Playing Your Intelligent Edge

What is playing your intelligent edge in asana practice? First, we must define “edge.” The intelligent edge in any given asana is a place of simultaneous challenge and ease. It embodies the yogic concept of sukha, or ease, and sthira, fufilling, steady, conscious engagement.

The edge is also where the things that don’t serve us can be cut away and released. The edge is a place where light severs the unnecessary from the essential.

I’ve seen students assume a yoga pose without energy, engagement or focus. They are assuming the shape of the pose without energy, concentration or application of their whole being. The next step for such a student is to begin applying the complimentary opposites of reaching, pushing, grounding and pulling within the context of the particular pose. Finally, the great potent elixir of the the diaphragmatic breath is injected as the catalyst of consciousness.

Sustaining the pose at the edge, in a sweet fire is where we will make progress, both physical, mental and emotional. This edge is a crucible for human development.

Michael Lee, the yogi who originated Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT), had a very deep experience of the edge many years ago that led him to the basis for PRYT. While being assisted in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) by a friend, Michael felt that he was ready to release the pose. His friend encouraged him to persist for awhile longer. As the pose became more challenging to his endurance edge, Michael deepened his breath and witnessed strange noises coming involuntarily from his mouth. When his persistence met the limit of his endurance his hip felt like a “volcanic eruption.” His body vibrated as tears poured down his cheeks. Michael had broken through fears that had haunted his subconscious since childhood.

I had a similar experience in Ustrasana/Camel Pose years ago when my marriage was unraveling. The deep heart opening of Camel Pose allowed me to release the anguish and fear that had built up over an intense period of turbulence in that relationship.

I’m not saying that all of our edge experiences will deliver us to such complete redemption, but these emotional releases are not uncommon. As we practice working with our minds and bodies on that edge, we will be transformed. This is where our issues will arise and resolve. By bravely persisting at the edge of our endurance, suspended between pleasure and pain, asana facilitates our rebirth, bit by bit.

Depending on our own issues and constitution, the poses that challenge us the most will lead us to our moments of transformation. As we listen and dialogue with our bodies in practice, we accept the challenges that yoga or union with the divine presents to us. Because we trust our practice and the assurance of our own loving kindness, we know beyond doubt that we can trust this process of transformation. It is a psycho-physical therapeutic method of achieving permanent human change.

One thing to notice about asana practice is poses we avoid. Our aversion to those poses is a message that those poses are just what we need to process our deep, perhaps unspoken issues. These intuitive promptings will lead us to experiences of liberation as we address the edge and play with the spirit of faith and expectation.

Though these kinds of experiences sometimes occur spontaneously during our daily practice, the help of a trusted teacher or yoga therapist can help us reach deeper states of liberation in a more concerted way.

Either way, whether these achievements come upon us during the solitary moments of our personal practice, during a class or a private session, know that you are being guided by the infinite loving consciousness that resides in us and binds us all together in pursuit of our full human potential which is our birthright.

Adductors and Abductors

Once in while, but not often enough, I take notes when I do my morning asana practice. This morning I came up with a few things that I think would be helpful for all of us to keep in mind as we practice.

Mountain Pose is where I begin. But in addition to the standard pose, I’ve begun to work with the abductor and the adductor muscles to give the legs a stronger sense of both inward and outward grounding.

The abductor muscles of the legs are on the outside of the thighs, and as the word abduct implies, they pull the legs away from the center. This all begins on the floor at the grounded soles of the feet. Abductor engagement is achieved simply by pulling the knees apart in Mountain Pose. Immediately one feels the feet root into the floor and all the muscles on the outside of the legs contract.

Give this a try. As you do, I invite you to feel the muscles involved. The muscular ridge of the tibialis anterior on the outside of the tibia stands up and the rest of the calf muscles, thighs and even the gluteus muscles are strongly brought to bear in this pulling away action.

As you can tell, with a little practice abduction is a great way to strengthen not only the muscles directly involved, but to enlist the related joints, tendons and ligaments as well. Take a moment to check out the ankles, knees and hips and the connective tissues that hold them to the bones and muscles. Use your hands and feel what’s happening. (Of course, its’ best to do this alone when no one is watching. Perhaps even practice this nude in front of a mirror so you can see and feel what’s happening.)

Look at the tendons in the feet. Feel the ligament and tendon action in the ankles.

Needless to say there’s a lot going on with the simple act of abduction.

Conversely, there is an equal amount of action on the flip side of the anatomical coin in adduction. By grounding the feet and pulling the knees together we involve the muscles on the inside of the thighs.  Again, draw the knees together toward the body’s median line, note the muscles you feel; touch them and notice their tension. Explore their length and thickness. On the top and inside of the thighs there’s a big ligament that connects the femur to the pelvis—the inguinal ligament.

Remember the golden rules in yoga practice—sukha and sthira, or easy, pleasant and steady. Use these rules to explore the amount of exertion used in these two forces.

Consistent practice of adduction and abduction will strengthen your legs as the stable platform they should be for all your standing poses. You can experiment with these two forces as you practice the standing poses as well.

At the same time that I’m abducting and adducting the legs, I’m doing the same kind of isometric techniques with my hands and arms. Hook your fingers together and pull to engage the arms. Change your grip and repeat. Then place the hands in prayer position at the chest and push. Feel the pectoral muscles under the breasts spring into action. This tension supplies massage to the lymph nodes in the chest. You will get full arm engagement from fingers to shoulders and upper back with arm isometrics.

Also use eagle arms, reach over your back to clasp the opposite hand or do any kind of arm stretching or strengthening move you can think of. Or you can rest the arms if you wish.

Standing abduction and adduction is the best way to get total involvement of the legs. Seated weight machines that work these muscles don’t offer the all-engaging grounding that standing does. This leaves the feet, ankles and knees out of the equation. Running doesn’t really help to build these balance muscles either. A friend of mine who is an avid runner has very poor balance, which at his age puts him at risk for falling.

Embracing both aspects of Mountain Pose will serve you well in building strength and awareness as you practice. Adduction and abduction are also foundational practices for building bone density as you pursue mastery of the standing poses.

Remember to use your long, slow, full three-part diaphragmatic breath as you practice. This will help you turn each posture into a meditation on a stable body and a peaceful mind.

I wish you health and peace,

Tim

P.S. As always, I’d love to hear your adventures in yoga. Please drop me a line and let me know what the practice is doing for you.

 

 

 

 

Once in while, but not often enough, I take notes when I do my morning asana practice. This morning I came up with a few things that I think would be helpful for all of us to keep in mind as we practice.

Mountain Pose is where I begin. But in addition to the standard pose, I’ve begun to work with the abductor and the adductor muscles to give the legs a stronger sense of both inward and outward grounding.

The abductor muscles of the legs are on the outside of the thighs, and as the word abduct implies, they pull the legs away from the center. This all begins on the floor at the grounded soles of the feet. Abductor engagement is achieved simply by pulling the knees apart in Mountain Pose. Immediately one feels the feet root into the floor and all the muscles on the outside of the legs contract.

Give this a try. As you do, I invite you to feel the muscles involved. The muscular ridge of the tibialis anterior on the outside of the tibia stands up and the rest of the calf muscles, thighs and even the gluteus muscles are strongly brought to bear in this pulling away action.

As you can tell, with a little practice abduction is a great way to strengthen not only the muscles directly involved, but to enlist the related joints, tendons and ligaments as well. Take a moment to check out the ankles, knees and hips and the connective tissues that hold them to the bones and muscles. Use your hands and feel what’s happening. (Of course, its’ best to do this alone when no one is watching. Perhaps even practice this nude in front of a mirror so you can see and feel what’s happening.)

Look at the tendons in the feet. Feel the ligament and tendon action in the ankles.

Needless to say there’s a lot going on with the simple act of abduction.

Conversely, there is an equal amount of action on the flip side of the anatomical coin in adduction. By grounding the feet and pulling the knees together we involve the muscles on the inside of the thighs.  Again, draw the knees together toward the body’s median line, note the muscles you feel; touch them and notice their tension. Explore their length and thickness. On the top and inside of the thighs there’s a big ligament that connects the femur to the pelvis—the inguinal ligament.

Remember the golden rules in yoga practice—sukha and sthira, or easy, pleasant and steady. Use these rules to explore the amount of exertion used in these two forces.

Consistent practice of adduction and abduction will strengthen your legs as the stable platform they should be for all your standing poses. You can experiment with these two forces as you practice the standing poses as well.

At the same time that I’m abducting and adducting the legs, I’m doing the same kind of isometric techniques with my hands and arms. Hook your fingers together and pull to engage the arms. Change your grip and repeat. Then place the hands in prayer position at the chest and push. Feel the pectoral muscles under the breasts also spring into action. This tension also supplies massage to the lymph nodes in the chest. You will get full arm engagement from fingers to shoulders and upper back with arm isometrics.

Also use eagle arms, reach over your back to clasp the opposite hand or do any kind of arm stretching or strengthening move you can think of. Or you can rest the arms if you wish.

Standing abduction and adduction is the best way to get total involvement of the legs. Seated weight machines that work these muscles don’t offer the all-engaging grounding that standing does. This leaves the feet, ankles and knees out of the equation. Running doesn’t really help to build these balance muscles either. A friend of mine who is an avid runner has very poor balance, which at his age puts him at risk for falling.

Practicing both aspects of Mountain Pose will serve you well in building strength and awareness as you practice. Adduction and abduction are also foundational practices for building bone density as you pursue mastery of the standing poses.

Remember to use your long, slow, full three-part diaphragmatic breath as you practice. This will help you turn each posture into a meditation on a stable body and a peaceful mind.

I wish you health and peace,

Tim

P.S. As always, I’d love to hear your adventures in yoga. Please drop me a line and let me know what the practice is doing for you.

 

 

 

The Intimate Breath

The breath is not only how we receive the vitality of life, but it is our most intimate connection with Universal Prana, or creative force. Our first and last breaths define the boundaries of our physical lives. Yet, most of us ignore the breath and remain largely innocent of its power to transform our lives. The breath is automatic. Since it is automatic, we simply let it run on auto pilot as we go about our automatic lives. But the breath can also be transgressive, subversive and revolutionary. It is the sacred tool to break the robotic molds into which popular culture is being used to mold us.

Yoga and other related sciences of transformation like Ayurveda, Qigong, and Tai Chi, invite us to use the breath consciously. Within the conscious breath lie worlds that are hidden from everyday life. The art and science of using the breath with conscious control is the difference between mere existence and plumbing the depth of existence itself.

In Yoga, using the breath consciously is called Pranayama. Pranayama means to expand the life force, to energize ourselves toward a larger potential. To extend our life force with the breath requires only one, but very important feature: one-pointed attention.

In a world with so many stimuli clamoring for our attention, this is something most folks just don’t get around to or are even aware is possible. We have been programmed and dazzled by the media culture to the point that we seldom think our own thoughts. We need only simply look around and see people absorbed in their “devices,” imbibing artificial data streams of often meaningless entertainment to keep us from thinking our own thoughts. Asking people to simply sit quietly, following their breath, the most powerful personal force they will ever know, seems pretty poor competition for the seemingly glamorous distractions offered to us by our media saturated world.

But if you have reached the point of being sick with this saturation, and what is really colonization of your once-autonomous mind, then here is your invitation to break the collective trance under which so many of us have fallen. Here is the chance to develop a love and connection that is the basis for all transformative human experience. Here is the chance to liberate ourselves from the mind gobbling media behemoth that lusts to enslave and consume us. Your simple, life-giving breath is your salvation from a world of ruinous conformity and your ticket to true intimacy with yourself and genuine connection to other human beings who long for humanity, truth and freedom.

The intimate breath is the breath that we use in meditation. It is slow and measured. How do we measure the breath? The intimate breath is not measured with machines, nor is it recorded on graphs. It is measured with attention. When we sit comfortably, we can simply watch the breath as it rises and falls. The intimate breath is a breath where the attention watches each milliliter of breath inhaled and exhaled. By this minute attention we account for every moment of the golden present. This is rapt attention! This is absorption into union with the Universe, the one song, the eternal Presence of cosmic creation. This is the essence of yoga. A taste of this nectar renders its competitors pale by comparison.

This is attention so sharp that it pares away the irrelevance of the colonizing commercial clatter that assaults us daily. This is liberation from a type of possession that seeks to program and use us for the latest trend of mass hypnosis. This attentive breath is a breath so fine that direct knowledge can well up within us from this divine connection to the cosmos without being filtered through the greed of those who would control and dominate us.

The intimate breath is the get out of jail free card that unlocks the door into the intuitive knowledge that precedes all other knowledge.

Using this intimate, attentive breath gives us access to the deep well of knowing, knowing that shines a light into the dark places of the human psyche to help us release our potential as beings of boundlessness.

 

 

The Concept of Incurable Disease is Dead

Note: Before I begin, let me say that modern medicine can often be miraculous in its power to heal. Sometimes there is no substitute for a good surgeon, a life-saving antibiotic or the strong medicines that can prolong the quality and quantity of our lives. However, there are many conditions that continue to baffle medicine that can and are successfully treated with alternative practices.

Words can have a big impact on us, especially foreign sounding medical jargon like those long, multi-syllabic concoctions that describe a disease condition. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the word cancer. But whether the words are simple or complex, the fact that they come from a doctor can make them seem as if they were written by the hand of god on a stone tablet.

The psychological impression that medical disease terminology evokes can be deep, and damaging. I’ve seen this happen to some of my yoga therapy clients. For example, degenerative disc disease is neither a disease nor is it degenerative according to one of my yoga therapy teachers, Neil Pearson, founding president of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. Disc problems are associated with aging and poor condition. Discs may bulge or rupture, but they do not degenerate

But when a patient hears this diagnosis all kinds of fears may be conjured up that actually inhibit the patient from increasing daily function and reducing or eliminating pain. The psychological damage done by those official-sounding words often seem to be a sentence of damnation to which there is little recourse. Nevertheless, a regular practice of therapeutic yoga postures can often relieve the suffering of a person so diagnosed.

Another recent example that comes to mind is Sacroiliac Dysfunction. A new client of mine recently presented with this diagnosis. Often it is associated with cartilage wear and tear in the joint. One of the first results you’ll find if you google the term is a surgical technique that is advertised as “minimally invasive.”

My client, a former dancer, who also has lower lumbar disc ruptures due to an equestrian accident, has responded well to yoga therapy and chiropractic treatment. Her chronic pain is now nearly gone and she moves with a freedom she hasn’t had in a long time. Fortunately, she had previous yoga experience and didn’t let her diagnosis make her feel disempowered.

Often though, patients seem to get locked into a diagnosis like it’s an immutable fact of life about which they can do very little, which is rarely the case. Taking control of our health rather than asking a medical professional to “fix” us can make all the difference in the world. It did for me when I refused to believe that Crohn’s Disease was incurable. For over a decade I have lived without the specter of this awful digestive scourge and have no fear of it ever returning. Though medicine does not have a cure, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cure or that we can’t heal ourselves without medicine.

Last year, at the age of 62 I had a routine colonoscopy. My results were nearly perfect. The doctor commented that it was very unusual for a person with Crohn’s Disease not to be taking medicine to remain in “remission.” What surprised me though was his utter lack of curiosity about how I had achieved and maintained my excellent condition.

Through the stress management skills I’ve learned from yoga and meditation and a diet of whole foods, I no longer get sick or even have an inkling of symptoms. I’ve got news for the medical profession: I don’t have Crohn’s Disease. I’m the only one among my many family members who have been likewise stricken to reverse my illness and be completely healthy.

The point I’m trying to make is that the human body may get “out of balance” in any number of ways. This doesn’t mean that we are sentenced to a lifetime of suffering, constant medical care and the inconvenience and expense that go along with it. The truth is quite to the contrary. It is more common than we realize that ordinary people like myself refuse to believe that they are helpless. Everyday thousands of people chart a new course for themselves and explore healing methods that lead them to a new world of bountiful health they’d previously been led to believe did not exist.

In her recent book, Radical Remission, Kelly Turner, PhD, studied over a thousand cases of what may be called spontaneous remission from cancer. Or course, these remissions weren’t spontaneous in the sense that they came out of nowhere. Turner identified nine things that all these cancer patients did for themselves that helped them get well, even after their doctors told they were going to die and began hospice care. One of those things was taking control of their health.

When doctors announce these terrifying diagnoses they think they’re being realistic, but often their words crush hope, hope that can and does lead to healing. Andrew Weil calls this “medical hexing.” Because of the position of authority a doctor occupies, patients often take that statement as the last word.

As Lissa Rankin, M.D., points out in her book, Mind Over Medicine, patients frequently imbibe a doctor’s pronouncements about their disease hook, line and sinker. They give up hope and die. This is the “nocebo” effect, where patients believe the worst and suffer accordingly.

Conversely, Rankin, with copious studies and examples demonstrates the power of the famous placebo effect. When given an inert treatment, patients recover from the even the most devastating diseases including cancer. A prime example is Mr. Wright who was dying of terminal cancer. His doctor gave him an experimental drug. Mr. Wright recovered in a miraculously short time. But when news surfaced that showed the medicine to be ineffective, Wright’s cancer returned. His doctor, now quite aware of the powerful placebo effect told him the medicine he’d been given was tainted, but that he now had a pure, more potent batch to give him. Again, Wright recovered. And again, when a national news story proclaimed the medicine worthless, Wright’s health faltered and he died soon thereafter.

What both Turner and Rankin are demonstrating is that there is no such thing as an incurable disease. Just because medicine has no cure, it assumes that no other treatment could possibly stimulate the body to heal itself.

In my next post I’ll explore the nine things that Kelly Turner discovered that help even the most hopeless cancer patients heal and go on to live many years full of accomplishment and happiness.

Until then, remember, a diagnosis is simply a description from a system that does not recognize any other possible way to heal. It is not a prophecy of doom. Rather, it can be the door that opens to a new world of knowledge, liberation and health as we take control of our lives and discover a world of possibilities beyond conventional medicine.

 

Mindfulness as an Antidote to Frenzied Media Culture

Since I have worked in the radio and news media since 1986, I have had an insider’s view of this business and gained a unique perspective of how it works. Media, all media is driven by ratings, which is about attracting attention. Once the attention of those ears and eyes are secured, they are used as leverage to gain advertising dollars for profit and non-profit media outlets alike.

More often than not, the most sensational stories lead any newscast or pop culture program. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the old adage. The word “sensational” is key to this discussion. By sensational I mean that which is the most surprising, emotionally titillating, upsetting and attention grabbing. Many stories are simply bad news, like war, disasters, threats to our safety et cetera. They are amplified repeatedly like a psychological battering ram.

Also, remember this: news outlets often act as organs of particular political points of view. This is a long tradition.

Once upon a time, networks made their money on other types of programming like dramas and sitcoms. Now, all commercial networks demand that the news broadcast also be a profit center. This is one thing that has led to the sensationalist 24 hour news coverage we now see. It’s all about the money, the worship of money and the influence that money can buy in our society.

This is also true about the entertainment media. The number of programs on currently that deal with the deepest kind of human depravity or silliness has skyrocketed along with the number of cable tv channels.

A steady diet of sensationalism can have a strong effect on the human nervous system. It can provoke a range of emotions that keep us in a constant state of turmoil or at least imbalance. It can contribute to depression and despair.

But here’s the worst thing about feeding heavily on media trash culture: we so often feel disempowered to do anything meaningful to change our world. Disempowerment leads to apathy, and apathy to inaction. We can get frozen into a permanent state of inertia. We are then subject to manipulation by a whole host of demagogues whose points of view are eagerly broadcast by—the media.

Thought I wouldn’t claim that there is a conspiracy involved in media programming, it’s wise to remember the words of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. Hamilton, who strove to secure the support of the wealthy for the fledgling U.S. government, had little but contempt for common folk. He encouraged the wealthy to supply the “the rabble” as he termed us, with “bread and circuses” while our betters handled the serious business of governance. And that is, by and large the pattern we have today: poor quality fast food on nearly every corner and 24 hours of news, sports and celebrity drivel.

This is where mindful practices like yoga, tai chi, qigong and meditation come to our aid. These ancient mindfulness practices offer us a way to take control of our nervous systems so that we can connect with what’s in our soul instead of being whipped into the chaos that is the commercial news media.

For those of us who may yearn to stop the world so we can get off for a while, these mindfulness practices help us reset our nervous systems so we can gain a clear perspective on life untainted by the greedy maw of consumerism promoted by the media industrial complex. When we regain autonomous control over own minds, we get a panoramic vista of our own lives and how we fit into the crazy world we’ve created. We are no longer manipulated by every violent atrocity, celebrity news tidbit or the other magnified trash foisted upon us. Our buttons and triggers are not so readily accessible to the barrage of commercial stimuli constantly directed toward us.

So, if you’re weary of the rat race and the endless, ruinous competition that is being offered, retreat. Retreat to the nourishing practices that our ancestors have nurtured and handed down to us. We may always drink from the fortifying springs of these traditions as an antidote to the toxicity of so-called modern culture.

Unleashing the Power of Prayer in Yoga Practice

As I continue working with clients who want to use yoga to address their disease conditions, I also find myself turning to prayer as another energy tool to help them. I often wind up my meditation sessions with prayers for my clients, but just today it dawned on me that I could use my asana session (generally an hour or more) to continue sending energy to them. Since I practice slowly and inhabit poses for many breaths, I find this a good time to use my sankalpa or yogic intention in prayer for healing the people with whom I work. I find this is a great way to stay focused and channel my energy toward a specific purpose. This is also an effective method to be engaged in my sadhana or personal devotional practice. Yogini, Katherine Ghosh speaks of this in terms of postures of consciousness.

If you are a secular person you may find the idea of prayer a bit uncomfortable. There are many ways to pray, and I’ll bet that even if you’re an atheist you could find one to suit you.

Prayer in its most basic terms, for me, is about energy transfer, not about religion or asking the favor of any deity. It is simply the use of psychic intentional force to have an affect on the object of your prayer. It is not necessarily a matter of religious faith.

Intention is a powerful force. Evidence for this proposition is abundantly supplied by the many scientifically designed tests whose purpose is to measure the effects of the focused intention of a cooperating group. The work of Dean Radin, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, in his book Super Normal, clearly demonstrates the effect that his test subjects were able to exert over the results delivered by a random numbers generator and many other experiments that measure clairvoyance and telepathic potential. Not only does Radin document his own work, but refers to work done by others for decades from all over the planet. It’s a great read and offers us many novel ways to think about energy and how we can use it.

This is by no means a slight to those who practice a religious faith or their supplications on behalf of those for whom they pray. Religious or secular prayers, both channel energy for a desired purpose.

One of the main points that Radin makes in his book is that human beings have latent mental abilities that we ignore and allow to lie fallow. Along with Radin’s work, Transcendental Meditation Groups offer tantalizing evidence that when group meditations occur in troubled neighborhoods, violent behavior and crime decrease. Together, evidence of this nature demonstrates what focused intention and unity of thought can do.

Thoughts, intentions and prayer are all forms of subtle vibrational energy. Everything humans have created started out as the merest inkling, daydream, or inspirational insight. Einstein often received inspiring dreams from which his scientific ideas emerged. Charles Dickens also claimed that his fertile dream world fed his successful writing career. Einstein also thought that imagination was more important than knowledge.

The difference between a vain imagination and some concrete result is focus. Focused prayer, meditation, sound (as in chanting, a precursor to song) water the seeds that sprout in our consciousness.

I have mentioned the science of cymatics in other blog posts. Cymatics shows how focused sound vibrations move and order the shape of matter whether a certain frequency breaks glass or forms a beautiful sand mandala.

Prayers, thought, and sound, because they are forms of energy, do the same thing. Focusing and thereby harnessing the power of intention is psychic leverage we can use to move mountains. Eastern and western religious traditions agree that creation began with the creative intention expressed in sound. We have the same power to effect change in our lives and the lives of others when we magnify our latent energy through prayer and focused intention.

Building a Juicy Yoga Practice Through the Balancing Symmetry of Asana

Of all the bodily sensations that we as students usually notice when we begin yoga practice is asymmetry or imbalances between different parts of our bodies; one side of the body may be weaker, less mobile and less flexible. This may be due to illness, pain, injury or habitual movement patterns that favor one side of the body over the other. Whatever the case, we quickly understand how prana, chi or energy flow in our bodies is inhibited by persistent imbalance.

Take a sprained ankle for example. I’ve sprained my right ankle six times starting when I was about four years old; most recently it was a minor sprain walking in uneven rocky terrain. As it has healed, I’ve noticed residual immobility or congestion around the Achilles tendon. Like any injury, or damaged muscle or joint, it needs extra attention to return to full function.

Symmetry is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is feeling comfortable in our bodies. Uncomfortable bodies make for uncomfortable minds; there’s no getting around that fact. Hosting a constantly disturbed state of being will lead to any number of obstacles to reaching our full potential.

Asymmetry can affect the mind as well as the body. Emotional trauma, whether its source is war, physical/sexual abuse or severe injury can also damage our ability to cope with life as fully participating, engaged beings.

We regain our balance by caring for ourselves. We develop loving kindness toward ourselves. We give ourselves the extra attention necessary to become fully functioning individuals again.

One place this happens very effectively is on the yoga mat. The yoga mat is a veritable flying carpet for our highest intentions. When we step onto our mats, it can be like walking into another dimension, a dimension where the outside world can no longer impinge on our freedom to be who we really want to be regardless of its expectations of us.

As we step onto the mat to address our pain and limitation, we begin with the breath, our most powerful healer. We practice what I call the root to crown connection. We breathe from the pelvic floor or perineum to the crown of our heads. Articulating the breath deliberately from root to crown guides our breathing through all the major chakras, massaging and purifying these energy centers (and their associated organs) of physical and emotional debris.

Today after class one of my students told me the story of a young girl she knew who had been sexually assaulted by her classmates. She became withdrawn, fearful and disengaged as she tried to grapple with the horrible violations against her. Victims of assault often assume a compressed physical posture with rounded shoulders and collapsed chest in order to protect themselves. Trauma lives in our cells and tissues and shapes our physical and mental posture toward our lives. The aunt of this young girl is a yoga teacher. The aunt led her to the yoga mat and began helping her restore her physical/emotional and symmetrical connection to life. Just a year after her assault, this girl is once again moving forward as a confident, full participant in her life rather than a victim stuck in her trauma. Intentional movement and breath is restoring this child’s balanced posture and attitude toward life.

Likewise, when we injure a muscle, joint or some connective tissue, the injured part atrophies or shrinks in response to trauma. We must first rest and treat the injury with appropriate measures. When the acute phase of the injury subsides, we can begin working to restore full function with intention, breath and asana. With my sprained right ankle, I began doing twice as many standing poses on the right side to rebuild my strength and endurance. I also worked to flex and extend the ankle to stretch and compress the tissue to encourage healing circulation and relieve the congestion caused by inflammation.

After we recover 90% from an injury or trauma, we’ve reached perhaps the most challenging part of our recovery. This is where we can end up with a “nagging” injury that will be with us for the rest of our lives. This will forever be a vulnerable part of our body or mind that is susceptible to re-injury. Vanquishing that last bit of infirmity takes determination and persistence.

This is the time to work with a yoga therapist or physical therapist or both, to achieve full healing. Once you have received a treatment plan from your health practitioner, work consistently and gently to achieve full recovery.

One of my favorite ways to practice is to repeat postures two or even three times on each side of the body. A great yoga teacher, Susannah Bruder, in Oakland, California, used to say that “repetition, is the spice of life.” Repeating poses lengthens the muscles, conditions the joints and tones the nervous system. Our bodies become juicy, lithe and at ease.

As we achieve symmetry in our bodies and align our attitudes with the universal principles of goodness, life becomes a joyous adventure bound for the desires of our hearts. A healthy body and mind running clean and clear serve the path of reaching our full potential as human beings. Let us all take the next step toward participating in the great Mystery of human experience by healing ourselves so that our bodies and minds can receive divine prana through pure food, water, air and sunlight. With this health of symmetry and alignment the highest achievements will be ours.