Friday, April 18, 2014

The Rib Cage. . . Cage? Really?

How do you think about your ribs?  Are they one unit? Are they a block that gets moved as one?

Because. . .that is pretty much how I have been using mine for a long, long time.  

Of course I knew that there were 12 thoracic vertebra (from anatomy classes and massage school), and each thoracic vertebra connects to a rib on each side.  Duh! And, yet, I never really thought that these bones could work independently of each other.  They always seemed so locked together. I couldn't envision it, let alone feel it. I mean it is a rib "cage"right?  Not a . . .

. . . a rib accordion?!?

I am just now learning to feel the motion that exists in the many areas and dimensions of my ribs, spine and sternum.  I am starting to feel that my sternum moves my thoracic spine and vice verse. And, I can twist in those upper ribs!  Each space between each rib has the capacity to move (even if just a little) to allow for generous twists that aren't just in my neck and low back.  Yahoo!

But, here is the rub, why did I freeze it in the first place? What was I caging between my ribs?  Of course, the anatomical answer is the lungs. But, the more holistic answer is my breath.  I was caging my breath, locking it between my frozen ribs. Why? Because that was an easy way to hide the muck of my emotions.

In yoga they talk about prana or energy that is directly related to the breath. Yogis devote their lifetimes to controlling their prana through breath exercises. It is worthwhile practice for this very reason.  Our breath is a direct link to our nervous system. 

And, the stuff that gets caught.  . . I call it emotional waste.  When my nervous system clicks into fight or flight, I have started to notice that I lock down my chest.  It's a little like an emotional lock down that functions to keep me clear headed, intellectual and problem solving-- you know a "mature adult." But, the reality is that inside I am having a tantrum! I am scared, angry, frustrated, hurt, sad. . . And, all of that is getting packed away into the rib cage.  Day by day. Event by event. Challenge by challenge.  When I don't let myself feel the intensity of what I am experiencing, I am just stuffing it away. Packing cement between my ribs in hopes of keeping the emotions at bay.  

So, now I get to relearn that reaction.  I am discovering the movement of my ribs. But, I am having to deal with a lot more than rusty muscles. I am having to rediscover what triggers my nervous system into fight or flight which causes me to hold my breath and to lock down my heart center.  Sometimes, it is a clear one to one explanation.  Someone criticizes me and I react defensively. Or, I forget something on my schedule that was important to me and I freak out.  But, sometimes it is less clear.  I start to move my upper ribs with my breath, and I all of a sudden feel sad, or irritable, or angry.  Those pent up experiences are held in the cellular memory of those tissues and the nervous system. 

This is big.  Making change in this way requires constant vigilance as well as compassion and forgiveness.  I can't just make a decision and force my ribs to move.  I am undoing years and years of this reactive habit.  And, forcing myself to do anything will just trigger my fight or flight again, defeating the purpose! 

No, this is a gradual process.  A slow unfolding of the layers of holding.  Bit by bit. 

Breath by breath.

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