The Butterfly in Head & Sacum~~
Smiling with your Neck ~~ by Anna Karkovska McGlew
This post about the sphenoid formed while I was semi-awake on a weekend morning and vividly felt the subtle adjustment of my head on my pillow produce an equally subtle (but very sensed) adjustment in my sacrum.
The sphenoid is an amazingly beautiful bone inside your skull, which makes up the anterior base of the cranium, and sits just above the upper soft palate. It is shaped like a butterfly or a small bird with outstretched wings.
Here is a visual:
This bone is amazing on many levels: it articulates with all the other bones in your cranium, holding them together like a keystone in an arch (but upside down). It is the head’s center of gravity and its position and ability to rock gently are critical to overall health and well-being. Sphenoid means a wedge, like a keystone; from it, the nerves leave the brain to connect with the spinal column and the lower spine. This bone also houses the pituitary gland, is close to the ears, and has the nerves of the eyes passing through it. The pituitary controls the functions of all other endocrine glands. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pituitary_gland
On a skeletal and fascial level, the sphenoid connects to the sacrum, first via the the sphenobasilar joint, where sphenoid and occipital bone, (the base of your skull) connect, then through the atlanto-occipital joint where the atlas (first vertebra) and skull meet, down through all the other vertebrae of the spine to the sacrum.
Through these links, the sphenoid and sacrum function as unit.
Just as the sacrum rocks forward and back, the sphenoid exhibits a subtle pulsing that can be quietly experienced, and which resembles a bird’s or butterfly’s wings flexing forward and back.
Here is a video of this mesmerizing motion:
This connection between sacrum and sphenoid pulsing is the basis for craniosacral therapy –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craniosacral_therapy.
This approach addresses the fascial and skeletal connection between sphenoid on top and sacrum at the base of the spine, as well as the deeper connection of the membrane system surrounding the brain, spinal cord, and cerebrospinal fluid. The pulsing of cerebrospinal fluid through this membrane system can be felt as a tidal motion, a subtle welling and receding called the craniosacral rhythm.
How does all this apply to everyday well-being and practice?
We often clench our teeth and do the pose with our faces. If my teeth are grinding and my jaw is tense, all the systems from the sphenoid all the way to the sacrum will also grip and effectively block me from my core intelligence. Being tense in the eyes, jaw, throat and neck disrupts the pulsing of the sphenoid and disconnects the head from the spine and the rest of the body.
Simply clenching the teeth clenches the butt —
sphenoid and sacrum quite simply mirror each other.
What to do? Soften. Close your eyes and release the mask of your face: soften your skin, your hair, make space between upper and lower teeth, quiet hands and feet. Once you access this softened space you may feel a subtle movement as your head balances on your neck and the internal movements of being human: heart, breath, digestion, etc. become sensate. As you sit quietly, do mini-horizontal figure 8 movements with the tip of your nose, as with a tiny paintbrush.
Breathe! Inhale, and allow the iner mouth to expand, the soft palate to widen and broaden. Exhale; allow the soft palate to gently draw in and up, gently coaxing the sphenoid above it to resume its pulse.
Finally, smile with your neck (see below). Growing aware of your sphenoid and integrating this knowledge into life and practice reorganizes your embodiment from the core outwards!
Smiling with the Neck
The suboccipitals have a primal connection through your brain to your eyes (jaw, inner ear), such that any movement with your eyes brings a corresponding movement/reaction in the suboccipitals & along the muscles that traverse your spine and keep you upright. A hard, fixed, or grasping gaze can lead to neck strain and pain.
Bring a smile to your eyes and soften your gaze to moisten and relax the suboccipitals. Then widen your neck to soften the side muscles (SternoCleidoMastoids and scalenes), so that the front of the throat rises subtly up and back, and the deep neck flexors awaken to their job.
Take a blanket, fold it several times and place it at a wall. Sit on the blanket in an easy cross-legged position with your back against the wall so your hips are higher than your knees. Throughout this practice, as the back of your pelvis and shoulder-blades remain in light touch with the wall, you will be able to feel and sit on your sit-bones with a neutral pelvis (imagine it as a bowl of water you are trying not to spill). As you root your sit-bones, inhale, lifting your floating ribs gently toward your spine and away from the top of your pelvis. Gently note the support of the wall with your shoulder blades, and drape the tops of the shoulders downward like a dress, taking care not to pull your arms down. Lift the low belly, but leave the groins heavy. Soften the low front ribs towards the back body and see if you can balance this action with keeping your pelvis neutral.
Ever so slightly, bow your forehead towards your chest and gently loft the top of your chest towards your chin. Notice if that releases any tension from the base of the skull and whether you feel a gentle lengthening there.
That’s your suboccipitals getting a break. Then, balance the rooting through the sit-bones with an elongation from base of spine all the way up through your crown, which awakens the deep neck flexors. Breathe, consolidate, then slowly lift your index fingers to your neck just above the Adam’s apple and draw them out to the sides towards the earlobes — as you create and feel this gentle shift with the sides of your neck, the SternoCleidoMastoids and scalenes will release back towards the wall and slightly up, lifting the top of your chest.
Voila! You have just smiled with your neck!
~~ A blending of two blogposts by the wonderful Anna Karkovska McGlew from her blog FLESH CONTEXT, on yoga, asana, alignment, anatomy, yoga philosophy.
(Slightly edited for continuity.)
Links to original posts: