Judith Hanson Lasater

My 20 Favorite Moments from Season One (Part 2)

56237885_1824693367_zMore! More! So many more jewels! I won’t bore you with an intro- you get the idea. I am sharing my favorite 20 moments from season one- courtesy of these gorgeous people who shared their wisdom with all of us. Part one of that post (with 1 through 10) is here. Other learnings from season one are here. And... 11 through 20 is…. Here! 11. Dissociation, or a limited/confused body map, is often the root cause of pain. Steve Haines: “The sense of being outside of our body is a common theme actually... 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 kind of 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.’”

12. “We are an under-grieved society” Oof. When Judith Hanson Lasater said this to me it just pierced right through me. Cleary it’s because I had stuff to grieve, but it’s also because on a larger society-wide scale she’s right. Perhaps it pierced through you too? : “We all experience loss in tiny ways every day. 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 Yoga 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.’”

13. Redesigning your life to be less convenient can have huge benefits. Valerie Berg, in talking about structural aging and the shoulder pain and immobility that can result from not raising your arms above our heads mentioned, “Years ago I had my kitchen redone and I had them make the cabinets really high, so every day I have to reach really high to get bowls and things.” I love that! We should start a design movement around objects that make life less convenient and therefore make us move more... who’s with me? (P.S. I know Valerie in the real world- not super well but we’ve been in the same place at the same time together- and she is one of the most sparkly personalities. It’s like she’s always got some secret she is delighted by, or some fun-loving prank she might pull at any moment. So to picture her telling a kitchen designer/contractor that she wanted to make it hard for her to reach her things in the cabinets just gave me a special kind of giggle and satisfaction.)

14. Oh fascia. Why won’t anyone give you the cred you deserve? Fortunately for us people like Thomas Myers are on the case. And he’s spreading the concept of fascia as the 3rd big auto-regulatory system: “So I’ve put forth this idea that the fascia is the 3rd big auto-regulatory system. The nervous system is an amazing auto-regulatory system, and circulatory system ever since the 1600′s has been seen as just that- we add in the lymph and the cerebrospinal fluid and we have an idea of how the fluids work in the body.

After 500 years of anatomy we still don’t have this image of the fascia as a whole system. Every time I go to Equinox in NY I see someone on a foam rolling out their iliotibial band. It’s really of limited value, and it’s really quite painful, and if someone could see this as a part of this larger system they might not do it- but the predominating vision in a lot of people’s minds is that we think of ourselves as put together like a Ford or a Dell computer. We live in an industrial society, and so we think of ourselves in these terms. But it’s a really inadequate view.

15. Let’s examine the openness bias, shall we? Matthew Remski: “The openness bias- of flexibility as the goal- is harmful not only to those who are hypermobile, but also to those who are less mobile as well. The studio culture often tells us that more open is more virtuous. Those who identify as “bendy types” were praised for going deep into poses which weren’t really hard for them. And as they were being asked to demonstrate and practicing they were injuring themselves. Women within the hypermobile category are showing the highest rate of lumbar spine injuries.

The other thing about the openness bias is that there is this unspoken connection between joint mobility and emotional openness. Looking at back-bends: when called heart-opening, it suggests that a particular thoracic movement will have a particular emotional effect. Openness in the joints is often associated with an ability to be placid and accepting. First, are these virtues we actually want? And second, is that actually true? I don’t have statistics, but I’ve met plenty of bendy people who are as emotionally closed as anybody else I know.

16. What the hell is stretching anyway!? Jules Mitchell totally blew my mind when the work she did for her Master’s Thesis confirmed what I had been experiencing my whole life: “The concept of stretching in itself, at least in the yoga community, this idea that if you stretch more and stretch harder that it will get longer and you will increase your range and you will get more flexible has very little truth to it. In reality that’s just damaging it [the tissue]. If you hold a rubber band and stretch it, then you release that- you release the load- it goes back to its original shape.

Lack of range of motion is not realty about lengthening. It’s much more an issue of tolerance. It’ s a use it or lose it thing. If you never work in that range of motion your body doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want to go there.

So your nervous system limits your range of motion. That argument is the hardest one to come to terms with- that for the most part range of motion is an issue of tolerance and not mechanical length. “Tolerance” means can they go there? When they hit the end of their range, that’s their nervous system limiting their range. If they were under anesthesia, they would have a full range of motion.”

17. Compression doesn’t just make your back feel cranky. Eric Goodman: “The modern body is super compressed- we are losing the war against gravity terribly. What about the digestive issues, the depression, the mood issues- these are just other forms of compression.”

18. The wolf and the Chihuahua. I asked Erwan LeCorre, “What are zoo humans?” And he responded, “It is a metaphor. Some people are insulted by it- a different metaphor would be that we’re farm animals, or domesticated animals. We’re a little bit like pets. All dog species come from the wolf, which means the Chihuahua and the wolf are related. The Chihuahua would die within hours or days in a wild environment. We are fabricating a form of a “human breed”. We are to our ancestors what the Chihuahua is to a wolf. It’s not about giving people a hard time- but it’s an observation that most people have become alien to the body and are in a state of physical neglect.”

19. A return to head carrying? Esther Gokhale, “Head carrying is something we are not doing at all in our culture. We are really missing out from not doing this. If you have to carry on your head it keeps the rest of your spine honest. You get immediate feedback and you have to straighten out. Putting a small weight on the head is the best way to line things up. It is a very primal experience. All the stabilizers in your neck and spine say, “We know this!” and gear into action. “

20. Can you re-visit your infancy to get super strong as an adult? Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert of Original Strength enlightened us about the bridge between movement and brain development, and how we’re actually regressing our brain development in our under-moving culture. Tim and Geoff developed their work by looking at information that had been previously been applied in the areas of learning disabilities, brain development, and brain rehabilitation.


As always, I am hugely grateful to all the smarties who have shared their work and passion with all of us. Thank you. This is the end of my indulging in nostalgia for season one (well in print anyway), and season 2 will arrive on (Liberated) Tuesday, April 21st. Yes! For reals! More nuggets of wisdom!

Additionally, April is a challenge- aka movement cleanse- month for us, so if you have been curious to try out the Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge, there just isn’t a better season (in my opinion) to dive in than glorious springtime. And if you have been a challenger in the past, you’re still in and can rejoin the group for fun kinesthetic exploring again. If you have no idea what I’m talking avbout of course, you can visit the challenge page to read up on all the details. Doors open this Saturday the 28th. Let’s play this April!

image by Leo Reynolds

Judith Hanson Lasater: The Power of Restoration (LBP 014)


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!




Show notes

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.

Home play!

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.


Judith Hanson Lasater's site including links to her books, workshops, and trainings

Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar

Yogabody: Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Asana by Judith Hanson Lasater

Barral Institute for Visceral Manipulation

Center for Non-Violent Communication

What We Say Matters by Judith Hanson Lasater

If you liked this episode

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Jules Mitchell: The Science of Stretching

Matthew Remski: What Are We Actually Doing In Asana?