Robin S's blog

Yoga Tips for Improved Posture Support: A Q&A With Julie Gudmestad

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Julie Gudmestad is a physical therapist and Iyengar yoga teacher dedicated to making yoga accessible for everyone, regardless of body type or age. She spoke to us about the importance of good posture for back health, and how yoga can slow or reverse the effects of aging on our muscles and skeletons. Go here for more information about Julie Gudmestad and her continuing yoga education courses on Yoga U Online.

Q: As we all know there are many things that change in the body as we get older, but there is one common change that we never hear discussed that much, i.e. the slow but sure deterioration of our posture. Is this loss of our natural posture support just a cosmetic issue or is it something that we really should be paying attention to?

Julie Gudmestad: Well, it is a cosmetic issue. Sometimes, I marvel when I see people that are beautifully dressed and every hair is in place and the makeup is perfect and the overall image they’re projecting is ruined by their bearing and horrible posture.

But even more importantly, there are many injuries and health problems that bad posture can contribute to. I think it’s partly due to the habitual ways that Westerners use their bodies—a lot of sitting by computers or tablets, which cause us to slump forward. Unfortunately, people can get away with bad alignment for decades, and not realize that they’re going to have to pay a big price later for this kind of posture misalignment and the uneven forces it puts on the spine.

Q: I would imagine that slumped-over posture isn’t the best thing in terms of the body’s functions either?

Julie Gudmestad: No, definitely. The stomach and digestive organs are right there in the upper abdomen, so they’re going to get compressed when people are slumped over. And the diaphragm, which is the major muscle for respiration, can’t move freely. The heart and the lungs, of course, are in the ribcage, so they get constricted too. Straightening people up, making more room for their heart, their lungs, their diaphragm, their digestive organs, will help every system in the body function better.

Q: We talked about how these posture issues are [caused by] our habits [like sitting at a computer]. But habits aside, there really also is a tendency, all things even, for our posture to deteriorate over time?

Julie Gudmestad: I don’t believe that there is a mandatory amount of muscle mass that you’re going to lose regardless. I think the changes—the weakness—that we see in people’s posture when people get into their seventies and eighties is because they stopped working the muscles. And of course, a muscle that doesn’t get worked is going to atrophy.

Q: So which muscle groups do you have to work on to retain good posture or improve your posture?

Julie Gudmestad: The weakness that I'm most concerned about is in the erector spinae, which are the two long muscle groups that go up either side of the spine. The mid-back area on a lot of people just generally tends to be weak, so the lower and middle trapezius, which helps to position the shoulder blades are often involved. And down into the low back, the quadratus lumborum is a factor also, it is also a spinal extensor.

Weakness of these muscles will contribute to these posture problems. Just as bad, it also makes the back more vulnerable to injuries when people are doing activities around the house, like lifting a heavy basket of laundry, cleaning the garage, getting the groceries out of the car and into the house.

Any of these small bits of lifting and pushing and pulling that people do during the course of a normal day could be dangerous if your back is weak. You’re also very vulnerable to those kinds of so-called garden variety back strains, back pain, back injuries. This is a particular soapbox of mine, because I think if people’s backs were stronger, we physical therapists would have way less of these back strains that we end up dealing with every week.

Q: Why is it so hard to improve posture?

Julie Gudmestad: When people spend long periods of time at the computer with their arms forward and their head forward, then the muscles and the connective tissue on the front of the body gets short and tight, and this can lock people permanently into this forward head posture. And the way chairs are set up, they invite people to slide their pelvis forward and their back goes back. The mid-back goes back against the backrest, pelvis is forward, the head is forward, and then you sit there for eight hours a day. So in many cases, it’s a combination of the muscle imbalances and poor seating options.

Q: And of course, once your body gets used to one type of alignment in space, it thinks that that’s normal.

Julie Gudmestad: I’ve had so many people tell me, when I put them into just beautiful, textbook alignment and they’ll say, “Well, this feels abnormal,” and then I have to say, “Well, it’s actual textbook normal, but could we say that it’s unfamiliar to you rather than abnormal?”

Q:You have a course on yoga for posture improvement at YogaUOnline. Tell us about what you are covering in this?

Julie Gudmestad: Part One takes a look at the factors that contribute to slumping, and it’s going to be mostly the mid-upper back, the head, and arms. I show how to use yoga postures to strengthen the back and open the front and really help to correct the slumping. In Part Two, I'm still going to be working with the extensors in the back with a focus on the erector spinae and the  quadratus lumborum and the lower back, so people can understand what problems arise when they get too short and too tight and how to address that. So the first hour focuses on strengthening of the back, particularly the spinal extensors. And then the second hour, more focus is on stretching.

Q: Great. It sounds like a very, very important course on a topic that we really don’t hear enough about.

Julie Gudmestad: Yoga has so much to offer for these kinds of problems and if people get a basic understanding of what the imbalances are and [how to correct them], you can save a lot of suffering.

See here for more information about Julie Gudmestad and her course on Yoga for Posture Improvement and Back Pain Relief. 

Making Yoga Safer: 5 Tips on What We Should Do in Asana (A response to Matthew Remski)

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Preventing yoga injuries

By Chrys Kub, P.T., yoga therapist - 

Author, blogger and Ayurvedic practitioner Matthew Remski has recently started a project called WAWADIA (What are We Actually Doing in Asana?) which is creating lots of discussion in the yoga community. As a physical therapist and biokinesiologist, this question has been loudly blaring in my mind since I have started my yoga practice over 14 years ago. In the beginning, I assumed it was because I did not know enough about the practice, so I would just follow my teachers when they would confidently say things such as "this is the pure posture as taught to me by Swami What’sHisName when I was studying with him for the last 15 years, so just do it!" As time passed and I deepened my knowledge of the practice, doing the requisite 500 Hour Teacher Training and eventually studying yoga therapy, I realized the dirty little secret that Matthew so astutely reveals…we don’t really know What We are Actually Doing in Asana! And neither did Swami What’sHisName.

In a recent podcast,The Liberated Body hosted by Brooke Thomas, Matthew mentions that in addition to this question, he would like to ask "what can we do in asana to make it a safer, more efficient practice biomechanically for the body?” This response is to offer some suggestions, based on my 25 years in the field of physical therapy, the last 10 which have been working with persons on an individual basis using yoga asana as one of the tools to help them heal structural injuries, not just a few of which have been "because” of yoga. These are things you can do now, until the time comes when the majority of yoga instructors begin to understand that the in depth knowledge of how the body moves can only enhance their teaching and help their students keep coming back, without injury. 

Just to be clear, I love the practice of yoga. It has helped me become healthier and happier and I have seen this occur in the many clients who I have worked with who have embraced the practice. My livelihood is dedicated to spreading the practice of yoga to others, and helping them learn how to use it as a tool to help them in their lives, but it is only one tool. I am not condemning anyone who teaches asana practices, but instead challenging them to perhaps dig a little deeper, not to accept and teach practices that they don’t fully understand and to get in on the discussion and conversation that Matthew started.

We all know that asana is only one small part of yoga, but let’s face it, it is the biggest part that modern society is now practicing, and it’s the part that is causing the physical injuries that William Broad discussed in his now infamous article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body in the NY Times. This article got national exposure, and scared (maybe appropriately?) many people away from yoga practice. Below are some tips to address some of the things we can start today, things which on the cutting edge of modern research I might add, to help us prevent injury from the practice of yoga, as well as use it to maintain structural health and possibly heal a structural injury.

1. Stop practicing yoga to stretch tight muscles, it doesn’t work!

This radical thought will probably rock the yoga world. When the general yoga population is polled as to why they practice yoga, the majority state it is to gain flexibility. Unfortunately, the latest research is showing that stretching does not really change your flexibility and that flexibility probably does not help improve function or performance. Any changes you are seeing in flexibility are due to the changes in the nervous system, not how hard you pull on your hamstings or how deep you go into a backbend. For a deeper discussion on this particular issue, read a few blogs by my wonderful colleague Jules Mitchell, who spent the past two years investigating the research on stretching and yoga. She describes what stretching is and what is isn’t, and what we really need to do in asana to actually increase muscle stiffness to improve efficiency.

2. Get a one on one assessment of your body’s structure and weak links by a qualified yoga teacher, personal trainer, physical therapist or yoga therapist trained in structural assessment. This is probably the most important tip. You may think that I am just promoting my profession (which is true), but I have good reason. It is virtually impossible for your yoga teacher to know what your individual body’s’ needs are and address them adequately in a group yoga class. We all have our body’s history of lifestyle and trauma; emotional, physical and mental. This is held in our body and manifested through dysfunctional movement. When we practice yoga, we are moving the body biomechanically, with various levels of force and contraction through movement patterns. These movement patterns are affected by our individual alignments, weaknesses and strengths. In order to make your practice fit your body, you must know where you might be compensating, where your muscles might be overworking and learn to use the asana practice to create more efficiency and balance in your movement patterns.

3. Individualize your practice to address your needs.You may think that getting an individual assessment means you have to practice alone, and not attend a group class. But to the contrary, having this knowledge will transform your practice to one that is specific to your needs and instead of getting hurt, you will stay healthy or even begin to heal. Attend the group class after you learn from your yoga assessment session how to adjust the postures to meet your goals. Yes, they probably will tell you to do a short 15 minute home practice a few days a week to target certain areas more intensely, but you can take that knowledge into your practice, be it Bikram, Ashtanga, general vinyasa or restorative, and make that practice your own.

4. Consider adding foam rolling for myofascial release into your asana practice. Since we now know we don’t really stretch our muscles (i.e. change their length), we can use the foam roller to help improve mobility of the muscles and connective tissues to allow the nervous system to more efficiently activate your muscles. Research into foam rolling has found some wonderful benefits which will help you learn to release overactive muscles and activate those that need to awaken in order to improve efficiency and alignment. As described in the review by Chris Beardsley entitled Does Research Support Foam Rolling, foam rolling is beneficial pre exercise to reduce muscle fatigue and possibly improve exercise performance. It will improve the joint range of motion without decreasing performance. Post exercise, foam rolling can help decrease muscle soreness, possibly improving your ability to train again sooner and with less discomfort. Foam rolling is not utilized in order to improve flexibility, but to decrease the neural activation of the resting tone in the prime movers (which are usually the muscles you think are "tight”) Once you reset that neural tone of the tissue, the muscle is better able to release and relax, thus allowing an increased range of motion of the joint. This results in more efficient movement of the joint and allows one to begin to activate those muscles which may have been "lazy” and not doing their job. Those lazy muscles are what caused the brain to tell the compensating muscles to "tighten up” in the first place in order to perform the movement or protect you from injury. To learn how to incorporate myofascial release into your yoga practice, check out Yoga TuneUP and Rollasana.

5.  Finally, move through your practice with BAMA (Breath, Alignment, Mostility and Awareness)
a. Breath: the foundation of the asana practice. We all know it, it’s undeniable, yet I have been to many a yoga practice where I did not hear the students breathing or the instructor really cuing the breath. All I can say is please include this as the foundation of your practice.

b. Alignment: if your body is out of alignment, your movement is inefficient and you will create overuse injuries from repetitive stress. This is well established in the literature. Shirley Sahrmann, PT, PhD, FAPTA was a ground breaking physical therapist in the area of movement dysfunction. Her philosophy, if we move with poor initial alignment, we are setting ourselves up for failure and possible pain. If you are a kinesiology geek, her text, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes is a must read. If you aren’t, just trust me, alignment is important.

c. Mostility: Mobility and Stability are the keys to efficient movement. Since one is codependent on the other, I came up with a new term, Mostility. If you have decreased mobility of a joint, it is usually due not to a tight muscle, but to a combination of fascial restrictions and connective tissue from an injury or repetitive movement dysfunction coupled with poor activation of the prime movers as well as some muscles compensating for that poor activation with over activation. A prime example, the hamstrings in someone who is active in athletics tend to get what they perceive as tight. This tightness is actually increased contraction of the hamstrings to compensate for relative inactivity of the gluteus maximus, which is the primary hip extensor. Once the athlete learns to turn on the gluts as the prime mover instead of the hamstrings, his tightness miraculously decreases. This athlete could practice this in an asana practice by paying attention in poses like Shalambasana as to how he turns on his hip extension, activating the gluts before the hamstrings. This is just one example of how knowing what to activate and how can change your movement patterns.

d. Awareness: One word, Feldenkrais. What is it? The Feldenkrais Method is experiential, providing tools for self-observation through movement enquiry. It is used to improve movement patterns rather than to treat specific injuries or illnesses. Feldenkrais taught that increasing a person's kinesthetic and proprioceptive self-awareness of functional movement could lead to increased function, reduced pain, and greater ease and pleasure of movement. Wow, that sounds like yoga with awareness to me.

So what is the conclusion? What We Are Doing in Asana is still being debated and investigated. It is only through the work of those who are brave enough to bring this issue to our attention that we can begin to address the impact of this practice in creating injuries. Purists may balk that this is taking the yoga out of the yoga practice. But to the contrary, what could be more in line with the practice of yoga than practicing ahimsa in our asana practice? That is…do no harm.

 

Chrys Kub is an integrative physical therapist who incorporates therapeutic yoga as a tool in her practice. She is also an educator in therapeutic yoga through teacher trainings and the yoga therapy program with Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute. She provides continuing education in yoga therapy online through YogaUOnline, HomeCEUConnection.com and PTCourses.com. She also travels throughout the United States presenting yoga therapy at conferences and to health practitioners to help spread the benefits of yoga to all who are willing to learn. You can contact Chrys at chryskub@yogaclub.us

Why Yoga Research Has a Long Way to Go

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500

As a scientist it is my nature to be somewhat of a skeptic. Skepticism isn’t about negativity. It means having a certain degree of discriminative awareness, particular when reviewing research.

I am also a yoga teacher, educator and therapist. I have a lot of first-hand anecdotal experience with the benefits of yoga practice, both personally and professionally. And indeed, some of that experience could be on the magnitude of miracles.

As someone who travels in both the research and the yoga worlds I sometimes feel conflicted. I see that yoga benefits people in a number of ways, and I read the yoga research, which, for me, is often less than compelling. I cringe when I go to yoga classes during which well-intended yoga instructors extol the virtues of particular postures or practices, when there is no real evidence to support their claims.

While I understand their enthusiasm, it is factually inaccurate to make overarching claims about the effects of a particular posture or practice. While the research is growing in volume and quality, there are many things that we just don’t know. Exaggerated claims have the potential to do harm, which exactly the opposite of what yoga is about.

While the research on yoga is proliferating, it is still in its infancy. Many studies on the effectiveness of yoga have methodological limitations that are important to be aware of. Not everyone can be a trained scientist, and most people don’t have the time or the inclination to read a lot of dry material about research methods and statistics. The scientific yoga literature can be misleading without that wisdom under your belt.

So what is a well-intended yoga educator or therapist to do?

What to look for in yoga research studies

A recent systematic scoping review of yoga intervention components and study quality examined the “size and nature of the evidence base for yoga interventions”, identified “gaps in the yoga intervention literature”, and offered recommendations for future research.

The authors reviewed all studies published in English in which yoga was an intervention for individuals over the age of 18 years and the full text of the article was available.

Four hundred sixty-five studies in 30 countries (predominantly India and the US) were identified. The authors highlighted a number of factors essential to empirically rigorous research, and noted where the field had made progress as well as targets for improvement.

First and foremost, it should be noted that the primary goal of publishing a study is to describe the intervention in enough detail the therapeutic methods and research protocol can be replicated. Without that level of detail, it is difficult for the research and clinical communities to accurately evaluate the outcome of a study.

Setting: Yoga studies were conducted in a variety of settings including laboratories (20%), residential yoga retreats centers (15%), health facilities/clinics (13%), yoga studios (10%), and university campuses (8%). The location was not described in 103 of the 465 studies (23%).

Why does this matter? While there is yet to be research to assess this, it makes sense to assume that people’s experiences of yoga may differ depending on the setting where classes are held. When evaluating a study, it is important to see where the intervention was done, and to consider whether or not that may have enhanced or detracted from a participant’s experience.

Yoga tradition/style: As you can imagine, a wide variety of yoga traditions were represented in these studies. The most common were Hatha (28%), followed by Iyengar (9%), “yogic breathing” interventions (8%), Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (5%), Kapalabhati (2%), and Kundalini (2%). The style of yoga was not described in 15% of the studies.

Why does this matter? Yoga is not a one size fits all practice. There is tremendous variability in philosophy and approach to yoga classes and therapeutic approaches depending on the tradition. Consequently, comparing across these groups is like comparing apples to oranges. No definitive conclusions can be drawn.

Emphasis of yoga intervention: Asana was the most prominent component being used in 81% of interventions. The nature and form of asana was only described in 54% of studies and a mere 12% mentioned the amount of time that participants practiced asana or other forms of yoga.

A number of other yogic tools were also prominently featured in this research including pranayama (breathing exercises) 42%, meditation (dharana and dhyana) 23%, relaxation exercises (15%), and 37% with no additional emphasis reported.

Why does this matter? It is impossible to evaluate yoga research without knowing what was done, and how. Asana in one tradition (think Bikram) has very little resemblance to asana in another (Viniyoga). The use of these exercises varies dramatically between traditions as well, which may have a sizeable effect on participant outcomes.

Not only are the postures different, but the sequencing of the 8 limbs of yoga, and underlying philosophies and intentions vary considerably. As a rule of thumb, the tradition from which the practice emerges as well as every detail of the yoga intervention must be explicitly specified in every research paper so that the identical program can be employed and tested.

Dosage refers to the frequency and duration of sessions, and the length of the intervention including criteria regarding home practice. In order to adequately evaluate and replicate a yoga study, other researchers must know explicitly what was done, to whom, by whom, and under what conditions.

It is encouraging that 75% of published studies considered in this review reported the frequency of yoga sessions (how often), and 83% described session duration (length of each yoga session). What is remarkable is the extreme variability for each of these factors. Frequency of classes spanned from one session total (14% of the time) to 6 sessions per week (4%).

Sessions were typically 60 minutes (24%), 75 minutes (5%) or 90 minutes (13%). Some of the laboratory sessions were less than 5 minutes in duration. The length of these interventions spanned from one session to two years.

Seventy-two percent of yoga interventions did not report a home practice component. This does not mean that it did not occur. In many of the interventions with home practice requirements no data was provided that examined adherence to these practices. As such, there is no way to determine the frequency or duration of yoga practice for participants in these studies.

Why does this matter? These data indicate a considerable lack of coordination and communication in the field of yoga research. It suggests that, in general, most research programs involving yoga interventions are unrelated, and that most studies pay little or no consideration of other yoga therapy research findings. This is a serious problem for an emerging field. It is essential that yoga teachers, therapists and researchers learn from each other and build on each other’s experience. This cannot be accomplished when we continue to reinvent the wheel with each yoga study.

From a public health perspective, yoga therapy research must include a systematic evaluation what types and how much yoga practice is needed to create a sustainable positive effect for study participants and practitioners. At this point in time we know little to nothing about what works best, for whom and under what conditions.

Outcomes Assessment included a very broad range of outcomes including physiologic (e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, hormonal levels – 26%), physical functioning (e.g. chronic pain and arthritis – 25%), mental and emotional health outcomes (8%), cognitive-perceptional outcomes (attention, concentration, and memory – 6%), and general wellbeing (3%).

Why does this matter? This suggests that yoga interventions are being used for a wide variety of physical, psychological, and physiological conditions suggesting that yoga has the potential to impact the human condition in myriad ways, which is exciting.

The heterogeneity of these studies also suggests the need for carefully crafted, condition-specific research that adheres to specific requirements regarding type of yoga, dosage, outcome assessment etc. in order for cross study comparisons to be made for a particular condition. In the absence of coordination, the field of yoga research will continue to generate fragmented research for which no clear, coherent story can be told regarding benefits and outcomes.

Yoga Instructor Qualifications were not reported in 60% of the studies reviewed in this systematic scoping review. For those studies that did make note of instructor qualifications, terms such as “certified in yoga” (11%), “trained in yoga” (8%), and “experienced” were used. In only 1% of studies were yoga instructors described as Registered Yoga Teachers.

Why does this matter? The field of yoga therapy and yoga intervention is entirely unregulated in the United States. There is yet to be a mechanism through which yoga professionals receive some form of certification that verifies their participation in a minimally acceptable yoga therapy training program. Consequently it is difficult to ascertain whether those delivering the yoga interventions in these studies received significant training to deliver the programs being researched.

Replication: Even well designed and executed studies are just that – one study. In order for a yoga program to be determined effective it needs to be identically replicated on different populations and by different groups of researchers. This is rarely ever done in the field of yoga research, which is a considerable problem for the field.

The most important thing that yoga teachers and therapists can do is to exercise caution, ask questions, stay informed, and exercise humility when it comes to discussing yoga research. While there are a number of promising studies and the field is continuing to grow, we still know very little about how yoga works and why. More and more researchers are beginning to ask these questions, so it is only a matter of time until we understand the scientific basis for the miracles that we witness each and every day.

 

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E RYT-500, is Senior Research Scientist at the Mind & Life Institute, and Faculty at Integrated Health Yoga Therapy's, yoga therapist training programme. She is a psychologist, author, intervention and implementation scientist who has worked extensively in inpatient and outpatient behavioral health settings. Her research and clinical work explore the effects of integrating empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote health and wellbeing for children, teens, adults, couples and families. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind & Life Institute in 2010. For more information contact Grace at bgracebullock@me.com or see http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga, Intuition, and the Anatomy of Whole Body Living: An Interview with Tom Myers

Tom Myers is the author of Anatomy Trains, a book that reimagines our anatomy as an interconnected, holistic system instead of a series of independent parts. In this interview he talks about how the Anatomy Trains concept can help yoga teachers and yoga practitioners get a deeper understanding of what happens in yoga postures and how to make progress in our practice.

YogaUOnline: Tom, you are famous in bodywork circles for your development of the Anatomy Trains concept.  This model is often referred to as “the anatomy of connection.” Tell us what is meant by this, and how you developed this concept?

Tom Myers: Well, the anatomy that we’ve been working with for the last four hundred years is the anatomy of isolation or the anatomy of parts. When you try to apply that to yoga, it really doesn’t translate very well. For example, when you go into a Downward Dog, it doesn’t make so much sense to think in terms of whether you are stretching the hamstrings or the plantar flexors or the fascia that goes over the sacrum, because you’re stretching all three. And importantly, how deeply you go into that pose and where the pose fails or could be improved is not going depend just on this structure or that structure, but the relationship among the structures.

So it’s not that Anatomy Trains is that new or that different. But it applies so much more easily to yoga, where you are putting a stretch, a stress or a strain into large sections of the body at once.

YogaUOnline: How did you come up with this concept?

Tom Myers: I was trying to teach anatomy to students at the Rolfing school. We started making a game, because there was nothing connected about any of the anatomy books then. So I started making a game of saying, “Well, can you go from this muscle to this muscle in a straight line? And then can you go from this muscle to this muscle in a straight line.” And I called it the Anatomy Trains because it literally was a game for my students. But then, I began to get more serious about it and turned it into a system.

YogaUOnline: Very interesting. In terms of understanding how this relates movement in the body, give us an example. You made reference to the spiral lines. And of course, the equivalent movement in yoga anatomy, or rather yoga functional anatomy, would be rotation/twisting postures.

Tom Myers: Exactly.

YogaUOnline: So, if a person is having limitations in range of motion, in twisting postures, in tradition Western anatomy, we would look at some of the muscles involved in, for example, trunk rotation. Tell us how you would be looking at that from the standpoint of Anatomy Trains and what implications that has for our yoga practice.

Tom Myers: Well, it’s particularly useful for yoga teachers to know these things, because they’ll be able to see more of what’s going on as their students go through different postures. If you watch someone doing the Triangle Pose, for example —which puts one upper spiral line into a twist and requires engagement of all the muscles along the other spiral line—there could be a fault in the ability of the muscle or a fascial fabric to elongate enough to get into the pose. Or there might be a lack of strength in an opposing muscle that couldn’t support the ribcage or support the neck so that the spiral is clean, so to speak….

It’s important for yoga teachers to be able to see when their students are doing it differently on one side and the other and then take steps to either strengthen or lengthen, depending on what’s needed.

But the brain needs to have that concept in mind to be able to see these things. So practice, practice, practice. Just keep looking for what’s not lengthening as you watch your students.  Knowing the Anatomy Trains lines, knowing what anatomy is involved in each of the myofascial meridians, is very helpful in being able to see what is going on in a pose. Once you see what’s going on, you can cue students so that the pose becomes more even.

What we’re looking for in the Anatomy Trains vision is an even tone across the whole line and even tone along the lines and a good relationship among the lines. Injury occurs where there’s no give. And so, the idea of yoga, and the idea of the kind of bodywork that I do, is to even out the tone and make it possible for that little bit of give to happen, no matter what functional movement you’re doing. But we use the yoga poses as models of functional movement to see that.

YogaUOnline: When we think in terms of movement, in traditional anatomy, it is described in terms of ropes and pulleys. But you’re saying movement works in a very different way in the body. Is that correct?

Tom Myers: Yes, that takes us to the concept of tensegrity, which tells us that the bones are not a solid structure on which the muscles hang. Rather, it is much more that the bones float within a balanced tension of the muscles and the fascia. So when you go into yoga poses, when you go into the extreme of a movement and then extend your extreme by stretching, you are increasing the amount of resilience in your tissues so that all the tissues give a little.  

But Anatomy Trains is not a theory of movement. Movement is a mystery, how we move is a mystery. Scientists like to tell you that they think they know a lot about it, but I don’t think we really have sorted out how movement works in the body yet. The idea that nerves make muscles move is a basic concept. But there are other feedback loops that we have not really explored yet, scientifically, or that we can’t even really articulate that well at this point.

We are at a breaking point in research, where the mechanics that we’ve been happy with for the last 350 years are going to give way to a new kind of biomechanics that’s based on more interconnected concepts, like the Anatomy Trains and the idea of tensegrity. My prediction is that we will begin to look at the nervous system more as a kind of cloud computing than the kind of computing we’ve been doing until now.

YogaUOnline: Yoga postures are unique in that they generally involve movement of the spine, which we don’t get that much of otherwise. I’ve often wondered if this kind of movement creates a stimulation of the nerves that might be, in part, responsible for some of the benefits people are experiencing from yoga practice?

Tom Myers: Well, I’d say that it’s more out at the ends of the nerves that the benefit is happening. Yes, there’s some benefit to those nerves sliding through the holes in the spine. But I’d say that the effects come more from the stretching in the limbs or in the trunk, wherever the nerves end.  Those little nerve endings are listening to the fascia and the muscles, so to speak, and when we stimulate them, it goes right back into the spinal cord and stimulates the part of the brain associated with those nerve endings.

That’s the wonderful thing about yoga. If you’re allowing your practice to deepen, you’re constantly coming across new areas in your body that were forgotten. And you’re bringing them back into your body image or your body awareness.

YogaUOnline: Interesting.

Tom Myers: I would almost say that it is a moral person who makes decisions, feeling their whole body. In the West today, we have so many places in our body that we have forgotten and that we don’t use in our day-to-day lives. So we have to be broader in our movement range, using yoga or some other form of union to feel our body as a complete thing again.

YogaUOnline: Many people believe that intuition is very much tied into feeling that somatic reality, is that your understanding as well?

Tom Myers: Yes, hunches are a physical process. Intuition is a physical process. It’s a process of tuning into your body and thinking of the body as an antenna. I don’t mean to sound New Age-y, but scientifically, your fascia is a liquid crystal. It is arranged in crystalline form. So it could be considered to be a kind of antenna. If you are tuned to it, if you are inhabiting all of it, I think you will make better decisions, than if you are only inhabiting small pieces of it.

That is a part of your mind. Your mind extends all the way down to your feet, all the way down to your hands, all the way into your back. And if you’re only paying attention to your hands and your face and your eyes on the computer screen and you’re otherwise sitting most of the time, you lose access to those kinds of intuitive feelings.

This Q&A is an excerpt from Tom Myer’s interview on Yoga, Somatic Awareness & the Growth of Intuition.To download the full recorded interview, go here.

Improving Heart Health Helps Stave Off Dementia and Alzheimer’s

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For most people, perhaps the most troubling aspect of growing old is the fear of living out the last stage of life afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s, unable to recognize and interact with loved ones.  A staggering one in three people are predicted to develop dementia in the last part of their life.

Well, according to a new study by researchers at Cambridge University, about one third of all Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide could be reduced through simple lifestyle changes that promote heart health.

What is good for the heart is good for the brain, according to the new study. The same simple lifestyle changes that can promote heart health, i.e. exercise, quitting smoking and a healthy diet, also play a significant role in boosting brain power and staving off problems with memory and thinking attributable to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in The Lancet Neurology.

The findings are significant because they are the first to quantify the combined impact of lifestyle factors influencing dementia and identify exercise as the most significant protection against the condition. This is important news for the 33% of people who are predicted to develop dementia in their lifetime.  (Alzheimer’s disease accounts for about 60 to 80 percent of those cases).

The landmark study suggests that the best thing you can do to beat the odds is to exercise regularly. Just one hour of exercise a week can reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease by almost half. The researchers identified seven modifiable lifestyle risk factors that lead to rising levels of dementia. They include: diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, physical inactivity, depression, smoking, and low educational attainment.

The results were calculated using a decade of data obtained from the Health Survey for England 2006. Of those studied, participants who did not achieve three 20-minute bursts of vigorous exercise per week, such as jogging or football, or five 30-minute sessions of moderate activity, such as walking, were 82 percent more likely to go on to develop dementia. A previous YogaUOnline story shows that yoga and meditation also can slow the progression of dementia.

“Although there is no single way to prevent dementia, we may be able to take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia at older ages,” lead author Professor Brayne, from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, said in an article in the UK Telegraph. “We know what many of these factors are, and that they are often linked.”

The study’s author added that: “Simply tackling physical inactivity, for example, will reduce levels of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and prevent some people from developing dementia as well as a healthier old age in general – it’s a win-win situation.”

Though increasing physical activity and taking steps to decrease blood pressure, quitting smoking and eating healthy can prevent dementia and cases of Alzheimer’s in many cases, Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in the Telegraph article, that further research is needed to “understand the mechanisms behind how these factors are related to the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“Although there is no single way to prevent dementia, we may be able to take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia at older ages,” lead author Professor Brayne, from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, said in an article in the UK Telegraph. “We know what many of these factors are, and that they are often linked.”

The study’s author added that: “Simply tackling physical inactivity, for example, will reduce levels of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and prevent some people from developing dementia as well as a healthier old age in general – it’s a win-win situation.”

Though increasing physical activity and taking steps to decrease blood pressure, quitting smoking and eating healthy can prevent dementia and cases of Alzheimer’s in many cases, Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in the Telegraph article, that further research is needed to “understand the mechanisms behind how these factors are related to the onset of Alzheimer’s.”

New Online Master of Science in Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine Launched

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“Only a holistic approach that takes into consideration all aspects of mind and body together can be successful in handling health.” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Last year saw the launch of a Masters programs in Yoga and Yoga Therapy at universities across the country, and so it was only a matter of time before a Masters programs in Ayurveda would follow.

Marrying the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda with the most advanced developments in Western medicine, Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, IA just launched an accredited graduate-level Masters of Science program that is one of the first if its kind in the nation. What’s more, a large part of the program will be available for students to study online.

With the 5,000-year-old medical tradition of Ayurveda (“the science of life") gaining popularity in the United States, the faculty at the Fairfield, Iowa-based university hope to bring this holistic healthcare approach to the masses. The new Master of Science in Maharishi Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine is designed to meet the need for skillful practitioners trained and accredited in the traditional Hindu medicine of India and able to practice in modern medicine in the United States, according to Keith Wallace, Founding President, Maharishi University.

“Right now modern medicine is changing and there is a direction back to natural and lifestyle medicine that is personalized for each person,” said Dr.Wallace. “For thousands of years, Ayurvedic medicine has been focused on this natural system of healing, but it has not been embraced in the West.”

“Now, that is changing, and that change is being seen in small, but significant ways, such as the way we are embracing yoga,” added Dr. Wallace. “People and the medical community are looking to focus on this consciousness in a scientific way.”

Dr. Wallace said the university is meeting that need by formalizing a graduate degree program so that doctors, scientists and health coaches can assimilate Ayurveda traditions with modern science.

“We are hoping to give health practitioners more thorough knowledge of the protocols used by Maharishi Ayurveda in dealing with different health conditions,” he added.

Beginning this fall, (September 1), the program is being offered online to its first class of doctors, nurses, medical students, health coaches and wellness experts eager to incorporate integrative medicine into their practices.  It is the first graduate-level training to focus specifically on Maharishi Ayurveda, following closely on the heels of Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, which started its Ayurvedic Sciences Masters program in 2013. Maharishi Ayurveda provides tools for the prevention and treatment of disease, and deals holistically with consciousness, physiology, psychology, behavior, and environment.

“With our healthcare system in such a state of crisis, there is a greater need now more than ever for health providers to combine the protocols of Eastern and Western medicine and focus on wellness versus the treatment of disease,” said Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, one of the most academically accomplished, classically trained Ayurvedic physicians in the United States. He is among the roster of distinguished Ayurvedic practitioners and teachers who make up the faculty and will teach via Skype and other digital tools from his California base. 

“Right now there are very few, but excellent physicians trained to practice this cutting-edge and very unique way of treating the mind, body and spirit,” said Dr. Kshirsagar, author of The Hot Belly Diet: A 30-Day Ayurvedic Plan to Reset Your Metabolism, Lose Weight, and Restore Your Body's Natural Balance to Heal Itself.  “Our students will graduate as guides in practicing healthcare that focuses on the simple tools of medicine and enlightenment – yoga, diet, exercise – and the values preventative medicine, and that health is a by-product of caring for the self.”

“We are intentionally trying to keep it small the first year,” he said, “and we have a wide range of students enrolled in the program from physicians and nurses to health coaches. We spent a lot of time reorienting traditional Western medical curriculums with Ayurvedic traditions.”

The faculty are some of the most renowned Ayurvedic practitioners from all over the world, he added. In addition to Dr. Kshirsagar, Hemant Gupta, M.D., Founder and Director of Shree Ma AyurVeda Institute & Wellness Centre Inc. in Ottawa, Canada also is on the faculty.

Courses cover the gamut of healthcare from Maharishi Ayurveda anatomy and physiology in the context of the eight major organ systems, to comprehensive Ayurvedic health assessment techniques, including traditional pulse diagnosis, tongue diagnosis, individualized diet and lifestyle recommendations, health assessments and assessments of mind-body type and therapeutics for mind, body and environment. Students also will learn about the five sense therapies (touch, smell, sight, taste, sound), the principles of Vedic Architecture and participate in an introduction to the clinical applications of traditional Chinese medicine, Homeopathy, Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy, Chiropractic, other natural medical systems and modern integrative medicine.

Once a year, students will attend a week-long intensive clinical training on MUM’s Iowa campus.

Teaching Maharishi Ayurveda for more than 25 years. Maharishi University of Management was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced Transcendental Meditation in the United States in the late 1950s and gained fame in the 1960s as the spiritual guru to the Beatles.

“At the end of the day, what we hope will happen is that our graduates will become guides for others to help them see health as a product of enlightenment and to help them start to and learn to follow this way of living and staying healthy,” said Dr. Kshirsagar.

Is Yoga Our GPS to the Soul?

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By Lynn A. Anderson, Ph.D. - 

Is there such a thing as a global positioning system (GPS) that allows us to locate and identify the soul? Yoga just might be our GPS for the soul. Yoga, the science of physical, mental and spiritual self-transformation is an ancient discipline that seeks union between the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness. If we are to accept that the soul is found within this union, then yoga becomes the mechanism that allows us to locate it.

The practice of yoga changes the physical, mental and spiritual life of the practitioner by releasing the physical, mental, energetic, emotional and psychological blocks that limit our potential. This release helps us to grow and evolve and it is through this evolution that we are able to locate and connect with the soul.

On a physical level, yoga has many concrete benefits. Correcting physical ailments, reversing the aging process, providing strength and balance, unifying and detoxifying the system, toning muscles, regulating internal body functions and calming the nervous system are some of the benefits we can derive from the practice.

But on a deeper level, it allows us to search deeper beyond the surface of the physical and mental world into the realm of the spirit. It does this by teaching us the interrelatedness of all things and the true nature of self, which is that we are a spiritual being here on earth taking on earthy form for the purpose of self-discovery. Even modern theories of physics, such as the Theory of Everything, explain how all things are interconnected by lines of energy known as subatomic particles.

One branch of yoga known as Karma yoga serves as a guidepost assisting the soul through space and time. It is the branch of yoga that chooses the exact space and time for the soul to reincarnate into a physical and mental being for the purpose of self-discovery and correction.

According to karma-yoga, we leave this world with unfinished business and desires. Those desires cannot be fulfilled without the use of the body-mind. The soul leaves this world and goes to wait in what is referred to as the holdover place. It is not the final resting place, but simply a place to reflect. When the time is right and the location (body-mind) has been identified we return to another life in an attempt to fulfill our karma. Our karma is the work we are here to perform in an attempt to remove the obstacles that get in our way and keep us in the perpetual cycle of life and death or reincarnation.

We choose the nature of our birth and the structure of our lives in the most expedient manner so as to learn the lessons of karma. We choose our mother and our father and the circumstances of our life. Our mission is simply to discover the truth, and to choose the best circumstances that provide us with the greatest opportunity to discover this truth. Once here on earth, it is up to us to discover our work and make the changes necessary for evolution. This can only be done once we realize that karma is not about bad or good deeds. It has no judgment. Karma is simply cause and effect. For every action there is a reaction. To overcome the repeated cycle of karma, conscious self-awareness of our actions and how they affect the nature of our life, allows us to connect with the universal consciousness.

We then have the opportunity to locate the soul in time and space, in the present life, and develop the power to change the course of our journey.

Perhaps you are here to learn a difficult lesson. An example would be an unhappy marriage or any situation of struggle and strife. This situation may be present to teach you unselfishness, sharing, respect and truth. If you had learned these lessons prior to a marriage or a difficult situation, the experience of unhappiness would no longer be needed. A space would then open and instead of a karmic experience of difficulty, you would experience one of joy and happiness

Karma yoga teaches us that if the lessons we need to learn have been truly learned, change has been made, a space opens and we then have a greater opportunity to manifest free will and with free will, we become the master of our own destiny. The soul has found its GPS, a system that provides time and location information under any condition here on earth, with an unobstructed view.

This article was originally published on Huffington Post.

 

Doctor Lynn holds a Ph.D. in Natural Health and an ND. She created Kosmos, a continuing education provider for health and fitness professionals. She has written courses and books in the area of mind-body-spirit integration, yoga and natural health, and its application to traditional health and fitness. She produced a weekly talk radio show about anti-aging and alternative medicine and is a published author for an international nutrition company. She is a contributing writer to the Journal of Longevity and an advisory board member and has been a speaker at the Deepak Chopra Center. Dr. Anderson is a faculty member to the American Council on Exercise. She has been featured in Shape, SELF, Red Book, and other major publications and also a contributing writer to the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynn is certified by Yoga Alliance, Spin, ACE and IAYT. She teaches anti-aging/fusion fitness classes. Her latest DVD, Aero*boga™ is a unique workout promoting fitness and health. It comes with a companion book, Spiritual Fitness. From Maine, a mother and grandmother, she now resides in Los Angeles, CA. with her husband Dan

Yoga U Presenter Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar Releases New Book with Ayurvedic Guidelines for Healthy Eating

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Few things are more frustrating and painful than experiencing an ongoing struggle with weight and overall wellness. Unfortunately, in today's society, the number of Americans who are overweight or obese continue to climb.

With excess weight comes also often numerous other conditions—from poor sleep to depression – which hurt our quality of life and exacerbate weight issues. And unfortunately, for most people, no matter how many of the latest weight loss trends they try out, the results are for the most part disappointing, and often disheartening.

Why are most efforts to normalize weight so frustrating and--for the most part--fruitless? The reason is that we go about it in an entirely wrong way. Instead of focusing on what we eat or don't eat, we simply need to restore the natural balance of our digestive fire.

This is the tenet of a new book released by Ayurvedic physician and YogUOnline.com presenter Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, entitled THE HOT BELLY DIET: A 30-Day Ayurvedic Plan to Reset Your Metabolism, Lose Weight, and Restore Your Body’s Natural Balance to Heal Itself.

What inspired the book? "The complaints I hear in my practice on a daily basis all have a surprising common denominator," says Dr. Kshirsagar. "Whether you're struggling with uncontrollable weight gain, low energy, and poor sleep, chronic headaches, unexplained congestion, or depression – from an Ayurvedic perspective, these are all related to a weak digestive 'fire.'"

It's a simple principle: If we're in touch with the natural process of appetite regulation, the body naturally will regulate how much food we take in. If we need food, we get hungry. If we don't need food, we're don't get hungry. The problem is that in modern society, the natural appetite regulating mechanism often becomes obscure by bad eating habits, poor quality foods, and life style habits that get us out of touch with the natural rhythms of the body.

This starts a vicious cycle: As we lose touch with the body's own appetite-regulating mechanisms, we begin to disturb the digestive fire of the body. From an Ayurvedic perspective, the belly is the center of our being, and when we’re burning food inefficiently, we’re throwing our metabolism out of balance and triggering unpleasant side effects. Weak digestion causes food “sludge" or ama, to accumulate in the body, resulting in lethargy, toxicity, water retention, fat build-up, inflammation, and more.

In this book, Dr. Kshirsagar introduces ancient Ayurvedic practices to show how we can optimize digestive powers to improve our health, vitality, and well-being. He also discusses the number one culprit behind most chronic conditions, including overweight and obesity that can effortlessly be remedied by changing your eating habits. In particular, Dr. Kshirsagar shows how to prepare a complete but easy-to-make meal that helps clear out “digestive sludge” that slows down metabolism, and undermines our wellbeing.

Dr. Mehmet Oz has decried the program in the book as "a simple, but practical plan for your Metabolic Transformation." And hey, if you lose a little weight in the process, what's not to like?

The book is available now at Amazon.com and from bookstores nationwide. Also look out for the upcoming appearance of Dr. Kshirsagar on the Oz Show, where he will be discussing the book and its benefits further.

The End of an Era—Is Yoga at a Crossroad?

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.

"This body is only an instrument of the soul to reach what is within." ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

BKS Iyengar was the last of the living Masters who brought yoga, meditation and yoga philosophy to the West. His passing marks the end of an era, and in more than one way.

In the West, we have developed a weary, love-hate relationship with the Indian concept of guru. Since the 1970s when the Indian guru phenomenon really took hold in the West, gurus purporting to be spiritual Masters have brought us great blessings, and just as equally, great disappointments and disillusion. And more often than not, all of these were embodied in the very same person. Most anyone following a so-called guru has been touched and inspired by his or her unparalleled greatness, and at the same time had their beliefs, dreams and aspirations shattered, when learning that the infallible Master was/is, after all, a very fallible and very human human being.

This conundrum was perfectly exemplified in B.K.S. Iyengar himself. He was a true Master, who developed yoga to the heights of what the human form is capable of, while never losing sight of the essential spiritual aspects of yoga. At the same time, while he notably never was trapped in the stereotypical scandals of the ‘fallen guru,’ he also was known to be demanding, harsh, controlling, and in some cases, even abusive. And, to his credit, he never made a pretense of being perfect.

The concept of the infallible guru has been rightly discredited. Still, what the Indian Masters brought us, which we may never see in quite the same way again, is a true Master Teacher, i.e. someone who dedicated his or her life to the perfection of one single thing, who forged new pathways into what it is possible for human beings to achieve physically, mentally, spiritually.

BKS Iyengar made yoga his art form, and his medium was the body. He spent six years, by his own account, learning how to use yoga postures and techniques to transform his body from a diseased frame that doctors had predicted wouldn’t live past the age of 20, to a strong, vital physiology, which was able to continue a daily yoga practice well into his 90s. And then he made it his mission to bring the knowledge he had gained to the world, to share what he had learned about how yoga asana can be used to heal and transform body, mind and spirit.

And for this reason, with the passing of BKS Iyengar, we face the end of an era. Symbolically speaking, his passing puts us face to face with the fact the yoga is at a crossroad. Yoga has been at a crossroad for many years, of course, but with the passing of one of yoga’s last great masters, the question of where yoga will go in the future becomes even more poignant.

What will shape the shape and form (no pun intended) of yoga going forward? On one hand, we see the growing commercialization of yoga, something that Mr. Iyengar himself viewed with concern. On the other hand, we have a profession whose very success has created immense challenges, which it has few structures in place to address. Let’s discuss each of these individually.

When Yoga Becomes Mainstream, Does Mainstream Become Yoga?

The growing commercialization of yoga, of course, is a trend that has been around ever since yoga became popular. The way yoga has been co-opted, often by people with little in-depth experience with the practice, concerned even BKS himself.

“It does disturb me, because yoga is a science,” he said in a 2007 CNN interview. “Yoga is a science, which makes one to associate the body to the mind, and the mind to the intelligence, and intelligence to the consciousness and consciousness to the Self. When such a noble subject, today, it has become a commercial presentation, it's painful to me. But many people have taken the advantage, learning something and calling different names and attracting people. I don't think that yoga is going to survive.”

That yoga has become mainstream is aptly symbolized by the new Yoga Journal—complete with pics and articles on Hilaria Baldwin and her mom-balance-it-all-techniques, blog posts on Celebrities Becoming Yoga Teachers, designer Trina Turk’s Essential Yoga Gear, and so on. Yoga Journal, of course, should not be singled out as the only media outlet driving this trend, but disappointingly, it is jumping on this YogaLite bandwagon more whole-heartedly than ever.

And of course, that begs the question, when yoga becomes mainstream, does mainstream become yoga? In other words, once what aspects of yoga are covered in  media outlets becomes driven by attention to, ultimately, what sells ads, does what we know about and perceive as yoga eventually become synonymous with the lowest common denominator of current mainstream status quo—including our voyeuristic interest in all things celeb?

A Profession at a Cross Roads

The other major trend unfolding in parallel in the world of yoga has to do with how we handle the growing challenges facing yoga teachers. As yoga becomes mainstream, yoga teachers are increasingly called upon to teach to mainstream bodies—and of course, that means ALL types of bodies, not the young, thin, beautiful and fit that grace magazine covers.

In one of Yoga Journal’s Yoga in America surveys, one out of two (!) respondents said they were interested in trying yoga. That includes the some 77 million baby boomers, who are fast and furiously entering their golden years determined to keep them golden. It includes football players, veterans of war, Wall Street stockbrokers, cancer survivors, victims of domestic violence or other form of trauma, athletes, people who are overweight, people who are too skinny, too out of shape, people who are too something, too anything.

And of course, with the widening audience and greater demand for yoga comes much, much greater teaching challenges. When the teaching of yoga was formalized as a profession, it was okay to ‘just’ be able to teach skinny, moderately fit 20-30+ somethings. But today, most any yoga teacher teaching mixed level classes has had the same experience: In a class of ten people, students do the postures with ten different kinds of improper alignment, and teachers do not have sufficient knowledge of biomechanics to offer effective, individualized suggestions. Because let’s face it, while the traditional modifications and props taught in yoga teacher trainings may work for the 20-30+ year olds fit and skinny somethings, they do not suffice to help the new type of mainstream students with mainstream bodies.

With this, of course, comes also the ongoing debate about yoga injuries. Surya Namaskar, for example, is standard fare in most Vinyasa classes, but the average American body is not really equipped to handle S.N. right from the get go. So something has to give: Either the person gives up trying yoga and concludes it’s not for him/her (as many do), or he or she persists, and unfortunately runs the risk of eventually incurring an injury.

One of the encouraging features of modern postural yoga is the increased focus on understanding and teaching the basics of biomechanics in postures and developing forms of yoga suitable to different types of groups—be they veterans of war, cancer survivors, people who are obese, people suffering from chronic pain. Yoga can be made accessible to everybody, but it requires a specialized level of knowledge and skill. And it’s not the same type of yoga that will work for every type of person.

And this is where yoga is at a crossroads. Few people are as passionate about their craft as full-time long-term yoga teachers, and there are many, many innovators out there doing great, brilliant work. They may not fit our image of the typical Indian guru, but they are in their own right Masters, who have dedicated their life to perfecting one way of teaching yoga to one type of body or one type of challenge.

The issue we are facing is that yoga as a profession does not have a medium for compiling this knowledge and making it more widely available. With the media increasingly chasing celebrity style yoga stories, the 6 Steps to Perfect Happiness and the 12 Minute Downward Dog, they have abdicated their role as a medium for the exploration of the finer points of yoga teaching and practice.

One encouraging trend, of course, is the work of the International Association of Yoga Therapy and the 1,000 hour standards they are developing for yoga therapy as a profession. But while developing the standards for offering yoga as therapy to those struggling with ailments is important, it still doesn’t fill the gap or address the challenges everyday yoga teachers face in teaching the wide range of bodies that come to classes.

And so, we remain at an important crossroad. The debate about yoga injuries is important because it is a reminder that the profession of teaching yoga is still in its infancy and much work needs to be done to bring the teaching of yoga to a level where teachers can serve the much wider range of needs of today’s typical yoga students. But we need to extend that debate to a discussion of how we, as a profession, can do the kind of things a profession does: Develop a shared and growing body of knowledge with effective channels for widely disseminating that knowledge.

This is why the passing of BKS Iyengar marks the end of an era. Yoga as a profession has grown past the point where it can be effectively be distributed via the traditional Master-student relationship. It is up to us to decide what comes next. And if we do not, in the long run, we run the risk of getting stuck with the celeb-gossip style lite yoga that feeds ad sales, and little more than that.

B.K.S. Iyengar, My Teacher. ~ Judith Hanson Lasater

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By Judith Hanson Lasater:

B.K.S. Iyengar was a human being with a superhuman talent for understanding the body and how it moved.

But he also understood that the body represented all of who we are. He said,

“The body is the surface of the mind, the mind the surface of the soul.”

He was not born into privilege, and in fact, had a hard early life.

But he found in that experience strength and it sharpened his will.

He also had just as sharp a sense of humor. One day I was driving him from the airport to his hotel in San Francisco; I asked if it was all right by him if I opened the window, as I was too warm. “Yes”, he said, “I have been known to be a bit fiery myself.” I turned my head away from the road briefly and shot him a grin. I found he was already grinning at me. “We are both a bit pitta dosha,” he said with droll understatement.

One day in class in Pune, India, standing near me, he gave us all a stern look and moved his incredibly bushy eyebrows up and down. He said, “God gave me these eyebrows to frighten you”. I replied cheekily, “It’s working.” He roared with laughter, and we joined him.

One of the things I most admired about Mr. I, as we affectionately called him, was his integrity around practice. I saw him numerous times in the practice studio in Pune. He was on the floor on his mat, simply practicing, while we were informally scattered around the studio practicing ourselves, sometimes sneaking the occasional peak at the Master. He often practiced in public. We saw when he succeeded; we saw when he didn’t. We watched as he struggled with a pose or with a prop to create the effect he wanted.

His struggle inspired us by reminding us we did not have to be perfect in our practice, just faithful to it.

He was renowned for his impatience. This stemmed, I believe, from his passion for giving to us everything he had learned, from wanting so much to help us avoid the mistakes that he had made, from his desire to help the world be a better place.

I once saw him demonstrate Warrior II. He pointed out that when he did the pose without concern about alignment, the hairs on this thigh stood up. Then he showed us Warrior II with his legs in the alignment he wanted, and the hairs on his legs lay down. Simply spontaneously lay down. I was impressed. Not just because this happened but also because he did not miss this detail.

The picture accompanying this article holds a story. It was 1984 and we were sponsoring the first-ever Iyengar Yoga Conference in the USA.

I was teaching my regular class at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, California.

He walked into the class unannounced and, needless to say, I was nervous. He watched the class for a while, then as I continued teaching he offered me teaching points to help me explain the poses better to my students. He kept interrupting me, throwing my rhythm off. He was teaching me how to teach. I would then turn and attempt to teach my students while putting into immediate practice what he has just told me. He would interrupt me again and again. It was nerveracking. Finally he said something about this being my class. “No, Mr. Iyengar,” I said,

“This is your class.”

He laughed, and to the great delight of my students, he took over and taught the rest of the class. It would be a precious lifetime memory for those students who otherwise would not have had the chance to study with him directly.

Mr. Iyengar challenged me; he challenged everyone he ever taught to create a habit of reflection, then action, reflection then action, over and over again while practicing. He wanted us to never stop noticing how our actions affected the pose, our nervous system, our mind, the world.

He filled the room when he taught and he filled our hearts when we listened. My life, and the life of millions of others has been made richer and fuller by what we learned from him. I have absolutely no doubt that wherever he is right now, he is helping a yoga student to find the most precious thing we can all ever find in this world: our true selves.

 

This article originally appeared on Elephant Journal. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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