The human body (which is made up of about 100 trillion cells) begins as a single, newly fertilized cell.
Nutrients need to get through the cell membrane, and once inside, the cell metabolizes these nutrients and turn them into energy that fuels its life functions. As a result, waste is generated and needs to somehow get back out through the membrane.
Any impairment in the membranes ability to let nutrients in, or waste out, will result in the death of the cell via starvation or toxicity.
The observation that all living things take in nutrients provides a good understanding of Prana, which is what nourishes a living thing. Prana is not only what is brought in as nourishment, but also the action that brings it in.
The yogic concept that complements prana is apana. Apana refers to what is eliminated as well as the action of elimination. Prana and Apana describe the essential activities of life.
In order for a cell to thrive, certain conditions need to exist. The cell needs to be permeable so nutrients and waste can pass in and out of the cell, but it can’t be so permeable that the cell wall loses its integrity.
The yogic term that reflects these opposites are sthira and sukha. All living things need to balance containment and permiability, rigidity and fluidity, persistence and adaptability, space and boundaries, etc…
Let’s look at the things that happen at the start of life on earth.
In utero, oxygen is delivered through the umbilical cord (the mother does the breathing), your lungs are sealed off and non functional or mostly collapsed. The circulatory system is largely reversed, with oxygen rich blood flowing through the veins and oxygen depleted blood flowing through the arteries. (I will go into much finer detail of this in another blog post)
Being born means being severed from the umbilical cord, which has sustained you for nine months. Suddenly, and for the first time, you need to engage in actions that will ensure your continued survival.
The first breath causes blood to surge into the lungs; the right and left sides of the heart to separate into two pumps; and the specialized vessels of fetal circulation to shut down and seal off. Your first breath is the most forceful one as it needs to overcome the initial surface tension of your previously collapsed, fluid-filled lungs.
Another first time experience that occurs at birth is the weight of the body in space. Inside the womb, you are in a weightless, fluid filled environment. At birth, your universe expands and you can move freely in space, your limbs and head can move freely in relation to your body and you must be supported in gravity.
Right away, you have to start DOING something, you have to find nourishment, which involves a complex action of simultaneously breathing, sucking and swallowing. All the muscles involved in the act of survival create your first postural skill – supporting the weight of your head.
Postural development continues from the head downward, until you begin walking, with the completion of your lumbar spine at about 10yrs old.
To summarize: At birth you are confronted by two forces that were not present in utero: breath and gravity. The practice of yoga can be seen as a way to consciously explore the relationship of breath and posture.
In the language of yoga: Life on this planet requires an integrated relationship between breath )prana/apana) and posture (sthira/sukha). When things go wrong with one, they go wrong with the other.
Content from Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff