Home Yoga Practice

Do you have a home yoga practice? Have you developed a regular yoga practice for yourself? Maybe your regular practice is to go to your favorite yoga classes every week as consistently as possible. And your home yoga practice might be to take a few minutes to move and stretch each day.

I started thinking about home yoga practices for my students. Sometimes I have to cancel a class. When I’m away from our classes together, I hope my continued encouragement to do yoga at home gains traction. As a yoga teacher, I want students to learn yoga and eventually develop their own home yoga practice. A person makes the most progress when yoga becomes a part of their everyday lives. So, let’s consider the merits of both a yoga studio practice and a home yoga practice.

Home Yoga Practice vs Yoga Studio Practice

Most of us would agree that practicing yoga with others helps to keep us in class, and on the mat from start to finish. It may make us more motivated to put in a strong yoga practice. We stay with each pose, attempt each move, and participate more actively. Yoga is not a competitive sport but it can feel like a team sport. A “team of yogis” moving through asanas and breathing together in pranayama can inspire you go that extra mile. It is uplifting to watch as others move together with you in a yoga studio class.

The home yoga practice can make yoga easy. For starters, you’re at home! You don’t have to find a class, get dressed, comb your hair, drive your car, or go online to schedule or pay for class. The downside is you don’t have to commit to… well, anything. The home yoga practice can make yoga hard, because it is easy to get distracted with home tasks. Like some many areas of our life, we bemoan: “The mind is wonderful servant but a terrible master.” But let’s decide that your heart is in it. You know it will be a good and positive habit to develop. Even the servants of your logical mind must yield to the obvious pros and cons.

Merits of a Home Yoga Practice

  • Developing intentional awareness – many yoga studio teachers (like me!) will give the queue to become more aware, to notice sensation, to scan the body, to go inside and check in with how you are feeling. The teacher may be talking through this at just the moment when you need quiet and stillness! In a home yoga practice, develop a keener awareness by suggesting these queues to yourself by yourself. You set the intention when you say to yourself, “now, go deep inside and feel your body from the inside out.” 
  • Giving your body exactly what it needs – you’re the expert on your own body! You know the difference between a twist that feels oh-so-good versus one that is unpleasant and is moving in the direction of painfulness. Ask your body what it needs. Offer yourself movement suggestions, “how does this feel? oh, well, how about this, then?” Move in ways that help you release and relax, and strengthen and balance.
  • Working on advanced poses – So you want to do headstands? Gear your home yoga practice to poses that prepare your body for headstands. For example, warm up and spend the rest of your time going up and coming down (gracefully! and against a wall!) from headstand and child’s pose with strength and control.
  • Choosing more meditation or more pranayama – Have you ever been in a studio yoga class doing alternate nostril breathing and reluctantly had to stop before you were ready? I have! Several more rounds would have been oh-so delicious. A few minutes more (or less!) of mindfulness meditation or savasana would have been just right. Experiment with yourself. You choose!
  • Working with personal preferences – In a home yoga practice you may find yourself doing the same poses and sequences every session. What’s up with that? A home yoga practice gives you the opportunity, indeed the intention to examine your own choices. Like eating habits, what we most avoid doing in yoga class may be exactly the thing we need most! Working with personal preferences help us to notice and choose a practice (a habit, a meal, a pose) that creates more balance in our lives.
  • Going long or going short – What’s the ideal yoga practice time. An hour? An hour and 15 minutes? Ninety minutes? Two hours? With a home yoga practice you decide. Some days it may be exactly 23 minutes using your phone timer. Other days it may be outside, in the park, in between walking, skipping or running. Go long or go short. Just go and do it!

Planning a Home Yoga Practice

Deciding to develop a home yoga practice is the first step. Once you set the intention to begin, you’ve already started! Yoga Journal offers a few keys to a successful home practice:

  • Make a date with your mat – use the time you have, even if that means 15 minutes
  • Find inspiration – books, videos, or using your favorite sequence from your studio class
  • Choose a focus – standing poses, inversions, twists, forward folds
  • Beginning and ending – develop quiet and calm for the start and the finish
  • Just do it – get past your mind stuff and “experience yourself more clearly”

Beginning a Home Yoga Practice

There are all sorts of videos online for yoga, pranayama, meditation, mudras, chanting, and yoga philosophy. The following are links that give me inspiration in teaching yoga and in doing my own home yoga practice. You may recognize some of the postures, queues, and language that I use when I teach classes at Take Me To The River Yoga studio. You can always come to Take Me To The River yoga studio to practice these same styles in a studio yoga class with me. I encourage you to also try a few of these online classes, get inspired and develop your own most meaningful home yoga practice. 

Somatics and Yoga – James Knight’s youtube channel “Gentle Somatic Yoga” lays out several different somatic practices by topic. For variety and for addressing specific issues, this is a good primer on the topic of Somatics and Yoga.

Mindful Hatha Yoga – Mindful Hatha Yoga tends to be a more gentle practice with focus on slow movement and concentration on the breath. Yoga with Adrienne is a popular yoga channel with different styles. I like Adrienne because she’s approachable, has a sense of humor, and gives great direction and options. This is her Gentle Yoga – 25 Minute Gentle Yoga Sequence

Chair Yoga – The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa has posted several chair yoga videos. This “Gentle Yoga in the Chair” is one of the best I have found.

Kripalu Vinyasa Flow – One of my teachers at Kripalu, Coby Kozlowski teaches this Moderate Kripalu Vinyasa Flow class. 

Mindfulness Meditation – Tara Brach is my go-to meditation teacher. Her videos and podcasts are so inspiring! Here’s her youtube channel. Most all her talks begin with a discussion and end with a short, guided meditation. She is easy to relate to, offering poignant, compassionate quotes from Rumi, Rilke, and telling stories to give texture and deep meaning.

Kirtan Kriya – The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation explains the steps, benefits and results they’ve seen with the practice of Kirtan Kriya. Read up on the technique using the fingers, then go to this link to practice with music and timing. The youtube video has are no words or instruction but just provides the framework of music, chanting and timing for this practice. I’ve written on Mudras and Homunculus Man to explore the physiology behind the effectiveness of hand gesture practices.

 

Yoga is an N-of-1 Clinical Trial

N-of-1 is the term used to describe one person as the sole participant in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are used to test new pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and innovative health-related techniques. The practice of yoga with a trained yoga professional can be akin to an N-of-1 clinical trial. The proof of efficacy is measured by how yoga makes the individual feel.

Yoga treats the person, not the disease. Large clinical trials are looking at the macrocosm of a disease or illness, which is great. It is important to know how large groups of people respond within a clinical trial. If an individual gets the placebo or the treatment and doesn’t respond positively however, they become a segment of a statistic. Yoga approaches health at the N-of-1 level. Yoga can address the microcosm (and super microcosm) of dis-ease in a person.

The N-of-1 idea is gaining some traction in a world where clinical trials may involve hundreds or thousands of participants. Large trials are designed to learn how groups of people will respond to certain treatments. New drugs and medical techniques are developed using the scientific method in these case studies. Clinical trials also inform the direction of the next generation of study and research. And big data in clinical trial research has become another technology tool for analyzing all kinds of detailed bits of information. Gathering huge amounts of data on individuals is the N-of-all method.

The N-of-1 experience is something we all do when we practice body awareness in yoga. We are trying to figure out how we feel and what makes us feel better. Body awareness is being aided by technology, biofeedback, and groups like The Quantified Self. Check out their podcasts and read about their conferences where they put out a call for N-of-1 papers.

For individualized medicine, the greatest measure of success is STILL how people feel after receiving the trial drug or treatment. Enter the N-of-1 experience. When you go to a doctor you’d like her to “practice medicine” in the N-of-1 model. That is, tailored to your particular sex, weight, age, anatomy, family history, medical history, etc. N of 1 = you, the real person.

One or a thousand, what the diff in a clinical trial? Clinical trials are typically designed to select participants based on specific criteria. For example, a clinical trial involving the effects of a treatment on people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) might begin with selecting an even mix of men and women, smokers and non-smokers, people diagnosed with COPD or limited respiratory capacity, and individuals with no breathing problems. There might be a control group and the trial might be designed as a double blind study. The larger the sample size, the more compelling the results . . . sort of.

What if you’re not in the P < 0.05 club? That’s the golden line of 5%, the true test of statistical significance. In yoga we look for a wider golden line in our practice. Yoga is a “clinical trial” where the focus is an N-of-1 study where the true passing grade is closer to 100%.

Methods and resources for N-of-1 and N-of-All:

Design and Implementation of N-of-1 Trials: A User’s Guide. https://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/topics/n-1-trials/research-2014-5/. Published February 12, 2014.

Gibson B. An N of One and an N of All: Personalized Medicine and Personalized Yoga. Yoga for Healthy Aging. https://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com/2014/05/an-n-of-one-and-n-of-all-personalized.html. Published May 27, 2014.

Cirone M. How Glenn Sabin’s Book – n of 1 – is Helping to Change the Face of Cancer Care. Integrative Cancer Review. http://integrativecancer.org/why-glenn-sabins-book-n-of-1-is-changing-the-face-of-cancer-care-a-book-review/. Published February 6, 2017.

 

Chair Yoga is still YOGA

Chair yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga
Getting ready for Chair Yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga

Chair Yoga is still YOGA. Still, meaning in the future, as in the past (an adverb). I’m not talking about “still” as an adjective (not moving)! It’s the real deal. When you do yoga in a chair you are STILL doing yoga. You do yoga with all the benefits of movement, breath, and mindfulness. Even if you swear by your uber-active Ashtanga or your hot flow Vinyasa, Chair Yoga may STILL have something to offer you.

We’re still doing Chair Yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga studio in the Wednesday morning 10 am class. It started out with one of my students needing a few more options to the poses in our regular Hatha Yoga practice. She was uncomfortable in our reclined poses. So I combined our favorite yoga poses with Chair Yoga for seated poses, and several options for standing variations using the chair.

As an aside here… people often ask what its like in a typical studio class. My usual response is that it depends on who shows up! My classes do have brief descriptions and titles like Kripalu Yoga, Kripalu Vinyasa Flow, Mindful Yoga, HRV Yoga, Energy Body Yoga, etc. But “It is all Hatha to Me” (I need a t-shirt with this slogan). Hatha Tantric Yoga. Traditional Yoga. Classic Yoga. I teach YOGA to the class. I check in with the students who show up, and adjust the class accordingly. That often means offering several options to the poses, depending on the ease and preference to the anatomy and the energy in the room!

Chair Yoga combines all the elements of a typical Yoga class using the chair as a “prop.” Props like blankets, blocks and straps will be familiar to those students who have practiced yoga. The chair is just another prop. The special prop-erties of the chair are support and comfort for weight, balance and mobility.

Students wary of sitting on the floor, or getting up off the floor come to appreciate the support of a chair in their yoga practice. People with conditions such as ankle, knee or hip pain, low back pain, lack of flexibility, fatigue, shortness of breath may find greater ease by practicing yoga in a chair.

One of the first Chair Yoga practices I experienced was in a 2012 youtube video posted by the Moffitt Cancer Center here in Tampa, Florida. It’s called Gentle Yoga in the Chair. The practice is wonderful and the comments below the video post tell the true story of what this kind of practice can mean for many, many people. I have gone to Chair Yoga school on this video and with many online Chair Yoga videos. Even with a long running personal practice, I find Chair Yoga is still YOGA!

If you relate to the popular yoga meme, “I just came for the Savasana,” you simply must experience Savasana in Chair Yoga. It’s still Savasana!

Mudra and Homunculus Man

Hand positions used in the practice of yoga are called mudras. Like the breathing practices of pranayama, there are many different mudras for evoking certain physiological responses. The mudras have wide ranging effects on the sensory functions within the body. What is behind this experience?

Homunculus Sculpture by Sharon Price-Jame
Homunculus Sculpture by Sharon Price-James

 

Enter Homunculus man! Images of the “little man” or homunculus show body parts scaled to their relative sensory function in the brain. The sculpture pictured above is a graphic representation by Sharon Price-James. It is one of three of her Homunculus man sculptures (the other two are motor and sexual versions). This is the sensory version showing those parts that make the greatest contribution in our cortical functioning. Look at those hands! Hmm… could this be a scientific basis for mudra effectiveness?

Let’s continue. The fastest and most detailed information we can gather for our nervous system is through the rate of our breathing and our sense of touch with the hands. In yoga our controlled connection to that nervous system is through the breath in pranayama and with the hands in mudra. These two yogic practices are our direct connection between the relationship between the body and the mind, in their combined relationship to our environment.

The concept of mudras has its detractors and its supporters. Some discount mudras as simply ritualistic or symbolic. The experiential evidence (that’s real people doing real activity) shows a number of related techniques using the hands and fingers as having similar effectiveness. Think tapping, Super Brain Yoga, Kirtan kriya yoga advocated by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation using SA-TA- NA-MA mantra with finger movements. Other yogic techniques such as meditation and mediation of the body have been studied using technology to measure and evaluate the mystery of the practice. Don’t get me started.

So back to Homunculus man and mudra. How does a topographical map of the body’s sensory areas inform our practice? Would that we could ask Dr. Wilder Graves Penefield, a pioneer in mapping the regions of the brain. Not a guy satisfied with the amazing feat of describing the cortical homunculus, he really was interested in the science behind consciousness and the soul. Wow. His early work on brain stimulation gives us many threads to follow. After all, he branched out into the study of hallucination, out-of-body-experience, deja vu – seamlessly and without hesitation. We should be such doubters.

Bottomline. Hands are innervated in a way that has huge significance to dedicated brain activity (can we call that activation?). Hand gestures and mudras communicate outwardly and inwardly. The brain and body has developed in a way to collect loads of data from the hands. Find a mudra that works for you.

Now, how about the lips and tongue on Homunculus man? Kiss someone today and let me know if its love or pseudoscience!

Running energy and the inner sound current in meditation

I was listening to the Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast and heard DT interview Laraaji (starts at about the 16:20 spot on the podcast). The musician formerly known, and sometimes still known as Edward Larry Gordon is Laraaji. He plays an interesting style of ambient, inner sound current music that incorporates zither, mbira, and piano.

The Laraaji interview with Duncan Trussell is over an hour long. It includes comedian DT’s hilarious opening monologue on Christmas, his ads for his podcast sponsors, and other Trussell-esque outtakes.

Ambient 3: Day of Radiance by Laraaji
Ambient 3: Day of Radiance

The interview covered so much philosophical ground, with Laraaji interjecting spiritual nuggets at a rate too fast to take notes! Part of their discussion centered on the start of Laraaji’s musical career, and how he was “discovered” by Brian Eno. With Eno he made the amazing album Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, the third installment of Brian Eno’s ambient music series (Ambient 1-4), of which you must take a listen!

Laraaji spoke about his music as being ambient, field music or having a vertical sound presence. He expressed that with his music he is “running energy.” He used the example of being physically in a place (like Washington Park) but being able to shift awareness into a cosmic place by running cosmic energy. The description was one of being in a unified field, a trance state where the nervous system functions differently.

His expression of what it feels like to play music, while being in a meditative state was well-defined. Often times artists and musicians either cannot or will not verbalize their creative process. For Laraaji, making music is like having electrodes on your body, tapping into a cosmic field, a cosmic time, a cosmic space.

One of the many take-homes from this discussion is when Laraaji starts talking about being tightly identified with labels, categories and titles (about 24:11). He starts describing a meditative practice that starts with a series of suggestions, “I am not the body, I am not a husband, I am not a son, I am not a father . . .” After naming all the titles he’s been given, and taking off all the titles, he sits with what is left.

With this practice he began to realize that each title is associated with a certain samskara of identity of someone he is not. Things like anger, jealousy, and worry don’t belong to him, they belong to the titles! Through this method he explains that he began to make real progress with his meditation practice.

Laraaji mentions many spiritual paths he has taken that have impacted his life and music. One influence was with “New Thought Religion.” The  idea is to try another way. To constantly break out of patterns. “If you can think new thoughts, you can change your life. Choosing new things, choosing new ways. Or hearing new sounds that can unlock memory.”

Duncan Trussell asks Laraaji several BIG questions like, “Are we in heaven? What is cosmic time? Can you talk a little about the Sun? What method do you use to tune into cosmic time? Is there another universe overlaying this universe? Do you currently have a guru? Why is sculpting the field like clay? Are you a teacher? Do you think music is alive?”

I recommend listening to the interview, then finding some of Laraaji’s music. You may want to stay with some of the longer youtube videos that feature him, to hear him speak. He’s been doing music yoga and sound meditation for a long time and has tapped into a higher frequency.

See more about Laraaji on this video “Eternity or Bust – A Short film about Laraaji.”

HRV and Yoga: Heart Rate Variability Training

Sympathetic_Nervous_System
Sympathetic Nervous System – Illustration from OpenStax College – Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site

Science and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) helps to quantify the effects of yoga and meditation. Yogis have had this heart intelligence for thousands of years. Yoga works. Now we can prove the effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Like a checks and balances system, the autonomic nervous system helps the body regulate itself. The “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system and the “digest and rest” parasympathetic nervous system work in tandem. If they become unbalanced for long periods of time it can lead to dis-ease. We can keep tabs on the ANS system using HRV readings to track the positive, balancing effects of a regular yoga practice over time.

Heart Rate Variability is a calculation of the miniscule changes in the heart rate from beat to beat. It turns out that what happens between the individual beats is a more accurate gauge of heart heath than measuring your average heart rate at the doctor’s office a few times a year. We now have several ways for self-tracking to measure both heart rate and HRV activity. Inexpensive tools that are available to individual yoga practitioners, yoga teachers and yoga therapists. Before now equipment used by medical professionals in a hospital or doctor’s office were cost prohibitive for personal use. Low cost, professional-level accuracy and ease of use bring personal health monitoring to your smartphone, tablet or computer.

This is good news for the yoga community. We can determine baseline heart rates and heart rate variability for an individual yoga practitioner. The effects of a HRV-focused yoga practice can be compared to the baseline and measured over time. Yoga works. Let’s prove it! It is true that yoga takes a holistic approach to health. And it is true that HRV is established by the body holistically by circadian rhythms, metabolism and core body temperature. It does not take a huge leap to see how heart rate variability training coupled with a yoga practice will improve overall health. Yoga and meditation are by nature and tradition a heart healthy practice. The anecdotal evidence suggests that yoga, meditation, and pranayama improves sleep, aids digestion, reduces stress, regulates the heart and can bring the heart and mind into coherence. Heart Rate Variability is our way to quantify the age-old claims of yoga’s ability to improve overall health.

This is why we plank

In the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records Mao Weidong from China took home the proverbial gold for holding plank. He held a four hour and 26 minute planking amazing posture that surpassed the previous record by more than an hour. Sometimes in yoga class the heavy breathing and groaning starts a mere 30 seconds into a plank hold. This is why we plank: to build core strength. Holding plank is an effective way to build core strength because it requires engaging several muscles to hold the pose.

plank-muscles-worked2

A relative few have considered the 30 day plank challenge, posting only a half gazillion photos on the web and an equal number of 30 day plank challenge charts to help either track progress or possibly instill a 30 day guilt trip. The 30 day plank challenge doesn’t make the top 5 in the 30 day google search, being surpassed by squats, abs, the generic 30 day challenge (lumping butts, chest, arm, cardio and even Christmas), squat challenge results and the fitness challenge.

30DayChallengesMany asanas in yoga require a strong core to properly get into and hold the pose long enough to realize benefit. A weak core can result in injury and soreness in yoga practitioners who push beyond their core strength. This why we plank: to have enough strength to progress in our yoga practice. The yogi must engage the abdominal muscles to get in the pose. Holding  plank pose properly begins to have an immediate strength improvement pay off, unlike some of the more passive asanas that do not require much strength. The muscles in the shoulder must engage to hold the torso in place. Dr. Ray Long from Bandha Yoga uses the term “co-activation” to describe similar muscle engagement of the gluts and abs in chaturanga dandasana. He goes on to describe the benefits of co-activation, or engaging the gluts and abs as a way strengthen the core.

“As we evolved from quadrupeds (walking on all fours) to erect bipeds, the spine has transitioned from a suspension bridge type of structure, using tension/compression relationships, to a weight-bearing column. This change exposes the various structures of the spine to different potential stresses. For example, the “sway back” position results from a weak abdominal core. For this reason, back rehabilitation programs always incorporate abdominal strengthening exercises. In other words, conditioning the front helps to protect the back.” – Dr. Ray Long, The Daily Bandha blog and Bandha Yoga: Scientific Keys to Unlock Yoga Practice.

This is why we plank: the front helps to protect the back. The combination of a strong back and a strong core helps to reduce the stress placed on our spine. Strengthening the core is a key element to improving our yoga practice. Yoga asks us to dive into our energy body, to become focused and knowledgeable on ways to improve strength, balance and flexibility. This is why we plank.

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga for shoulders

Working with the shoulders is important because we hold a lot of tension in our shoulders. We may also experience pain in the shoulders and down the fronts of the arms due to improperly engaging the shoulder and surrounding muscles in postures such as chaturanga dandasana.

In yoga class we are often given the queue for dandasana (mountain pose) to lift the shoulders, roll them onto the back and keep them slightly back and slightly down. For chaturanga dandasana different instructions are needed to provide more support to the shoulders and the body using the arms and hands.

Repetitive action in other physical activities can cause or add to muscle soreness in the shoulders or along the fronts of the arms. If we add improper shoulder alignment during our yoga practice we may compound the problem. Rotator cuff injuries, upper back soreness and tightness of the shoulders all may benefit from engaging the shoulders using the correct technique.

In this article, “How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries in Chaturanga and Plank” by Doug Keller on the Yoga International website, the author explains how we often draw the shoulders forward too much and strain the pectoral muscles in chaturanga. A few well-illustrated exercises are provided that guide the yoga practitioner to activate the muscles around the shoulders and upper body.

Chaturanga Dandasana image from the article by Yoga International, How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries in Chaturanga and Plank
Chaturanga Dandasana image from the article by Yoga International, How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries in Chaturanga and Plank

Many yoga teachers who work with correct asana form will often remind us that we tend to bring our bad posture habits to our yoga mats. We may suffer pain and sometimes injury by continuing to shift load improperly to muscles and muscle groups. Remember to bring body awareness to your yoga practice, watch for signs of pain and discomfort and learn what adjustments you need to make in your own, individual body. Your physique is unique! And your spine is divine. Namaste!

Dr. Ray Long comes to Tampa Bay

RayLongYogaAnatomyBookCoverDr. Ray Long, MD FRCSC (FRCSC is the designation for Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada) will visit the Tampa Bay area November 7, 8, 9 for an event sponsored by the Suncoast Yoga Teacher’s Association. The multimedia workshop titled “Anatomic Yoga,” will be a great opportunity for yoga teachers and yoga practitioners in Tampa and the surrounding area to get under the skin of the yoga asanas through an intensive peek at anatomy.

The author of several books on yoga anatomy, Ray Long is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who has studied hatha yoga for over two decades and has trained with several yoga masters including B.K.S. Iyengar. His distinctive books are immediately recognizable for the fabulous illustrations by Chris Macivor.

Learn more about yoga anatomy and the work of Ray Long on his website, blog and his “muscle of the week” on Facebook.

Website: BandhaYoga.com

Blog: DailyBandha.com

Facebook: Bandha Yoga – The Scientific Keys

Trauma and being present in the body

The energy body is more than a metaphor used to describe the activity we associate with the concepts of the chakras and prana. Western science and Eastern philosophy merge with the phrase “energy body,” to refer to the actual, physical reactions to external stimulus. The brains of people who suffer from various levels of trauma exhibit a wide range of physical reactions that can be described as a disconnect with their bodies and are often marked by the inability to be “present” in a way that allows clear focus and concentration.

Trauma, like many complicated ailments that appear as a wide spectrum, is easier to spot in their extreme expression. Recent studies into PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) are a good illustration of trauma in the extreme because the experiences of people who suffer from PTSD are cut in such stark relief against those who experience mild depression or the stress of everyday life. PTSD can be looked at as  over-the-top trauma that is so extreme as to be  paralyzing in every way: socially, psychologically, physically, emotionally, etc.

It is with great interest to bring together a discussion of two ends of the spectrum – the extremes of either being present in the body or being unable to be present. What are the physical, chemical, energy body reactions that pull us between these opposite poles of being in the world?

Every moment of our lives is characterized by our physical reaction to the world around us. As it turns out (surprise!) we are primarily operating from the emotions and the physical response to our environment. It is a secondary response when we act from our brains logical response to emotional stimulus.

The following article by Bessel A. Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist from Boston University who speaks and writes on the topic of PTSD demonstrates surprising details of what goes on in the brain of the traumatized person.

Clinical Implications of Neuroscience Research in PTSD, Bessel A. Van der Kolk, 2006

Around numbered page 10-11 Kolk describes the parts of the brain affected by trauma and explains an actual shutting down of parts of the brain that would normally help us process/understand/integrate our emotions:

Specifically, neuroimaging studies of people with PTSD have found decreased activation of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The medial prefrontal comprises anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and medial parts of the orbitofrontal prefrontal cortices.  The anterior cingulate (ACC) specifically has consistently been implicated in PTSD. The ACC plays a role in the experiential aspects of emotion, as well as in the integration of emotion and cognition. It has extensive connections with multiple brain structures, including the hypothalamus, amygdala, and brain stem autonomic nuclei. Thus, the ACC is part of a system that orchestrates the autonomic, neuroendocrine, and behavioral expression of emotion and may play a key role in the visceral aspects of emotion. – B.A. Van der Kolk

Kolk goes on to discuss the effects of yoga, siting studies involving people practicing yoga. On page 12 he mentions the fascinating studies by Sarah Lazar involving yoga at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a related note, here is Sarah Lazar on TED Talk giving one of the best eight minute “elevator speeches” on the benefits of yoga and meditation and the physical change of thickening our grey matter:

How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains, Sara Lazar

Bessel A. Van der Kolk is featured on the syndicated radio show, To The Best of Our Knowledge in their show titled “Super Senses,” a broadcast from September 28, 2014. The show is vignette based on the theme of the senses. Skip over to the time on the sound recording 26:35 to hear Van der Kolk describe his research and how we can heal from trauma, starting with the truest statement, “We ARE our bodies!”

Yoga 101 – Exercising the Energy Body

This article was originally posted on March 1, 2011 by Danielle Prohom Olson but it mysteriously disappeared some time in the first two months of 2014 from her blog bodydivineyoga.wordpress.com. I’ve recreated it here because it is an informative piece on the energy body.

heartfield1Yoga, as practiced in the west, is commonly regarded as an exercise system for the physical body. But the ancient yogis of India, China and Tibet had a very different idea, they saw yoga as a kind of exercise for the body’s energetic system.

meridianWhile different schools had different yogic techniques of breathing, postures and meditation, they were all rooted in a similar concept. Yoga was practiced to cleanse and strengthen the body’s energy pathways (Meridians or Nadis) and enhance the flow of life force energy (Prana or Qi). This was considered key to health, vitality and longevity.

While the idea of the energy body may still seem flakey to some, science today confirms its existence. We may be solid flesh and bone, but we are at source; an energy field embedded in greater energy fields.

Our bodies are electromagnetic in nature. Electromagnetic signals travel our spinal cord and nervous system, they animate our cells and fire our neurons. In fact, medical scanning technology like the EKG and MRI have been measuring these frequencies for decades. The electromagnetic field that surrounds our body has been documented as extending outwards approximately 3 -5 feet in all directions.

earthfieldNot only do rhythms of electrical and magnetic force affect our health and well-being (regulating our circadian rhythms and hormonal cycles) they ultimately compose us. Our bodies, along with animals, plants, the earth sun and stars, are constantly creating, receiving storing and sending electromagnetic signals in and out of an interconnected cosmic energy field.

In his book Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance, James Oschman PH.D. writes electromagnetic fields “form a structural, functional and energetic continuum extending into every nook and cranny of the body, even into the cell nucleus and genetic material”.

Oschman refers to this greater energy field as the “living matrix” and in an idea that echoes the teachings of ancient yogis, he suggests that a healthy fully ‘integrated’ body may be a body that is entirely free of restrictions to the flow of energy signals. Oshman’s book documents the work of many leading energy medicine researchers whose research is coming full circle with the wisdom of the yogis. Countless studies in bio-electricity and acupuncture have begun to confirm there exists, hidden in our flesh, a vast network of energetic meridians that can be stimulated for regeneration and healing.

shiatsupointsBernard O. Williams Ph.D. has demonstrated that skin at meridian lines has a lower electrical charge than the surrounding areas. In fact, “specific structural-protein complexes within the mass of the skin provide channels of heightened electron conductivity, measured at acupuncture points on the surface.” In other words, acupuncture needles create an electric charge at the point of contact and stimulate a transfer of electrons at acupuncture points on the surface of the skin.

Numerous studies demonstrate these energy pathways and points conduct electricity even when needles aren’t used. The massage technique of Shiatsu have been found to stimulate the same energetic effects. Similarly, Qigong,Tai Chi and the postures of yoga have been found to increase electrical conductance at acupoints.

yinyogaYin Yoga (Taoist Yoga) claims to directly work with connective tissue and fascia to stimulate energetic meridians. Dr. Robert Becker M.D. was the first to establish when pressure is applied to certain body structures (joints, connective issue, cells) they polarize into positive and negative electrical poles and generate piezo-electricity. The knee for example, has the same piezo-electric capacity as a quartz crystal. This means that when we get a massage or perform yoga postures, currents of energy are being sent along the most conductive channels available in the body.

Information and energy flowing through electromagnetic frequencies are vastly more efficient than chemical signals such as hormones and neurotransmitters. Research conducted by Joie P. Jones PH.D. utilizing fMRI imaging has shown that when meridian or energy points in the body are stimulated, neural circuits in the brain are activated almost immediately – far faster than what neural conduction can explain.chakraenergy1

While the yogi’s never explicitly used the term electromagnetism to describe the energy body or its meridians, it looks like they may have well understood how it functioned. They knew that we are an energy body sheathed in greater energy fields, and that by influencing the field, one could influence the body.

So this is Yoga Fundament Number One. By working with the energy body, we learn how to sense and clear blockages and revitalize our energy systems. The energy body is “real” and caring for its health and maintenance is critical to optimum health and physical well-being.