The Joy of Child’s Pose

How did you get here? Close your eyes and surrender. The hurt that we embrace becomes joy. 
 -Rumi

For the past five months I have been dealing with fluid in my knees. I think it began with a long flight overseas and back (did I mention I am obsessed with India? See here, here, and here) where I was cramped in an economy seat for hours without much movement. At first they were only painful with some restricted movement, but after an anniversary weekend in NYC walking everywhere in not the greatest shoes (go see the World is Sound exhibit at the Rubin and The Great Comet!) and a bit of landscaping with a shovel into the hard Cheverly clay, my knees became two little orbs of sharp, burning, stabbing pain.

Needless to say, there was no child’s pose for me.

My yoga practice really changed. Instead of yoga postures each morning, I became fast friends with my tennis ball. If you’ve been to my class, you’ll know that fascial release is one of my favorite things, and all you need is a humble tennis ball to support you in this endeavor. So instead of coming to my mat for yoga postures, I would press and roll the tennis ball into and over hamstrings, calves, quadriceps, even on the outside of my feet to help open the peroneal muscles, IT band and tensor fascia latae. This tennis ball rolling, making space in and around the knee joints, felt really good relative to the constant pain and it was about all I could do for a while. My meditation was in a wide-legged seat, upavista konasana, sitting up on blankets with rolled towels or blocks for support under my knees.

A yoga pose I found really helpful was elevated pigeon pose. With my back foot on the floor, I would place my front shin on a bed or raised surface. You have to spread the toes of the front foot wide and draw the pinky toe back toward the knee to do this safely when there is knee pain. Going slowly, I would sink in to the sensation and breathe with it, allowing time to release gripping and holding, and believe me, there was a lot of gripping and holding.










This kind of practice, patience, massage, and acupuncture began to offer results and my knees became not so cranky. Yesterday, slowly, with toes active and pressing into the mat, I was able to slowly lower my hips toward my heels and, even though I was very wary of not going too far, it felt like heaven. In child’s pose it was as though the earth swallowed me up and held me in her embrace, reassuring me that this pain is just a phase, and like many things in life only temporary. But it takes work, patience, and persistence to overcome.


About Blessing Counting

I grew up with a tangential relationship to church. We went to a Methodist Church (several different ones over the course of my school years in fact) in order to “gain a moral background” according to my parents who would gladly say that they do not believe in God. These Sunday morning outings usually involved getting donuts together on the way home. I was pretty much there for the donuts. But this is not to say that I do not have a connection to spirit, that is very much alive…

This is to say that I was never totally convinced that “blessings” were a thing and that I should be counting them. The very word blessing seemed kind of wimpy to me in some way. Please forgive me, my church-going friends, but I am only speaking my experience.

Longwood RoseIt was not until a friend and fellow yogi suggested to me that a blessing is really anything that makes your heart feel lighter, that I gained a better relationship with the word, and with the idea. Anything that makes your heart feel lighter. How amazing is that? We all experience ups and downs, some more than others, and it’s true, right? That when we feel bad, the heart gets heavy. Emotions have a physical seat in the body. This is a thing that yoga practice teaches us directly; often on the mat as we move through different shapes and forms, emotions and memories rise up, and in that safe space on the mat we can allow ourselves to feel them and recognize them for what they are — feelings — like waves in the ocean that are a part of the ocean but do not represent the full depths.

So with this new understanding of blessings, I began a practice of gratitude.

Each morning, as I begin my meditation practice, first I take the time to name three things that I am thankful for. Taking a walk, breathing fresh air, having a good meal, watching the birds in the yard, good health, good friends, a loving partner, a vibrant community in which to live, a career that I really enjoy. I try to vary it each day and think of even the smallest everyday things that make my world a better place.

If you have not tried a gratitude practice, I recommend it! Perhaps first thing in the morning upon waking is the best time because then you are immediately reminded and can maintain that feeling of thankfulness throughout the day. Three things.

And now scientists are discovering a biochemical reason for gratitude too. Neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb has a book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, in which he says that practicing gratitude boosts dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that governs pleasure and serotonin the one that governs mood.

“One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” —Dr. Korb

And he goes on to say that it is not the finding of gratitude, but it is the remembering to look for it that creates the beneficial effect. The more you remember to look, the more the dopamine and serotonin increase. It is an upward spiral. Fascinating. Thank you for reading!

Anxiety and the Brave Warrior

This week in class we’ve been learning the story of Virabhadra — the ferocious and terrifying warrior that arose out of Shiva’s anguish at the loss of his beloved Sati. Virabhadra is the namesake for all those Warrior Poses we do in class, Virabhadrasana I, II, III, the Humble Warrior, and more.

virabhadraBriefly, Shiva and Sati were insulted by Sati’s father, King Daks’a, who never liked Shiva and certainly did not want his daughter to marry him because Shiva was an outcast from society. He is both the Lord of Meditation and the Lord of Destruction, and as such would dress in rags and cover himself in ash. He had long, unwieldy dreadlocks, hung out in cremation grounds, and was often surrounded by goblins. After Shiva and Sati’s marriage, to spite them, Daks’a hosted a fire ceremony, an auspicious occasion, but did not invite Sati or Shiva due to his lack of love for Shiva. Sati found out about this while the ceremony was taking place, and so she rushed to her father’s home in protest and, sitting dignified in her meditation amid the crowd, she called up her own inner fire so powerfully that she immolated herself.

At the moment of her death, the worlds shook. Shiva knew exactly what had happened. He howled in anguish and went into a rage. He ran to the fire ceremony himself and began destroying things at the party, Lord of Destruction he is. In his misery, he ripped a dreadlock from his head and threw it on the ground, and out of that lock of his hair arose a fearsome warrior, Virabhadra. He was as tall as the sky and as dark as thunderclouds. He wore garlands of bloody skulls and had the most formidable weapons. Everyone knew to run and hide when Virabhadra appeared. This brave warrior finished the job of destroying the fire ceremony for Shiva and he even lopped off Daks’a’s head.

Kelly Virabhadrasana IAs in all of the Indian tales, this story begins in the middle and ends in the middle too. Shiva grieves for eons while Virabhadra goes off doing warrior-like things. Ultimately, Virabhadra stands for courage and potency, the definitions of the Sanskrit word vira. He is born of the Lord of Meditation’s heartbreak, and he is the one who will bravely step into the fire in order to set things right. In our own lives, his energy represents our courage to stand up and face the things we would rather not face. He is the innate potential within us to wield our own power in a way that restores balance to our lives. He is our own fear and agony and he is the ability to overcome it.

Kelly Vira II ReversedSo, anxiety. People experience anxiety in different ways, and therefore there are different ways to address it, but often it is best to look at the source. On many occasions, anxiety is the manifestation of some deeper trauma — a loss, grief, fear, or even anger. When a strong emotion is buried deep, we may even forget the thing causing the emotion, but we are left with the anxiety: a gripping around the heart, a tension in the throat, a “deer in the headlights” immobility. Yoga addresses the physicality of the experience of anxiety.

Sometimes the person might need more activity, a flowing practice that is connected to the breath to help move the tension out of the body. Sometimes the person might need more stillness, to inwardly address what is coming up for them. It depends on the person and the situation. Either direction takes courage. Through yoga practice and even breathing techniques and meditation, one can develop the strength of inner fire, the potency to step courageously into the world, or into one’s own mind, and face the deeper source of the anxiety. A warrior pose with some steady, deep breathing may help.

img_3072If you are experiencing anxiety, first be kind to yourself. Remember that feelings are like waves in the ocean, they come and they go but they need time. And, try some yoga. If you are not sure where to begin, contact me, let’s talk. Together we can find a doable practice that is suitable for your needs and goals. Relief is possible.

What is Yoga Therapy?

The International Association of Yoga Therapists defines yoga therapy like this:

Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.

You may read the entire article here.

img_0061I have been interested and practicing yoga and meditation since college when I was first introduced to the practices. Immediately I felt the anxiety-reducing and joy-producing effects of yoga and meditation and I knew deep in my heart that these practices, called sadhana in Sanskrit, would support my life in a profound way. Some 25 years later, my yoga practice has survived loved-and-lost, love again, family issues, pets, career changes, moves, and band crises.

I’m very pleased to announce that recently, the IAYT accepted me as a certified Yoga Therapist. This represents many years of study, practice, and application in the field. Yoga Therapy is an emerging field, but one that is a natural evolution of continued and perhaps deeper yoga practices. If you are a yoga practitioner, then you already know the personal benefits that yoga may have in your life, whether it is a stronger, healthier body, relief from aches or pains, relief from anxiety and depression, less headaches, a stronger, healthier mind, the list goes on.

Once a student asked me “what is the advanced version of this practice?” And I love the answer… sticking with it. After 25 years, I am here to say, the practice of yoga only continues to enhance your life in more and better ways then you may imagine.

IAYT logo-webOn the physical level, yoga activates muscles in chains. When you take Side Angle Posture for example, the entire side of your body is affected, from the sole of your foot through the peroneal muscles, to the IT band, through the obliques, latissimus dorsi, the scalenes, to the top of your head. There is a connective tissue chain along the entire side of the body that is activated, and not to mention the other muscles supporting your pose, the adductors, the psoas and so forth. So if there is, let’s say, lower back pain, it is addressed in a holistic way. It is not simply one area of the body that receives the focus, yes that area gets addressed, but in context of the entire being. There are refinements to alignment that awaken new avenues of feeling and awareness in the body that help the yogi let go of past habits that were causing the pain in order to establish new habits that better support the body as a whole, and the mind too is effected in a positive way.

fisher_kelly-113_2Another way to approach these issues is through relieving physical and mental stress. Through the practices of meditation and even breath work, known as pranayama, we find a more subtle and lasting way to make positive changes in your body and life.

Another way to approach these issues is looking at lifestyle habits. How much sleep are you getting? Are you eating well and drinking enough water? What daily habits support you and which ones might be exacerbating your issues? The science of life, ayurveda, offers tools to align your personal habits to access your fullest potential.

Yoga therapy incorporates yoga postures, breath work, meditation, and ayurveda to help you live better. I have been studying and teaching these things for many years now and am so pleased to have IAYT’s recognition. It is an emerging field and so far a little over 300 people around the world have received their certification that represents a significant amount of hours practicing, studying, and teaching; therefore I am proud to be able to offer my services at this enhanced level.

So, if you are wondering how yoga may enhance your life more, if you have been dealing with anxiety, arthritis, osteoporosis, headaches, joint pain, muscle sprains, back pain, shoulder issues, depression, trouble sleeping, or generalized ennui, let’s talk.

Balanced Diet = Balanced Tastes

Photo by Kathryn Andrews
Photo by Kathryn Andrews
Good morning. Last week I mentioned the tenth suggestion for fascial fitness is to keep active and eat a balanced diet. Seems like there are so many theories out there on how to eat well and maintain proper weight. Despite the fact that I love numbers, I abhor counting calories, and so the Ayurvedic approach to eating well is much more appealing to me.

A balanced diet according to Ayurveda has much nuance based on your own personal constitution, but a good starting point is knowing about the Sat Rasa, the six tastes.

“Our tastebuds do much more than simply identify tastes; they unlock the nutritive value of foods and provide the initial spark to the entire digestive process.” [Eat, Taste, Heal, Thomas Yarema et al, p.43] As they say in Ayurveda, you are what you digest.

The starting point of the six tastes is the Ayurvedic paradigm of the world being composed of five basic elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space. Each taste is a combination of two of these five and therefore have corresponding qualities to match:

1. Sweet – earth and water; heavy, moist, cooling
2. Sour – earth and fire; light, moist, heating
3. Salty – water and fire; heavy, moist, heating
4. Pungent – air and fire; light, dry, heating
5. Bitter – space and air; light, dry, cooling
6. Astringent – air and earth; heavy, dry, cooling

To be completely satisfied, one should include all six tastes during every meal. Practically speaking, for me personally this is often a challenge, so I make myself content attempting to get all six tastes in any particular day. Some days are better than others, and some tastes are easier to come by then others.

Sweet is the first, and the most abundant. This does not mean simply sugar. Other “sweet” foods are most grains like wheat and rice, milk, butter, and cream, some beans like limas, sweet fruits, and some vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets.

Sour foods include citrus fruits like lemon, lime and grapefruit, yogurt, cheeses, sour cream, and fermented products like wine, vinegar, sauerkraut, and soy sauce.

Salty foods might be more obvious, anything that you add salt to, like nuts, chips, or pickles, sea vegetables like kelp or nori, and even celery is considered salty. (Sometimes the taste is very subtle.)

These three tastes are considered building tastes. If you eat a lot of them, you will build tissue in your body — all kinds of tissue, including muscle and fat.

The second set of three tastes are considered reducing tastes. If you eat more of these, there is a cleansing effect that helps your body reduce stored energy, generally in the form of adipose tissue.

Pungent foods are spicy, think chili peppers, garlic, onions, and spices themselves, black pepper, ginger, cumin.

Bitter foods include leafy green veggies such as spinach, kale, green cabbage, chard, zucchini, eggplant, as well as turmeric, fenugreek, and dandelion roots and leaves. Cate Stillman of yogahealer.com says that wild foods like dandelion are superfoods that can replace long lost minerals from your body and also detox your liver, blood, and fat.

Astringent foods generally are harder to name because astringent taste is harder to identify. You know how after you eat cranberries or pomegranates your mouth tends to pucker a little and feel dry? That helps to identify astringent taste. Other examples would be certain beans again like lentils and chickpeas, and also pears, dried fruits, broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke, asparagus, turnip, rye, buckwheat, quinoa, coffee and tea.

Many foods are a combination of tastes. I’m thinking of coffee here, it is astringent but it is also bitter. Beans are sweet and astringent. Oranges are sour and sweet.

Photo by Kathryn Andrews
Photo by Kathryn Andrews
The authors of Eat, Taste, Heal tell us, “Food speaks to us directly through taste. A juicy pear may call out to us with a gentle message of delight, while the flaming chili pepper cries out in warning. As we tune into the tastes naturally desired by the body, we tap into the body’s innate wisdom regarding food and nutrition.” [p.43]

Yoga practice including asana and meditation helps one tune in to the wisdom of the body. This takes time and dedication, but it is possible to attune yourself to your health needs. When you slow down and listen to your body, appetite and cravings mellow to the point where they do not dominate your life and you can make proper choices based on desire rather than denying yourself the pleasure of taste.

“If you observe no other guidelines, at least do not eat too fast or too often.” [Prakriti, Robert Svoboda, p.87] They say your stomach should be full with 1/2 food, 1/4 water, and 1/4 air. Slow down and TASTE your food.

Next up: The Depth of Great Taste.
Return to Fascianation: CTF V.

Fascianation: CTF V

Welcome to the fifth and final installment of the 10 Steps to Fascial Fitness. Special thanks to Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains.

7. Gentle Perseverance A: You can go far when you go consciously.

This is perfect for yoga practitioners. Work and family commitments often cause one to rush without thinking from one activity to the next. A week, a month, a year, moves rapidly by when one is continually over-scheduled. If you move quickly and without thinking in yoga, you may find some benefit, but when you slow things down in order to really get to know the sensation within a posture, that is when your connective tissue becomes your friend, and your yoga experience truly blossoms.

Think of Virabhadrasana II for example. When you take the outer form of the pose, it helps to build strength in your ankles, feet, legs, and hips, while you experience a greater sense of lift and lengthening in the spine and openness of the upper body in general. If you linger in the pose, yes, your muscles will feel more intensity, but your awareness will sink deeper. You notice a certain grounding stability through the lower body that leads to a sense of spaciousness around your heart. It is a warrior pose, the yogi is battling lethargy or fatigue (among other things perhaps), in order to access her own birthright — consciousness and freedom and happiness. Linger further and the breath opens up in a way that allows you to reap the benefits of clarity in the pranic channels called nadi. This is much more fun when felt — it’s the hit you get when you reach the sweet spot in a pose. (akin to Runner’s high, perhaps?)

Photo by Erik Dunham
Photo by Erik Dunham
Especially in more challenging postures like eka pada rajakapotasana, slowing your movements down to be fully aware in each moment will help tremendously in allowing you to deepen your experience.

A note about coming out of a pose: most injury in yoga occurs when releasing a posture. This is often because the yogi figures the work is done, I can let go without thinking. But the moment you let go of conscious movement is the moment you become most vulnerable. A posture is not complete until you safely dismount, to use a gymnastics term. As one of my teachers used to say, it is not about how far you go… it is about how you go far.

8. Gentle perseverance B: Think long-term progress. The tortoise wins the race.

In very real physical terms, muscles can reshape in a matter of weeks. It takes six to 24 months for fascia to reshape. Patience and perseverance will be helpful, and necessary.

Our culture has trained us to want things right now, when we want them. If something is wrong, you can usually buy something to make it better — or better yet, take a pill for what ails you. But these are short-term fixes that often only treat symptoms and not the cause. It takes patience and perseverance to address an issue at its core. And, if you don’t treat the underlying cause of the issue, whether physical or psychological, it will keep recurring until you do. You can count on that.

In considering long term progress, the first step to me is to recognize that you are already perfect just the way you are. You are how you are because of all of the things that have happened to lead you to this point. Perfect. Nobody else is exactly like you. The yogis have a term for that, purna, which means fullness and it also means perfection. This to me means that if you are experiencing life to the fullest, if you are doing your best, then everything is already perfect. Your job then becomes to reveal more and more of your self. Just do your best. What a concept, huh?

There is no need to rush. The hare ran and ran and got tired and burnt out. Set an intention to live fully as you are and simply allow things to unfold. Do your yoga practice and “all is coming.” Thank you Shri K. Pattabhi Jois.

And finally,
10. Move it or lose it. Be active and eat a good diet.

The human body is a marvelous machine. It is a conduit for vital energy. If we continuously sit still, joints get creaky and stiff, you know how it is. Your body is meant to move. Walking, dancing, riding a bike, playing sports, practicing yoga… whatever it may be for you, movement lubricates the joints and the connective tissue. Your heart pumps blood throughout your body so cells and tissues can be nourished, but what moves the water through the fascia? Movement. What allows lymph to circulate to improve your immunity? Movement. What keeps muscles supple and strong? Movement. What feels good when we do it? Movement.

Are you sensing a theme here?

Eating a good diet is a more complicated matter. There are many theories on how to eat. Ayurveda has lots of good suggestions for the proper diet for your dosha, or body constitution. I think that will be the next blog post. For now, let’s stick with plenty of fresh, preferably local, fruits and vegetables, rice and other whole grains, and legumes. Take less dairy, and even less still of meat and processed foods.

See you on the mat!

Next Up: Balanced Diet = Balanced Tastes.
Return to: Fascianation: CTF IV.

Fascianation: CTF IV

Snelson Tensegrity sculpture7. You are unique. Respect your body.

In many ways we humans are the same, but in many ways we humans are completely individual. The one-size-fits-all prescription for health and wellness is just not possible. You are fully in control of your own self, and more than that, your body has an innate wisdom that you would do well to listen to. I often witness how people, my students, my family, myself included, unconsciously act as if we have no control over our actions. A shift in perspective is sorely needed.

Expansive consciousness is the source of being. There is an underlying pattern in all things and we are all subject to that rhythm, that pulsation. Animals and plants in nature have no choice but to follow this underlying structure. But lucky us, we humans have the ability to choose whether we want to align with nature or whether we want to completely and rebelliously strike out on our own.

I like to think balance is the key, asserting your own freedom, but knowing why you make that choice. Maintaining that balance is a big part of yoga practice, the more you practice, the more you understand yourself — who you are and why you do what you do. Choices are no longer unconscious.

So, regarding fascia, Tom Myers explains physiological differences based on the “Viking” or the “temple dancer” models. A Viking comes from a northern climate, is relatively strong, with thicker skin and a hearty, tougher constitution. A temple dancer hails from a southern warmer climate and is more lithe and flexible. In this scenario, very broadly speaking, Vikings would do exercise that helps them become more limber and temple dancers would do exercise to help them become stronger.

Ayurveda is more specific in its description of different body types. There are three main categories, called dosha, in which human bodies can be described. These dosha develop out of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, and space. I will list them here:

Vata Dosha
Consisting of air and space elements, a Vata person has a relatively slender build, loses weight easily and has trouble gaining weight. Her energy level is variable and comes in short bursts, her appetite is unpredictable and her skin tends toward dryness and is darker in tone. She is a light sleeper and often has difficulty falling asleep, and she prefers weather that is warm and moist as opposed to cool and dry.

Pitta Dosha
Consisting of fire and water elements, a Pitta person has a medium build and can gain or lose weight relatively easily. Her energy and activity level is high, her appetite is strong and she eliminates well. Her skin tends toward oily and is ruddy in tone. Her sleep varies and she tends to prefer cooler weather; hot weather can cause her irritability.

Kapha Dosha
Consisting of earth and water elements, a Kapha person has a full build and has trouble losing weight. Her energy level may be slow to get going but she has plenty of long-term stamina. Digestion might be weak and she might often feel heavy after meals. Her skin is paler and will be smooth and more oily. She generally has deep, sound sleep, and she prefers hot weather over cold or damp.

Most of us are some combination of the three dosha. If you did not take the constitution quiz with the last post, you may find it here.

What does this mean for fascial fitness? If you listen to your own body, you will notice on certain days you have more or less energy, appetite, and so on. Let your exercise be guided by this awareness.

If Vata is dominant, you would want your yoga to balance those qualities, slower movements and longer holds of postures, things that build heat in the body. Practice poses that have a more grounding quality, like forward bends, hip openers and twists.

For Pitta, your yoga practice can include poses with more cooling and calming effect. Side bending and rhythmic flows will be helpful. Slow, deep breathing during postures held for a medium amount of time will encourage the calming effects of practice.

And for Kapha, let your practice be more energizing. Sun salutations and other poses that will get you moving with shorter holds are ideal. Backward bending poses can help move the water element and break up the stagnancy the earth element can cause.

Again, most of us are some combination of these body types. Generally speaking, getting up with the sunrise to meditate and exercise for at least 20 minutes – doing yoga or even walking – to get your circulation going will work wonders for the fascia. One of my yoga teachers once said, “After lunch rest a while, after dinner walk a mile.”

Balance is key in all things. Practice listening to your intuition. Do not work too hard and take time each day to be thankful for your own unique and wonder-filled gifts.

Next up: Fascianation: CTF V.
Go back to Fascianation: CTF III.

Fascianation: CTF III – Drink More Water

Photo by Erik Dunham

6. Hydrate.  Hydrate.  Hydrate.

This is an important suggestion from Tom Myers regarding Connective Tissue Fitness.  Your body mass is about 70% water, about the same percentage as the Earth’s surface.  We can live without food for a month or more, but without water, we may perish within only a few days.  Fascia is known as “organized water,” so staying hydrated is key to maintaining good health.

Ayurveda offers some suggestions on how to remain well hydrated.  Most people should drink between 5-7 cups of water each day.  You figure a cup is 8 ounces, so that is 40-56 ounces per day.  The exact amount will be different based upon your constitution, your dosha, lifestyle and physical activity, your job, and the weather.  A vata person may require 6-8 cups per day, pitta is more in the middle with 5-7, and a kapha person more like 4-5 cups per day.

Use plain water at warm or room temperature, and in fact, the hotter the better.  Drinking one to two mugs of hot water in the morning before eating breakfast will help stimulate your digestive system so that it is ready to take on food and you may eliminate well.  Hot water specifically will help build agni, the digestive fire, and remove ama, toxic sludge that can build up in the body when we do not digest properly.  Ice water or anything colder than body temperature can be a shock to the system and your body will resist digesting and absorbing it and anything else you eat while drinking the ice water.

Coffee, tea, and soft drinks do not have the same effect as water.  Coffee and tea are both diuretics, so you may end up less hydrated after drinking them.  Green tea is high in anti-oxidants so it can be helpful to your health, just drink in moderation and make sure you continue to get enough plain water as well.  Don’t even get me started on soft drinks.  Sodas contain phosphoric acid that can leach calcium from your body, and diet soft drinks are just as bad.  Fruit juice, on the other hand, in moderation can be quite refreshing.

Can you drink too much water?  Yes.  Sometimes you will hear it is good to drink more water to flush out the kidneys, but when the kidneys are already fatigued, excess water will be like drowning so it becomes even harder for them to do their job.  That water that is not absorbed will be retained in connective tissue and lead to excess weight.  If you drink too much and “drown” the kidneys, it can cause a loss of sodium and potassium and then you are more prone to muscle cramps and gas in the colon.  These conditions are due to water toxicity which will affect cell metabolism and in extreme cases can be fatal.  (Dr. Vasant Lad, Textbook of Ayurveda, Fundamental Principles, p. 141)

Photo by Erik Dunham

So how do you improve water absorption and therefore good hydration in the body?  Stick with the average 5-7 cups of fresh water per day.  If you eat raisins or other dried fruits for breakfast, soak them in water overnight before eating them.  This goes for almonds too.  Almonds are less acidic than other nuts and they are high in protein, vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium.  Soaking them overnight does double-duty because you are basically sprouting the almonds and therefore activating enzymes that will assist your absorption of nutrients in addition to absorption of extra water.  Soak your rice overnight before cooking that as well.

Soups and stews are a great way to add more water to your diet, and because the water is inherent in the food, your body is more likely to absorb it.  One pot meals such as soups and stews are also beneficial in that they are generally easier to digest so your G-I tract is not over-taxed.

One last thing when drinking your 1-2 mugs of hot water in the morning:  experiment with herbs and spices.  If you are feeling acidic, squeeze a little lemon juice in to your water to calm your stomach.  If you have had a poor appetite lately or if you feel congested, infuse a few slices of fresh ginger root in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, and then drink.  If you are feeling weaker or fatigued, add a little honey to your ginger tea.  Cardamom, cumin, and fennel seeds together in equal proportion infused in boiling water, again 10-15 minutes, has a similar beneficial effect on your digestion as the ginger.  Strain the seeds out before you drink and add some natural sweetener like honey, maple syrup, or agave, if necessary.  Cinnamon is an all-around beneficial spice, it is warming and can break up congestion as well as bring mental clarity.  For more suggestions on spices, Eat, Taste, Heal by Yarema, Rhoda, and Brannigan, is a great text with an overview of Ayurveda as well as recipes for your dosha.

So, these are some things to think about regarding proper hydration for your body.  Your fascia will reward you with greater flexibility, elasticity, and tone.

 

Next up: Fascianation: CTF IV.
Return to Fascianation: CTF II.

Fasciation: CTF II

Ready for more?  Here’s a great video about fascia.  Warning: this is not for the squeamish.  And the music is a nice touch.

So let’s look at more suggestions for fascial fitness, big thank you to Tom Myers.

3. Cultivate elasticity by smooth rhythmic movements.  Walking is awesome.

Elasticity is related to flexibility.  If the fascia is elastic, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments will stretch and bounce back rather than pull and stay pulled.  Bonus healthy points!

Let’s talk about smooth rhythmic movements.  When you feel stiff, for example upon waking in the morning, a hot shower is often helpful, but getting moving encourages greater circulation as well.  Your body is built to move, and walking is great exercise for your body.  It is a simple movement that has very positive effects.  Dr. Claudia Welch, author of Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, encourages a walk in the early morning to improve overall health.  She states, “It has been demonstrated that by the end of a sixteen-week period, depressed patients who took a brisk thirty-minute walk or jog three times a week experienced as much relief as patients treated with standard antidepressant meditations.” (p. 221, Balance Your Hormones…)  Plus, walking is kind to your joints.

If you run, barefoot running stimulates the feet and therefore the rest of your body, based on the way the lines of fascia travel from your feet all the way up to your tongue and even the top of your head.  Jumping rope is another good activity as is bouncing on a trampoline.

4. Train with preparatory counter movements.  For example, bend backward to then go forward.

So this is during training, during exercise.  Hmm, well, yoga comes to mind.  Think of cat-cow tilts.  Surya namaskar, sun salutations, are all about bending backward to then go forward.  Mr. Iyengar in Light On Yoga suggests this in several places, parsvottanasana being one.  In a side forward bend you first create a standing backbend to lengthen the spine, then you fold forward from the hips to maintain inner spaciousness.

Sarvaungasana, shoulderstand, and Matsyasana, fish pose are excellent counter movements to balance each other.  The recommendation is to hold sarvaungasana for twice as long, two minutes for example, to matsyasana’s one minute.  This has the added bonus of strengthening and balancing thyroid function.

Purvottasana and paschimottanasana is another good combination.  These do not have to be repeated a lot.  Three repetitions for each pose will do, holding for at least 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes.

And our final suggestion for the day:

5. Expand your body towards full kinesthetic sensory experience.  Dance!

There’s a term called “kinesthetic literacy.”  How well can you feel yourself?  Like your physical body, when you close your eyes and become sensitive to your body, are there areas of your consciousness’ container that you cannot feel?  For example numbness, but also a place (or places) where you intuitively feel there is less awareness?  This takes a bit of practice.  When you close your eyes and sensitize yourself inwardly, do you feel any dark places, gripping or holding where vital energy seems to get stuck?  The more you move, the less likely it is for you to have blockages in the flow of vital energy.

Knowing where your body is in space is another way of looking at it.  If you are standing in tadasana, mountain pose, and your teachers says take your hips back in space so that they are over your heels, do you know what that feels like?  Do you know what internal shifts take place when that happens?  Can you feel a steady anchoring through your legs and feet when that happens?  Massage in general is helpful for this as well, massaging your own feet is a wonderful practice.  First of all it just feels good, but secondly, you increase your kinesthetic awareness.  As one of my teachers likes to say, “touch to wake up.”

I repeat, how well can you feel yourself?  Neuroscientists believe that fascia is the structure that carries consciousness.  Totally amazing.

Okay, next time we will discuss hydration.

 

Next up: Fascianation: CTF III Drink More Water.

Go back to Fascianation: Connective Tissue Fitness.

Fascianation: Connective Tissue Fitness

It has been a long time since I last posted about fascia, but that does not mean that I am any less interested or excited about it.  In preparing for my upcoming six-week-special at Willow Street Yoga Center, the Fascia Sutras, I’ve had a chance to delve more deeply into the topic and am planning to document the good stuff here.

A brief review on fascia:  it is the connective tissue in the body.  It is what gives your body structure.  Without fascia, you would collapse like a bag of individual bones piled on the floor.  Fascia weaves through the muscles as well as surrounds the muscles and it is what is between your muscles and your skin.  Muscles do not “attach” to bones, yes there are tendons and ligaments that help support the structure, but it is more correct (at least due to current research) to think of it as the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones gliding fluidly along each others’ surfaces.  Fascia is considered “organized water,” in that water is a large component of the connective tissue and the connective tissue organizes in both vertical lines and horizontal bands.  Hence the name Fascia Sutras, because a sutra is a line or a thread.  Instead of thinking of your body as consisting of 600 different muscles, think of your body as one muscle with 600 pockets.  Phew.  That was a lot.

Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains and Fascial Fitness Practitioner Extraordinaire, offers 10 suggestions for fascial fitness on his webinar on Yoga U.  We’ll discuss a couple today…

1. Focus on strengthening and stretching the long neuro-myo-fascial sutras rather than simply isolating muscle groups.  Hooray for yoga!

It is called neuro-myo-fascia because there are many nerve endings in the fascia that surround the muscles, therefore, mind and body are connected within the connective tissue.  Body builders way back in the 70s, and even today, isolate particular muscle groups to build them up and make them prominent.  But as the muscles bulge like that, they lose their flexibility.  A body-builder becomes muscle-bound.  Think of when you feel tight in a particular muscle, first of all it is most likely the fascia that is actually tight, and secondly, we all know it is not comfortable.

Hooray for yoga because instead of repetitive motion in a particular area, yogis practice a wide variety of motions to lengthen muscles as they build strength.  Think of Virabhadrasana I, from the back leg all the way up to your upraised hands, that is a long line of motion.  There is plenty of room to open up space in the connective tissue to allow vital energy in the form of prana, nutrients from food, and lymph to flow.  Parighasana is another good one.  Flexible muscles are naturally strong.

To be clear, it is not that lifting weights is bad, it is just better if exercise that isolates muscle groups is balanced with stretching as well.

2. Engage your muscles before stretching them, and then stretch them in multiple directions.

Before exercise, warm up the muscles with fluid movements of short duration; the body is built to move, and short, deliberate, graceful actions will increase circulation to warm the connective tissue as much as the muscles themselves.  Then engage your muscles, create muscular energy if you will, in order to stretch them in a healthy way.

If you only attempt to stretch the muscles without creating some stability first, then it is more likely that muscle and connective tissue will pull away from the bones.  Create resistance first, and then you may go deeper within a stretch or yoga pose.  Now, I am not an expert, but I do have personal experience on this.  There was a reason Anusara Yoga taught Muscular Energy before Organic Energy (extending outward through the bones in brief), it is an effective and healthy way to practice.

 So, engage your muscles first, and then make sure you move in multiple directions.  We are going for maximum sensation here.  If you practice a yoga posture and notice a muscle you never knew you had before, congratulations!  More body awareness points for you!  Having a kinesthetic sense of your own body is wonderful.  Mainly it just feels good to infuse vital energy to a place that may have been dull or blocked, but in addition your stability, coordination, and balance will improve.  This feeling in the body is totally empowering.  Awesome.
Stay tuned… we’ve got eight more suggestions to go.
Move forward to Fascianation: CTF II.
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