Learning to Listen

Are you a good listener? By that I mean do you listen to the messages your body is sending? Feelings and sensations are your body’s thoughts. They alert you to what is happening and what you might need. Generally speaking, most people are too busy to notice what their body is saying. Your body can alert you of its needs the same way it alerts you of hunger and pain. The question is, do you pay attention?

In Western culture, the body and the mind are regarded as separate parts. Yet in the East, they are considered an integrated unit. Yoga practice, which includes physical posture, breath work, and meditation, is an opportunity to build a relationship with your body. Time on your Yoga mat or meditation cushion provides a space to get quiet enough to really listen. It takes a dedicated practice to expand your awareness and feel all your parts.

The human body has proprioceptors within its muscles and joints. Proprioceptors provide information to the brain. They let you know where you are located relative to the space around you (this is called exteroception). And they let you sense the internal state of your body (this is called interoception). The latest science suggests that one of the greatest causes of pain and dysfunctional movement is lack of body awareness. Studies show that when you increase proprioception you decrease pain.

The Yoga Tune Up® /Roll Model® Method therapy balls and techniques are an excellent tool to expand your body awareness. This work is the perfect complement to all your other movement practices – including the simple day-to-day practice of living in a human body. I have found it to be so effective that a few years ago I furthered my studies and began offering it in classes and workshops.

The therapy balls help you identify areas of overuse, underuse, and misuse. Not only can you disarm tight and overworked muscles, but you can wake up muscles which are not performing. When you understand and address your compensation patterns, your body becomes more unified in its movement and your performance is increased.

I often joke that humans don’t come with an instruction manual. You learn to move by copying those around you. Most adults don’t have a grasp of basic anatomy. As Jill Miller, the founder of Yoga Tune Up® says, we know our way around the town we live in better than we know our way around our own body. This work will give you a basic understanding of your body and a path to living more fully in it. In other words, you will gain the tools to listen more deeply.

Here are some opportunities to do this work with me:

1. My Yoga Tune Up® class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, 5-6 pm, at Yoga Tree Hayes. I design this class so that in one hour we address a particular body part, muscle group, or aspect of movement.

2. Roll and Relax is a 2-hour full body massage workshop where you learn the Roll Model® techniques and do a full body self-massage. There are two more this year with the next one coming up in June.

3. I will teach a more comprehensive workshop on rolling this fall in Los Gatos. It will include a full body roll-out, some basic anatomy and kinesiology, and the science behind rolling.

4. For a few years now I have been dreaming up an embodied anatomy and functional movement course. It will finally happen next year beginning in January so stay tuned.

Mobility and Enlivenment

I took my first yoga class about 23 years ago and it didn’t take long before I was hooked. For the better part of these years my focus was on getting more flexible. In some places I succeeded, but unfortunately it only brought me instability, pain, and injury. My problem was that I was weak.
 
For several years now I have been working on getting stronger and more integrated. Not only does it feel good to be strong, but I move better and don’t have pain. In terms of yoga, this strengthening has made me loose the ability to do some of the super flexi things I used to do easily.
Does it really matter?
Do those things make my life better?
Do they help me move better in all the ways I want to and need to everyday?
The answer is NO. And I didn’t “own” those poses in the first place.
 
A common theme in my classes is that, “you must own your flexibility.” I am not interested in flexibility that comes by accident, or with momentum or gravity, or by collapsing into a joint. Mobility is flexibility you can control, it’s not passive. So who knows, maybe if I work on those lost poses from this new found strength I will be able to do them again someday with more integrity. We shall see.
These days in my yoga classes the warm up poses are often mobility exercises. Sure, you can do a traditional warm up of 10 Surya Namaskars, 5 A and 5 B, and there is nothing wrong with that. It will get you moving, breathing, and warm – maybe even sweating. However it will not “talk” to the muscles you need to use for the poses we will be doing later in the sequence.
When your warm-ups consist of strengthening and moving the muscles you will need for the yoga postures you get those muscles hot! You are not just working at the level of the muscle, but you are also bringing these muscles “online” in your brain/central nervous system. This creates highways of connection that will give you conscious control over them. As a result you will have much more access to them when you need them in the postures – and in everyday movement. This has great value even if you are strong and/or consider yourself stiff. The flexibility you are seeking comes from strength.
 
The results are rewarding – both for me and the students attending class. I see people getting stronger, improving their posture, and moving better. It’s wonderful to watch
someone push up to Urdhva Danurasana – Full Wheel Pose with more ease and without pain. Even the students who could already do the pose feel they are more in control of their experience. And those who can do it sometimes but not other times are finding it doesn’t happen by accident. When we break down the actions and train the body parts you can do the posture with intention. A note again to the strong ones, it actually takes strength in your extensor muscles to do a backbend. You have to teach your spine to bend. 😉
 
After 18 years of teaching yoga I continue to find inspiration in learning about the body and how it moves. I keep up with continuing education because I love learning new modalities and bringing them into my classes in the spirit of yoga. And I am thrilled that functional movement, strengthening, and mobility exercises are making their way into mainstream yoga studios.
For me yoga is about ENLIVENMENT – coming more into this life, this body, this world… Your yoga practice should help you feel better and move better in your body – it should make your life better. In this spirit it is my opinion that the practice is ours to grow and evolve. Modern understanding of movement science and Neuromechanics, which combines human biomechanics with neurophysiology can enhance everything we do on the mat. What do you think?
 
So if you have fallen out of practice please come back and join me to explore the place where art, science, and spirituality meet.