the ridge of the palate starting at the teeth.  This is part of your mid-line.  I like to orient it to the bridge of the nose, the breast bone, the naval, the pubic disc, the big toes and the crown of the head.

As you draw your tongue along the ridge, you’ll notice that the palate is hard all the way to the back teeth and then it becomes the soft palate.  Let your tongue turn over, lightly resting the bottom tip of your tongue into the soft palate.  Create a soft suctioning, drawing the palate and the tongue back and up as if pulling it toward the birthing crown.  After stimulating this area for a little while, rest and again cultivate the soft cavernous feeling of the mouth.  Feel as if you can float the head from this soft lift in the doming palate as your body, with all of its sister diaphragms, hangs below.

Explore in different orientations to gravity, going sideways, upside down, twisting and back bending.  How does the palate contribute to your poses and relate to your other structures?

Happy practicing!

vocal diaphragm

by jsbodywork


We have moved up the body from the feet and pada bandha, the pelvic floor and mula bandha, the thoracic diaphragm and uddiyana bandha, the thoracic inlet, the shoulder diaphragm, the dome of the armpit and hasta bandha.  Now we begin to move into the neck and head.  Our next structure to explore is the horizontal doming structure of the vocal diaphragm in the larynx.

Gently find the thyroid cartilage in the front of your neck.  It is more commonly referred to as the Adam’s apple.  And then begin to make various sounds noticing what you feel in this area of your body.  Perform a series of stops or consonant sounds to feel the articulation of the vocal folds.  Now practice your ujjayi breath, allowing the vocal folds to softly hug the air as it passes through the trachea.  Be careful not to strain.  It really isn’t necessary for your neighbors to hear your yogic breath.

This is a complex little area of the body and I will admit my limited understanding.  For more anatomy of the vocal diaphragm and the thyroid and cricoid cartilages, view Ackland’s Video Atlas of Anatomy.

But for our purposes, there is a web of small muscles, referred to in the above diagram as the ventricular fold, that give you a right and left half of the dome.  Begin to feel the full 3-dimensional space of the dome of the throat and begin to align that dome over your other doming structures as you explore neck and head alignment in your poses.

A couple of poses in which it is very difficult to find head placement are triangle pose and half moon.  As you tilt your body into its side plain, feel the length from tail to head and keep the vocal diaphragm in relation to the thoracic inlet as you rotate it through space to look up at the hand.  This will become even more clear as we add the domes of the palate and cranium.

Happy practicing!

hasta bandha

by jsbodywork


Many of yoga asana require that the body’s weight be bared on the hands.  Hasta Bandha is a cupping action and a livening that is applied to the hands when they are connected to the earth.  Activating the bandhas of the hands gives support to the wrists and helps to protect them from injury in postures where the wrists bear weight.

To engage the Hasta Bandhas spread the fingers wide while being careful not to over stretch the thumb away from the hand. Distribute your weight evenly through all parts of the hand and then contract the muscles of the palm to lift the palm upwards away from the floor. This will create a suction-cup action of the hands that will add support to the wrists and allow you to balance on your hands with energy and strength.  Find this in table and then shift to down dog, plank, and chattaranga.  When you feel ready, apply hasta bandha to crow, handstand and other arm balancing poses.

When the hands are away from the floor as in warrior two, continue to feel the doming action of the palm while finding a soft equal spread on both the top and bottom of the hand.  Feel as though the energy in the arm is flowing in two directions, both from the hand to the heart as well as the heart to the hand.  Balance these two directions.

Happy practicing!


dome of the armpit

by jsbodywork


If you’ve ever doubted the potential power of the armpit, then I encourage you to watch the Still Rings event in mens’ gymnastics.  It’s amazing to me that anyone can hold themselves in a cross position by the arms.  Truly amazing!  This can only happen from the ability to connect the shoulder girdle and upper arm into the core of the body.

The armpit, or axilla, is a doming structure formed by the many muscles that cross the shoulder joint, specifically the glenohumeral joint.  It’s anterior wall is formed by pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and subclavius.  It’s posterior wall is formed by subscapularis, teres major and latissiums dorsi.   It’s medial border is formed by serratus anterior, while the lateral border is formed by the humerus bone.  The roof of the axilla is formed by the lateral border of the first rib, superior border of the scapula, and the posterior border of the clavicle.  The corocobrachialis and the short head of the biceps brachii cross through the axilla to the corocoid process of the scapula adding to the anterior border.  There are many other important structures passing through the axilla including the axillary vein and artery, part of the brachial plexus, many lymph nodes.  So one should be both gentle and mindful if palpating these tissues.

I first began to feel this area of my body when working on the Pilates reformer with hands in the straps and arms to the side, I found myself in a very similar position to our male gymnast in the rings — except without the extra gravity and body weight bit.  And I realized that we don’t do a lot of pulling in yoga and that this is one of the areas in which we need to supplement our yoga practices.  Pulling against resistance.  Pulling ourselves through space.  Climbing trees.  Doing pullups.  In my work with yogis, I increasingly find that we struggle to find stability in our shoulder girdles and often hang in the ligaments of our shoulders.

I’ll write more about finding stability in the shoulders through the play of a couple of different muscle pairs (rhomboid/serratus and trapezius/pec minor).  But for now, let’s consider the dome in a couple of basic yoga poses.

Down Dog. In table, root the hands to the earth.  Feel the knuckle of the hands dropping into the ground as the palm lifts like a suction cup.  Feel the forces draw up through the center of the arm all the way to the shoulder socket.  Engage the shoulder blades onto the ribcage.  Feel and maintain a buoyant lift in the armpits as you lift the knees and draw back into downward facing dog.  Feel a parallel between the palms of the hands and the armpits – two light, buoyant, parallel, undulating diaphragms.  Resist the urge to sink the chest and fall into the ligaments of the shoulder.  Maintain a sense of doming lift in the armpits, as you play with plank, chataranga and arm balancing poses.

Happy practicing!