The Architecture Of Our Most Precious Structures
“A building is not just a place to be but a way to be.”
Frank Lloyd Wright
Most of us have walked into a beautiful building of some kind and instantly felt something palpable in the air. The best spaces are always more than the material matter they have been been built from. They embody the greater purpose they have been built for. It might be a meeting place for connection, an aesthetic wonder to marvel at, a nurturing environment to make people feel at home or an incubator of creative ideas and activities.
Human beings are not that dissimilar. We primarily dwell in our physical form, but when we explore and integrate the other, less tangible, layers of our nature we’re able to experience fuller health and hopefully deeper happiness. Releasing body tension can encourage this integration, leading to opening, awareness and healing that extends beyond the physical.
The design of a house can be an apt metaphor when we are looking at our own human framework and any outdated or unhealthy patterns that may be abiding in our bodies and minds. Just as a property may need redesigning, renovating or occasionally being pulled right back to basics, we human beings also require various types of support, maintenance and TLC to restore or recalibrate our own structure and energy. Like a house needing home improvements, we too can make internal tweaks to better serve our needs and transform our lives.
As Frank Lloyd Wright’s quote alludes, there’s a whole other quality to a building aside from its bricks and mortar – aspects such as space, light, and even spirit.The experience of these more esoteric qualities in a person will vary according to unique life histories we each carry. However, there are a few regions of the body that most commonly hold extreme tension and emotion.
Let’s think of these as three levels of our own bodily building:
1. Ground Level: The Hips
When entering a building at ground level we immediately perceive whether there is a sense of openness or enclosure.
As a practitioner, this is equally clear to sense when checking in with the fascia and energy around a person’s hip area. Very often therapists and yoga teachers will highlight acute tightness and rigidity in these vital joints.
The main muscle that’s responsible for this holding pattern is the psoas.
International educator and somatic practitioner, educator and author, Liz Koch says:
“The psoas is no ordinary muscle but a profound segue into the rich, inner and outer world of awareness and consciousness.”
When the psoas is in balance, released and open, a sense of flow transmits through the body.
When it’s closed, tight and tense, that energy gets blocked and referred pain can develop.
2. Centre Level: The Heart
Whatever the function, shape or size of a building, there always seems to be a centre or focal point to it – an area that makes sense of the whole design and illuminates its quintessential nature.
In the human body, this is undoubtedly our heart space.
Every week there is increasing research that supports the value of heart intelligence and its link to our wellbeing. The heart’s electromagnetic field is estimated to be 5,000 times more powerful than the brain’s. It permeates every cell in the body and alters according to our different emotions. Due to its strong link to the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin, the heart also plays a key chemical (not just metaphorical) role in connecting with other people, as well as reducing stress levels and improving sleep.
So, by exploring the holding patterns in the heart region – both physical and emotional – we get the opportunity to form stronger connections both inside ourselves and outside with others.
3. Upper Level: The Head
The final level of our being that’s crucial when considering reframing our health, is of course the head. For better and for worse, our minds are an unmatchable force when it comes to influencing our wellbeing.
Just as the roof of a building is so often its crowning glory, our minds – and the millions (literally…we have an estimated 70,000 per day) of thoughts within them – represent the pinnacle of our nervous system. So nowhere are restorative measures more relevant and needed than here in the head.
Too many of us live with chronic stress as our background setting. But through awareness, breathwork and actively choosing to take time out of certain daily routines, we can reset our nervous system. We can shift it away from the ever-reactive state that modern life often perpetuates.
It is impossible to sustain a positive change in our health if the stress response of flight or fight is our default setting. It’s like inhabiting a building that has a fire alarm constantly sounding off!
By turning the volume down on our thoughts and taking moments to pause, we can come back to the present moment, which has a calming effect on our system a whole. With a less cluttered head we gain new perspectives, see situations in a new light and make more conscious choices.
There are so many aspects that create a building’s unique form and feel – its core structure, decor, light and space to name a few. And when seeking a healthier human experience, we can approach our body, mind and spirit in a similar vein.
Sometimes the way to make changes will be via our structure – getting advice from a bodyworker like a physio, osteopath or deep tissue masseuse.
Other times we may need to assess the effect our thoughts are having on us. A meditation practice and mindfulness apps, such as Headspace and Insight, can help with this enormously.
Or, it could be our energy and emotional architecture that needs balancing the most through acupuncture, reflexology, energy healing, yoga and more.
Whichever doorway you choose to access improved wellness will vary from season to season and reason to reason, but just like laying bricks one by one, it is small actions that create a big difference.
3 HIP-OPENING PRACTICES
- Bridge: Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, curl the tailbone off the floor; begin to raise hips as high as feels comfortable. Your weight should be even through both feet and shoulder blades.
- Lunge: Begin in standing with your left foot forward and right leg behind. Bend the front knee until it is directly over the toes; slide the right leg back until it is parallel to the floor. Keep the feet facing forwards and don’t let the front knee overshoot the toes. Your spine stays straight and your hands can rest on floor or front thigh. You can take this further by dropping the back knee to the floor to increase the psoas stretch.
- Pigeon: Start on all fours then slide the right knee towards the back of the right wrist and place the right foot to the outside of the left hip. Extend the left leg backwards, keep the hands pressed into the floor for support. Lift the spine with a ‘proud chest’ and then lower the upper body to the floor as you soften into the pose. This is a Yin style of pose so is best held for 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
3 HEART-OPENING PRACTICES
- Heart Breath: In a supported sitting position cross your arms so your palms rest over the upper chest and collarbones. As you breathe in to the centre of your chest, visualise the breath spreading out to the palms of your hands. Breathing out, imagine this space relaxing and softening. Then bring your palms into prayer pose in front of your heart. On every inhalation draw your hands apart, and as you exhale bring them back together. This motion can be helped by visualising yourself at the ocean, your hands moving like the rhythm of the waves.
- Lying Twist: Lie comfortably on your back with the knees bent up, feet flat on the floor. Bring the right knee up to the chest and extend the left leg down onto the floor. Place your right foot on the floor on the inside of the left knee and stretch the arms out to the sides at shoulder height, palms facing upward. Take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, keep your right shoulder anchored to the floor and take the right knee across your body and lower it towards the floor on the left side. Turn your head to the right. Relax and breathe normally. When ready, extend your right leg until it is parallel with your left arm – allow gravity to help you enjoy the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
- Acts of Kindness: Over the last 10 years a growing number studies have shown the immense health benefits of offering genuine demonstrations of kindness in our daily lives. This is mostly thanks to our old friend, oxytocin – described by Dr David Hamilton as the ‘molecule of kindness’. It is produced when we hug and it promotes trust. From a health perspective it is a cardioprotective hormone, which means kindness has the capacity to reduce blood pressure and act as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory.
3 MINDFUL AWARENESS PRACTICES
- Thought Counting: In a comfortable sitting position, start to notice your breath. When you feel settled, begin to count from 1 to 10, beginning with an inhalation on 1 and exhalation on 2. Continue this alternating pattern up to 10. Whenever you notice a thought creep into your mind, begin again at 1 and repeat the exercise. Don’t worry if you don’t get anywhere near 10, that isn’t the point of the exercise. Ease off on any judgement!
- Reframe Beliefs: By taking time to be mindful and introspective, we adopt an attitude Dr Daniel Siegel describes as curious, open, accepting and loving (COAL). It is from this space that we can think about what we want to challenge in ourselves and how we want to let go of unhelpful and more negative past influences. In this way, we give our lives meaning and direction without falling victim to the inner critic that can hold us back and limit healthy change.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: Find a comfortable seat. Feel your sit-bones ground you as you lift slightly from the crown of the head, creating a long spine. Rest your left palm on your left knee, moving your right hand towards the nose. Using the right thumb, softly close the right nostril and inhale as slowly as you can through the left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Pause. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril. With the right nostril open, inhale slowly, then close it with the thumb. Pause. Exhale through the left nostril. Once your exhalation is complete, inhale through the left. Pause before moving to the right. Repeat this pattern 5 to 10 times, and then release the right hand to the right knee. Ease back into normal breathing.
3 TIPS FOR SETTLING THE NERVOUS SYSTEM AS A WHOLE
- Belly Breathing: Lying on your back with knees bent and supported by a pillow, breathe in through your nose, allow your belly to rise gently. Then as you breathe out from your mouth let the belly relax back down towards the spine. Start with a few rounds and build up practising for a few minutes.
- Body Scanning: In standing, take 5 minutes to run through a body scan. If possible do it first thing in the morning – perhaps in the shower. Notice how you feel in your legs, trunk, shoulders and head. Only by getting to know where you carry tension can you do something to relieve it.
- Being in Nature: It really is our greatest healer.