Superhero qualities are not merely qualities for those iconic characters we used to read in the comic books as children, or the modern day mainstream movies we watch as adults for entertainment. Superhero qualities reside within all of us, if we so choose to identify with them. Last year I spoke at the [email protected] Talk in Vancouver called the “Re-Invention of the Modern Day Superhero,” and since then I have been obsessed with superhero “powers.” This basically means, I have been hard at work sourcing out my own quest in life and striving for personal greatness…. and you can too. For mer personally I do this through my RUN4ACAUSE and through my advocacy work in my community.
My RUN4ACAUSE goal is simple: to showcase the direct impact WE can make by empowering our youth to transform their world by mobilizing them to engage in cultural exchange, gain a global perspective, and create and lead social change through the art of SUPERHERO sport and play. Today I wanted to present a couple great articles I have stumbled upon this week and hope that they inspire you, as much as they have me.
Last week I read this amazing post by By Andi Saitowitz, a certified Life Coach from The Adler Institute and I felt I had to share it! This post is a slight deviation from my usual posts regarding corrective movement, fascia stretch and yoga, but it does pertain to my other passion – Superheroes. Okay, not really superheroes, but people in our community who go above and beyond the call of duty to be superhero”like”
“US HUMANS HAVE THESE 7 SUPERPOWERS
Good news! We have a few superpowers that no one can take away from us. That’s right! And just when we thought we had to live much of our precious time in “survival” mode, anxious about the competition, safe-guarding our rights and resources, and breathing on edge each day with the notion that for us to win in this lifetime, the people around us have to lose because there’s simply just not enough to go around.
1. We have the power to make choices in every single situation.
“Faith in yourself. Another word for faith is self-confidence. If you believe in yourself, you have a source of power that is truly awesome. When you have faith in yourself, others have faith in you. They may help you with something that is beyond your ability to do on your own. Self-confidence comes through in everything you say and do, and in the way you hold yourself, like this drawing of Wonder Woman. She is in a reflective moment, but you can see the confidence in her posture and the way she holds her shield.
Bonus power: the ability to believe in yourself when others that you care about don’t see the value in what you’re trying to do, or don’t think you can do it.
How to get this power: When you meditate on your heart, you come into contact with the power of your heart, the flow of emotions within you, and by experiencing deep and intense emotion in the context of sacredness, you come to feel that your heart is larger and more powerful than even the most intense feelings. This gives you great faith in yourself.” – Asatar Bair, June 14 2012
Doesn’t that make you wanna be a superhero?
Corrective movement is a modality within the health and wellness realm; which we like to call the “transition zone.” Corrective movement opens the door for coaches and professionals in the fitness industry to screen, assess and correct breakdowns in a client or athletes movement mechanics.
In my practice I use this style of training to either (a) pre screen a client who may need to see a physiotherapist or medical professional or (b) the client has been referred by a physiotherapist or medical professional and thus, my role is to “transition” the client from the clinical to the coaching again.
The following video selections are favorite videos I have chosen from the FMS library for you to be become more familiar with Corrective Movement, common mistakes and myths in the industry and the written portions of the article is direct excerpts from Gray Cook’s website and movement book.
CORRECTIVE MOVEMENT MECHANICS:
“Movement Competency: The ability to employ fundamental movement patterns like single-leg balance, squatting, reflex core stabilization and symmetrical limb movement. This can also include basic coordination with reciprocal movement patterns like crawling and lunging. The central goal is not to assess physical prowess or fitness, but to establish a fundamental blueprint and baseline of quality not quantity.
Physical Capacity: The ability to produce work, propel the body or perform skills that can be quantified to establish an objective level of performance. If movement competency is present at or above a minimum acceptable level of quality, deficits in physical capacity can be addressed with work targeting performance. If movement competency is not adequate, it would be incorrect to assume that a physical capacity deficiency could be addressed by working only on physical capacity.
Growth and development follow the path of competency to capacity, but how many fitness and athletic programs parallel this time-honored gold standard of motor development? If screens and standards for movement competency are not employed, we are programming on a guess. Furthermore, if our testing does not clearly separate movement competency tests and physical capacity tests, we exchange a guess for an assumption.
In the Movement book we emphasize the importance of movement competency through screening and assessment, and we further separate movement categories to help the exercise and rehabilitation professional categorize movement deficiency in clients and patients.” – Gray Cook
COMMON MISTAKES & MYTHS:
Exercise professionals too often overlook the fundamental movements because highly active individuals can often perform many high level movements without easily observable deficits. The Functional Movement Screen was first introduced to give us greater relative insight into primitive patterns by identifying limitations and asymmetries. The FMS screen is a way of taking it back to the basics and recognizing that these patterns are fundamental; a key factor is that they are common during the growth and developmental sequence, and thus taking it back to primitive movement, we may be able to overcome some of these common compensations.
VIDEO 1: Gray Cook: Common Mistakes Made in Corrective Movement vs Strength Movement
PRIMITIVE PATTERNS: BACK TO BASICS
Consideration of primitive patterns can help make you a more intuitive, and intelligent exercise professional. Very often we become experts in exercise without considering growth and development, which is where the fundamentals of movement were first established. As explained in this video, these fundamental movements include rolling, pushing up, quadruped, and crawling. This foundation is often neglected in the approaches we take to enhance function and/or performance through exercise programming.
The first rule of functional performance is not forgetting fundamentals. In order to progress to movement we first learned to reflexively stabilize the spine, in order to control movement more distally in the extremities, this happened naturally during growth and development. However, many individuals lose the ability to naturally stabilize as they age due to asymmetries, injuries, poor training or daily activities. The individuals who do this develop compensatory movements, which then create inefficiencies and asymmetries in fundamental movements.
VIDEO 2: Gray Cook and Lee Burton: Secrets of Primitive Patterns http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxRy55CeoQg&feature=share&list=PL77D5203810F6A356
THE FMS SCREEN UNCOVERED:
Here Gray talks about how to do a self movement screen. It can be done and assesed by a Pass or Fail marking scheme. It covers 7 important movement patterns, which are the Deep Squat, In-Line Lunge, Hurdle Step, Rotation, and Active Straight Leg Raise, as well a 2 clearing tests to asses spinal extension and flexion in a fixed position.
Modern fitness and training science has bestowed upon us the ability to create strength and power in the presence of extremely poor dysfunction. This dysfunction means that fundamental movement patterns are limited, asymmetrical or barely present. Just because we can make people bigger, faster and stronger on top of this does not make it right. Seated, fixed-axis equipment perpetuates the illusion of fitness without enhancing functional performance. Utilize all of your tools to uncover an individual’s dysfunction and then work to correct it. The result will be an individual who moves more efficiently, thereby creating a foundation for more effective strength, endurance and power training.
VIDEO TWO; Gray Cook: Self Movement Screen:
Here are a couple quick techniques you can utilize to observe primitive movements, checking for asymmetry and limitation in rotary stability and how to learn to fire the core!!! Everyone’s favorite:
The “Core” is the Foundation to Primitive Patterning: We call it Trunk Stability
Gray Cook; Sequence of Core Firing
Sources: The Importance of Primitive Movement Patterns
Gray Cook, MSPT, OCS, CSCS and Lee Burton, PhD, AT
Starbucks’ free app of the week is currently Pocket Yoga – Practice Builder, by the developer Rainfrog LLC. This app is a yoga instructor in your pocket, everywhere you go!
Pocket Yoga is the premier yoga app available for iPhone/iPod/iPad.
The practice of yoga becomes beneficial when done on a regular basis. With Pocket Yoga you can keep up with your practice at your own pace and schedule in the comforts of your own home. Simply set your iPhone/iPod/iPad in front of your mat, start a practice, and Pocket Yoga will guide you through your entire session.
Choose between 3 different practices, 3 different difficulty levels and 3 different durations. A total of 27 different sessions!
Practices in Pocket Yoga are the unique and original creative design of the world-renowned school of Gaia Flow Yoga.
– Detailed voice and visual instruction guides you through every pose, including each inhalation and exhalation.
– Over 145 beautifully illustrated pose images with correct posture and positioning.
– Dictionary of poses containing descriptions and benefits of each pose.
– Maintains an ongoing log of all your yoga practices to track your progress and promote consistency.
– Practices designed by experienced yoga instructors.
– Ability to play music from your iPod library in place of the default music.
– All images are compatible with the new Retina display.
– TV out support! See your practice in your television.
Pick it up today at your nearest Starbucks location!
Soma – The word soma describes the everlasting constantly flowing array of sensory feedback and actions that are occurring within the experience of each of us. A somatic experience is when we viscerally feel connected usually brought on by movement. Even in meditation and states of rest our body and internal experience is always moving. It is an internal representation of our energy force.
Movement – Movement is the language that the nervous system understands very well. Gently guiding a client through a series of small movements allows the body to highlight muscular and systems integration on the voluntary level. It is a communication portal that showcases integration from the muscles, fascia and bone to the client – when the client is open to listening.
Lineage of Somatic Education:
Somatic education emerged during the twentieth century, but has been practiced in Eastern traditions for centuries. Western science classifys somatic healing and somatic education; a term used interchangeably, as an internalized learning process which is initiated by a teacher who guides the client or student through a sensory-motor process of physiological change.
When we speak of self-teaching, self-learning, self-healing, and self-regulation, we know that this is a somatic process, and as coaches and teachers we must guide our clients to the understanding that these are genetically-given capacities intrinsic to all human beings. As practitioners our roles are to merely offer the means to help “turn on” the ability to self manage somatic healing on and off the mat. In essence the client actually teaches themselves, we merely aid in offering the verbal and sequential tools.
Somatic healing is much like corrective movement in this way. When there is a break down in movement or movement patterning; much like in an athletic injury, there can be trauma and compensation patterns that take over proper and once efficient patterns. When this happens the client feels as if they do not have control over their body’s responses, contraction and control over that particular area of their body, muscle group and to an extent this is true because the body’s protective response is to contract and quite frankly.. protect. In somatic medical terms we call this somatic trauma and/or SMA (sensory motor amnesia; which is the worst case scenario.
This somatic trauma can pull the body into what we call somatic reflex. It is the reflex of pain avoidance. Cringing, for example, is the overt manifestation of this reflex. For instance, in boxing when blows occur to one side of the rib cage, the muscles traumatized will go into chronic contraction. Prolonged pain can attribute to chronic contraction, which we see in runner knee and a myriad of load responsive micro trauma. This alters the body’s ability to recover and to properly manage movement.
The internal compensation process is to selectively dis-engage that sensory input and motor control of muscle function and then establish a compensation pattern.
“Pain is impressively humbling. Your regular ambitions and thought processes come to a grinding halt. Emotional factors creep in and generally exacerbate matters. It can even become difficult, if not impossible, to make decisions in your own regard. Yet in this human community, we are never truly alone. Family, friends and professionals come to our aid. And, short of that, or in addition, in my system of belief, we are constantly ministered to by intelligences and forces of orders beyond our normal frames of recognition. Lean into these resources no matter how bad it gets. Relief will come.” ~ Gil Hedley (Integral Anatomy Series)
Primitive Patterning and Somatic Healing:
We know that somatic trauma can occur from injury or prolonged discomfort, but somatically we can also harbor emotions within the tissue well after the injury has healed. Depending on the nature of the injury and the emotional context from which the injury was viscerally felt can still be present at the soma level. Sometimes these somatic reactions are linked to our childhood many years or decades earlier. These visceral triggers can creep up over time and continue to cause bio mechanical breakdowns in the future. This is one fundamental reason why somatic healing and corrective movement are so closely linked.
When we talk about corrective movement there are two pillars that FMS coaches will focus on (1) Primitive Movement Patterns and (2) Foundation Movement Patterns.
Primitive movement patterns are used to describe those movements most humans explore during growth and development. When we look at pediatric development this includes movements that are supine, prone and hand and knees (all fours). As we begin to learn how to crawl, then squat and stand and then walk we form foundation movements. The development of fundamental movement is the foundation that leads to effective functional movement.
Somatic education can include taking the client back to these primitive and foundational movements to better break through somatic trauma and or related visceral connections that still hold negative movement and reactionary patterns.
Gray Cook, co-founder of the Functional Movement Systems, looks at corrective movement is very similar way; which is much like describing somatic re patterning and healing. They are very closely related in the foundational thought and intention process …
“Patterns and sequences remain the preferred mode of operation in biological organisms. Patterns are groups of singular movements linked in the brain like a single chunk of information. This chunk essentially resembles a mental motor program, the software that governs movement patterns. A pattern represents multiple single movements used together for specific function. Storage of a pattern creates efficiency and reduces processing time in the brain, much as a computer stores multiple documents of related content in one file to better organize and manage information. Common strengthening programs applied to muscles with the stabilization role will likely increase concentric strength but have little effect on timing and recruitment, which are the essence of stabilization.” ~ Gray Cook, FMS
In order for the client to regain pattern control it is an internal process; where new sensory information is introduced into the sensory-motor feedback loop through specific movement sequencing and pattern re training, allowing the motor neurons of the voluntary cortex once again to control the musculature fully and to achieve voluntary relaxation and contraction properties.
We see forms of this somatic trauma in today’s corporate world, but it is masked by “stiff muscles”. 80% of those over the age of forty have pain and stiffness from spines that are chronically contracted from the pelvis to the neck and naturally have spent decades in this compensation pattern.
Therefore, understanding the connection between somatic healing and corrective movement can greatly affect your health and wellness and longevity of your chosen sport – even if you classify yourself as just a weekend warrior.
“The Integral Anatomy Series” by Gil Hedley
Gil Hedley, is a Ph.D. and founder of Integral Anatomy Productions, LLC, and Somanautics Workshops, Inc. Hedley’s 4 part series of dissection of the fasciae, allows the viewer to gain a deeper understanding of the fascia system and grants us different kinds of access and insights, as well as enhances our ability to see certain tissues through the highlight of the multiple layers of the deep fascial lines and the superficial fasciae lines.
Each part of the series presents the anatomy of human form, layer by layer, from an integral, whole body perspective, not isolation. Now, these DVD’s are not for the faint of heart, but if you feel comfortable with paying tribute to those who have offered their bodies to science after they have passed and are interested in the dissection process of our multiple layers, then I highly recommend this 4 part series. It is quite frankly – fascinating.
A Short Intro into Visceral Fasciae:
Visceral fasciae (also called subserous fasciae) suspends the organs within their cavities and wraps them in layers of connective tissue membranes. Each of the organs is covered in a double layer of fascia; these layers are separated by a thin serous membrane.
Gil Hedley dates back the two means of fascia from Greek times of dissection, meaning:
1. Broad Sheet
2. Wispy and cloud-like
Understanding viscera and somatic healing offers the framework for how fascia works. It allows us to also investigate relationships with our internal and external environment, to increase our awareness of continuities both intrinsically and extrinsically and heighten our sense perception as we build on the framework of our integrated system.
The onion and tree model is a functional simplification of the human body and is used as a metaphor to visualize this webbed matrix of myofascial layering. Each layer is significant with braches (much like a tree) that permiate each layer with those layers getting thicker as we reach its core (much like the human body) of the fascial lines of superficial vs deep.
Superficial Fasciae and Viscera:
We can reference the whole mass of the viscera as a deep layer, much like the deep layer of an onion or branches of a tree, as with the case of Neurovascular trunks and limbs.
The skin is the terminus of those visceral branches from the neurovascular trunks, as they interface directly with the external environment of the body. The primary form of our shape – is via our superfiscial fascia, that ebbs and flows and holds our tissues in a concise manner. It is the shaping layer in conjunction with our skin. Keeping in mind; the skin is our largest organ; which is resilient, strong and has fantastic integrity. When we use the onion-tree model we can see that the skin and superfiscal fasciae have a special relationship and work as partners to give the human body shape, as well as the shape of the organs. The skin of the organ is known as the visceral layer and visceral fascia is less extensible than superficial fascia and plays an integral role in communicating the sensory input from our nervous system and sensory impulses.
A comprehensive understanding of these deeper layers requires a thorough understanding of the more superficial ones. Due to its suspensory role of the organs, it needs to maintain its tone rather consistently. If it is too lax, it contributes to organ prolapse (2) Ref. Wikipedia
The Superfiscal fascia is a great suspensory web of perception of a particular frequency range, in which the neuromuscular pathways branch out amongst the yellow finery of our sensory fleece. We can separate out tissues, layers and pathways of connection which we hold dear due to our mental conception of the body.
Deep Fasciae and Viscera:
The viscera are not limited in their physiological function or anatomically extent to the thorax, abdomen or the cranium but mentally we need to divide these lines up in order to understand the conceptually. From an integral viewpoint the visceral are meant to be non local phenomena , they are co mingled with all the tissues of the body. We can speak of the visera of the arm or leg – but there is no disconnect. When the heart beats, the movement and balance of pressure is not solely felt in the viscera of the chest, but through the whole body – all tissue is integrated.
The deep fascia can be a more thickly woven set of fibers and has a different texture and tone of the superficial fasciae. It is thicker and we can usually see more fiburous white striations and/or lines like the rings of a tree outlining the muscles and bone.
These thick layers of the deep fascia leverage tension and compression in the body. Through movement we can create vectors of “pull” and at the dissection level, watch the translation of the movement in the fascia, with the restrictions of components like, scar tissue. Scar tissue is not smooth, nor is it easily manipulated. Its structure is hard and tense; therefore we can assume that this will, no doubt lead to increased tension in the fasciae in the surrounding tissue.
What can we learn from fasciae dissection?
The largest benefit I have taken away from this 4 part series is the integration of all the systems that contribute to our form, the contours and comprehensive over laying structures that work together.
One interesting factor in dissection is seeing first hand the interplay of the superficial fasciae and the wispy interconnection of the adipose tissue just under the skin layer; which we cannot get from books, anatomy charts/maps or real life movement patterns.
In Yoga and corrective movement understanding the framework and connection of the fasciae system to the musculoskeletal anatomy is one of the most beneficial additions one can make to their professional resume. Understanding the tension and compression pulling factors on the multiple fasciae lines, in association of the kinetic chains can directly influence a client’s success on and off of the mat.
Gil Hedley’s 4 Part Seiers “The Integral Anatomy Series”
- Skin and Superfiicial Fascia
- Deep Fascia and Muscle
- Cranial and Visceral Fasciae
- Viscera and their Fasciae
Take a quick peek at an intro to each video here – http://www.gilhedley.com/ghvideo.php
Upcoming workshop in Vancouver (Squamish, BC) in Dec 2012 – http://www.gilhedley.com/index.php (I’ll be there).
It has long been known that Yoga has Ying and Yang properties. Each style, no matter if its restorative or power has an effect on both the mind and body and it works, not because the poses are relaxing, but because they are stressful. It is your attempts to remain calm during this stress that create yoga’s greatest neurobiological benefit. For instance for A-Types, Restorative, Yin and Hatha styles can be very mentally challenging and on the other hand for those who find body weight exercises challenging and linking breath with movement (as in Vinyasa, and Power yoga) can find the transitions and posture challenging.
Your brain tends to react to stressors, feeling of discomfort and disorientation in an automatic way, by triggering the physiological stress response; which results in activating anxious neural chatter between the prefrontal cortex and the more emotional limbic system. The stress response itself increases the likelihood of anxious thoughts, like “Oh man, I’m totally going to pull something,” or ” how long do I have to hold this one legged eagle pose”. And in fact, your anxious thoughts themselves further exacerbate the stress response. One should not give into the speed wobble or what we coaches call “the shake n’ bake,” this is all just a neurological response to the challenge.
Interestingly, despite all the types of stressful situations, both physcially and mentally a person can be in (inversions, running away while being chased, box jumps at the gym or even finishing your boss’s expense report by 5 o’clock) the nervous system has just one stress response; which should you leave you with some comfort as you just need to learn to feel the signs and then switch on which attitude you wish to combat the stressor with – like a light switch. The specific thoughts you have may differ, but the brain regions involved, and the physiological response will always be the same.
So what does this physiological stress response “feel” like? The physiological stress response can come in the form of an increase in heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension and elevation of cortisol and other stress hormones, sweating and that feeling of “fight or flight… our primal feelings.
Stress and Mental Health has been a large focus on many health strategies around the world, and Yoga is one of the most beneficial, therapeutic and holistic forms of treatment one can invest in, but of course I am bias. See for yourself…
Yoga & GABA Levels:
The World Health Organization reports that mental illness makes up to fifteen percent of disease in the world. Depression and anxiety disorders both contribute to this burden and are associated with low GABA levels. Currently, these disorders have been successfully treated with pharmaceutical agents designed to increase GABA levels.
According to the researchers, yoga has shown promise in improving symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and epilepsy. “Our findings clearly demonstrate that in experienced yoga practitioners, brain GABA levels increase after a session of yoga,” said lead author Chris Streeter, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at BUSM and a research associate at McLean Hospital.
“This study contributes to the understanding of how the GABA system is affected by both pharmacologic and behavioral interventions and will help to guide the development of new treatments for low GABA states,” said co-author Domenic Ciraulo, MD, professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry at BUSM.
“Western and Eastern medicine complement one another. Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances,” study researcher Dr. Chris Streeter, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and Boston Medical Center, said in a statement. “This paper provides a theory, based on neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, to understand how yoga helps patients feel better by relieving symptoms in many common disorders.”
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, New York Medical College and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons hypothesized that there are certain imbalances in the brain when a person has depression or stress-related conditions. Such imbalances include low activity of something called gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA); low activity of GABA is linked with epilepsy, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and PTSD, researchers said.
The researchers hypothesized that yoga works to increase the activity of GABA; resulting in amelioration of disease symptoms. This has far-reaching implications for the integration of yoga-based practices in the treatment of a broad array of disorders exacerbated by stress,” the researchers wrote.
Here is an excerpt from an article in Psychology today (Sept 2011):
“The fascinating thing about the mind-body interaction is that it works both ways. For example, if you’re stressed, your muscles will tense (preparing to run away from a lion), and this will lead to more negative thinking. Relaxing those muscles, particularly the facial muscles, will push the brain in the other direction, away from stress, and toward more relaxed thoughts. Similarly, under stress, your breathing rate increases. Slowing down your breathing pushes the brain away from the stress response, and again toward more relaxed thinking.
So how does this all fit together? As I stated before, the stress response in the nervous system is triggered reflexively by discomfort and disorientation. The twisting of your spine, the lactic acid building up in your straining muscles, the uneasy feeling of being upside down, the inability to breathe, are all different forms of discomfort and disorientation, and tend to lead reflexively to anxious thinking and activation of the stress response in the entire nervous system. However, just because this response is automatic, does not mean it is necessary. It is, in fact, just a habit of the brain. One of the main purposes of yoga is to retrain this habit so that your brain stops automatically invoking the stress response
Some people might think that the stress response is an innate reflex and thus can’t be changed. To clarify, the response is partly innate and partly learned in early childhood.. Yes, the stress response comes already downloaded and installed on your early operating system. However, this tendency is enhanced, by years of reinforcement. In particular, you absorb how those around you, particularly your parents react to stressful situations. Their reactions get wired into your nervous system. However, just because a habit is innate, and then reinforced, does not mean it is immune to change. Almost any habit can be changed, or at least improved, through repeated action of a new habit.
To give an example of changing a similarly innate reaction, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you have a gag reflex. This gag reflex gets in the way of many college freshmen as they struggle through the college socialization process of chugging a beer. Most have a difficult time. However, by the time senior year spring break rolls around, many of them have learned how to largely suppress that reflex. Like your gag reflex, just because your stress response is innate and automatic doesn’t mean it can’t be reshaped through sustained, and intentioned practice.
For some people waking up at 6:30AM to go to a yoga class would automatically trigger their stress response. The good news is that you don’t actually have to go to a class to practice yoga. The poses most people associate with yoga are just a particular way of practicing yoga called the asana practice (“asana” translates to “pose”). The asana practice challenges you in a specific way, but life itself offers plenty of challenges on its own. Under any stressful circumstance you can attempt the same calming techniques: breathing deeply and slowly, relaxing your facial muscles, clearing your head of anxious thoughts, focusing on the present. In fact, applying these techniques to real life is what yoga is all about. Yoga is simply the process of paying attention to the present moment and calming the mind. Over time you will start to retrain your automatic stress reaction, and replace it with one more conducive to happiness and overall well-being.”
Harvard Health Publications: Yoga and Mental Health
Recently, I had the outstanding pleasure of attending a 2hr Sunday session of “Yogasilks” at che baba, yoga and cantina, 603 Kinsgway in Vancouver. It was the most fun I have had in a yoga class since I tried my first partner yoga class last year and got the taste for “flying” poses.
And fly you will! Led by the uber-talented kiwi-born Vancouver teacher, Yogasilks founder and long-time yogi, Ross Howatson, this class hosted 10 fresh-faced and excited beginners to Yogasilks and we had an absolute blast.
Suspended from “silks” – think: long, stretchy, silky sheets tied at two corners – suspended from the ceiling, students are led through a series of yoga poses ranging from Warrior 1, Trikonasana, hip openers, heart openers, core strengtheners to breathing exercises, relaxation and gentle inversions.
With an adventuresome group ready to take on the thrill of the silks, we were challenged with a few fun and crazy cirque-de-soleil-esque moves: fallen angel (sees you threading through and dropping out of the silks – safely though!), handstand (with legs threaded through the silks – what an amazing experience!) and a few more inversions (think Sukasana, easy pose, but upside down and dangling). Ending class coccooned sweetly in the silks with a guided relaxation, I left feeling settled and grounded. Not to mention, my hips, legs and back felt amazing all week!
Ross did a brilliant job of encouraging, humouring and challenging the Yogasilks students. I would strongly recommend this 2hr workshop to anyone who loves hanging around, playing, having fun and trying something new in your yoga practice. I fully intend to be back on a regular basis!
After the workshop, the participants all enjoyed tapas at the attached cantina. The food is simply incredible. A sweet little spot, che baba was started by a young local couple, Allison and Stephan, who love sharing yoga, great food, and creating community.
Try Yogasilks. Seriously. Bring your friends. You will fall in love with Ross, the silks, che baba and the whole experience.
Che baba runs 2hr workshops on Sundays (first two weeks of August cancelled for trainings), which are a great introduction for beginners. The studio runs a regular Yogasilks drop-in class during the week, which will start back in the fall. In the meantime, che baba also touts a full drop-in schedule of other classes, which would be a great excuse to do some yoga before enjoying a meal at the cantina!
Love the idea and want to get teaching it? Yogasilks classes are currently in development at other studios and teachers will be needed! Che baba only has a few spots available for Yogasilks Teacher Training, Aug 11-12, 9am-5pm (delicious lunch provided by the cantina), $640+hst. For more information please contact Ross Howatson at [email protected]
Make time for Yogasilks in September and enjoy flying and hanging around! Please comment below if you have already attended a session and let me know about your experiences!
Act like an animal you say? … no! Well, actually yes, you are and we do! Let’s go back to the basics of muscle movement for a moment; much like Fido seen above. As a movement coach and yoga teacher one of the top questions I get asked is; what is the difference between static and dynamic stretching? Or, what is the best way to stretch?
This question isn’t easily answered because it depends on the client, their mechanics, potential in sport, somatic release potential and, etc. Therefore, for the purpose of this question we are going to a) look at this from a brain-to-nervous system-to-somatic -standpoint, as well as look at the traditional forms of static vs dynamic stretching.
What I mean be this – is the relationship of both the science of the tissue and the emotional response of somatic tension and how to release it efficiently. We know that the fascia system is an webbed matrix that has something called “tensegrity,” where your fascia is constantly communicating to your muscles, joints and bones the push-pull mechanics of balancing tension and compression in the body.
Now how about the nervous system? We know that the brain and nervous system control both sensation and motor control of muscles; therefore, when we move, the brain receives constant sensory feedback about our surroundings and our fascia system places a critical role in the transmission of this feedback. This relationship between the brain and the muscles spend their time trying to figure out how to move our mechanics in the most efficient manner. The brain is the control center of the muscles. Symmetry and proficiency in movement comes through careful repetition and practice.
Is it Primitive Patterning?
Just like riding a bike, or throwing a ball the brain teaches the muscles to stay contracted and tighten in response to stress applied to the tissue; such as sudden accidents or injuries, surgeries, on-going emotional stress or repetitive tasks, as well as performance based movements etc. The muscles learn to stay contracted in order to adapt and apply tension to deal with the stress of a situation. If a muscle is tight and doesn’t respond to simple relaxation techniques, you can be sure that it is being held tightly by the brain and sensory motor system and being told to “hold on” to that visceral response.
From a somatic standpoint, we know our emotions also play a large role in how we feel – thus how our muscles and systems feel and respond. In the book “Body, Breath & Consciousness: A Somatic Anthropology” by Ian Macnaughton; he speaks of a “holistic and multi-integrated approach.” A healthy sense of “self” rests in our history, understanding or legacies, the strengths and losses faced down through our lives, and our sense of autoomy and security. Let’s relate to that to movement and sport – we must continue to re-assess our past injuries and experiences (trauma both physcial and emotional) and apply that to how our body moves or limits movement – the key could be in the communication connection between our brain and somatic systems. That is all part of a primitive pattern.
Passive or Active?
Stretching is usually seen as either passive or dynamic. Static stretching is where the client “holds” the stretch for a dedicated period of time; and is beneficial for clients who require elongation in the fascia system; however, static stretching can cause harm if habitually contracted muscles are incapable of relaxing and “stuck’ in contraction and tension; a protective reflex in the muscles evoked (the “stretch reflex,”), which causes muscles to contract back against the stretch.
Whereas; dynamic stretching; which is most beneficial in sports where the athlete utilizes momentum from form where the muscles go through static to active movement in an effort to propel the muscle into an extended range of motion not exceeding one’s static-passive stretching ability.
So which is better? Well, there is another style of “stretching” that seems to be generating more traction over the course of the last several years. Since the inception of structural integration, more and more practitioners are looking at pandiculation. Yes, you read that right. Finally we get to that long and somewhat confusing word!
Pandiculation – (the action pattern that all animals perform when they get up from rest). A stretching and stiffening of the trunk and extremities, as when fatigued and drowsy or on waking, often accompanied by yawning. (ref. Wikitionry)
Do you ever notice that when an animal wakes us they immediately move into “downward facing dog,” “upward facing dog,” “cat’s pose,” etc? Or when you just wake up and your yawn and your body goes into this automatic stretch phase – thats pandiculation.
Pandiculation is a learning process that resets muscles at the nervous system level. It gives more feedback to your brain, the command center of your muscles. This allows your brain to reset the muscles’ length, which results in more relaxed muscles.
The difference between static and dynamic stretching, is simple:
One requires no movement (passive or static) whicle the other requires movement (dynamic).
The concept of pandiculations focuses on contracting a muscle first in association with gentle elongation of the fascial lines, and then moving it through its range of motion is much more effective than simple, static stretching. Dynamic stretching is very similar to pandiculation; but the difference is it isn’t as effective if you don’t incorporate muscles in the center of the body, from which all movement originates. Dynamic is much more efficient when being applied to a sport and thus the movement are in preparation for the given on field movement drills.
Let’s use the analogy of the animal again – they roll over and first contract its back muscles, then slowly and deliberately lengthening them only as far as is comfortable for them to go – then doing the exact same thing with the muscles of the front of the body and sometimes moving into rotation with smooth, focused, methodical transitions.
Science shows that the functions of pandiculation is that the ubiquitous behavior of pandiculating helps maintain the integrative function of the fascial system by:
(a) mechanical signaling the connective tissue metabolism (mechanotransduction) to reinforce the collagen links that unites the segments to one another, as when one pandiculates. Because this is seen most often upon wakening, we can also hypothesis that the brain is in a state of low frequency – almost meditative; which of course helps to focus on breath and release stress.
(b) the other is the redistribution of free water (water that can flow) in the extracellular matrix. Our fascia, at the microscopic level are microtubules that transmit nerve impulses, nutrients and…. Water to working tissue. This latter effect stabilizes the joints and thus also increases the degree of integration, among other hypothetical mechanisms.
Therefore, the answer to; which is better? Well, all if prescribed at the correct time. The overall goal of stretching in general is to regulate tension and compression, tightness and relaxation. When we exhibit habituated, learned muscle tightness; we then must work to actively reset muscle length at the level of the central nervous system to release the tissue. What is required is to re-train the brain to re-train the muscle to lengthen and relax.
So, the next time you want to stretch, try this:
- Wake up in the morning and roll onto your mat
- Try not to think too much about “what should I stretch” and allow your body to guide you based on how it responds and feels.
- Contract the muscle that’s tight via gentle movement and breath work. Perform the movement with purpose, and within your comfort range.
- Then slowly lengthen it, as if you were just waking up in the morning and yawning.
- Then completely relax and passively stretch, exhaling into the release.
- Smiles and Enjoy.
Temporomandibular joint disorder, TMJD (in the medical literature TMD), or TMJ syndrome, is an umbrella term covering acute or chronic pain and inflammation of the temporomandibular joint, which connects the mandible to the skull. The primary cause is muscular hyper- or parafunction with secondary effects on the oral musculoskeletal system and are seen quite often in individuals who suffer from high stress, poor sleeping (clenching of the teeth) and poor posture.
The temporomandibular joint is susceptible to many of the conditions that affect other joints in the body, and in our clinical field of corrective movement management, we see a lot of this common disorder. However, TMJ is what seems to develop after a long period of time where the client goes untreated or neglects to acknowledge the breakdown signs. Over time, our bodies adapt to our everyday movements to make it easier for us to function and get through the day; however, in time, these adaptations come at a cost and slowly change and pull our bodies out of alignment.
This specific disorder transcends the boundaries between several health-care disciplines — in particular, dentistry and neurology, corrective movement and pathology — there are a variety of treatment approaches and bridging the gap between your dentist and movement coach may be the key towards living pain free.
Yoga isn’t just for your muscles, it can also help protect your teeth and limit your trips to the dentist and need for oral corrective care. But, if you do have to go to the dentist then we have the team for you.
The teeth have it! Oral Care is a great place to start
Dr. Melissa Skinner, Dentist and local athlete, has graciously offered to lend her experience and expertise on oral care, relaxation and TMJ so that we can understand this specific disorder that plagues so many and often goes mis diagnosed. In addition to the exceptional team and the great office location; your dental experience is more like a spa. You have your own private booth, TV and head set and blanket. Yes, I said your own TV! All one would need is a green juice and a mani/pedi and you have a day at the spa.
Graduating top of her class from UBC School of Dentistry, Dr. Skinner is committed to lifelong learning, and is a member at the Kois Centre in Seattle, Washington. After finding numerous clients with TMJ related concerns, I took the liberty to ask an expert. Here are a few questions I posed to Dr. Skinner:
Q. Hw often do you see TMJ (or even the initial signs) in your patients? And how does this affect their oral care?
A. Temporomandibular disorders are very common and seen daily in the dental office. Those with jaw joint pain have difficulty opening their jaw, and commonly have limited opening. This affects oral care because it is more difficult for these patients to brush and floss their teeth.
Q. Sleep clenching seems to be a contributor to TMJ pain. Since this is more of an unconscious act many perform due to disruptive sleep and stress. What are your thoughts on this and how can it be prevented?
A. Clenching and grinding of the teeth are common habits that present themselves by chipping or wearing teeth, tired facial muscles, sore jaw joints and sensitive teeth. It can be caused by a poor bite and stress. Treatment is a removable appliance worn nightly that protects the teeth from further damage. Prevention is through bite correction, relaxation therapy, counselling to manage stress, yoga, and physiotherapy.
Q. Most of this blog piece centers around the muscles and poor posture being the major cause, but in many cases it’s the teeth that can be the initiator. Correcting the way the teeth fit together seems to be where practitioners should start when confronted with TMJ. How does one check to see if their teeth are contributing to stress and pain?
A. A bad bite can lead to clenching and grinding of the teeth. It’s a good idea to have a dentist check the bite to see if there are unhealthy tooth positions. If one tooth hits before the others, the chewing muscles become protective. Rather than bumping into that spot each time, the teeth close and the chewing muscles maneuver around the interference. This places extra strain on the muscles and they eventually become tired and painful. Interestingly enough, to reduce the pain, we clench our teeth harder! Babies do this by biting against a teething ring to decrease the pain of erupting teeth.
Q. We know that such tightness and compression in the jaw and neck can lead to arthritis, cause nerve pressure, an increase in neck muscle injuries and in oral care does this affect the necessary salvation and inner workings needed to protect our teeth and oral cavity?
A. As we mentioned, the teeth take the abuse from clenching and grinding. Our teeth are not meant to take forces all the time. So they wear down, crack, get receding gums and become sensitive. But, the rest of the oral cavity and saliva flow are not affected. So long as the patient isn’t on medications, that can commonly cause dry mouth.
Q. Are there specific treatments that you suggest in your profession to help treat TMJ related pain?
A. Any TMJ pain is worrisome. I know this is a sign that something is out of balance. It is possible that if nothing is done, the pain can get worse quite quickly. It’s important to try to identify what is causing the pain. Is it the bite? Is the patient clenching their teeth and wearing the joint? Does the patient have arthritis? Are there high levels of stress? … Once we know this, we go ahead on treat the pain. A splint to wear at night is a very common treatment to protect the teeth and provide some jaw relief by opening the bite. If it’s a bite issue, we treat anywhere from tiny tooth adjustments to full orthodontics. Stress management is important for some patients. Others with muscle fatigue would benefit from massage therapy and physiotherapy that specialize in the jaw joint.
Q. Since tooth decay is one of the leading causes of disease in children, how often do you see signs of problematic symptoms that could lead to teeth clenching, stress and changes in children’s oral structure? And what advice can you offer to new parents to help steward their children into positive practices at home?
A. A cavity in a baby tooth can get large at a very fast rate. This can cause a toothache. Pain can cause clenching, poor eating habits, poor attention and increased stress. Cavities also cause the teeth to shift forward in the mouth. This causes crowding of the permanent teeth.
My advice is to start oral hygiene habits early. Even when a baby has no teeth, it is a good idea to clean the baby’s mouth with a washcloth during bath time. Praise your kids when they clean their teeth, and be involved! Be a good role model, check that their teeth are clean and help them brush. Try making it fun by placing stickers on a calendar or using a cute timer to let your child know when it’s been long enough. Of course, getting regular dental visits is not only important to check for cavities, but teaches the child to love the dental office.
Q. I feel very privileged to not only have you as my dentist, but as my friend and supporter. Third Street Dental is the key sponsor for the upcoming “RUN4MOM” Memorial run focused on supporting the positive face of mental health and education on the mental well-being of our community. What do you do to stay healthy? And Who is your dentist?
A. Being healthy helps me tremendously at work. It helps me manage stress and helps my body handle the physical demands of dentistry. I absolutely love hiking with my adorable Labrador. I enjoy yoga and love running. I recently ran my first half-marathon!
My dentist is the amazing Dr. Gail Landsberger, who also works with me at Third Street Dental!
What Muscles are Affected?
Most of the time it is a result of poor posture and ergonomics at work, living with stress and not knowing how to relax and often those who hold stress in their shoulders and neck and after long periods of time begin to forward head carry. We call this upper crossed syndrome (see previous blog post on upper cross syndrome – ) When we talk about forward head carry, there are many muscles that help with head and neck movements. The top 3 that I find with clients that are hyper tonic (high stress) are the longus capitis; which helps to reduce the lordotic curve of the cervical vertebrae and is a deep flexor muscle in the neck whose job is to laterally flex, rotate, and flex the head and neck.
Next up we have the anterior scalenes, and the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). When the SCM is overworked it becomes fatigued quicker eventually leading to chronic forward head posture (head/neck extension). The levator scapulae is also a high functioning culprit where it’s main function is to lift the scapulae. It also works in conjunction with the pectoralis group (minor particularly) and the rhomboids (postural muscles).
As the muscles pull down on the base of the skull and upper neck, they also pull up on the scapula. All this adds up to compression on the cervical vertebra.
How can Yoga help?
Decompressing the muscles around the jaw line and neck are crucial to limiting stress in this area, and it starts with the practice of meditation, deep breathing and sensory awareness. Practicing a simple modified vinyasa sequence of child’s pose to downward facing dog to upward facing dog can help the flow of blood to the jaw and cranium, as well as improve the articulation of the spine.
Sequences to improve posture and reduce stress to the jaw and neck muscles:
- Seated meditation (focus on softening the tongue and facial muscles
- Seated cat flow (working in all 6 motions of the neck, extension, flexion, lateral extension, rotation)
- Cat flow series to child’s pose vinyasa (mentioned above)
- Cobra and sphinx poses (to help relax spine
- Supine cervical and lumbar corrective movement (passive hip rotations)
- Bridge pose variations to promote length in the spine and occipital ridge trigger release.
- Soft tissue rolling with the foam roller (mid back, lats, glutes)
I believe it is an important practice to work with other health care providers who believe in a holistic approach to optimal wellness. Dentistry is one of the most neglected pillars of our health and ultimately, it should be one of the first. For more information on Third Street Dental and Dr. Melissa Skinner, please see the information links below.
Third Street Dental is a community driven family oriented practice. This July 29th Dr. Skinner will be participating in my annual “RUN4MOM” Memorial Run that takes place over a span of 57km, supporting mental health and suicide prevention in our community. They also support a plethora of community initiatives centered on youth and family well-being.
There are times when a great yoga practice starts with a thoughtful poem or lyric and ends with a fantastic song.
Trust me, find a space in your next practice for Glen Hansard’s “Song of Good Hope,” from his newly released CD Rhythm and Repose.
The first stanza, “If we’re gonna make it / Cross this river alive /You better think like a boat /And go with the tide” is such a sweet and perfect line, well befitting a yoga practice.
In so many ways, yoga is all about going with your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual tide. Hard to struggle and resist the natural ebb and flow, those disorderly fluctuations of life – better yet to prepare yourself as best you can, steer in the right direction and trust that “you’ll be fine babe, it’s just rivers and streams between you and where you want to be.”
I love this song. I hope you do too.
BRAIN S FITNESS
The nervous system is conditioned to operate in a specific way and it takes a conscious effort to change and engage with our mind and body towards better movement, more symmetrical movement.
When we move with intention and purpose, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that it can lead to optimal wellness, as well as optimal learning. More an more coaches, athletics therapists, practitioners and psychotherapists are paying more and more attention to the benefits of neurological re patterning and neuromuscular corrective movement. “Re-patterning” really means “retraining” the brain to more efficiently use both sides to perform tasks, rather than limiting itself to using only one hemisphere at a time.
This also applies to somatic memory and re-patterning techniques used in neuromuscular training. Neurologists have discovered that we can use the body to “re-pattern” or retrain the brain to change inefficient pathways into more efficient ones. The knowledge of the connection between the brain and the body has been well documented.
Many medical doctors, as well as athletic coaches use a technique called “patterning” or “Brain Integration Therapy” which consisted of exercises replicating the crawling movements of a baby to help students with head injuries and other severe neurological dysfunctions.
For instance, Brain Integration Therapy known as Brain Gym, was introduced by Dr Paul Dennison, an education specialist, incorporated research from many other fields to further explore the mind/body connection. This incorporates performing specific tasks; followed by “re-patterning” techniques which stimulate the neurological connections within the brain and facilitate whole brain learning.
CORRECTIVE MOVEMENT IS THE KEY TO NEUROMUSCULAR RE-TRAINING
Does this sound familiar! The body, as we have previously discussed “the somatic body,” holds onto emotions, patterns, feelings and belief systems. Some of which are positive, while others no longer serve us. This can be attributed to previous injuries, poor movement patterns, even trauma or childhood nuances that we have not yet let go of and thus, our physical body reacts by offers us feelings of “unwell,” “pain” or discomfort.
When muscle recruitment is less than optimal, that can be a sign of anything from injury to compensation to poor motor learning. Neuromuscular patterns are akin to thought processes or computer programs essentially. Now, when I say “corrective movement” I am referring to any exercise that corrects or improves better mechanics. This can be movement and performance coaching, specialized yoga, kettlebell work, body weight work – anything that promotes better motor learning and in a sequential manner based on the individuals unique mechanics.
Somatic patterning is an approach to body therapy that integrates the knowledge of human kinetics and kinesiology with practical applications and corrective movement exercises to improve posture and movement mechanics. Integrative Bodywork facilitates relaxation, structural and neuromuscular re-patterning, and overall healing.
This work nourishes the body — injuries, low energy, imbalances, and uncenteredness are transformed. Whether you need regular work or need a one time gift to yourself, I encourage you to try this work.
The FMS (Functional Movement Systems) assist with this re-patterning because it is based on pediatric development and what coaches call RNT. By taking a client back to pediatric patterns, they can release pent up “somatic emotions,” in their tissue that they may not even realize is preventing them from achieving better movement. In the therapeutic sense; this style of somatic learning is seen often in Yoga and fascia stretch.
THE ATHLETE’S CORNER
For an athlete, neuromuscular re-patterning come in the form of DNT (dynamic neuromuscular re-patterning) or RNT (reactive neuromuscular re-patterning). RNT operates on the premise that the body will do what it needs to maintain balance – homeostasis. I am a bif fan of combining this approach in association with Sport NLP (neuro linguistic programming) can support breaking fear based barriers.
Gray Cook often says, “Does turning on your glute give you a better squat, or is giving you a better squat a better way of teaching you to fire your glute?” The chicken and the egg complex.
For instance; let’s take the basic squat pattern (a hip hinge) or chair pose in Yoga. More often when trainers/teachers visually see a client performing an exercise inefficiently, we cue them verbally. For instance “keep the knee tracking in line with the hip,” or “don’t let the knees rotate out.” And the client replies…”I’m trying…. or I don’t get it.”
Many faulty movement patterns, the body doesn’t recognize that the pattern it’s maintaining is sub-optimal. It’s compensated and over time that specific (yet foundational movement pattern) has been altered.
To assist the client in recognizing the error in proprioception; the coach/teacher can apply a small amount of force to get the movement pattern to correct itself and the client to “feel” the correct movement range of motion. In other words, if the knees tend to drift medially from the midlines of the feet during a squat, then pushing the knees inward while instructing the patient/client to resist the push will cause him/her to activate the muscles that externally rotate the femur (thigh) in the hip more intensely. This will allow the client to understand somatically, as well as neurologically how to clean up and correct the movement. Then you can verbally cue tempo, control, breathing etc.
The last 4 part series has been an exploration on the science behind the connection of mind and body, more importantly, between our connection to motor learning, acceptance and improvement towards optimal health of the mind, body and spirit. Buddha, said it best…”what we think, we become,” sometimes we just need a little nudge.
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Embody awareness and break boundaries, this is the result of somatic movement therapy, and it is all the coming rage with the structural integration trend we have been embarking on over the past decade.
In Life and movement; boundaries define our personal space. This space is called the intersubjective field. Spatial, behavioral, verbal and energetic boundaries are the most commonly considered characteristics of boundary formation. Energetic boundaries are more somatically based and less commonly described.
In yoga the experience of realizing your awareness is called “witnessing,” which is the beginning of creating a great space from which you can grow. Clarity of awareness can bring emotional autonomy, stability, balance, power and the feeling of being more grounded.
Moreover, the somatic function of movement connects the mind with the body to produce a positive understanding of our defenses through the use of linguistic language (by the teacher) and movement (by the student). Another interesting topic of conversation with regards to the “somatic anthropology” of this connection is the “Somatic Ego;” which, viscerally the tissue starts to function like. A reaction or a state-specific emotional trauma that gets housed in the tissue and thus begins to establish boundaries, protective boundaries, and most often these boundaries start to no longer serve us as we grow and develop; but continue to surface when we feel that same visceral response, even to different stimuli. We will touch more on this in just a moment, but doesn’t this sound familiar? Therefore, it makes sense to see the linkage bewteen our emotions, our tissue and the conenction between body and mind. If we can work on establishing new patterns of grounding, and centering are all fundamental to boundary formation; which bridges the gaps between somatic psychology and personality development and we can then start to detatch from old patterns.
The key to unlocking those repressed emotions is to get the individual “into their body” and the energy in their body moving. Activating the flow of physical energy activates the flow of emotional energy. It may also release “body memories,” which bring to consciousness any repressed memories of experience contained in them.
The body, not only the brain, contains the unconscious mind. The body physically encodes its learned symptoms, neurotic coping mechanisms, and decisions in the limbic-hypothalamic systems. Healing occurs by accessing the encoded learned responses, following the affect or somatic bridge back to the state in which they were learned, and healing them through activating psychophysiological (physical and emotional) resources in the body that had been previously repressed or immobilized.
This can help support development of self-worth, self-formation, and transformation. Corrective movement and the art of body work creates an environment that changes the physical alignment (physical well-being).
Gentle yoga involving slow moving meditations, pranayama and meditation. Reawaken inherent agility and strength that allows you to expand the possibilities for moving and thus living in general. Chronic tension patterns change and can inhibit growth and development, both physically and emotionally/mentally. The nervous system slows down and as the body releases and re gains it’s innate ability to self-correct, re balance and re gain efficiency in movement (which we call neuro-muscular re-patterning). The sensory-motor learning process encourages the muscles and fascia to release from involuntary, habitual contraction, as well as limiting movement patterns that inhibit progress, both athletically and in daily life. Somatic movement is a process of re-educating the body systems for improved well being.
Somatic yoga can be experienced in the form of Hatha, Yin and Restorative styles that allow the body to passively express and release with ease. The somatic exploration process introduces the student to be able to evoke core awareness and core movement, dynamic balance, integrity of movement, and harmony with gravity. Most postures include breath work, mat work in the supine or seated positions and many with the use of props. Slow progressive yoga movements, can allow you to focus on somatic awareness, full body breathing, and grounding and when combined with specific sequencing for your specific mechanics the witnessing of your own potential is so great. How amazing is that!
The best way to start this transition is to either seek out a yoga teacher or class that is gentle (as in slow movement), but still challenging enough to engage you in thought and movement. A warm Yin class or Hatha class are always me favorite. If you are coming off of an injury or have corrective concerns then perhaps a warm Yin or a Restorative class would be best to start with.
Next week we will take a look at building on this topic of somatic movement and introduce movement therapy with neuromuscular re patterning (RNT), both reactive and dynamic; which will include all styles of yoga and the benefits that can come from a sound practice.
“With the ever growing impact of science in our lives, belief and spirituality have a greater role to play reminding us of our humanity. There is no contradiction between the two. Each gives us valuable insights into the other. Both science and the teachings of the Buddha tell us of the fundamental unity of all things.” ~Upaya Zen Center
Brain Food for Thought:
- How do meditative practices influence pain and human suffering?
- What role does the brain play in emotional well-being and health?
- To what extent can our minds actually influence physical disease?
- Are there important synergies here for transforming health care, and for understanding our own evolutionary limitations as a species?
Meditation has been extensively used since the dawn of time in many civilizations around the world as a means of cultivating a state of well-being, balance and flow of equilibrium between the mind, body, soul and environment. The practice of documented meditation has formally been found in ancient scripture as early as the third century BCE, in the Buddhist writings of Abhidharma.
What was once a “froo-froo,” only for the “yoga mat” exercise is now being studied in terms of its influence on brain activity, cognitive development and patterning. There is wide spread recognition of the influence that mind has on our physiological, attentional and affective paradigms; where more clinicians are integrating the application of emotional regulation and somatic healing in their clinical practices and merging the scientific research of brain science, with somatic developmental psychology and the art of meditation to prevent and treat disease such as mental illness, depression, etc.
At the Mind & Life Institute, the Dalai Lama and leading researchers in medicine, psychology, and neuroscience are exploring the healing potential of the human mind by using dynamic interchange along with intriguing research findings that shed light on the nature of the mind, its capacity to refine itself through training, and its role in physical and emotional health. The most recent Zen Brain program at the Institute of Mind & Life, explores trauma, stress, loss and the human potential for resilience and happiness.
“Mindful meditation may be described as sustained awareness aimed at non-reactive and nonattached mental observation, without cognitive or emotional interpretation of the unfolding moment-to-moment experience.” (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Gunar).
The role that meditation plays in brain development has been the subject of several theories and a number of studies. At the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that long-term meditators had greater gyrification — a term that describes the folding of the cerebral cortex, the outermost part of the brain.
Published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal the study is the latest effort from the U.C.L.A. lab to determine the extent to which meditation may affect neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to make physiological changes. Previous studies found that the brains of long-term meditators had increased amounts of so-called gray and white matter (the former is believed to be involved in processing information; the latter is thought of as the “wiring” of the brain’s communication system.
In 2009, a study was presented at an American Heart Association meeting, suggested that the mental relaxation produced by meditation has physiological benefits for people with established coronary artery disease. Researchers followed about 200 high-risk patients for an average of five years. Among the 100 who meditated, there were 20 heart attacks, strokes and deaths; in the comparison group, there were 32.
The results – the meditators tended to remain free of disease longer and also reduced their systolic blood pressure. That study was conducted at the Medical College of Wisconsin inMilwaukee, in collaboration with the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, a research institute based at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. The institute’s director, Dr. Robert H. Schneider, suggested that the stress reduction produced by the meditation could cause changes in the brain that cut stress hormones like cortisol and damp the inflammatory processes associated with atherosclerosis.
We already know that regular exercise; such as Yoga can reduce stress and increase the “happy chemicals” in our brain – endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. In 2010, more than 50 people gathered in the Circle of the Way temple at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to explore the connection between neuroscience and meditation. This summer solstice, the same experience took place inNew York CityinTimes Square; where thousands of yogis came out to collectively “om” in the name of community and good energy.
“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Albert Einstein
As a corrective coach, I know how important focus, visualization and control of one’s movements are crucial to a client’s success, but what is often neglected today is the power of the mind to improve or reduce a client’s success. If the mind is not yet freed from self doubt and self defeating mind stuff; then the success rate of that client will be limited and the body will continue to move slowly and show limitations in a successful progression.
This is what somatic anthropology and mind-body practioners call “control and resignation. Much like our muscular states our psyche works a bit the same. “For instance… “I need to hold onto this, to keep control of it (a pattern of thought that holds many of us back from letting go of fears).. the hypo-response reflects a resignation that says, “attempting to do this is too exhausting; i give up.” The body (and mind) flow between a triad of states – over-activity, under-activity and neutrality. Present empirical findings indicate that these physical states generally correspond to psychological ones.Every part of the body may be said to also be part of the mind.” – Levine 1976
The answers are simple. Meditation is proven to have a hug influence on brain activity and physical response. Meditation produces significant increases in activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive characteristics like optimism and resilience, as well as “higher” executive functions as decision-making, judgment, and planning. All of which, can help combat and prevent physical disease. When we operate in the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain) we are able to think more clearly, make better decisions, listen more attentively, see outside our own perspectives and see other people’s points of view and work together more effectively and more efficiently.
The question you should be asking yourself is “what are YOU thinking? Choose your thoughts wisely, as the infamous Gandhi once said…”thoughts become words, words become things, things become values”… and so on.
Body, Breath, & Consciousness – Ian Macnaughton