Matthew Remski

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.

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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

Matthew Remski: What Are We Actually Doing In Asana?

Matthew Remski discusses his WAWADIA (What Are We Actually Doing In Asana?) Project. We get into whether yoga asana was ever really intended as a physically therapeutic practice, how the more extreme examples of an austere relationship to the body are no longer practiced by have still been internalized as values in other ways, the bias towards openness (or flexibility), how any physical practice that one undertakes with passion is going to bump up against their own limitations, and that pushing this edge is not necessarily a bad thing.

He also discusses how yoga has been the most consistently transformative and grounding practice that he has been engaged in, and how the project is not only uncovering the shadows of modern postural practice, but is also looking at what some  of the smart pathways forward are, and who in the field is doing the work to illuminate that right now.

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Show notes

Matthew talks about the decade of work and inquiry that led up to this project.

This practice is marketed as therapeutic to the nth degree, but it is contradicted.

In January, conversations with his partner, set the WAWADIA project into motion. She is also a teacher of yoga asana, and had had about 6 or 7 months when she wasn't teaching due to her pregnancy with their son. It put into perspective some of the injury situations that she had been in. Sitting at the kitchen table they just looked at each other one day and said "Well what are we doing in asana?"

Matthew talks about his many self-discovery and self-regulating paths that he's followed and how asana has been the most consistently transformative and grounding practice that he has engaged in. He values it highly, and because of that he believes that the inconsistencies in training and some of the strange, almost masochistic ideals that come into play should be inquired about. He wants to shed some light on these things.

It's not entirely clear that asana has ever been intended as a physically therapeutic practice. The hatha yoga literature is pretty clear in its transcendental goals.

It has an almost sacrificial attitude toward the body to produce immediate, dramatic psychic experiences.

The extreme practices like slicing the frenulum of the tongue and inserting it in the lower sinuses- in teacher training you'll look at those, but disregard them without calling it what it is- which is a severe bodily manipulation in order to stimulate a nervous system experience that is novel.

And if you take that description and apply it to a rigorous vinyasa series that is strong, and many biomechanists would say unsafe, you can see that maybe stimulating the nervous system is actually the point of that.

We're really talking about what the meaning of the body is.

He talks about how the hatha yogis did not really interpret injuries as a necessarily bad thing. A part of that tradition is austerity. Certain forms of bodily mortification, etc are extreme examples of an austere relationship to the body. While we won't see anyone do this in the studios of San Francisco, what we're very good at doing is internalizing these same values so that we can play them out in other ways.

For example, practicing to the point of losing functionality in the rest of your day, or to the point that your eating becomes disordered, or practicing in relationship to any kind of authority that wants to tell you how to be in the world rather than helping you to explore what you are already noticing.

I mention how this translates to any physical practice that people take on with intensity.

He doesn't talk about these extreme practices in order to scare people off, but thinks the truth is that we all have ambivalent relationships to our bodies to begin with,  and the way some people deal with that is to discipline and to punish in a way that helps them to feel released.

Anybody who applies themselves with passion to physical activity, they have to negotiate the moment when the breath gets tight and the teeth clench and we want to push out that little bit more of effort and we have to square that with the rest of our lives. It's not that it's bad.

Everybody is frustrated at being human. Everybody is frustrated at being contained, at being apart from things. Those are natural dissatisfactions.

Matthew's pat response to yoga injuries for years was, "They must have been pushing themselves too hard." or, "they must not have been listening to the teacher." When really the hardest thing for him to do was to realize, "Maybe you're teaching crap and you should learn a little bit more."

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. He talks about his partner, who is not built in an overly flexible way but rather is more densely knit, getting an injury in a pose that asked for more flexibility and when she described the injury to the teacher he told her it was a good type of pain, that it meant she was getting more open.

The studio culture often tells us that more open is more virtuous. And her body type was being seen as a goal of going from not hyper-flexible to hyper-flexible- that that would have been a good thing.

In his interview he has talked with those who identify as "bendy types" and they 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.

The beautiful person fallacy- the attribution of certain qualities to someone based on what they can do or how they look.

Matthew right now is playing with not having a desk- moving around from position to position. He finds he needs to keep moving in order for these ideas to strike. He does a little bit of asana and swimming each day.

Also day-by-day he is understanding that it's not enough for this project to uncover the shadows of modern postural practice, it also has to make some proposals. It's easy to be a critic, but we have to ask what are some good pathways forward.

The book has to be able to say, "Here are the things that seem to be really smart and are working right now." Matthew recommends some people to check out who he thinks are doing extraordinary work right now (see all in resources below).

Over the last 3 or 4 years a richer biomechanics discussion, and a materialist discussion of what asana actually means and what it's capable of- that discussion has slowly started to creep in to the center of yoga discourse. The tissue loving message is starting to make serious inroads.

Resources

WAWADIA introduction to the project (update #1)

For the scientization of yoga: Joseph Alter and Mark Singleton

People who Matthew feels are doing extraordinary work in the field:

Vanda Scaravelli and her book Awakening the Spine

Esther Myers

Monica Voss

Tama Soble

Maria Cristina Jimenez

Bonnie Bainbrdge Cohen

Amy Matthews

Leslie Kaminoff

Jill Miller

Paul Grilley

Jules Mitchell

Trina Altman

WAWADIA updates (#1 is above at the top of the resources):

#2: Questions, Questions, Questions!

#3: "Wild Thing" Pose: Impossible, Injurious, Poignant

#4: Emerging Psychosocial Themes in Asana-Related Injuries

#5: "First, Do No Harm" An MD on Asana-Related Injuries

#6: I Was Addicted to Practice: A Senior Teacher Changes Her Path

#7: Pain, Performance, and Politics: A Conversation with Mike Hoolboom

#8: Notes On My Hospitalization