Culture of Posture Blog Series #2: Heal Your Spine with Head Carrying

Culture of Posture Blog Series #2: Heal Your Spine with Head Carrying

Putting a small weight on the head is the best way to re-train the spine to rest in a friendly relationship with gravity. If you have to carry on your head it keeps the rest of your spine honest. You get immediate feedback if you are slumping, crunching, flattening or exaggerating your spinal curves. This technique has had a tremendous healing effect on my back (and my life) and the backs of my friends, students and clients over the last few months. Try it while you're working and walking to reduce neck and back pain over time. When we are talking about creating healthier habits in the human body, little things make a big difference and have a domino effect on all areas of our lives. The more intimate we become with our body, the more we offer our awareness and intention towards living more comfortably in our vehicle, the more energy we have to offer our fullest selves into the world in service of others.

 

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Ergonomics in Action: How are my Friends and I Sitting at our Desks?

Ergonomics in Action: How are my Friends and I Sitting at our Desks?

I'm a little bit of an odd duck at Oaklan'd Impact Hub shared workspace considering I use a laptop tray and separate keyboard, try to stand up, stretch and reset my spine every 15-20 minutes and periodically hold books on my heads as I type to align my spines and lengthen my vertebrae. Sometimes, I attract quite a lot of attention doing these "strange" things, which is really the least I can do to mediate the damaging effects of sitting long hours in chairs and staring at screens. Check out my friends and I putting our yoga in action at the computer screen.

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The Culture of Posture Blog Series #1: A Culture of Discomfort

The Culture of Posture Blog Series #1: A Culture of Discomfort

What laws of nature, our genetic code and our musculoskeletal structure are we systematically ignoring as a culture? How can we return to a friendly relationship with gravity, trading muscular tension and imbalance for enhanced energy and vitality? There are many populations around the world where human bodies function beautifully, without pain, until the day they die. Beginning around WWI, in industrialized societies like ours, preventable chronic and sporadic physical discomfort has evolved into an epidemic.

Just like language, how we sit, stand, walk and carry things are behaviors we learn by modeling, from our parents, friends, school and our environment. The musculoskeletal structure, however, is not really amenable to contemporary creative interpretation and you can only ignore universal laws for so long before you experience disk degenerating, muscular imbalance and physical discomfort, which we are now experiencing in epic proportion. There is hope for us and you are being called to be a leader in this cultural movement. Read on...

 

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Fascia and Yoga Blog Series #1: Everything is Connected

This blog series asks the question: How does deepening our relationship with our body deepen our relationship with our purpose? This question is explored in relation to yoga asana and the highly underrated (and magical) fascial system.

EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED

Do you live in a body? Do you want to feel better in your body?

Then fascia matters to you.

Attempts to get to the source of chronic pain and tension in my own body and those of my clients and to wrap my mind around the fact that the U.S. has 25% of the world’s population but consumes 80% of the world’s narcotic painkillers has contributed to my recent fascination (obsession?) with fascia.

What is fascia? Imagine your insides in HD and 3D. Now take out your bones, your organs (including the skin), your blood and circulatory system, your lymph and other fluids out and all you’d have left is a 3D cotton candy model of yourself- your fascial system. Fascia is the internal architecture of your body, it includes tendons, ligament, supports the organs in place, cushions the vertebrae and wraps the bones. 

Everywhere-ness is it’s essential nature. The human body isn’t as similar to a machine or a computer as we might think, as apt as the metaphors might be for our cultural environment. While we experience pain and tension in specific areas of the body, that sensation only tells a small part of the story. Our bodies are much more complex and integrated than we imagine. In fact, no pain or problem in the body is local. The way we hold ourselves, that injury we didn’t think much of in high school, what we do with our toes in tadasana- all of these things affect our organs, our circulation, our immune system and our overall muscle and bone health. Why? Fascia.

The ultimate yoga cliché: everything is connected.

But fascia is the literal anatomical reason this is true in the body. To use Ida Rolf’s analogy, our fascial system is like a tightly knit sweater, if you tug on one end, the entire sweater moves, becoming more taut and stretched. When we injure our ankle, our entire spine is affected The same is true when we open and release parts of our body- more space is created throughout our organism. Fascia is the only system in the body that literally connects to every other system!

By far, the most magical power of the fascial system is it’s power as a communicative force. When you wrinkle your forehead with concern or because you are struggling to nail an arm balance or forcing yourself deeper into a split, your entire body reacts to the tension, all the way down to your toes. That back pain you experience- guess what. It’s affecting all of your bones, organs and muscle and is very likely, originating from a distant part of the body and manifesting at the weakest point.

So much of the recent hubbub over fascia has to do with it’s pervasive quality in the human body.  Until the last decade or so, anatomists cut away this fuzz-like sheath to reveal the “real” structures underneath- muscles and bones. However, turns out the body isn’t so disconnected as the biomedical dissection tradition has assumed. Sometimes when you go in looking for something specific- you find it, overlooking other obvious truths.

Yoga culture is still stuck in the former anatomical model, understanding muscles and bones as separate distinct parts. As we begin to understand and experience the body in it’s integrated wholeness, the antiquated machine anatomy model breaks down further and further. In my opinion, applying an understanding of the fascial system is the future of asana.

As we come into a relationship of deeper intimacy with the inner reaches of our body, the interrelationships of our seemingly distinct parts, we somehow come to a deeper knowledge of our purpose. This is the eternal mystery of yoga. Try as it might, science has little to say in the face of this miracle, however, the fascia’s role as a universal communication system comes close to capturing it’s essence.

Part 2: Juicy Fascia = Happy Fascia = Happy Body

Part 3: 10 Ways to Receive the Benefits of Bodywork from Your Yoga Practice

Are you fascia-nated?

Check out Brooke Thomas's free e-book: Why Fascia Matters

Listen to Tom Myer's Interview on Liberated Body: Mapping the Anatomy of Connection (best podcast ever)

Read Tom Myer's article Dynamic Ligaments: Refashioning the Fascia as a Body-wide Regulatory System (very readable)

Download Van Der Waal's famous article Connective Tissue Architecture and Proprioception (a little heady)

Fascia Flow Yoga

Practicing for Death

"The trouble is, you think you have time" -The Buddha

Mainstream materialist culture encourages us to believe our identity is strongly defined and limited by our physicality. The inflated importance of the physical underlies manipulative messages about what constitutes a ‘beautiful’ body and what certain bodies should and shouldn’t look like. Our belief in our own stable, limited and simplified identity encapsulated in physical form underlies the obsession with and judgment of our bodies that is so rampant in our culture, including yoga and wellness culture. Yoga has resonated as a profound healing practice for so many people in our society because it allows us to viscerally experience the true nature of the body as a vehicle for the expression of deeper layers of our being. In the words of Rumi, “the body is a screen that both hides and partially reveals the light that is shining within us.”

If we over-identify with the physical body to the exclusion of deeper layers of our being, we are definitely setting ourselves up for suffering. The ever inescapable and eternally undeniable truth of the body is that it will change, it will be injured, it will age and ultimately, and potentially without warning, it will die.

My father recently visited an ancient Buddhist ashram off the coast of Thailand. Much to the detriment if his meditation, he found himself mesmerized by the calm aura of a young Buddhist nun as they sat in quietly for hours in the mediation hall. As she rose from her practice, they locked eyes. A profound, child-like sense of awe overtook him upon gazing into the clarity of her eyes. They were alone in the hall. Before the mind could intercede, he felt the words coming out of his mouth, “why are you here?” She simply paused, smiled softly and beckoned him to a small room off the main hall. To his astonishment, the floor was lined with bones and skulls in various stages of decay, which she explained belonged to past devotees of the order. In the center of the room was a decaying body, almost completely a skeleton by this point. This body, she explained, had belonged to her great grandmother.  She reached for the femur bone and pinched off a piece of the brittle bone, holding it close to his wizened face. Slowly, she crumbled her great-grandmother’s bone to ash between her fingers. “This is all we are,” she said, a serene smile on her face, “this is why I’m here.”

The body, like nature herself, is always in flux and transition: constantly changing, repairing, rebuilding. This also means it is constantly dying, decaying and passing away, until our very last breath. None of the cells in our body are older then seven years and many die within a few days to be replaced by newly born ‘us.’ Contemplating the fleeting nature of all life, including our own, need not be a practice of fear. Instead, it’s a powerful way to decrease our attachment to the physical plane, inviting us deeper into a full sensory experience of the moment and reconnecting us to the deeper meaning of why we’re here.

Part of the aggrandizement of the idealized physical body is a celebration of the obliteration of death- eternal youth, untouchable health without effort, freedom from the daily challenges of human life- the little deaths we experience throughout the day in the form of stress, injury, disappointment, change. The idealized body celebrated by media, including yoga media, is a mythical space outside of time- a constant inhale. The exhale never comes.

Placing death front and center has a long history not only in the yoga tradition but is advocated by many spiritual traditions from around the world. “Practicing death” has been recommended by Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Plato, Jesus, the Buddha and the Dalai Lama. In unmasking our impermanence we begin to expand our limited identification with the body, opening to the deeper meaning of the body as a vehicle as for the expression of our dharma, our soul’s unique purpose. 

Following the example of these awakened masters, we might ask ourselves:

If I’m going to die, what matters?

 Death's Loving Gift by Richard Baxter  "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. because almost everything-all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."                                                -Steve Jobs

Death's Loving Gift by Richard Baxter

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. because almost everything-all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."                                                -Steve Jobs

Radical Embodiment: Sensation is the Language of Spirit

Even when it's holding tension, the Body is always present. Muscular tension itself is a result of the mind's attempts to disconnect from the present. Fully embracing the present moment, including the experience of embodiment with all of it's raw sensation, emotional pain and pleasure is one of the most direct ways to connect with your deepest self and the only way to fully connect with spirit. Forget transcendence!

Just because we are more than our bodies doesn’t mean we reject, neglect or seek to transcend the body. Being fully present to the daily flow of emotional sensations of  body and reveling in the abundant gifts of the senses is actually the doorway to greater presence,  joy, meaning and connection with ourselves and others. Our spirits choose this particular vehicle in order to best express themselves in the world and learn the lessons it needs to learn to grow.

The fact that we may have few role models who are fully present in their bodies, the commercialized emphasis on young, idealized bodies as the only bodies worth desiring, and the pain of the small and large traumas we experience as young people, push many of us to live, in the words of James Joyce “a small distance outside of [our] body.” Some express this fundamental disconnection from source in the form of eating disorders or obsessive manipulation of the body, others channel this stress in various directions- the need to control others or their environment, reliance on financial success or social status, spiritual attainment or accomplishment to feel worthy, and on and on. Either way, disconnection from the wise voice of body results in reliance on the ego to confirm that we are worthy of being alive. While some of us may need therapy or spiritual support to begin to reintroduce ourselves to the sensations of the body, fully embracing the experience of embodiment with all of it’s raw sensation, emotional pain and pleasure is the only way to fully connect to spirit.

Spirit lives in the space where the body and the mind come into a state of union, however subtle or temporary. Sinking into the ever-changing intricacies of sensation connects us to the voice of our spirit- our intuition. By following this voice and honoring our emotional landscape without getting sucked into the limited vision of the ego, we naturally make life-affirming choices that serve both ourselves and others while expressing our greater purpose on the planet- the reason we are here with this magic bodily vehicle anyway.

,Accepting the moment as it is, accepting our body as it is, accepting the breath as it is doesn’t foreclose the possibility of self-improvement but allows us to release the idea that there is or ever was anything to fix about ourselves or this moment.

Any practice that draws your attention inward to the intricacy of sensations in the body- a hot bath, the smell of jasmine, reveling in the flavors of a beautiful meal, noticing your breath, stretching and moving in pleasurable ways, singing and dancing- are pathways to presence, and therefore, pathways to spirit. Connection to spirit through mindfulness isn't limited to pleasurable sensations. Being present as challenging emotions and sensations arise invites us into a fresh and honest relationship with the moment. Muscular tension itself is often a result of clinging to the realm of pleasurable sensation and running from those that are more challenging. Over the days, months and years, this unconscious avoidance of 'what is' causes postural dysfunction, muscular imbalance and, ultimately, physical pain.

Receiving Bodywork is one particularly powerful practice of awakening to the complex world of the inner body. A bodywork session is (an often pleasurable) space for exploration of what it means to be fully embodied- to be fully present to the constant flux of sensation that is the language of spirit in human form.