I found yoga 13 years ago on suggestion of a family physician who was tasked with helping me find a cure for a broken heart, a broken spirit and a broken body. We had long discussions about the human body with all its amazing physical capabilities. We also spoke about the human soul and spirituality.
I was reminded about this experience when Jill mentioned a clinical study that attempted to measure the weight of the human soul. Duncan MacDougall, a doctor from Massachusetts, conducted one of those studies in 1907. He concluded that a human soul weighed about 21 grams. This theory was later proved to be wrong yet some people still believe that a human soul weighs the mere 21 grams.
Personally I agree with one of the most spiritual and brilliant scientists of our time, Itzhak Bentov, who said: “We don’t have souls. But it’s just the other way around – the souls have us.” (Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness, Itzhak Bentov).
How does this relate to human muscles? Well, my doctor suggested I try yoga. He believed it would rescue all of me – body and soul.
I entered my first yoga class feeling skeptical. In about an hour I was laying on the floor in Savasana, weeping. For a person who does not cry much and never cries in front of other people, this was quite a shock. It was also liberating.
I started to practice yoga regularly. While experiencing many well-known benefits of a yoga practice, I had a freeing experience of conscious breathing. Ultimately, it did rescue me. I was no longer depressed. I was no longer 20 pounds underweight. I loved life with a newly discovered intensity.
However, until our recent Yoga Tune Up® teacher training, I never really thought of where my breath and the weeping came from; what parts of the ‘physical me’ worked with the ‘spiritual me’ to create that unforgettable experience. During the training, we discussed various topics, including the uniqueness of a human diaphragm – a life-sustaining muscle and the integral component of the practice.
Whether you believe in God, evolution or a combination of the two, you’ll most likely agree that a human body is a truly magical creation. I find the diaphragm to be absolutely magical. It keeps our bodies alive and enlivens the practice of yoga.
The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that separates the thoracic and abdominal cavities. In other words, it separates the heart, lungs and ribs from the stomach, liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, small and large intestines, and the kidneys. The diaphragm’s muscle fibers attach (originate) at the inner surface of the lower six ribs, the upper two or three lumbar vertebrae, and the inner part of the xiphold process (very bottom of the chest bone). It inserts at the central tendon. When you breathe from your diaphragm, the diaphragm’s muscle fibers contract on the inhalation and pull the central tendon down. The central tendon pulls all the connective tissue it is attached to around the lungs and creates a vacuum in the upper thoracic cavity. This action pulls air into the lungs. On the exhale, the diaphragm relaxes. The central tendon is released and the lungs deflate.
The diaphragm and the way we choose to breathe affect our physical and mental well- being. Soft ligaments connect the diaphragm to our internal organs, affecting their function. Many of the fluid-pumping mechanisms are connected to the movement of the diaphragm as well. A healthy movement of the diaphragm benefits these pumping actions.
I’d like to point out another very important mind body yoga connection. The diaphragm is intimately connected with the star of Yoga Tune Up® – the psoas. Two diaphragm tendons extend down and connect to the spine alongside the psoas connection. The medial arcuate ligament (a tendinous fascia) passes through the diaphragm and arches over the psoas.
I experienced this connection first-hand, those 13 years ago. As I allowed the stress to get the best of my spirit, it started to affect my body. I had daily physical pain around my chest area. I could no longer hold food down and later I could barely walk.
Those days are long gone and they are never coming back, yet I am thankful for the experience as it encouraged me to explore many unique opportunities. One of them was the recent YTU teacher training. I am forever grateful and eager to learn more about the human body and the soul it lives in.
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