The Most Important Aspect of Therapeutic Yoga

I am looking forward to an upcoming event in the Philadelphia area – a return visit with our friends at The Yoga Garden in Narberth on the weekend of November 4 & 5.

The topic for the weekend is one my favorites – “The Yoga of Therapeutic Breath, Movement and Alignment.” While prepping the workshop I came across some relevant writing I did, a chapter proposal for a handbook aimed at medical professionals. I hope it sparks your interest in continuing the discussion and, if you’re anywhere near Philadelphia, please come join us…there’s still some room in the workshop.

From “Yoga Therapy — The Art of the Individual”

When applying yoga in a therapeutic context, it is vitally important to remember that we do not treat conditions – we educate people.

Our students are likely to have already seen several professionals whose job it is to focus on their problems. By contrast, the yoga educator’s focus should be on what’s still going right with a person, not on what has gone wrong — and there are always far more things still working in a person’s body than have stopped working. Even on the sickest, most pain-filled day of a person’s life, there are untold billions of unimpeded, cellular life processes happening within them. This is the biological basis of the concept of prana. As long as there’s prana, there can be improvement — not necessarily curing or fixing — but healing — what my teacher Desikachar referred to as “the relationship to their illness.”

In any discussion about the place of therapeutic yoga in health care delivery, I assert that the principle expressed above is the most important to remember.  As long as we stay grounded in the perspective of what’s still going right, our scope of practice is profound and simple: if the person in front of us can breathe, move, and focus, even minimally, they can bring their breath, body and mind into a more integrated state and they can do yoga.

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Podcast: “Even Yoga Masters Break Down Sometimes”

OK, let me say right at the top that I did not choose the title of the podcast I did with the good folks at Curable Health.  I cringe whenever the word “master” gets thrown at a human, most especially if that human happens to be me.

The best definition of “master” I’ve ever heard is: “A master is someone who is capable of creating another master.” This simple concept emphasizes the fact that mastery is a process that is never completed – that it involves passing knowledge freely from one generation to the next.  In other words, the word master is an ever-evolving verb for what a teacher does, not a fixed noun for what or who a teacher is.

That aside, I am really quite pleased with how this interview came out.  Through the well-informed questioning of Laura Seago, I got to tell some very personal stories, some of which regular readers of this blog will have heard in a different context. From her description of the interview:

“So what happened when he lost his breath for six months? When he lost control of his body? When he lost touch with his emotions? Join us as Leslie recounts his deeply personal journey to “mastery,” and shares what he’s learned about life, yoga, and the power of breath.”

Have a listen to the podcast, and let me know what you think.  Also, check out the great app Curable has built for people suffering from chronic pain.  It’s based on the work of the recently deceased Dr. John Sarno, and I think it can help a lot of people.  For many years, I’ve been recommending Sarno’s books, but now, I have the option of sending them to Curable to have a more direct, interactive experience of his groundbreaking work.

Lastly, if you’re anywhere near these showings of the wonderful documentary “All the Rage: Saved by Sarno,” rush out and see it.  It opens in L.A. tomorrow (August 11, 2017).

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Honoring John E. Sarno, M.D.

I just returned from a screening of a new documentary about Dr. John E. Sarno called “All the Rage: Saved by Sarno” here in New York City. For more than 16 years, this film has been a labor of love for the filmmakers, Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley and David Beilinson.

As anyone who has heard me teach about the spine or come to see me for private sessions knows, I talk about the work of Dr. Sarno pretty much every time the subject of back pain comes up. I have even written about my own Sarno-realization experience of crippling back pain that finally abated after connecting with five years of pent-up rage over the sad state of my teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar.

Over the course of 60+ years of medical practice Dr. Sarno’s perspective evolved as he sought lasting, reliable treatments for his patients with chronic pain. In the 1970s he arrived at the conviction that mind, body and emotions are inextricably linked and must be considered when it comes to understanding the true origins of the most common kinds of chronic pain. Those of us in the worlds of yoga or embodied movement may consider this a no-brainer, but the majority in the medical and psychiatric professions considered him an outcast and his views heretical. You can learn more facts of his life and practice on his wiki page, but the real story is in the thousands of lives he’s touched and saved from unnecessary suffering and surgeries.

Screengrab of Dr. Frances Sommer Anderson teaching to my online studentsAt today’s showing of “All the Rage,” I met the filmmakers and got to reconnect with an old friend Dr. Frances Sommer Anderson, a psychologist who worked with Dr. Sarno at the famed Rusk Institute for 34 years.  She is pictured here in a screenshot from a video of Dr. Anderson’s visit to The Breathing Project the week before Sarno’s retirement in 2012.  She was there to talk to my yoga anatomy students about the psyche/soma perspective on pain. That talk is part of my “Practices” course at yogaanatomy.net.

Poignantly, during the Q&A that followed the screening, one of the audience members who is a close family friend reported that Dr. Sarno, who would have turned 94 today (June 23, 2017), passed away yesterday.  This important documentary is a fitting tribute to this fine man who dedicated his life’s work to helping people live happier, healthier lives. I was pleased to be amidst a room full of his admirers when I learned this sad news.

Movie posterIf you are in New York I highly recommend you get to a showing of “All the Rage.” Considering reports I’ve received over the years from clients who had a life-altering experience just reading one of his books, this movie could help turn around the chronic suffering of someone you love. On the website for the film, you can learn how to sponsor a screening in your area.

If anyone has personal remembrances of working with Dr. Sarno, or has stories about help they may have received from any of his books, please feel free to post your comments below.

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An Appeal for The Babies Project

I’m sending this special message out to my networks to let you all know about a very special non-profit educational project that my good friends and colleagues, Amy Matthews and Sarah Barnaby have created: The Babies Project.

As many of you are aware, The Breathing Project is ending its educational programming at our Manhattan studio at the end of July 2017. What most of you don’t know is that we still have 2 more years on our commercial lease. If Amy and Sarah can successfully fund The Babies Project, we can accomplish the perfect transition for the use of our unique and beautiful space.

By working with yoga and movement educators and those who train them for the past 14 years, Amy and I feel that the exponential reach of our efforts has shifted the conversation about anatomy, movement and education.  The Babies project represents the next phase of facilitating positive change where it can do the most good — at the very beginning of a person’s life.

To quote Amy, “I am so passionate about this work – helping babies, helping caregivers – it feels like it helps heal everything.”

For years, Amy and Sarah have been offering classes at our studio for babies from newborn to walking and their caregivers, as well as adults of all ages interested in observing developmental movement patterns.  As an educational non-profit, The Babies Project will continue to offer these weekly drop-in Babies! sessions on a by-donation basis, as well as adding fee-based classes, workshops and private sessions. They will also add developmental movement classes for adults, and education for preparing and planning parents.

You can read more about the mission and vision of The Babies Project on their website and you can support them in any amount by going to their Indiegogo fund-raising page. It truly takes a village to raise a child (and educate a parent too), and with your help, the Babies Project can be one such highly innovative village right here in the heart of The Big Apple.

Please help contribute to this remarkable undertaking. Any amount will be greatly appreciated. I have personally donated, and will continue to support The Babies Project in every way I am able.

Thanks,

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Meet the “Beyond Anatomy” presenters: Pete Blackaby, Amy Matthews, Leslie Kaminoff, interviewed by Brooke Thomas

The wonderful Brooke Thomas, creator of The Liberated Body podcast, will moderate our upcoming Breathing Project symposium “Beyond Anatomy” in New York City April 1 & 2.

In this special episode which kicks off the fourth season of her podcast, Brooke asks Peter Blackaby, Amy Matthews and me what “Beyond Anatomy” means to us. I’m sure you’ll find our responses thought-provoking, and hope they’ll inspire you to join us at the Symposium.

We already have people coming from across the country, and even across the pond (Pete has lots of fans in his home country, Britain, and throughout the UK), so sign up while there’s still space. We look forward to seeing you there!

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“Who knows?…It may do something good.”

My upcoming weekend workshop at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio will focus on the healing potentials of Yoga. Whenever I teach this topic, I like to play a section of a 1996 documentary I helped produce in which my late teacher T.K.V. Desikachar talks about students who showed up at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram seeking help.  His simple words express very beautifully the essence of how yoga can help:

“The most important problem is suffering…but for some reason, the usual system of medical and health care is not able to understand the person who is suffering. They know a lot about the problem..but the relationship between this illness and the person is not so much emphasized. It’s not just illness, it’s what I call ‘the relationship to the illness’.  So, when the person goes to all these (medical) people, and still they are not better, they become desperate.

“We talk to these people. We say: ‘You have some resources which are not just medicine.  There’s something you have: you can still breathe…you can still talk…you  can sit and move. That means you still have the energy that can heal you. Let us direct and use this energy…who knows? It may do something good.’”

In my practice, this principle has evolved into a quick checklist for new students: “Are they breathing?  Are they able to focus their attention?  Can they move their body voluntarily?”  If the answers are even a little bit of yes, then they can practice yoga and reap immediate benefits. It is my contention that the most profound healing derived from yoga practice comes from the simplest things we teach, not the most complex.  The first, simplest thing that we ask people to do is also the most powerful: bringing the body and mind together through the medium of the breath.

I’ve provided a more extensive quote of Desikachar’s ideas about healing and the student-teacher relationship for Yoga on High’s blog, and the complete piece was a chapter in the book “Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine” by Larry Payne Ph.D., Terra Gold M.A.LAc. and Eden Goldman D.C.

yoga-on-high-logoIf you’re available and can get to Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio October 21-23, please come join me as we explore some of the therapeutic applications of yoga.

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Breath-Centered Yoga Therapeutics: A Four Day Immersion in Southern California

YATMI’m excited about my upcoming return to Laguna Niguel’s beautiful You and the Mat studio for a four day immersion in my favorite topic: Breath-Centered Therapeutics. The 4- day series of workshops take place from May 20-23, and will feature a clinical observation day.

Sunday’s session will be Respiratory Yoga Therapeutics: Clinical Observation – offering a rare glimpse into what happens in a private therapeutic yoga session. Through observation, questions, discussion and exchange I will demonstrate the principles of how to customize yoga practices, read the body to identify patterns of holding and tension, offer hands-on assists from an anatomically-informed breath-centered perspective, and explore yoga philosophy with anatomical understanding of the human system.

Three guest clients will have a unique opportunity to work one-on-one with me on specific respiratory issues to build awareness of their particular pattern of holding tension and receive support and encouragement from a group of people interested in their wellness.

I’m inviting you to help us find great clinic guests.

Do you have a challenging client or student or know someone (even yourself!) who could use this kind of breathing help? The person need not be a yoga practitioner, but should be experiencing some kind of breathing disorder or challenge. The time commitment is 1-2 hours on Sunday May 22, 2016.

Please invite anyone you think is appropriate to complete a clinic guest intake form. The deadline for submission is Sunday May 15 at midnight. We will be emailing all who have submitted an application by Tuesday May 17 informing them whether they are on the schedule.

Help us get the word out!   Thanks.

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Breath Education Myth #3 — "Habitual Breath-Holding is Harmless"

Excitement is growing here at The Breathing Project for our upcoming symposium Breath Education: Art, Science & Soul on the weekend of October 24-25.  We anticipate a sell-out, so sign up soon if you want to attend!

For our third installment of breath myth-busting, we hear from presenters Lynn Martin and Jessica Wolf – two of the country’s most experienced breath educators – who weigh in on the subject of breath-holding.

MYTH: “habitual breath-holding is harmless.”

Lynn Martin
Jessica Wolf

There is nothing positive to be said about habitual breath-holding. It is often an involuntary response to a moment of anxiety or stress. Many of us hold our breaths when we are trying to think of the best verbal response to a challenge, or the correct answer to a question that has been posed. But there is no perceivable benefit to doing that. If one needs a pause to think before speaking, it would be more productive to continue the flow of air into and out of the lungs while pondering the situation, thereby increasing the possibility of oxygen renewal to the brain.

Breath-holding interrupts the synergy and organization of the neuro-musculo-skeletal coordination that keeps the breathing process moving freely and fluidly. Breath-holding brings the diaphragm and all of the respiratory muscles to a sudden halt. It builds up unnecessary pressure in the thorax and in the throat, also interfering with the potential oscillation of the vocal folds as they prepare for the next spoken utterance.

Our teacher, Carl Stough, coached competing swimmers not to hold the breath while swimming under water. He suggested that the swimmer should first inhale and then extend the exhalation phase for the duration of time that the head is submerged, surface for the next inhalation, then exhale again under water, thus keeping the continuity of breathing movement.

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Breath Education Myth #2 – "Deep Breathing is Always Better"

As promised, here’s our next breath “mythbusting” contribution courtesy of my esteemed colleague and co-presenter Amy Matthews

MYTH: “Deep breathing is always better.”

It is NOT true that we should always breathe as deeply as we possibly can. There is not one single ‘right way’ to breathe, and the most effective breath is the one that is most suited to that person, in that moment.

Sometimes a shallow breath is the most effective choice – in biological systems the qualities of being deepest, longest and biggest are not necessarily indicators of success. Success arises from being effective . . . just good enough. So taking a deeper breath than we need might literally be a waste of time and energy.

Instead of always going for deeper and stronger breaths, can we instead cultivate adaptability and responsiveness?

Our October 24 & 25 symposium is filling up fast, so be sure to register now!

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Breath Education Myth #1 – Diaphragmatic vs. …?

Lung Tree Early Bird
Our amazing symposium “Breath Education — Art Science and Soul” is starting to fill up.  Don’t miss your last chance to attend at the early registration rate, which expires in one day (Sept 12).

As a lead-up to the event, our presenters will share their favorite breath education myths, which they will debunk at the event.  For me, myth #1 is probably the most pervasive one in the field: the term diaphragmatic breathing itself. If I had my way, I’d completely banish the term from breath education.

ALL breathing is diaphragmatic.  No living person should ever be told that they aren’t using their diaphragm unless they suffer from paralysis (and in that case, why would you say it to them in the first place? — they already know).

The term “diaphragmatic breathing” is as redundant and silly as the term “foot walking.”  When that term gets used, it’s intended to distinguish healthy breathing (diaphragmatic) from some other pattern an educator has judged to be unhealthy, but it would be absurd to say the unhealthy pattern is “non-diaphragmatic.”  The real issue isn’t whether the diaphragm is working or not, it’s whether it is able to work to its full efficiency without undue obstruction.

For a fuller explanation, and SO MUCH more, sign up now for “Breath Education — Art Science and Soul” at The Breathing Project!

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