Energy and posture
Claude Emon Cannizzo
Even though in the teachings there is no special mention of the energy aspect of the posture, it is still based on an energy principle. I don’t intend to give you a lecture on energy, but it seemed interesting to emphasize few aspects of the posture involving energy functions.
In the first place: what is life?
In the eastern approach about the emergence of life, there are three fundamental principles that are earth, sky and their interaction. The relationship between those two polarities: what is given by the sky (yang), translated as “virtue” and what is given by earth (yin), translated by “force or strength”, “ki” (1) gives rise to potential life : man, forms and phenomena. “Ki” created the form and when the form appeared, the mind appeared, from the mind and the form, motivation appeared, followed by the action…
All this, is what we call LIFE …
In our body, the junction between those two polarities takes place in the hara, the kikai tanden, “the ocean of energy”. It is located two or three cm under the navel, it is precisely the point reached by a deep exhalation in zazen, when the body is totally relaxed and the mind totally free – that’s to say without any intention or willpower.
Hence the importance of mushotoku.
When we sit in zazen, the body is straightened towards the sky (yang) – the virtue - and firmly rooted in the “ki”, the ground (yin). These two polarities get harmonised by breathing in the lower abdomen. From there the whole life energy activity is stimulated and sent through the meridians of the body. Meridians are pathways, energy channels throughout the body, there are 14 meridians.
So what happens in zazen?
Zazen posture provides an ideal shape to the body bringing the whole peripheral circulation to the minimum necessary. We focus on breathing, especially on breathing out, downwards towards the hara. In fact it is not only the hara that is breathing, but the whole body. When it is said that zazen is nothing special, except returning to our original condition, our normal condition, it means returning to the origin of life.
The passing of thoughts is really the result of concentration on the posture and breathing: no need to think of not thinking. When the body is steady, breathing is quiet and the passing of thoughts occurs naturally.
But as thought is inherent to our willpower it continually resurfaces and distracts us from our attention on breathing. And it naturally shows in the posture : chin out, head falling forward, round back, thumbs curved in or up, thoughts clinging to pain or sometimes we fall asleep.
I am not going to go through a description of the posture, but just give some energy indications. (Further details are available in the leaflet on the posture, and in the kusens and mondos given during the weekend held in Neuilly in March 2009).
Apart from the spine, the rest of the body is under the influence of gravity: shoulders fall, pulled down by the weight of the arms, by “pushing the sky” with the top of the head, the nape is placed in the extension of the spine. This action stimulates the “ki” all the way along the backbone up into the deep brain (hypothalamus) that regulates the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine functions as well as a large range of behavioural body functions. Also all along the backbone there are several important points of the meridian of the bladder, called “Yu” which increase the tonus of the organs.
Drop the shoulders backward and the chest opens. This action has an effect on the diaphragm, on the plexus, on the breathing, but also on the lungs meridian -that starts under the collarbone at the top of the chest- this action is amplified by the position of the arms and the hands. Turning the palms face up, opens the inner arm, which naturally stimulates breathing. In “hokai jo in” (the hands posture), the tips of the thumbs touch each other with a light pressure on the ending point of the meridian of the lungs.
Sitting on the front of the ischia, i.e. the front of the buttocks’ bones (tilt of the pelvis) creates a pressure point between the genitals and the anus, that stimulates the starting point of the two fundamental body meridians: the directing vessel (yin) and the governing vessel (yang). In the mouth, the tongue is behind the front upper teeth, against the palate (roof of the mouth), allowing the meridians to meet in the mouth. This is why it is important to place the tongue behind the upper teeth and against the palate. On the one hand, as Roland often says, it avoids monologues, and at the same time it connects the flow of energy -stimulated by breathing- between the two meridians. Inflating the abdomen, breathing in, deflating the abdomen, breathing out, simultaneously massage and stimulate the organs.
Knees rooted in the ground, are related to the meridian of the stomach, it is an important point located right at the top of the tibia, under the knee, which stimulates the flow of energy gathered and stored from our food. It is very important to tone this reservoir of energy (spleen/stomach), in order to boost power, strength and endurance.
The pressure generated by the feet, placed on the inner thighs or calves (depending on whether the legs are more or less “crossed”), has an action on the meridians yin of the inner thigh, and mainly the liver, the latter affects the mental and the emotional activity, the energy and the blood are subsided ... It is an expression of the liver.
We could go much further in the details of the posture, but it is not really the purpose of this article meant to be just an approach, an introduction to energy and posture. What is especially important, obviously, is not to spend the time of the practice pondering about the posture, but rather be simply and totally present, here and now, in the practice of zazen. But nevertheless it is interesting to grasp that zazen posture is not just any posture among others, in respect to its important energy aspect. Also, it is interesting to realize that everything that occurs in the posture is related to life, (thus) related to the cosmic order.
(1) The translation of “force” is not complete compared with what “ki” means or implies. To us “ki” is rather seen as physical force, but in reality the “ki” is the breath, the intangible energy, psychology …
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