Egg On My Neck, part 2 of My 2 Cents about ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’

Last week’s video got quite a lot of attention on YouTube – over 12,500 views as of this writing.  This week’s follow-up includes an apology to William J. Broad, the author of the NYT article and the book “The Science of Yoga”, which was sent to me by the publishers this week.

In last week’s video, I had taken Broad to task for under-reporting the “normal” range of motion of the cervical spine in axial rotation as 50º. In fact, that is the same number I give in the 2nd edition of Yoga Anatomy! Oops. Egg on my “neck”.

In retrospect, I believe I used outdated numbers in the book and I’m in the process of researching how to revise that page (34). Here’s one of the research articles I’m referencing that gives a good overview of just how variable these range of motion (ROM) measurements can be. For example, compare the lowest ROM—for a male in his nineties—at 26º. The greatest ROM was a teenage female with a whopping 94º! So, what’s normal?

I’m about halfway through Broad’s book now, and I’m pleased to report that it’s a great read. I will have a full review when I’m done but even at this point I can safely say I’m going to recommend every serious student of yoga read it.

 

Small Cell, Big Questions, by Edya Kalev

You thought you were breathing in Trikonasana, but that was only with your lungs.  When you tap into cellular breathing, as we did in the second session of The Breathing Project’s Yoga Anatomy: Practices course, then a whole new arena of sensation – and potential frustration – opens to you.

Taught by Amy Matthews, an expert in not just anatomy but in the “embodiment” of all the body’s systems, this asana class invited the cells in your hands and feet to breathe, just as much as the lung tissue.  How can we access these seemingly unconscious cells?

Amy began with a review of basic cell anatomy, providing visuals for the complex processes happening deep within us at every moment.  On the most basic level, every cell must inhale nourishment from it’s surroundings, and exhale waste. It is dependent on its environment to supply that nourishment and carry that waste away, so it can continue to burn energy while not becoming toxic.

The cell wall is the semi-permeable barrier that can either allow or reject incoming matter (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates) much like the bouncers at a popular nightclub.  The place between the velvet ropes where decisions get made is the place where we, as yoga students/embodiment novices, got to explore.  What do we let in?  What gets to sit and wait on the edge?  What do we let go of?  What identity do we create in the process?

With images of cellular respiration in mind, we could think about the more subtle sensations in our toes, imagining that those cells were participating in our down dog as much as our spine or sit bones.  Crossing those velvet ropes into a new inner universe, we might even stop “thinking” about the cells, and be able to listen to them.  Indeed, several students found that they had altered states of consciousness while moving and breathing into all their cells.

However, some of us felt confused or disoriented, daunted by the sheer number of cells (trillions?) we could listen to.  Lest we thought that we were unsuccessful in the practice if we couldn’t hear them speak, Amy reassured us that everyone was “100% successful” in cellular breathing.  There was no wrong way to breathe;  our cells are doing it all the time or we would not be alive.

Yet, “along with no wrong way, there is also no right way, and that can be terrifying,” Amy pointed out.  As professional teachers used to instructing our classes how to do a pose, this was a huge philosophical shift.  Can we find another way to teach asana, one that encourages exploration rather than imitation?

These are the big questions posed by our smallest units.  Let’s take a moment and listen to what they have to say…

An “Advanced” Practice

Reflections on the inaugural class of Leslie Kaminoff’s “Yoga Anatomy – Practices” at The Breathing Project, NYC.  October 5, 2011

by Edya Kalev

In a sold-out asana class full of professional yoga teachers, one might expect that the practice would include splits, scorpions and other poses deemed impossible by the vast majority of lay practitioners.  Not so in the first day of Leslie Kaminoff’s brand-new Yoga Anatomy: Practices course at The Breathing Project.

Standing, breathing, and concentrating awareness; these were the surprisingly complex challenges given to the class.  Starting out, we sensed the movement of the breath with hands on belly and abdomen. Then we focused on the top hand as we inhaled, and the bottom as we exhaled.  Taking that into movement, we floated into a forward bend from a lunge position. Maddeningly, Leslie provided no specific instruction as to how to breathe, just where to focus the attention as we moved.

After settling into a comfortable pattern of movement, focus and breath, Leslie of course swapped the area of focus.  Now we were to shift attention to the belly region on the inhale and the chest region on the exhale.  Many experienced momentary confusion as we arched into cow and rounded our spine into cat…why did this familiar movement feel so different?  Could changing the focus of our breathing really change everything?

At the end of our brain-scrambling sequence, just when we were looking forward to a predictable winding down, Leslie proposed “freestyle counterposing,”  encouraging students to figure out what they needed to feel complete in the practice and do it on their own.  Yet another diversion from the expected, honoring the unique individual over the “routine.”

During the last 5 minutes, the class meditated on a figure of overlapping triangles with a center point.  Leslie asked us to sit with our “associations, insights, and connections between the visual image and the practice,” just as he had to 25 years ago in the presence of his teacher, the great TKV Desikachar.  He then shared with us his private journal and drawings from that lesson, showing how broke the symbol apart into two separate triangles and reconstructed it again.

Back in that room, Leslie found meaning in the separate parts of the symbol before making it whole again, as one would examine the two distinct parts of the breath, then flow with the full breath.  An apt parallel to both what his teacher incited in him, and what he has begun to stir in us.  With Desikachar’s lesson in mind, Leslie had created an Advanced Practice without advanced poses, for yoga teacher and yoga student alike.

New York Book Release Party for Yoga Anatomy next Wednesday July 11th!

Come get your copy of Yoga Anatomy and meet co-authors Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews at The Breathing Project in New York City on Wednesday, July 11 starting at 6PM.

Snacks, drinks and personally signed copies of the book will be available. As a fundraiser for The Breathing Project, two one-of-a-kind prints by the book’s illustrator Sharon Ellis will be raffled off.

Bring as many friends as you like, but PLEASE RSVP by Monday, July 9th.
Location: The Breathing Project, Inc. 15 West 26th Street, 10th floor (between Broadway and 6th Ave.)