I don't know how you feel about your bones, maybe it's more familiar to think about joints and muscles, but when I pay attention to my bones I always try to remember that in this moment they are a living tissue, more fulsome and bloodful than the light, white emptiness of the bony shapes we typically recognise.
Bones are in a constant process of regeneration and they provide containment for the potency of stem cell production in the marrow.
Apart from this vitality, my bones also give a sense of form, and a sense of levity and strength combined.
The Idiom of Bone
Peeling back the layers of embodied anatomical experience, it's interesting to consider somatic associations like language and idiom:
to get to the "bare bones" of something
to know something "in your bones"
to pare something "to the bone"
These all suggest a deep interiority of experience, an honesty that won't be dressed up - this is a novel way to experience a mat practice.
Unfussy. Unadorned. Raw.
The Story Behind Bone
Bones are also the repository of stories about identity and lifestyle, forensic anthropologists being able to fairly accurately determine sex, age and ancestry, as well as identify certain diseases and dietary type long after all other tissues have decomposed.
In shamanic traditions, bones appear in mythic narratives, and a bone may be used for 'soul retrieval' rituals designed for the gathering and reintegration of the parts of the self that have been lost by us.
In Mexican folklore, for example, La Loba ("Wolf Woman") gathers the bones of animals and brings their spirits back to life.
"This is our meditation practice as women, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of ourselves, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of life itself. Our work is to apprehend the timing of both; to allow what must die to die, and what must live to live."
This story is regaled in Women Who Run with the Wolves, an exploration of mythology, creativity and female empowerment by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
Click here for an extract from the book.
And if you would like to lean into the sound of the story, I've made an audio recording.
I apologise wholeheartedly for my ill-informed Spanish pronunciation!
Exploring Bone & Breath On The Mat
Coming back to the mat, when I attend to the bones and breath simultaneously I sense the innate movement of the skeleton: nothing is ever static; and nothing is untouched by the breath.
I find this a beautiful enquiry to take into practice.
When any form seems complete I tune into the conversation between my breath and bones:
what is happening at my tail?
between fibula and tibia?
behind the xiphoid process?
across the sphenoid?
between the sutures of my skull, meandering like the arroyos, dry river beds, of La Loba?
TUNING IN TO BONE
I like to keep awareness in the bones and joint spaces as well as the breath when practicing this movement sequence demonstrated by Martha Peterson.
I've been discovering how bone has either been used as inspiration for or is evocative of bone in everything from architecture and art to fashion and textiles.
This is what biomimicry looks like. Think a chair whose design has been modelled on the cellular formation of human bone.
There's a real-life example of this at Kings Cross Station in London that you can absorb for yourself.
Next time you're catch a train, move your eyes skyward and notice the intricate white steel canopy - does it remind you of anything?
I've curated "bone inspiration" on Pinterest for those that are interested. Click here to see more >
Image credits on Pinterest
If you're interested in bone biology, here are two animations that I find to be both concise and clear. Each are a couple of minutes long.
Part 1 includes the various elements that make up bone and how the pieces work together.
Part 2 describes the role and functions of the cells responsible for breaking down bone tissue (osteoclasts) and building new bone (osteoblasts).