Sunday, September 25, 2016

Stuff I Learned - Week #3

When I was a kid, I loved to take things apart. While I harbored high hopes of fixing broken stuff, like many kids, I rarely managed to fix any of the broken stuff that I took apart. Despite my shortcomings as a fix-it person, I would often get engrossed in the hows and whys of mechanical devices. How does this  thing work? Why was it built this way, and not another way? What kind of mind conceived of this thing?

My love of taking things apart (and nominally reassembling them) extended to include learning about all manner of machines. Whether it was a car, bicycle, truck, backhoe or airplane, I was hungry to learn about how things worked.

The fuel storage of an Airbus A380
I can still remember when I first read about how airplanes worked. All airplanes needed wings, and I had previously thought of the wings as those things that kept airplanes in the air. When I read about commercial jets, though, my world was shaken in a small way - the function of the wings extended to include the storage of the fuel. The fuel tanks were in the wings!

My poor mother... I probably came upstairs from my room with all sorts of wild gyrations and gesticulations about can you believe the fuel is stored in the wings!!!! (yes, probably that many exclamation marks were used - I'm not sure how my Mother endured these periodic onslaughts of enthusiasm.)

While the fuel-in-the-wings realization may seem pretty trivial, this small step revolutionized my view of how the world works. In this small step, I came to see that function specificity is often an inefficient use of resources, and that design efficiency is often related to using one structure for multiple purposes.

OK - how does this childhood reflection relate to either Anatomy or Exercise Physiology? Well, most mechanical systems are offshoots of design paradigms that have been perfected by nature. Or put another way, virtually every muscle, bone, or tissue in the body is simultaneously serving multiple functions. For example, many of the postural muscles in the body also serve roles in respiration and the generation of
movement.

To generate movement, muscles require fuel. But this fuel can only be utilized in the presence of sufficient calcium concentrations in the muscles. Even the best meal of locally-grown, organic food cannot sufficiently fuel movement without the just-right amount of calcium present within the muscle spindles.

Like jet fuel is stored in the plane's wings, calcium reserves are stored in the bones. When the muscles require more calcium, the bones are strategically dissolved in order to release the appropriate amount of calcium. Like the fuel for the airplane is stored in its wings, one of the fuels for our movement is stored in our bones!

In a forthcoming blog, I will talk more about bone remodeling and the dynamic process of growth and decay that naturally occurs in our skeleton.




Monday, September 19, 2016

Stuff I Learned - Week #2

I've long found the bony structures of the body interesting, and this interest in bones has been an ongoing influence in both my practice and teaching of yoga. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I believe that it's wisest to honor the body's structures in choosing the movements that we ask the body to make. For example, when the thigh is externally rotated, the hip socket is severely restricted in its capacity to extend. For that reason, I generally teach Warrior I with the back heel lifted to facilitate internal rotation of the thigh and consequently, to reduce stress on the hip labrum.

My interest in bony structure has extended into my chosen form of bodywork. While I greatly admire hands-on work that addresses restrictions in muscle fibers and/or fascia, I've chosen to pursue Zero Balancing (ZB) as my go-to modality. Zero Balancing focuses on releasing restrictions in the bony structures, and I've found ZB to be remarkably effective in releasing long-held restrictions in the whole body and mind.

Back in 2011 or so I presented a talk on the living qualities of bone as part of the Ossuary project. In that talk, I discussed how bone is radiantly alive... though I'm realizing now in hindsight, that I really didn't get the full extent to which bone is living and breathing tissue.

In the course that I'm TA-ing, I learned more about how bone is continually being created and breaking down, and some of the organic structures related to this ongoing creation/destruction (Shiva/Shakti) process.

In the diagram below, the osteon of the dense bone is shown in some detail. These osteons are the tunnels that arteries, veins and nerves are encased within. And these tunnels flow through the length of the hardest part of our bones.

From Human Anatomy, 4th edition by McKinley, O'Laughlin, Pennefeather-O-Brien and Harris.


This diagram helped me to more fully understand how all aspects of bone are filled with vitality and life. Not simply the inner chambers (for example, where the marrow is found in long bones), but even the hardest part of the bone that I used to consider as calcified or rigid. Far from being inert, even the densest part of bone is actively living, breathing, growing and decaying!

In an upcoming blog entry, I'll talk more about the importance of bone destruction and how this destruction of bone is every bit as important as the construction of bone for our optimal functioning.

In the meantime, I hope you get a chance to check out the diagram above. You can see how even the densest sections of bone are filled with blood flow and the liveliness of nerve conduction





Monday, September 12, 2016

Research Direction

Early in 2015 I began presenting classes and seminars on joint laxity. Having taught Yoga for 27+ years, I found that many yoga practitioners seem to have some degree joint laxity.

While many yoga enthusiasts experience their bodies as being tight, in actuality many yoga practitioners seem to have loose joints beneath their tight muscles. My experience is that the trait of joint laxity occurs commonly in the yoga world.

JHS is an acronym for Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, and emerging research is suggesting at JHS may not solely be experienced in the joints of the body.

The following statement is excerpted from Mind-Body Interactions in Anxiety and Somatic Symptoms by Mallorqui-Bague, et al. I have read this paper with a great deal of interest, and continue to explore the many studies that were cited in this paper.

Importantly, JHS is overrepresented among people with anxiety—especially among the so-called endogenous anxiety disorders (panic, agoraphobic, and social phobia)—and it is also overrepresented in stress-sensitive illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, temporo- mandibular joint disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome.  Exactly how anxiety and JHS are linked remains unclear. Healthy, nonclinically anxious individuals with JHS were shown in a relatively small study to manifest structural differences in emotion-processing brain regions—in particular, larger amygdala volume bilaterally compared to participants without hypermobility. 


It's an open question as to where I focus my forthcoming research, though I feel a certain excitement flow through my being when I read articles related to JHS. Stay tuned for updates - according to a dear friend and academic inspiration, I really should have a research focus in place by Thanksgiving of my first year in grad school!

Stuff I learned - Week #1

As is the case for many graduate students, I am a Teaching Assistant (TA) for an undergraduate course. In my case, I'm TA-ing an undergraduate anatomy course. This TA assignment covers my bases financially (whew!) and also provides an excellent opportunity to deepen my personal understanding of anatomy. In the very first lecture in this class, the lecturer presented the fundamental principles of the course's approach to anatomy. What was the top of the list - the number one principle of the course?

Function follows structure.

This seemingly simple, three word sentence should be required reading for each and every yoga teacher. While its sentiment may seem like a no-brainer, I am sorry to report that the separation of function from structure remains all-too-common in the yoga community.

Just last week I had a conversation with a student who has been nursing a yoga injury for the past year. When I asked for more details, he reported that he felt a pop during a class at another studio, and for the past year he has been experiencing sharp pains emanating from deep in his groin area. As soon as this fellow pointed to the source of his pain, I felt an uncomfortable pit in my stomach. Though one can only diagnose a torn hip labrum with sophisticated medical
Unless you're really stiff, I encourage you to put some
support under the knees when practicing this pose.
imaging, I've come to recognize the superficial symptoms that often correspond to a torn hip labrum.

In the past year, I've worked with several dozen yoga students who are recovering from a torn hip labrum. This injury should never happen! I've become familiar with the symptoms of a torn labrum because the it has become one of the more common yoga injuries. And a torn hip labrum is an easily preventable yoga injury.

While I didn't learn these points during my first week of graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, the Alignment Yoga approach is based on the fundamentals of anatomy I'm learning even more deeply at the UW.

Here are the secrets to a happy and healthy hip labrum...

  • Don't square your hips in Warrior poses
  • Don't square your hips in Side Angle Pose
  • Don't square your hips in Triangle Pose
  • Treat Reclining Bound Angle with great respect (see photo)
  • Learn more about anatomy so that you can learn to recognize cues/instructions that are based on sound biomechanics, and let go of the cues/instructions that are based on wishful thinking





Monday, August 29, 2016

The Countdown

In just over one week I'll be a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. After a 20+ year hiatus, my return to school is imminent.

This past week's meetings and orientation events have alternately been exciting and scary. I find it exciting to be surrounded by other people that are eager to deepen their knowledge and to expand the horizons of the known. And I find it scary to be immersed in a culture that's so amazingly smart, creative and driven. While I know I possess aspects of smart, creative and driven, uncertainty and self-doubt have crept in between the cracks.

Rather than reciting affirmations, I've been trying to lean into the roller-coaster of feelings. (Sometimes with aplomb, and other times even trying to be present with my feelings brings up further feelings of doubt!) Despite riding this internal roller coaster, I can hardly wait to be challenged intellectually and creatively in the coming years.

Among the many horizons that will likely expand, I'm excited to be a Teaching Assistant in an undergraduate anatomy course. While I have been teaching anatomy to yoga practitioners and teachers for many years, my focus has primarily been teaching skeletal and muscular anatomy. In this upper-level anatomy course, my focus will need to expand considerably.

I am confident this larger perspective on anatomy will soon be felt in the Yoga and Pilates classes that I teach. How about if you let me know if your experience in my classes perceptibly changes in the coming months?


Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Return to Science

As many of you know, I’ll be embarking on a new endeavor this coming Fall. After a 20+ year hiatus from the halls of The Academy, I’ll soon be matriculating at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

I’ve long been interested in the intersection of the mind and body, and I’ve continually run into dead-ends in understanding the mechanisms underlying this dynamic interplay. While yoga proponents make many claims about how body practices influence the mind, there’s astonishingly little evidence to support many (most?) of these claims.

In my forthcoming studies, I hope to develop a better understanding of how the body influences the mind, and how mental practices, in turn, influence the body.  It’s an exciting time in the fields of Contemplative Neuroscience and Kinesiology, and I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to deepen my understanding of both fields.

As part of my shift toward a deeper scientific understanding of physical and contemplative practices, I anticipate the focus of this blog will also evolve. Thus far, this blog has largely revolved around my subjective experiences and opinions. In the coming months, I plan to pivot the focus of this blog to more closely reflect what I’m learning in school.  

While I will certainly continue to interject opinion and fanciful conjecture into my writings, I plan to use my upcoming coursework as springboards for a wide-ranging discussion of movement, meditation and their creative integration.

If you’re new to this blog – welcome! And if you’ve been reading for a while – thank you for your support!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

More to Learn and Room to Improve

While I’ve taught for quite a long time – more than 30,000 hours spent teaching yoga – I also relish being a student. Recently, I’ve been able to merge the roles of teacher and student, and have come away humbled and inspired.

Within the Tergar Meditation Community, I’ve been a Practice Leader in our local Madison group since its inception. This role has been clearly defined in terms of guiding meditations and following the curriculum that Tergar International has provided us. Among the various hats that I’ve worn within Mingyur Rinpoche’s organization, facilitator has not been one of my roles. Until recently.

Late last year, I was asked to consider training as a Tergar Facilitator. While the Facilitator role does not involve the depth of teaching required of Tergar Instructors, teaching meditation is an element of being a Facilitator within the Tergar community. And while I have taught embodied awareness (yoga) for many years, I have less experience teaching meditation.

In teaching yoga, a baseline of competence is important. It’s entirely too easy to get hurt in yoga, and faulty instruction is a common cause. While I hope no one gets hurt while practicing yoga, given enough time, most yoga injuries generally resolve. But the mind is another matter.

In meditation, practitioners work directly with their minds. And despite all the positive news about meditation, it is possible to fan the flames of anxiety, depression and rumination through inappropriate mental practices. Given the vast complexity of the human mind and its thoughts, feelings and emotions, I think it’s essential that meditation teachers be thoroughly trained.

I appreciate the extent to which Tergar is investing in my training. In addition to regular meetings with my meditation teacher/mentor/friend Cortland Dahl, I’ve recently had the chance to serve as an assistant facilitator at a couple of Joy of Living weekend meditation workshops.

So far, I’ve assisted Cortland and another Tergar Senior Instructor, Myoshin Kelly. It’s been inspiring to watch how deftly they both have responded to tender questions, and humbling to see how much my facilitating can improve.

Our culture can be quick to rubber-stamp endorsements and licenses after a short training, and I find it refreshing to be in an open-ended apprenticeship.

When will I be ready to facilitate Joy of Living events on my own? When I’m ready. And until (and beyond) that time, I am actively seated in the dual roles of meditation teacher and student!