Your Own Persona Massage Therapist!

 

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal massage therapist? You do.

Many of us have enjoyed the deep relaxation of a massage at the hands of a skilled practitioner. When the massage is finished we lie on the table in semi-consciousness with every muscle in our bodies free and released from tension. Ahhhh.

But what about those places that external massage just can’t get to? The organs and glands need stimulation, cleansing and toning too. A massage on a passive body, as glorious as it is, cannot address the body while it’s active.

This is where the conscious breath is used in conjunction with asana and gravity to massage the body in a unique, singular fashion.

Part of the genius of asana, or yoga postures, is how each posture directs energy into the body differently. As we listen to our bodies and breathe deeply we can see where the energy goes and how it pushes into our deep tissues. This is the massaging quality of the breath. Choose any posture and then apply the three-part breath and see where the massaging quality of the breath goes.

An easy, effective way to demonstrate this to yourself is to practice bridge pose. Lie on

your back with the feet just under your knees in front of the buttocks. Push into your feet and raise the sacrum and spinal column off the ground so your torso is suspended like an arched bridge between the feet and shoulder blades. Breathe deeply into your belly and sacrum. Draw the breath up into your heart and push your chin down onto the top of your sternum (breastbone). Keep the breath flowing deeply yet comfortably and be aware of the massage being received by the kidneys and adrenal glands

just above them. Notice also how the wave-like motion of the inhalation compresses all the abdominal organs. Lastly, as the breath fills the lungs from bottom to top, feel it move through the heart and thymus and into the thyroid and parathyroid glands in the throat.

With the chin pushed down onto the sternum, you are performing jalandhara bandha or throat lock. At the fullness of your inhalation this lock forms an energy dam so that the whole interior torso is filled with the energy or prana of the breath. This is the peak of the massaging energy of the breath in this posture.

By applying the deep, three-part breath to this simple pose, so many vital organs and glands are being deeply massaged by the breath from the interior. This is why I tell my students that the breath is your own personal massage therapist.

This is just one example of how the breath plays through the body supplying deep, purifying massage. Use this technique in every pose and note where the breath goes and what gets massaged as a result. Your awareness and practice of this pranayama, or expansion of the universal energy via the breath, will deepen your strength, range of motion and flexibility as it purifies your organs and glands.

Practice in vigor and health!

Namaste!

Yoga to the Rescue!

 

I hear such wonderful stories from my students about the truly amazing benefits they are enjoying because of their yoga practice. The range of conditions that yoga treats continues to amaze me.

Karen:

Karen is a 65 year old woman diagnosed with osteoporosis last year. She was adamantly opposed to pharmaceutical treatment. Karen began coming to my yoga class in 2011 or 2012. She told me of her illness and asked if yoga could help. I told her that I was confident that it could. She came to class faithfully, even recruiting her husband, Roger. She practiced daily at home as well. I emphasized the standing postures, especially the one-legged balance poses and other postures that put her body in weight-bearing resistance to gravity. A year later she got another bone scan. Karen’s expectations were low; she hoped that she just wouldn’t lose anymore bone density. Her results astounded her and her doctors. Karen gained eight-percent bone density in her spine and one-and-one-half-percent in her femurs. She was thrilled! She was above the bone fracture threshold and no longer had osteoporosis. She also lost a chronic cough and banished her vertigo during this same time.

Yoga uses the weight of the body to send the signal that it needs to build more bone. The weight bearing poses of yoga asana put the body into many different relationships to gravity. This prompts the body to build bone in response to these weight bearing poses.

Debbie:

I taught a yoga class to Debbie and her co-workers at their work place. Even though she was not in the best condition, this late-thirty something was enthusiastic about yoga practice. We were able to practice together for only about 12 weeks before budget cuts nixed our yoga sessions, but she learned fast and well.

Debbie struggled with asthma and would sometimes wake from sleep at the onset of an asthma attack.

One of the central teachings of yoga is the conscious use of the breath to promote wellness and combat disease.

One night she awoke in a panic with an asthma attack. Suddenly, she remembered the long, slow three-part breathing we practiced in class. She composed herself and began using this technique. As she breathed slowly and deeply she began to relax and her attack melted away. This gave her a feeling of tremendous empowerment. She no longer had to be afraid because she knew how to stop these attacks in their tracks.

Hunter:

Just barely 50, Hunter is the picture of vibrant health and loves her yoga practice. Just weeks ago she was riding a Segway, the two-wheeled personal transport. She crashed, severely spraining her ankle and back. In moments she found herself alone in an emergency department treatment room waiting for a doctor. Hunter felt herself going into shock. She wanted to do something to help herself. She remembered her breath as we’d practiced it so many times in class. As she focused and breathed consciously she blocked the advance of the shock and restored herself to calm, lucid, normal awareness. She, too, had realized the power of her breath and was so grateful that she hadn’t been more badly injured considering the potential consequences of her accident.

These are not uncommon stories among yoga practitioners. They are the results available to us as we increase our consciousness through the use of asana and pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques.

Since this is National Yoga Month I want to highlight the ability of yoga to turn back the clock on aging. Personally, in the last twenty years, I’ve increased my capacity for abundant living with my yoga practice. I am stronger, have a better range of motion (I can do the splits) am much more mentally acute and have a more conscious, happier outlook on life than when I was younger.

The pervasive theme of aging is decline, senility and a less than graceful passing. But as I tell my yoga students, decrepitude is a choice. Rising and greeting each day with movement and the breath of joy is the path to conquer all the obstacles in life.

To celebrate my good health and gratitude for my yoga practice I entered the AARP New Faces of 50+ Model Search with the encouragement of my darling wife, Michele. I penned my motto: Gentleness is the Path to Strength, wrote a brief essay and had a new picture taken. Well, low and behold, out of hundreds of contestants I’m a finalist in the contest.

If I am lucky enough to win, I will use this opportunity to continue my yoga/ayurvedic education at the California College of Ayurveda.

If you’re over 50 and reading this, perhaps I could persuade you to take a moment and vote for me. You can VOTE EVERY DAY through Sept. 24. Every time you vote you enter yourself into a sweepstakes to win $5,000. It’s a simple process; even simpler if you’re an AARP member. Below is the URL for registration and voting.

http://sweeps.aarp.org/facesof50/

Simply copy and paste to your browser.

This could potentially mean a great deal to me. I thank you in advance for your vote.

May you be healthy, may you be happy, may you flourish to your potential.

Namaste,

Tim

Rewiring the Brain!

Because of the results reported by practitioners, medical researchers are training their sights and technology on yoga and why it works the way it does. Harvard neurologist Dr. Sara Lazar is one of those researchers.

Dr. Lazar injured herself while training for the Boston Marathon. Her orthopedist recommended stretching in lieu of running.

She started practicing yoga and loved it. She did skeptically roll her eyes though when her yoga teacher claimed that yoga would increase her capacity for empathy and compassion. With continued practice she began noticing the presence of these very traits becoming more pronounced in her life. As a scientist, she wanted to know why.

Since she had her own lab and Magnetic Resonance Imaging equipment, she began using the MRI to record images of the brains of yoga practitioners and a control group of those who did not practice yoga and meditation. She was astounded at her findings!

The brains of the yoga and meditation practitioners showed significant differences in the eight weeks of the study. The hippocampus, where learning, memory and emotional regulation take place became denser and larger with practice. Likewise, the parietal lobe, where empathy is initiated, also grew and got denser. The amygdala, home of fear, fight and flight, actually shrank. The control subjects showed no appreciable change in brain anatomy or physiology. The ability of the brain to rewire itself in response to stimuli like yoga and meditation is called neuroplasticity.

Because of the criticism of her methods, Dr. Lazar repeated her study beginning with subjects who had never practiced yoga. The results were the same. In the eight week span of the study, the brains of yoga and meditation participants displayed the same dramatic changes previously demonstrated by established practitioners, while the control subjects showed no measurable change.

I can add my personal testimony to this research as well. At times in the past ten years, challenging life changes have led to my own very real experience with depression. While medication proved to be a temporary bridge to wellness, I wanted to restore myself to health without the undesirable side effects with which such remedies often inflict upon us.

Even though I’d been a hatha yoga practitioner for many years, I had not cultivated mental resilience through meditation. This is where I had to put up or shut up about my confidence in yoga’s ability to deliver me to wholeness. I realized that I simply lacked diligence and consistency in my meditation practice. I also realized that new levels of challenge demand new levels of commitment.

It began with me making a commitment to myself, a commitment to total health through the conscious examination of my life and the diligent application of that knowledge in my practice. Though this path is not always strewn with roses, my daily practice of mental and physical hygiene rewards me without ceasing. Like so many people in the past and present, I am learning that the conscious breath is the beginning of a path to liberation from the demons of tension, stress, and depression. It is a gateway to plumbing the depths of what it means to be human and to tapping into the infinite well of boundless joy and creativity that is the birthright of each one of us.

Yoga Lessons from Downton Abbey

Spoiler Alert: If you’re a Downton Abbey fan and haven’t seen the last episode of the third season, read at your own risk.

My partner, Michele and I are avid Downton Abbey fans. Though I was hesitant at first, the acting, writing, costumes et cetera won me over. It’s a classy production.

Last night we watched the final episode of season three and I was appalled and angered by what I considered to be the untimely, gratuitous death of Mathew Crawley. Just as the family was on the mend after Sybil’s death in childbirth, and as they celebrated the arrival of Mathew and Mary’s baby boy, Mathew’s sudden death in a car crash on one of the happiest days of his life just felt so wrong. My reaction was swift and bitter; I was through with a series that would so cavalierly kill off one of its finest characters. Admittedly, I realize that this is perhaps a juvenile, even childish response. After all, it’s just a TV drama. But I felt so manipulated; and that’s the point.

Life’s vagaries, whether they thrill, soothe or disgust us stand as reminders of impermanence. Outwardly, change is the only constant, and it’s not always pleasant.

Our emotional state is too often like an unconscious knee jerk elicited by the sharp strike of life’s random mallet. Suddenly we can be caught, whirling in an emotional spin cycle that plops us flat on our faces dizzy from some surprising twist of fate. At other times slow, relentless pressure can exhaust us until we’re seemingly out of options.

This is all part of being human; and one of the great accomplishments of any human being is learning to deal with change without being manipulated into losing our balance and composure.

But how do we do that? How do we gain the resilience of mind to calmly withstand and flourish through life’s unceasing changes?

Like anything else, it’s a practice born of awareness. First, we must recognize the possibility of such strength. Most of us have either known people with such qualities or at least have read or heard of them. Their stories all have something in common. They were beset by myriad challenges and learned to train their minds to react in prescribed ways. It doesn’t mean they didn’t experience sorrow, pain or suffering. It does mean that they were conscious of what the yoga sutras call the modifications of the mind, or the careening, unorganized quality of the mind that leaves us without bearings in troubled times. With that awareness they resorted to meditation to build a neuro-chemically resilient brain that is able to digest and process difficulty. They learned, as we can learn, to transcend or rise above difficulty. Through the process of cultivating our minds in meditation, we change the way we perceive our experiences until we become victorious over our challenges. We intentionally and literally rewire our brains through meditation to produce a transcendent way of being.

This is emotional technology or emotional intelligence if you will. This is the next step in our evolution as Homo sapiens. Though we possess technological genius, we are a juvenile species who remain ethically and morally stunted. The under developed potential of our minds fails us when we run up against the essential questions of good, evil, justice and equality.

In the next post of Comfortable Engagement Yoga: The particulars of rewiring the brain.