Limbering Up

Of late, I spend a few minutes when I first sit down doing what you suggest, letting attention go to the area of my sacrum and its movement vis-a-vis the ilia. I also rock back and forward, sideways, and observe the rotation that naturally occurs. Then I think of the basic Alexander Technique instruction, “Let my neck be free.” etc. Once I’ve adjusted and settled in this way, I put my hands in the mudra, and start my zazen. I also use double mats below the cushion at home, or even bed pillows.

Since I started limbering up in this way, I can sit comfortably in half-lotus for two rounds of 40 minutes, with kinhin between. Not just bearably, actually in comfort. I didn’t even know that was a possibility.

(“Shinchan Ohara”, on the comment thread of Brad Warner’s “Hardcore Zen” March 4th)

The part about “let my neck be free”, that’s interesting to me.

In my write about Fuxi’s poem, I put forward Bartilink’s findings about “pressure in the fluid ball of the abdominal cavity” and support for the lower spine, including his observation that activity in the muscles of the pelvic floor and in the transverse muscles of the abdomen and chest is responsible for the “pressure in the fluid ball”. Sometimes I find that the activity in the transverse muscles carries up into the neck and head as well, so maybe there’s also support for flexion and extension in the neck when there’s “pressure in the fluid ball”.

Secret of the Golden Flower, illustration of energy channelsAs to how one goes about initiating such “pressure in the fluid ball of the abdomen”, I like Fuxi’s “The empty hand grasps the hoe handle”; something about the way the placement and weight of the arms and hands engages the ilio-tibial bands, and the placement and weight of the lower legs likewise at the knee- I find my hands and feet, and get my ass kicked.

The kick is likely because I’m not too good with the gears yet.

The feeling in my hands and feet reminds me of Gautama’s analogy for setting up mindfulness of the long and short of breath:

…it is like a clever turner or a clever turner’s apprentice who, making a long (turn), comprehends “I am making a long (turn)”, or when making a short (turn) comprehends, “I am making a short (turn)”.

(MN I 56, Pali Text Society vol. I pg 72)

For me it’s like working a potter’s wheel with my feet while molding a lump of clay with my hands. It’s similar to Gautama’s “soap ball” analogy in his description of the feeling of the first meditative state:

…as a skilled bath-attendant or (bath-attendant) apprentice, having sprinkled bath-powder into a bronze vessel, might knead it while repeatedly sprinkling it with water until the ball of lather had taken up moisture, was drenched with moisture, suffused with moisture inside and out but without any oozing. Even so. does (a person) saturate, permeate, suffuse this very body with the rapture and joy that are born of aloofness; there is no part of (the) whole body that is not suffused with the rapture and joy born of aloofness.

(MN III 92-93, PTS pg 132-134)

I have seen “rapture” and “joy” translated elsewhere as “absorption” and “ease”; what I myself experience is an “absorption and ease” that amounts to a fluidity of weight, so that as consciousness arises from a part, the saturation of the sense of gravity throughout the body increases.

Sometimes transverse muscles at the level of a particular vertebrae are a part of my breathing, and maybe I’m more aware of my neck and head when they are. I can’t really say that I’m familiar with Alexander Technique instructions (“let my neck be free”, etc.), but I do try to relax the thing that enters into where I am.

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