Anxiety

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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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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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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Israel, from Desert to Sea

People often ask why I travel so much to teach yoga. The long plane rides push my body’s limits: 23 hours to Hong Kong, anyone? Nutritional challenges come up as well: why can’t I find cooked greens in Copenhagen in October? And luck can turn in a moment, bringing mishaps that make me want to go home: I still recall a bathroom flooding, foretold by me and ignored by the concierge, that had me perched for hours on the lumpy bed in a quaint Paris hotel). It’s difficult to explain why I travel. Yet something compels me to do so, as though I’m trying to learn a lesson that remains tantalizingly out of reach. Last November, I finished my travel year in Israel: first at the Moa Oasis just north of the southern port of Eilat, where the dry heat was intense. Dust infiltrated the filaments of my bronchial tubes, …

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The Importance of Going Backwards

In recent weeks, I’ve been struck by the number of healthy, strong yogis in our community that are in the throes of emotional crisis, experiencing panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and grief. At this time, we have more stress and emotional imbalance than ever before. Yet it wasn’t the number of yogis or the nature of their crises that affected me the most. Rather, it was something deeper and more disheartening: their responses to their own pain. Most of my yogis in crisis shared with me some version of a story that they shouldn’t be feeling what they’re feeling. Laced with barely disguised self-contempt, I heard, “Panic attacks–seriously?” Another said, “I thought I was past that.” “Why am I going backwards emotionally?” asked another. “With all the therapy, yoga, and meditation I’ve put in, I should be well beyond this,” proclaimed a fourth. Why are we so quick to be down …

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Ode to the Unbroken

I had a list of things I wanted to write about, including the art of watching and its relation to being present, and the relationship between neuroscience and magic. And I will, later. But something important got in the way. This week, I returned from a memorable teaching trip to Vancouver to find several members of my yoga community in the throes of an emotional crisis that took varied forms: panic attacks, PTSD, depression, acute grief. As I talked with each of them, several themes emerged that were so powerful, so universal, I had to share them with you. As you read these words, you might think something like “Why isn’t yoga taking care of all that?” or “Why can’t these yogis deal with a little stress—many people have it really tough.” If you think these things, you’re not alone; each person I talked with had the same inner dialogue …

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