Core initiated movements and associative joint movements: some practice notes – Asana (posture) and Vinyasa (Movement)

In the last post, I discuss the functional use of core initiated movements(CIM) and by freeing the associative joint movements we allow the movement to smoothly travel from the core to another body part.
In this post, I would like to focus on the interplay between CIM and AJM in yoga asana (posture) practice.


Asana  

Ideally, the practice of Asana is aiming to generate a certain flow of energy rather than simply creating a body shape. Each asana represents a specific energy pattern in a posture: a specific way of how and where energy flows(or not) in the body, it involves bandha’s (the energy locks or the co-activation of opposing muscle groups ) that are either opened (expansive bandha) to allow the energy to flow in certain areas or(and) closed (compressive bandha) in other areas and creating an expansion and squeezing (low and high pressure) effect, therefore the practice of asana combined with vinyasa involves core initiated movements with associated joint movement encouraged in some areas but inhibited in other areas.


For modern bodies practicing asana, the AJM is something to watch out for: a simple urdvahastasana can result in AJM such as shoulders retraction and spinal extension but with a stiff shoulders and spine, much of the AJM will likely occur at the lumbar region, the only place where the spine knows how to bend backward, and such compression or squashing often causes discomfort and pain in the lower back.
With controlled AJM, in Urdvahastasana, underarm muscles are engaged to create expansive shoulder bandha to keep the shoulder blades protracted, compressive Uddyana bandha is maintained to keep the lower ribs in, expansive mulabandha is maintained by engaging rectus abdominis and lower back lengthened, as natural breathing is also maintained throughout.

Urdvahastasana without and with controlled AJM


Therefore depending on the nature of asana/vinyasa,  CIM and AJM are combined and applied to mobilize a specific body part while inhibit(stabilize) other parts.  The above example of various bandha’s prevent certain AJM in order to maintain the integrity of the shoulders and spine, allow the core to be active yet remain calm so the natural breathing is not inhibited.

Vinyasa

For modern bodies with our peculiar chair culture and high level of stress, our movements are quite disconnected from the core, the movements are done on the parts of the body thus separated from their source.

Vitruvian Man – Leonardo Da Vince

One analogy to look at the core (kanda, dantian) and other body parts is to see their relationship as the sun and planets in our solar system: the sun is the source of energy, it exercises its influence upon the planets and results in the perpetuate planetary movements: the celestial dance of the heavenly bodies. To imagine these planets without their sun is indeed unimaginable, for there will be no life if the source of life is severed

The solar system

As Simon Borg-Olivier often talks about natural body versus modern body, a natural body naturally moves from the core and maintains natural abdominal breathing, whereon a modern body often misses both. The reasons that we no longer know how to initiate movements from the core is not only due to the stiffness and blockages in the joints but also the stiffness, and immobility of the core caused by over-tensing the abdomen through stress and bad habits.


Of the various Yoga Synergy movements taught by Simon Borg-Olivier, I found two particularly good to serve as a foundation, because they are both repetitive by forming a figure 8 or infinity shape. Between these two, we are able to initiate all possible spinal, shoulder and hip movements from the core. 

This is a symmetrical movements in four parts: back lengthening (dorsal spinal lengthening) and front lengthening (frontal spinal lengthening), back shortening (spinal extension) and front shortening (spinal flexion). Notice the core is tracing a vertical figure 8.
This is an asymmetrical movement includes spinal rotation to the left, lateral lengthening on the right side, spinal rotation to the right side, while maintaining the lateral lengthening to the right side, lateral lengthening on the left side, spinal rotation to the left… Notice the core is tracing a horizontal figure 8.

These two movements combined provide ample possibilities for the spine, shoulders, and the hips to move in various directions. Depending on the posture, certain AJMs are encouraged to allow specific movements and others are inhibited to create bandha to stabilize a joint complex and enhance the circulation of energy(blood flow) and information (awareness).

Pasvakona vinyasa with core initiated movement

This is a vinyasa sequence involves Pasvakonasana (extended side angle pose) and parivrta pasvakonasana (revolved side angle pose).
I started by using CIM 1 to ensure core activation (engagement) and mobility (freedom), with the focus on lateral spinal extension and rotation.


At 8”: I abduct the right hip as the core moves to the right (excessive spinal rotation is inhibited here) and upward to allow the lateral extension on the right side thus actively enters pasvakonasana while the right leg is still in the air.


10″-16”: the core continues to the right and the weight is shifted to the right foot, and then the weight is shifted to the left leg as the core moves to the left and then to the right and upward to extend the right trunk and elevate the right shoulder to complete the pasvakonasana as we know.


From 17- 30”: with a few CIM 1, I use back lengthening to ground the right foot and internally rotate the right hip to create a hip bandha to stabilize the right hip and lengthen the lower back and release any pressure in the lumbar region, and then I use front lengthening to locate the natural breathing and create an expansive mulabandha and further lengthening the trunk , then I use back shortening to engage gluteus and attempt to externally rotate the left hip and create a bandha on the left hip, squeeze the left heel inwards to create an “ankle bandha”, and bring the right sitting bone towards the left while maintaining the lengthening of the right trunk, then I use frontal spine shortening to protract the shoulders, un-squash the lower back and rotate the spine further towards the ceiling.


At 34”: The core moves to the left and bring the weight to the left foot and internally rotate the right hip


34″-1’05”: With a few CIM B to increase the mobility of the core and shift the focus to rotating the spine to the left and then I use several CIM A to deepen the rotate actively towards the left while to lengthen the left side of the trunk and complete the parivrtta pasvakonasana


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