Under Pressure - Opening Up


In yesterday's post, I talked a bit about the catch-22 cycle of pressure and overwhelm creating a posturing of contraction, which then leads to more perception and experience of pressure and overwhelm.

As our bodies adapt a 'curling-inward' type of form.. hunched shoulders, rounded back, stooped posture.. with the associated symptoms of tight neck, shoulders, and back (as well as restricted breathing, impaired digestion and headaches), our mental processes tend to reflect contraction as well. I mentioned yesterday that the yin (receptive) meridians which run along the front of our bodies are being pulled inward, almost protectively. Add stress and tension to the equation and you have chronic pain.

Let's take a closer look at those meridians.

If you're not familiar with the idea of meridians, here is a brief explanation. But suffice it to say,  they are specific pathways believed to carry energy... each meridian being associated with a specific organ or organ function as the ancient Chinese understood them.

In the front upper body, the area that becomes the most pulled in and protected, are the Lung, Heart and Heart Governor meridians. These run from the area of the upper chest along the inside of the arms.

Functionally speaking, the Lungs are all about receptivity. They are our first interface with the external world from the moment we take our first breath, and the necessity of breathing makes us extremely and immediately vulnerable to our environment. (I've heard it said that smoking, which, through the introduction of heat, is yang-izing, and therefore means of feeling less yin: receptive and vulnerable).

The Heart, of course, is our center. Believed by the ancient Chinese to be the supreme organ, it is referred to as the Emperor, and represents our innermost core. The Heart Governor (or Heart Protector), which would be most closely associated with the pericardium, is given the title of Prime Minster, as it protects the heart, and governs which influences are allowed to come into the presence of the heart.

So, you can see our natural tendency, in the face of what we deal with on a daily basis, to adopt a stance of protectiveness, even unconsciously... and how many of our daily activities reinforce this posture. It is a good thing to be compassionate and appreciative to our bodies for what they do to serve our emotional needs, but important to recognize that the pain and suffering we experience as result is a signal of imbalance.

Some ideas for relief.

See the above photo? That is a beautiful illustration of those three meridians being brought out and stretched in the light of day.What does that picture say to you? To me it speaks of openness, expansion, and trust (one of the key emotional associations with the Lungs is trust), letting go, and yes, surrender. Just releasing yourself into this pose causes a deep inhalation, and is an affirmation of the above qualities.. a temporary release of control, and an acceptance and trust in the rightness of things, regardless of our momentary perspective.

A brief exercise you can do.

Begin in a standing position, arms at your sides, with your middle fingers and thumbs touching lightly. On the inhale, step your left foot forward, bringing your arms up gracefully overhead. On the exhale, release your arms, letting them swing at your sides, and replace your left foot to stand next to the right. On the next inhale, repeat this with your right foot. You can do this several times until you experience a sense of calm and relaxation. For a little more challenge, at the inhale you can give a little lift with back foot, like a dancer, as if you were going to leap off a cliff. This is a good visualization to accompany that, too. This might feel silly, but it is a very clear kinesthetic message to your body of your intention to trust in letting go.

Self massage.

I said that these yin meridians run down the inner side of the arms from the upper chest. Most of us feel our tension in our backs and neck, but this frontal area is where we get contracted. (See here for a post about this.) Applying deep pressure along these lines will help to get the energy flowing along these meridians and facilitate opening.

You can start at the points under the collarbone, closest to the midline of your chest. Apply circular motions with your index and middle fingers, working out toward you armpit. This area may feel surprisingly tender. The Lung meridian begins between your first and second ribs, three finger widths below the outer tip of the collarbone, in the pectoral muscle. It continues down the inner length of the arm to the thumb. Even simple massage at this point will invoke a sense of release.

The Heart Governor meridian can be traced from a point just outside of the nipple, over the armpit, and along the length of the inner arm to the tip of the middle finger.

And the Heart meridian begins in the armpit, along the inner arm, in line with the outer part of the hand to the tip of the pinky. A light tapping with a loose fist, and a firm grasping massage down the length of the arm will stimulate these meridians.

(By the way, firm pressure with the thumb in the center of the opposite palm - Heart Governor 8 - brings relief from anxiety.)

Play with these techniques for a bit, and tomorrow I'll show you some ways to relieve tension on the yang side.