Massage: Paying someone to meditate you?

Maybe that’s what massage is to a lot of people, those who don’t have chronic pain or migraines — it’s enforced meditation for those of us too distracted to meditate. You’re paying someone to meditate you. It’s not anything they’re doing, necessarily. It’s that they open a little window. They give you an excuse to lie there in silence and pay a deeper attention to the fact that you exist. The true value of shamanism may be a concealed one, that it holds us in place and says this.

via My Multiday Massage-a-Thon – NYTimes.com.

I admit it. I give massage, and I love helping people move into a state of deep, quiet relaxation. It affects me. Even though I’m being active, I participate.

Massage is something I’m doing (working your circulatory and lymphatic systems, shifting your nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic, calming your brain waves, working knots out of your muscles, loosening you out of your ordinary tension and patterns, touching your flesh with care), and you’re doing. Your part of the experience is you deciding to take time out of your busy life to be present and receive nurturing.

Here’s my experience: I meditate, and I receive massage. When I meditate, I relax my body, breath, and mind, but on my own, I cannot relax as deeply as I can with massage. At least so far I have not been able to do that. I can’t say it’s impossible.

Meditation is a different experience, one I think of as “presence practice”. Relaxation helps but is not an end in itself (usually, unless I’ve been especially agitated). There’s a discipline to meditation: witnessing the mind, inquiring into the nature of reality and identity. I’ve also experienced joy and bliss.

Massage jumpstarts physical and mental relaxation. There’s something about the touch of nurturing hands and surrendering to another person. In my massage training, I learned that there are specific places on the body that when massaged, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the non-“fight-or-flight” nervous system, the one for rest and relaxation. I use that knowledge in massage to help people get out of their heads and into their wholeness more quickly.

The deepest prolonged relaxation states I have experienced so far were through bodywork. I experienced being relaxed so deeply that I skimmed just this side of being asleep for half an hour or more.

One was during a cranio-sacral therapy session that involved the locus ceruleus, a blue spot in the back of the brain.

The other was receiving esoteric acupuncture. Afterwards, I was told that if I had not already been a meditator, I would not have experienced such a deep state.

Both experiences, receiving massage and meditating, have to do with surrender and relaxation and presence. As I understand it, each creates neural pathways that make it easier.

Doing both likely hastens and deepens well-being. `

The price of busy-ness. If you need a massage, call me. I’m good.

I just encountered this great article, an opinion piece from the New York Times, about busy-ness and thought I’d share my thoughts.

Not only am I a recovering serious person, I’m also a recovering busy person. For several years, I worked full-time and went to graduate school while raising a child as a single mother. In hindsight, that was insane.

This downtime after my last contract job in the technology world ended about six weeks ago has been lovely. I’m recovering from adrenal exhaustion, and then, just when I was starting a running practice that I felt joyful about and ready for, I pulled a calf muscle and have had to lay low for longer while it heals. (It’s healing very nicely, with self-care and other healing hands working on it. Thanks, Brigitte and Pauline!)

The universe is telling me to slow down, and I’m listening. I’ve been letting a lot of stuff slide, trusting that the important things will rise to the top of the list and the rest will get done when and if they get to the top. One day at a time. I’m loving my daily Tarot readings, the cards that influence my awareness and development and trust in the universe. My favorite deck is the Osho Zen deck.

During this period I’ve also attended several trainings in Somatic Experiencing, which is based on the truly great trauma recovery research and writing of Peter Levine. (I’m currently reading In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.) I fell in love with it. The main premise is that trauma deregulates the nervous system (into freeze or fight or flight), and that the body can heal itself, with loving attention and guidance.

I’ve been practicing body awareness as well as writing about grounding, centering, and having boundaries. You can expect more posts along those lines.

I also seem to be developing an organic vision for my bodywork and changework practice that involves more teaching and writing. And—I am available now! Call me if you need a massage. I am really good, my rate is reasonable ($1 per minute), and I give discounts for regular customers and referrals.

Who knew that all this time, throughout the history of the human species with all of its atrocities and traumas, that the secret to trauma recovery was right there all along, being ignored by the mind, which in order to “be civilized” began to believe itself superior to the body?

How cut off are we from our own lives? Have you ever had something like this happen to you?

I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

Self-importance is a joy killer, and that’s all most busy-ness is, when you get right down to it. If you are swept away in a current of busy-ness, why, then you must be somebody important! Or at least somebody.

It’s the opposite of being here now, of being present and grounded/centered/boundaried/etc. in your own body. It’s dissociation.

Here’s more, about a New York artist who moved to a village in the south of France:

What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

How do we collectively force one another to be too busy to be real? It’s as I suspected:

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

I’m listening, feeling, and letting each day unfold while not losing myself in breathless busy-ness. Isn’t that what summer is for?

The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

Well, it’s almost noon, and I’m still in bed on this Monday morning, in bed with my laptop, tarot cards, book. Actually, my butt is getting numb, and I feel thirsty. I believe I’ll get up, stretch, drink some green tea, and mosey over to the yoga mat. I hear a down-ward facing dog calling my name.

Breaking a habit: change the cue and reward first, and the routine will follow

Steve Silberman, science writer (whom I adore and follow on Twitter: @stevesilberman), has just posted a new piece on NeuroTribes: mind, science culture, one of my favorite blogs. It’s a Q&A with New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg on his new book The Power of Habit.

(And I must say that after the William J. Broad experience — “yoga is not only killing us but began as a Tantric sex cult”– it is sweet to learn of a Times reporter who’s really done his homework and offered something very valuable. Kudos, Charles Duhigg.)

Silberman lets us know up front how habitual we are.

Indeed, we spend more than 40 percent of our precious waking hours engaged in habitual actions [PDF], according to a 2006 study at Duke University. Welcome to the machine.

No wonder mindfulness has become something we seek. To connect with someone or something not out of habit, but out of something like our original self — that’s the stuff that peak experiences, connecting to the Source, the most alive life are made of.

It’s as if our brains store habitual behavior in a locked box to prevent tampering by the more mindful angels of our nature…

In his provocative and brilliantly written new book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg … pries open the box with the help of recent research and finds surprising good news: Even the most thoughtless and self-destructive cycles of behavior can be changed, if you understand how habits are formed and stored in memory.

Duhigg breaks down the sequence of ritualized behavior (which he calls the habit loop) into three component parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the trigger that sets the sequence in motion…. The routine is the behavior itself, which can be positive (like a daily running habit) or harmful (like gambling away the family savings). And the third part is the reward — the goal of the behavioral loop, which your brain’s pleasure centers gauge to determine if a sequence of behavior is worth repeating and storing in a lockbox of habit….

Duhigg … maps out a more effective path toward enduring habit change that focuses not on trying to scrap the routine all at once, but on becoming aware of the cues and manipulating the rewards. The encouraging news is that success in making modest alterations in behavior (which Duhigg calls “small wins”) creates a ripple effect into other areas of your life….

We know from studies that almost all cues — the stimuli that elicit the habitual behavior — fall into one of five categories. It’s time of day, or a certain place, or a certain emotion, or the presence of certain people, or a preceding action that’s become habitual or ritualized….

Then you focus on the rewards. The first couple of times you go running, you’re not going to enjoy it. No one enjoys it the first time they run. So you have to give yourself a piece of chocolate when you get back from the run. You have to have some immediate reward.  And we know from studies that within two weeks, the intrinsic reward of running — the endocannabinoids unleashed by exercising — are going to become enough of a reward to create that habit. But you have to trick your brain into it by giving yourself a piece of chocolate the first couple times….

If you want to start running every day, just start by putting on your running shoes at the same time every day. Then you’ll feel more like running. Then you’ll run!

If I want to meditate more regularly, I can tell myself that I just need to sit for 5 minutes each morning, or 2 minutes each evening. Once I actually sit for those small lengths of time, I’m much more likely to sit for 20 or 30 minutes.

These two guys then begin discussing the civil rights movement, the gay marriage movement, and more. To read the whole post, click here.

Kaminoff on Broad: yoga did not start as a Tantric sex cult, you idiot

Leslie Kaminoff once again responds to New York Times senior science writer William J. Broad, who has written sensationally that yoga is killing people (see Kaminoff’s response here) in order to sell his book The Science of Yoga, which Kaminoff reviews and actually recommends without totally buying into it here).

The latest bit of drama is Broad’s assertion (again in a New York Times article and in interviews that I wrote about here) that yoga began as a Tantric sex cult, so no wonder the John Friend/Anusara yoga scandal happened!

Kaminoff points out Broad’s inconsistencies and lack of scholarship and shows the evidence of artifacts depicting yoga poses from ancient times, 4 to 5 thousand years ago, greatly predating medieval Tantric cults, not to mention that yoga is one of 6 well-developed philosophical systems of Hinduism.

Now yoga creates sex scandals!!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!

Ha ha, now the same New York Times writer so focused on how yoga is injuring and killing people has written a new article in which he says that yoga fans the sexual flames, with its roots in Tantric sex cults!!!

William J. Broad writes:

Why does yoga produce so many philanderers? And why do the resulting uproars leave so many people shocked and distraught?

How does he get away with saying that yoga produces “so many” philanderers? I don’t see any data. It’s certainly not as if the majority of philanderers are yogis. A handful of anecdotal examples does not prove his case.

Um, I believe fundamental and evangelical churches have produced way more philanderers per capita than yoga has. Not to mention the U.S. government — from the presidency on down! But I guess those are old headlines. And I don’t have any data either. Does anyone have data on philandering?

And…doesn’t philandering usually end up creating uproars that leave people shocked and distraught no matter what field they occur in?

William J. Broad is riding the Anusara/John Friend scandal to capitalize on the popularity of yoga and sell more of his books. If the New York Times called him “practitioner of make-a-buck sensational journalism whose claim to scientific credibility is undermined every time he confuses causation with correlation” instead of “senior science writer,” well, that would seem to be more accurate.

I cannot wait to read what the awesome Leslie Kaminoff has to say about this article! I will post it here when he puts up another video. Leslie has been a great counterpoint to William J. Broad, with way more credibility in the yoga world, and a voice of reason, common sense, and insight among the recent uproars about yoga. Leslie, write a book! See my recent post of his video about his yoga teacher Desikachar, son of the founder of modern yoga.

My take on it? Yoga improves health, and being healthy means being alive, vibrant, and responsive. That can certainly translate to sexy! Who isn’t attracted to people with those qualities?

And, a lot of activities improve health and libido, not just yoga. Running, biking, swimming, playing basketball, dancing zumba, and many, many more.

I also believe that yoga does more than just improve health — the asanas unblock meridians, allowing life-force energy (chiprana) to flow more freely throughout the body.

Ask anyone who’s had regular acupuncture for years if it’s improved their health, energy levels, and life force/vibrancy/libido, and they will tell you it has made a big difference. Same deal, no yoga.

And, over time and without needles, yoga does the same thing. And not just yoga. Gymnastics, acrobatics, acro-yoga, Pilates, martial arts, tai chi, chi gong, and several types of dance place the body in unusual postures or movements that increase flexibility, build strength and endurance, and require focused awareness. They train the bodymind to be healthier, to function better. Of course that affects sexuality. Health and sexuality are intimate partners.

This has been known for a long time.

Broad totally did not mention that one of the yamas (ethical guidelines) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is brahmacharya, or nonexcess.

In the commentaries on the sutras, brahmacharya is applied specifically to sexual behavior and refers to chastity or even celibacy among advanced spiritual aspirants. Brahmacharya means refraining from sex except in committed relationships, and in that context, engaging in sex in moderation to develop a true spiritual partnership.

The yamas are required reading and discussion in yoga teacher training. And to put that in context, we live in America, which is a hypersexual culture. The porn industry is huge, and sex sells.

I imagine that the majority of people with a serious yoga practice do not misbehave sexually. Those who do, well, it’s more about power or addiction or lack of healthy role models than it is about the yoga.

Broad does share information about science’s interest in yoga and sex. I am not surprised by any of it. He’s fixated on yoga and sex; I’d like to see similar studies on martial arts and sex, and on yoga and the bonding hormone oxytocin.

And by the way, meditation (aka doing nothing) can promote sexual arousal. So can simply relaxing.

In Russia and India, scientists have measured sharp rises in testosterone — a main hormone of sexual arousal in both men and women. Czech scientists working with electroencephalographs have shown how poses can result in bursts of brainwaves indistinguishable from those of lovers. More recently, scientists at the University of British Columbia have documented how fast breathing — done in many yoga classes — can increase blood flow through the genitals. The effect was found to be strong enough to promote sexual arousal not only in healthy individuals but among those with diminished libidos.

In India, recent clinical studies have shown that men and women who take up yoga report wide improvements in their sex lives, including enhanced feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as well as emotional closeness with partners.

So yoga enhances sex. No surprise there, and what’s wrong with that, as long as people are conscious about behaving responsibly with it? Yoga also enhances health, fitness, longevity, equanimity, awareness, and compassion. No data, just my experience.

See Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here to read the full article.

Leslie Kaminoff reviews “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards”

This book, The Science of Yoga, written by a New York Times science writer, was at the heart of the recent controversy about yoga injuring people as posited in a New York Times article.

Leslie Kaminoff has posted two video responses to the article. (See my previous post to view them.)

This third video is his response to the book, which he recommends that all yogis read — and then gives a mixed review.

Correlation is not causation, as Kaminoff says. If you cite how many people are injured doing yoga, but fail to compare it to injuries from any other physical activity, there’s no perspective — and that’s a journalistic failure. Broad apparently does not come across as a credible science writer because of this in Kaminoff’s eyes, which is disillusioning considering the NY Times’ “gray lady” status among newspapers, but putting forth questionable data supports his agenda — and sells books.

Of course, journalism has been in the fire for years. Maybe Fox News is the equivalent of Bikram.

Watch the video to find out what Broad’s agenda is. You might be surprised that he picks on individuals (especially one whose Ph.D. came from an institution that ironically Broad finds not credible, and a small organization, the International Association of Yoga Therapists).

Yoga helps by magnitudes more people than it injures. Just make sure you get a good teacher who knows anatomy, and keep in mind that it’s your responsibility to be aware of your body and to set your limits to protect yourself.

Yogadork’s guide to yoga community response to NY Times article

From the great Yogadork, here’s the complete and exhaustive guide to the yoga community’s response to the New York Times article about how yoga can wreck your body.

Thanks, Yogadork, for compiling this and for promising to add more as new responses surface.

I’m glad the conversation is happening. The original article seemed to deliberately fan some flames in order to promote a book by New York Times science reporter William J. Broad. A lot of egos are on the line — yoga in America has become an industry, a far cry from one of six schools of Indian philosophy.

The guide includes Part 2 of Leslie Kaminoff’s response to the controversy. He said in his workshop that he was about halfway through reading The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards (available for preorder, publication date is Feb. 7) and thinks it’s worth the read (even if possibly not entirely fair or accurate, still, good enough).

And with that, I’m bowing out of continuing to post about this controversy. After I read the book (and it’s not at the top of my reading list — gotta study for the massage licensing exam first), I’ll post a review.

Yoga (asana) has been part of my life since 1982. I feel fortunate to have discovered and made this practice part of my life. It’s transformed my being in all its koshas, brought me good health and spiritual gifts, and there’s still learning to be done. It’s blessed me.

My advice for preventing injuries is to work with good teachers who understand anatomy far beyond what’s required to become an RYT-200, teachers who teach small enough classes that they can really keep an eye on each student and keep them out of trouble.

Also, pay a lot of attention to what you’re doing. Use and cultivate your awareness.

Now that’s yoga.

Yogi Glenn Black responds to NY Times article

Eden G. Fromberg, DO: Yogi Glenn Black Responds to New York Times Article on Yoga.

Glenn Black, who was liberally quoted in the controversial New York Times article about yoga and injuries (I blogged about it in The dark side of yoga), was later interviewed by Huffington Post. He elaborates on his opinions in the interview — click the link above to read it all.

EF: What is the best way to overcome injuries from yoga?

GGB: Remedial exercises that overcome the source of the injuries. And people need to get bodywork. Not just any bodywork. They need to look for people who work on really moving the joints and connective tissues.

Here’s something else that stood out for me:

GGB: Kofi Busia is one of best asana teachers around. Whether his students get hurt, I have no idea. But he is holding headstands for a long time, and people don’t say anything.

Kofi Busia is one of my yoga teacher’s yoga teachers, or rather, one of my asana teacher’s asana teachers. And also a yoga teacher — he has translated the Yoga Sutras. I don’t know how he teaches headstand, but I do know that the way he (and other advanced Iyengar teachers) teach shoulderstand uses props for safety.

Click the link above to read Black’s thoughts on whether yogis need to adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet!

Leslie Kaminoff responds to NYTimes article about yoga wrecking your body

My 2 Cents about “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” | Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy.

Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, responds to the recent New York Times article via video.

To equate yoga with asana practice, is a very deep and false connection.

There’s a lot more. The video is 10 minutes and the best response I’ve seen so far. I’m happy to say I will be doing a workshop with him next month.

New York Yoga: How Yoga Can Lead to Pure Happiness

New York Yoga: How Yoga Can Lead to Pure Happiness.

Here’s another really great response to the recent, rather fear-mongering New York Times article about yoga that I blogged about in The dark side of yoga.

I liked this clarity:

…let’s not forget why we all practice in the first place: to attain yoga.  What is yoga?

Yoga is one of the six orthodox philosophical systems of the ancient Indus civilization that was codified by Sage Patanjali some time around 2500 BC. The entire yoga philosophy is summed up in 196 short statements, the Yoga Sutras, that describe techniques as to how to attain the state of yoga, a state of being when the mind is still and silent by arresting its modifications.  This leads to freedom from unhappiness. Using specific, technical terms, Sage Patanjali describes the transcendental experience that is yoga.

And this:

But, the most important thing about practicing yoga is that, just like any other activity, … it requires practice and familiarity with the fundamentals of that activity.  Therefore, it is the job of the yoga student to become a teacher. That does not mean everybody has to go to a teacher’s training. It means that every student needs to find the teacher within, the teacher who is determined, who is clear about what they are doing, who is organized, who listens, who pays attention to what is going on around and inside them. 

It’s about practice, dedication, and awareness. Best injury-prevention methods in the world.