RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How Do YOU Relax?

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Wisdom Shine / Chisho, 2011

Hanging out with Friends
Beer / Vodka / Bar-Pub
Deep breaths
Couch potato
Get Babysitter

[“What’s Your Best Relaxation Strategy,” from “On The Street,”
Juice / Des Moines Register, July 6,  2011]

“RELAXATION” is deemed to be important to most everyone, even for core health.  However, relaxation is popularly described as a process that is an exception to everyday life.  It is described as almost an opposite of most of the hours of our lives.

Dawn comes when the sun lifts over the horizon.  No doubt.  Not so, not for either birds who seem to know more and begin to chatter “in the dark,” or for scientific observation.  Birds begin to sing before it is “popularly” dawn.   There is astronomical dawn that occurs well before sunrise, when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon.  And there is nautical dawn when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon (when the horizon and some objects become invisible).  And there is civil dawn when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon—an hour before sunrise when objects begin to be clarified and the sky lightens.  There is even rooster dawn, still “twilight” (4.5 hours past midnight in the “3rd watch” of the early Roman calendar, consisting of sixteen pieces of 1.5 hours).  And then there is, finally, “sunrise.” [summarized in Diane Ackerman, Dawn Light, pp. 1-2]

So too, relaxation.  Not finally that easy.  “Couch potato,” gardening, hanging out with friends: yes and no.  Dawn seems obvious and so too relaxation.  But relaxation is far more deeper and, finally, easy rather than a difficult mental stretch.

Most of our consciousness is devoted to non-relaxation.  On the couch, we imagine what has happened and what we need to do rather than relax.  We eat, and/or we surf TV or play games to “chill.”  When we manage to “get away” or vacation, we are likely to carry tension from the fact that our “away” will not be long enough.  Even within yoga, even the “relaxation” offered by savasana may hold the tension of knowing that we are about to return to everyday life’s fast pace.  Further, an intensive program of asanas [poses] can mirror everyday life’s fast pace, then crash.  Even in yoga, while we may end feeling more balanced and relaxed, we are likely to have been chasing after some gain, such as flexibility or strength, or even relaxation itself.  In trying to be healthy or to relax, we may be focusing on that which we believe to be wrong rather than on what is not wrong.  And health may be something that we imagine to be absent or weak/limited, rather than something that is inherent and powerfully present, that we are chasing after in order to “survive.” 

How, really, do we relax?  What are our bodies saying to us with regard to relaxation? And beyond our bodies, what might the winds and rivers and hills be saying to us?   Is ias all inner?  In body-mind work, are we doing something to our bodies or are we listening to our bodies?

In relaxing, we enter.  We do not simply crash or recover.  We go softly deeper and we open.  We touch some place inside of us that is the same as every place inside of everyone else and every thing else.  We let loose of gender, race, age, occupation, social roles, and we are offered an opportunity to taste new aspects of ourselves—“rooms” in the mansion of ourselves that we have never really entered.  We do the same to events and experiences, opening meaningfulness in events that we heretofore missed.  In relaxing events and objects might open to entryways.  This loosening is not unlike the relaxing moment of loosening a necktie.  In calming, more than intentionally trying to relax, we begin to open.  Stupidly [in a good way], our breath begins to soften, which is really to say, to lengthen.  Without our thinking, our physiology begins to immediately change: new neurochemistry, lowering BP and HR, endocrine stimulation. 

Stimuli that were, heretofore, insignificant begin to flower.  We begin to simply enjoy little things that tend to go unnoticed.  Events that seem too simple when compared to our post-industrial, cybernetic technology, begin to be sensed as complex beyond our most advanced technology and beyond our capacity to begin to replicate.  Our experience begins to fill with a sense of meaningfulness rather than meaning.  The fall of a leaf or rain might begin to reveal an eternal circle and, concretely, a simple kindness.  Perhaps we begin to taste just a little [or a lot] of Rachel Carson’s “sense of wonder” or of Thoreau’s sense of solitude as companionship and immersion rather than isolation.

We enter—softening routine, outspreading, and the miracles that we begin to find ourselves immersed in, as well as operant in the very fiber of our bodies, might offer us a profound sense of transformation.  And we might celebrate it from this day forward with tiny, obscure—lost deeply in the cosmos—physical twitches in our gut, accompanied by a daily, deep sense of gratitude for simply being alive.  Then, out breath, our heartbeats, our heart pulse felt in our lips and hands and event teeth—even, at times, a sense of our hands becoming a big as watermelons, while our mind, wildly awake, streams forward into the future.  This, then, is the penultimate of relaxation—immersion, inseparability, cosmic-deep support into which we fall like an arrow never finally striking a target.

We look at a leaf in summer, and we might put 2 and 2 together to imagine the way that this leaf is a sun-catcher.  Ninety-three million miles away, the leaf becomes a new sun on Earth.  And in August, the leaf opens a new gate:  Drought and the roll of the Earth toward winter in the Northern Hemisphere dehisces the veil of green to reveal astonishing bursts to color.  “Green” is revealed to be that which innumerable leaves have cast off, not the true colors of the leaf.    It is like sky-blue not really, finally being true.  Every night, black night truth presses in, but when sky blue returns, we embrace this bluing as reality. 

Relaxing, we have an opportunity to open gateways where before there appeared to be a wall.  That which we thought we saw—the green leaf, the blue sky, our body and your body as separate—offer us an entryway into more thane—with all of our sophistication—we can ever begin to imagine.  Relaxation offers us not only physiological health, but a deep way forward beyond our limitations. 

Restorative-yin yoga offers a gateway to authentic relaxation.  It is a state of being that can be felt to be qualitatively different.  Breath is different.  “Brain” is different. Eyelids are different.  Heartbeat can be felt, and with practice (or just on an amazing day) even in lips, even in teeth!  With practice, neuro-respiratory-vascular-endocrine events form a symphony of sorts, and thoughts, and subsequent verbal communication are likely to be remarkably different.  There might even be a neuro-linkeage between practitioners, with active areas of the brain being in some degree of synchronization.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Neurological Changes In Restorative-Yin Yoga Practice

From Tomio Hirai, Zen Meditation And Psychotherapy,
NY: Japan Publications, 1989, pp. 37-39 [markings, Kinseth]

THE QUIETNESS AND calmness of body-mind practices changes brain activity.  Above, EEG monitoring illustrates shifts in brain-wave patterns in intensive meditation.  These shifts require a change in brain chemistry—in neurotransmitters.  Clinical research demonstrates that meditation-based intervention may effectively reduce problematic symptoms, ongoing response to stress, and can accesses long-term memory or “storehouse consciousness” [Harai, p. 99], particularly with regard to repressed information in post-traumatic stress [e.g., search article by Peniston and Kulkosky on Vietnam veterans (1991)].  As a point of entry or meditation/biofeedback research, search E. E. Green or E. G. Peniston and P. J. Kulkosky or J. Kabit-Zinn or S. L. Farion and P. A. Norris or P. A. Norris or J. V. Basajian or L. Femhi and F. Selzer.

The stillness of restorative-yin practice induces changes in brain activity that interact in a “symphony” of integrated body physiology such as endocrine, respiratory, parasympathetic relaxation of heart rate and blood pressure, and muscle relaxation.  A very profound state, as expressed by the presence of theta brain-wave trains might be produced in intensive creativity, daydreaming, dreaming, but they remain largely the domain of intensive meditation or perhaps shamanic practices when sustained.  In restorative-yin practice, brain activity may not attain the sustained deep state of theta wave-train production that is does in meditation.  However, the attainment of theta production may occur in restorative practice by seasoned participants in extended restorative sessions that may occur in retreats.  The attainment of theta represents a quantum shift in states of consciousness. 

Within a restorative-yin practice session, de-stressing physiological changes are likely to occur, and this is remarkable and not to be discounted.  And when poses are held longer, there is the possibility for the left visual cortex to move to theta and produce hypnagogic imagery with more free association and less distortion [i.e., less subject to interpretation and checking].  This quality might facilitate access not only to early memory but also participant reports of a shift to a sense of “who you are” rather than a more culturally prescribed sense of “who you think you are.”  Still, in yoga, there has always been general agreement that the deepest states of consciousness are likely to be produced in meditation and possibly in savasana, but not in the various poses of yoga.  In fact, the variety of poses in yoga are often described as essential precursors—as preparation, training—for strong meditation that might eventually offer Samadhi.

As a body-mind practice, the stillness of restorative-yin yoga may surpass the quietness and calmness of practices such as tai chi and qigong.  By becoming still, restorative-yin yoga may provide a more profound sense of relaxation—producing deeper alpha states and, in some cases, theta states.  And like the impact of meditation training, regular practice of restorative-yin yoga will likely carry over into everyday life, producing a lower state of arousal or excitatory level or lessened reactivity to stress.  A person may still experience stress or even anger, but to a lesser degree.  In biofeedback/meditation training groups, beta-endorphin levels in normal waking states are lowered following perhaps ten training sessions, and lowering these beta-endorphin levels contribute to a decrease in electric activity [e.g., Peniston & Kulkowsky (1989). Alpha-theta brainwave training and beta-endorphin levels in alcoholics. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 13, 271-279]. 

Another way to look at possible neuro-effects of body-mind practice is the more recent use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) machines to visually illustrate the most active areas of the brain.  Specific actions and physical disorders may result in decreased and increased activity in various areas of the brain.  In mediation, the ability to attend to strong sensations without reacting strongly may show increased activity, for example, in a part of the right prefrontal cortex as well as the amygdala.

Going further, the “mind” of body-mind practices no longer exclusively reference the brain.  Physiologically, there are dimensions such as non-neurological “cell memory” as well as experiences that are categorized as “spirit” or “being” [as distinguished from “self” and “personality”] that may intuitively sense “mind” to be something that is not exclusively internal.  For example, describing a “neurobiology of we,” Daniel Siegel suggests that interpersonal behaviors influence neurobiology.  Physiologically, there may be a web of “mirror neurons” that fire in interpersonal communication.  Quite speculatively, on an MRI, deep care for another person might be measured in both persons as synchronized, mutual.  Ultimately, “mind” might eventually be likened to an ecological web in which our brain participates—metaphorically, like a computer in a network—as a component rather than autonomously, and with a degree of sophistication we have yet to imagine.

Overall, just in terms of concrete physiological changes, changes in brain activity that occur in restorative-yin yoga clearly contribute to the body’s process of significant de-stressing or restorative features.  Brain activity changes in restorative-yin practice.  And attention to brain activity occurring in body-mind practice describes our limits more than it delineates the perimeters of the effect of such practice.  Increasing Western scientific measures of brain activity suggests complex neurological processes that are still understood only vaguely.  But what is clear is a sense that regular restorative-yin yoga practice is not a practice of “doing next-to-nothing for those who cannot do ‘real’ yoga,” and that it may be, in fact, that which Eastern perspectives have suggested: an astonishing gateway to far more than we have allowed ourselves to imagine.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blankets In Restorative Practice

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Dharma Cloud / Popun, 2011

BLANKETS ARE USED for gentle support [along with blocks and bolsters and chairs and walls] to disengage muscular strength and intense flexibility.  There is no end to the number of blankets that might be used in restorative practice.  Blankets can be folded and placed under arms extended to the sides of the body for the soft sensory contact that blankets offer. 

In addition, and possibly not emphasized, blankets may be intentionally utilized for “swaddling/cradling/bundling/swathing” that may offer a sense of security and calmness. 

The use of a blanket to cover the body as well as the addition of several blankets reduces external stimulation.   This is not unlike the use of “weighted therapy blankets,” ranging from 10-25 pounds, utilized for a variety of sensory integration/processing disorders [i.e., autism and attention deficit disorders] to reduce sensory stimuli.

Blankets may also facilitate a sense of gentle containment that allows for listening to the body in the longer poses of restorative practice.  This is not unlike wrapping the body in spiritual quests that, from a Western perspective, aspire to decrease stimulation down to a few sensations and to focus attention to breath or emerging mental imagery that might offer insight.  A yuwipi ceremony is an example of an extremely eloquent Lakota/Sioux spiritual practice that involves wrapping the “yuwipi man” in a quilt, with additional bindings.

Beyond blankets, elastic headbands or scarves, eye pillows, sand bags, weighted balls placed in the upturned palms are other forms of desensitization and containment utilized in restorative yoga.  To enhance calmness rather than to increase stimuli, senses may either be restricted or engaged through music and sound and/or fragrance and/or visual focus.

In any body-mind practice, sitting wrapped in a blanket prior to the beginning of practice and/or at the close of practice vs. simply sitting prior to and following a practice session may easily and concretely illustrate the calming effect of a blanket.

Intuitive Yoga: What Yoga Pose Would You Invent?

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Wisdom Mirror / Chikan, 2011

The Zebra Lift, The Underdog, The Praying Mantis, The Crouching Tiger,
The Turtle Tuck, The Reverse Cowgirl, The Sideways Zebra,
The Stretching Kitty, The Weeping Willow, The Bunny Tuck,
The Croppy Flop…
[What Yoga Pose Would You Invent, from “On The Street,”
Juice, Des Moines Register, Wednesday, July 6, 2011]

INTUITIVE YOGA: There is no right or wrong.  Practice is ultimately change, freshness, unwalled—a fluid, open landscape.  Body-mind practices are open-ended formats rather than rigid, archaic systems.  Deep body-mind traditions offer a rich container of experience that can open an endless landscape of opportunities rather than be complete.  Deep traditions are perhaps more like cairns—piles of stones, solid landmarks—along the path of practice that falls into the future.

Like any body-mind practice, yoga evolves over time.  Chinese martial practices attributed to Bodhidharma in mid-500s A.D. have gone from a handful of techniques to uncountable, myriad techniques.  In aikido, the founder, Morehei Ueshiba has said, “the techniques of aikido are endless.”   Similarly, yoga has expanded into many styles, and as yoga has become a global practice, it has been colored by diverse cultural practices.  Further, each individual brings a unique set of body conditions and life experience to practice, and yoga is enriched by this diversity.

When it comes to manipulating the body, it must be recognized that the body is complex beyond our understanding.  All anatomy books fail to capture its physical morphology, not to mention aspects such as meridians and charkas that are described in Eastern theories.  The body’s unthinking design-wisdom is billions of tested years in the making.  The body knows what to do to optimize health.  For all of our gains, contemporary science opens our ignorance, with well over ninety percent of the universe remaining unknown, and subject to completely changing reversals of that which we think we have tested as reality.  As a result, intuitive practice becomes important to access the unthinking wisdom of the body.

Intuition: “to look inside,”  “to contemplate.”  Intuition has played a significant role-serendipity—in major scientific breakthroughs: Newton’s apple, Archimedes’s measurement of volume, Einstein’s space-time, and molecular structures such as benzene and DNA.  Rather than “coming out of nowhere” or being essentially something previously untaught, the intense focus on resolving problems, with pervious experiences and increasing information, were critical in opening a new rational door.  Similarly, a rich history of body-mind practice offers experience and increasing information that might be able to lead to new dimensions of practice.

A caveat: Intuition requires some self-checking—a strong sense of keeping open rather than answering and “righteousness.”  Positively, intuition experiences often have a rich aesthetic quality and may evoke rich emotions.  However, bursts of elation and strong answers might be distractions. While “healthy” in the way that it breaks through normal expectations, intuition provokes imagery and information that is subjective vs. objective, and that cannot necessarily be justified.  In intuition, the inherent wisdom arrives in implicit rather than explicit forms—apples, bathing, a dream of a snake.  And while personal directions may be offered, they are likely to be metaphorical and somewhat cloud-hidden, taking time to come to increasing clarity.

Each practice session is a step into the future, fresh, unpredictable, rather than a recreation of historical, set, stone-solid wisdom.  Sometimes a “mistake” is more effective than the traditional response.  A primary objective of body-mind practice is to listen.  Body-mind practices literally focus on body and mind far more than everyday activity does.  Sequences of rest/release/cooling, flow/motion and tension/heat will offer shifts that are “listening points” where metaphors may suddenly come to awareness that are saying things to us about the needs of the body as well as offering directives for our lives.  Sometimes the “answers” may come as questions.

In the immanent moments of practice, what is it that the body needs?  In ongoing practice and extending into everyday life, what is it that might be offered?  Intuitively, emerging questions offer authentic answers of sorts in the uncertain context of the vast universe.  Questions may become opening gateways.

Restorative yoga and yin yoga—stressing calmness and extended time in poses--offer fertile ground for intuitive practice.  This is because they offer a rich opportunity to do one thing well—to listen to the body [sensations and unsolicited “messages” of recall and fresh mental images that might offer insights into immediate physical needs to be addressed in the next posture as well as in all other aspects of life], thus, optimizing “intuition.”  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Overflowing Fullness / Abundance Of The Heart

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Mind Flower / Jitsuzan, 2011

Tiny hermit florets of Spring have gone to 
Summer’s throngs of florets composing each flower head
Looking like the sun itself.

AUGUST in the North American mid-continent: composites, butterflies, overflowing biomass presses the growing abundance against us, even in mosquito-form, and in air swarming with tiny flyers that spark in backlight like flowing stars.

This overflowing abundance of nature may provoke attention to “abundance” in our own lives.  Abundance is not just landscape around us, so that landscape is either overflowing abundance or scarcity.  There is a sense of abundance that is within each of us that may be only poorly accessed.

We tend to operate from a “scarcity mentality” when we might be operating from an “abundance mentality”—a belief in enough to share.  In the decade of the 1970s, a communication theory termed Transactional Analysis would describe a common perception that there was not enough kindness to go around.  With this perception, a person felt the need to restrict giving out too many “warm fuzzies” to others [compliments, acknowledgements, support] in order to maintain one’s limited energy.  However, “TA” stressed that abundance was inherent in each of us so that “warm fuzzies” might be doled out endlessly, and actually amplify our energy. 

Specifically in fitness and wellness, a scarcity mentality can prevail.  Survival can be a “scarcity strategy” in which we do not really grow, but rather aspire to compensate as best can due to limits.  Thriving is an abundance strategy that aspires to optimize.  While a person’s life has many challenges, life can be an upward spiral of growth, change, and improvement.  Problems offered opportunities, and the learning that results from challenges is an expression of the presence of abundance.

It has been said that our problem is not that we have limits, but that we believe that we have limits.  In A Return To Love [Harper Collins, 1992], Marianne Williamson writes.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us….

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates us. [Excerpt]

It is not that we can do anything we want right now.  In yoga, we face limits in flexibility and strength.  But in the face of limits, we are offered capabilities.  And in life, we may lose our connection with our capabilities.  When we find our capabilities, we act from a posture of abundance rather than scarcity.

In gentle body-mind practices such as restorative yoga, we have an opportunity to listen more closely to ourselves and to others.  Spending time there can be quite different from our everyday life.  We may open pathways and inherent strengths where there had seemed to be an impasse or a wall.  We may touch upon a light within, a mind flower, a flower of overflowing abundance.

In restorative yoga, in August and in any season, we settle into no less than overflowing abundance.  Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, we may dehisce, opening our capabilities—our overflowing abundance—and transform.

Popular Yoga Largely Blind To The Value Of Restorative Practice


THE FOLLOWING QUOTE may represent a common, yet facile [too easy] view of restorative yoga among practitioners: 
Restorative hatha is a somewhat passive form of asana practice.  This method is generally geared toward people with low energy or ability.  It is appropriate for those rehabilitating from illness or injury.  It is quite relaxing and therefore good form even fit people to practice to learn how to relieve stress. [11]
            Kathy Lee Kappmeier and Diane M. Ambrosini, Instructing Hatha Yoga,
            Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006

In modern yoga certification training, restorative yoga (if noted at all, and typically not taught) references either a form of compensation—a “doing less” for persons with physical limitations [rather than as optimization] or generalized stress relief.

A popular image of a yogic adept is associated with extreme flexibility and strength and breath restriction.  And yet, these aspects may be equaled and even surpassed by contortionists and acrobats and magicians who have no exposure to yoga.   In modern life, there are now international asana flow “competitions.” 

Such perceptions can reflect a modern emphasis upon yoga as a fitness of biomechanics, with training concentrated on this remarkable facet.  The yoga that people come seeking is typically a practice that is active—a form of exercise that is appealing that fits the limited time available for fitness.  But there is also a rather effusive quality in all yoga practice that draws people to practice.  Sensed in the final pose—savasana, this quality might be more strongly present in the quietness and calmness of restorative practice.  However,  “doing less” physically becomes secondary when a person seems to have limited time available.  But such views and time limits miss profound “high” practice elements inherent in restorative practice. 

First, for those interested primarily in uber-fitness, restorative practice offers deep, physiological relaxation training as critical for high performance training.  This deep relaxation training may be more obscured in yoga practice that flows form one pose to the next.  Utilized for this purpose, restorative practice is very “active,” and optimal high practice for the subtle aspects of yoga that are associated with listening to the body and simply becoming more acutely aware of body physiology. 

Second, the recognition of the potential for sustained restorative poses to modify connective tissue is largely unacknowledged. 

Finally and perhaps most important, restorative practice offers a profound gateway to the deep heart of yoga practice that finds wellness to be far more than physical fitness.

Fortunately, far beyond the “branch” of body-mind that is yoga, interest in “wellness” itself is beginning to change popular perception of the very nature of “health.”  There is more interest body-mind-spirit that is enlarging the landscape of health.  Why?  There is a growing understanding that health—especially optimal health—is primarily psycho-spiritual rather than physical, as Viktor Frankl admonished in Man’s Search For Meaning.  And new terms, such as “thriving,” are beginning to emerge, and yet, are only poorly described.  We are still very young in our vocabulary with regard to attributes such as “thriving,” and “thriving”—while a remarkable transformative leap from “surviving,” is likely a beginning point in new visions of “health” and “wellness.”  “Health” has been closely associated with a dominant medical disease/disorder model, and strongly associated with physical fitness. 

In our medical models of health, we are very good at describing that which is “wrong,” but still quite deficient in describing, in any detail, that which is “not wrong.”  We tend to miss our inherent health, and have come to believe that health is something that we must invent, rather than something that is not only inherent, even in illness, but also profoundly powerful.

In a 6,000 year old tradition that aspires toward a goal such as Samadhi, and that acknowledges that the subtle energies of the highest chakras are likely to be actualized only in either a seated meditative pose or savasana, it is remarkable that the optimal values for restorative practice are largely unrecognized.  Because of our limitations, it may still take decades of body-mind practice to begin to see that the heart of these practices lies in opening gateways of calmness.

In the calmness of restorative practice, the grace of each pose and each breath are opened, and that grace, in turn, is a key of sorts to unlock and enter a deep place within the heart-mind that is seldom attainable.   Breath is not forgotten, as in the roller-coater ride of physical flow.  In restorative yoga and yin yoga practice, breath and holding a pose move to center stage, and may provoke emotional responses that are not simply enhancing strength and flexibility [that do improve, but that ultimately will be lost].  These quiet, gentle practices can be “transformative” [dramatically changing everyday life as it is to be richer], and perhaps evoke a sense of eloquence that is far beyond compensation or rehabilitation or stress relief.  And this eloquence may make us look at each other, and at the sun and moon, and leaves and the movements of ants with dramatic differences that are not simply aesthetic but real and, ultimately, practical in a way that contributes to human life as an expression of the Earth and cosmos.