Special note: An audio version of this piece is available on the Everything Elsa podcast. Visit: anchor.fm/ellen-sanders-robinson
In this second part of the series, “Top to Bottom,” I address two more areas prone to tension and dis-ease during times of stress. The back, in particular, may be vulnerable during the holiday season, as it also houses a large part of the Bladder meridian: As part of the Water element in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Bladder and Kidney organ systems correspond with Winter. When weak or obstructed, the Bladder meridian (which runs from the base of the skull, down both sides of the spine, and the back of each leg) contributes greatly to back pain and stiffness. Further, anxiety and control issues can arise with an unhappy Bladder meridian.
And, oh, that belly: It will be no surprise that the foods and emotions that often spring up at this time of year can wreak havoc on digestion. To steady this area will go a long way toward instilling peace into your holiday time; emotionally, a balanced belly keeps frustration and resentment at bay.
In working with the lower spine and abdominal region, the Second and Third chakras will be awakened. These energy centers, when functioning optimally, ensure a sense of stability and confidence: With the powerhouses of esteem strong, one can proceed through any challenge with positivity.
The practice begins with pelvic tilts. On a chair or seated crossed-leg on the floor (with bolstering, if necessary), inhale to tilt the pelvis forward; exhale to gently tilt it back. If the low back is stiff, this movement may prove elusive at first. Stick with it: As your breath deepens, and the muscles warm, the pelvic rocks will become more fluid. Continue for 1-3 minutes.
Then, move into Sufi Grinds. This movement uses the pelvic tilts, plus a subtle lift of the pelvis to either side to create a perceived circling of the pelvis: Inhale to tilt he pelvis forward and then raise the right side of the pelvis; exhale to tilt the pelvis back as the right side lowers. The exhale continues as you roll through the now-rounded low spine to the left. Then, seamlessly begin to inhale as you “hike up” the left side of the pelvis, and then tilt the pelvis forward again; continue the inhale as you circle through the front space to begin the full “grind” again.
Once you have the pelvic “circles” down, let the rest of the torso go along for the ride. You will begin to feel that the spine is naturally extending (arching) as you circle forward, and then rounds (flexes) as you circle through backspace. Continue for 1-3 minutes, then switch directions (circling to the left) for another 1-3 minutes. Always circle clockwise first, then left (counter-clockwise): This pattern mimics the progression of digestive processes.
Now, if on the floor, lie down, and prepare for a modified Bridge Pose (feet flat, knees bent). If in a chair, come to the front edge of the seat, and place the hands firmly next to the hips. Make sure the chair is stable, and that you have space in front of you. In either position, inhale to push the hips forward and up, opening the front body; exhale to lower down. Continue for 1 minute.
Now, draw the knees in, so that your body comes into a tight ball; try to tuck the nose between the knees. In this compressed position, begin Breath of Fire through the nose. Continue for 1 minute.
Open yourself up again, and resume the elevated portion of your previous Bridge Pose. This time, stay up (hips lifted). Repeat Breath of Fire, but through open, rounded lips. Continue for 1 minute.
Next, come to sit with the legs extended out and wide. (If in a chair, stay perched on the front edge: Feet can be on the floor, but allow the legs to spread as wide apart as possible.) Inhale to twist slightly toward the left leg; exhale to bend forward over the leg. Inhale to rise up and twist gently toward the right leg; exhale to forward bend over that leg. Continue alternating from one leg to another for 1 minute. Then, repeat the movement for 1 more minute, moving up and down into the space between the legs: Inhale up, exhale down, breathing through the nose.
And now, for the final series of movements, come to standing. Place the hands on the waist: Reach the thumbs in toward the lower spine. Bend slightly to one side, then the other. As you do so, let the thumbs find the tough, cable-like muscle that lies between the lowest rib and the top of the pelvis: This is the quadratus lumborum, or QL.
Special note: The QL is the culprit in many lower-back complaints. Interestingly, however, it is actually a deep abdominal muscle, lying at the rear of the abdominal wall. Thus, to work with the QL can soften tension through the abdominal region, thereby calming digestive issues while simultaneously soothing the low back.
As you lean slightly from side to side, hold the thumbs steady; let the tips press strongly into each side of the QL, by dint of the alternating side bends. Inhale as you come up and pass through center; exhale to either side. Continue for 1 minute, or until you feel an easing through the QL
Next, let the arms hang loosely. Take your attention to the rib cage: Begin a sliding, or shifting of the entire rib cage from side to side. Aim to inhale for a count of 4-6 as you steadily glide the ribs from left to right; then exhale for 6-8 beats as you continue to move the ribs from side to side. As you deepen the breath and find fluidity in the movement, tension will ease throughout the entire torso, and even into the hips and shoulders. Continue for 1 minute.
Close out this movement sequence with a round of full-spine flexion and extension. Standing, begin to round and arch the spine as you would in traditional Cat and Cow on all fours. As you inhale, the belly and chest open as the shoulders and tail move back; exhale to round deeply through the spine, allowing the head to hang and the arms to move into the front space. Continue this opening and closing for 1-3 minutes.
Finally, return to your favorite seated position, either on the floor or in a chair. Place one hand on the Dan Tien, or low belly: Let the palm rest softly here, as the tip of the thumb comes to rest on the navel point; the other hand lies on top. With eyes closed, begin guide the breath through a soothing pathway. Take your attention to the belly-button: Inhale from there into the Dan Tien (the area covered by the hands). As you exhale, use your mind’s eye to send the breath down to the perineum, and then loop it upward to the back point, just behind and in line with the navel. Continue the exhalation as the breath splits: it travels to the left and right, around the waist, and returns to the navel point.
You will notice that the breath pathway must travel a distance on one exhalation. Once you are familiar with the trajectory, the extended exhale will be easier. Again, inhale to draw breath in to the navel point and down into the low belly (Dan Tien): Exhale to guide it visually down through the genital region, up into the low back, and around the waist to return to the belly-button. Continue this qigong breath visualization for at least 5 full cycles, allowing the breath’s pathway to infuse the area with balanced, restorative energy.
Next Time: Conclusion—Knees and Feet