Tag Archives: bones

The X-Ray Vision of Yoga Teachers

xray vision of hand and arm

Yoga teacher x-ray vision: we seeeeeeeee you

Yoga teachers develop what I like to call “X-ray vision.” How many times have you been in class and the teacher walks near you while teaching, and gives the cue YOU need to feel the pose more clearly in your body? How about when the teacher is on the other side of the room and calls you out by name, asking you to elongate your inner leg or extend from your heart or tilt your gaze down to lengthen the back of the neck?

Yoga teachers develop the art and skill of seeing the body energetically and structurally. Over time, yoga teachers can help you see where the blockage or congestion is in your body, or where energetically you are not connecting, numb, turned off, or simply absent. This is one of the benefits to practicing in group classes or privately with a teacher: someone else is viewing your practice, and can help you see things you might not be able to.

In the last couple of weeks, since I started getting chiropractic treatments at Alive & Well Chiropractic in NYC, the x-ray vision is turning inwards, towards my own body, with the most interesting results.

Most yoga teachers are already aware of their own bodies, just as they are aware of the bodies of others, and our insight grows as we work in different mind-body modalities that deepen and refine our awareness. Through chiropractic, I have learned that the left side of my body is about 100% tighter than the right, as well as which vertebrae have subluxations (distortions of the structural body).

The x-ray vision I normally apply on my students as well as on my own body has become something profound in the last few sessions on my mat. I feel like one of the crew on “Fantastic Voyage.”

I am now able to feel very clearly subtleties I was not able to access before: the two halves of my pelvis and the rotation of each half (is the illium tilting forward or back?); the erector spinae tight around certain thoracic vertebrae, affecting rotation of the spine; even the space between my sacrum and illium (sacroilliac, or SI joint) and the quality of that space. This new x-ray vision is very handy when it comes to feeling the state of my inner body and helping myself find balance in my spine and all the limbs which radiate off of it.

When I’m practicing with this x-ray vision, my asana practice is unconventional. I almost never do standing poses, preferring supine or seated poses, and even the movement is minimal to get into these shapes. The shape is the container in which we explore. The shape (the asana) is not the goal; the asana is the vehicle. Or to not mix metaphors, asana is not the goal, asana is the football we carry down the field on the way to the goal (health, vitality, and self-realization). The football is our body, a leather sack. Don’t be attached to the leather sack, it won’t be with you in the next lifetime anyway!

This increase in my ability to see through the leather sack into the skeletal, energetic, and even emotional patterns that govern the structure of our bodies is something that helps me offer more to students in their own practice. Adjustments from skilled teachers are often an “a-ha!” moment, where suddenly you feel the energetic and structural essence of a pose in a way you  never did before. Exceptional adjustments from exceptional teachers are transformational, truly “before and after” in the way your mind and body approach a particular pose.

X-ray vision is a healing (and diagnostic) ability native to all human beings. It’s just most of us are so far away from ourselves. Yoga and other mind-body modalities can help us reconnect to this intuitive healing gift.

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What is Yin Yoga?

Shoelace Pose, Yin Yoga

Shoelace pose done in a yin fashion. Also known as Gomuhkasana.

I just completed a teacher training in Yin Yoga, as presented by the wonderfully intelligent and sweet Corina Brenner. While I’d heard of Yin Yoga in the past, I had no idea what it really was until this training. My personal practice has been transformed over just a few days of consistent Yin Yoga practice, and I now see the value and necessity of complementing “yang” vinyasa practice with the quiet, sustained holds of “yin” practice. In this blog post, I will attempt to explain what Yin Yoga is and why it is an important complement to more active, “yang” yoga practice.

Yin Yoga focuses on the connective tissue of the body (ligament, tendon, fascia, and bone). Yin Yoga is not a series of poses; it is rather an approach to practice. You can practice in a “yin fashion” once you understand the basic theory behind Yin Yoga. The basic premise to Yin Yoga is that the body has yin tissue and yang tissue. Yin tissue is bone and connective tissue. In keeping with the Taoist theory at the heart of Yin Yoga, yin tissue is that which is relatively hidden, closer to the core, slow to change, mysterious, cool or cold, and receptive. Yang tissue, or muscle, is closer to the surface, active, dynamic, flexible, and warm or hot.

Exercise is needed to maintain the body’s health and optimum performance. But many people, especially in our Western society, have come to relate the word “exercise” to something rhythmic and repetitive, like running, biking, lifting weights, or cardio workouts on a gym machine. However, to positively affect or “improve” yin tissue, it must be exercised in a yin fashion. Repetition and rhythm, the hallmarks of yang style exercise (and of vinyasa yoga!), would injure yin tissue. Just think what would happen if, in an attempt to straighten or “improve” your crooked teeth, you wiggled them back and forth. Eventually they’d fall out! To correct tooth alignment, steady sustained pressure is applied through braces. This is yin methodology applied to yin tissue (bone). So yin exercise for yin tissue is long, sustained holds with no movement. Likewise, yang tissue needs yang methodology to be exercised correctly: muscles respond to repetitive, rhythmic stress, like weight lifting, running, or vinyasa yoga, to become stronger.

Yang tissue, when exercised, becomes stronger. Yin tissue, when exercised appropriately, responds by becoming longer and more pliable over time. Since yin tissue comprises our joints and connective tissue, Yin Yoga improves and benefits the joints and fascia, keeping the body pliable, fluid, and able to move through a healthy range of motion. Range of motion and flexibility is influenced far more by yin body tissue than yang body tissue. Through aging, injury, or simply neglect, muscle atrophies (becomes weaker), while connective tissue becomes tighter, more rigid, and brittle (a condition known as “contracture”).

To maintain optimum health and be holistically balanced, exercise should include yin technique for yin tissue. This makes so much sense, but we are not taught to think about “exercising” our joints and connective tissue in an appropriate way. In the microcosm of the body, the connective tissue is equivalent to skeletons in the closet: don’t talk about it, don’t think about it, and just let it be, hopefully it will all work out in your favor. I’ll come back to this metaphor later, because Yin Yoga practice will help you clear out the skeletons, while keeping your connective tissue healthy and pliable.

An autopsy of the pectoral muscles of the chest showing the fascia.

So we’ve established the difference between yin and yang body tissue, and yin and yang methods of appropriate exercise. Yin Yoga adapts known yoga poses and performs them in a “yin fashion” to target specific connective tissue as well as meridians (energetic pathways of the body, a concept from Traditional Chinese Medicine) that correspond to the vital organs of the body. Yin Yoga works not just on the physical level (bone, tendon, ligament, and fascia) but also on the energetic level, by stimulating the meridian pathways of the body. How does it do this?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and yoga, energy is said to move through the body along channels called meridians (TCM) or nadis (yoga). These pathways exist in the fascia! Fascia is a fibrous substance that can be thought of like a cobweb that encases and connects the entire body.  It is the substance that creates (or perhaps it is the negative space in the fascia; this is a theory in development) the meridians/nadis. So, by stimulating the fascia, we directly stimulate the meridians/nadis of the body.

Yin Yoga has taken this even further, and developed poses to specifically target the meridians which correspond to the vital organs (heart, liver, kidney, lung, spleen, intestines, etc.). When you hold a Yin Yoga pose, you stimulate the meridian pathways of the body by squeezing and stretching the body. You also appropriately stress connective tissue which increases the production of Hylauronic Acid (HA) in the body.

HA is a viscous substance with the consistency of  motor oil that draws fluid towards it (approximately 6,000x its weight). HA is the material that makes up your eyeballs, synovial fluid (the fluid in your joints) and it’s also thought to be the substance that actually creates meridian pathways in the fascia. So by doing Yin Yoga, you increase the production of HA in the body by appropriately exercising yin tissue. Increased HA means increased production of synovial fluid and increased transmission of energy signals throughout the body via the fascia network.

It’s pretty clear, then, that Yin Yoga positively affects the body, especially these “hidden” (yin) layers of tissue that are rarely considered by the average exerciser.

In four days of daily Yin Yoga practice, I noticed a definitive change not only in my flexibility (in particular my hips), but overall I felt “jucier,” an adjective used frequently by yoga practitioners to describe that feeling of your body being well lubricated at the joints, where movement is not just easy and free but also enjoyable and easily expressed. My first vinyasa yoga practice after practicing Yin for four days straight was an epiphany. I floated into arm balances and everything felt less effortfull. That’s not to say I didn’t heat up or sweat (I did!), but I felt that my body was working more efficiently. I’ve also noticed a deepening and easing in my breathing, an increase in my energy, a shift towards better food choices, and my joints have been”popping” more, which isn’t a bad thing. Joints pop for two main reasons. The one I’ll explain here is called “joint fixation” and occurs when the fluid in the joint causes two bones to suction against one another, like how a cold glass sticks to on a coaster on a hot day. The fluid forms a vacuum seal in the joint, and when the seal is broken, you hear a popping sound. There’s nothing wrong or bad about this, and the increased popping of my joints is proof to me there is more fluid in my joints, a result of Yin Yoga practice!

Oh, about those skeletons in the closet. Just because Yin Yoga practice is relatively still and incorporates little movement (this is already a very long blog post and I have barely described how Yin Yoga is done!) doesn’t mean it’s not intense. On the contrary, it’s very intense! My teacher Corina offers Yin classes at her studio in Philadelphia called “Yintensity.” Yah. Yin Yoga will challenge you in ways you’ve never been challenged before. Going deeper into body tissue doesn’t always feel great, and being still with the body for long periods of time brings up all kinds of thoughts and feelings. Another benefit to Yin Yoga practice is learning how to experience difficult sensations, not just endure them! Experience all life has to offer, even the stuff that makes your brain scream “I want to run away  now!!!!” I will try to elaborate on the actual physical practice of Yin Yoga, as well as the emotional aspects, in another post. So the skeletons will have to stay in the closet a little longer for now…

If you’ve never practiced Yin Yoga, I highly recommend it! Having been brought into this lineage of master teachers (that’s for another blog post too), I am now convinced that for optimum health, we must address our yin tissue as well as our yang tissue!

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Moving into the Bones

a cross-section of bone

Since I received the multiple diagnoses about my skeletal and joint conditions, I have been searching for more information which could help me live a better life with these conditions. I intend to use my personal experience to help others with similar conditions, and thus I am very interested in studying Yoga for Arthritis, Body-Mind Centering, yoga therapeutics, and other movement/healing modalities.

Last week I had a visit with Kim-Lien Kendall, a teacher I met when I was studying at Levitate, which later became Reflections. I always enjoyed Kim’s teaching style and her knowledge of anatomy. I learned a lot from Kim’s classes, and appreciated her fun, exploratory approach to asana that was solidly grounded in deep understanding of anatomy.

I reconnected with Kim when I asked her to recommend teachers for yoga therapeutics, and mentioned my recent diagnoses. She offered me to come to her studio, saying she could help me. We met this past Monday in her private space on W. 27th St. She had a life-size anatomical skeleton in her office (“Jacques,” cast from a male skeleton) where she was able to show me exactly the locations of my bone spurs and worn cartiledges as I told her the MRI and x-ray results. And the best part is…she thinks everything I have is “fixable” and “manageable.” I knew it was manageable, but to think I could fix something? Wow…this was exactly the word I wanted to hear.

We discovered I have several movement patterns that are directly related to the areas of my body that are experiencing wear now. I favor my left side by about 65% and have carried my (way too heavy) bag on that side for years. I sit in the front of my hips, which is where the wearing is in the labrum. Years of wearing high heels have probably contributed to lumbar discs either bulging or (I don’t know yet what the condition of my discs is; still waiting to see the doctor for this report) leaking fluid or who knows what.

As Kim observed my body and movement patterns, she also noticed that I tend to rotate my femur internally and hold it in the top of the socket…again, corresponding to where my joint is worn. With a few simple exercises to “get me into the bones,” Kim palpated the bones of my feet, my sacrum (especially the SI joint, which is so much tighter on the left than on the right!) and my femur to help me connect to the bones.

Body-Mind Centering sees the body as cells that become membranes that become organs (or bones or nerves, etc.) and all of these cell types have different behaviors. Kim wondered what “type” I was. She said she is a “blood type,” and she can look at a person and observe them and generally figure out which of the body systems they are most in tune with. Whether or not I am a bone type, I still needed greater awareness of how I am carrying the bones of my body.

To re-learn movement patterns is called “re-patterning,” and this is some of the work I will need to do as I move forward in life with these various diagnoses. The idea of changing movement patterns through awareness fills me with hope and optimism, not to mention excitement at learning a whole new way in which to understand my body and life.

I am very excited to begin my studies in Body-Mind Centering, and feel that because I am experiencing these things, I will be able to help others with similar conditions. It’s ironic, but not too unlike the course of my life thus far, that I would find my next path in life through injury, trauma, or the perception of loss. In fact, I have gained: new awareness, new understanding, and greater compassion.

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