“When I first discovered the ritual postures,
Most of the examples came from a few isolated societies
And archeological finds.
I had no idea that we were dealing with a worldwide phenomena.
In fact, I reacted rather impatiently
When friends began to point out
That there were examples of our postures in museums
And that they were derived from all sorts of places.
From Felicitas Goodman’s foreword
to Ecstatic Trance Postures,
An Alternate Reality Workbook
by Belinda Gore
Since my personal conceptual framework for organizing information about visionary trance postures is my World Tree deck of cards, I was glad to have Shiva’s fixed number of 84 to work with. Unfortunately, and despite my best efforts, learning that piece of mythology still did not make for a simple or straightforward process. Even limited to 84, the trance postures are not particularly amenable to organization unlike the Ba Gua movements (click here) whose five different foot stances and eight different arm positions gave me not only a nice even 40 combinations to integrate into my card-deck, but a formula for doing so.
My search both for postures and for a means to place them in my deck appeared to be at a dead end until I spoke with a Nicaraguan Mayan friend of mine, Grandmother Flordemayo. She mentioned that not only was her Guatemalan Mayan teacher, Don Alejandro, well aware of the general idea, he practiced his own way of using body position to influence the trance experience. She explained that the Mayan concept of the thirteen joints in the human body reflects the cosmic order of their sacred calendar and that the joints in our body were classified in this way:
- 1 spine/ribs/skull/jaw are considered one complex joint
- 2 ankles/feet are each considered one complex joint
- 2 knees
- 2 hips
- 2 wrists/hands are each considered one complex joint
- 2 elbows
- 2 shoulders are each considered one complex joint
A simple mathematical formula for how many different ways those thirteen joints can be organized is 13 squared. 13 times 13 equals 169 different arrangements of the 13 joints. Half of those positions are going to be mirror images of one another, so I divided 169 by 2 and got 84.5. When two cultures separated by oceans, millenniums, and worldviews end up even somewhere near the same numbers in the way they conceive of themselves, I figure there is some basic pan-human similarity underlying their different ways of interpreting the human experience.
And sure enough, consistent patterns among the many varied types of images that point the way to ecstatic trance postures were much easier to discern once I started looking at them from the view of seeking the state of each the 13 major sacred joints in the human body. Each of the 13 joints had just a handful of possible states regardless of individual differences in proportion and appearance
The joints could be:
Looking the range of movements for each type of joint was also helpful. Knees and elbows are basically hinge joints. They open and close in just one direction, and do not normally rotate much if at all. Fully extended they make a straight line, half way is a 90-degree right angle and how close to closed they get depends on the individual. Hips and shoulders are ball joints so they can roll about rather dramatically, and the truly multi-boned complex joints, the spine, wrists, and ankles, can both bend and rotate. I think of the rotation this way:
- Rotating in (abductors)
- Rotating out (adductors)
The range of movement for both simple and complex joints depends on the individual’s proportions, fitness, and flexibility. Superficially, the results of the different proportions among body types can be confusing. A representation of a long-limbed lanky flat-chested individual standing with one arm lying flat across their belly and one across their chest might have one set of fingertips near their collarbone and the other reach clear across to the opposite elbow. A stout, short-limbed, pot-bellied, barrel-chested, or big-breasted individual whose elbows, shoulders, and wrists are at exactly the same angles as the lanky one might end up with their fingertips closer to their nipple and belly button.
Acknowledging, such individual differences not only clarified my own search but also relieved those who wish to experience the postures for themselves from striving for anatomically impossible and/or inaccurate positions. There is an interesting sensation of the energy of the trance experience locking in and amping up when the practitioner settles into the correct working position given their particular build. There can also be some remarkably intense discomfort felt when the position held is close enough to trigger the visionary flow, but off kilter just enough for the energetic circuit not to complete.
I’ve also found that focusing on the actual position of each person’s joints rather than the participant’s superficial appearance allows them to not only customize each posture to their particular proportions but to consciously vary their degree of physical tension to direct their experience as well. Maintaining their awareness of and controlling the degree of rotation as well as bend of each joint offers a finely tuned steering mechanism for participants to influence their trance experience.*
I found 60-some named postures, including the forbidden ones (click here) scattered throughout Felicitas Goodman’s and her Institutes’ various publications. Unfortunately, not all of them are unique according to my joint criteria. For instance, most people find it impossible to keep their hands on their knees while bending their elbows without leaning forward. Conversely, keeping their hands on their knees and straightening their elbows requires that they straighten up their back. Although most people can easily vary how closely they hold their arms to their sides without moving their hands or their hips, how the elbows are held does affect how the spine and ribs move.
- Pressing the elbows into each side tends to lock the shoulder blades in place, so a deep breath will expand the ribs in front, which in turn arches the vertebra in the spine.
- Holding the elbows forward and away from the body on the other hand tends to lock the collarbone in place while rotating and opening up the shoulder blades. As rib movement in front is constricted, breathing in then expands the back ribs and rounds the spine.
Should they straighten one elbow and bend the other, they must twist their spine to compensate. How much rotation and to which side depends on the individual. Any neurologically based rules that might be laid down for those who are strictly right handed, eyed, and footed, necessarily fail to hold true when applied to lefties, people with mixed dominance, and those who are genuinely ambidextrous.
- However, maintaining a fixed upper arm position does affect how the ribs and spine move as we breathe and may also affect the flow of blood to the heart.
I suspect any consistency in regards to what kinds of experiences are associated with which arm being where in asymmetrical postures it is based on whether the arm position emphasizes the flow of venous blood through the heart into the lungs (death and rebirth) or the flow of arterial blood out of the heart into the body (healing).
For example, even though there are nearly infinite minor variations in body proportions and muscle tension, these set anatomical patterns limit us humans to four basic variations when we kneel down and place the same side hand on each knee:
- Kneeling arms straight
- Kneeling arms bent and held close
- Kneeling arms akimbo (bent, held away from the body)
- Kneeling arms asymmetrical
Keeping both elbows akimbo with the hands on the same side knees while changing the position of the legs offers another range of possible positions. While a lanky long-limbed individual may squat with ease, a stout short-limbed thick-legged individual will find it nearly impossible and resort to sitting on their buttocks with their knees raised. How close together people can place their feet flat on the ground also varies according to their build. Besides individual issues of weight and limb length, men have a narrower pelvis than women do. So I have considered the all those variations as reflecting individual differences of one position.
- Sitting cross legged
- Sitting with both legs bent to one side
- Sitting with knees raised and feet flat on ground (squatting)
- Sitting with legs apart, stretched out to front
- Sitting with legs together stretched out to the front
- Sitting in a chair
Trying the possible variations resulting from changing only the position of the elbows offers a whole other batch of options, so many I am not attempting to illustrate them. But here is a partial list:
- Asymmetrical elbows with one straight, and one akimbo
- Asymmetrical elbows with one straight, and one bent and held close to the body
- Both elbows bent and held tightly to the sides
- Both elbows straight
The first two options tend to twist the spine, and the third tends to arch it. Keeping both elbows straight but changing the position of the hands while sitting cross-legged, or at least with the knees bent, makes for whole other set of variations:
- Hands on top of legs at ankles
- Hands on ground at ankles
Placing your hands on ground at the ankles or placing your hands on top of the legs at the ankles when sitting cross-legged precipitates an experience of metamorphosis. Since both positions inspire the experience of transformation, the question is whether the change in the angle of the hip joint is enough to precipitate a distinct predictable difference in the type of metamorphosis experienced regardless of individual variations in build. Anatomical limitations can make apparently minor changes result in very different looking positions.Here are a few more variations on the straight arm theme:
- Hands on ground at knees
- Hands on knees
- Hands on ground at hips
Most people cannot keep their hands on their knees and straighten their elbows while sitting cross-legged without falling over backwards. Anatomically possible variations include leaning forward and placing the hands on the ground, or changing the position of the legs so the knees are still bent, but the feet touch soles instead of being tucked under the knees. Most people cannot put their hands on their hips while keeping their arms straight. Just putting the hands on the ground at the hips with straight arms is a challenge and most people will have to lean forward to keep both their balance and their elbows straight. Here are a couple more considerations:
- If you keep the spine straight, changing the position of the elbow can make the hand shift position just as moving one hand can demand that the elbow bend.
- Keeping the elbows straight while changing the position of the hands can change the angle of the hip joint which in turn increases the lean in the back, and changes the angle at shoulder joints
When do those changes lie within an acceptable range of bend at a joint, creating only minor variations of single experiential theme and when are these distinct and separate postures with predictably consistent and specific themes? Only compiling the visionary experiences of a fair number of participants can tell if there are sufficiently distinct and predictable characteristics.
*My thanks to Nana Nauwald for sharing her thoughts on
how muscle tension affects the trance experience.
In closing, as always,
While my intent is to inform and educate and
I welcome those who share links to my work and new readers,
my work is copywrited.
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