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, December 16, 2013

Beyond Yoga Registration/Certification

Notes: A Sample Of Thinking About Yoga /Registration/Certification, With Follow-up Comments

Author’s note:  This is a more negative, long post in what is otherwise a rather optimistic and more specifically focused blog.  However, it may be helpful to consider.

[These notes were written/gathered around two years ago,
and the material around this issue continues to expand.]

In a recent good book, The Science Of Yoga, William Broad argues strongly for more regulation and certification in yoga facilitator training.   Broad suggests injuries resulting from yoga practice as a “game changer”—and yoga as “the basis for an inexpensive new world of health care and disease prevention,”
….yoga must come into closer alignment with science—with clinical trials and professional accreditation, with governmental authorities and their detailed evaluations, probably even with insurance companies and their dreaded red tape.  Yoga could become a major force.  Or it could stay on the sidelines, a marginal pursuit, lost in myths, looking to the past, prone to guru worship, fracturing into ever more lineages, increasingly isolated as the world moves on. [217]

In Awakening The Spine, Vanda Scaravelli writes of yoga as freedom of the body rather than control of the body [106], and of the need to be open supple rather than rigid or tied to traditions or patterns [109].  Her orientation is toward the art of yoga as an expression of beauty.  She writes,
BE CAREFUL, VERY CAREFUL about organizations.  Yoga cannot be organized, must not be organized.  Organizations kill work.  Love is in everything, is everything.  But if you confine it, enclose it in a box or in a definite place, it disappears. [110]
She envisions yoga as something quite different, not even traditional vs. modern.  She writes,
The mind should not be rigid or tied to traditions and patterns, but open and supple, even ready to change directions. [109]

In The Science of Yoga, William Broad envisions yoga as having arrived at a turning point.  It has reached not only a critical mass of practitioners but also a critical juncture in its development [215].  Broad writes, The timeless image is a mirage.  Yoga has changed many times over the centuries and needs to change again [216].  To really become a force in addressing the global crisis in health care, Broad sees the first step as overcoming the barrier of a lack of reliable information about the discipline’s pros and cons [217].   While Broad sees many vigorous styles and the wide efforts of young professionals to make their discipline safer [217], there is also the din of competing styles [217] and commercialism adding to the confusion.  He argues that just making good information available has a long way to go[217].  Ideally, Broad would like to see an impartial central repository that summarized information.
            Broad acknowledges, The science of yoga has only just begun [221].  And were the science of yoga to really fill out, Broad acknowledges that science can only—yet importantly—show the bottom line [222].  Science can see without prejudice, but even with its powers of discrimination and discovery—[science] is extraordinarily crude [222].
He writes,
So while the science of yoga may be demonstrably true—while its findings may be revelatory and may show popular declarations to be false or misleading—the field by nature fails utterly at producing a complete story.  Many of yoga’s truths surely go beyond the truths of science.
Yoga may go further, and its advanced practitioners, for all I know, may frolic in fields of consciousness and spirituality, of which science knows nothing.  Or maybe it’s all delusional nonsense.  I have no idea. [222]


So, Scaravelli opposes regulation for reasons of freedom, and Broad would like to see regulation but sees limits with regulation due to a lack of reliable information, and he notes limits to the kind of scientific knowledge that he proposes, beyond providing a bottom line.  Both presume that yoga can contribute to health spans [immanent health] and life spans.

Into this discussion, it might be valuable to look at critiques of yoga registration, certification and licensing: 

J. Brown, in “Yoga Alliance Approval, My Ass,” in the blog Yoga Dork, November 8, 2011, criticizes the Yoga Alliance as being an organization that aspires to set some standards for yoga teacher training, but that has no approval itself to do so.  Completing an initial 200 hour program that is approved by YA results in the “credentials” of RYT after one’s name.  One can then add additional programs to this to refine knowledge.  This implies that one is then REGISTERED with YA, but not certified or licensed.  Brown argues that there is no oversight on YA.  And the training does not meet standards of most professional licensing programs, such as colleges that are themselves held to accreditation, or national testing of candidates or mandatory CEUs following certification.   He cites an example of a requirement for 20 hours of the 200 hours to focus on yoga history that he equates with reading the chapter and answering summary questions in my 9th grade social studies class. Brown concludes, 20 hours of profound diversity of texts and interpretations means absolutely nothing.


Tara Stiles, in “Tara Stiles, Yoga Rebel,” argues that yoga certifications
are “rubber stamps.”  She asks who it is that makes the rules as to what yoga is.  Tara Stiles, herself, has been criticized for stressing physical health rather than spiritual or philosophical dimensions as well as for various claims, such as weight reduction through yoga.


Jane Shure, in “To Regulate Or Not Regulate Yoga Teacher Training, Huff
Post, 7/28/2009, suggests that registry, licensing, inspection requirements represent the business end of yoga.  The traditional guru/student aspect is largely absent in modern yoga, so there is a striving toward credentials.  She feels that it impacts negatively upon the spiritual essence and art of yoga practice.


Swami Jhaneshvara Bharati, in “Modern Yoga vs. Traditional Yoga,” is
critical of modern yoga as having become “gymnastic practice” that has come as much from the West in 1800-1900s rather than from ancient traditions where it was taught orally.  He sees modern yoga as individualized and commercialized.  He sees modern yoga as fitness-oriented “posture classes,” not yoga classes.  He considers the term “yoga classes” to be an oxymoron.  “Yoga” is “off matt” perhaps more than it is on matt.


Georg Feuerstein, in Yoga Day USA And The Distortion Of Yoga In
America, suggests that the modern focus is on strength, flexibility, weight management, improved circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, better body alignment, present moment for stress relief, pain relief, …

Modern yoga tends to dismiss the 5000 years of development of yoga and precursors that are integral to not only spirit but health that are not present in modern yoga that is essentially a posture class.

Website: Traditional Yoga Studies


Brian Costellani,, is critical of  Yoga Alliance:

[Yoga Alliance [YA], Arlington, Virginia: A melding of two groups that decided to provide standards for teaching yoga, organized into 200/500 hour training components.]

·      notes that YA does not claim to represent yoga, and represents their registrants.
·      Represent only a fraction of yoga practitioners
·      Issues with how those who become trainers are identified other than completing training hours
·      Multiple organizational issues: YA has a small staff, have had staff turnover/resignation, lack transparency with regard to what they do with the money, how was governing board selected [some national open process?], lack consumer input [e.g., rating of instructors], cannot demonstrate that their credentialing products are valid or helpful, no tangible measures
·      Exist because of a commercial demand for certing, especially for fitness programs and state licensing attempts
·      No external oversight on YA and no internal oversight on registrants
·      No open input from larger yoga community
·      A “deplorable reputation” in yoga community


Patricia Kearney, “Proposal for a national exam for yoga teacher certification,” Yoga Requirements.

Critical commentary following presentation:
·      Schools disagree on many points [e.g., how certain asanas should be performed and what constitutes proper alignment—viniyana vs. Iyengar [KINSETH—and some alignment stresses meridians and charkas which can differ from physiology]; no universal agreement among highly regarded yoga teachers about anatomical principles [KINSETH—just exam various yoga anatomy books, stretch anatomy books, medical anatomy texts]; legitimate disagreement with regard to sequencing [yoga fitness tends to emphasize “warming up” and “cooling down.”]
·      Rather than national certification, “Health Freedom” may be a better thing for yoga to pursue/ advocate.  A “Health Freedom” focus presents yoga as a traditional health practice and, therefore, emphasizes consumer knowledge about safety concerns.  For example, a national/state licensed psychotherapist who wants to use complementary practices with clients informs clients that this practice is different and not supported by the professional discipline.
·      Be aware that certification produces additional costs/risks:  For licensing, may need insurance bond, state and national fees, CEUs required and costly, inspections, etc.  Modern societies are increasingly more litigious.
·      Certification, licensing tend to be pursued because yoga has become an “industry” and there is a drive for certification to “certify” a level of skill, primarily for safety [KINSETH—much of the injury from yoga practice may be coming from certified teachers and even involves injury among certified teachers]
·      National testing or YA registration does not begin to come close to meeting standards of most professional certifications.
·      Were a national test to be devised, it would be modified regularly by practitioners writing questions, which introduces a bias that is present in other national professional certification as well.


Ekachakra [author], in Om Shanti: A Yoga Blog,  reviewing a 7/10/09 NY Times article concerning a NY state regulation of yoga teacher training: “Gov’t  Regulation Better Or Worse?”:

Conclusions: Yoga cert tends to be certified with far less than a year’s practice—typically done as a fitness variation.  And often, a four week intensive, and then one is a registered yoga teacher.

10,000 hours and a five-year apprenticeship may be required to become a plumber.

Several years of yoga regular, intensive yoga practice might be recommended, then years of training, then 1-2 years apprenticeship, plus 1-2 years of class work.

Then, examine how yoga teacher training has little to do with training to deepen one’s own practice, because this modern certification cannot begin to compare with ascetic practices of Vedic priests to control senses/mental activity or meditation, or the relationship between thought and breath, or the Upanishads or Bhagavad Gita and their relationship to yogas of actions, devotion, karma, bahakti, jnana, and to an overall sense of developing a path of awakening. 

Modern teacher training is likely to only scantly reference the Pali canons.

“Yoga” has become a form of exercise/ stress relief.


Overall, there is a very clear sense that there is nothing in current yoga teacher training that comes close to approximating professional certification or licensing.  Two to four week “intensives” result in a participant being able to “register” as a “yoga teacher” at best.  There is lack of inspection, standardized testing, and extensive training by accredited bodies [e.g., universities].  There is no oversight, no common agreement on what practices are effective or biased.  One may be a fitness teacher, take an intensive training and be a yoga teacher, much like one “certifies” to teach TRX or zumba.

Certification and licensing require oversight, and lead to extensive costs for applicants,, because they are typically done for services that can draw insurance compensation or that involve service that could require medical intervention if done inappropriately, such at tattooing, hair styling/cutting and manicure, etc.  Simply on a cost/benefit analysis for the yoga teacher alone, the cost of training almost outweighs any financial remuneration.  And certification/licensing, especially if limited, may place both the fitness center and teacher at legal risk when an injury either occurs or is perceived to occur from yoga practice.

It is clear that yoga registration and certification and licensing are all driven by the popular explosion of interest that has lead to the commercialization of “yoga.”  Fitness centers that incorporate yoga want to be able to say that their yoga staff are “trained.”   That which is being registered as yoga is a de-spiritualized fitness program/ health program.  Registration following course completion somehow becomes equivalent and acceptable as “cerification.”  Certification is essentially a marketing point that aspire to assure participants are safe in a class with a trained yoga teacher.  And yet, safety is not assured by having a “certed” yoga teacher as injuries are fairly common, with injuries even occurring to certed teachers.   Injuries may be less common [but possibly quite significant] than injuries resulting from running or other activities, so that to focus on yoga is perhaps overkill.

In yoga, unlike TRX training or the latest fitness craze that someone develops and then teaches and “licenses,” there are profound issues—not simple differences—as to who decides what is appropriate yoga training.

Who has the right to decide appropriate training, regulation, and inspection?  Is
yoga even primarily oriented toward fitness and health?  And is “health” physical or psycho-spiritual?

What might be crucial in the public arena with regard to yoga, is advocacy to assure for a freedom/art of practice, or the deepening of bodywork or mental work or meditation which are fundamental to “yoga.”   As an art form, yoga cannot be organized.

It is really quite facile—too easy, too superficial—to assume that you can cert yoga.  To do so reveals a sense of really not understanding yoga.  It is like certifying zazen, if you really get a sense of what yoga is about.   You might try because you feel that there are “measurable” physiological aspects {and you would be correct] but this is true of all body work.   And now, even those findings are inconclusive, whether, for example, 30 minutes three times per week or 30 seconds 3 times per week provides fitness (as well as variations in how exercise affects individuals, with some showing super gains and others next to nothing).

We don’t cert gymnastic studios, although they are much more risky, or harmonial gymnastics, or, really, even stretching, such as “classical stretching.”  The books on the anatomy of stretching are likely to not even mention yoga.  We don’t cert circus training, although contortionists can likely outdo almost any yoga practitioner with respect to flexibility or strength.  And bottom line, yoga is trying to do something that is beyond sport and exhibitionism [although the archaic flexibility and yogic feats of breathe reduction likely arose to some extent as a source of income--a sort of court jester in the kingdoms of early India].  We don’t cert the variety of marital arts.  And we really don't cert tri-athlete training or marathon training.  We may try to establish a center that has particular resources that might measure this aspect or that aspect.  And increasingly in modern litigious cultures, anyone can sues anyone irregardless of training.

Good Directives: Broad is very correct to encourage alignment with science to continue to contribute to an understanding of potential health benefits and, especially, risks as popular interest expands.   Science has been especially good at measuring physiological changes that we might not sense, and give guidance to how to optimize, for example, flexibility.  Interestingly, I do not see the science that we do know being applied or taught in registration classes.

Not-So-Good Directives: It is too easy to presume that science will be really enhanced by certification and legislation.  And to expect people to practice only what becomes “certed” as effective yoga for either direct health benefits and/or to validate insurance claims is also facile.  Perhaps the largest current problem is the co-optation of yoga into mass fitness experience where most practitioners, registered or not, have everyone doing the same sequences [with, of course, a nod to be careful] despite differences in weight, strength, and, if really a filled-out popular class, with no ability to be everywhere at once.  But the income is too attractive and the dictum that “anyone can do yoga” and that “pain is gain” rationalize the poses.   Less people and likely less problems, but always dependent upon the facilitator, certed or not.   

Yoga is, really, by almost anyone’s standards, something that is not purely physical, or purely kinesics, or, on the other hand, not something purely spiritual.   When you do the most purely fitness-oriented yoga practice, even the hard-edged profane person has a sense of something else going on that is not occurring on a treadmill or in an “abs class” or in uber-sports training.  That “something” is un-certifiable, “un-registrar-able,” or non-licensable.  It is an essence found in a mastered martial art or in Zen, or in yoga.  To cert or register or license disgraces yoga, steals yoga, culturally robs something that is thousands of years in evolving development, and “fitness” is not the penultimate pinnacle of yoga.  It is a rip-off, shallow, and not even resulting in optimal flexibility, but remarkable in its capacity to generate income.

We don’t cert true art.

The final comment involves a sense of an obvious value for experience and training and interaction with other practitioners.  If you choose to use some level of training or some level of registration or certification or licensing, you would likely benefit from keeping a sense that such processes may not do any of the things that you presume that it does [and you will always presume that they do those things.  If you become convinced that some sort of process is crucial, you should likely continue to explore this belief.  If you presume that some process is critical/essential, you will be revealing your bias more than your wisdom.  Certed yoga teachers don't know this and they don’t know that.  Uncertified people, the same.  If you become a true believer rather than try to be continually self critical, registration and certification and training ad infinitum will tend to reinforce your assumptions rather than really challenge them.  Authenticity is not certifiable, nor does refusal to be certified make one better.  However chasing certification rather than practice is generally misdirecting in ANY body-mind-spirit practice.  And overall, as Vanda Scaravelli suggests, will impede freedom rather than optimize it.  Paradoxically, now there are practitioners who will certify you in Vanda Scaravelli’s methods.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Allow The Asana To Come To You

WHEN YOU BEGIN YOGA, the process may appear to be one of bringing yourself to a pose, to something that is seems standardized into a goal.  You might try to shape yourself to a pose, and you always find room for improvement.  And then you flow to another pose and then another.

But when you begin to hold poses, the process may begin to change.  Spindles in muscles and connective tissue begin to release, AND, more important, a switch has been flipped in the parasympathetic nervous system that triggers profound changes in the various internal systems of the body physiology that are not present when moving faster.  And this physiology that you can only generally sense as relaxation can open an unexpected gateway.

Should you begin to routinely hold poses, rather than rarely, you might experience a sense of the possibility of the pose coming to you rather than bringing yourself to it.  This shift is a revolutionary one in yoga.  And yet, it is also likely an eternal one, not caught up in the popular moment or a specific agenda.

Allowing the pose to come to you is one critical component of a revolutionary yoga.  The nature of poses (asanas) is revisioned.  Then yoga is not about a technique or a “pose,” or a correct sequence of poses, and not even about being “aligned” or “doing it right.”   Then, there are no real systems or styles of yoga.

Allowing the pose to come to you is immediately different from flowing from one pose to the other.  In flow, you can attune to the points of tension and release, but you move toward modeling a pose.  In flow, even slow, there is little time to really listen.  The image is gross [in a benevolent sense], not detailed.

So how to begin to allow the pose to come to you? 

Allowing the pose to come to you takes time, takes holding, quieting, attuning. 

Then, having taken this small revolutionary turn by holding and attuning, think (1) “free the body not controlling it,” and (2) simply, “allow the pose to come to me.”

Allowing the pose to come to you likely begins where the hands touch and/or the knees touch or the back-body grounds.  You don’t simply go to the pose.   Your knees, your hands, your back: What are they asking, or have you allowed them to become very secondary or forgotten in a rush to “get to the pose.”

Then the pose grows like a planted seed, small at first, pressing then yielding.  Your form may look quite different from someone else.  And this difference is optimal; it is authentic, in the sense that it is fitted to you.  And across returns to practice, the pose changes, flowers differently, and at various points, quite unexpectedly leads somewhere else.

As a plant is optimized when it is nurtured, so must a pose be nurtured to be optimized.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


NOT HARD, diamond-like yoga, not pain’s edge for gain, not core development, not fitness, not a "workout"

Rather, aruksita (supple), pliant, no pain gain, like a yielding water reed, accepting/receiving/opening, giving oneself over

Not really even flexibility, but rather, softness

Muscles and joints, yes; but as secondary focus, too simple, facile, not really near the heart of the matter

Opening the flow of the inner body

Freeing not controlling

Yoga Metta, kindness yoga

See also Islands Of Grace September 3, 2013 post: "Suppleness"

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Restorative Yoga Practice In Des Moines

Lance Kinseth offering RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA practice, Wednesdays 10:30-Noon, Unity Church, 414 31st Street, Des Moines, Iowa, beginning 12/4/2013.

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.

The quiet and calm poses of restorative-yin yoga offer islands of grace.
See Islands Of Grace blog that is followed globally:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Mind Like Compost

Lance Kinseth, 2007

            On Top

All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over     turn it over
wait     and water down.
From the dark bottom
turn it out
let it spread through, silt down,
Watch it sprout.

A mind like compost.

IN AXE HANDLES, poet Gary Snyder describes an Earthen process that can also be a high mental process.  This mental process can be optimized by the intention to calm and quiet and slow that is central in body mind practices such as restorative yoga.  The barrage of moment-to-moment stimuli that is “on top” is not really the heart of the matter.  Stilling, turning it over, inviting it to spread throughout, to silt down, entering and opening the depths, then recreating, creating, transforming.

Listening Point

Lance Kinseth, 2011

LISTENING, NOT KNOWING: Everything that we “know for sure” is subject to be radically overturned.  The very nature of the universe(s?) will remain beyond our capacity to ever sense.

And in everyday life, everything that we might experience as constant, wondrous or even static and boring, is a stream of change. Even across the time span of a few months, personal, societal and environmental consequences will occur that we cannot foresee.  Commonality is a measure of our limits rather than life at it is.

How to live in such uncertainty? 

Listening, remaining alert to the changing conditions of existence, is the core of a wild state that optimizes the sustainability of each species. 

With senses pulled in many directions at once, coming to a listening point may optimize alertness.  Overall, this action offers to reduce the sensory overload so that we might not overlook resources and actions that are optimal.

This listening point centers us just enough to come inside our experience rather than just look at it or, most of the time, overlook it.   We then stand to not finally know, but rather, to invite and to listen to that which appears, we optimize in our general capacity to connect, and we just might improve our capacity to come into harmony, integrate and adapt and transform.

Body-mind practices often arise to essentially create a listening point.  Rather than being just a borrowing or an age-old way from modern “exercise” or “stress reduction,” such practices can provide a listening point that steps out of the everyday for at least moments if not more.  Many moments of body-mind practice or “repetition” may flower into awareness of increasing integration with events that had, heretofore, seemed separate and unimportant.  Then, subtlety and grace become visible in the movements and poses of practices such as tai chi, qigong, meditation, and very gentle yoga.  And if they are authentically subtle and graced, there is much more going on with everyday activities such as work and cooking and cleaning and relationships to others and to landscape.

Perhaps the crucial element of body-mind practice involves cutting through the chatter of the continual rain of sensory stimuli and thought.  Slowing to stillness and calmness optimizes this process.  And, paradoxically, doing less, a switch is flipped, and a profound acuity and physiological action might be triggered that optimizes a listening point.

Body-mind practices tend to cut through routine and place each of us at a center point of sorts, an “in-between.” On a very basic level, each inhale might penetrate inside us, and each exhale connects or integrates and expands into our experience. In the body-mind practice of gentle yoga, when we cross a threshold from the everyday to the mat, to the place of practice—our initial stilling of the body-mind, perhaps followed by breath work, takes us out of the chatter of discriminating self into being-ness.  Rather than self and other, we might shift to Being-ness & Cosmos.  Then, each breath is more that “air.”  It extends into the infinity of cosmos.  We might go both inward and outward.  There is a listening point, a center point and this point is a prayer of sorts, a call inviting something deep that we literally need and should not be ashamed to seek, rather than exercise or stress release.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Hidden Intensity In Restorative-Yin Yoga

Lance Kinseth, 2013

A VERY EARLY Islands of Grace Post  [3/3/2011] sketches a restorative-yin yoga sequence.  But just doing the poses may still mask an essence that is occurring in the sequences.  And understanding this essence can be a meta-motivator to regularly do this type of practice.

At the end of such a sequence, there is likely to be a feeling of deep relaxation.  But it might be interpreted as the result of simply doing less—almost “nothing”—rather than doing something.  And this “doing nothing” seems to have its primary benefit as passive stress relief.

One of the missing aspects in describing the poses in the sequence is the absence of the sensory experience of “flipping a switch” in human physiology.  A pratitoner may experience as sense of relaxation and calmness but may miss a hidden intensity in this practice.

If done appropriately, “doing nothing” actually does a lot.  Done appropriately, there are major shifts in cardio/vascular, neuro-endocrine, lymphatic, Eastern energy that are POWERFUL.  Physiology can open to the micro-cellular level, and the chemicals produced to open vessels and transform endocrine response are extremely complex.  Such sequences, if done appropriately, are, in a very real way, “hard” in the power of their impact rather than beings so soft as to be little more than a respite from stressful life.  Such sequences are extremely active and approximate the higher ends of yoga and meditation.  They are not just “meditative” or “esoteric” or “aesthetic” or “spiritual,” or some sort of generic physiological “relaxation respite,” but rather may be concretely physical/physiological, specifically therapeutic/restorative to specific body parts, and optimal health.

And so, the essence is not the body pose or “technique,” but rather, the unfelt changes [albeit measurable on CT scans and in blood chemistry, HR, BP, EEG, EKG, down to micro measures, such as opening micro vessels on blood vessels or optimized oxygenation of the outer reaches of brain tissue/appendages [vs. contraction to the the body core in intense exercise], or the reduction of demands on the neural-endocrine systems to allow more attention to monitoring subtle process such balancing/regulating salt levels in billions of cells and blood.

And so, when doing restorative-yin sequences, it can be helpful to realize the ultimate objectives are not simply finding tome to relax or to do ease poses.  When done appropriately, restorative-yin yoga is profoundly complex, profoundly active [i.e., flipping a switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the more stress-reducing para-sympathetic system]. And this, in turn, may not only serve optima physiological health, but also open a gateway into the esoteric/aesthetic/spiritual dimensions of human experience that may be tasted, but are never attained in a more active process.

This restorative-yin yoga process can be extended into most other yoga poses, if those poses are done slowly, holding the poses, breathing deeply, and doing sequences of related poses. In fact, it is possible that modern yoga may evolve into a process of slow, deep comprehensive stretching and, thus, escape the limits of a fitness model.

Globally, almost no one is doing restorative-yin yoga.  If it is to be effective, the modern world has rationalized that yoga must essentially be a fitness/workout model.  More active yoga, while not “wrong,” can counter such optimal, restorative dimensions.
While a “workout” approach to yoga is not wrong, it is narrow and often does not accomplish many of the objectives that it seeks to attain, such as weight loss, aerobic conditioning or healing/physical therapy [in fact, frequently producing injury].  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013



“FLEXIBILITY” IS PERHAPS the most common physical aspect that is associated with yoga.  It is a quality to which practitioners aspire, as well as a quality that discourages and drives potential participants away. 

Our sense of “health” is evolving and changing, and so too, the concept of “flexibility.”   In this evolving sense of health, flexibility involves more than being able to touch one’s toes or head to knees.  Health is evolving from “fitness” through a more comprehensive “wellness” (that includes nutrition and stress reduction, and may stress functionality more than fitness’ strength/power) to an “optimal health” or “thriving” (vs. “surviving’). 

[For a look at the evolution of health, see Islands Of Grace post, “Thriving: Toward The Cutting Edge of Health, 4/18/13.] 

In optimal health/thriving, there is a transformation from an emphasis on “skeletal flexibility” to a more holistic suppleness of the body.

The term suppleness expands “flexing” to describe a process of opening the entire body rather than emphasize stretching and strengthening muscle and connective tissue. Attention to suppleness directs actions to
  • Muscle and connective tissue, and
  • the internal organs of the central body,
  • and the micro-structures of all cell tissue (with special attention to opening the fringes of the body—the outer edges of the brain and appendages—).to open cardio- and neuro-endocrine- and, lymphatic- and Eastern energy channels.
[Example shows the difficulty of trying to illustrate the gross complexity of the chest/shoulder (with no regard to the complexity of the micro-anatomy of this body region).  The lymph system is not illustrated yet present, nor is the more visible muscular/ligament structure that tends to be the most conscious aspect.  The density of tissue [bone, muscular, vascular, nervous] illuminates the need for suppleness as crucial to allow openness in such density.]

Traditional fitness flexibility may either miss or even encumber efforts toward suppleness.  Suppleness leads to activities that release body tension by “flipping a switch” to engage the parasympathetic nervous system.  Real “hip openers” and opening the “floating bones “ of the upper back/shoulders and the lower back and neck aspire to free the body—softening the body—to optimize the flow of body physiology rather than lengthen and strengthen muscle and connective tissue.  Strong muscles may be hard and impeded and even injured.

micro anatomy example

In suppleness, the “vitality” of blood vessels and nerve tissue and lymph channels would become crucial loci for intervention with a goal of vitalizing these tissues, by reducing restriction not only in the joints (where muscle and connective tissue require attention) but also in the central body and fringes—down to micro structures such as capillaries and even further into the regulation of optimal sodium levels in the body) and by making them more responsive by enhancing relaxation skills.

The slow, deep comprehensive stretching of restorative yoga, yin yoga and soft power yoga fit well with this evolving sense of health that emphasizes suppleness. These practices are quite different from the flexibility orientation of traditional fitness models that optimize sports performance.      

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


M Dumas painting
WHAT IS OUR TRUE FACE, What is our true yoga? 

IF YOU ATTEND a modern yoga class in the USA [$10 to $15 per hour up to $65 unless you are a “celeb” and then it is much more, you are likely to feel like a piston in an engine.  Instead of stepping onto a treadmill or onto a step climber or doing a bike spin class, you go to yoga.  You go there as an aspirant—as a seeker of something physical and perhaps even spiritual—to become more flexible.  You have the aerobic working for you.  And after a class you, typically, feel something a little different—perhaps spiritual—but, typically, you do not return.  If you do return, you expect it to be a workout, not unlike what you have been doing, but honestly, and beautifully, you have expectations of something more, philosophical/spiritual. 

Let’s perhaps hold a pose such as “triangle’ for a muscle-burn trying to get your hand down to the mat while maintaining the straightened forward leg, and then it’s back to “vinyasa,” which translates into a quick “plank” (urdva chatruangdandasana) or “chaturanga” in “mass yoga,” pushing down  (which is quite different from chaturangdandasana), [“crocodile,” but not really, and then upward, pushing up into  “sphinx” or “up dog,” followed by flow into “down dog,” [“where we all meet”] and perhaps another round of “tri” [Utthita Trikonasana, of course, on the opposite side], followed by “taking a vinyasa,”  [We were just there, but we are going back again and again] and then moving into another pose such as “Warrior Two,” followed perhaps by “Reverse Warrior” [unless you are an animal or expected to be, into “”Warrior Three,” and [guess what] vinyasa.

Last Sunday, at a “yoga in the park” AND there, two weeks B4 at another “yoga in the park:” The above vinyasa, because this is what all yoga teachers are taught.  All sorts of funky poses were thrown in, such as “crow, because it is awesome.”  But ninety percent of the participants didn’t have a clue what “crow” was or how to do it, because yoga is now a mass yoga.  Forget “crow,” and nearly everyone fell behind in their basic “vinyasa,” so that they ended up feeling like they each pose they were doing was an  “ass-anana.”  I could read it in their faces.  Those who did keep up with the “flow” as I could do, were the exception.  This Sunday, it was Power yoga; two week before, astanga-rooted, with it wondrous world-championship vinyasa flow, as if this is the epitome of yoga.  So many, who were truly drawn to yoga, and entered this mass yoga, left, I am sure, both this Sunday and those on the latter Sunday, feeling “yoga is not for me.” 

We might espouse, as the two facilitators did, that yoga is for everyone.  And that is so true.  That it is beautiful, And the admonition to be smiling all the while is, again, true.  And yet, it is nearly impossible, given the orientation of, really, the MAJORITY of yoga instructors who may have limited training but just be good at facilitating a class and, really (from my experience) the “certified” [which is really to say registered with an organization] by virtue of spending 200—500 hours at perhaps $2600 per 200 hours.  From my experience, the most “trained” facilitators who would be likely licensed in the United States as yoga teachers are more like to injure more people than the less “certed.” 

I would argue that what is called yoga in the world in which I inhabit is not really yoga in the first place.  There is no opportunity to listen to the body, to open, to free the body rather than push, Push, PUSH to control the body.  Go to Vanda Scaravelli.

When I go to “yoga in the park” or a less costly “community yoga” [yes, because I am cheap], I expect to encounter the above dynamics of which I am critical, but I have not been once disappointed in finding the potential of injury.  Perhaps because I am attending the class, there is a drive by the instructor to “up the anty,” bu I don’ think so. I think this is really what they do.

And so, I would encourage people interested in yoga everywhere in the world to anticipate the above. 

I would encourage you to not be discouraged, to do your own practice, to go to a class and to really be intuitive, and not do all that facilitator demands. 

Recently I went to a class where headstands were a part of the sequence.  I saw people who were overweight as well as thin people.  The expectation from the head of the school was that anyone could do this across time, and that one might struggle tonight, but participants were encouraged to give it a try.  There were, as is often the case, a good number of students.  It might be the headstand in this class or the “wheel” pose in another, but the science of yoga suggests that even if you can do the headstand, and then do it for four years, suddenly, someday, you might have an experience of excruciating pain and never be able to do it again.  And an overweight person doing a wheel and perhaps being held up by an underweight person is something any idiot would be afraid to subject participant to, but not a “certed” teacher it seems.  And if you were to get “frisky,” and bend your neck a little more than usual (because you felt “really loose,” [especially in Bikram (hot) yoga, you might provoke a stroke because you compressed the vessels in your neck vertebrae.   So, at that point, congrats for attaining “uber-flex” at the cost of altering your life forever forward.  

As I moved deeper into yoga, it was astonishing to me to hear of all of the injuries caused by yoga, which had seemed to be to be something akin to zazen, “sitting, at rest.”

Congrats for “pushing the envelope” of Mod/mass yoga. 

Today, 7/24/2013, on a bike trail, not yoga but that same workout/fitness orientation, a young man flipped suddenly forward, cracked his helmet, passed out, had blood on his face, a torn jersey, blood on his leg, was “goofy,” but said that he had done this before, and had expected the second concussion that he has had to fee worse.  Push that heat up there.  Get those towels.  Enjoy the rush.  Yes, whip through those moves fast “to get fit” or to lose weight.  Bogus.  But someday, look up the actual aerobic impact and see that it equals a mild step on a treadmill.  Go yoginis, absorb all of the yoga B. S. you’ve been taught.  I know it’s likely the only yoga that you have seen, or even all that your facilitators have really seen for that matter.  Keep working with fervor.  Bring that body of yours under control.  It is what fitness is all about in 2013.  But fitness is so passé.   When you first get it, it will be about ‘wellness.”  But perhaps when your teachers get it—if they ever do—it will be about thriving.  I don’t see them really ever slow down, so take that, perhaps, as a strong clue.  If they are “power yoga” people or “Astanga, “ perhaps question it a little.  And then question all of your own words that lead you to “yoga”—all of the words that you use in yoga, such as “flexibility,” and find that they might just disappear and be replaced by real, real words that mean something.

In the future, perhaps I will offer a restorative-yin video and a soft power yoga video to show another yoga directive.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Slow Cookin'


“SLOW COOKIN’” popularly references a more eased step out of a frenetic approach to living.  And one result of slowing down the process can be a rich, complex and subtle flavor to the simplest of foods.

The same might be said for body-mind practice.  In yoga, slowing down and holding poses—‘cookin’ and ‘stewin’—offers rich health benefits such as the optimization of the parasympathetic nervous system and more rapid gains in flexibility, as validated by research on the effect of holding body position on spindle and Golgi release in muscle and connective tissue.

For B.K.S. Iyengar, holding poses was a crucial dimension of yoga that distinguished his approach.  And yet a variety of types of yoga (as well as other forms of exercise) claim similar or better improvements in flexibility and strength and bringing the body into alignment. 

But Iyengar’s major quest is likely more of a spiritual aspiration.  And stilling and holding poses—asanas—offers a gateway to the transpersonal.  Rather than simply personal benefits such as respite, physical health, release, centering, and/or the opportunity for personal insight, holding poses can be an act of surrender—a way or practice that comes into harmony with and that expresses a greater process.   And in the stillness, in the return to silence, there is an opportunity to experience a larger space and to shift from a specific consciousness to a more cosmic consciousness.

… a rich, complex and subtle flavor…

Paraphrasing very closely to Iyengar’s words:
Asanas are my prayers.  I give my gesture of affection through my
presentation.  I want that each and every cell should ring the bell
of the divinity.
[Iyengar in Lindsey Clennell, Sadhaka: The Yoga Of B.K.S.
Iyengar, film documentary currently in post-production.  See or to see video 
clip as well as help fund completion.]

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Best Yoga Studio

NOT JUST THIS PLACE, but myriad places in Earth: unwalled, in the wind, under the day star or moon, mat or no mat

Graced, eloquent, holy, whole, special/nothing special.

Email global photos and I will post.

Monday, April 8, 2013

THRIVING: Toward The Cutting Edge of “Health”

Painting: Ricardo Shavez-Mndez

Our Sense Of The Nature Of Health And Our Health
Interventions Are Dramatically Transforming

I. Overview

THE CURRENT HIGH-END standard-bearer for health is “WELLNESS.”  It is wonderful but not complete, and somewhat “retro,” in that remains strongly physical fitness oriented.

What if we were to approach “wellness” as a deep well?

When health/wellness is truly a deep well, there is more to be discovered, and only the surface and near depths have been scratched.  Going deep in the well of wellness may heal depression and anxiety and stimulate creativity, intuition, mega-motivation, optimization and thriving rather than compensation.

And there is this opportunity to find and optimize an inherent wellness, when, in reality, we tend to concentrate on illness or limits to be overcome. Popular “health work” is typically not about health, but rather, about deficits.  Medicine and mental “health” focus on disorder.  We are skilled at exploring what is wrong [e.g., illness, disorders], but are deficit in describing health.

Optimal/Authentic health may not, primarily, be a muscularly taut aerobic/anaerobic-tolerant, “uber-fit” body.  In fact, such a body may be wrought with anxiety and stress and even physical injury [How so?  initially, in the sense of being physically inflexible and muscularly over-tight and psychologically either rushed or anxious, and later, hobbled due to accrued injuries as well as from lack of development of body mobility and lack of autogenic [self-generating] skills for relaxation and de-stressing]. 

Optimal Health is comprehensive and likely begins more as psycho-spiritual [Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning] rather than as physical.  A wondrous metaphor for this rich health is that which Thomas Merton named “a hidden wholeness.”  Optimal health enhances an interior mental flexibility.  It involves characteristics of graced movement and luminous eyes of spirit that favor adaptation to the changing conditions of existence, both externally and internally. 

Even in addressing the physical debilitation of our dying, from which no one escapes and in this sense is a natural process, we can be optimally health or authentically “well” and thriving.  And we are all likely to know examples of this optimal health within dying:

Such attributes are achievable without facing a life-threatening illness or injury. And they typically have a strong sense of physical self-care or “body practice” as a significant piece of a more comprehensive, harmonious blend of multifold practices that are creative, productive, socially connected, and so forth.

And physically, we can anticipate remarkable changes in longevity that would go deep into the “well” of wellness and health.  AND most of these advancements may have more to do with nutrition, anti-aging substances, gene therapy, safety improvements/regulations, early screening, and stress-reducing activities—really lifestyle changes and proactive medical opportunities—that have little to do directly with physical fitness.  Unsafe living and working conditions, influenza and other diseases, less social control/violence are really crucial health dynamics that are really attitudes and disorganization and knowledge limits that really affect health.  The maximum human lifespan has been increased across time from changes that are not primarily physical fitness based.

II. A Brief History:

“HEALTH” HAS REFERENCED different things, and has, perhaps, evolved through stages even in modern life:
·      pre-fitness [absence of illness],
·      fitness,
·      wellness, and
·      thriving.

The way in which we reference health directs “health interventions.”  It becomes our “philosophy of care.”  Simply, how you describe “health” determines what you do to realize it. 

If “health” references as the absence of illness, then you might do very little, unless you are ill.  Obesity might even be attractive as a stalwart against famine.  

If health references physical fitness or lower blood pressure and heart rate and lactic threshold and strength, then you might be regularly engaged in “exercise.” 

Currently, health tends to popularly reference “wellness” that is “holistic.”   Attitudes plays the critical role, so that for some individuals, “holistic” can only reference “New Age” and perhaps be proscribed as a threat. 

“Wellness” has overcome many of its critics, and now references a more neutral “life fitness,” involving components such as nutrition and an absence of stress and physical fitness in the form of aerobics to reduce fat and improve cardiovascular function, with a nod to strength for muscles and bone density.  Occasionally, “Wellenss” maa additionally offer a nod to components such as social wellness [i.e., social interaction], intellectual wellness [i.e., mental nourishment], creativity annd—quite new—environmental or ecological wellness.

A wellness approach seems to be obvious, and far-reaching enough to fully describe “health.”  And yet, a crucial vision may be missing.  And this missing cutting-edge of health is not something easily described, because it is likely still in genesis. 

Taking a little journey back in how we reference health is informative, especially to sense the ways in which we have envisioned health differently even in modern life.  And rather than finally define explicitly what health really is, perhaps the real value of looking back at the evolution of our sense of health is a better understanding of how our sense of health changes, how it is malleable, and sometimes dead-wrong.  This might lead us to approach health with a little less righteousness and really see what it might become.

If we were really open, what might “health” really be?  We are wont to think of health as something inside our bodies.  But with our view of Earthrise over the moonscape in the Apollo missions in 1970, the Earth was not the same one that we had on our maps and globes.  It was a biosphere that our satellites now monitor in a quite detailed way.  And seeing this, we become not only ecological, but also somewhat “spiritual.”  Recall Viktor Frankl, in his writing following his internment in Nazi concentration camps and his subsequent life as a psychiatrist, and his sense that health was psycho-spiritual.

Recalling a line from a poem, “If holy water—the rivers, lakes, oceans,” [Ganga White, Yoga Beyond Belief] as a sense of optimal health as involving treating our immanent landscape as if it was precious and, therefore, prioritizing efforts to make these waters close to “pristine” (even if just for our own immediate life quality).

Health as absence of illness [e.g., calming benefits of smoking] 

A functional aspect of health as the absence of illness is a sense of health as inherent rather than as something that needs to be developed.  However, especially with increasing urbanization and consumerism, work was transitioning from persistent physical labor to more sedentary activity and food was abundant and reasonably cheap and, increasingly, more “processed” / “convenient.”


Health: non-ill can still have poor health 
Health is physical fitness:  Strength, Flexibility, Cardio [aerobic/anaerobic]
Uber fitness: endurance
Survival Orientation: overcoming limits, identify & correct what is wrong (i.e., what is deficient)
Medical—Disease Model / compensation for most people
“Gym and swim Y’s” 

One of the limits of a fitness orientation is a new understanding that sport may actually injure the body.  Specific sport training tends to tighten the body and make it more susceptible to injury.  “Cross-training” likely will not balance the body, and will either reinforce tightening or be in conflict, so that one regimen will almost shock the other regimen.


It makes more sense in the modern world.  It links our sense of maximum lifespan as coming from non-physical actions and physical fitness.  And it has lead to an explosion of participation.  It aspires to be holistic: nutrition, exercise.  And it adds a new dimensions: attention to an heretofore elusive concept: “body-mind.”

Importantly, it acknowledges the importance of “self-care,” and “care” implies a more comprehensive reach into, not only exercise, but also nutrition and genetics and “lifestyle.”  Further, wellness emphasizes something new: “stress reduction.”  And this “dip” into stress reduction in a world that seems to be “hyper” and “stress-filled” at every turn, lead investigation into a new world: into biochemistry and its role in regulating/restoring physical and psychological health.  Physiology began to shift from muscular kinesthetic to a micro-level, measuring blood chemistry, brain waves, and brain scans. 

“Wellness” seems to cover nearly everything related to health.  However, its limit comes in continuing to be largely a medical model, looking at physical limits and trying to overcome them, aspiring eradicate a problem (similar to a pre-fitness model and a fitness model), continuing to centralize a physical fitness emphasis or “body emphasis”—pushing the body and mind to challenge limits.  “No pain, no gain.”  How physically far can you go, how high can you go.  And alternative idea such as “No pain, gain” is likely to be met with obtuse stares.

“Healthy Living Centers” are examples of an evolution from a “gym and swim” model to a center that incorporates nutrition, exercise and body-mind.  Exercise classes, machines, mats alter the physical space.  What you eat, your activity level, and your coping mechanisms [that tend to be almost over-active and stressed [anxious/depressed] begin to be addressed.  These centers are oriented toward a unique range of participants, including the general public, those with special medical needs, and performance sport training.  The spaces tend to be architecturally different as well:  more windows, carpeting, body-mind and group class spaces, possibly the absence of gyms and courts, the presence of lap pools and special water exercise pools, saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools, massage rooms, conference rooms (both general and with, a demonstration kitchen), and in-building affiliations with physical therapy programs and performance assessment programs, and weight reduction programs, and open space with tables for beverages/snacks/lunch to encourage people to socialize and locker TV lounges.  Staff provide classes, individual wellness assessment and coaching, and therapeutic and exercise services to individuals to address specific medical issues such as cancer, MD, strokes, obesity, etc.


When you authentically open the “well” of wellness, something remarkably different occurs.  Because you begin to go “deep into the well,” the “well” is no longer exclusively cellular or something inside your mind that is holding you back.  It is a radical shift.   Pre-fitness, fitness, and wellness have tended to look outside the well, and to aspire to bring this wellness inside.  In a shift to “thriving,” there is an intentional effort to focus on inherent health.  And a central theme is likely to involve a shift to FREEDOM vs. control.  Paying homage to their supporters, even body-mind practices tend to aspire to control the body and mind, to make it do what it is not doing, rather than to encourage what it is already doing well (and far beyond our limited thinking).  The body will optimize.  It is our attitude that limits us. 

When you open the “well” of wellness, at some point the focus will begin to radically shift from aspiring to correct what is wrong and absent and missing [as if we really knew any more than cutting edge science “knows,” which is the focus of most fitness/wellness orientations] to:

·      WHAT IS NOT WRONG [Thich Nhat Hanh].  Health is viewed as “inherent.”   And what this means is that health comes from a place of strength rather than loss.  In a thriving/optimal health model, not only is health inherent or already present, but also “problems”/adversity transform to opportunity and information.  In fact, “problems” can provide a meta-motivator (equivalent to the meta-motivation of going to the moon) rather than be a grueling deficit to be overcome;

·      Rather than stressing the body in exercise [which mimics what we do in the fast pace of everyday life and that essentially continues this stress], RELAXATION becomes crucial to access, and then trigger, a highly active restorative/healing physiological process.  Relaxation/calmness allows one to cut through the high-paced chatter of everyday life and listen to the body and to intuition. [This process can occur in high-intensity performance practices found in ultimate athletic training and, to a lesser degree, in intensive interval training in activities such as spin cycling, but it is typically absent.]

·      Focusing on the positive opens a META-MOTIVATOR to stimulate a transformation to health.  Physical self-care becomes integral rather than being a problem; so too, nutrition changes, because we listen to the body rather than detach from it, becoming a face and our thinking [but often, physical training is so fast that it cannot consciously listen to the body or use breath];

·       TRANSFORMATION OF EVERYDAY LIFE: optimizing, expansive, flowing, with gratitude changing from possibilities or options to everyday attributes;

·      LIFE IS ENRICHED as attributes that once seemed to be special and exclusive and end-achievements of one’s life become a part of daily life in, heretofore, earlier stages of life: No longer just some post-endorphin “rewards,” but now, integrative experiences such as eloquence, grace, wonder, contentment, humor, compassion, gratitude are expressions.  New metaphors may open that are aspects of a new “optimal health literacy,” such as “flow,” “intuition,” and other concepts yet to be named.  And what they do practically, is make some process of being physically active something to be desired rather than something to be “required”;

·      THRIVING /optimizing/transforming vs. surviving [a really new word here that can open new concepts];

·      Rather than concentrating on symptom as barrier, ASPIRING to open a “block in holistic body” TO GO DEEPER INTO THIS “WELL” of “wellness,” opening an “unbreakable space” within [that even though we are breakable” in the sense that we do not escape death, we are an expression of more than we allow ourselves to imagine];

·      Health is primarily PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL [Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning] rather than physical: Optimal health can be found in terminal illness [You can experience the joy, humor and courage of a support group of, for example, “cancer patients”];

·      Awareness of SOMETHING SHARED / INSEPARABLE AND SACRED/DIVINE: Namaste: “The light in me bows to the light in you, and together we are one in that light,” [the everyday chatter is overwhelmed by something far more eternal and inseparable for which there is, really, no name, and yet, it is as concrete as sand and leaf and wind once you taste it].

·      HEALING vs. curing/excising illness/disorder [Curing is an end, and there is no end.  Life is a beautiful roller coaster of ups and downs.  Read any bio of a famous person that seemed to have the very best of life and you are likely to find an account of the loss of children, depressive self-doubts, eccentricities].  Healing is ongoing, like the ecosystem replenishing itself, or like a cut healing itself on your arm.

·      Physical exercise, diet, activities, not primarily motivated by themselves but driven, motivated, by a deeper process beyond technique, by LISTENING TO INHERENT HEALTH, to that which is already possessed, to see what is needed rather than by trying to fill in gaps to gain health AND THEN INTUITIVELY RESPONDING [“intuition,” an ambiguous even scary word for many, but practically actualized as a deep intentional listening];

·      “Health” involves a COMPREHENSIVE “MULTI-FOLD” PATHWAY: body, art, contemplation/philosophy [This is CORE to any authentic body-mind-spirit practice or to a “profession,” for that matter—In health, what is your underlying “philosophy of care?”  It guides any technique, and it is likely, in the modern world, to be very obscure, where it is all about technique.

·      RESILIENCE [This concept needs a lot of practical application, but it is not something obscure.]  Being open, active vs. meeting an impasse, but not having to just challenge it physically, as is often the case in athletics or “health.”

·      SPIRIT-BODY-MIND CENTERS  [The drawing board for design is open here.]  It is not just a wellness center, not just a 24-hour fitness center.  Something happens in such a center, where you just might be making a radical shift in where you find health [inherent] and go from compensation to transformation. If you think only attending to the everyday as the way forward, you are simply not very healthy.  Structurally, there may even be an intentional quiet space, areas with soft lighting and natural elements, reading space, art space, outdoor natural space, etc.


In The Science of Yoga: Risks and Rewards, William Broad argues that the health effects of such “thriving” practices are likely to be brought to center stage in the next few decades as primary health interventions, just as elliptical machines [as “fitness”] and so forth seem to catch it in the present moment.  Now you come to the “wellness center” after work, and you “work out” on the machines or swim [but not just “swim,” do serious laps for fitness] or take a class on “core” or “abs and back” or “spin” or perhaps even do “boot camp.”   It is a lot like your daily work.  Statistically, perhaps 80 percent will cease coming after two months at best.  If you continue, you are a rarity, and you are like to feel good, like you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.  We are very social animals, and some of us, respond to the hype of “fitness” and it does us good, but also is likely somewhat harmful.  You spend your time on the machine or stationary suave bike, but you stretch for 5 minutes at best.  You feel best when you quit the exercise and let the endorphins kick in.   But your long time spent in essentially tightening the muscles may cripple you across the long run.  Plus, such exercise is, typically, quite specific to certain muscles, and these muscles are tightening and, in this process, reducing suppleness and flexibility.  The most “uber-fit” persons, in terms of strength and speed and endurance are likely to become almost “cripples” when it comes down to that which in fitness is termed “flexibility” or, in optimal health, perhaps will come to be termed “suppleness.”

Modern yoga, as a practice that aspires to overcome some of these limits of physicality, often mimics this “fitness,” and, therefore, is derivative and degraded form the longstanding goals.  But when it is “optimal,” yoga can integrate some of the emerging principles of optimal health [as it has likely often done in its development in the past and not be just another branch of fitness.] 

Something like yoga, rather than remaining something esoteric or just globally popular, will be an important component to recover attention to flexibility and suppleness.  Science continues to demonstrate powerful effects in chemical changes in the brain and blood as well as in nearly any measure of attitudinal change.  The comprehensive positive impact on neuro, cardio, endocrine, psychological [counter to disorder and optimal attitude], gross flexibility/mobility and functional strength, and on and on into every subsystem of health, continues to emerge.  The effects are both “micro” [physiological] and “macro,” extending into dimensions of life such as enhanced creativity and social “fluidity” that are likely to be increasingly understood as dimensions of health.

Deep physiological changes that have complex outcomes:
Physiological changes—modifying complex body chemistry can ehnance anxiety reduction, reduce stress and anger reactivity—and psychological shifts—such as life satisfaction, self-confidence, social life, and a sense of “hygiene” that it not just physical but attends to “contentment,” “surrender,” and “refuge.”

but not automatic serenity and peace.

The task in optimal health and thriving vs. surviving is in not make body-mind practice a “cure-all,” nor in making physical training a problem.  With body-mind practices such as “yoga,” [whatever that is coming to mean now in the world-wide explosive popularity of “yoga”], the task is in confronting the ability of such practices to improve aerobic or weight loss with the same vigor that are applied to making uber-physical fitness into the save-all.  We need to “grow up.”  For example, aerobic training can be heart saving.  But to say that it is health is, really, a form of both ignorance and even harm.

This arena of optimal health and thriving is new turf.  Next to nothing has been spent on funding this research to date.  And yet, the very little that has been expended in this direction shows nothing but promise.

To date, most of what we have used to build a health model is, paradoxically, a sense of what is wrong, or what is NOT health.  And essentially, our models drag forward a mix of the pre-fitness sense of health as non-illness with fitness as a counter.  To this mix, the reality that life expectancy increases were likely due to factors such as improving nutrition and hygiene more than to fitness had to be address, and so, the birth of “wellness.”  But fitness has continued to hold dominion as the model around which health models are built.  Still, however, fitness is a poor draw for the general population.  And philosophically, wellness is still guided by a search for what is wrong. 

“Health” remains strongly a medical model—a disease and disorder model.  We continue to operate from a sense that “if we were only physically fit and would use good nutrition, we would have good health.”  But health is larger than this, now just beginning to develop a sense of elements such as environmental quality.  Using environmental concerns as a new health element, it is again medical/disorder-oriented that is our first approach.  We focus on degradation and we aspire to improve quality by taking away some aspect of quality in people’s lives and, therefore, make few gains.  The loss of participants in wellness programs tends to mimic this emphasis on degradation and loss.

We just cannot begin from a stance that people are doing many things environmentally right [such as urbanization that we define as a problem when it is addressing many environmental dilemmas as an efficient adaptation in a now peopled Earth].

When we go to the gym, we focus on faults and limits rather than build on inherent strengths.  We carry forward a sense of hard work    that is the very thing we are trying to get away from because it is stressful.  Body practices are important elements of health, but, as “deficit practices,” we both resist them and we miss the essential nature of health as being something that is right vs. focus on what is wrong.  We miss a great peace that is inherent in the physical space of the center and in our condition at that particular moment in time when we come to the center for “health.”  Peace is typically held at bay, as if it is a goal rather than something that greeted us in the morning when we awoke.

In Summary, we become our language. 

If our language is about power, that is where we go.  If our language is about grace, that is where we go.  And the difference is qualitatively different.


     Fitness                               Wellness                                 Thriving

    Flexibility                             mobility                                  suppleness

Strength/power/core               functionality                        balance/proportion

A Comparison Of The Terms Flexibility And Suppleness, With Regard To Their Impact On Health : As a term, “flexibility” seems to offer health, but it is ambiguous.  What does being more bendable have to do with health?  And this ambiguity is a strong part of the reason why it is not really pursued in fitness.  Leaping higher seems maybe functional, while being more bendable does what?   But “suppleness” very clearly offers us health, and it is explicit:  opening, softening the body rather than constraining the body as tightening muscles do and eventually result in stiffing of the body.  It may be “cool” to jump higher as a younger or even middle-aged person, perhaps for some functional balance and surely for competition, but, across the long run, suppleness becomes clearly more important for health in a way that tight muscles only secondarily match.