Today I’m talking with Judith Blackstone. Judith is the creator of The Realization Process, which is an integrated approach to embodiment for psychological, relational, physical and spiritual healing.
Judith is a clinical psychologist and a meditation practitioner and student of contemplative traditions with more than 40 years of experience. She is the author of several books including Belonging Here and The Enlightenment Process, and she is also the co-founder of the Nonduality Institute which is dedicated to the science and practice of non-duality.
In today’s conversation we’re talking about “the issues in the tissues”, or how emotional pain gets bound in the body- and also how it can be released, what fundamental consciousness is and why it’s useful to attune to it, how your experience of gravity and your fluidity of movement changes with this embodiment work, what happens when people bypass their stuck emotional pain, and how this work can help what I call the “sensies” of the world- the empaths- to do their work and to live fully without feeling overwhelmed much of the time.
Today I’m talking with Mark Walsh, an embodiment specialist who is the creator of the Embodied Facilitator training, Integration Training, Embodied Yoga Principles, and Purpose Blackbelt. His work in embodiment has taken him to a wide range of organizations and communities, from businesses in the UK, to the Middle East alongside the UN, the slums of Brazil, an HIV organization in East Africa, and many other places. In our conversation today we talk about what embodiment means, some of the ways embodiment is being misunderstood, how lives change with embodiment, what the consequences are of living in a disembodied time culturally, and, considering that the world is in a pretty inflamed place these days, we take on how those of us who work with the body can be activists- how our work makes the world a less traumatized and traumatizing place.
Cynthia Price is an Associate Research Professor at the University of Washington in the Biobehavioral Nursing Department. Her clinical and research expertise is in the development of body awareness, or interoception, to improve health and well-being. She is the creator of an approach towards educating people in body awareness called Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy or MABT for short, and is the founder of the Center for Mindful Body Awareness.
Her research studies have focused on the use of MABT for multiple health conditions including Substance Dependency, PTSD, chronic pain, and HIV.Interested in the processes involved in learning mindful body awareness, Cynthia studies qualitative aspects and underlying mechanisms of the MABT approach. She is an author of two scales to measure interoceptive awareness: the Scale of Body Connection (SBC) and the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA). Committed to increasing health care access to underserved populations, Cynthia works with local and international programs to provide and improve complementary and integrative health care through her research, teaching, and service.
Cynthia’s work is essentially getting at the heart of what I’m most excited about in approaches towards the body. Cynthia and I talk about what MABT’s components are and how it helps people with a diverse range of challenges in clinical settings, how and why she came to do this work, and, more broadly, why we disembody, how individual that is, and what we gain when we cultivate a relationship with our bodies.
- Cynthia describes herself as a bodywork researcher.
- As a researcher she developed an approach that grew out of her clinical practice called Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy, or MABT. She took the key elements that people needed to develop body awareness and connect with their bodies.
- Research focuses on looking at how MABT helps people in their lives- people with trauma histories, substance abuse disorder recovery, veterans with chronic pain and PTSD, as well as people living with chronic pain.
- MABT involves developing interoceptive awareness.
- Cynthia trained as a massage therapist in 1981, and was in private practice as a massage therapist for 20 years. Halfway through those 20 years she went back and did her degree in counseling/psychology. She didn’t want to do psychotherapy alone, but wanted to feel more confident bringing a psychotherapeutic focus to her practice.
- Her practice became about body psychotherapy in approach, but really was about the development of body connection.
- She worked a lot with people who were in recovery from interpersonal trauma, mostly childhood sexual abuse.
- The key components of MABT- it is focused on teaching people the fundamental skills of connecting to their inner body sensations.
- It happens in 3 phases: 1: Literacy. How do you help someone develop a language and identify and be aware of sensation? In this phase they are using massage and stopping and pausing in places and asking people what they are aware of. 2: Learning what mindfulness is and how to engage in that in a somatic way. There are a series of exercises in this phase 3: A guided process of expanding capacity to attend to internal experience mindfully. People tend not to be able to maintain awareness for very long, and this helps with developing the capacity to stay connected inside.
- The incremental training orientation is enormously important for people who tend to avoid their bodies as a way of being in the world. What we find in our research is that people have gone to meditation classes and they are completely lost and this work helps them to know exactly how to meditate how to be in a mindful place.
- Why do we disembody? There is not one answer to that question. In my [Cynthia] clinical experience it’s such an individual experience why someone is disconnected.
- There is a cultural overlay but I think that individual reasons for why people get disconnected have to do with natural coping mechanisms that are really helpful for us for avoiding discomfort. Avoidance allows us to function in the face of things that are overwhelming.
- There are common things but the individual stories are so individual. It’s part of the beauty of working individually.
- MABT is differentiated by touch. Historically touch is not used as an emotion regulation tool.
- The field of psychology has created this split between the body ad psychotherapeutic practices. It’s understandable in that there has been so much abuse of touch- sexual assault and inappropriateness which created those guidelines. That’s why I [Cynthia] wound up in school of nursing. They understood that touch is healing. Massage used to be something nurses did in their care of patients.
- Psychologists will often wonder about this work- doesn’t touch create more trauma? Absolutely not. One needs to be sensitive in all sorts of ways, but touch allows people to ground their awareness in a way that provides an avenue for them to attend to their internal somatic experience. Touch is this centering focus for the mind.
- We don’t have an understanding that body awareness is a therapeutic and useful treatment for trauma, addiction, for emotional regulation more broadly
- That’s why it’s an exciting time. In mindfulness research there has been this focus on looking at mechanisms from a neurological and biological perspective. What has been written are theoretical models. What hasn't happened so much is really having the clinical component of this. How do we teach this work? How do people learn it?
- This work is ultimately about listening to their body to learn that they can trust their bodies. This sense that the body is against us can be something so pervasive- how do you soften into seeing it as something trustworthy?
- We get quote after quote [from research participants] of people really describing this. Saying they had no idea how they felt, and no idea that there was a link between physical and emotional sensation.
- A relationship with your body allows your life to unfold and most people don’t even know what that means unless they have experienced it. How do we talk about this? It’s such an internal process. It’s so experientially grounded.
- The most surprising and most challenging work with MABT has been with people who have chronic pain. Their pain is so big that it is their primary experience very day.
- Working with them to bring their attention into their bodies there can be a lot of resistance and fear. Someone who has lived with pain for 20 years and developed an array of coping mechanisms including medication- it’s a lot of them to shift and trust that they can go inside and be with this scary place. This is also true with people who are struggling with PTSD.
- In working with people with chronic pain that’s been the most amazing thing to witness- how much they discover that their pain is just one piece rather than their whole world.
- In MABT we’re helping people to take these baby steps. It’s an education process and a creative process.
- Work with women with substance use disorders: Learning MABT had a significant effect in relapse reduction. They are close to end of a larger study that National Institute of Drug Abuse is funding.
- The initial findings were quite positive. Not only did women with MABT have lower relapse rates and used less substances overall, they also had less depression, improved emotional regulation, reported less stress, less eating disorders which are often very high in women with substance abuse disorders.
- That study had a follow up at 9 months and the strongest results were from women continuing the practice on a daily basis.
- To date she has been training massage therapists in MABT. That’s shifting with growing interest from yoga therapists, psychotherapists, and more so they are starting to open up trainings to people across all these disciplines.
- One of the things I’ve [Cynthia] started to do is to consider how do we make this work accessible to more people? This started The Center for Mindful Body Awareness for people across all these disciplines and to work with non and for profits who are providing clinical care to incorporate and integrate this work so that it can be more accessible to people who are low income.
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Dr. Eyal Lederman joined me in season one to talk about his paper on the myth of core stability. As if that topic alone wasn’t controversial enough, I heard from many listeners afterwards that the really challenging part of that talk was his rejection of the structural model- his point of view that it just plain does not give us much information about why a person is having pain or dysfunction and, more importantly, how that person will recover. To shed some light on that, today we talk about his paper titled “A process approach in manual and physical therapies: beyond the structural model.” We’re talking about why he says the structural model is outdated and needs to be replaced, what he sees it replaced with and how patients are treated at his clinic, and what the benefits are to people when we expand beyond structural explanations for things as well as structural approaches to treatment.
Dr. Lederman is the director of CPDO, which provides continuing professional development for manual and physical therapists. He is also the co-director of a masters of science in Manual and Physical Therapy in Musculoskeletal Health at University College London. He graduated from the British School of Osteopathy and completed his PhD in physiotherapy at King's College, London, where he researched the neurophysiology of manual therapy. He has a number of papers to his name and has also authored several books including Fundamentals of Manual Therapy and Neuromuscular Rehabilitation in Manual and Physical Therapy.
- What is a process approach? Co-creating with the individual to support their capacity for self-healing.
- Most of the conditions seen in the clinic are not to do with biomechanics or structural reasons, but rather represent biopsychosocial processes in the person.
- The forces that go through the body during daily activities are tremendous the body is really tough stuff- can you change the structure and biomechanics? It’s highly unlikely- it has to withstand tremendous forces during the day that cannot be replicated in manual therapy.
- I ask - yes but hasn't our model been wrong? We are learning based on cadavers and living tissue is different. It's more like soft matter physics rather than hard matter physics. [resources- paper on hyluranon]
- Everything works. If you brush against somebody something will change in their body- massage will get a change. The question is what is the magnitude of change? Is it going to be an amazing change? How long is the change going to be there before homeostasis resets it to its original level. Most of the effects in manual therapy are unlikely to last the duration of the treatment and beyond that. Manual therapy should not be the sole therapy.
- It is problematic that our clinics becomes a temple of healing- the person is then not aware that healing happens in their body. Healing depends on self-healing capacity.
- How is the process approach informed by biopsychosocial research?
- We are being called to work in the psychological and behavioral dimension of a person as well for true healing to occur.
- For example imagine someone has knee surgery and it is a brilliant surgery- if they are elderly, have no social support, and have depression all the wonderful rehab is ineffective- there is nothing to maintain what happens in the clinic.
- You have to co-create with a patient an environment in which they can improve.
- Functioncise is using your own movement repetoire and then challenging the things you are missing.
- There are three processes by which people can heal: repair, adaptation, and modulation of symptoms.
- Imagine a patient with lower back pain. In an MRI scan before and after you wouldn't see anything really different, this person is still living with the underlying issues. A lot of what we seeing as healing and recovery has to do with the modulation of symptoms.
- In chronic conditions you are looking at neuroplasticity.
- Ask the question what the best environment is for recovery? We need to create an environment that will support each phase of recovery.
- Most of the time we get better without any kind of help.
- A historical mistake in physiotherapy is when they gave remedial exercise based on body building health industries. Quite often clinics look like gyms. You have to wonder why do we give activities that don’t resemble anything that people do in their lives?
- Don’t invent anything for the patient, use their own movement and pick activities to challenge their losses
- Imagine soothing and calming a child after a fall. Manual therapy is emulating what happens naturally. All we are doing is giving it fancy names- ultimately we are using the same behavior and professionalizing it.
- Why do some people fail to recover?
- When we are in pain we can’t sit in the dark alone and manage it ourselves. Having other people helps a lot.
- Pathologizing of things blocks people from their innate self healing because we are inserting fear into the equation. There is a disparity between pain and pathology. It’s very damaging to pathologize things.
- A lot of my clinic is helping people to re-work the narrative about what happened to them and what they are going through. The fear of movement is the nail in the coffin.
If you’re inspired to support the show, you can do that here. You can also leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher , or simply tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!
Jonathan FitzGordon, creator of the CoreWalking Method, talks about the uniqueness of the psoas muscle, how its connected to trauma and uprightness, and how and why to release it. He also gets into gait patterns, what the most common dysfunctional gait pattern is these days, and how changing your walk can actually resolve your pain and discomfort issues, as well as unlocking emotional patterns. Last but not least we also get into one of my favorite topics- why we all need to stick our butts out more and what that means.
CoreWalking is teaching people how to walk, or re-teaching them. Jonathan has been teaching yoga for 15 years and when he had his own studio he had an interest in helping people to take yoga off the mat. He used to think people came to yoga to change their bodies or their posture, and I realized that people really came to yoga to reinforce their movement patterns.
[the rest in Jonathan's voice except where noted]
Walking is a fundamental thing that we all do, but we don't really think about it. No one is taught how to walk, you usually imitate your parents and grandparents, and their patterns might not be great.
As I created this program right away it started helping people with back pain, which was a nice reaction that I wasn't looking for, but I began to pay attention to it.
If you know how your body works, it's going to work much better for you. I teach anatomy in a basic way, but if you understand how your foot is supposed to fall in every step you take, you're more likely to do it.
The root of the CoreWalking Program is that if you change physical patterns you can unlock emotional patterns or blocks that you have carried around without realizing it. I see that when people change their physical patterns emotional patterns change too.
In New York (where Jonathan works) there are bodyworkers everywhere, so I wanted to create an online program where people who live in places where there aren't a ton of practitioners can get help. They can send me a video and I mark it up and we talk about what's going on.
I am shocked by how effective it can be at changing patterns. I'm not doing anything. I believe in bodywork, but it's not what I happen to do, and I'm amazed at watching these people do all the work themselves.
It's as simple as moving differently. I have to emphasize that I'm not hung up in being "correct" or getting it "right" so much as moving differently.
I [Brooke] mention the Amy Cuddy TED talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (in resources).
I spend way too much time watching people move in the parks, and you can watch someone and you can really read what they are going through by the way they carry themselves.
How can working on your gait pattern help your pain issues?
The body is a self-healing machine, but only if it is working somewhat well. We don't think much about how we walk, we don't align our bones well. If our bones are misaligned our muscles are going to have to work to hold us upright. Overworked muscles don't allow us to move well, and if we aren't moving well the nerves don't flow as well. If we can bring these things together the healing takes place naturally.
Everyone listening can just go outside today and start watching people walk.
Most people when they stand they lean slightly backwards, and when they walk the legs lead, the pelvis is pulled forward and the upper body is pulled backwards. When we do that, we lose the most important part of the gait pattern which is a spinal twist with every step.
So many muscles are involved in a body that walks better from head to toe, so when the spinal twist gets involved that's when we get the core involved. Every step twists and turns and massages your organ body, it affects the lungs, your urogential function... the idea of the body as a self-healing mechanism is the essence of what I'm working with.
You have injuries and you walk and sometimes compensate for them. The way we walk most of the time exacerbates the injury pattern. The way you compensate is fine, but you didn't come back to the way you walked, so you get problems somewhere else.
It's all about movement. The more we move the better. When we do that there is going to be so much less pain.
The Psoas Release Party is an ongoing workshop and a book that Jonathan has written (both in resources). Why all the attention for the psoas? What makes it unique?
The psoas is an important muscle for three reasons: 1) It's the muscle that brought us up to stand 2) It is the muscle that walks us through life and 3) It is the muscle of trauma, or the muscle that warehouses the unprocessed energy.
One of the things that makes us distinctly human is that we have a lumbar curve, that's what allows us to stand upright, it's what transfers weight through the spine, it's what allows us to walk bipedally, and the psoas created the lumbar curve.
When we came up to stand the gluteus maximus is formed- it pulls down on the pelvis to pull it upright. As it does that, the psoas major crosses the pelvis and tension is created and its engagement creates the lumbar curve.
Once the spine is upright, there are only a few muscles- the psoas major, the piriformis, the gluteus maximus are working front to back to stabilize the pelvis.
I love the concept of walking as falling. What prevents us from falling completely is the psoas. When we lead with the legs instead of the core the psoas isn't aligned correctly at the back half of the inner thigh. When this doesn't happen the back half of the body doesn't activate.
When the psoas is engaged with every step the entire back body lengthens. There are certain muscles that support the extension of the spine. If the psoas is not engaging to walk us through life the whole posterior chain is going to collapse.
The trauma piece is incredible to me. Psoas is the main hip flexor in the body and what I mean by that is that the psoas is involved in every response of fear. We're all stuck in our fear response. Every time we're afraid we flex; Fear is flexion. Your psoas is involved every time.
We have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system which work together to create homeostasis of the body. Sympathetic is in sympathy with our fear, parasympathetic is what brings us back to relaxation.
People who cannot relax as quickly as someone else, that gets into PTSD. I'm not trying to minimize PTSD, but I think we are all traumatized to one degree or another. We're here to be traumatized and to work hard to develop a support system to integrate that trauma.
When the psoas cannot release out of the fear response, we get stuck in the sympathetic nervous system.
I don't know why I'm interested in this stuff, I have the longest psoas in the world. I think the fact that I'm fairly chill helps me to work with people in trauma.
What are some ways to release the psoas?
You can stretch your psoas but you only feel it when it's unhappy. I don't think psoas is a muscle we need to strengthen. I am interested in strengthening the muscles that support the psoas.
When you look at psoas and piriformis, a lot of muscles in the body don't work all the time, like the biceps. The psoas and piriformis are working a lot.
What happens when you do give these muscles a break? I think it's a lot about the level of trauma in the body. How do you let that go?
One thing I'm doing is constructive rest position (in resources). It is popular across many different techniques like Alexander Technique. It was invented by a woman called Lulu Sweigard who wrote a book called Human Movement Potential [resource]. It allows gravity to relax and release the psoas. I also do one with a foot on the block and one leg hangs off. I want to put the psoas into a place where it can relax.
What's fascinating is what happens when you do that. Every Psoas Release Party starts with 15 or 20 minutes of constructive rest. Some people have nothing happen. Some people will have their legs flop over to one side, and over and over again it happens. I have seen bodies convulse completely, I have seen feet stamp hard on the floor.
I love that the body takes care of itself when it is ready. It has to feel ok.
I think people are very messed up in their quads particularly the rectus femoris, and I feel like people sometimes can't get to the psoas until the quads get better. I do a pose block lunges for that (in resources).
There are all different ways around it, but the idea of release is to put the muscle into a non-working state to get it to let go.
David Berceli does TRE, Trauma Release Exercises (in resources), and is really interesting to me. His work is about inducing tremors in the body in release positions.
Stick your butt out- why might that be worth harping on?
When I set out to teach people to walk I love that walking is a basic, big concept. I like using big images rather than the subtle. I love the subtle, and I love these really smart people who write about or teach really complex stuff. But I want it to be simple. It doesn't get more simple than "stick your butt out".
I don't feel like you need to be able to do subtle work to change your body.
The main thing is using that cue to get your legs under your pelvis. Everyone leans forward in their thighs and back in their trunk. It doesn't always pull the pelvis into a tuck, but often it does. So when I'm saying stick your butt out, I want their legs under their hip sockets.
"Relax your butt" is another one I use a lot. If gluteus maximus needs to be turned on, it's only a little bit. When you're just standing, relax your butt.
"Give your butt a room of its own." It's not meant to sit on your hamstrings, it's meant to have it's own space. We all need bigger butts.
It's all simple imagery. I get into more subtle things with kegels, mula bandha, and uddiyhana bandha.
You're not saying, "arch your low back more."
We need to have a curve in our lower back, but you want the smallest possible curve. It is essential, but it does not need to be large. If the curve is too big or does not exist, the spine is not going to work well.
The keep on truckin' cartoon is a good exaggeration of the walking pattern Jonathan is describing. His whole upper body is way behind him with the leg out in front.
In his own practice Jonathan is playing with how to spread the fingers in down dog. When he had been doing it, he was spreading them as much as he could. So the pinky was wider than the edge of the palm. I read a blog and the woman who wrote it said to move the pinky in line with the outer edge of the palm. It resonates all the way up into the arm, head, neck, and shoulder. (video in resources)
Where is your leg in your gait pattern? We have an image of our friend, the keep on truckin' guy here, it's clearly a gross exaggeration, but how much are you walking like him? Is your leg way out in front of you? Does your trunk trail behind? Does your leg ever get behind your midline into extension in your walk? How much does it move behind you? Can you use your toe hinge/toe off- that moment when your heel is up and your toes are on the ground? Or do you pick up your whole foot like it's a block? See what you notice!
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Steve Haines talks about Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, body maps and how they become strange or distorted, interoception and why there is more pain in areas that we have less interoception about- or are more poorly mapped, the huge role the vagal nerve plays in our bodies and our sense of well-being, and much more!
*Thanks to Danielle Rowarth for helping to make this interview happen!*
Defining Biodynamic Craniosacral Work: The essence of cranial work is that you touch people and they change. It is really light, slow, gentle work. The understanding is that we're really interacting with the autonomic nervous system.
Another big theme of the work is the sense of a living organism. You're always touching a person, not body parts. And by appreciating wholeness it changes your touch and changes your focus.
There's a sense of a rhythmic body- so bodies pulse. We're never completely still. Rhythm- heart beating, cerebrospinal fluid moving, blood pumping- is an essential part of the body. Interacting with those rhythms is fundamental to Biodynamic Craniosacral.
The smartest thing in the room is the intelligence of the body, so less is more. We are trying to facilitate self-healing.
It's hard work being in a body, it's really not a given. Trying to get a clear sense of your body is difficult. It's a deep practice to be able to experience the nuances of sensation.
Our brain has whole series and layers of body maps. You use different maps at different times- skiing vs. sitting on the sofa for example. I have different ways of representing my body to myself.
A body schema is a sort of default map and that governs reflexes. and people have a limited view in these schemas of their bodies.
What does the word "dissociation" mean in relationship to the body? It is a word in some ways owned by psychotherapy. In cranial work we use it in a looser sense as a loss of relationship to the body. And it's a whole spectrum of things.
The sense of being outside of our body is a common theme actually. Or maybe people can't get a sense of the size and shape of their feet, or feel their belly. The belly commonly is a hollow, empty area that they can't feel really.
I mention that it's like the song "You Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone" but its inverse: "You Don't Know What Was Gone Til You've Got It Back". It's kind of an unknown unknown.
People don't know that there is this much richer experience of the body. It's really not a given.
People with pain commonly have more of this dissociation. Dissociation comes first likely due to the responses to being overwhelmed.
Dissociation is a last ditch survival strategy, and often the root cause of more pain.
Your brain is expecting you to have a body, so if we're beginning to cut ourselves off from that, if we're flooding bits of the spinal cord with endorphins to limit the incoming signals, then you've got a big absence. And the absence of something when your brain is expecting it to be there is a threat. It may be that we fill that absence with pain to say, "Do something about this."
Study on back pain counting receptors in fascia in the back on people with chronic back pain and the expectation was that they would find heightened activity or more activity in the slow receptors, and what they actually found was this paradox of people experiencing more pain who were receiving less information from the tissues.
Phantom limb pain tells us so much about how our brain works. After amputation 63% of people still experience themselves as having a limb, and usually it's painful. It's something the brain is expecting to be be there and is not there.
Proprioception is when you hold your arms out, close your eyes, and you can touch your nose. If you just hold your arm out and close your eyes, how do you know you have an arm? The internal subjective experience of an arm: that's interoception. It generally goes along slower pathways.
Interoception connects differently in the brain, it's much more associated with consciousness. Interstitial receptors carry far more information than for proprioception. Robert Schleip says 7 to 1 (in resources).
There are two big sources of interoceptive information: fascia and the vagal nerve.
What's the important information that the brain uses to let us know that we have a body? The fascia, the flow of information from your guts and your hearts and around oxygen control and the sense of metabolic activity in the body- and most of that is vagal. It's a huge source of information about your sense of self.
People who have high vagal tone are seen as happier and more trustworthy. They are the people who you would move towards in a social situation. So when your vagus is firing you love, you trust, you feel yourself being happier.
How does one have problems with vagal tone, or have low vagal tone? Trauma or anything that overwhelms- too much stimulation. Stephen Porges is an amazing theorist around seeking safety- it's his Polyvagal Theory (in resources). We're constantly scanning the environment for danger, and it often is an unconscious process.
Safety is the most important thing your brain is negotiating. If there's threat in the environment we go into fight or flight, and if that isn't successful we immobilize or dissociate.
As therapists we can mimic what creates safety as a mother would to a baby. There's great research around slow gentle touch activating interoceptive fibers in fascia.
I really believe that you don't change pain by giving pain. You can engage those deep receptors by slow gentle touch. We really don't need to use the deep stuff. I'm not saying it doesn't' work, but I am saying you can have an enormous change in physiology with gentle stroking to trigger that quality.
A simple movement practice to enhance vagal tone: when we're stressed we're checking our environment you have lots of activity in the neck muscles, the eyes are darting- there is a big surge of activity in the head. And your big flexors muscles are getting activated.
The opposite of that might be coming into the extensors, firing the back of the body. When we do that our throat is open, our heart is open, our belly is exposed. This can allow parasympathetic tone to be present.
And the counter-action to all this movement up in the head is to feel their feet and find their feet. I sometimes think what I do should be "feel your feet therapy". But switching on a downward firing coming into the ground you switch off all the business in the head.
Steve talks about your skin as this boundary between the inside and outside. Steve says he likes to have people even imagine walking in soft grass or imagining walking barefoot in a variety of environments. And he likes having people get their softest and fluffiest towel and really luxuriate in getting the receptors activated.
Steve is currently playing with: Trying to find ways to create safety and stimulate the vagus. It's quite hard to touch people's throats. I've enjoyed finding soft ways to tune into the carotid sheath. Often one feels radically different than the other. There's an awful lot of things you might be influencing by touching into that throat area. That might be feeding the vagal nerve and getting some good tone.
I like Steve's very practical exercise for stimulating vagal tone by activating the extensors of the body. There are a number of ways you can do this, from simply lying on the ground and pressing your back body into that surface, or stretching and reaching, or my current favorite way of swinging and hanging on monkey bars. (I'm working on it!)
Summary of papers from the second Fascia Research Congress. I'm not sure if any of these include the study Steve Haines was referring to when he talked about people with chronic back pain actually having fewer receptors, but several of these studies talk about that.
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Judith Hanson Lasater talks about being one of BKS Iyengar’s first students and, especially in light of his recent passing, some of his teachings that have stayed with her the most through the years. We discuss why she has become one of Restorative Yoga’s biggest proponents, what her take is on the explosion of yoga today and how it differs from the yoga she first studied, the how and the why of anger, anxiety, and depression being our most pervasive cultural issues, and, last but not least, why we all need to stop tucking our tailbones!
Why Judith values Restorative yoga so highly- it's a practice of poses centered around resting. She became interested from what she learned from her teacher BKS Iyengar when her twin brother died at a young age and she found she couldn't do her normal sun salutation type practice- she needed to be still and to rest.
It has also become increasingly common that people simply do not understand nor have the ability to lie down on the floor and rest. We are agitated. That trend has gotten exacerbated incredibly over the last 5 to 7 years.
What is Restorative Yoga and why is that not a redundant term? It is the use of props to support the body in positions of comfort and ease to facilitate health and relaxation.
The feedback she hears on the effect this practice is having: it is stunning what the effects are. Everyone apparently has anxiety and insomnia. And this is being relieved. She read a history of a young girl who is ADD and on the drug Ritalin and she had never slept through the night. After a few sessions this young girl who couldn't lie still for 5 seconds could lie still for 20 minutes, and then she started sleeping through the night for the first time in her life.
This is a tool that has nothing but good side effects. This is going to change her [the girl with ADD] socially and emotionally, educationally and personally. She is finding herself.
Three things that Judith finds pervasive in our society: anxiety, anger, and depression. She believes that a lot of that stems from the fact that we completely reject the reality of loss. We are an under-grieved society and that comes from our fear of our feelings.
We all experience loss in tiny ways every day. And when people have a loss in their lives we try to fix that and say, "Don't be sad. Here take this drug, or let's go for a run..." depression follows from that. Depression is anger without enthusiasm. Depression is not feeling sad. People who can feel sadness are deeply alive. Because it's an intense feeling that balances joy.
There is something spiritually profound about being still and watching your mind.
Most of our unhappiness is not created by what happens to us but by what we tell ourselves about it. With Restorative you create a space to watch the rising and falling of thoughts. And then the most important thing we can do can happen- we can dis-identify with our thoughts, "I am having a thought of anger, a thought of sadness, but it's not who I am."
We distract ourselves with entertainment. We pay people in our culture the most amount of money who can distract us the best.
20 minutes a day to notice the thoughts that never end. The chatter that never ceases. And slowly over time we have space between our thoughts and our reaction or the words we choose.
Lying on the floor and letting go, everyday for 20 minutes, is life-changing.
Don't believe everything you think. It's just neurotransmitters locking into receptor sites. We have to not just think that thought, we have to do it. We have to embody it. So what we do in Restorative Yoga is we manipulate our nervous system, by putting ourselves in positions which make it go into parasympathetic dominance.
You watch television commercials and they are all about indigestion, digestive issues, anxiety, depression- and a lot of this stuff can go away if you manipulate your nervous system into this quiet state. It has physiological benefits. It's not all woo woo. It has profound benefits and it's so simple that people discount it.
She was listening to an NPR show where they were interviewing a man who wrote a book about how to get more done even though you're tired. You don't say that about thirst! You don't say you're really thirsty but you can't drink water until 10:30 at night because we don't have any moral idea about being thirsty. But if you're tired, maybe you need to just rest. Instead they go to Starbucks and get sugar and caffeine. And then they feel worse- it's a downward spiral.
Judith has a Spanish proverb hanging in her house that says, "How beautiful to do nothing and then rest afterwards." And we need a little bit of that in our culture.
My kids when they were high school age would say, "Mom you're acting like a brat, go upstairs and savas yourself." They turned savasana into a verb and if I did that I was a lot nicer to be around!
BKS Iyengar was an unusual teacher in many ways- he took an approach that was radical in India. He took an approach that was integral. There was a man in an early class I took with him who was wearing a turban and flowing robes and Mr.Iyengar said to him, "Do you want to know God? You don't even know your foot!" To him it was an embodiment of the teaching of the sutras. He'd say, "Practice your own religion" He wanted you to find wholeness in the moment, to create a habit of paying attention to your embodiment of the divine.
God is looking for you. Just listen. He was very much about that.
He was a questioner and he was always creating and adapting and integrating his life. He wanted to integrate this practice in the world.
He once did all the poses in his seminal work Light on Yoga at the UN. It took him over 3 hours.
He took the Hinduism out of yoga and left the practice.
He also had the most amazing sense of humor. One day I [Judith] was practicing and he had these amazing eyebrows and he looked at us and said, "God gave me these eyebrows to terrify you." and I don't know where I got the courage to say this but I said, "It's working!" and he laughed and I laughed in relief.
What he taught Judith was how to approach the practice. Not what is right, but what effect do I get when I try different things in the poses?
Probably the biggest thing Judith got from him was to live fiercely. He modeled that.
How does the current explosion of yoga differ from what she was learning in the early days? When we take something out of a culture- especially one like India that is so different from ours- and we transplant it's going to take on the trappings of the culture. We are in the process of creating an American yoga.
There's also a downside to that. When I started yoga it was a way to step out of my culture. It wasn't fast and furious, it was: "do a pose and lie down". But now we practice yoga the way we live, so it's not the antidote to our cultural problems. We're doing more of what we do all day long. We need something that is slower, that is paying attention.
All yoga has a place for different people at different times in their lives, but what I feel sad about is that there is not enough emphasis put on being, it's all about doing. And that's what our culture does! Our culture does not actively teach us that being is ok.
On becoming a physical therapist: She realized that she didn't know enough about the body to teach the way she was. So she woke up one day and told her husband that she wanted to become a physical therapist.
She went to PT school for the reason of being a better yoga teacher. She also did a PhD in East West Psychology. Both have been invaluable- she teaches teachers anatomy and kinesiology and wrote a book about it (in resources). It let's her do what she does more effectively.
Her Stop Tucking the Tailbone workshop and why she teaches it: the spine is like a river, it has curves. It's structure is such that it is most stable and it is most congruent when you are in those curves. Straight lines are intellectual concepts, there are no straight lines in the body.
Our culture is a sitting culture. In cultures where you carry on the head, you cannot do that if you tuck your tailbone. People are in lumbar flexion habitually. Then they come to yoga and they are told by many people to tuck their tailbone, or to flatten their lower back. If someone tells you to lengthen your tailbone, you tuck.
It is also philosophical to me that yoga is not about changing people. I want people to come back to what the natural body does.
When you stand with a normal lumbar curve, the viscera or organs.Jean Pierre Barral (in resources) has a theory about a visceral column and spinal column and they support one another. When we tuck the tailbone the organs fall down onto the prostate, the bladder, and the uterus which I think contributes to prolapse for women, and I have a theory that it affects prostate issues as well.
The cell membrane is the brain of the cell in many ways, and I believe when we deform that we open the body up to disease.
There are so many reasons that we need to stand in our normal curves. I cannot tell you how many people say it felt weird at first and then they come back with, "My sacroiliac joint hasn't' hurt for the first time in years, I'm not constipated for the first time in years!"
This work is not just anatomical to me [Judith], it's an expression of all of who we are.
Judith is thinking about non-violent communication founded by Marshall Rosenberg, and she wrote a book on it as well titled What We Say Matters. One of the main parts of that technique is understanding the difference between sympathy and empathy. I'm interested in what it means not just to give emapthy to others, but also how to give empathy to yourself. The deep and profound willingness to accept your humanness.
"How human of me." is a mantra she says to herself all the time. She is currently developing a workshop called Embodying Empathy- what would it feel like to practice with the intention of being deeply rooted in empathy for the self?
Judith very kindly offers me an appreciation and if I sound pretty quiet afterwards it's because I was choked up : )
Margaret Mead said, "Don't forget you're special, just like everyone else."
May we live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water.
Ready... set... let's rest! Whether it's for one day, once per day for this whole week, or something you want to integrate into your life more ongoing, let's try resting in a supported pose for 20 minutes. At the moment in the Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge (currently closed to new folks) we are doing daily Constructive Rest. Here's a moldy oldy video of me demonstrating that (Soma Happy is my private practice name in case you were wondering...). Alternatively, grab Judith's book Relax and Renewand choose a favorite restorative pose for the day. Go for it. Don't discount it. It is powerful.
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