Everyday Poser–Baby Yoga

Today I had four requests for Mommy and Me Yoga classes. Maybe it was a coincidence–I’m leaning more toward a group of friends all had an idea. Great! But I don’t have classes like that. I’m happy to offer a special class–but I can tell you in just a few words what I would mainly teach parents of infants: take that baby out of the bucket!

Babies are natural yogis if they are left to their own exploration of how their bodies move. Car seats are designed for safety upon impact, but these carriers are horrible, not only for your child’s postural development, but your own as well:

 

 

It is just so much easier to carry a baby my friends! And really, the position that your baby is in while being strapped into a carrier is soooo not ideal–not for their natural movements and not for their bone or muscular strength development due to the unnatural shift in load bearing. And I could go on–but these are short posts! So here is just a little bit more: hold your baby close to you. Lay them on their tummy, lay them on their back. Let them start to roll around. Trust your child to learn how to move naturally and watch them become an #everydayposer!!

Everyday Poser–Walking in the Snow!

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Here is what my neighborhood looked like this morning. Usually when things go winter around here, I get asked (told?), “you didn’t walk TODAY did you???”

Yes. I walk everyday. Walking is the best pose you can do for your body, yogis. And walking on varied surfaces is important for all kinds of reasons. Mostly this morning, my lateral hip muscles got a bit of challenge. These are called the Tensor Fascia Lattae. Which always makes me want coffee. But I had it before I left the house and I LOVED my morning practice of “walkasana” in the snow. See:

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Everyday Poser–Elbows off the table!!!

 

Everybody has said it, thought it, or had it yelled at them sometime. Why is it such a big deal?

The distance from the heart to the head is why. There is a reason why deep conversations are called “heart to hearts” and an argument is referred to as a “head to head.” The person in this photo is obviously bored. Her heart isn’t into the lovely meal, the company at the table, not even the wine! When we lean on our elbows, the anatomical action is a collapsing of the chest and the heart (along with the support structure of the spine and ribs) moves away from the head. The head is heavy. When it is place in a forward position, tension begins to rise in the occipital joint (head/neck connection) as well as in the jaw. Distant heart, heaviness, and tension do not lead to happy meals. Even if there is a toy.

Open your heart this Thanksgiving and sit tall. Become an #everydayposer and bring yoga to the table!

Everyday Poser-Hip Thrust

No–it’s not an anti-Rocky Horror’s Time Warp blog. I love takin’ a step to the right. And the title, Everyday Poser, is a new # for my blog (I don’t know what to call that number-thingy, but I know it works on Twitter and stuff). I will occasionally have a longer rant (if you know me, you know I like that old soap box!), but I’m going to up the frequency on blogging and start with a series of shorter blogs with a daily practice tip to put yoga into your life everywhere. These blogs will begin a long and exciting process of becoming a Restorative Exercise Specialist. I’m super-excited to start this learning adventure and share my experiences over the next year! Let’s go Everyday Poser Possey!

#1: Here is me thrusting my hips (thanks to Sigrid for the photobomb)

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#2: Here is me with my hips over my heels in proper alignment
IMG_1194The first “hip thruster” pose is something I find myself doing in the kitchen constantly. It seems as if I am taking a load off and freeing my arms to work harder. But if you compare it to the aligned hips over pelvis pose, you can see my mid back is straighter and my shoulders are more anchored into their sockets. Also my belly isn’t going to directly eat that apple–my ribs and stomach are stacked and supportive. Notice how you are standing next time you are in the kitchen!

A Better Way

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Okay–first a confession. This is a reposted blog. I have been taking my meditation practice to a deeper level and wanted to write about that. But. I am still working on what is an incredibly personal journey and not ready to put it out into the world. Next posting, I promise. In the meantime a better way to stress reduction than the above instructions:

Want to make some one who is stressed out really blow a fuse? Tell them they need to learn how to meditate and calm down. Yet, when stress begins to affect health, isn’t this exactly what should be done? If you want a fun challenge, become a health educator and try to “help” someone in this situation:

Meet Joe and Jane Stressmore. Both have a lot of excess weight around their midsections. Joe has high blood pressure and borderline diabetes. Jane has chronic low back pain, problems with urinary incontinence, and diabetes. Neither has been able to lose weight, no matter what program they try. It all comes back and then some. Their doctor has them on several medications, which has helped alleviate some of their symptoms, but the side effects are problematic. Neither sleeps well, both are working full time, and there is no way they can exercise, eat well, and certainly not “slow down.”

Metabolic Syndrome is associated with chronic stress and the release of a the hormone cortisol. Stress hormones are helpful when the stress is physical and short lived, but when it is not, these hormones have a detrimental effect on our bodies, resulting in more imbalance, more stress, and more problems including disease symptoms like Joe and Jane are experiencing. Medicine doesn’t fix the underlying problem–although it does help keep it from becoming life threatening (hopefully).

Meditation is often recommended as an alternative approach to reduce chronic stress and the symptoms associated with it. Numerous scientific studies utilizing biofeedback techniques have tracked its effectiveness and the body/mind connection. Everyone enjoys the feeling of being rested and relaxed. Wellness and health practitioners (even doctors!) know that Joe and Jane would actually begin to FIX their health problems by reducing the release of cortisol through relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes.

Most yoga classes end by teaching a bit of deep relaxation and meditation. Many of my students like this part of class best. Aside from any reflection on my teaching abilities, I am always a bit taken aback by the fact that their favorite part of class is when we are doing nothing at all. Why go through an hour and a half of class when the best part is the last five minutes? Couldn’t we just do nothing at home? Why don’t we?

I think the answer is that we have no idea how. Life in the twenty first century doesn’t exactly encourage stillness. In today’s families, both parents usually work, children have full schedules with school and after-school activities, even our dogs have “play dates” so they can socialize, at least with other dogs, since the humans are too busy to play. Generally, any “down time” becomes an escape, via television or other distraction, rather than true meditation. Taking a moment to stop, breath, and be fully present just isn’t in the cards. And it will take something far more compelling than a doctor’s recommendation or a scientific study to convince us to even try.

Matthieu Ricard’s book, The Quantum and the Lotus compares the realities of physics and the mind. Just as subatomic particles exist between the spaces, our truest sense of ourselves is found between the spaces of our thoughts. If we never stop and find space, we don’t fully know who we are and what we might become. Joe and Jane are good people. Their health struggle is not who they are; and it is most likely not how they want their lives to be defined.

Here is the cool thing: in quantum physics, particles are not bound by constraints like time and space. Those little buggers break all the rules. That’s science, folks. If you think it’s bogus, get a PhD in physics (like Ricard) and test it yourself.

Here’s the other cool thing: we aren’t really bound by time and space, either. If you think that is bogus, become a Buddhist monk (like Ricard) and spend a few years experiencing it.

When we take–even a tiny bit–of time to be present “between the spaces” we step out of time and space. We learn to let go–even at tiny bit–of that which binds us. You probably know someone who defies what we think of as “rules:” the skinny coworker who eats like a horse, the neighbor with a sick wife who still helps his elderly parents mow their lawn, the couple who always participates in fundraisers for good causes and don’t seem to have that much money…I KNOW you know someone that fits into at least one of those categories.

Letting go of our expectations of the future and our delusions of our past creates the opportunity for breaking the rules that bind us and stress us out. Ricard calls it living in the freshness of this present moment. To me, that single phrase is more compelling than any stack of medical studies or advice from my doctor. I want to rewrite the rules that have brought me down and find my true destiny in this life. So do my yoga students, and I feel sure that Joe and Jane want it, too. Meditation begins with that desire. The next step is to breathe. Simple enough so far, right? The great news is that is the whole process. Be present and breathe. You can do it no matter where you are.

So rather than doing meditation because it is good for you, maybe do it because you are secretly the kind of person that likes to break the rules. See what happens! Put your mind to doing nothing at all and notice what gets accomplished! And remember, don’t do it ‘cause I told you to. Do it because your destiny should be defined not by what limits you, but rather by what liberates you.

Walking In Alignment

Walking“One foot walks, the other rests. Doing and being have to be in balance.”

That quote came from a commencement speech given last spring at the University of Pennsylvania by Nipun Mehta. I don’t remember where I first heard the interview with him, but I am an avid walker and I was drawn into the conversation. I later found his complete speech transcript online (thank you Google) and I find myself thinking of it regularly.

And now in this time of New Year’s resolutions, I turned again to the wisdom in his story of pilgrimage through India. He and his wife began walking across India with the simple goal to be in a space larger than their ego.

I have been in the fitness industry long enough to be wary of resolutions. Each year the fresh faces greet me with expectations to help them be thinner, healthier, happier. Some succeed, but most do not. It is my deepest desire not to become jaded by life, so I have tried to help as much as possible and keep an optimistic attitude.

Last January my partner, Anne, who is a Naturopathic Therapist, and I started a new series called Path to Transformation. It was an eight week program that assigned meditation, journaling, reading, yoga, massage, and food tracking. The beginning of the program emphasizes the difference between goals and outcomes.

This is an important distinction, and the reason while so many resolutions fail. A common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, an outcome resulting from a myriad of changes. Each change is a goal in itself. Each goal has wide ranging effects physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Physically, an imbalance in calorie intake and expenditure may have a desired outcome of seeing lower numbers on the scale, but energy loss most likely will also occur, eventually resulting in weight gain. It is a fact that metabolism is set by several factors; a major one is caloric intake. Still the ego says, “I can do this,” and the mind usurps the body’s instinctual wisdom. Imbalance between body and mind results and emotional frustration, rather than weight loss, is the outcome. Furthermore, in my experience, rather than quieting the ego and honoring the needs of the body, human tendency moves toward firing up that ego even more.

If I were to use one word for my goal in life and in teaching, it would be alignment. My yoga classes are about physical alignment within the body, but also alignment of body, mind, and spirit. I talk a lot about creating space. Creating space allows for finding alignment. Once alignment is achieved, balance is innate. I have no idea what the outcomes will be, but I believe that alignment is essential.  In myself and in others, I witness being aligned, being balanced, and being amazed.

So this year, rethink resolutions. They may have already given up, succumbed to temptations or habit. Or maybe you are toughing it out. Take time out now and step back. Sit down. Breathe. Feel the exhale and with it, let go of expectations. Understand that you were never in control of outcomes. As your mind quiets, maybe allow one thought to emerge: something that you can control and do upon standing. One thing. Make that your goal. Before you move, prepare for that goal. What would it take physically? Mentally? Spiritually? Is it something you can align yourself with completely, no matter what the outcome? Notice how you move from outcomes to goals and how simple the goal becomes. One small step, but in time, one large transformational process of becoming fully integrated, aligned, and balanced.

On The Path to a ReVolution (with a capital V)

Oprah called it a va-jay-jay to avoid censorship on TV. Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown said the word vagina in the state house and was censored by Ray Bolger. Brown’s response was concise: “Vagina, by the way, is the correct medical name of a part of women’s anatomy lawmakers want to regulate.” She later spent a day out front of the Capital reading The Vagina Monologues with the play’s author and women’s rights advocate Eve Ensler. The media was a-buzz with the V word.

Last month Naomi Wolf released Vagina: A New Biography, and she uses vagina extensively to refer to everything from the front to the back, as well as the interior, of a woman’s lower anatomy, while also complaining that she doesn’t like the word. Wolf states, “ When you think vagina in our culture, you get associations that are either coldly, repellently clinical or at least tediously health related.” The term vagina IS anatomical (although technically it refers to only ONE part of a woman’s pelvic anatomy), but Wolf feels using it clinically is tedious and repellent??

I certainly agree with Lisa Brown that when we are discussing legislation–or any other acts that impact women, we need to be able to use correct terminology. Would she have been censored if she said va-jay-jay? And is Naomi Wolf just trying to ignite the media by overuse of the term vagina? What is it that makes society squeamish and outraged about our anatomy and physiology? And what cost does this inability to have effective conversations regarding health, sexuality, and gender identity, have on us individually and as a society?

First, I want to discuss Wolf’s book. If I were her editor, I would have probably had her change the subtitle to “A New Autobiography,” since it is so largely about her personal experience. Also, her research is questionable. A recent review of the book by Toni Bentley in the New York Times refers to Wolf as a “dilettante assuming a mantle of authority.” I agree with Wolf’s basic premise that sexuality is a matter of physiology that is both anatomical and chemical. The same reviewer states, “phrases, (like) the ‘vagina-brain connection’ populate her book. Call it what you like, but the fact that a woman’s genitals are connected to her brain is not news.” My own criticism is that Wolf basically asserts that the only connection is a neuro-chemical one. Very little research or discussion is directed at the physiology of the pelvic floor muscles that those nerves travel through to carry impulses to neurotransmitters. Her own experience of “reawakening” occurred after a lumbar surgery that place a rod in her spine and opened up her pudendal nerve plexus. She acknowledges that “a lifetime of grudging exercise had strengthened my back and abdomen enough to have kept any worse symptoms from manifesting,” but then fails to fully address the musculature of the pelvic floor and lower spine.

Wolf interviews Nancy Fish, a therapist at SoHo Obstetrics and Gynecology. Fish states, “We are so in the Dark Ages when it comes to medical care and understanding in the area of the vagina. When I say ‘pudendal nerve,’ no one knows what I am talking about. People in the medical profession don’t know what I’m talking about! Women need to become more comfortable with their vaginas.”

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I have spoken with many women that are uncomfortable with their vaginas. But it is due to vaginal dysfunction rather than any problem of discussing or understanding anatomy. They have  consulted and discussed and tried very hard to understand and “become more comfortable.” Ever had a physician advise you to do a Kegel by squeezing off the flow of urine? As if our ureters are the same thing as our vaginas. If the concern is pelvic floor weakness, why prescribe strengthening a sphincter muscle? And is discomfort due weakness or tension of the pelvic floor? Personally, I don’t find these  clinical distinctions tedious! If a medical professional tells us to do a Kegel while maybe not even knowing what the pudendal nerve is, should we follow their advice??

Here are some disturbing stats: According to the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American women with at least one pelvic floor disorder (PFD) will increase from 28.1 million in 2010 to 43.8 million in 2050. Dark ages, indeed. Kegels have been around for over 50 years. Why are these disorders on the rise?

I don’t expect that a lack of satisfying the “goddess array” (Wolf’s term for feminine sexual needs) is the reason for this increase. And although I truly appreciate all the efforts by activists like Eve Ensler to help women in war-torn countries recover from sexual violence, as well as Lisa Brown’s straightforward approach to legislation of women’s rights, I think we also really need to address the inability of our own medical establishment to be effective in treating women’s health concerns such as PFD. I strongly feel that this is at least partially due to our societal difficulties in discussing these issues using non-judgemental, specific, and correct language. Sexuality, politics, and integrative health all need to address women’s whole bodies, including their vaginas, in a comprehensive and effective manner.

I’m not going to go into all the information that IS available about PFD issue in this blog. If you would like to do your own research, I’ll to refer you to my go-to-girl in this area: the Katy Says blog on Katy Bowman’s Aligned and Well website. She is a biomechanic with an infectious sense of humor and a ton of knowledge regarding pelvic floor health. And I’m going to invite area women who would like to engage in a non-censored discussion about PFD and Kegels and vaginas to our Women’s Weekend 2012 workshop, “Goin’ to the Y: Pelvic Floor Health” on November 3 at On The Path Yoga. And maybe we can begin a revolution that leads all of us down a path of being comfortable with our bodies and a better understanding of women’s health.

A model of the female pelvis, showing bones, muscles, ligaments and nerves. Complicated, but certainly not mysterious and hopefully not disturbing.

Walking on Water

stand up paddle board on the bayou

One path I never really dreamed of traveling was walking on the water. I taught swimming lessons for years and know pretty well how to interact with the dynamics of the aquatic environment. I understand pull, drag, eddy, and slipstream. I can find my center of buoyancy and float without effort or tuck and throw my body into a flip. All of these actions happen IN the water, however.

Out of the water, I have studied movement through dance, running, weight training and yoga for the past 30 years. I feel pretty confident on my feet–and even on my head. If my balance isn’t quite perfect, I know how to adjust to seek better alignment. All of these actions happened ON solid ground, however.

You know, sometimes our lives turn topsy turvy. Sometimes the ground under our feet becomes less firm. Sometimes we feel like we are under water and out of control. Sometimes we lose our center. David Emerson’s states in his book, “Overcoming Trauma through Yoga,” that “a ‘center’ is anything around which we organize ourselves physically, somatically, psychologically, and/or emotionally. In this context, a center can be our family, our job, our religious views, our community, or our health, as well as our ideas about the world, our psychological profile, and more. The center can also be internal, at the core of our bodies.” When we lose our external organizational centers, we must find that internal one or risk losing our sense of balance and control.

That ability for me was recently tested as I headed out for my first session of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Our instructor taught us the basics of the board, how to paddle, and then took us through some basic yoga poses. I was challenged to find my physical center and keep it engaged, strong, and constantly adjusted to an environment that was unlike anything I had experienced before. The “ground” beneath me constantly moved. I had to compensate for the instability without overreacting. It was like nothing I had done before.

And yet, I have done this before. When my first child was born, sleep deprived, overwhelmed, and under-experienced, I had to find that center, that strength, and that balance. When a friend was suddenly killed on the sidewalk by a car, I felt the solid ground below me slip away. But also when I fell in love for real. When I opened my own business; the dream I had been working toward for 30 years and the most frightening, thrilling ride I have ever been on. These situations tested my stability–physically and otherwise.

Recently physicists tried to find out when energy becomes mass–the so-called “god particle.” Our bodies also have seemingly opposing states of being. At some point we move from somatic (thoughtful) nervous activation to the autonomic nervous system. We don’t have to think about making our heart beat. We don’t have to think to pull back from a hot flame. Can we, like the physicists, understand the forces that create this energy?

Out there on the water, floating and balancing and trying to find my physical center, I discovered strength. And fearlessness. I tried, I fell, I got wet. I tried again. And you know what? I had an absolute blast. It was not only okay to do fall in, it was fun! I kept it up until I could do some of the moves that at first seemed impossible. Maybe I wasn’t actually walking ON the water, but when I did balance on that SUP, it certainly felt miraculous. And I found my source of strength and balance that lies deep within the core of my being.

I don’t have to be a physicist to understand that at some point, that sense of centering and balancing my mass–my physical body–creates a sense of centering and balancing my energies–my subtle body that operates without my awareness. Like the old story about the guy that prayed to win the lottery, but never entered–we can’t really expect miracles without doing everything possible at our end first. When we discover our center under duress, we also discover our source of power and stability. From there, maybe we become a little more fearless, a little less needful and more self-sufficient, and we learn to live life more fully. With a firm sense of our core strength, we know it’s going to be okay if we take a risk. Maybe we fall in. And maybe a miracle happens, too.