Tuesday, February 24, 2015
YOGA IS TRANSFORMATIONAL in all of its expressions. Centuries of variation aspired to transform to “rise above the suffering or existence” (especially when lifespan was typically shorter and basic subsistence required more than full-time effort) and/or to “yoke” or bind with the ineffable absolute or specific transcendent being(s). In India, this found expression in diverse religious and sectarian approaches such as the rich variety of Hinduism, Muslim and related Sufism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and broader pan-Indic movements such as Shaivism, and theologically-open sects, and even in militarized ascetic sects/orders.
As yoga became a part of established sects, yoga either became a motif or part of the sects’ rituals—secondary, and derivative and even degenerative where, in either case, was used to serve the objectives and goals of the sect.
Similarly, contemporary global yoga practices tend to not be that different, as evidenced by the great variety of “established” approaches and myriad individual systems. Some practices aspire to just be yoga, but there is always a directive.
Two aspects appear to be consistent. First, there is a dynamic in yoga that is transcultural that appeals to a variety of approaches, with many newer emphases such as health and therapy and even performance and competition/sport.
Second, there is a problematic dynamic that appears to be consistent. The problem arises with the vision of transformation. What is interesting is that the body-mind that one brings to yoga is already the consequence of conditioning by culture, everyday habit, injury/trauma. The body-mind tends to be approached as a “wreck,” with the yogic goal being one of trading the vaguer conditioning that has resulted from culture and life experience for a more specific “better” conditioning. Yoga is directed toward creating a conditioned body-mind to attain the goal of the specific approach/practice.
What if yoga was to aspire to step out of conditioning altogether?
There is another way to look at yoga and body-mind. Rather than use yoga to change body-mind, use body-mind to guide yoga. This involves approaching body-mind-as-it-is and allowing the wisdom/intelligence that has culminated naturally in the body-mind to emerge: natural body-mind.
With an orientation toward natural body-mind, calming and listening and following and freeing become truly transformative. There is trust in an inherent health that is evidenced in the complexity of body and mental awareness that is the consequence of billions of years of evolution.
How to make this shift?
Again, de-conditioning by physically stilling that then opens a general emotional response of calming, listening to stillness and to movement, and following breath. It is difficult to both listen and to allow the body physiology to offer direction when moving fast. Moving fast, you are onto something new before you “hear” or feel what might be present. Even in a group, there is a need for individual intuition rather than total uniformity.
The body-mind can be approached as a landscape to be discovered rather than as something to be directed.
In this sense, yoga goes back to its longstanding meditative aspect as primary. It is possible to just sit or lie or curl up or sway or shift posture and or breathe or just breathe.Body movement is slower and “poses” or asanas are “deep stretching” that is never fixed but rather continues to open or unfold. Practice can be “deep comprehensive stretching” so that movement is varied.
Rather than get increasingly specific on “how to de-condition body-mind,” perhaps the best place to begin might be to approach the yoga that one does (or any body-mind effort) as a form of conditioning rather than freeing, and begin to ask how body-mind might be more freeing or de-conditioning, and then slow and listen and see what appears. Rather than set an intention, invite something in and see what appears.
Monday, February 2, 2015
(See earlier post: “Connective Tissue” As The Locus for Restorative-Yin Yoga, 2/15/11. Also, see posts: Slow Cookin’, 6/6/13, Deep Comprehensive Stretching, 1/1/13, Stretch& Relax, 10/2/12,Holding Yoga Poses & Spindle Release, 2/18/12)
MOVE FAST and muscles stretch. Fascia [“Fah-shah”) is the last to stretch, and fascia stands to be stretched when held. Popularly, muscles are sensed to be that which moves and flexes with fascia sensed to be rather immovable. However, flow through yoga poses for a couple of months and then hold poses for a couple of months and see if you do not notice an increase in flexibility and suppleness.
Yoga is popularly approached as a fitness alternative—but essentially as a fitness “workout”—and we tend to deliver what participants can feel, and participants can feel muscles move. If new to yoga, muscles will likely burn the next day. However, if poses are held and allowed to gradually stretch, muscles will likely not burn the next day.
That which we do not feel, we tend to not even sense its presence. If we move and perhaps sweat, we feel that we are getting to that which we need to get to. And yet, what we need to affect to gain the most obvious physical goal of modern yoga participants is to stretch fascia.
Fascia is more than tendons and “gristle.” It is a web of living tissue found throughout the body. It coats muscle strands in three layers and is inside muscle tissue joining cells, and ultimately streams down into more recognizable ligaments at the end of large groups of muscle strands that attach muscle to bone. Gently leach an organ such as the heart of its muscle cells and find a ghost-like heart shape of fascia upon which contemporary biomedicine has now grown a new heart from stem cells.
Fascia is not rubber. While we may think of it at the white material in anatomy illustrations, it is living fibrous tissue., fascia is everywhere. Fascia is structural support/strength. It absorbs shock throughout the body. It contains pathogens in regions so that the immune system can rush to those regions. Full of nerve tissue, nerve communication is streamlined across the surface of fascia. (And perhaps because of this optimal nerve sensation flow, it might be strongly associated with complementary medical interventions such as acupuncture/acupressure and be a locus for understanding of “Eastern body structure”—such as “meridians”—from Western medical perspectives.0
One body-MIND aspect that may relate to fascia is the arena of trauma being held in the body physiology. [An interview with Tom Myers, “Creating Change: Tom Myers on Yoga, Fascia and Mind-Body Transformation,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eva-norlyk-smith-phd/mind-body-_b_4387093.html explores fascia and trauma work.] “Bodywork” such as Rolfing, the work of Wilhelm Reich, and Hakomi Therapy pay attention to the body in approaching emotional disorder. There is typically some physical manipulation that is sensed to be “deep.” It would be apparent to anyone that an experience defined as traumatic, especially chronic, is likely to be expressed somewhere in the body in chronic tension patterns. General stress is a milder form of this expression. Tom Myers suggests that fascia is ‘the final repository.” He states that Most of these emotions are going to start in your nervous system. They’re going to be exported to your muscles. And the pattern in your muscles is going to determine what the pattern in the fascia is. He posits that sustained stretch in yoga poses change the connective tissue. So poses that are sustained is the key. While it is great for physical health, exercise in the general sense—running or working out… . has less effect on the fascia, because it’s designed for the muscles, for the cardiovascular system or perhaps for neural recruitment, such as stability training. Myers stresses the necessity of giving the muscles a chance to slow down. The muscles have to relax first, and then the fascia starts to stretch and release. And that can facilitate the kind of repatterning that leads to lasting release of chronic holdings and, in many cases, a profound change of mind and body.
Another body-MIND aspect might involve fascia as the seat of “high-quality proprioception” (i.e., the ability to be consciously or subconsciously aware of where the localized parts of the body are.) We might “feel” our muscles, but the muscles operate rather isolated and Via fascial connections, muscles are linked into long functional chains, and really, it’s these larger myofascial chains that are responsible for your movement. [Jenni Rawlings, “Yoga Anatomy: What Every Teacher (and Practitioner) should Know About Fascia,” http://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-anatomy-“ what-every-teacher-and-practitioner-should-know-about-fascia, Feb 2, 2015] This high-quality proprioception is not just body awareness, but may be a physiological aspect of “inner vision” that opens not only body health but a reading of “integration.”
[Without much clarification, Rawlings suggests that varied movement rather than the repeated movement of “chaturangas” may strengthen fascial tissues whereas repetition may weaken fascia and make it more prone to injury.] But we might be asking ourselves, why 60-70 “down dogs” in a vinyasa session? Why not explore down dog variations and move on?]
Beyond attention to fascia, Why, Why, why we are not challenging this vinyasa flow sequence seems remarkable, and is a very, very good reason to challenge things like yoga registration? Why are we validating Y’s exploding yoga [like exploding judo in the 1960’s, now gone] and myriad yoga studios that aspire to seek more participants? Why are we not looking to deeper aspects, both straight-up fitness physiology that is correct, and, of course—that rarity—deeper mind-body-spirit dimensions?