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.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Asymmetry As Functional/Harmonious In Body-Mind Practice

Obscure White Oak Branch, 2012:
Few straight/identical branches (making them stronger and accessing light for leaves) and patterned chaos of lichens on its surface

Everyone has an “easy” side and a “hard” side in this pose [Janu Sirsasana] because of the inherent asymmetries of the human body. [p.86]
Leslie Kaminoff, Yoga Anatomy

A POPULAR ASSUMPTION in yoga is that differences between the right and left side are the result of dysfunction.  However, to assume that differences are the result of injury or misuse may be incorrect/false.  The differences can be inherent and natural.  They may be exaggerated across time by favoring one side or the other, but asymmetry is an inherent design of the human body, and these differences can optimize function.

Symmetry in yoga can express a drive toward bringing bond-mind into harmony, but asymmetry is also a natural expression of harmony.

Functional, inherent physiological/morphological asymmetries are found throughout the body and, paradoxically, form natural “patterns of irregularity”—beautiful “chaos” theory that appear to be random but that are patterned and the essence of everyday process throughout nature.  The random appearance of a forest has a pattern involving perhaps two dominant tree species, a specific set of vines, a pattern of layers from canopy to sub-soil, as well as fauna in rather predictable populations per acre.  Utilizing chaos theory even the “randomness” of where flora appear in a forest play out into a pattern.

Functional human body asymmetry examples:
Brain, right/left
Heart on side vs. centered [as in popular image of heart]
Right/left handedness
Vision/hearing, rt/left dominance
“Universal” variation between individuals in many aspects of body structure

A popular assumption in yoga is that skeletons and muscles are largely identical except for differences in height and gender. Thus, for example, illustrations of the human skeleton appear to be universal.  However, Yin Yoga stresses that skeletal structures are variable, with hips possibly angled differently [e.g., more forward or back leaning] or femur ball going into the socket at different angles.  Occasionally, there are other processes, such as being “double-jointed,” and likely many other aspects of the body were we to give more attention to asymmetry.  And these occurrences are natural rather than the result of disorder or accident, and not subject to change.  This can make a significant difference in how a yoga pose will be expressed vs. a universal expression as the only way. 

Human femurs showing natural variations in length and width, torque, head angles and length of necks, and variations between the neck and shaft affecting abduction
[Photos from Biff Mithoefer, The Yin Yoga Kit. Rochester, NY: Healing Arts Press, 2006, pp. 97 and 99 respectively]


Meaningful symmetry/asymmetry work in yoga: physiological and spiritual

Physiological Symmetry:
  • [A] Pose sequences that are “symmetrical” in, for example, a balance between front and back-bending poses, or a balance, for example, across a week of daily yoga practices that might balance out front and back-bending poses.  Symmetry in yoga can focus on equalizing attention to both right and left, and especially to front and back body.  Front body tends to be more visible and back work can also be more intense, so that more time may be less consciously directed toward the front body.  Symmetry in yoga might also lead to practice that balances emphases such as flexibility and strength, or seated practices and standing practices.
  • [B] Yoga therapy to correct imbalances caused by injury or over-reliance/”favoring” to protect on certain body structure that leads to irritation and physical problems

Spiritual symmetry:
  • “Meridians/chakras” reference inherent “energy structures” that are described as universal and identical in all persons that can be related to but not identical with physiological structures such as nerves. 
  • From a Western psycho-spiritual perspective, these are “Eastern” examples of terms that can reference a process of integration vs. having to be physical symmetry.

Spiritual “Asymmetry:” 
In the spiritual orientation that is expressed in Zen aesthetics—irregularity is prized as natural/organic, as a reflection of the process of the larger universe/cosmos.  Example: tea bowl/chawan—irregularity (with different sides revealed as it turns), and variations in the finished piece that result from “give and take” between artist and kiln.

In yoga, we might explore an “integration” of body asymmetry into practice as functional rather than as deficit. Positively, differences may allow for

  • Innovation
  • Honoring diversity:  “individuation” is an expression of ongoing creation, testing variations for “fittedness” with the larger ecosystem that ultimately favors one over the other and leads to adaptation and even morphological change of the species across the long run so that we become the “beyond of ourselves,” as our ancestors did to become you and I. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Spring Has Sprung!

Copyright Lance Kinseth, cardinals and robins, 2012

Yoga And A Rightward Brain Shift?

QUIETING AND CALMING—“doing next to nothing”—sets off a burst of activity—a qualitative shift throughout the body that may be less conscious but operant in large systems—neurological, circulatory, endocrine, lymphatic—and down into microscopic nuances.  Search Islands Of Grace blog for specific posts on these systems in relationship to body-mind practices.

Quieting and calming can produce significant neurological effects: See Islands Of Grace post: “Neurological Changes In Restorative-Yin Yoga Practice,” 8/12/11.

One underplayed neuro-aspect of yoga in general can involve stimulation of the brain activity relating to explicit organizing and more implicit aspects such as emotional response and the experience of joy and wonder.  Quieting and calming may amplify a general “mind shift”.  This is popularly described as a shift from dominance of the left cerebral hemisphere (that is sensed to be more analytical) to the right cerebral hemisphere (that is sensed to be more emotional).  Having discovered right and left hemisphere distinctions in both normal and brain-damaged populations, there is a public sense of each hemisphere having completely distinct functions.  However, our understanding of the function of the brain is still in its infancy, and it is known, for example that language may provoke activity in either hemisphere rather than be exclusive to one hemisphere.   The lateralization of brain function into right and left is not an explicit given as it is popularly described to be in stimulating creativity or logic or rationality or irrationality. 

There is likely some truth to the position that yoga poses may stimulate right brain activity as, for example, William J. Broad writes in The Science Of Yoga [NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012, pp. 203-204]
The right brain (which controls the body’s left side) does its handiwork in parallel fashion—taking in many streams of information simultaneously from the senses and creating an overall impression of smell and sound, appearance and texture, feeling and sensation.  For instance, the right brain dominates an inconspicuous type of sensory activity that yoga seeks to develop—proprioception, or inner knowledge of limb position.  On the mat or in life, it tells us the position of our arms and legs—even with eyes shut.  Proprioception, like other body functions dominated by the right brain, works best at portraying the big picture, at delivering impressions.  It produces what is known in psychology as a gestalt, where the whole is greater that the sum of its parts.  It is holistic.

However, the sense of domination by the right cerebral hemisphere to guide proprioception, or to focus exclusively on the immediate moment, or to be largely unconcerned with aspects of language and speech, or to dominate the production of spontaneous response, intuition, enjoyment and the experience of “wonder,” are not clearly established.

If truth be known, accomplishing a task [left brain] and enjoying it {right brain] can complement each other, and likely be a subtle combination of each other.  Language, for example, might be stimulated by the right brain to a significant degree in some left-handed individuals.  Further, in the case of injury, processes that seem to be related to one hemisphere may be performed by the “less dominant” hemisphere.  It is even reasonable to assume that proprioception and even a complex perception such as “wonder” may be a composite of brain functions.

What is clear is that a qualitative shift in experience—a “brain shift” as well as a variety of body system shifts—may occur in the shift from everyday activity to calmness and quietness.  The “brain shift” may, in fact, be much more of an exquisite melding of hemispheres than a shift toward one hemisphere.  The brain is analyzing feedback from various endocrines regarding a variety of body conditions such as salt and water levels that ultimately might generate awareness of balance and harmony.

Restorative-yin yoga and other body-mind practices such as tai chi and qigong slow activity and may amplify a holistic body systems shift.  And it is certainly clear that quieting and calming may generate qualities in direct practice that may not be emphasized in everyday activity.  And it is posited that these qualities may evolve into longstanding attributes in everyday life.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We Live Inside A Poem

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Prairie Moon, 24x24, 2006


We live inside a poem. 
It makes us like we make bread
And eats us like we eat bread.

We sleep inside this poem
And we walk about inside it.

This poetry that makes us
Offers us the moon if we would take it.

We glean words from smooth stones
And from heron’s lift above river

But our words remain only trinkets not poems.

The wind says everything all at once
And yet it remains nearly silent to us.
Our words cannot even match the variable living gestures of wind:
The graceful script of wind in wild grass
Or a mountain summit’s flag of snow.

Our very best words are small.
Perhaps for all of our intelligence we are neotenic.
We are still far too young to know who we are
Far too young to even begin to express this way that you and I are an ocean.

THE CALMNESS and quietness of selected body mind practices have the capacity to open a wondrous gate—to allow us to discover that we live inside a poem.  The Earth and everything in it—including each one of us—and the stars and their galaxies, as well as the ninety percent (at least) of the substance of the cosmos that we cannot sense--is a poem.  This poetry makes us, and with a complexity and subtly to which—for all of our elaborate measures--we can barely awaken. 

The quietness, for examples, of tai chi and qigong and restorative yoga and meditation may open gateways that allow us to cross a threshold from the fast pace and routine of the everyday into this living poetry that is still in creation.  Crossing over, we may sense that, for all of our commonness and self-depreciation, we are miracles inside a miraculous terrain.  When we feel that we are either insignificant or the veritable center of the universe, we might slow enough to find that we are lost deep inside a universe that is so inifinite as to be beyond our capacity to imagine or that we are so full of light—radiating (at least) enough infrared energy as to be one of hottest events in the universe.  Calmness and quietness can open—open a window on the world that we see, and that is what makes doing “easy” restorative yoga a high art and not a beginner’s practice.  The limit is ours.  In any moment, what we feel inside and that which we sense around us is not as much difference as it is the size of the window of awareness that we hold up to this inseparable landscape.

To live awake inside this poem is the great gift of calmness and quietness.  There are poems of bird’s eggs in spring or newborn sapiens or the tenacity of a “weed” that is a wondrous design to fit into disturbed soil. 

The ultimate outcome of calm body-mind practices may begin both as pursuits of a physical health of mobility or optimized lymphatic flow as well as a psychological health of lessened anxiety or depression and increased joy.  These are real, yet facile—too easy.  They are the beautiful, deeply poetic, physiological graces that we can receive from calm and quiet practice.

To live awake inside this poem is that leap where body-mind becomes body-mind-spirit.  Here instead of aspiring to receive, we begin to offer.  There is an overwhelming experience of gratitude for the grace of such a world.

By returns to calm practices, we amble softly up a mountain path.  And perhaps at some turn, a gate that we had never imagined to exist opens.  There, a heretofore, unimaginable sense of being in the world becomes possible.  A new sense of what the body is may open as well.  This place on the pathway up the mountain can attain turns in the path where the world is, suddenly, astonishingly different, where self and landscape are interchangeable, where personality can be dropped or held at bay or sensed to be small, like an ocean wave, and the poetics of pose and movement, like the ocean itelf, may flower for a time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2011

IT IS MAY, and the March/April showers in the northern hemisphere of the Earth have provoked “May flowers,” (as they should) but in April in this unprecedented year, and, surely, in May, for any laggards. 

Overflowing post-winter verdant landscape:  Flowers—the reproductive structures of many plants—fragrance, the outspreading softness and lushness of leaves, and color

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2012

In yoga, an enduring sensuousness: The knees shift to the right, and the tautness of the left hip comes into awareness.  It is  “sensual,” in the sense of being perceived by and affecting the senses.

Poses, asanas, with hips open or hips raised, and the twisting of the body press awareness into the body rather than into thought/ideation can “bring us to our senses” in any season.

Across the long run, it is not so much the “sexuality” of the body as much as the attentiveness to the “sensuality” of the body.  Listening to “thinking” has much more to do with eroticism and sexuality than listening to the body itself.  Listening to the body opens a sensuous landscape that expands with returns to practice.