Today I’m talking with Peter Blackaby who is the author of the book Intelligent Yoga which he is currently writing the 2nd edition for. Pete started practicing yoga in 1978 and began teaching in 1986. He then went on to become an osteopath. In 2002 he became involved in the British Wheel of Yoga (which is the governing body in England), and ran a two-year teacher training program for them. Since then, Pete has been running courses for teachers and teaches functional anatomy and biomechanics in the UK and internationally. His interest in the last 15 years has been to put some scientific underpinning to the practice of yoga, both in the biomechanical sense and in the mind/body relationship.
In today’s conversation we’re talking about moving away from the Western reductionist view of anatomy, what a bottom up approach to yoga looks like vs. a top down approach, how the whole person’s lived experience is tied into how they move, and how yoga teachers can approach working with students who have chronic pain.
Leslie has been a yoga educator for the last four decades and is an internationally recognized specialist in the fields of yoga and breath anatomy. He leads anatomy and yoga methodology workshops for many of the leading yoga associations, schools and training programs in the world.
He is the co-author of the bestselling book Yoga Anatomy and the founder of The Breathing Project.
Leslie has also helped to organize international yoga conferences while serving as Vice-President of Unity in Yoga, and was part of the committee that established national standards for yoga teacher training.
In today’s conversation we’re talking about what it was like to have a front-row seat for the birth of the fitness and yoga industries in the United States, concepts related to breath and breath anatomy, and the art of teaching and the importance of creating an atmosphere of inquiry in yoga classes in order to honor students’ individuality and allow for deeper insights.
Today I’m talking with Amy Matthews. Amy has been teaching movement since 1994. She is a Certified Laban Movement Analyst, a Body-Mind Centering® Teacher, an Infant Developmental Movement Educator, and a movement therapist and yoga teacher. Amy is also the co-author of the best-selling book Yoga Anatomy, and together with Leslie Kaminoff Amy teaches The Breathing Project's Advanced Studies courses. In today’s conversation we’re talking about Laban Movement Analysis and Body-Mind Centering, developmental movement work, and what that means for infants- how they can get a solid foundation for personal agency and emotional regulation through movement, and how developmental movement work helps adults as well. We also talk about embodied teaching, how teaching is its own art form and how it can also call forth a student’s personal agency.
Beyond Anatomy: A Somatic Symposium (coming soon! April 1st and 2nd)
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.
I’m talking with Leslie Kaminoff, Amy Matthews, and Peter Blackaby about our upcoming somatic symposium at The Breathing Project in New York this April called Beyond Anatomy. We talk about what “beyond anatomy” means to each of us and what some of the specific things are in our own learning trajectories that we are exploring at this point.
Dr. Steve Gangemi, aka The Sock Doc, has ruffled more than a few feathers with his proclamations that stretching is for Bozos... In today's conversation we reconnect to talk about why he's tempered his statement to "stop mindless stretching", what stretching even is, what flexibility is really a reflection of (hint: it's not your stretching regimen), why we might feel the need to stretch, and more.
Steve is a chiropractic physician who has trained in the fields of functional neurology, biochemistry, acupressure meridian therapies, applied kinesiology, and dietary and lifestyle-modification methods. He practices in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- What is stretching and why does its definition seem so different depending on who is delivering it
- What is the difference between flexibility and mobility? Steve likes Ido Portal's definition of mobility which is flexibility plus strength. Being mobile is being stable- able to resist force in certain positions.
- How do we determine what range of motion is useful range for any particular individual?
- The musculoskeletal system and fascia are a reflection of our nervous systems.
- When you get into Eastern medicine they talk about how your emotions affect your muscles and directly affect your ability to stretch and be more flexible. The emotional component is big and manual therapists can forget about it.
- There is a huge campaign right now to get people to stop sitting so much in chairs. However, you are still going to have the same locked up psoas if you aren’t breathing even if you’re moving. It can happen with sitting, but can also happen because you are in a state of fear- that’s how Chinese medicine would look at it.
- Gel fascia:that was the big talk at the FRC this past fall. Most people about fascia as Saran Wrap or a thick angora sweater. That's true, but a different type of fascia is hyaluronic acid. This specifically is a gooey jelly-like fascia that’s everywhere in our body. It hasn’t been talked about because you don’t see this stuff when a person is dead and most students are studying cadavers.
- The extracellular matrix as a body wide communication system- how that works and how it works in the context of people having changes in mobility or ranges of motion.
- Gerald Pollack has some YouTube videos about the 4th state of water as gel. We think of ourselves as 2/3 water, but our molecules are 99% water and it has a high gel-like form. This gel form of water is what makes up the ECM. That is pretty much all of our cells within this fascial matrix. It can change within seconds and some people talking about tit as a separate nervous system.
- How critical touch is in a very under-touched society.
- Why say to move instead of stretch?
- You should not feel the need to be stretching. One of the most important questions to ask yourself is, “why do you feel the need to stretch?” If you are moving well throughout the day you shouldn’t need to stretch out after you’re done, because you should have generated more flexibility during that workout. If you have to stretch out you just did something detrimental to your system.
- Many people feel stretching will decrease injury rates or improve performance but this is inaccurate.
- Is yoga stretching? Contrary to popular belief "yoga" is not sanskrit for "stretching". It is a mindful practice.
- Yoga is like the gluten issue, or yoga is becoming popular like the gluten free diet. A lot of people are doing it but they don’t know why they’re doing it.
Joanne Avison, author of Yoga, Fascia, Anatomy, and Movement, talks with me about fascia and why it has been overlooked historically (which includes a fascinating tour through the history of anatomy and its relationship to the Catholic church), how we form embryologically and what implications that has for biomechanics vs. biotensegrity (or biomechanics vs. biomotion). We also discuss what that changes when we have to reconfigure the language we use about movement and the body.
- Why has fascia been so ignored historically?
- Andrew Taylor Still and John Godmen before him first mentioned the fascia as highly significant
- Back in history- Rene Descartes did a "turf deal" with the Pope. Human dissection was not allowed. The Pope sanctioned it except the church held jurisdiction under the mind, spirit, soul, and emotions- the physical body only could be taken to science.
- Candance Pert points out in Molecules of Emotion that this took us down a road where we thought about the human body functioning like a clock, or like any other automaton. It was divorced from its surroundings.
- Anatomy then progressed by scraping away anything that wasn't a "thing".
- John Godmen was the first to have students to open the body and see what they see without their ideas from their anatomy texts. What they saw was fascia everywhere.
- Andrew Taylor Still is the father of Osteopathy, Thomas Findley has done a lot of beautiful pieces on Still and his story of fascia [in resources].
- Fascia is continuous and ubiquitous.
- No one is saying throw out the old and in with the new- we're inviting an evolution of perspective. We have to include this highly inclusive tissue.
- Biotensegrity- one of the big difficulties about understanding the fascia is that if we take the fascia out on its own- is that the architecture of the body is under tension. It is pre-tensioned. It's under a kind of stretch already.
- The visual metaphor of a circus marquee- this is not a biotensegrity structure because it is attached to the ground- but it is easy to imagine tension-compression architecture.
- We are a closed structure but we are formed under this tension. It's the appropriate tensioning of the tissue that gives it its characteristics
- When a muscle contracts it has got something to pull on in order to move. You can't separate one from the other.
- This is why levers give us a tough time- because they are open chain mechanisms.
- According to the naming of the different types of fascia, it has to be continuous to be called fascia, but the bone has to be discontinuous in order for us to move as we do. Bones are omitted because they are considered discontinuous, yet in a tensegrity structure we need those discontinuous structures.
- If the elbow is a lever, where is the pin? (!!!)
- We are formed in the round- how do we work if we are formed in the round?
- Jaap van der Wal did his PhD on fascia. What he found was a whole and complete architecture full of proprioceptive nerve endings. His work wasn't published because it was so controversial. [in resources]
- He also said there are only 6 true ligaments connecting bone-to-bone, the rest are continuous with the joint structure, and in essence accused anatomists of carving ligaments.
- Jaap van der Wal says "ask the embryo" because the embryo forms in the round.
- Joanne does an amazing job of taking you on a gorgeous tour through how an embryo forms- don't miss it.
- It's like bio-organic origami.
- No one really knows how an embryo "knows"how to specialize. We've grown up in a culture where we have inherited a foundation in fact, and science has come to mean that the spiritual side of things- or accounting for anything that can't be seen by data- gets lost.
- John Sharkey facilitated the first human dissection program looking through the lens of biotensegrity. It was a Thiel dissection- meaning the body was treated for 5 months in a different way than the standard formaldehyde cadaver- and therefore they behaved like anesthetized bodies in the operating theater.
- Joanne could look for membranes instead of which bone is which and which muscle is which. She was allowed to look through a different lens.
- The second you put the knife to them you have destroyed their wholeness, but they found the membranes. They were so fine.
- So-called "muscles" are continuities.
- Anatomists "designing" anatomy.
- What was so amazing was the folds- you don't get to see this in a typical dissection. If we learned movement in terms of folds I don't think we would make so mamy mistakes or have so many injuries.
- Muscles are turn-buckles- they tension the whole matrix. People can tighten them in uneven ways with movement patterns and repetitive fitness habits.
- If we follow the laws of fascial fitness we bring in diversity.
- We have to be stiff enough to hold ourselves up- yet we use the word "stiff" to describe pathology. We need to think differently about the words we use- particularly "tight" and "stiff"
- The idea of the plumb line and how it is a faulty view of how gravity works.
John Sharkey and Joanne Avison: Terra Rosa magazine: Biotensegrity, Powering the Fabric of Human Anatomy
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In today's conversation Neil Pearson is helping us to understand what pain is. We discuss the assumption that all pain is directly correlated to tissue damage, why your brain is messing with you by creating pain in the first place- if it’s not always telling the truth about what’s going on on the inside.
Neil also discusses how pain isn’t just biological, biomechanical, or biomedical- and how better understanding how our lives and bodies are integrated can help us to address it more effectively than reducing this way and trying to put it into one “box”or another.
In fact we talk about the trouble that “it’s all in my head”- one such box- can lead to- things like deciding we need to only therapize our pain away from an emotional perspective, or that we can simply ignore it and push through it as if it being about our nervous system and not (necessarily) our tissue makes it somehow imaginary.
I also ask Neil his opinion on whether or not we can actually figure out how much pain a person is by doing a brain scan, and ask for his advice to yoga teachers and other movement and fitness educators about how they can best help their students.
- What is pain?
- Pain is a complex human experience. Typically we consider it to be a symptom of injury, but pain isn’t all about tissue damage, it has a relationship to that but also to other things. We feel pain when our brain decides that something dangerous is happening.
- We need to treat pain more like a verb than a noun.
- Is it possible to not have tissue damage and still have lots of pain? Think of a paper cut- small tissue damage, add lemon juice, get lots of pain. We can also feel pain in the absence of signals from our body, like with phantom limb pain.
- When the pain is really big it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t something horrific happening inside. When the pain is more intense the system is trying to get you to change behavior.
- When there’s a situation where the body has been sending signals to the brain but the person has been ignoring, the system may ramp things up in an attempt to get your attention. There’s a point at which ignoring the pain isn’t a good idea anymore.
- Pain as a biopsychosocial phenomenon- what does that mean?
- Pain isn’t just biological or biomechanical or biomedical. As if pain only has to do with the physical body. We as humans lead a very integrated life. What’s happening in our body, social relationships, emotions, work, etc. will have an effect on if and how we have pain.
- The most effective interventions are the ones that specifically address the body and the mind together.
- A recent article (in resources) that stated that scientists can measure pain with brain scans... Are we going to use a brain scan to figure out how much in love a person is? Pain is very individual.
- We can’t change pain like a light switch. We can have some influence- change it like a dimmer switch turning it down over time.
- We can also change pain through knowledge. There’s lots of great work that Mosely and Butler [resources] have done- when we actually understand pain it often decreases the pain signals.
- A number of studies show that [resources] you can change pain through breathing exercises.
- One of the reasons why some people don’t have success they want is we on the practitioner side give up too soon because we don’t understand that the nervous system is changeable but often difficult to change.
- If you ignore and push through the pain over and over and over again- carrying on because you are tough- you’re training the nervous system that you don’t listen very well. In that situation need to do less and to move in a way that doesn’t leave us worse afterwards.
- “Whatever you’re practicing now is what you’re going to get good at.” Neil's yoga teacher was talking about what you’re doing with your breath, your body tension, how you’re approaching it... If you practice pushing through the pain all the time, your system gets good at creating protection.
- Yet acute stress can be helpful for those in pain- how do we differentiate between acute and chronic stress- good stress vs. bad stress?
- Not only do we need to feel safe and feel like we’ll be ok later, we need to keep our bodies and breath as calm as possible. If pain’s not accurate, why don’t we use some of these other alarms- our breath, body tension, etc.
- Yoga means a lot of different things to different people- what is the approach with yoga to address pain ?
- What are some of the things that Neil would want teachers to know about pain so it could influence their teaching?
- If we understand it better we can provide students with better guided suggestions. Often teachers will say there should be no pain in yoga- which can be trouble for people with pain. Or people will say pain is something you will get used to, or that if you stay with it it will change. This is also well intentioned but incorrect.
- My insight on the "fragile" language I was using when teaching.
- We want people to find their way to yoga with a smile- to find a way with it that is peace and bliss to practice it.
I love the two questions Neil poses for people who are in pain to ask themselves at the beginning of an activity: "Does this feel like a safe space?" and: "Do I think I'll be ok later?". What simple yet phenomenal little check ins! I believe this helps us to cultivate a healthier relationship with our nervous systems, and whether you're in pain or not at the moment, that's a winning strategy for long-term health. I just started kettlebell training- which I'm both excited and nervous about- and I will for sure be using those little check in questions. How about you?
Life is Now- Neil Pearson's website
Neil Pearson's pain management products- books, DVDs and CDs *there is a new membership site coming soon on this website to help learn about the new concepts in pain science.
The study it refers to: An fMRI-Based Neurologic Signature of Physical Pain. Tor D. Wager, Ph.D., Lauren Y. Atlas, Ph.D., Martin A. Lindquist, Ph.D., Mathieu Roy, Ph.D., Choong-Wan Woo, M.A., and Ethan Kross, Ph.D. N Engl J Med 2013; 368:1388-1397