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We need to talk: Why yoga + the body are social and political

  In response to a recent email, I received several notes saying, “I didn’t sign up for your newsletter to hear about your political views.” I get that. Yet to separate integrative, mind-body approaches from politics sets up a false division between them. I’d like to explain why that is—and how it has a negative impact on well-being. Let’s start with the body.   Why Integrative Therapies are Inherently Social (and Political) From personal feelings like anger or sadness to social emotions like shame or trust, emotions have their origin as sensations in the body. As this origin story begins, receptors in your skin and internal organs collect information. These receptors specialize in distinct sensations: the speed of your heart, the pace and depth of your breath, hunger or fullness, warmth or coolness, activity or soreness in your muscles, emptiness or fullness in your abdomen (and bladder and rectum), and

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Will the Real Mind-Body Connection Please Stand Up? (Your key to well-being.)

We often speak of a mind-body connection, as though under the right conditions, the mind can talk to the body, and the body can talk back. (This calls to mind the old-fashioned screech of a dial-up modem connection as we try to go online.) But the breaking story in well-being concerns the relationship between the mind and body (and in addition, the brain). One of the most significant relationships we’ll ever have, it determines our physical, emotional, and social well-being. For over a decade, I’ve taught what I call the Mind, Brain, and Body Network. If you’ve studied with me in person or online, you’ll notice that the elements have changed over time as emerging research highlights new areas of study. Here’s an up-to-the-moment picture of how I conceptualize this extraordinary communications network and why it holds the key to well-being. The Mind, Brain, and Body Network. The Autonomic Nervous

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A Public Figure’s Guide to Messing up- and Learning- in Public

This week, several people asked me to listen to the intro of a yoga podcast in which the host, J. Brown, defends a blog he wrote refuting the firsthand account of Christie Roe about how yoga teacher Mark Whitwell sexually assaulted her.* [See below for a link and content warning.] The people who asked me to review this intro were understandably confused. They had many questions. What made them so viscerally uncomfortable? Was the host entitled to tell “his side of the story,” as he put it? If he apologizes for his actions and seems contrite, even tearful, should he be given a third, fourth, fifth chance at making things right? What comprises a full apology (as opposed to an emotional one)? Why are so many people defending his intentions? And what exactly is learning in public? There’s so much to unpack here, and others have already addressed several of

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I Feel Your Pain: An Empath’s Guide to Staying Balanced

Do you often wonder which emotions are yours, and which belong to someone else? When people you care about are hurting, do you feel their pain so deeply that it’s hard to separate—even after they’re out of crisis mode? In relationships, do you donate so much of your own natural resources that you suffer from a chronic energy shortage? And with those you’re close to, is it hard to figure out what your own needs are—or even what you want for dinner? If the answer is yes, it’s highly likely that you’re an empath. What does it mean to be an empath, and why is it fraught with these basic life challenges? Derived from the Greek “em” (in) and “pathos” (feeling), the term empathic means you’re able to “feel into” others’ feelings. But for empaths, this sensitivity is magnified to the nth degree. An empath is more tuned in, more

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When Advance Requires a Retreat

At the close of 2016, I embarked on a 10-day silent retreat in western Massachusetts. It was necessary: chronic overwork, multi-tasking, and the political events of the year had fractured my attention and taxed my nervous system. Ten days might be hard, I thought to myself, but it was also necessary—like “attentional rehab.” It was hard. It was also nourishing. And it was full-on, life-changing extraordinary. Most of us have heard alluring tales of mystical experiences that arise during a retreat: unity with the Divine, a direct encounter with emptiness, and other such happenings. It’s tempting to think that mystical experiences are “the payoff” of a retreat. Yet most of us, myself included, have close encounters of a more pedestrian kind: intense, searing pain, for instance. Sleepiness (I much prefer the Buddhist terms “sloth” and “torpor,” which sound more dramatic and justified). Alien forms of thought that invade our mind:

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The Beauty of Broken

I sit quietly, breathing, and gaze out over the Hudson River. The winter sun explodes: fingers of clouds extend as though in supplication, stained pink by the sun’s last vermillion flare. An I.V. tube protrudes from my arm, and I wear a light blue patterned hospital gown. I am in Pre-Op, awaiting my fourth hip surgery in eight years due to one hospital and two doctor errors. I have logged nearly ten years on this journey. Much of it has involved prepping for surgery, rehabbing from surgery, planning my teaching and travel schedule to allow time off for surgery, and intermittent discomfort between surgeries, all with little respite. My body has long been the instrument of my creativity, my work and joy and pain. The people I entrusted with its care have violated it. They have broken and re-broken my heart. Despite this, my heart is full. It knows its

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Passport to Relaxation: Eye Pillows and Juicy Restorative Rest

Have you ever wondered why even when you’re tired, your mind can resemble a light switch, permanently set to the “on” button and preventing you from falling or staying asleep? And have you ever rested for simply five minutes with an eye pillow over your eyes or browbone and found that it was just like hitting the “reset” button? There’s a reason why it’s hard to access your off switch—and it has a lot to do with eye pillows, your passport to relaxation. Eye pillows have an undeserved reputation for being the new age version of snake oil: a little bit of flax, and a whole lot of money. Yet they may be one of your most powerful healing tools, especially when it comes to your nervous system. Let’s get into the science for a moment. Your vagus nerve is one of twelve cranial nerves. It originates in the brain

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Asana Lab: Trapezius Release

Asana Lab: Trapezius Release As we approach the end of winter and begin to rewire our well-earned “Snowmaggedon Posture,” we’re targeting the Trapezius Muscles. Try this fascial release pose to create happy tissue in a tight neck, shoulder, and back. Time 5–10 minutes Props •   1 Manduka recycled (extra firm) block •   1 mat •   1-2 tennis balls or Yoga Therapy Balls Introduction The trapezius muscle is a “hotspot” located between the neck and outer shoulder, and the back and front of the body. We’ll begin on the part of the trap where you see the ball placed, above. Before entering each part of the body, take a moment to connect. You can place your palm on the area you’re about to enter, or simply direct your breath there. This helps “prime” the tissue, and also promotes the ability to listen to the tissue and dial in just the right amount of

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Of Trauma and Emotional Freedom

When I was about sixteen, squirrels invaded our house. They came and went freely and inhabited the attic, where they could be heard running wind sprints across the eaves, usually late at night when we were trying to sleep. F—ing bastards, my Dad would growl. We tried several methods to lure them back into their natural habitat; the more dramatic of these I won’t describe. But the squirrels, of course, were smarter. They’d outwit the mechanism, chow down on $7.99 all-natural peanut butter, and clamber back into the rafters. They were well-fed, these squirrels—and that’s what led, finally, to their demise. One spring day, in response to the sound of panicked squealing, we climbed the attic stairs to find a young, chubby, grass-and-peanut-fed squirrel inside one of the traps. My Dad and I elected my brother to place the cage in the back seat of the family Volvo and we drove, squirrel

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What’s up with the Chakras?

At first glance, it can be tempting to dismiss the chakra system as an esoteric, new age concept. During my last teacher-training course in Boston, a participant voiced her reservations. “In theory, the chakras are so compelling,” she said. “But out of all the things we study, they seem least connected to the actual practice of yoga.” The class agreed. “What, exactly, are we supposed to do with them?” they wondered. While the chakras offer a rich conceptual framework for growth, they give less direction for putting that framework into practice. Over the past year of reflection on my students’ queries, I’ve begun to wonder whether there’s more to the chakras than meets the eye. Could it be that when we view them through the lenses of psychology, mindfulness, neuroscience, and yoga, the chakras become more than elegant vessels for self-understanding? Could they in fact be touchstones for practice, showing

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