... and your body includes (at least some of) your mind. Stress: physical reaction. Emotions: at least in part physical. Thoughts: require physical activity that can be imaged and tracked.
You don't have to know how the body and mind interact or whether they are in fact one to understand that what you do with your body effects how you feel. How you feel effects how you think. How you think effects how you act. How you act is what you do with your body, so the cycle goes round and round.
Whether you are dealing with a malady recognized by the healthcare system such as diabetes, arthritis, allergies and inflammation or just want more strength or flexibility (or both), or seek "stress" reduction, more vitality or mood support - there's a yoga for that.
Yoga is a system of techniques and practices for increasing and decreasing reactions and processes in the body and what we usually refer to as the mind. That's why it sometimes gets construed as mystical or religious. Yoga is the user manual for your body.
Does this mean yoga will fix any or all of these things all the time? No. Does yoga hold all the answers? Absolutely not. Yoga works hand in hand with many other answers - but it is part of the solution when the question is about how to effect the body. Yoga is a set of practices and techniques that you do yourself, under the guidance of a skilled teacher for the best results. This is empowerment, this is understanding and this is something that enhances other systems and techniques that support the body in wellness and you in experiencing your wholeness. One of my favorite ministers recently said in sermon that healing isn't fixing: it's returning to the experience of wholeness. Sometimes this comes with a "fix." Sometimes things can't be returned to any prior state. But as long as you are you, you are whole Returning to an experience of this - as opposed to experiences of disconnection, reduction, dissembling, evaluating, comparing and objectifying which so often happens when we seek to experience more or less of something - is the beginning of what yoga provides.
Want to feel more awake? There's a technique for that. Want to wind down for a good sleep? There's a technique for that. Want to suffer less from pain? There are techniques for that. Want to be stronger + more flexible? That, too. Cardio? Yep. HIIT? Yep. Resistance? Yep. Want to experience less stress? Yoga's got you covered.
Here's the rub: yoga isn't like a car wash: you go in one end dirty, have a few solutions applied and get rubbed by a brush and come out the other end shiny. There isn't a pill or a cut for that in yoga. Yoga is something is something you do. If you're looking to be fixed, move on. If you're looking to do something positive that will help you feel the way you want to feel, you're in the right place.
Sign up in the upper right hand corner to receive more information on how to read the manual and apply it to your life - and leave a comment with your particular question or concern! I reply to every comment and when you sign up for the newsletter and hit reply, you'll have a direct line to my email. I answer every one. See you on the mat!
During September 2015 we'll be focusing on forward folds. Poses referred to as forward folds in yoga are poses in which your femur, or upper leg bone, is closer to your torso than 90 degrees.
When we focus on a particular class of poses - like forward folds - we focus on the actions of all the poses we do that involve this action. For instance, Downward Facing Dog has forward fold actions in the hips and backbend actions in the shoulders: we'll focus mostly on the hips this month. In Warrior I, instead of focusing primarily on shoulder actions, we'll focus on the leg strengthening action in the forward leg.
Forward folds both require and create strong, flexible core muscles - both the deep core and the vanity abs - to support a long, aligned spine with all its natural curves.
Hamstrings are a major focus during folds because the action of rotating the pelvis forward lifts the sitting bones from which the hamstrings originate. Since they attach to the bones of the lower leg (the tibia and fibula) and cross the knee, keeping the knees bent while you flex at the hip with your core supporting your spine is the best way to enter forward folds form the majority of people - even very flexible ones. This allows you to create the container of the pose, focus on aligning with your breath and then to feel into the lengthening of the hamstrings as you straighten your legs, lengthening the hamstrings. Only go as far as you stay connected to your breath and your low back stays in great alignment; if the hamstrings are pulled down because they're not yet flexible and strong enough to cross the back of the leg fully extended, they'll pull your pelvis back toward its upright position and this will round your lower back. Rounding your lower back in forward folds puts you at risk for disk injury and generally compromises the fullness of your breath as low back rounding leads to shoulder and rib cage rounding. Bent knees allow you to stay connected through the entire body and create the strength you'll need when you're flexible enough to extend fully.
Forward folds are more contemplative, in general, than the mood elevating forward folds, and are great for calming anxiety, preparing for sleep and soothing your worried mind.
Look for forward folding focus in all my hatha, yin and restorative classes and explore the strength and flexibility that will allow you to rock your world from a place of calm and stability.
Questions about forward folds, hamstrings, home practice or yoga? Comment and get your answers here!
May is "True Core" month here in the Badlands, which means in every class we'll be experiencing some connection to "core" muscles and fascia. Learning to sense these structures is part of learning to engage and move from the deepest sources of your power. Traditionally in yoga these structures are referred to as the "bandhas," or locks - like ship locks, not like key locks. The bandhas refer to the three diaphragms of the body, structural horizontal elements that are key to both breath and movement: the pelvic diaphragm/floor made of 8 interlocking muscles in a fascial sheath (mula bandha), the respiratory diaphragm which is also a muscle wrapped in fascia (uddiyana bandha) and the vocal diaphragm through which we speak and modulate breath (jalandara bandha). Most focus in the beginning is on the first two.
The cool thing about working with the bandhas is that when you engage these muscles, the vanity abs (rectus and obliques) come along for the ride - this doesn't work the other way around, which is why crunches are less than counterproductive.
The pelvic and respiratory diaphragms can work in concert, supporting both breath and movement, and are each functionally connected to two of the other deep core muscles - the pelvic diaphragm to the transverse (from hip point to hip point horizontally across the low belly) and the respiratory to the psoas, the only muscle that crosses from lower to upper body, often referred to as a "hip flexor" but oh so much more crossing from the thoraco-lumbar vertebrae forward and down to the insides of the pelvic bowls with extensions to the inner femurs.
The video below is a human dissection demonstrating the connection of the deep front line which includes the sting ray looking diaphragm-psoas connection. If you prefer not to see this clinical demonstration then read the next blog post instead. For some people, seeing this will help you connect to the same structures in your own body, which is why I include this wonderfully beautiful video. Some folks would rather not see human cadavers which is why I include the bold, large letters.
Leave your reaction to the video or to your feeling of these connections in a comment below.