My teacher taught me a magic trick recently — what I think of as ‘the laughing ribs’. It involves a contraction (like when you laugh) that pulls in the lower ribs. Since then I’ve developed a minor obsession with this, which is I hope is just starting to mature into a bit more of a stable relationship.
I’m poking away at this movement trying to feel it in my body, trying to understand it in my head, and then to apply both types of understanding to use it appropriately in my practice.
What’s so magic about this seemingly simple cue? Well I encountered it first in standing forward folds and when I get it right there’s such a great feeling of length along the spine and a much more comfortable fold — which also happens to be deeper, which is a bonus! But it feels long and spaciou, rather than cramped and closed.
Anatomically I think this is a hamstring-friendly manoeuvre which seems to encourage a posterior tilt to the pelvis, shortening any pull on my sensitive hamstring tendons.
In my home practice I’ve played a bit with this movement recently and I can feel the difference when I get it right in all the standing forward fold variations I could think of. And I found it seems to help keep me upright in Daṇḍāsana with less straining in my legs. Then thinking about the shapes of poses, logically it seems as though it should also contribute to seated forward folds too — since these are like those standing forward-folds, but rotated in space 90 degrees (compare Uttanāsana with Paścimottānāsana). But I can’t feel it so well here. Have I misunderstood? Or is it just harder for me to access? I’ve been trying to figure it out, rather than just jumping in and asking my teacher. I’m trying to develop my own sense and my own trust in reading my body; I don’t just want to seek validation each time I’m exploring something.
But the Universe offers! And class today abounded in references to tucking lower ribs in in all sorts of poses! So I’ll keep playing around at home when I can move slowly and more sensitively and explore how this works. Such a different way of working in my practice, from the inside out. I think that’s a good thing, a new stage. Though I’m sure next week my ego will reassert itself and start telling me that if I just pulled harder in a forward fold I’d look as good as the person next to me in class!
image source: up4yoga.com; ktwop.com; ego.co.uk