Chapter 16--Hugging the Planet Earth: Opening from the Belly into Front Extension Postures
How can core creativity be channeled for birthing new possibilities?
We begin this group of inquiries by making a primary distinction between lengthening the front side of the body through “front extension” versus compressing the lumbar spine in back bending. What is the difference between a backbend and a front extension? Someone watching you enter into the Cobra, Bow, or Camel pose might not notice that you are entering these postures from the perspective of extending the front side of your body, as opposed to doing what looks like a backbend.
Traditional yoga often emphasizes movements that arch the lower back rather than lengthen the line from the pubic bone to the sternum on the front side of the body. The shift in orientation to lengthening the front side of the body can make an important difference in the health of your spine. Chronic low-back pain is a primary contender for on-the-job disability in the American workplace; these inquiries can provide relief, support, and education for strengthening this potential hot spot in your body.
A backbend encourages the spine to overarch in the lower back and the neck, the spine’s most flexible (and therefore most vulnerable) areas. The vertebrae of the middle back support the ribs, which wrap around each side of the spine and connect to the sternum on the front side of the body; the rib structure prevents the middle back from bending as much as the lower back and the neck.
Picture the discs between the vertebrae, whose job it is to cushion the pressure between bones and to provide lubrication for fluid movement. They are round and red, plump and juicy--like water balloons. When you arch backward the fluids in the discs are squeezed flatter on the back side, causing the front side to bulge. Some squeezing and bulging can be favorable to spinal health. The beneficial effects of compression and release tone the elastic walls of the discs and stimulate the replenishing of fluids and nutrients to the discs. But repeated, long-term stress can cause the discs to lose their tone and fluidity or to rupture when the spine is overarched. The good news is that low-back conditions, including those that involve the discs, are highly responsive to movements that stimulate physical reeducation.
The energetic differences between these two orientations under discussion are highlighted when you think about the times in your life when you “bent over backward” to please. There is a loss of self when one loses a connection to his or her center; the emphasis becomes about what is happening behind your back. When awareness is grounded in your center and you lengthen into an opening from the front side, you sense that you are engaging in life from the inside out, investing your life force and creativity into projects that embody your passion and talent. Rather than haphazardly backing into life, expanding your awareness through your pelvis, belly, and heart encourages you to consciously connect with your interests and take responsibility for your creations. Extending from the womb of the self deep in your belly gives room for the possibility of connecting with an energetic umbilical cord to a continuous and reciprocal flow of nurturance.
The inquiries in this chapter begin by humbling ourselves down onto our bellies to hug the planet Earth. The second group of inquiries open the belly and extend the front side from a kneeling position, the posture often associated with prayer.
Opening to Life by Engaging the Belly Core
Inquiry: How do I stay grounded in my center while opening into whole-body, front-extension movements?
Staying anchored in your center allows for deeper relaxation in the midst of any postures or movements that lengthen the front side of the body. In the first exploration, Kneeling, we explore the details of supporting the lower back and neck by focusing awareness on the long, continuous line of the spine as it opens. Sliding Hip Pockets and Windmill prepare the body for gradually entering the Camel pose, identifying the limits that are within your safe zone.
The Forward Lunge combines front extensions with strengthening the legs in preparation for the Standing Runner’s Stretch and all of the Warrior postures. This exploration is particularly effective in gaining familiarity with aligning the feet for maximum safety for the knees when you move into standing postures that combine hip flexibility with front extensions and standing balance.
From a Seed to a Tree integrates the full range of motion from being curled into the fetal spiral of the Child posture all the way into opening the belly in the Camel. All of these movements provide checkpoints along the way to assure that you remain connected to your center and do not get tempted to overarch the lumbar or spinal curves.