Today’s practice offers a profound experience of the body’s inner and outer anatomical structure—its extraordinary architecture. Most often, if one thinks of the physical structure of the body, the spine, limbs, muscles, and bones come to mind. Internally, organs and fluids round out the picture. Within those components, however, lie distinct patterns, matrices, and shapes. This Silent Sunday focuses on the Dome, which can be found from head to toe. Further, as we explore the various manifestations of the Dome, its metaphysical significance is revealed: As one develops an acute awareness of the physical presence of the Dome, a powerful sense of peace and spiritual connection emerges.
First, it may help to provide some background information. So often, one thinks of energy rising and lifting as the breath comes in; and then, as one exhales, there is a softening and a release as muscles relax. Physically, however, there is a downward movement upon inhale and an upward response upon the exhale: the action of the diaphragm. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we see this upward/downward movement in the Yin/Yang energies of the meridians: Yin travels from the earth upward, and from the torso outward and upward (as the arms are held aloft in TCM anatomy diagrams); Yang energy flows from the head downward, and inward from the hands to the torso.
Thus, whereas “softening” and inward movement are Yin qualities, the energetic trajectory is up and out. Conversely, Yang aspects of externality and invigoration align with a downward, inward flow of qi (prana, or energy). This TCM understanding brings us full circle to the movement of the diaphragm: We vitalize ourselves with an inhalation, wherein the associated diaphragmatic movement is down; then, we relax upon exhalation, as the diaphragm moves upward.
Now, to begin today’s practice, sit in your favorite position for a gentle pranayama with visualization. With eyes closed and your palms resting on the upper belly, just below the bottom ribs, focus on the breath: Inhale fully and steadily; exhale slowly and deeply. As you breathe, remind yourself of the movement of the diaphragm: With the inhale, the diaphragm moves downward, away from the ribs; as you exhale, it returns upward, forming its natural Dome. Breathe with this visualization for about a minute.
From your seated breathing pose, come onto all fours. Here, begin Cat/Cow spinal flexes with the traditional breath: Inhale to deeply extend the spine, lifting the chest, head, and tail; exhale to round the spine, drop the head, and tuck the tail. As you continue, attune to the “doming” of the torso as you breathe: inhaling, opening, and invigorating as the diaphragm moves down (or in this case, backward, from the ribs to pelvis), and the spine extends and descends; then exhaling to raise (or bring forward) the diaphragm as the spine arches up. Continue the movement with keen focus on these aspects for 1-3 minutes.
Still on all fours, turn your attention to the palms of the hands. From their flat support position of Cat/Cow, come onto the fingertips; note the Dome created of the palm. Begin to join the flattening and cupping of the palms to the breath and spinal movement: Inhale with flat palm into Cow (spinal extension); exhale to “dome” the palm and round the spine into Cat. With the breath, the body is “doming” in triplicate: spine, palms, diaphragm. Continue for 1 minute.
If you need a break from all-fours, push back into Baby Pose for a few breaths, or press up into Downward Dog to stretch the legs. Then, resuming the Cat/Cow position, shift your attention to the feet. Flex and extend the ankle a few times: The toes will naturally curl under in the flexed position; the toes lengthen back and lie flat as you extend—point—the foot on the floor. The Dome may now be found in the arches of the feet. (Each foot has three arches—lateral, longitudinal, and medial—that comprise what we think of as “the arch.”)
As you add the foot action to the previous TripTych of movements, inhale: spine extends, palm lies flat, diaphragm moves down (or back), and now the foot (ankle) flexes, thereby reducing the arch. Exhale: spine rounds, palm domes, diaphragm moves up (or forward), and the ankle extends into a pointed foot, thereby accentuating the arch. Continue with an awareness of the connected doming and release components for 1 minute.
From all-fours, come briefly into Downward Dog, and then walk the feet toward the hands for a relaxed, hanging version of Standing Forward Bend. As you release the pressure from the hands, wrists, and knees, breathe deeply: With each exhale, press the toe tips into the ground and is if to draw them back toward the arch; this action will motivate the doming action of the arches. Stay aware of the corresponding diaphragmatic movement.
As blood and energy shift their trajectory toward the head, begin to feel the roof of the mouth with your tongue. The natural dome of the hard palate becomes evident. Curl the tongue backward into this Dome, and press firmly upward into the bony structure. (Because you are inverted, “upward” has become “downward.”) Imagine that you are pushing the palatial Dome toward the Crown, the cranium’s natural Dome (formed by the parietal and temporal bones).
With the sensory awareness of the body’s uppermost Domes, ease yourself down to the floor, and then onto your back. Assume Svasana position for an integrating breath meditation. First, visualize and activate each Dome. Each exhale creates the diaphragm Dome; cupping the palm yields the hand Dome; ankle extension engages the foot Dome; upward pressure of the curled tongue on the roof of the mouth reveals the palatial Dome; and keen focus on the Crown engages the skull Dome.
In the supine position, inhale deeply: press out through the palms to “flatten” them; flex the ankle (draw top of foot and toes toward shin); drop the tongue to the bottom of the mouth; and gaze through closed lids at the tip of the nose. The diaphragm naturally travels downward, “de-doming.” When you are ready, exhale long and deep: palms cup into their Domes; ankles extend to create the arch Domes; backward-curled tongue presses into the Dome of the mouth; and the closed-eye gaze moves to and through the Third Eye to stimulate the Crown Chakra and skull Dome.
Continue this yoking of the breath to the body’s organic architecture. As the totality of the Domes within becomes more apparent, a sense of physical and mental wholeness ensues. The focus on the cranial Dome stimulates and opens the Crown Chakra: The expansion of the Seventh Chakra intrinsically connects one to the Dome of the Universe: the sky and heavens above. As one breathes into the body’s Domes with an awareness of the overarching Infinite Dome, the Spiritual Body exalts.
After a few minutes of the conscious “Dome Breathing” meditation, ease into full Svasana for another couple of minutes.