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.

I Feel Crappy

There, I said it.  Out loud.  This whole week I’ve been battling a cold; first it was the sore throat, then the congestion in my head, then the body aches…  it has subsided but it is not over yet.

Fall is a beautiful season, we’ve been having wonderfully clear days and getting some much needed rain, but fall can also aggravate dryness (despite the rain) and anxiety and because of the massive fluctuations in temperature, we become much more susceptible to germs.  It is a busy time of year — as one of my teachers, Cate Stillman, said, just look at the squirrels! — and looking at my own schedule for teaching, attending class, and social obligations, I am no exception.  In the last week, all of these things conspired against me and nature abruptly said YOU NEED TO REST.

Last weekend I did not do the things I planned to do and stayed home to be quiet.  That helped because my sore throat went away and the congestion became more bearable.  But as I continued with my regular teaching schedule this week, my brain continued to be over-busy and discontent.  It occurred to me that my cold was as much mental as physical.  I went back and forth in my head about whether I should do a cleanse because I wasn’t really feeling into it this fall.  According to Ayurveda, fall is an ideal time to detox in order to let go of the excess heat that developed over the summer and to adjust on all levels, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, to the coming cold and damp of wintertime.

When I began cleansing in the fall a few years back, one of the first things I noticed was that winter became more bearable to me.  I love winter when it snows!  But when it does not snow (which is just as likely as not in the metro DC area) it is depressing.  With a fall detox as part of my annual routine, I almost kind-of sort-of look forward to the longer nights and colder days as a way of nesting and hibernating.  Spring does become that much more sweet.

Meanwhile, busy mind still here.  To cleanse or not to cleanse?  That is the question.  I had lots of ambivalence as the week and my cold persisted.  Dr. Claudia Welch, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practitioner and author of Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, says when your life gets more complicated, simplify your diet.  So finally on Thursday, it was almost out of the blue.  A lightning bolt of revelation — I know how much better I feel when the detox is done.  Somehow the mental chatter (which has been yelling at me lately) calms a bit, physically my digestion is easier and more efficient, emotionally I have a little more compassion for those around me and especially for those who regularly go without food.

It is decided.  Five days of juicing.  I’m beginning day three today.  Slowing down to taste the juice, I make myself sit and offer a mantra of thanksgiving – Brahmar panam, Brahma havir, Brahma agnau, Brahma nahutam, Brahma eva tena gantavyam, Brahma karma samadhina – The act of offering, the oblation itself is pure Consciousness, within Consciousness it is offered to the fire of Consciousness, and those who act in harmony with Consciousness merge with blissful peace.


My current favorite recipe for juice:

4-5 stems of kale

1 medium apple

1/2 cucumber

1 inch of ginger root

Juice it up and drink it down.


Next up: Sadhana

Go back to Ayurvedic Comfort Food


Ayurvedic Comfort Food

When I woke up this morning, the crisp fall air reminded me of how much I love crisp fall apples.  They are back in season and some of the best come from Rebert Farm at the Cheverly Community Market.  (Sure, shameless plug, I know.)  So, in the spirit of the season, I want to share my favorite fall breakfast.  It is warming, grounding, and rejuvenating and helps to combat the dryness of the season, plus it makes for happy digestion.

Apples and Oatmeal

The night before: soak a small handful of raisins and 10-12 almonds.

Other ingredients:

  • 1-2 apples
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • ¼ cup whole rolled oats

Wash, core, and slice the apple(s).  Heat the apples in a small saucepan with the water, cinnamon, and ginger. When water comes to a boil, add raisins and oatmeal. Boil covered for five minutes or until the water is absorbed. Meanwhile, peel skins off the almonds.

When apples and oatmeal are done cooking, transfer to a bowl and add almonds.  You may use raw honey or agave to sweeten it, though it is already pretty sweet; and if you like, add some soy or almond milk to taste.  This recipe serves one.



Return to Full Circle in Floyd

Next up: I Feel Crappy

Hot, Clear Water

Photo by Erik Dunham

Let’s discuss hydration.  Dare I state the obvious and say that water is an important ingredient for life.  One of the things Curiosity is looking for on Mars is some sign of water, no doubt.

Health in Ayurveda is called svastha.  Sva means self and stha means to be established.  To be established in the self implies an engagement with body, mind, and heart.  It is a certain knowing of what you need and don’t need as far as food, drink, environment, and lifestyle and a certain balance among those things.  It is not static.  Health is a dynamic flow of all the parts of your own being in a balanced way.  When things get too dry inside physically, things get stuck.

In my last post I mentioned drinking two mugs of water upon waking, the hotter the better.  If you are feeling especially acidic, squeeze some lemon in there too.  This serves a couple of purposes.  But before we get there, let’s look at a particular feedback loop within our bodies.  Agni and Ama.  Agni means fire, illumination, even intelligence, and in Ayurvedic terms it represents the fire of digestion and transformation.  When we take in food, agni converts that food into nutrients and things that your body can use to nourish itself.  Ama is the toxic sludge that accumulates when food is not properly digested.  When ama builds up it can cause a whole host of issues, not only obesity but also fatigue, constipation, indigestion, bad breath and even mental confusion to name a few.  So, we take in food, agni helps digest that food, and what does not get digested or eliminated becomes ama in the body.  The stronger your agni, the less influence ama has on you.  If there is too little or too much water in your system, agni will not function well.

Most of us in the first world have an excess of ama in our systems.  It accumulates when we eat too much of the wrong kinds of foods.  Foods that are highly processed or extremely dense are difficult to digest.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, other grains like quinoa and millet, and legumes are really the best choices.  Meat and dairy products are highly dense, so they should be consumed in smaller portions.  And even with healthy food choices, proper amounts are important too.

Now back to water.  Hot water with a squeeze of lemon in the morning serves two helpful purposes:  it hydrates your body and it prepares your digestive system to do its job that day.  Cold water stifles agni, and other morning beverages like coffee or tea do not have the same effect as water.  The caffeine content is a diuretic, so they can actually dehydrate your body more.  But I have to say, if you choose to drink tea, please enjoy Andrews and Dunham Damn Fine Tea.  (shameless hubby-promotion here, it’s true)  And please, soft drinks are even worse.  Have you seen this graphic making its way around the internets?  Yikes.

Hot water with lemon helps draw ama and toxins out of your body and through your digestive tract to be eliminated.  When there is less ama in your system, your internal channels are more clear.  You will be less prone to fatigue and colds and generally you will just feel better.  Your muscles will even be less likely to cramp.

To improve your health and become “established in your self,” it doesn’t take a massive overhaul of your life.  Take baby-steps.  Drinking hot lemon water in the morning is an easy thing to add to your daily routine and the benefits are almost immediate.


Next up: Full Circle in Floyd.

Go back to Yoga As Therapy: Fascia.



Yogi Detox: Day 10

Well, it’s been 10 days with only juices.  The first eight was completely lemon juice, water, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper.  On day 9 I eased into fresh squeezed orange juice and Day 10 was juice plus pureed soup.  I was not sure I would make it.  It is definitely a sense of accomplishment to set an intention and then stick to it.

Photo by Erik Dunham

I was worried I would not have enough energy to take care of the things I needed to take care of, but what happened was the things that didn’t matter, I just didn’t do.  Discrimination between what is important and what is not so, viveka, is a great friend.

I was worried I would be starving.  But the morning salt water flush each day took care of any hunger pangs, I really just didn’t have an appetite.  Plus, leading up to this point in my life where I really wanted to do a deep cleanse had led me to a point of being bored with food, I am trying desperately to enjoy cooking more.  It is such a nourishing thing to do, to make your own food.  Sometimes I like it, but most of the time I feel like I don’t have time.  So, during the cleanse when I did not have to prepare food, time was a luxury that I completely relished.

I was worried that my family (read: hubs) would not appreciate my efforts at self discipline and those efforts would be thwarted with teasing about food and trying to get me to eat.  Instead, we ended up spending time together in a different way, talking more, being sad together at the recent unexpected death of one of our two cats, reading together on the couch, spending time together at our Community Garden plot weeding.  It was nice.

So what I discovered is that setting an intention, sankalpa, is a powerful thing.  Put your mind to a task and what is to hold you back?  Fear? Doubts?  Lack of confidence?  I did not and still do not have enough energy to entertain those things.

I discovered that my other senses have a heightened awareness.  I love abhyanga, self massage with oil.  My skin loves abhyanga.  I’ve been bringing fresh flowers from the yard into the house.  The color and fragrance are real nourishment.  Taking a walk in the fresh air is something to be savored.

I discovered that I am truly thankful for each bit of food that nourishes my body, thankful for the farmers who grew the food, thankful for the planet that sustains the food.  Thankful.

And another thing that is fun to ponder:  I feel a greater sense of connection to my fellow humans.  It’s as though the normal barriers I would hold around me on the mental/emotional level have dissolved to some degree.  Again, the normal anxieties like anger on the beltway or awkwardness in a social situation I just don’t have the energy for, so as I am closer to my source internally, I want to make connections with others beyond the surface level.  What are you feeling today?  How do you want to make light and love in this world?

Setting an intention is a powerful thing.


Next: Beyond the Garden Wall

Go back to Yogi Detox: Day 4

Yogi Detox: Day 4

Photo by Erik Dunham

I’ve been cleansing for almost as long as I’ve been meditating, and it has taken different forms… fasting for one day every two weeks based on the cycles of the moon is how it first began.  I was told that was a great way to improve the quality of my meditation, and it seemed to work for me.

Until I moved to DC.  Then my job and my life became more complex and stressful and fasting went out the window.  Thank goodness meditation practice did not, however.

Now I’m a yoga teacher and am immersed daily in practices for health and well-being and my cleansing follows the seasons… in the spring and in the fall and generally in early January after the holidays.  Cate Stillman and her Ayurvedic knowledge has been a great help.  So this spring, considering all of my cleansing experience, I decided to take the plunge and do the (drumroll please) “Master Cleanse.”  Heard of this?  Fresh squeezed lemon juice added to water with some maple syrup for sweetener and cayenne pepper.  Anything else?  Nope.  The combination of lemon juice, syrup, and cayenne helps to access and release toxins that may have settled deep into the body’s tissues and it clears out all kinds of congestion too.  It may sound like an icky combination, but I actually like it.  I’ve always been a fan of lemonade, and this is pretty tasty.  The cayenne doesn’t hit you until after you drink.  Really.

I won’t go into the details of my gastrointestinal tract, but I’m closing out Day 4 and so far, so good.  I want to rest and keep things slower and quieter, but when I have to go do things, my energy is still there.  Pretty amazing.  My body feels clearer and perhaps a bit lighter.  Yoga asana practice is totally fun because I am much more stretchy and bendy, I’m guessing due to a lack of deep-seated congestion and even some release of inflammation.

Meditation practice is fun because I want to sit still and my sleep is so deep I am not remembering my dreams even.  This is a bonus considering this year so far has been a challenging one to say the least.

The lack of real food you can chew makes me think about where nourishment actually comes from.  Of course we need food to survive and the cleanse is only temporary, but it does have the cool effect of helping me realize all of the other things in life that can offer real nourishment.  The sun shining on my skin, a walk in nature (if you are ever in Myrtle Beach, I recommend Brookgreen Gardens), massage therapy, a hot bath, the smell of rosemary, a hug from someone you love.  There are lots of things to be thankful for, and lots of things to offer nourishment.  When we are so busy and moving so fast these things are difficult to recognize.

If I can figure out how to turn the comments back on, I’d love to hear from you and how you are doing this spring!


Next: Yogi Detox Day 10

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