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Howlers & Hyoids

A Costa Rican Adventure

The Blog

We were busy arching over blocks and chairs and talking hyoid bones during Genny Kapuler’s retreat at Blue Osa in Costa Rica. Genny says that creating consciousness in the hyoid bone helps the tongue move and aids swallowing and encourages us to “not break our necks” in backbends.

We specifically worked with this concept while doing standing backbends. First I stood in tadasana and created a ferris wheel in the upper chest. It was hard work to not overarch my naturally lordotic cervical curve. It requires thought to keep the neck unifed with the rest of the spine. When Genny demonstrated the pose she vocalized how her voice changed from being strained to integrated. Her clear voice was the result of an unimpaired and well placed hyoid bone.

This unique u shaped piece of osseous matter is situated near the vishuddha or throat chakra. According to a handout compiled by Genny from her teacher BKS Iyengar, that particular chakra controls speech and intellectual thought. When it is activated, as it can be in backbends, it increases the student’s power of understanding and creativity.

The vishuddha chakra in turn represents the vijnamayakosa which is the layer of the individual soul. It is associated with the sense of touch and as such interweaves one’s intelligence from the body to the self, explained Genny.

Backbends were exhilarating and anti-depressive that morning. As a result, all the anatomy, chakra and kosa information was heady stuff for 20 sticky bodies and heated brains to take in on a hot tropical morning. By the end of class all we really wanted to do was touch our heads to our feet and then jump in the salty sea before a healthy lunch of soup, salads and baked eggs.

Around us the macaws squawked and the howler monkeys howled and their calls momentarily took our thoughts away from the teaching. But not quite.

It seems howler monkeys are one of the only mammals to have a pneumatized hyoid bone…that means they have air spaces within the bone. And it’s how they make their distinctive sound. If they have air spaces in their hyoid, how does that affect their vishuddha chakra? Or for that matter theirvinjanmayakosa? And, how do they not “break their necks” in backbends. Perhaps they don’t do backbends at all. According to naturalist Alexander Von Hombolt, the howler monkey’s “eyes, voice, and gait are indicative of melancholy.” And, explorer John Lloyd Stephens described them as “grave and solemn, almost emotionally wounded.”

Yet for all their somberness, howler monkeys were regarded as incarnations of Mayan Gods. As such they must have accessed their most subtle layers and beyond, fully realized, even if they had holes in their hyoid bones.

Ah, the scope of lessons explored at Blue Osa in the jungles of Costa Rica.

–Brette Popper

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