Emotional Balance

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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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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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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Lose Your Momentum ~ Before It’s Too Late

Recently, during a therapeutic vinyasa practice at The Yoga Conference in Toronto, the class and I encountered a pivotal learning moment. As we reviewed the transition from Downward Dog into Lunge,  a participant asked about speed. “Intuitively, I get that slow is good,” she said. “But how slow? And is it O.K., sometimes, to practice the old and fast flow?” Her question gave rise to a passionate dialogue about how we use momentum in yoga and in life, and what the consequences are of doing so. Momentum refers to the building up of forward movement that takes us from one well-defined place to the next. It turns out that we use momentum in times of discomfort. We use it in transitions, for instance, when we’re caught between an old place or way of being and a new one. And we do so when the pressure to perform well lends emphasis to …

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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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