Tag Archives: people

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!

The Gene – An Intimate History (1/2)

In January I finished reading and wrote about The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I was bemused that the history of cancer could be so captivating, all due to Mukherjee’s story telling prowess and facility with language. I immediately wanted to read more by him, and last night completed The Gene – An Intimate History.

Reading this book was no small feat! Night reading was difficult as my mind tended to wander or my eyes would droop into tiredness. I had no choice but to make this purely a the genedaytime read, meaning it took awhile to make my way through the 495 pages of text. Mukherjee’s writing sparked many questions and points of interest, as the sticky tabs attest. At one point I grabbed the nearest piece of paper, a page from the Sunday Times with sufficient white space for me to jot down my thoughts after reading pages 274-275, which is one of several times that eugenics and newgenics are discussed.

My response whilst reading those pages: If we are all alike we lose the beauty of our unique human differences because often a disease in one area yields a strength in another. That variety of strengths is what creates the range of thoughts, actions, and ideas without which we become more mono-thinking, mono-acting; we give up potential creative approaches and solutions to obstacles that life presents. “Uber-normalcy” yields inability to sustain life when, as will happen, an abnormality occurs.

Turns out, Mukherjee feels similarly. As he went on to state on the next page, “What if ‘disease-causing’ gene variants were also genius enabling?” To a certain degree, this theme percolates throughout the book as scientists uncover the foundations of genes, heredity, DNA and their inner related worlds, and discover (an ongoing process) ways of meddling in that soup. To be sure, sometimes the meddling is phenomenally beneficial, such as highly targeted approaches to cancer care. But the ability to meddle with our humanity opens up numerous safety, philosophical and ethical questions to which there are no easy or quick answers. Taken as a whole, this is a book about science, philosophy, ethics, social science, history, medicine, disease, and people.

I have gotten ahead of myself! Let’s back up to page 61, where I chuckled at chicken…was merely an egg’s way of making a better egg. This was the conclusion of Hugo de Vries, a Dutch botanist turned geneticist. de Vries built upon the work of Mendel and is credited with using the word mutants (change) to describe variations in plant life. From there he postulated that “these mutants had to be the missing pieces in Darwin’s puzzle.” And from there it became apparent that “natural selection was not operating on organisms but on their units of heredity.” Hence the italicized quote at the start of this paragraph.

Parts of this book were like biology and vocabulary lessons. (I was once exposed to some of this in high school.) The interplay of natural selection and evolution as they relate to genetics results in the words genotype, “an organism’s composition…[referring] to one gene, a configuration of genes, or even an entire genome” and phenotype, “an organism’s physical or biological attributes and characteristics–the color of an eye, the shape of a wing, or resistance to hot or cold temperatures.”

Along the lines of more basic biology and chemistry, how often do any of us stop to remember that sugars provide energy, fats store the energy, and proteins enable the chemical reactions that manage the process.

With the contemplation of the interplay of nature (genes) and nurture (environment), this led to some of the early stepping stones delineated by Mukherjee (p 107).

  • a genotype determines a phenotype
  • genotype + environment = phenotype
  • genotype + environment + triggers chance = phenotype

Slight digression – as a yoga teacher who has been known to say “let your breath be your guide” and “move with your breath,” I enjoyed the visual that came from an early chapter about the “gene molecule.” Mukherjee writes “Cells depend on chemical reactions to live: during respiration, for instance, sugar combines chemically with oxygen to make carbon dioxide and energy. None of these reactions occurs spontaneously (if they did, our bodies would be constantly ablaze with the smell of flambé sugar).” 

As the story of the gene unfolds, Mukherjee paints a picture that perfectly clarified for me the process of trying to understand DNA. He explains that

Chemists generally piece together the structure of a molecule by breaking the molecule down into smaller and smaller parts, like puzzle pieces, and then assembling the structure from the constituents. But DNA, broken into pieces, degenerates into a garble of four bases–A, D, G, and T. You cannot read a book by dissolving all of its words into alphabets. With DNA, as with words, the sequence carries the meaning. Dissolve DNA into its constituent bases, and it turns into a primordial four-letter alphabet soup. (p 216)

This post covered a little less than half of the sticky tabs stuck throughout the book as I marked pages to return for further thought. As most of the remaining tabs deal with a particular interest of mine, I will save them for a second post.

Did you PANDICULATE today?

Periodically I will be reposting here, often with a few minor changes, posts that I crafted for my professional yoga site, as some of those posts may have relevance for readers of this blog. This is one of those posts. 


Pan-di-cu-late.

Say each syllable, then let the whole word roll off your tongue like a wave. Pandiculate was my new movement vocabulary word in 2019, having learned it while viewing Mary Bond’s Google Talk The New Rules of Posture: How to Sit, Stand, and Move in the Modern World. Turns out, every cat and dog pandiculates, and so do humans, but if you aren’t familiar with the word then you likely have no idea when you are pandiculating!

S – T – R – E – T – C – H – I – N – G

It’s that simple. Stand and stretch. Raise your arms as high as you are able, pressing your fingers away from your shoulders. Perhaps roll onto your tiptoes and let them hug the ground, lifting your heels as if to take off. Sit and stretch. Let your arms hang long and press your fingers towards the ground. Extend your legs and lift your feet just enough to press your heels away from your legs. Or better yet, find whatever position is available for you and stretch your limbs as comfortably and firmly as you are able. Simply stretch!

Then add a yawn, and maybe even some sound to stretch your jaw.

There you have it. Pandiculating.

Like saying each syllable separately, a stretch awakens each part of your body. Like the word rolling off your tongue, a full body stretch sends a wave of energy and alertness throughout your being. If you’re curious about this simple yet powerful action, the Somatic Movement Center’s What is pandiculation? provides a more detailed explanation of this marvelous function that we often make use of on a daily basis and often without any familiarity with its formal name. That’s me, below, stretching through my heels and the crown of my head, grounding down through my palm as I reach up stretching through my raised fingers. How else to have fun and stretch during the day at work!

side plank copy

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.

 

The Joy of Movement

This blog post is both a book title, The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage, and an apt reflection of how I feel about moving. The more I move, the happier I am. A day without ample movement is a day where my body and mind feel less than content, less focused, and less agile.

Author Kelly McGonigal has detailed numerous stories about people who have undertaken either extreme physical challenges or undertook movement to heal their bodies (or both!) Along the way, she inserts  glimpses of the neuroscience behind human body movement.

This morning I posted my review of her book to Goodreads, and am including here some of my review, along with additions.

I found portions of the book that resonated, the first dealing with music.
When listening to music, we listen with our muscles. -Oliver Sacks (pg 98)

I have taken three Dance for Parkinson’s trainings, and was heartened to see McGonigal include this approach to movement, the premise of which is that music coupled with dance training is beneficial for people living with Parkinson’s. In addition, I have written a bit about the impact of music on the brain and movement, including Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition! on the SharpBrains blog

This next quote is applicable across so much of life, not just movement. These are words of encouragement coupled with a firm belief to not give up.

If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving. -Martin Luther King Jr (pg 107)

As a lover of human anatomy and a teacher of yoga who occasionally suggests turning the corners of the mouth up towards the eyes, I especially appreciated learning the name of the muscle responsible for this movement: zygomaticus major. This muscle “contracts reflexively, similar to when a physician taps your kneecap to make your leg swing.” Our external movements, from facial expressions to body position, let us “talk” to the world.

The body is how we translate what is happening inside us–thoughts, feelings, desires–into something observable that other people can understand. (pg 116)

Finally, one more vocabulary word that speaks to yoga as well as movement in general: proprioceive. I have long known that proprioception is an individual’s sense of where their body is in space; this is something we consciously or unconsciously consider whenever we move. McGonigal discusses how empathy while watching someone else move causes us to proprioceive it.

When you watch others move, you don’t just perceive this action. You proprioceive it. You receive it into yourself. This is what empathy does: It creates, in your mind, a felt sense of what you are observing. (pg 149)

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

I recently completed the reading of this almost 500 page book. Reading about cancer might not be your idea of a “good read” but Siddhartha Mukherjee is a natural story teller and a doctor, and he tells the story of cancer with depth, discernment and loving kindness. (My Goodreads review of the book is here.)

I was intrigued by the discoveries of what cancer is, particularly that its possibility exists within each and every one of us. I don’t want to forget the explanation of how cancer gets turned on, hence this post.

As best I understand the explanation of genetics, each human cell contains two prominent genes – oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Oncogenes help cells grow and replicate; tumor suppressor genes inhibit cell growth. Mukherjee likens these two types of genes to putting your foot on a gas pedal (cell growth) and putting your foot on the brake (tumor suppressor genes.) When both types of genes are properly doing their job, all is well.

It is when a mutation occurs to a gene that the balance is thrown out of whack. Imagine a mutated oncogene, the gene that helps cells to grow; it would be as if the gas pedal was stuck in the down position, allowing cells to replicate with abandon. Imagine a mutated tumor suppressor gene, the gene that inhibits cell growth; it would be as if the brake was unable to be depressed, thus removing the function in the gene that stops the replicating of genes. As Mukherjee further describes the history of the discovery of how cancer comes to life he discusses specific proteins.

Genes encode proteins, and proteins often work like minuscule molecular switches, activating yet other proteins and inactivating others, turning molecular switches “on” and “off” inside a cell. … Proto-Oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, cancer biologists discovered, sit at the hub of such signaling pathways.

Cancer, in short, was not merely genetic in its origin; it was genetic in its entirety. Abnormal genes governed all aspects of cancer’s behavior. Cascades of aberrant signals, originating in mutant genes, fanned out within the cancer cell, promoting survival, accelerating growth, enabling mobility, recruiting blood vessels, enhancing nourishment, drawing oxygen–sustaining cancer’s life.

These gene cascades, notably, were perversions of signaling pathways used by the body under normal circumstances. … Down to their innate molecular core, cancer cells are hyperactive, survival-endowed, scrappy, fecund, inventive copies of ourselves. (p 387-88)

In case you are wondering why my interest in what cancer is, I do not have a morbid curiosity. Rather, in 1998 I was diagnosed (thanks to mammography) with Stage 1 breast cancer, and treated via lumpectomy, radiation and tamoxifen. Among other things, this has made me a big proponent of mammograms and a huge fan of proactive, preventive care. I had my annual gynecological visit just a week prior to getting the mammogram, and a physical breast exam did not uncover any malady, precisely because the tumor was incredibly small. While cancer can be slow growing, it can also be fast growing, and my next mammogram would not have been for another year.

I conclude with a final quote from the last page of the book.

…to keep pace with this malady, you needed to keep inventing and reinventing, learning and unlearning strategies. (p 470)

While some cancers can be prevented (remove carcinogens in the environment such as asbestos and cigarettes), and others can be mitigated via treatment (surgery, transplants, medications), there are still others that are elusive and obstinate. Coupling the therapeutics of caring for someone with cancer, with all the myriad and sometimes debilitating approaches, and the study of cancer is insured a future history. Perhaps technology will help pave the way for deeper understanding of how our very human selves function, in turn leading to more humane approaches to care and treatment.

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.

 

Tom Myers explaining Fascia

YogaUOnline provides “online yoga education for every body” and recently I listened to a free interview of Tom Myers discussing “Fascia and the Power of Movement in Mind-Body Transformation.” Myers is the explainer and proselytizer of anatomy trains, a way of studying human anatomy via the connective tissue that wraps, supports, separates, and attaches individual muscles and organs. I have listened to Myers in the past and was not always swayed by his style of talking; however, this time round I found his comments compelling.

This change in my reception of what Myers has to say is perhaps because I have recently begun a deep dive into the study of anatomy, which fascinates me, and because, as a yoga teacher going into my fourth year teaching, my anatomy knowledge feels woefully limited. So it was that this statement by Myers completely grabbed my attention, followed by his description of the physicality of muscle and fascia.

There isn’t any muscle attaching to any bone anywhere at anytime in any body!

Muscle is like hamburger, it can’t attach to a bone. It needs to be organized by the net of the fascia. So there’s fascia going around the muscle, there’s fascia going through the muscle, and when the muscle runs out, that fascia from the outside and the middle of the muscle spins into a tendon, just like yarn. And then that tendon blends not even with the bone at the other end but with the saran wrap coating around the bone, so the muscle is actually pulling on the fascia, which is pulling on the saran wrap, which is around the bone.

Myers went on to say that most injuries happen to the fascia, which also intrigued me because most internal “ouch” sensations in my body I have described as a pulled or sprained or strained muscle. Those are the vocabulary words and body parts that have always simply been in use. Do I now think “oh, that must be a fascia strain?” Something to contemplate…

In explaining why the injury tends to happen to the fascia, Myers said that muscle is usually trained before the fascia, with people overbuilding the muscle and under training the fascia. The question becomes: how do you train the fascia? And the answer is to train long kinetic chains rather than individual muscles. Yoga does just that, it moves, trains and works on long kinetic chains of fascia. Myers stated that it is important in yoga to vary poses so the entire body is being trained and not the same parts over and over.

One of the ways Myers describes fascia is as the body wide extracellular net that holds us together; the fascial system is a regulatory system, our “shape shifter” and the “organ of form.” In describing the development of a new baby and the growth of fascia, it turns out the “fascial bag develops first and then the organ’s cells grow within the bag.” Again, this is a completely new piece of my learning about anatomy. Over life it turns out that:

Fascia reorganizes itself based on activity (yields more organized
fascia) or
 non-activity (yields more random organization).

Negativity Bias in the Brain

I previously blogged about Rick Hanson here in November 2017, and recently came across him again in an interview as part of the Mindfulness & Compassion at Work online summit. A friend sent me the link to MCW and I wound up watching two of the Day 1 interviews.

Hanson’s talk began with a review of brain development, which he likened to floors.

  • Floor 1 is the Reptilian brain – the brainstem and cerebellum located at the top of the spinal cord. This floor deals with safety.
  • Floor 2 is the Mammalian brain containing our limbic system – the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus. Floor two deals with satisfaction.
  • Floor 3 is the Neo-cortex – the cerebral hemispheres, and deals with connection.

Hanson’s pithy analogy, which sums up his interview and also explains how these floors interact and function as a whole is:

The body (hardware) makes the mind (software).

What most interested me was Hanson’s discussion of the brain’s negativity bias. (For more detail you can read his article Confronting the Negativity Bias.) In the MCW interview he describes our brain as being like “velcro for the bad; teflon for the good” which was a necessary survival mechanism back in the days of living in the wild. Back then there was an over focus on safety because otherwise a person might become another animal’s dinner.

Over focusing on safety meant continually scanning for anything that could be detrimental to one’s life, thus the tendency to attend more to the negative factors (velcro for the bad) and less to the positive factors (teflon for the good). Fast forwarding to the twenty-first century, our brains have not forgotten how to self-protect; however, in our modern world we have far fewer heavy duty stimuli to protect against.

Instead, because the self-protection apparatus still resides within us, the system kicks in to protect us against the stressors of daily living instead of from becoming a lion’s next meal. This can become a problem if we do not learn how to ameliorate our limbic system’s natural tendencies to release cortisol whenever stressful situations are encountered. When cortisol (aka the stress hormone) is released, it sensitizes the amygdala to be on the alert. This, in turn, weakens the hippocampus, which would normally calm the amygdala and signal the hypothalamus to reduce the signals for the stress hormone. Not learning how or being unable to control our limbic system’s responses can result in living with chronic stress.

Hanson, who is the author of numerous books including Resilient, and Hardwiring Happiness, talked about the benefits of building self-reliance and “positive neuroplasticity.” According to him, just 10 minutes a day is all it takes to bring all three floors of the brain into a more positive, cohesive system. To quote him:

  • During the day look for about half-a-dozen little opportunities to feel a nice experience and notice that experience.
  • Acknowledge one thing in particular that you want to grow inside yourself and look for pathways to grow it.
  • Reset yourself by re-centering to drop into a safe, content, connected sense where all three levels of the brain are working in unison.

This resilience practice can help us manage with a strength that is calm, confident, contented, and coping rather than reactive. Via a deep breath or sigh establish a feeling of stability and move forward from there. For a slew of “simple practices” to hep build this resilience check out Hanson’s resources here.