Tag Archives: yoga

Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition!

A number of my posts have dealt with my foray into teaching yoga and facilitating movement for folks who are dealing with movement limitations, the normal process of aging, or changes in cognitive functioning due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I have also mentioned Daniel Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain On Music, related posts being available here.

I am delighted to share that yesterday part 1 of two posts furthering the above conversations has been posted on the SharpBrains blog. My post is Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition! I hope you’ll pop over to read it, and if you have any feedback, please feel free to share, especially if you have related experiences that we can all learn from. Thanks!

The Benefits of Exercise (besides the fact that it can be fun!)

This post is thanks to guest blogger David Haas, who is passionately and actively raising awareness about the benefits of exercise, eating healthily, and making use of a support network for dealing with diagnosis and treatment of cancer. You can read more by David and other bloggers at The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog

Reasons to Continue Fitness Following a Cancer Diagnosis

Years ago it was common practice for people diagnosed with cancer to be asked to restrict their activity levels in favor of resting and relaxing. While rest is an important component of working through cancer treatment, too much inactivity can result in negative consequences such as reduced range of motion, loss of function and depression. Many organizations and research foundations now stress the importance of exercise following a diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer or any other type of cancer. Participating in regular physical fitness activities can supply you with physical and emotional benefits that serve to help you before, during and after cancer treatment.

Maintain Range of Motion

Over time, inactivity causes joints and muscles to feel stiff. The lack of exercise leads to decreased range of motion as muscle atrophy sets in and you become less flexible. Exercise is to your joints like oil is to a car engine. To keep your joints flexible and pain-free, you have to move them and keep them well-conditioned. By incorporating strength exercises into your physical fitness routine you can support the joints with the surrounding muscle tissue.

Build Strength

In addition to the strength your body needs to get through daily activity, it also needs extra strength and stamina to deal with the fatigue experienced during cancer treatment. Use light weights every other day to strengthen your arm and leg muscles, at the very least. Exercise DVDs can serve as an effective guide to help you build muscle strength. Even 10 minutes three times per week is sufficient to see improvement in your strength and stamina.

Reduce Treatment Side Effects

Cancer patients experience treatment side effects to varying degrees, but nausea, dizziness and fatigue are common side effects experienced by most people. Aerobic exercise is very beneficial to help fight fatigue by energizing your body in a sustained manner. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi can help you relax and are also effective for fighting nausea. Go slowly and exercise whenever you are able. Breaking up 30 minutes of exercise into three 10-minute segments throughout the day is just as effective as doing it all at once.

Encourage Empowerment

Feeling empowered to do something about your health is critical to your overall wellness. Regular physical activity makes you feel like you’re doing something good for yourself, and you are. As physical activity lifts your mood and makes your body feel stronger, it also gives you greater hope and confidence.

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a tremendous impact on your life but you have the power to fight back and work toward wellness through regular physical fitness. As you exercise regularly, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of greater physical conditioning as well as a stronger emotional state. No matter where you’re at in your fight against cancer, fitness and exercise can prove to be one of the greatest tools of empowerment and well-being. Use this tool regularly to help you move away from a mindset of illness toward one of well-being.


I can attest to David’s advice. In the spring of 1998 I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Following a summer of treatment, I wound up with radiation pneumonitis (pneumonia contracted due to radiation that reached a lung), and also managed to contract Lyme Disease. Health wise, it was a discouraging 12 months.

In an early 1999 issue of Cooking Light, I came upon a small ad for the Danskin Triathlon. The Danskin seemed the perfect way to kick me out of my health doldrums, and I wound up participating in four Danskins beginning with 1999. Having a goal, enlisting friends to help with achieving it, and following through, made a hugely positive difference in my recovery. 

And if you are looking for a way to get started, you might start simply with SuperBetter, an online game designed to help “you achieve your health goals – or recover from an illness or injury – by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.”

This Is Your Brain On Music

This morning I was putting away the syrup that garnished the scrumptious french toast made by my husband, and as I closed the refrigerator door, some of the many tiles of magnetic poetry caught my eye. As our sons come and go on home visits, they alter the poetry, so I have no idea which one crafted this gem, but how appropriate given the book I am currently reading!

I am two-thirds of the way through Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. When this book came out in 2007, I ordered a hard cover copy from amazon and eagerly awaited its delivery. When it arrived, I thumbed through the book and decided it wasn’t for me.

Rather than letting it languish on my book shelf, I gave it to a student – an accomplished high school musician who played (and still plays) clarinet and saxophone, who has studied at Julliard, and with who I had a close relationship developed over years of her assisting with faculty technology workshops and my being her advisor for her eleventh grade independent study project that resulted in her authoring and publishing this book. As her lulu.com bio states, she is “currently studying Music Education and Clarinet Performance at the University of Maryland, College Park.”

Now, five years later, guess what book I am reading? This time I have a paperback copy borrowed from my local library. And I am two-thirds of the way through Levitin’s book, absorbing his words and relating them back to my experience – in caring for my Dad, who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimers; in teaching yoga to people with mobility or other limitations; in teaching yoga to people who are at the upper realms of aging; in learning to teach dance to people with Parkinson’s. There will be much more about all of this as I continue to read, take notes, reflect and wonder, with a possibility of everything coming together in a blog post for SharpBrains.

But for now, I am just smiling at the magnetic poetry on my refrigerator door. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it – last night Levitin’s invitation to participate in a survey about music came across my Twitter feed. Of course, I participated! For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, I do not know Levitin but I “follow” him, so everything he tweets about shows up in my timeline. How fitting that the magnetic poetry and Levitin’s tweet both deal with music and mood.

Last post – Music; this post – Dance

For me, they are linked – I hear music, I start to move. And if it’s a certain kind of music, my body starts to dance. The only thinking I do is split second, wondering if it is okay to start dancing in my current surroundings.

Music has an amazing impact on the brain, influencing neuronal impulses to cause movement. This Facebook wall post says it all. In fact, there are instances where dancing helps the brain to think.

Parkinson’s Disease – Dance for PD

I have been training, via Dance for PD, to teach dance to people with Parkinson’s. At some point, a person who has Parkinson’s winds up having difficulty controlling their movement. Their body parts function just fine, but the signal that is sent from their brain to their legs, for instance, gets lost in translation. The signal never arrives, or it arrives late or in a discombobulated form.

It turns out, though, that when someone with Parkinson’s participates in these Dance for PD dance classes, something magical happens. The music permeates their minds and provides rhythmic accompaniment for their movement signals to traverse from the brain to the body part. Feet and legs can move, indeed, dance, often gracefully and fluidly, facilitated by the music.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Very powerful it is, this dance! Especially in a social setting. Bringing people together to touch hands, figure out who leads, who follows, and how to create movement through music and footwork – all of this requires thought, concentration, focus and quick planning ahead. According to this article by Richard Powers, a dance instructor and presenter at Stanford University, dancing makes you smarterIt’s not just about the physical exercise provided by dance or the release of endorphins that ultimately makes a person feel good, it’s the social aspects that benefit cognition.

Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter. A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one’s mind can ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit.

Fact is, when dancing with a partner, you have to pay attention and be one step (always figuratively and sometimes literally!) ahead of what they will do next. This causes your brain to build synapses and continually rewire itself the more you dance. All of this synaptical building is creating cognitive reserve, a mental buffer. The more neuronal connections you have, the better, so that if one portion of your brain malfunctions, the other portions of your brain can co-opt some of that cognitive reserve.

Dance is FUN and HEALTHY and SOCIAL and just plain GOOD FOR YOU!

The Tree of Yoga

I recently finished reading B.K.S. Iyengar’s The Tree of Yoga, which was given to me as a parting gift when I left my previous school. Iyengar wrote a bit about the art of teaching, and I enjoyed mulling over his ideas.

Iyengar stated, indeed, warned that you “teach only what you know. Do not teach what you do not know…” I have often heard it said that the best way to learn is to teach. Especially in my early years of teaching, walking into a room to teach something with which I was not familiar caused that butterfly feeling in the pit of my stomach, coupled with the hope that nobody would notice my lack of expertise.

In the many years since, I have learned that often times my students will have more knowledge or exposure to something than I have – not uncommon in the fast changing world of computers and technology. I learned that teaching is a two-way shared process between the “teacher” and the “student”. Those nouns are in quotes because, at any given time, the roles change between me, the teacher, and those in the class, the students. Indeed, I hugely believe in and have always tried to have students be part of the professional development sessions organized for faculty. Change up the role dynamics and the process of learning is enhanced for everyone.

So learn, do, re-learn, experience, and you will be able to teach with confidence, courage and clarity.

Teachers must always be learning. They will learn from their pupils and must have the humility to tell them that they are still learning their art.

Iyengar touched on another area of teaching, which is understanding who your students are, and realizing that we do not all learn in the same manner or at the same pace. It is important to try and differentiate instruction so that the learner can make meaning from the experience.

The art of teaching is also to know when to stop.

There are two types of teaching. One is explaining according to your intelligence. The other is knowing the weakness of your pupils, and how you have to explain in order for them to understand your meaning.

First published in 1988, Iyengar’s book deals with the teaching of yoga, but I think that just about all strong teaching follows a similar process. Yoga is, in some ways, similar to physical education and also to physical art. Phys ed and the arts are highly experiential and often touted as providing many examples of teaching that could (should?) be ported over to the academic classroom.

Looking for help from readers, please.

I am fascinated by the brain. I have been practicing yoga since March of 2005. I have been a teacher of kids and adults since 1982 (teaching with and about computers). I saw how music and movement soothed my Dad as he dealt with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I know what my next act will be, and am looking for your help in coming up with a name.

WRITTEN on July 11 of this year:

I have a dream of blending yoga and movement with learning about the brain, and offering it to retirees, adults and kids, to help them nourish their bodies and grow more synapses and neurons in the process.

TWEETED this morning:

Combining yoga, dance & music for folks w/mobility, health or aging issues. Crowd sourcing positive upbeat company name for this. Ideas?

TEACH blended movement that incorporates:

  • yoga, be it in a chair, along side a chair or without a chair
  • dance
  • music
  • learning about stress and ways to manage it
  • learning about your brain and how you learn
  • learning about anatomy
  • relaxation
  • fun
  • community
  • self-care

LOOKING for an upbeat name that evokes the possibilities…

If you have a suggestion, please do leave it in a comment below. And thank you for helping me to come up with a name!

The Sherborne Developmental Method

While in Brussels recently, I had breakfast with my son and an online friend who I had the pleasure of meeting in-person. We were talking about learning, yoga, and the brain, and I mentioned my interest in designing a course based around the brain, metacognition, and yoga. My son told us about the Sherborne Developmental Movement, something he heard about from his girlfriend’s sister. She knows something about yoga, being in the process of pursuing her AcroYoga training. She also knows something about education, being a consultant to Escuelas Gestoras del Cambio – EGC (Schools as Actors in Change) in Ecuador.

Here is what I’ve turned up so far about the Sherborne Developmental Movement.

And here are my initial thoughts about a course:
  • activities scaffold from lower to middle to upper school, and continue on for adults
  • metacogntion – what it is and how you can do it
  • understanding your brain as it grows and develops
  • impact of movement on the brain, learning and overall health
  • how you can nourish your brain from early to older age
  • adding yoga to the mix (movement as metaphor)

If you are familiar with this Movement, or you have any suggestions about my course idea, please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!

(cross posted on my yogajournal.posterous.com blog)

Summertime & the Livin’ Is…

The Gershwins would have said “And the Livin’ is Easy” and I am going to second that line! For those of us who teach, summer has always been a time to kick back and relax and reenergize. Even for those who have a summer job, the change in venue or hours or responsibilities usually provides an opportunity to refresh.

Harking advice gleaned from many Learning and the Brain conferences, this summer I am tapping four basic tips for maintaining the health of my aging brain.

There has been much written about the positive impact of exercise on the human body and the human brain. No surprises here, as the brain and body are very closely intertwined. Like every summer past, my husband and I are back in the pool logging our laps, swimming side-by-side and matching one another stroke-for-stroke. Being a foot taller than me, he usually sets the pace! And of course, we continue to kayak.

Novelty – something that is different or out of the ordinary. Exposing ourselves to novel circumstances is one sure fire way to keep our brains stimulated. I have avidly been practicing yoga for five years, and in the fall will be teaching yoga to 7th and 8th graders as part of their phys ed options. This is going to be quite a novel endeavor for me (and one I requested!) Yes, I have been teaching for 28 years, but I’ve been teaching the subject of computers. And practicing yoga does not a yoga teacher make ;-) I will be taking the one week 40-hour intensive YogaEd program offered by Always-At-Aum.

Exercise, novelty and learning will mesh in my upcoming yoga class; computers and learning mesh in my current online class offered by The Online School for Girls. Twenty-five independent school educators from most of the disciplines including the arts, as well as a number of division heads, have come together online to learn about the whys and hows of blended learning. Here is how one of the OSG’s organizers announced the course, PD: Creating Great Blended Learning.

This course is designed for the secondary-level teacher who is comfortable posting assignments on the web, is interested in the concept of blended instruction, but needs guidance or exposure to the online tools and methods that exist, literally, at their fingertips.

We will spend time exploring current research and theories to answer the question: Why is blended learning so powerful? Once we have established a solid understanding of blended learning, we will shift our focus to practical matters to answer the question: How do I create a great blended learning experience for my students?

Participants will connect and collaborate with each other through a variety of online activities, averaging 2-4 hours a week, as we explore best practices and practical tools available for blended learning instruction. By the end of this four week experience, teachers will have concrete ideas about how to apply blended learning methods to their own teaching.

Week one will conclude this weekend, and so far I am loving this class! I am excited and energized by the possibilities, and looking forward to applying them to Presentation Communication, a new course I am teaching this fall in the upper school.

And then there is the importance of a social community. My community of two for swimming, kayaking, walking, hiking and just plain hanging out with is my husband. The Yoga Sanctuary is my community of local yogis, many whom I’ve practiced with these past five years, and my new community of yogis with whom I will be learning to teach yoga. And there is the vibrant, active online community around which my online class revolves.

Toss in a slew of books, lots of conversations, vegetarian cooking, my other online communities, seeing some friends I haven’t seen in awhile, exploring of new places, and continuing with Marian Diamond’s UC Berkeley Human Anatomy course lectures, and I think the Gershwins got it right!

Check out these related articles:

Connected Threads & Joints

The purpose of our synovial joints (a freely movable joint) is to reduce friction and produce synovial fluid. Surrounding each of our synovial joints is a synovial membrane, which is what actually produces the synovial fluid. The synovial fluid resides in a synovial cavity, an area between the membrane and the bones that  “lubricates joint surfaces and nourishes articular cartilages.”  (Quotes come either from Professor Diamond or  from my $40 barely used copy of Human Anatomy & Physiology, sixth edition, by Elaine N. Marieb. Most definitely a helpful resource and companion to Marian C. Diamond’s UC Berkeley lectures.)

This science of joints is known as arthrology (art = joint, ology = study of), and arthritis (itis = inflammation) is what it is called if any of those joints become inflamed.

Our joints come in handy for helping us to move and consist of “the junction of two or more bones.” I use my joints all the time when doing yoga, and at one time or another have moved every single joint in my body. Think about all the ways in which joints can be moved:

flexion is the easiest to do and moves at a decreasing angle, such as flexing our arms and biceps
extension is the opposite of flexion and consists of moving at an increasing angle, such as our triceps
adduction is when we bring a limb toward our midline
abductor is when we bring a limb away from our midline
circumduction is when we move our joints in a circular motion

To facilitate this joint movement, our bodies have four types of joints, each with the ability to move the associated bones. The hinge joint increases and decreases angles; when you flex or extend your elbows and knees you are using your hinge joints. Another type of joint is the ball and socket, which consists of a “head” (the ball) in a “depression” (a cavity). The humerous (arm) fits into the glenoid cavity in this manner, and the femur (thigh) fits into the acitabulum.

The pivot joint lets one bone move around another, as happens in the forearm when the head of the radius pivots around the ulna. The saddle joint is prevalent in our fingers, where the convex end of the metacarpals fit into the concave end of the carpals.

Those may be the joints, but what are the threads? This morning I took a yoga class with Deb, who I first met five years ago on a brisk sunny February afternoon in Central Park when we were introduced by a mutual friend at The Gates. Deb often talks about the adductors and abductors, and this morning she mentioned our synovial fluid. She has been incorporating anatomical terms into yoga class for as long as I can recall, and it is no small delight to tie together my physical yoga practice with my study of anatomy.

In addition to our joints, our skeleton also consists of cartilage and bone. As Professor Diamond explains, bone is a connective tissue with cells, fibers, calcified matrix and lots of blood vessels. Cartilage is also a connective tissue with cells and fibers but with a firm, pliable matrix and no blood vessels. It gets nutrients by diffusion. It is important to note that bone is not calcified cartilage; they are different entities.

@!brainbits: Marian Diamond’s Human Anatomy lec#7 – “We all need an hour of exercise everyday!”

@brainbits: Bone is NOT calcified cartilage! Our bones develop by removing cartilage and laying down bone. (Thanks Marian Diamond!)