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Journey to the Core
Guided Imagery for Deep Relaxation
Time: 12 - 15 minutes
Summary: This practice accomplishes a few interconnected goals. First it helps to structurally open and expand the respiratory activity of the torso, belly and back - giving us an open door into the core. Next, the use of sound facilitates the release of habitual emotional tension in those areas as the sounding gives the nervous system a message that " all is well, it‚ safe to let go, and I can relax now". This helps us move into a felt, sensory awareness of our core.
Deeper in, it sets up a safe space, filled with sensation, that encourages the natural curiosity of our mind to drop from superficial thinking into deeply feeling the interior spaciousness of the body. We feel our biological life through the contrast between intense sensations (when the breath is intentionally held) and the release into deep stillness (when the breath spontaneously pauses). As we learn how to enter and roam through the interior of our body, we notice how "at home," stable, comfortable and intuitive we are. An inner knowing, or mindfulness, arises. It is an intimate, touching, awareness, grounded in the core of the physical frame of our body. It is not an abstract, disembodied, remote higher consciousness. Finally, when we rest in this core of awareness, rooted in our body, we have no doubt as to whom we are. We directly perceive our Self as the reality of this moment.
In yoga, our deepest self is reached through an integration of practices that network body, mind, heart and emotions into a coherent awareness‚ one that is rooted in our core. This expanded awareness is paradoxically developed through a concentrated application of yogic techniques. Gradually, what begins as a focused, technical practice evolves into a spontaneous, expanding process. In other words, we shift from using a time-tested method, to being guided by an evolutionary, unprecedented awakening - all set in motion by the yogic practices.
As a deeper awareness of our true nature intuitively unfolds from the inside out, our way of being attentive moves beyond mental thinking and into non-mental awareness‚ or mindfulness. During practice, as we shift our emphasis to the inner world - and withdraw from the outer world - we gradually leave behind the familiar reference points of our culture, our thoughts and even our identity as a personality. This can be very disorienting to the conditioned mind. Therefore, to support us in making this subtle, inward journey, it is vital that we feel safe and stable.
A stable anchor for this exploration from the known into the unknown is the ability to trust our inner self. The key here is to find, feel, and relax into our core. What do I mean by core? I think of it as a multi-dimensional presence.
Physically, we can speak of the core as the central axis of the torso, the gravitational plumb line that drops from the center of the skull to the center of the pelvic floor.
Structurally, the spine and pelvic bowel is the core of the skeletal body, whereas our deep pelvic, abdominal, diaphragmatic, and thoracic muscles are our muscular core.
Neurologically, the dural tube is the core- a hollow cable running through the spine that carries the central nervous system.
The core of breathing is considered to be the gap, or Madhya, between the in and out breath‚ when respiration ceases and metabolic activity is at a minimum.
Likewise, the core of the mind is known to be the gap between thoughts, when all that prevails is profound stillness.
Energetically, according to the yogic tradition, core can be considered as the Kanda, or storehouse of our life force, situated in the subtle body approximately three fingers below the navel.
This Kanda can be visualized as a root ball of swirling energy in which the sushumna nadi, like an energy stalk, is rooted. From here it extends up through the subtle body. It is from this energy stalk that each of the seven chakras, like flowers of energy on tiny stems, branch off.
Spiritually we may call our core the soul, or even our heart‚ our center of love, personal awareness and infinite divinity.
From a quantum physics perspective, we can consider our core as an expanding spaciousness, devoid of any matter whatsoever, intelligent energy moving in endless, unfathomable patterns.
When we speak of core, it refers to these and other subtler dimensions.
Practice: Journeying into Your Core
You may want to share this with a friend, each of you taking turns to guide the other through the process.
Materials: small cushion, eye bag or small towel over the eyes, small rolled hand towel, journal and pen.
Come into a position lying comfortably on your back. Perhaps place a cushion behind your knees, and a small rolled hand towel under the curve of your neck.
Bring your hands to rest on your belly. Begin to notice the movement of breath in your belly. Focus on your exhalation. As you exhale pull in your belly slowly, yet firmly towards your spine. As you inhale, expand your belly up. Repeat this a few times, feeling the sensation in your belly and breath.
Now begin to add a soft sighing sound to your exhalations, the kind of sigh you might make as you settle into an easy chair at then end of a hard day.
Notice what changes ‚ emotionally‚ energetically‚ physically. Repeat this a dozen times or so, as long as it feels comfortable.
Do you notice a lessening of tension, and an increase in awareness? ‚ Do you notice your sense of self is dropping out of your skull and centering in your chest or belly? ‚ Do you feel perhaps a safety or unusual confidence in the moment?
Shift your hands to your ribs and exhale. Then with a willful contraction of the chest muscles, feel the ribs tighten even more against the torso. Breathe in and expand.
Again after a few rounds, add the sounding sigh. Repeat a dozen times or so.
What is happening now? ‚ What do you feel? ‚ Where in your body do you now feel your center of awareness is located? ‚Can you feel your center of attention shifting into your ribs? ‚ Do you notice if you are dropping away from the surface?
Now with hands on the breastbone, repeat this breathing technique - perhaps a dozen times.
Do you notice your chest more vividly? Not just the surface but the heart and the inner chest as well‚ the sensations‚ the presence‚ the intelligence. Are you aware of emotions moving ‚ or energy streaming?
Next, sandwich your hands between your back and the floor. Again, repeat the physical technique and pause.
Again notice the effect on your awareness, identity, or sense of self.
Release your hands from behind your back and rest them at your sides.
Finally, slowly begin an overall exhalation - simultaneously pull your belly, ribs, sternum and back snugly into the central core of your body. Briefly and easily hold the breath out, do not strain. Then slowly inhale and expand the belly, ribs, chest, and back body. Briefly and easily hold the breath in, do not strain. Then, with a long slow sounding sigh‚ release.
Repeat this process three or so times. (Pause)
Release all the techniques, let go of controlling your breath, and notice what now happens spontaneously - how the breath rises, and falls, and stops‚ all on its own. Notice how you perceive who you are‚How thinking is less dominant and feeling awareness more prominent‚
Relax into the steadiness and comfort this brings, particularly when the breath stops on its own‚Let that easy, steady, breathless state expand and enjoy the core stillness it brings. Do you feel more restful, more joyful?
Reflect deeply on this, and perhaps recognize the awareness of an inner presence and aliveness that is here, waiting for you as you let go of control.
Notice how comforted you feel‚ and how secure‚ and how stable you really are‚ deep inside.
Can you sense a confidence and trust in the ease of the moment‚and can you allow that to radiate form your anchoring point in the core, all the way back to the surface of your mind, body and emotions?
Enjoy this journey to the core for a few more moments, and then as you are ready, bring yourself back to the room.
Once reoriented, take a few moments and journal any awareness that have occurred for you, paying close attention to the sense of writing from the spaciousness of your own insides.