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.”



Huffington Post:

Harvard Health Publications: Yoga and Mental Health

Pyschology Today:

Fall in Love with Flying at che baba’s Yogasilks!

Fall in Love with Flying at che baba’s Yogasilks!

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!



Primal Movement

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.

Dr. Gail Landsberger. Dr. Melissa Skinner. Dr. Henry Tom.

Fun Fact:

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.


Song of Good Hope

Song of Good Hope

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.





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.


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.


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.



NY Times –


The Huffington Post –


Body, Breath, & Consciousness – Ian Macnaughton



Mind-Body Connection

Every athlete, whether it be an individual or team activity, knows that the body affects the mind and the mind affects the body. There are many factors that influence sporting abilities; genetic inheritance, fitness levels, technical skills, leadership and coaching, but the most neglected is our mental abilities.  Although many sports performers will spend a lot of their time on their fitness and technical skills, the mental side of the game is often neglected and rarely a factor in the mental approach into their performance strategy.

If you are an athlete then you have most likely experienced being in the “zone,” known more specifically as the state in which you are performing at your physical and mental best – some describe this as the state of “flow.” As a yoga teacher; I can say I know this well and this is best known when your physical body, your breath and your intention/mental state are linked in equilibrium or balance… when you are literally… flowing from pose to pose. They don’t call it “Flow” for nothing!

Mental strategy literally teaches people to be able to go into ‘flow states’ to consciously by using a combination of meditation practices, communication and language and using what we call our “motivated state” or “anchoring” (which is used in NLP).

A practice used to “call up” a certain somatic feeling usually evoked from a song, memory or visualization tool that the athlete can focus on to filter through the “crap,” (negative thoughts, emotions, fears) in order to stay in control and apply skill. As a coach we help our athletes find this state by encouraging them through verbal cues. Using words that contain the feeling of confidence, control, being present etc aid in an athlete mentally tuning in.

This can also be a certain “pep talk” you give yourself or something you do before each game. Have you ever noticed goalies in hockey who tap the net in a certain pattern – that’s an anchor, and it fires up their motivated state.

For example, Fred Couples always hikes his shirt sleeves in a very particular way. The anchor can be internal, a word or sound or even movement.

Mind-Body Communication

In sport psychology this can occur when an athlete has entered an unconscious process or state outside of their normal conscious awareness. Your sub conscious is in tune with the systems performing the work because you are so focused on harnessing that “feeling,” filtering out the unnecessary atmosphere.

NLP techniques are used in sports to build mental strategy; not only by top level athletes, but anyone looking to improve their skill level and these techniques directly transfer to all areas of life. NLP provides the tools and techniques to discover HOW a top performer in any field does what they do. It uncovers the unconscious mental processes and associated thoughts, images, words and feelings that make up a peak performance state. Once uncovered in this way, these processes can be ‘programmed’ or installed in someone else who wants to achieve similar results.

You can use NLP to maintain the motivation to train so as to take your skill sets to the next level, you can learn to “get over” mistakes and to learn from errors rather than dwell upon them and you can learn to have the confidence to compete to the best of your ability.

In modern sports the ability to effectively access these flow states where the athlete is optimizing their mental skills, capacity and cognitive thought can mean the difference between a successful performance like a PB in a marathon or endurance sport, yards achieved, goals attained, or improving your handicap (as seen in Golf).

NLP and mental strategy is half of the battle when it comes to the game of golf. Golf isn’t just about the skill and perfecting the swing; it’s about analyzing the terrain, your opponents, the external factors and because of the slow nature of the sport, it takes a great deal of control, concentration and mental stamina.

The Mental Game of Golf:

“A handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s playing ability based on the tees played for a given course. This is used to calculate a net score from the number of strokes actually played, thus allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on somewhat equal terms. The higher the handicap of a player, the poorer the player is relative to those with lower handicaps.”

Most athletes look to lower this number so that they can play with higher ranking athletes and improve their green time.

In an article called “Why Lessons Fail and Why Learning and Practice Programs Succeed” by Mike Vanderwolf (Director of Instruction at the McClerry Golf Academy) said this about performance and he directly relates it to the mental strategy of golf, as well as communication from the coach to the athlete:

One can see evidence of performance differences but physically effort does not store itself into long term memory until up to six hours after the practice stops. Thus, a second session is always appropriate in order to measure learning.

Now learning a new skill or transforming the elements of a skill in golf may have several parts and it is rare that all the parts can be understood and worked on by the golfer in a single session. Most if not all of the elements to be worked on may be identified in a single session, however to actually work through the stages of learning from: cognitive / verbal (gaining a sense of) to training the skill in a variety of contexts* (creating a dominant motor pattern, brain – nervous system – muscles) to automatic (the skill is executed without thought in context) will take several sessions. – Mike Vanderwolf

The teachers methodology must have the opportunity to progress from a “Command” style (basic  description and demonstration), to a “Practice” mode (providing feedback to the students effort) to  “Guided Discovery” and “Divergent Learning” (allowing the student to begin to make the decisions based on appropriate questions asked by the instructor) and ultimately to “Individual Awareness” (the students sense of the differences in efforts) and an ability to make desired movements and achieve desired outcomes without emotional judgment.”

Linking effective mental strategies with our skill and performance enables us to break down fears, understand the scope of the game, to anticipate the terrain, and to keep our composure, reactions and attitudes in moments of critical judgment. Moreover, to learn to transfer models of human excellence, human behavior and performance , as well as work to adopt the strategies, techniques and physiology used by our sporting role models to achieve excellence in a fraction of the time.

Try to remember back to when you had an amazing string of holes, teed off without a slice, or sinked your puts without saying to yourself … “get in the hole already.” In short, it seemed like you were in effortless flow, that each moment linked to the next.?

Now, imagine how you felt when you had a poor golf game… when we are out of the zone, the poor performance seems to repeat itself over and over again. What if you could learn the skills to get your head back in the game and enter flow whenever you needed to? Well, you can and a large portion of this strategy is building on your mental capacity to move past the fear, negativity and all the “stuff” that decelerates our performance.

If you are looking to improve your game and be a cut above your competition, improving your mental strategy may be your answer.


Mike Vander Wolf (McCleeryGolfAcademy)


Thought Models NLP-

Great is the Sun

Great is the Sun

Summer solstice couldn’t be more glorious! Nothing better than Sun Salutations in the actual sun! If you’re celebrating summer soltice on this bright and hot day, here is a poem to aid in the speldor of the sun…

Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.

The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy’s inmost nook.

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes.

– Robert Louis Stevenson

Book Review: The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

Book Review: The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

Creating a life of purpose is more than goal setting sheets and vision boards!

By Martina Bell – Co-director of In Life School of Yoga, host of the Vancouver Yoga Social Book Club and founder of ESL Yoga®

I didn’t really feel the need to read yet another book on how to find my purpose, set intentions and manifest my goals. And when I finally settled into my armchair next to my bookshelf, which presents a stately collection of self-help, yoga and other how-to-find-happiness bestsellers, I anticipated that within a few days Rod Stryker’s book would be comfortably placed up there –  that I enjoyed the read but that my life would still be pretty much the same; except with any luck “The Four Desires” would have shed a slither of light on one of life’s most profound questions: how to create a life of purpose, happiness, prosperity and freedom?

Before moving on, I would like to clarify that I’m not “unhappy” per se (actually quite the opposite is the case) or don’t see value in what how-to-set-your-intention DIY books commonly suggest: write a goal setting sheets, make vision boards and trust!

Rod Stryker’s approach

Even though the book opens with a bold Tantric promise introducing itself as “a road map to fulfilling your material and spiritual desires, both your short-term goals and the enduring longing that all human beings have […] for lasting peace and freedom.” I couldn’t help anticipating what was to come: a journaling activity asking me to listen to my heart and write out my intention in the present or past tense to create a sense of immediacy; complete a meditation visualizing the intention as manifested to create a sense of reality; and to make up a vision board followed by a promise how the universe would manifest this vision board if I only believed in it.
But as I read on, I realized that in this book, setting an intention was not even the beginning as it offers a much deeper and elegant process.

Rod Stryker offers an explanation of desire; “it precedes your every action, since before you can do, you first have to want” and of the human need for two kinds of fulfillment, fulfillment through attainment [material] and fulfillment independent of circumstances [spiritual].

Chapter three goes on to explain the four desires according to the Vedic tradition in greater detail:

The four desires

  1. Dharma – “the longing for purpose, the drive to be and to become who you are meant to be”
  2. Artha – “the means necessary to accomplish your dharma […] material resources”
  3. Kama – “the desire for pleasure of all kinds”
  4. Moksha – “the longing for liberation, true freedom”

Then the journaling activity did come. Rod Stryker calls it “The Dharma Code” which is a statement that clarifies your soul’s reason for being. To say “The Dharma Code” is a written account of one’s ideal life is a simplification, the instruction of how one’s supposed to distill one’s individual Dharma Code did echo what other books suggest:  Imagine yourself later in life and somebody you know and appreciate giving a tribute about your life and what you accomplished.

Your Dharma Code: Not just another journaling activity

Not only is Rod Stryker’s style engaging and his weaving of ancient Sanskrit with timeless teachings elegant; it is his suggestions how to proceed AFTER the Dharma Code has been distilled that offers a new level of depth in the process of manifestation. As such the Dharma Code marks the beginning, rather than the end of the journey. And this is what distinguishes “The Four Desires” from other books of this genre – after all at this point you’ll only find yourself on page 76 of 320.

How to serve your Dharma Code: Intention

Unlike a Dharma Code which signifies more a general approach to life, an Intention is much more particular and “result-oriented, aimed toward fulfilling a particular goal”, it is a combination of desire and determination and much more than a wish! To explain the seven-step process to draft your Intention (Sankalpa) here would go beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that it involves a deeply revelatory meditation and journaling activity (yes!). And it is intention after all which when it serves your Dharma Code propels your life forward.

The incredibly deep and enlightening remainder of the book explains how to overcome resistance, how to free yourself from fear (including an amazingly daring meditation or “life-style” practice! Get ready for a life changing experience!) touches on the secret of success and closes with a beautiful explanation of the importance of adjustment and contentment, the two underlying principles for every step in the book.

Tantra means to touch, allowing your heart to be touched   

Unlike the other self-help books I’ve lovingly read, the Four Desires hasn’t made it onto my now crowded bookshelf – and for now at least it won’t.  This book has touched my heart and it is a book that I keep close to my bed side, my sofa and my Puja. This book is so rich in teachings that reading it only once does not suffice. I also open it to inspire my meditations or contemplations. It is to my – admittedly very limited – knowledge not only one of the most applicable books, but also one of the rare ones that give practical instruction as to how create a life of purpose, happiness, prosperity and freedom which work, because now my life is actually not quite the same.

About the Author: Martina Bell is the co-director of In Life School of Yoga, host of the Vancouver Yoga Social Book Club and founder of ESL Yoga®.




Tensegrity: continuous tension members, and discontinuous members operating with maximum efficiency – Buckminster Fuller

Our body’s are like a continuous pressure/tension/compression structure; the head pilled on to the thorax, the thorax piled onto the hips, the hips piled on to the feet, and the connective tissue, without it – the skeleton would just fall to the ground. Our bones float in soft tissue, and thus connective tissue needs to be able to elongate, as well as shorten to counter balance the specific tension and power output placed on the body structure.

This thought process comes from the idea of Buckminster Fuller, where he states that the myo fascia and soft connective tissue act as an architectural structure… or body geometry of sorts.  Tensegrity refers to a system composed of compressional elements (struts in the case of architecture, and bone in the case of humans) that are held together, upright, and/or moved by a continuous tensional network; which slide over one another, like a matrix, and interwoven fabric of soft tissue.

Through pulling mechanisms via tension and compression these components re-enforce the tensional integrity of the compressional elements and body structure.

If you can imagine a spider web and the matrix of that web,  if you were to pull on one piece of that tensional network (or the web), it would have an affect on the rest of that tensional network, this includes the bones and even the organs. Therefore, to put it bluntly, tensegrity of the tissue offers extra support in a tensional way, not in a compression way.

Over the course of the last two week we have looked at the integration of both proficient screening tools – the TPI and the FMS/SFMA screens. Integrating these two screens will allow you to now only assess biomechanical dysfunctions in the body, but breakdowns in the specific movement patterns associated with golf performance.

We also broke down the golf swing into two common styles, to showcase the common breakdowns associated with each in the golf swing patterning. We take this one step further by filtering our attention towards two of the fascial lines (keeping in mind, when we improve the functionality of one line, we will irrevocably impact them all, as they are all connected). These are the lateral and spiral line meridians.

The Lateral Line Anatomy

Peroneal muscles > ITB > TFL/Glute max > External/Internal Oblique & deep QL > Internal/External intercostals > Splenius cervicis/iliocostalis cervis/SCM/Scalenes

The Spiral Line Anatomy

Splenius Capitis > Rhomboids (opposite side to splenius capitis) > serratus anterior > External/internal oblique > TFL (opposite side of obliques) > ITB > Anterior tibialis > Peroneus longus > biceps femoris >sacrotuberous ligament > sacral fascia > erector spinae

Postural difficulties in the body will affect your golf game – there is no doubt. The S posture in golf or rounded shoulders will limit your swing and performance, but it will also create more tension on your spiral lines and compression of the joints.

Your lateral line and spiral line meridians are the two main fascial lines that allow the human body to rotate and change direction. Since golf is all about rotation, this is where our focus will be to showcase the importance of balance and proper tensegrity needed to be as efficient as one can, on and off the green. It should also be noted, that even though these two lines are the primary components of rotation, flexion and extension patterning also plays an integral role in rotation (thus, the earlier commentary on posture and rounding of the shoulders).

Many of the clients I work with have restriction and bound tension around the pelvic girdle, upper neck and connections with the lats and scapular regions. This causes a decrease in rotation and a choppy flow through of power through the swing. It also limits the necessary movement of the knees and ankle joints on the upswing.

Thinking about multi-segmental rotation can be a bit daunting, however, once broken down can be a little easier to implement an effective intervention program. Your corrective drills should include a sequence that allows you to separate shoulder and hip rotation, so that you can functionally improve your rotational flexibility, stability and strength while increasing your active range of motion and optimizing the sequence of movements provided.

Below are a few steps to start you on your way to better rotation:

Step 1:  First determine which rotation is limited – left or right – and then take into account the actions of the muscles in these associated lines. How does it feel when you move?

Step 2: Go deeper, once you have established if the rotation is more limited left or right. Ask yourself, which muscles are internally rotating, which are externally rotating? How does the body shift – does it feel like a stiff movement left to right through your golf swing, or does it feel smooth? Choppy etc? Where do you feel the restrictions?

Step 3: Corrective Drills:  Start by treating 1-2 restricted areas with a few corrective movement exercises/drills combined with soft tissue release.

Step 4: Re evaluate:  the movement and swing pattern to see if there is improvement in the pattern. If the movement has improved then these drills should be integrated into your workout sequence for a week or until the wing becomes more natural without as much prep.

Step 5: Progression: This is when you then move onto the next phase of the corrective movement progression.

An area that is often left out of the corrective or coaching equation , is flexion and extension of the cervical spine and muscles associated with the neck. We need to keep in mind that our flexion with rotation in accordance with range of motion needs to be tested from the cervical spine pattern, as this can also influence both of these lines.

Treating the appropriate musculature at the neck, shoulder and muscles associated with all 4 joints of the shoulder girdle will be a necessary component to improving rotation and your golf game.

In closing remember – soft tissue release first and sequenced movements that are corrective in nature will help you improve the tensegrity of your soft tissue, improve joint range of motion and stability of the joints, as well as improve your club swing!




Poor mechanics, a lack of flexibility and muscular imbalances can negatively affect a golfer’s game. Large deficits in trunk rotation lead to lateral body movement which displaces your center of gravity and throws your golf swing off balance.

Today’s post is all about the “swing.” Understanding the interconnected relationship bewteen the musculoskeletal system,  the fascial systems and cognitive neurological responses to performance based movement patterns; all of which can impact your golf game for the positive or the negative, depending on your strengths and limitations. This statement seems obvious, however most golfers do not really know where to start when attempting to “improve their golf game.” At the end of this post I offer some tips on corrective movement preparation and mobility based stretches for pre and post green action.

The best place to start is at the beginning – Tee’ing off and the swing. The swing should be assessed as an overall structure and much like when you leave your house, you ensure you have your wallet, your keys, your phone, your necessities. Your swing is much the same – don’t leave the proverbial home without checking the below.

Breaking down the swing pattern:

  • grip
  • address setup, alignment and posture
  • backswing
  • downswing
  • impact and follow through
  • follow through and impact with the ball

This can be further divided into 2 styles of swing patterning, depending on the clients bio mechanics.

1.  “Tail swings the dog”

This occurs when the body passively twists about in space in reactive motion to accommodate the movements of the arms and club coming across and in front of the body. The terminology “the tail swings the dog” gives an accurate visualization because the central axial of the torso has to reactively respond to the active movements of the appendicular torso (arms and hands) – try to say that 10 times fast! Those who are limber or especially younger athletes, will experience this style of swing because of the increased mobility in their joints, and ability to rotate with ease. They usually have a light, lithe torso that is very flexible and pliant and it can easily move about in space in reactive, but passive, response to forces generated by the actively moving arms/hands/club. This concern here is over rotation, which can decrease power output because of additional lag time bewteen the up and down swing.

2. “Dog swings the tail”

In contrast most adults and individuals who “get in the game” later on in life, as well as the corporate golfer will most likely will have a heavy, non-pliant central torso, which may not easily twist about in space in reactive response to arm movements across the front of the body. What we visually can see is the central torso (“dog”) actively powers this type of golf swing while the arms/clubshaft (“tail”) are passively swung around the rotating torso in response to forces generated by the large muscles of the central body.

When using a “dog swings the tail” type of golf swing, a golfer has to primarily move the central torso so that the shoulders rotate around the central torso’s pivot axis. As the shoulders rotate, the arms are forced to move because they are attached to the central body at the shoulder joint, and the arms are passively flung around the body by the rotating shoulders. This will be the main focus of this post since it is also a higher percentage of the “golf” population in my clientele.

Both of these styles are not 100% efficient, and can reduce power output and energy distribution through the many phases of the swing, however, many golfers will fall into one of these styles. The goal is to work towards multi segmental awareness so that the movement and transfer to energy can effectively make contact with the ball, this requires a full body integration with separation between lower and upper halves during the swing (aka – your hips are stable and move WITH and in conjunction through the rotation that is initiated in the trunk and upper body during the first phases of the up swing.

On other notable factor with this style is that lateral shift that can occur. The lateral shift  is quite common when golfers have tight hips, s posture or kyphosis in the spine. The hips should move freely in rotation in an ossicallating manner, but rather than oscillate, the body has to compensate by shifting laterally in up and down swing, adn this can slow down and inhibit the upper body rotation – thus weakening your downswing.

Lateral deviation of your body during the backswing or downswing often results in a myriad of issues; such as:

  • Loss of balance
  • Reduced power
  • Poor accuracy
  • Over slicing the ball
  • Topping the ball
  • Poor shoulder and postural mechanics

Coaches Corner

Mike Vanderwolf, the Director of Golf Instruction at McCleery GolfAcademy allowed me to sit in on one of our mutual clients coaching sessions. Our client is an avid female golfer and fitness enthusiast. Her limitations primarily stem from past injuries with the respect to the hips; which has limited rotation and  multi segmental ability to differentiate upper and lower halves, as well as extension patterning in both the anterior and posterior kinetic chains and fascial lines. Her strengths however; deeply impact her ability to perform well, even through these limitations. Our client has the strength to effectively power through the swing and is spatially and kinaesthetically aware in her proficiency when addressing her set up and posture for the swing.

Mike’s cueing during this coaching session focused on improving our client’s compensation pattern to continually hit too far right. Her limitation – being able to rotate properly through the hips, rather than just shift the weight and to anchor the lower body and lead with the upper body, rather than a lateral shift and reduced swing; which results in faulty swing mechanics, reduced impact during the downswing and follow through.

For today’s post, we will look at the down swing, as this generally seems to be a compensation issue for many golfers. When the downswing can be corrected, the upswing and impact with the ball becomes more efficient.

Getting Down with “The downswing:”

The first purpose of the downswing process is the need to generate swing power. The second purpose of the downswing process is to ensure that the clubshaft moves in space in the “correct” manner so that it will allow the golfer to produce an in-to-in clubhead swing path through the impact zone.

How that pivot action occurs can be seen in the kinetic link theory diagram below. The kinetic link theory is based on the belief that energy is transferred from one body part to the next body part in a set kinetic chain sequence and that energy is conserved during this energy transferal process (according to the law of conservation of momentum).

A key notable characteristic of the golf swing are the major biomechanical movement patterns involved in the downswing action; which evolve in a certain set sequence. This sequence is called the kinetic sequence; which starts from the ground-up with a pelvic shift-rotational movement.

During the initial phase the golfer actively shift and rotates the pelvis during the start of the downswing, pushing into the floor to connect the body and movement with ground resistance forces, this transfers load and the result is to torque the pelvis in a shift-rotational manner. This transfers the next sequence of movement to the upper torso and shoulder complex, where the body then starts to rotate around a rightwards tilted spine. This combined transfer of force and load results in what we call “the pivot action.” The pivot action essentially drives the swing from a swing power perspective.

Mike’s reccommendations for our mutual client is to work on multi segmental rotation in a variety of postures (supine, standing, all fours etc). A better understanding of the movement patterns and distribution of load through a rotation are key to improving overall performance on and off the green. Corrective movement and mobility/stability re patterning can effectively aid in improving movement where there is restriction and binding of the muscle and fascia, as well as cognitively understanding the relationship of the kinetic lines and sequencing.

This requires a certain balance of movement preparation drills both before her coaching with Mike and before hitting the green, a dynamic sequence that can “warm up” the necessary kinetic chains and fascial lines to lubricate the joints and aid in proper circulation of both energy and nutrients.  In the gym, this includes adding in reactive response specific multi segmental rotational drills that focus on motor control and swing pattern for all the phases of the swing pattern.

An effective 8-10min movement prep drill could include:

  • Soft tissue release with the roller, magic stick or foot roller (or all of the above)
  • Soft rolling patterns (upper and lower)
  • T-Spine rib pulls and arm circles
  • Hip Flexor Stretch with Core Activation
  • Kneeling Lunge with lateral stretch
  • Reverse Lunge with twist and reach
  • Walking knee cradle
  • Leg swings (forward and side to side)
  • ITB cross overs with hamstring integration


Key fascial stretches to consider for passive post golf or alternate days:


  • Cat Flow Series   (Anterior and Posterior Lines)
  • Thread the needle  (Spiral and Back Lines)
  • The Bretzle or Thomas Stretch (Anterior and Spiral Lines)
  • Triangle (use wall for posture)   (Lateral Lines)
  • Pigeon Pose  (Lateral, Spiral and Back Lines)
  • ITB Supine crossover (Lateral Line)
  • Hip Mobility with cervical integration using soft tissue pressure pointing (Posterior and Spiral Lines)


Next week we will look at the fascia system and integrated lines in golfing. This 4 part series is not to be missed!


Happy Putting!




Mike Vanderwolf, the Director of Golf Instruction at McCleery Golf Academy –

The Fundamentals of Hogan, David Leadbetter – book

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