Tag Archives: Learning

Book Review – Nonviolent Communication

From my Goodreads Review

During a recent conversation with our younger son and his girlfriend, I mentioned a workshop about nonviolent communication, and immediately Katryna responded that it reminded her of the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which she had on a bookshelf, having read portions of the book but not a cover-to-cover read. I then blurted “that is who trained the leader of the workshop!” As a result, I borrowed the book from the library. (I hadn’t taken the workshop, just expressed interest in it.)

I wrote four blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4) about the process of NVC, and in the first mentioned my tendency to avoid self-help books, of which this appeared to be one.

However, I ultimately found it a thoughtful process and one that will lurk in the back of my mind as the approach jells. My reason for reading the book was an interest in figuring out how to have potentially unpleasant conversations with people around the myriad topics that have been pervading our lives for the past four years. In other words, how to engage with people when we do not see eye-to-eye.

I don’t have any expectation of changing mindsets, but I would like to be able to discuss rather than listen without comment when someone expresses a belief with which I do not agree. It has often felt to me like my silence was seen as complicit agreement, when actually my silence was either trying to better comprehend why someone would feel the way they expressed, or else my wanting to avoid conflict. Either way, engaging the person in dialog using the principles of NVC would have met my need to find out why they felt the way they did in a way that would likely engender positive discussion rather than conflict.

One other aspect of NVC that particularly resonated comes from the final chapter, Expressing Appreciation in Nonviolent Communication. It has always been difficult for me to accept compliments; I often want to reflect them back on the speaker. To quote Rosenberg:

NVC encourages us to receive appreciation with the same quality of empathy we express when listening to other messages. We hear what we have done that has contributed to others’ well-being; we hear their feelings and the needs that were fulfilled. We take into our hearts the joyous reality that we can each enhance the quality of others’ lives.

Serendipity with Carol Dweck

I have not read the New York Times online in many months, and only receive the print edition on Sundays. However, it is mid-August, I am up quite early this morning, Joe Biden has just announced Kamala Harris as his running mate, it is still dark outside, and I decided it was time to return to checking in with the world what with the election a little less than three months from now.

(Not that I have been absent from the news; my husband keeps me up-to-date and I receive daily ‘breaking news’ emails from the Times. I just haven’t felt there was anything to be learned by bombarding myself with the negativity of the news. Fixed mindset, growth mindset or sanity mindset?)

This by way of explaining how it is I serendipitously came upon an article about Carol Dweck, someone I first wrote about in December 2007. At the time, Dweck’s theory of Fixed and Growth Mindsets made a big impression on me. Someone with a fixed mindset tends to believe that they are born with whatever intelligence they have, the brain is what it is, and that’s all there is, whereas someone with a growth mindset tends to believe that their brain is malleable, meaning it can change. Which mindset would you think is more conducive to learning?

As an individual, a parent and a teacher I found much to appreciate in the theory for myself, my children and my students. At the same time, I also felt thwarted by an educational system that may have wanted teachers to inculcate their students to the theory, but was unwilling to alter the checks and balances and methods of assessment that still sent home messages about individual learning not totally in concert with the idea that failing can promote learning.

If you are willing to take risks you will sometimes fail at what you try, but the very act of failing will give you the learning experience that sets the ground upon which the next learning risk will take place. This cycle of trying and making mistakes is what learning is all about. If you have a growth mindset then the mistake-making is not the end of the world but rather a jumping off point to decipher what went wrong and how it can be changed for improvement. That process is actually what learning is all about. Someone with a fixed mindset will likely give up and, as a result, not make any progress.

For years, until I retired from teaching this past June, I would share the following simple statements that actually have much meaning behind them:

Try it and see!

You made a mistake. How fascinating! (This came from a talk I watched by Ben Zander.)

Flop with fanfare, revise with relish! (I picked this up from an education listserv.)

So here I am this morning, browsing today’s articles in the Times, when an image captioned by “Feel Like You’re Going Out of Your Mind? Consider Your Mind-Set” comes into view. Over the years criticism has been lobbed at Dweck regarding this theory of mindsets, and perhaps what was most satisfying is that she took in the criticism and then used it as a springboard to fine tune the theory and further her research.

In any case, I appreciated stumbling upon this brief article. It was both a reminder of ideas I used to think about, as well satisfying to serendipitously revisit a person who had made educational news and was still out there doing her thing.

Pranayama Intensive: Sama Vritti

For the past five weeks (concluding last weekend) I was engaged in the Pranayama Intensive online class with Judith Hanson Lasater and Lizzie Lasater. Last summer I was a student in their Experiential Anatomy online class led by the highly talented teaching team of Judith, Lizzie, and Mary Richards. When the opportunity arose to participate in another class with them, I immediately jumped in. The class was intentionally offered at this time, when so many of us are sequestered in our homes as a result of the pandemic, making it for me an auspicious time to study the breath. When breathing is slowed and exhalations become longer, the slower, deeper breath calms the nervous system. 

Judith noted that Pranayama and Breathing are NOT the same thing. Pranayama is intentional control of one’s breath. Prana refers to energy, and yama is restraint. Taken together, pranayama is “working with the physics and energetics of breathing.” Within the yogic umbrella there are several types of controlled breathing patterns; the first one we explored was Sama Vritti.

But before we could practice, we had to set up the yoga mat with props to enhance the sensation of the practice. The photo just below is the suggested setup. I have tried this and did not find it sufficiently conducive to my practice so have made subtle changes. Pranayama ProppingIn place of the stair-stepped stacked blankets I used a soft bolster with a sweatshirt rolled at the front to fill in the space between my low back and the bolster. In place of a rounded bolster under the back of my knees I used a squishy bed pillow. And I prefer a small, soft pillow under my neck and head. Delightedly, the first time I practiced was on a lovely warm, sunny Saturday afternoon when our back deck beckoned. Propped next to my head was my iPad for playing the guided pranayama audio file. my setupSama means same, which appropriately is what the spell checker usually tries to change “sama” to each time the word is typed. Vritti refers to busyness and activity. Sama Vritti Pranayama is a balanced breath pattern, each inhale and each exhale being of equal duration, like a balanced seesaw. In this manner, the breath balances the busy mind. 

I have seen this breath referred to as Box or Square Breathing, though I prefer the Sanskrit flow of the words on my tongue, like the flow of my breath. I enjoyed 22 luscious minutes listening to Judith guide me in to the setup and practice, listening to the quiet as I breathed, listening to the silence in my mind, returning at the sound of the chimes and listening to Judith guide me out of the practice. 

I would like to write that my practice has been in earnest, taking the time every day to practice, be it five minutes or twenty. Alas, that has not been the case. Twice. That’s the total number of times I have practiced. Partially this is because I lead yoga practices online three times a week, and partially because I still have a day job. However, the day job concludes next week and it marks not only the end of a school year but my retirement from the world of school teaching and transitioning more fully to the world of yoga teaching, something for which I have been preparing for the past four years!

Gentle Edge

with PaulaReprinted from the original on my professional yoga site.


Starting Out – January 2016

That’s me on the first session of my 2016 Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). I registered for the six month training with the thought of improving my practice and had only a tiny thought that the training would become the groundwork for my teaching. At that time the very thought of teaching quite unnerved me – maybe you know that sensation – butterflies that do not settle, a digestive system that does not calm.

In the photo Paula, one of our three YTT teachers, is handing me a glass container with a candle inside and my name hand-written on the outside. The candle was a gift of welcome to light my way, a similar candle given to each student.

My entire training was an exercise in taking my practice and my journey to my gentle edge.

Take it to your gentle edge of expression – where any more would be too much, and any less would be too little.

This is a sentiment I have heard numerous times from various yoga teachers, and it always brings to mind Lev Vygotsky and his idea of ZPD, Zone of Proximal Development. In yoga the edge is “a place of neither too much nor too little stretch” and “unless you find your edge, there is no growth, no learning, and no change.” (Michael Lee, from Kripalu Yoga, A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat, chapter 4.)

Vygotsky believed that children could learn from watching and following adults, with the adult assisting the child to go beyond what the child was able to do on their own. This place, where the child has gone as far as possible on their own – their gentle edge – and was ready to go beyond, was the zone of proximal development. He felt that optimal learning experiences should take place in each child’s ZPD, with that zone being specific to each learner.

I have learned yoga through a combination of observing my teachers, following their cues, giving my teachers permission to make subtle changes in my postures, and practicing regularly. My teachers, especially in my 200-hour training, have taken me beyond what I could do on my own. They have helped me get to my gentle edge of expression and over time, with their assistance and my practice, the placement of that gentle edge has shifted. They have met me in my ZPD and guided me beyond.

Yoga and psychology, a gentle meshing of both.

graduation

 

Yoga Nidra

WORKSHOP OVERVIEW
This past weekend I was at a 3-hour workshop hosted by the Yoga Teachers Association (YTA) of the Hudson Valley. The workshop, Yoga Nidra & Restorative Yoga, was led by Mona Anand, someone with whom I was already familiar having been introduced to her by a yoga colleague who extolled Mona’s training and online Yoga Nidras. I was eager to learn more and purchased Yoga Nidra to Lift Your Spirits on iTunes; it did not disappoint!

As with her iTunes album, the in-person experience did not disappoint either. During the  first 15 or 20 minutes Mona shared a bit about her background and provided an overview of what the remainder of the workshop would entail. From there she guided us through Restorative yoga followed by a 35-45 minute Yoga Nidra. The final 30 minutes consisted of elaboration and discussion based on a summary handout she provided. For more about Yoga Nidra in her own words, read Mona’s Introduction to Yoga Nidra. Be sure to scroll the page because the section about the Benefits of Yoga Nidra comes after the email slot for subscribing.

WHAT IS YOGA NIDRA?
The quick answer is that it is an experience somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, and you are led into that place by someone who continually speaks as they guide your attention (not your movement) to various parts of the body. This is different from Savasana, which is the final resting pose after any yoga practice and is a quiet practice. At the end of the practice Mona added that Yoga Nidra is designed to release thoughts and feelings, but not to analyze those thoughts or feelings.

THE HANDOUT
Mona’s approach to Yoga Nidra consists of nine steps and was developed by her and Alan Finger. The Yoga Nidra that I have experienced in the past has usually consisted only of what is Step 4 in this approach. The steps below, with some commentary by me, are from the handout shared at the conclusion of the workshop, copyrighted by Mona Anand and Alan Finger, 2008-2018.

1. Ekagrata – planting an image on the screen of the mind
Begin lying on the back with any support necessary to provide warmth and comfort. In this step you are guided to check in with your inner state as you draw your senses inward. Mona used the imagery of visualizing a flame at the third eye, that space between the brows.

2. Asana with nyasa – pre-yoga nidra asanas
The physical practice of yoga consists of poses (also called asanas). In looking up the meaning of “nyasa” I learned it is a series of touches on specific locations on the body. In the case of Yoga Nidra, these are not physical touches but visualized touches (more on this in Step 4.) As Mona guided us through asana she moved the flame down the body through the chakras. Typically chakras move from the bottom to the top, but she intentionally guided top-down to help draw us inward. She especially wanted us to focus on places where the body holds tension at the back of the neck and in the hips.

3. Pratyahara (antar mouna) – letting the mind move from sound to sound
Pratyahara refers to the withdrawal of the senses. During this phase Mona first guided us to listen to sounds around the room as we become aware of “antar mouna,” the practice of becoming aware of external sensory perceptions. From there she led us to draw our senses inward, pratyahara.

4. Rotation of Awareness – moving the mind through the body
This is the portion of Yoga Nidra with which I was familiar, having been led through it multiple times over the years. The guided travel through the body is intentional in its sequencing. The rotation is designed to clear the conscious mind, relax the physical body and increase body awareness, neurologically creating a circuit of energy in the brain, thus letting you go to the hypnogogic state. This is the state immediately before falling asleep. I have usually experienced this as a slow flow through the body where my attention was guided first fully to one side of the body, starting with a pinky finger and wending its way to the same side little toe, and then traveling the same route on the other side, leading to deep relaxation. When Mona guided this she “pinged” the body parts, thus pinging the brain, and had us travel from the feet upwards.

5. Nirodha – counting the breath backward
Starting with the number 11, count each breath going backwards. Since self-counting can tend to put people to sleep, Mona’s voice was intentional here in order to help people remain awake. Nirodha deprograms the mind and brings it to the present moment.

6. Pairing of Opposites – creating opposite sensations and emotions
The purpose of this step is to clear the subconscious mind and release emotional tension. The opposites are meant to induce a feeling of heaviness as muscles relax. Mona noted that the pairing of opposites is useful for people with PTSD to help them experience the range of what they miss when blocking out sensations. As she explained, you “cannot feel one side of the coin unless you can feel the other.” Examples of opposites include:

  • hot-cold
  • heavy-light
  • pleasure-pain

7. Rapid Visualization – fast moving images
In this step the unconscious mind is cleared, relaxing it so it can purge itself of painful memories. It is meant to be quick and consists of reference points to release what is in the subconscious so that it can “take out the garbage.” I enjoyed listening to the items but did not retain them and in the discussion that followed was tickled to hear one person list almost all of the items:

  • best childhood friend
  • Tinkerbell
  • hot cocoa
  • rainbow
  • warm sand
  • roses
  • white petals
  • smell of lavender
  • mother’s eyes
  • bonfire

8. Long Visualization – guided imagery
I have been guided through visualizations before and every time, including this one, I get lost somewhere along the line. It’s not that I do not know where I am, rather I simply tune out any speaking and eventually come back “online” usually towards the latter part of the visualization. This portion of Yoga Nidra frees one from being trapped by the boundaries of time and form, which is known as “maya.” It is a safe bubble.

9. Sankalpa – order from the conscious mind to the subconscious 
This is done seated and invites each person to set an intention before leaving. It is more productive to give instructions to the subconscious mind. Mona notes that in more advanced Yoga Nidra a seated meditation may be added between Steps 8 and 9.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
Mona shared a way to think about how our brains deal with negatives and positives. She said negative emotions stick like velcro, whereas positive emotions slide off like teflon because we are wired to remember the one negative event (or comment) rather than the twenty positives. This comes from very early human history, when remembering the location of the one hungry lion (who might want to eat you) was more important than thinking about the twenty smaller animals you killed that day for food.

If you ponder those thoughts, you may perhaps see a similar pattern in yourself, noticing how the single slight can overtake the many positive interactions in a given day. This is likely why practices such as keeping a gratitude journal or doing the “Three Good Things” practice can be so beneficial.

That’s Mona in the left photo, leading the discussion after the experience. The workshop was packed and the room was quite chilly. We had been forewarned about the temperature so I dressed in layers (yellow arrows in second photo are pointing to me). Nothing like a mirrored wall to make the room seem larger and some of us seem to be in two places at once. 😉 I had the delight of sitting next to Paula, one of my three 200-hour Yoga Teacher Trainers (she is in the red top to my left.) Photos are from Mona’s Instagram feed.

 

Book Review – Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life

From my Goodreads Review

Having read Tharp’s The Creative Habit and The Collaborative Habit, I was eager to learn what more she had to say about life, creating and moving. At first, to my surprise, I found it difficult to get into the flow of Tharp’s writing this time round. However, as she often advises throughout her books, I kept going and, perhaps as with many a difficult activity, the more I read, the easier it became to relax into the flow.

Not surprising is that four of the five pages I bookmarked were all about movements to try. I need to move. Not just walk, because that is a daily necessity if I have any hope of leaving my comfy bed and doing anything! I am talking about truly moving by doing yoga, dancing, jumping, swirling, twirling, walking quickly, jogging short distances, bouncing up stairs, playing with my body in space as it relocates from one position of groundedness to another.

I prefer moving to standing, standing to sitting, and sitting only when tuckered out. If I must stand in place then I prefer moving in place to standing still. My psyche – body – blood – brain – the whole shebang is infinitely more content during and after intentional movement.

Taking cues from the movement maven Twyla, here are the movements I bookmarked.

Jump for Joy
Sky Jump – Stand with both feet together. Bend your knees. Jump straight up. Reach to the heavens with your arms. Repeat many time–at least three.

Ski Jump – Feet together, jump out to the right; arms go high to your left. Then jump back to center. Reverse. Repeat. Many times–at least four.

March in Place – Feet slightly apart, weight on your right, lift your left knee high. Then jump onto your left foot and bring your right knee high and slap that knee with the opposite hand. And reverse. Repeat many times. Try six.

Traveling – First to the front, weight on your right foot, jump forward to the left foot. From there back to the right foot. Then place both feet together. Reverse. Go for four each leg.
Same pattern, only now jump to the side, right and left. And then to the back. Repeat many times. Try eight. Note, as ever: the body prefers moving forward to going backward.

Then she adds a new component: MUSIC! I love, Love, LOVE moving to music! Especially when one of my favorites comes on or it is the ringtone I have for my husband or either of my sons. Look out floor, my feet automatically stat moving; it is not a choice! Tharp listed some samples of what she calls “irresistible can-do music.” I now have some of them on my iPhone and yup, she was correct, my feet found each one irresistible and they simply had to move. Her suggestions: “Boogaboo” by Jelly Roll Morton, “Stompin’ at the Savory” by Louis Armstrong, “Flying Home” by Lionel Hampton, and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony.

Of course, the more you move, the more you will build stamina, and that is the goal of the Build Your Stamina activity. To do this she suggests finding a physical activity that your body knows as a unit of time (heart beats, stair climbing…), then begin moving slowly and work up to multiple repetitions, breathing in on the preparation and breathing out on the work. “Enlarge your numbers daily. That is how we build stamina.”

As with The Collaborative Habit, there are occasional activities that are just pure fun, could make for entertaining ice breakers, and are useful tools for teaching public speaking or understanding language. I enjoyed the lure of dancing your verb – choosing a verb and finding the many varied ways of illustrating it through dance and movement. I smiled at the idea of “big” expressive language via body movements. “During the day when you have something to say–anything–you wish to say, stand up and illustrate it with a movement–any movement–of your choice. Jut a hip out to the right, pull up the left knee and slap it with the right hand. Give physical emphasis to all the points you need to make.” Indeed, this is an excellent tool to use anytime you want to make a point for your audience to remember.

Lastly, it is the rare individual who does not sustain one type of injury or another during their lifetime. Particularly as Tharp has spent most of her life dancing, its surprising that by age 78 she has sustained a relatively small number of injuries. This does make me think that the more fit we are, the more we nourish and nurture our movable bodies, the fewer injuries we may have and the easier it will be to recalibrate and heal. She borrows from the Japanese to liken the process of healing to that of kintsugi, patching a damaged vessel with gold. As she says, “The patched porcelain knows how to handle vicissitudes.”

Book Review – The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

From my GoodReads Review

I probably read this book too quickly, eagerly gobbling up Twyla Tharp’s anecdotes, sharing of her experiences, and passing along of her words of wisdom. The Collaborative Habit, her second book published six years after this one, is on my side table waiting to be read, and her most recent book, Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, is on reserve at our local library. Obviously, I am hooked.

I discovered Tharp’s writings late in my career, as this is my final year in the realm of independent school teaching. On the other hand, I have seen my interests and passions morph over the years from technology to movement. I put together sequences for sharing as yoga practices, I think about music to accompany those practices. Sometimes I have more energy to put in to the process, sometimes I go with my gut, but always being on my yoga mat is a form of creativity, be it for my personal practice or to guide others in their practice.

While I may be phasing out of the independent school world, I am continuing to teach, only instead of teaching children in a classroom, computer lab or MakerSpace, I am teaching adults in an open space. Either way, my preference is always to introduce the learner (or practitioner) to the world of possibilities, to pave the way for safe exploration of their interests and ideas, or in the case of yoga, their breath and body movement.

Each chapter in this book resonated, and if it didn’t happen on the first reading, a second reading might lead me to an experience in my own trajectory. (In retrospect, I did not always stop to sufficiently ponder and reflect.) Regardless of what field someone is in, including parenting, there is wisdom to take from Tharp’s ideas.

Tharp concludes each chapter with a set of exercises – not necessarily physical, though some are physical, but activities that may assist in forming, understanding and nurturing one’s own creative habit. The chapter titles might speak for themselves, or perhaps you will have no idea what they are about and that will inspire you to read this book! For me, I hope they will remind me of the meat of the chapter, and if not then I will borrow the book from the library to help me refuel my understanding,

1 – I Walk into a White Room
2 – Rituals of Preparation
3 – Your Creative DNA
4 – Harness Your Memory
5 – Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with a Box
6 – Scratching
7 – Accidents Will Happen
8 – Spine
9 – Skill
10 – Ruts and Groves
11 – An “A” in Failure
12 – The Long Run

Advice from a Yogi

Sometime over the summer I took notes on a podcast conversation with a yogi. I am fairly certain that yogi was Judith Hansen Lasater being interviewed by her daughter, Lizzie Lasater, though I did not write down the source. Nonetheless, the advice sounds very much like what I imagine Judith would provide, so I’m going with her as the source (and the podcast that I think this comes from is here.)

There were two items of note that stood out to me – thoughts on language and thoughts on communicating, all related to leading yoga practices. All of the suggestions seem like they should be part and parcel of any yoga training, and being reminded of them simply helps to reinforce ways I want to be as a yoga teacher.

On Language:

  • use words to encourage and support
  • use humor
  • the hardest part of asana is to not be competitive with yourself
  • end with silence; it is “the residue that you take with you”
  • set an intention or suggest one, such as “take it to your gentle edge and then step back” and continue to remind yogis of this throughout practice

On Communication:

  • a belief in what you are saying is felt by others, thus the importance of speaking from your heart
  • it is about what the other person hears, not about what I say
  • use OBSERVATION – look at what students are doing, then revise and restate so students understand

 

Yoga Class as a Refuge

I recently watched Cyndi Lee in an archived  2017 online Yoga Alliance talk: Making Your Class a Refuge During Stressful Times. The title appealed to me partially because of how politics are unfolding in the U.S. and even more because I recently had a bit of stress around a reaction to a bee sting. (Little insect, big reaction, but the biggest reaction was to an antibiotic that was administered to make sure there was no blood infection. There wasn’t – yea – but my GI was terrifically unhappy with the medication.) I figured listening to the calming voice of Cyndi might prove a useful balm. (It did 🙂 and am relieved to say my GI has normalized after 11 malcontent days!)

While I didn’t glean new insights from Cyndi’s talk, there were plenty of reminders that I can never hear too often.  

  1. Think of yoga as a refuge for self-care, not an escape to avoid unpleasantness.
  2. Stay open and hold the space for everyone. Unless someone says something, there is no way to know what they are feeling or dealing with. So true, and not just during yoga!
  3. Trust the practice and lead with clarity, confidence and compassion.

Cyndi continued with four specific points.

  1. Create a safe and friendly haven. For the first two and a half years I shared poetry during practice and then let it slide. People enjoyed the poetry and often asked me to email them the poems. I have now recommitted to bring the poetry back! 
  2. Provide a quiet and spacious environment. I liked Cyndi’s distinction between “right speech” and “noble quiet” as she suggests finding the rhythm between the two. (I teach in a magical, calm space that looks out on a harbor.)
  3. Avoid stressors in the space. This relates to temperature, lighting, air quality and smells. I was reminded to add a line in my weekly email to wear layers for comfort.
  4. Keep up a personal practice. Yes! After a summer of almost daily swimming I have returned to morning yoga on my mat, WQXR playing in the background, my husband reading nearby. Ahhhhh…

I enjoyed Cyndi’s talk and was motivated to borrow Yoga Body, Buddha Mind from the library. Am enjoying her writing, finding it both calming and informative. A beauty of my yoga, both practicing and teaching, is I’m always learning.

 

Plums & Discs, Plumb Lines & Posture

PLUMS & DISCS
A really juicy plum is sweet and full. Prod it with your fingers (palpating it!) and you can  feel the give-and-take within the body of the fruit. With that image in mind, imagine your plumvertebral column, the curvy, almost “slinky-like” chain beginning at the base of the skull and continuing down to your pelvis where the lumbar spine meets the sacrum.

The vertebral column is made up of vertebral bodies, and between each vertebral body is an intervertebral disc (IVD). Think back to that juicy plum, the give-and-take as you gently prod it. The IVD works in a similar fashion by providing cushioning to the vertebrae and acting as a shock absorber. During the day the intervertebral discs  sustain the pushing and prodding of the spine as it moves in all directions. As a result of gravity, by day’s end the IVDs have become compressed. There is maximum pressure on the discs when sitting, medium when standing, and the least amount of pressure when lying down. Indeed, after a sound night’s sleep you are a tad taller in the morning because the intervertebral discs have become plump with water and are less compressed.

As for that sweet juicy plum, once you have bitten into it the plum no longer responds the way it did beforehand. Perhaps the flesh of the fruit comes spilling out via drips and small chunks, and maybe you even round your back, jutting your head forward so the yummy mess doesn’t wind up on the front of your shirt! While puncturing the plum is good for your palette, this equivalent action in an intervertebral disc would be counter productive for your spine. Protruded, herniated or prolapsed discs occur when the nucleus of the disc breaks through the area surrounding it, much like your bite into the plum lets the center break through the area surrounding it.

PLUMB LINE (or What are the normal curves of the vertebral column?)
Place a book on your head and try walking without having the book fall off. The walking rhythm with the book staying put is the neutral position of your head in relation to the vertebral column.

To sit or stand with your vertebral column in its normal curvature you first need a sense of what that is within your body. In construction a plumb line is used to determine that something is vertical. In the body a plumb line is a vertical line that you can visualize on the outer side of the body. “It passes through the external auditory meatus of the ear (outer ear), the center of the shoulder joint, the hip joint, the center of the knee joint, and finally the lateral malleolus of the ankle (outer side of the ankle joint).” (From the online course Experiential Anatomy.) The plumb line touches upon body parts that, if vertically aligned, give rise to the normal curvature of the spine.

To find your plumb line ask someone to take a look at you from the side. Stand with your eyes slightly lower than the top of your ears, relax your shoulders, arms loose at your sides, feet and legs supporting your body. If you tend to tuck your tailbone, untuck it. According to Judith Hansen Lasater and Mary Richards in Experiential Anatomy, tucking the tail takes the body out of joint and inhibits the functional muscle patterns that support the core.

Ask your plumb line assistant to tell you what they see. If they note that your head is forward of the plumb line, and if this is not due to a structural issue, it is likely that the jutting of the head is due to sitting with a rounded back. Why might someone have a rounded back while seated? Think: driving, sitting hunched over a computer, looking down at a cell phone…

Sitting with a rounded back impacts the cervical spine and produces a forward jutting head (the head comes forward of the plumb line). When this happens, the weight is no longer being efficiently borne through the vertebral bodies. The result is flexion in the lower cervical (lower part of the neck) and back bending in the upper cervical, neither of which is beneficial to the spine.

POSTURE (adapted from Experiential Anatomy)
Come to your normal standing position. If you feel comfortable, close your eyes a moment and sense your body in vertical space. Reach the crown of your head towards the sky. Sense your normal curves within your vertebral column. If your eyes are closed, open them. These curves are what bear the weight of your body as it responds to gravity. Has anyone ever asked you to “sit up straight” or “stand up straight”? Physiologically it is impossible to straighten your spine because it just isn’t built that way; it is curved, not straight. The only “straight line” in the vertebral column is the line of force – the way gravity is carried through the column.

seated postureNow find a chair and sit on it. Not sure of the way to sit for optimal posture? The key to sitting is all in the pelvis! Once seated, roll slightly forward onto the pubic bone, feet comfortable on the floor or on a small stool if the chair seat is too high. The pelvis should be elevated above the level of the thigh bones, creating an approximately 120° angle between the torso and the thighs. (Not only did I learn this in Experiential Anatomy but also from Mary Bond’s Google Talk: The New Rules of Posture: How to Sit, Stand and Walk in the Modern World, where she suggests perching rather than sitting.)

To enjoy your posture as much as you (perhaps) enjoy your plums, work on keeping your posture in synch with your plumb lines, honoring your pelvis (pubic bone tilts forward in sitting, tail bone untucked in standing). And maybe take a yoga class!