restorative yoga

Bo Forbes: Mindfulness Expressed in the Body (LBP 017)

Bo Forbes, clinical psychologist, yoga teacher, and Integrative Yoga Therapist talks about what Integrative Yoga Therapy is, how interoception develops a body-based rresiliencethat translates to emotional resilience, relaxing rather than corralling into expansion, why vinyasa and restorative yoga fit together on a continuum, and how using momentum when we get uncomfortable can get us onto some pretty slippery slopes.

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Show notes

On Yoga Restorative Therapeutics: Restorative means a lot of different things today. Many use it to describe holding poses for an extended period of time, like Yin, or a very slow variation of Vinyasa. Our system refers to lying down, as a "passive" practice, no muscular contraction or active stretching.

We're taking into account neuroplasticity- how does the brain change and how does the body change? When we try to create opening or a big stretch, it can create muscle tension and fascial tension and lines of glueing that reinforce the holding we're trying to change. We try to make it more therapeutic by having little elevation and more support. Less is more. you can relax the body into expansion rather than corralling it into expansion.

Yoga, mindfulness, neuroscience, especially affective neuroscience, therapy, and a more physical therapy-type rehabilitative approach. So we're bringing in different capacities and understandings.

How does vinyasa teaching meld with the more passive restorative? Very often there is a discrepancy between active and "passive" forms of yoga, but they lie on a continuum. There's not such a disparate relationship between then in Yoga Restorative Therapeutics.

Interoception: it is mindfulness expressed in the body. What makes it hard for many of us is that the body is unpredictable, it is constantly changing in unpredictable ways. Proprioception answers the question, where is my body in space. Interoception is what is happening in my body at any given time. Going into the body is a little bit scary. Interoception is attending to momentary bodily sensations as they change from one moment to the next.

This mirror our emotional lives as well. In order to deal with the unpredictability we often fix our bodies in space and in time, and we also fix our body in terms of its health. It's almost like we're making a contract with the body never to change.

When the body does change in ways that are bigger than we acknowledge we can feel at a loss as to how to deal with those changes.

Over time if you imagine interoception as entering this wilderness of the body it starts to create a kind of reserve, and eventually we come to enter the wilderness and to have it feel like home. We develop a sense that we can handle the unpredictable.

It develops a body-based resilience that becomes a direct parallel to emotional resilience.

How can one begin stepping one foot into that wilderness? One of the best ways to do that is a very simple check-in with the body several times throughout the day. Even noticing- am I in my body? Or in this moment am I out of my body?

There is a direct correlation between this kind of interoception and self-care. When we can attend to state in the body we can also address them.

We can bring interoception into an active practice like Vinyasa, which in the yoga world in many cases has been focused on proprioception. Neuroscientists are starting to study yoga as exercise (proprioception) vs. Yoga that has this additional component of attention and mindfulness, and finding that yoga that has this added component is significantly more effective in alleviating depression and anxiety than yoga as exercise.

Familiarity and discomfort breed momentum. When we move very fast, and when we’re moving into yoga as exercise (which we know is beneficial, so I’m not saying it is a bad kind of practice), but we use momentum to repeat familiar patterns in the body, and to speed up transitions between poses. This is why things stay the same.

The transition between Downward Dog and Lunge is a place where many of us put our bodies into a box that doesn't fit them. 80% or so of people have a body whose proportions don’t make that shape well, so that in order to transition between those poses we have to do things- like moving fast- to accomplish the transition and we sacrifice the opportunity to not what might be going on that makes it hard to make that transition.

We’re using our practice to awaken more as opposed to creating mastery. Mastery and mindfulness are almost on opposite ends of a spectrum.

Where there is mastery usually by definition we have less neuroplasticity- less new learning- we feel very comfortable in those places. We've lost the opportunity to gain new neural plasticity.

When we’re meant to- in a music analogy- play the same notes every time, we assume that we should move in the same ways, but how do we powerfully bring the mind into the body and practice as though it were new?

One tool for that is to use the toggling technique, where you’re moving back and forth between an old way of moving and a new way of moving and really feeling the difference. Where is there awkwardness? Because often the awkwardness is a really important learning moment.

If we practice for many years, being able to tolerate that experience of awkwardness- or not mastery, and even seeking it out.

When we move in a proprioceptive way we do the movement first, “put your hand here…” and if we have extra time we have the luxury of noticing things.

But if we start with interoception, we bring our awareness to our body and our breath, and the movement is funded from that place.

How momentum affects other parts of our lives- getting carried away with momentum to stay in that relationship you shouldn't stay in, or that job you don’t want to be in…

Our practice can allow us to colonize new areas of awareness in our lives. So if we get angry, and we have difficulty experiencing sadness, cultivating the time to notice that vulnerability underneath the anger can happen via interoception.

Lately Bo is exploring the connective tissue matrix and looking at fascial reintegration and the degree of listening and communicating that happens in that matrix. And in particular using fascial release tools.

Earlier in my (Bo's) teaching I would think about getting an area to open a lot, and then we would have a window of time to re-integrate movement. But I’m starting to realize that it’s not about barreling in to the area we want to release, but actively communicating in a non-verbal way with where we’re going.

It’s starting to feel to me as though there is a form of fascial signaling that happens beyond neural impulses, and listening to that and cultivating permission to enter certain parts of the body. Allowing the mind to surrender to the body.

It’s very humbling to not know an area and how it communicates and what’s happening- to try to curate a new body of knowledge.

Seeing connectedness in the body is, for me (Brooke), helping me to see connectedness in the world.

Tissue work is a great entryway into interoception. In some ways, getting people to listen to their tissue teaches boundaries, and then feeling how connected things are in the body in a very physical and visceral way, and how connected we are to others and to the Earth.

There is so much potential to use the body as a hologram for social change. We’re not just here to change our own bodies and emotions. Neuroplasticity as a social construct- that we’re here to grow as a culture and as a society as well.

Home play!

I love this idea of not giving in to momentum. For this week, see if you can notice the urge towards momentum- whether in a physical practice of yours, or in your emotional life, and then- if you can notice- can you slow it down? How do things change when you change the pace?

Resources

 Bo Forbes

Yoga for Emotional Balancebook

Lose Your Momentum Before It's Too Latearticle

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

Judith Hanson Lasater: The Power of Restoration

Steve Haines: Body Maps and Interoception

Nancy DeLucrezia: How Bodies Change

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

Judith-in-Minneapolis
Judith-in-Minneapolis

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!

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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.

Resources

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

You might also like:

Jules Mitchell: The Science of Stretching

Matthew Remski: What Are We Actually Doing In Asana?

Jules Mitchell: The Science of Stretching (LBP 009)

I got a chance to talk with Jules Mitchell right after she turned in her Master’s thesis on the science of stretching. Jules’ work blends biomechanics with the tradition of yoga to help people move better, and while looking into the research on stretching she discovered some pretty eye-opening things! For example, the idea that we can persistently stretch a muscle and have it grow longer, it turns out, is not true. We get into many other myths of stretching- and it seems there are plenty- what really works, what’s really risky, and what a better model of viewing the body might be when we put aside the “stretch tight bits to make them looser” paradigm.

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Show notes

Exercise Science is a field of science with many different aspects. Jules focused on biomechanics in her Master's work, which is a science of forces and how the body responds to loads.

Yoga therapy can mean many things, but for Jules it means the application of biomechanics into yoga. It takes into consideration how the body is responding to loads, and how individuals have a loading history based on what they have done in the past, so you can't give people a blanket yoga practice.

Her Master's Thesis is basically the science of stretching.

About 1 year into the research she discovered that what she had learned from the yoga community was not supported by the science.

She went through a pretty big transformation from that and had to allow herself to unlearn and approach the science with a blank slate, and then to re-learn.

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.

For those who are dealing with limited range, or flexibility issues, what can they do? Gentle, passive stretching to the point of tolerance where they can relax into it and their nervous system feels safe there, and be there for 30 seconds to no more than 1 minute.

If you really want to see changes it's really about using it. Create muscle force at that range of motion. It's active, your body has to be in control.

Jules does more strength training at these ranges of motion than passive stretching and that's where you start to see the results, because your neuromuscular system starts to work in cooperation.

Pectoralis minor (images here) if that's my issue and I want it to get longer, what would it look like to do this with strength training?

Jules says she is not going to use the word "longer" because the range won't increase. And it's not just pec minor, it's all the connective tissue around it, the ligaments of the joint, all the neighboring muscles, etc.

How that would work, you would bring the shoulder into a range where the shoulder is limited, and then you would work in that range on flexing the muscle to get it as strong as it can at that limited range. It's kind of like resistance stretching. You are stimulating the fibers so that they can communicate with your nervous system back and forth, and that's one of the most effective ways because you are developing strength and control in that joint position.

At the opposite end of that she would refer them to Restorative Yoga which is based in props. You wouldn't try to stretch as hard as you can. When you stretch as far as you can what's already compliant is going to stretch first so you're not going to hit your target tissue. But if you properly use props now there's a more equal force distribution, and you can be in that pose for a long time and communicate to your nervous system.

We are dynamic communicating organisms vs. lumps of clay that can be molded. It's all about how our nervous system regulates our muscle tissue, which transmits a force to our connective tissue.

We have to look at the tensegrity model where muscle fibers literally embed into connective tissue. If you think about it your muscles are contractile tissues- that's what they do. They produce force. the sarcomeres are literally transmitting force to the connective tissues all around, not just length-wise but also radially outwards in all directions and dimensions.

If you don't have the ability to control the muscle force in all dimensions you run into weakened muscle force. We want our muscle tissue to be strong enough to move.

[said another way] We want to be stiff- just stiff in all ranges of motion, not just one range of motion. In a full range of motion "stiff" makes us powerful beings and now we have a full range.

This idea that the more flexible we are the better off we are- when reality those people have more trouble "holding themselves together".

How does someone get "tight" in the first place?

Jules does not use that word, because there is no definition for tight. It's not a mechanical term.

If we're going to go with air quotes "tight", or talk about limited range of motion- that you can only take your joint in certain positions- that happens, 9 times out of 10, because it hasn't been used there, so the nervous system doesn't put it there. The muscle fibers aren't strong enough to maintain that force regulation through the body. It will go to where it's safer. It's not a matter of tightness, it's more a matter of communication.

Jules mentions Van der Wal's article (which is linked below in the resources). He was groundbreaking in this research. He was an anatomist and he realized that our mathematical models for human movement weren't fitting in to how we viewed anatomy. We really aren't a collection of muscles. There's never any part of the body that's slack. His work was groundbreaking for understanding tensegrity. Force transmits radially through out the body, so everything is always under some degree of tension.

One of my favorite Dr. Rolf quotes of all time: "Wherever you think it is, it ain't"

Stretching an injury: we have a cultural misunderstanding of stretching. We have an idea that if it hurts, stretch it. People who are in pain should just leave it alone instead of stretching it and instead move it and use it so the muscle fibers will direct the loads where it's supposed to go.

If you have a tendon or ligament tear, that you want to wait before you stretch. A big problem is that the inflammation goes down within a few days and they no longer feel the injury and so are ready to go right back to stretching it. It's a good 6 weeks before the collagen can take stretching. And that's conservative; A safe measure would be 1 to 2 years.

Most often it takes some re-injury before people are willing to hear that advice about not stretching.

Nobody cares about stretching the way the yoga community does. In the research and in the Exercise Science community there is no interest in these extreme ranges. In fact, in the research Jules was looking at- in many cases people who practiced yoga did were excluded from the studies because they don't expect these extreme ranges.

The biggest surprise was that there was very little research on yoga and flexibility. She found one short study. The yoga community has done some great research but more on mental health and relationships.

However in 2012 Yoga Journal did a study on the 18 million Americans that practice yoga and the number 1 reason they were practicing yoga was to increase flexibility, so there' s a big disconnect [between the research and the reasons people seek out a yoga practice].

When flexibility is the issue for a person, stretching is not going to help. Moving frequently in more full ranges of motion and incrementally increasing the load is actually the answer.

Jules believes that is what yoga was meant to do- yoga is using your body weight in a bunch of different positions.

But we have gone in this "push harder, harder, harder" mentality and you have 80 people in a classroom, and some have been doing handstands for 10 years, and some just got off their couch, and you're giving them the same class. That's scary.

You can't expect a yoga teacher, or any other fitness instructor, in a group setting to be able to fully take into consideration how you have used your body for its whole history. And you have to keep that in mind.

In her own practice Jules is currently playing with decreasing her flexibility. She was never hypermobile, but she's learned that she was really flexible and she was really weak in these full ranges of motion. Increasing the muscle contraction at the end range has got her feeling better than she ever has.

Home play!

I am in the process of finishing the first Liberated Body Guide (short guides of what works for what) and the first one will be the Short Hamstrings Guide ("short" in air quotes, but Limited Range of Motion in Your Hamstrings makes for a wordy title...). Because my world is fairly hamstrings-centric right now due to the guide, let's play with load instead of stretching to see how the hamstrings respond. For one week play with swapping out any stretching protocol you might have for squatting, lunging, or a Founder (from the previous episode with Eric Goodman) and see what response you get. I'm talking about body-weight movements that are not high velocity or high quantity. This is good for both the "tight" types and the Gumby types, so everybody wins!

Resources

Jules Mitchell's site

Jules' most current blog post which covers in more detail what we talked about in the interview: Stretching and Muscle Control

Restorative Yoga

Jaap van der Wal article  (It's exceptional, print it out and digest slowly...)

Jules' post that I refer to in the home play section: Are You Really Stretching What You Think You Are?