Category Archives: Breathing

How Your Body Image affects Your Body Use into Straining & Slumping!

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Have you ever consciously thought about what your body image is?

The one that drives you to eat, exercise, or dress a certain way? As a woman, do you want to look thin, sexy, professional? As a man, do you want to look strong and unaffected? Whether man or woman, do you think your looks and wealth equals your worth? For better or for worse, those values are actually 19th century by-products of the Industrial Revolution in a society that has been valuing: appearances, money and machines.

On a more personal level, where is your body image coming from?
 And is it serving you?

Considering your body image shapes your current beliefs, you may want to explore your thoughts on the subject. They are creating feelings and actions that are possibly holding you back. Once you uncover these thoughts and beliefs feeding your body image, you can choose to create new ones if need be and see your life change progressively; sometimes drastically. Check this inspiring one minute video with Kate Winslet:

Kate Winslet

Unlike Kate do you remember words from a parent, friend or teacher that sent you on a specific body image path?

My Story with Body Image

My well-intentioned mom projected her limiting beliefs about weight on me at a very young age.  I became a slave to my body image around weight for decades.  The process to free myself from a body image that did not serve me started when I was pregnant with my first child.

One day, when very pregnant and quite absorbed in my studies, I caught myself in the library studying with my belly squished against the table. It was a powerful moment. I wondered about what I was doing to my baby and to my own body? And in a flash, that is when I realized something had to change. Being in my head so much as a PhD student only emphasized a mind/body disconnect that had started long ago with my compact body image. I saw this clearly then. My mind had taken over and I did not experience my body fully except as a number on a scale.

In short, this led me to a meditation practice, to a career change and to train as an Alexander Technique teacher in the hope to become a more integrated being. Although this tends to be a lifelong journey, training then teaching this work has made a serious difference. I have discovered my body from a different perspective and learned to appreciate many dimensions about it thanks to becoming more of an “embodied” mind.

One important thing I discovered was that my body image was affecting the way I was using my whole body, and the way I was using my body was affecting its functioning. On the other end, improving my overall functioning by improving the way I used myself seriously decreased the impact my body image had on me. Now, I can dance through life joyfully!

How Your Body Image Story affects Your Body Use

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Familiar slump leaning into the comfort of habits

 

Your body image is affecting how you use yourselves in everyday life and vice versa. When you are not happy with the way you look or feel, you consciously or unconsciously want to curl in, hide or cover up. Have you experienced this familiar slump where you lean into the comfort of your habit despite its cost? As you know, slumping often translates into back or neck discomfort, sometimes into breathing and digestive issues as well because your inside is being squished constantly interfering with the best functioning of your organs. Have you just been triggered to pull your shoulders back in an effort to straighten up because of what you just read? And yet, you know it is pointless since you go right back down in seconds?

Does this sound like you? Do you have muscles and joints discomfort, pain or tiredness? Are you prone to feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Do you tend to worry uncontrollably? It comes with the territory of this familiar pose. There is a reason for it as explained in this Ted Talk video. Luckily for you, there is a way out!

And it has nothing to do with you trying to control your body muscularly. Otherwise you may turn into a chronic holder when it comes to your posture and an over-doer on the mat.   Like many people, unless you strain on the mat, you may think that you are not doing enough, not strengthening enough, not stretching enough. And yet, you do not really want to strain, do you? You just want the benefits of exercising whether on or off the mat.

How to Stop the Straining & Slumping Cycle

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The difference between sitting in a balance way
and sitting with your gravity center behind your sits bones: A big difference!

 

What you really want is “Flexible Strength” and “Sustainable Good Posture”. And the secret to acquiring the flexible strength of the cat is to behave like one. No kidding! Do you see cats exercising one body part at a time? I don’t think so. They use their body as a whole when they move. And guess what? You are designed that way as well!

The truth is that you may not be moving and exercising your body as a coordinated self even if you know, intellectually, that all the parts are meant to function as a whole. The reason for this lies in a handful of common unconscious habits that interfere with your best efforts. Since you can only be mindful of what you are aware of,  becoming aware of and learning to overcome these common habits is the key to functioning with optimal safety and optimal performance,  the key to stopping the cycle from straining to be upright, to surrendering into your inevitable habitual slump.

Interested in exploring this further?

Check 1) My Free Email Seminar 2) My Free Webinar 3) My Beta 90 Day E-Course Special.

 

The Secret to Ultimate Safety and High Performance on the Yoga Mat!

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“Striving Yogis” by Cecile Raynor

Since 2012 when the New York Times published an article called “Can Yoga Wreck Your Body?”  followed by a Huffpost interview with Glenn Black,  many yoga studios and teachers everywhere have been innovating to increase safety on the mat. Teachers have been learning how to assist yoga students. Practitioners at risk have chosen gentle forms of yoga, while many others shy away from yoga all together.

In the meantime, yoga studios are filled with a big majority of young yogis with forgiving bodies who still handle a lot of strain. For them, “no gain without pain” has been replaced by “no gain without strain”. Pushing to their limit just because they can (whether stretching or strengthening) is seen as a good thing. So they follow their teachers guidance and are satisfied to push and pull to their heart’s content as long as it feels good and they pay attention to not reach their pain threshold.

NO GAIN WITHOUT PAIN has become NO GAIN WITHOUT STRAIN

But is that enough for ultimate safety on the mat and is it even the best way to reach highest performance? Are yoga studios safer than before? Is yoga practice enough to keep yogis bodies strain-free and their minds able to manage stress gracefully between classes? How is it for you? Which part of your yoga practice is sustainable in your daily life and which is not? We all know yoga is not what wrecks people’s body, so why do many people still get hurt on and off the mat even when they exercise in the gym or on the mat?

For one thing,  some of the assisting has been questioned to the point that some studios have created special tokens or cards used on mats to signal teachers whether they are welcome to assist or not.  True, some yoga assists have turned into well received massage moments although some yoga students simply do not care to be touched and always want the option to say so; mostly, students asking for tokens have gotten hurt by teachers assisting hands. Why is this happening?

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There are 3 main reasons for this happening.  Despite the numerous assist workshops given out there, the first reason is a lack in quality touch experience in teachers as well as a lack of awareness of the mind-body foundation of all movements. These happen to be strengths of Alexander Technique teachers who have a 3 year training of 1600 hours before they get certified. Yoga teachers start teaching after 200 hours of certification with little training if any in these two aspects. Secondly, there is the way teachings were passed on through generations of teachers suffering from loss and misinterpretations which led to some asanas created only in the past century to be widely embraced even when not necessarily appropriate for everyone nor always in line with our innate body intelligence.

Last but not least, since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, men have been focusing on appearances, money and machines. We have come to think of the body as a machine with parts to exercise and replace when necessary. For all the buzz on holistic health, the norm remains to focus on body part exercising across the fitness world. Do you catch yourself chronically holding your back trying to sit or stand upright to slouch only seconds later? Could it be happening because it is neither comfortable nor natural to being up that way?

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Organic good posture, no conscious efforting involved!

Many are disconnected from their “whole body” wisdom as they are exercising their “body parts”. Do you go to yoga to improve your posture, strengthen and stretch? Yet do you still experience neck or back tension, or strained knees on or off the mat? As it were, there are more gadgets than ever on the market to address “bad posture” and its consequences: neck, back, shoulder or joint discomfort or pain. However, are they only band-aid solutions or do they produce sustainable results?

Much of the teachings on posture tend to equate alignment with good posture which results in a static expression of aligned posture.  Like posture gadgets, they also imply that muscularly correcting posture is the ultimate solution. The reality is that there is more  to good posture than alignment. “Good Posture” is a dynamic and organic happening like in children!

Learning to activate your postural mechanism is the secret breakthrough skill that can lead you to improved posture with no neck, back or joint straining on or off the mat. It is a reflex-like system we are born with that is activated when we step out of our own way to let our body intelligence do its job. And every time we release excess tension without sacrificing our skeletal height, it gets activated. You probably stumbled unto it before when you suddenly reached your effortless balancing spot. Only it is a skill you can learn and access on demand based on undoing conscious and unconscious habits of movements. When under your belt, that skill allows you to approach every yoga poses from a totally different angle where straining is not necessary to strengthen or stretch with ultimate safety and to reach your highest performance!

FREE LIVE EVENT:  BREAKTHROUGH SKILL
 << Not taught in Yoga Trainings >>
 March 16, 2016 @ 7.30pm EST
 

It is to bring you an experience of this breakthrough skill that I have been learning about webinar and e-course technology. I am now happy and excited to invite you to my first webinar offering and I will personally introduce you to this breakthrough skill which can help you open the door to ultimate safety even within high performance level! You will be given a chance to engage in some experiential activities and I am scheduling time for Q & A as well. I will also explain how this skill can lead you beyond band-aid solutions, to sustainable results.

Why mark your calendars and sign up asap? It is a global offer to yoga practitioners and teachers in the world, yet I am only offering 50 spots. Participants will be accepted on a first come basis.  At the end of the webinar, participants will be given a chance to sign up for my 90 Day Interactive E-course First Launch at 50% off which includes loads of bonuses as well. Available only to 25 people!

So here is the link to sign up to the Free Webinar: https://offthematyoga.leadpages.co/free-webinar-breakthrough-skill/

Hope to meet some of you in cyberspace!

Cecile Raynor
Alexander Technique Teacher, Thai Yoga Therapist & Kryia Yoga Initiate

Vision/Posture Connection & Drishti

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This time of year seems appropriate to talk about vision for various reasons.

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On the physical level,  the health of your eyes is a precious thing you may take for granted especially when they don’t give you any trouble. However,  they can affect your overall health depending on how you use them in your everyday activities. Neck craning forward or head tilting back while slouching at the computer for instance can actually create compression or over-extension of the back of your neck and rounding your shoulders.  On the mental level, you envision a specific future for yourself. New Year’s Resolutions for example require you to have a vision of the future you want to see happen. Or you may have a personal vision on a work project or on how to solve a given issue. Such vision guides what you manifest in your life or not. Spiritually, vision is a reference to your ability to see with your intuitive heart beyond what is visible. It refers to your inner vision.

Yoga teachers may talk about “Drishti” (vision), and on the mat, they often refer to it as a form of gazing in the distance to focus your mind in the present moment. Focus is fundamental in yoga practice. Focusing your eyes and your attention is using this yogic technique called “Drishti”.

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However, although using your vision to stay in the now or come back to it is an excellent tool, there is something important to consider in “Drishti”. Along with this intention to gaze so as to step out of your over-active mind, you need to always make sure the gaze direction does not lead you to sacrifice your spinal length so the kundalini energy can flow through it.

The woman in the triangle pose above is using her vision well to support an integrated triangle pose. As she is looking towards the tip of her fingers and beyond, her head neck and torso remain nicely aligned. However, there is more to good postural balance than perfect alignment, there is dynamic alignment.  Dynamic postural alignment implies the harmonious relationship between the various part is respected so that the energy can flow back and forth through the muscles into the support and up the skeleton then able to expand in its full space.

Straining interferes with getting the benefit of any yoga pose. Having space to release while in a pose is the most dynamic way to engage in a pose. It challenges the muscles to work without adding body stiffness to the mix. If you have gone to a place where release into your support is no longer an option, you are doing too much.

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These women engaged in a seated twist are using their vision to lead their seated twist as they stay balanced and centered above their supported sits bones. Led by the direction of their vision, each is going as far as they are comfortable without sacrificing their skeletal height.

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On the other end, the instructions for the seated twist on this picture are incomplete and it shows on the model illustrating this pose. The sits bones are arched a bit like a rocking chair so it is not enough to feel your sits bones, it is crucial to be aligned above their balancing point. Otherwise, any attempt at releasing your back will take you into a slouch.

Here it is clear that she is not balanced because her gravity line is behind her sits bones. As a result, she is slouched in her twist. It is straining her back, squishing her internal organs, limiting her breathing and how far she can go into her seated twist. Although she certainly seems like a happy camper on this picture, she is not getting the best out of her yoga pose! 

Even in daily life, you need to know how to do this. Whether you are siting on a chair or in a car, you can hurt your neck if you do not apply these principles as you turn your head to look behind yourself.

Helpful Tips

1) To maximize a seated twist, connect to the balancing point of your sits bones so your head is still above them without loosing your skeletal height which comes by sending your sits bones into your support rather than tensing your back muscles. Then look in the direction you are turning moving from the joint at the top of your spine first.  As you go, keep releasing neck and back muscles straight into your support. This prevents you from creating body stiffness or muscle straining.

2) Do not fix your gaze, a fixed gaze creates a fixed body which is not the purpose of yoga, keep it soft and wide using your peripheral vision as in driving. Keep it connected to the rest of you! You are on the mat to stay present and to tune in, not to tune  out!

3) When doing asanas, just do asanas. Don’t start to think about the meaning of life or anything else but what is happening right there and then. Your vision, your breath, your kinesthetic senses are all ways to anchor yourself in the present moment.

4) The spiritual dimension of “Drishti” can only come from the practice of being present yet non attached to thoughts, body senses and sense pleasures. Mind grasping or muscular grasping (the two sides of the same coin) take us away from such practice. So stay in touch with yourself and don’t tense your muscles. Body stiffness is not body strength. Body strength remains flexible, like the strength of the cat!

5) Stay aware of the direction of your vision as often as possible. When lost in your thoughts or in your body feelings, you may be gazing in a way that stiffens your neck. So watch out for your neck by making sure your vision choice does not conflict with the need of your neck to stay free of tension. This will give you an integrated movement connecting you from head to toes.

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When not aligned above support and relaxed, gravity promotes slouching.
When aligned above support and relaxed
, gravity promotes effortless good posture.

Do you want to learn more about this mind/body approach to natural good posture? 
Do you want to learn how to reclaim efficient moving for balanced living?
Join my latest FREE 6-part EMAIL SEMINAR:
"How to Unlearn Habits that Create Body Stiffness On and Off the Mat"
(Based on the Alexander Technique Principles and Facts)

Wishing you a wonderful New Year,
filled with Gratitude, Health, Prosperity and lots of Laughter!

https://offthematyogablog.com/

Mastermind for Committed Yoga Teachers with a Vision!

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BODY SYNERGY LAB
 The First Mastermind For Committed Yoga Teachers with a Vision

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A Mastermind is an awesome journey for a small group of people with a similar focus. All participants have an interest to serve and support each other, personally and professionally with an intention to deepen personal accountability as they learn and grow, during the time frame of the Mastermind, towards a specific goal (or in a specific direction) that also happens to benefit Humanity. It is a journey that allows each member to blossom towards their deepest inner goal with the committed support of all members in a spirit of harmony.

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As a participant, you bring your own life experience and professional experience to support the others to attain their chosen goals. My contribution to this mastermind is my life experience and professional experience as a Facilitator, an Alexander Technique Teacher, a Thai Yoga Therapist, Kriya Yoga Initiate (through lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda) and Kinesthetic Artist. As a result, you will receive a Body Synergy Lab Certificate of Completion for studying one year of Alexander Technique-Based Yoga with Cecile Raynor (even though this is only part of the benefits you will gain from committing to this Mastermind!).

My work sprouted from my 25 years teaching the Alexander Technique, the best kept secret of famous performers and Olympic athletes who swear by it because it allows them to reach their highest potential without straining or over-stressing while enjoying effortless postural balance. As applied to yoga, it is the best tool for ultimate safety, and optimum benefits even within high performance practices. These benefits naturally spread over your daily life and include improved posture and flexible strength.

My contribution to this Mastermind supports and complements the yoga training you received with an uncommon perspective that makes your practice safer, your teaching more impactful on and off the mat, while giving your career a unique edge.

Here is a testimonial by Anthe Kelley, Founder and Director of Akasha Yoga School 
and Akasha Studio in Jamaica Plain, Boston MA

“The enormous impact that Cecile makes in a few hours at the start of each 6 month yoga teacher training program I run has never ceased to amaze me.  I’ve witnessed students completely transform through the insights gained from her work.  Teacher trainees approach all subsequent material through a lens that encompasses and continues to revisit Cecile’s work based on the Alexander Technique as applied to yoga practice and teaching. 

 The profundity of this phenomenon is nothing short of remarkable!  Any yoga teacher trainee who gets to experience her hands-on attention, the breadth of her insight, wisdom and postural understanding will be well-served in their career as a successful, evolving, present and sensitive yoga teacher and human being.”

Here is also a testimonial from one of the yoga teacher graduates 
 about the work we have done together and the impact it had
 on her own yoga practice and her yoga teaching practice right from the start.

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Click here to listen to Sara!
Discover strain-free yoga whatever yoga style you are attracted to 
from Kripalu yoga to power yoga, hot yoga or any other style!
 Discover the joy of a strain-free body On and Off the Mat!

To be part of this journey designed for a small number of selected teachers with a vision, simply apply for it by going to this link !

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to email me at cecileraynor@gmail.com.

Yoga Body, Daily Body & Sensory Perception

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  woman-on-computer-3Daily Body Sitting

 Do you see a difference between your Yoga Body and your Daily Body?
Would someone observing you (without you knowing it) perceive a difference?
What is your Yoga Body focused on while on the mat? Core strengthening? Flexibility? Proper Alignment? Relaxation?
All of the above? What does your Daily Body remember between classes?
Does it remain strong, flexible and does it display sustainable good posture? Or not?

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Yoga Body Sitting

Often, there is a bit of a discrepancy between those two bodies
and yet they impact each other greatly in a positive or negative way
depending on how in touch you are with your body wisdom.

DAILY BODY STORY
Do you find yourself slouching at the computer or on the couch? Do you find yourself crossing your legs always favoring the same side crossing over the other? Or if you are a parent, do you favor one hip over the other to carry your young one? Or maybe you crane your neck forward and down to read or send text messages?

640-01351420 Model Release: Yes Property Release: No Portrait of a mother carrying her son

Right hip locked to the right, left foot forward and to the left

As you sit at your computer, you probably try to stand more upright once in a while and you bring your shoulders back and lift your chest up. Doing so you may be arching your back and this feeling becomes a synonym for feeling taller, only is it sustainable for long? Not really, unless you are a chronic holder, seconds later, the synergy of your whole body reclaims the habitual slump. Does it sound familiar?

The fact is if you repeatedly spend time in a distorted position,  you start distorting your skeletal structure in a way that is so habitual that it feels more natural than the natural way. As a result, your skeleton is not organized for effortless balance, so your muscles are overworking creating stiffness and tiredness or giving up all together into an inevitable slouch. You can’t wait to go to your yoga class to stretch and strengthen yet why is your back not getting strong enough to stay upright in a sustainable way?

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The danger of regularly catering to harmful habits is that, although it may feel comfortable in the moment,
it weakens your postural muscles because you do not let them do their job.

YOGA BODY STORY

You finally make it to your yoga mat, it feels so good to stretch and move your body. Whether you do power yoga or gently yoga, you enjoy yourself because this is the style of yoga that speaks to you. But whatever the style, you are also bringing with you your Daily Body habits to the mat. You may be aware of some of them but habits can become invisible to your awareness after a time.

The confusing thing is that, you can still feel better on some level because yoga is a wide field of many colors, the asanas being only a small part of it. However, how you use yourself on and off the mat must be addressed if you are to get the most out of your practice and truly prevent injuries even if you choose to challenge yourself on the mat?  Stretching tension or building strength can be beneficial if done in line with your innate body wisdom. Overdoing can be seductive and often misleading because of the element of physical pleasure and instant gratification it includes. And this is true both for stretching and strengthening!

How can you know for sure if you are in line with your innate wisdom of your whole body when you listen to parts of you at a time and your sensory appreciation is no longer fully reliable?

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The woman on the beach is an example of distorted torso to gain the end of touching her toes.
An integrated pose that respects your innate body wisdom as the woman in purple is more beneficial!

SENSORY PERCEPTION & INJURIES

As mentioned earlier, your Daily Body sensory perception gets somewhat corrupted over time. As a result, it needs a bit of reeducation. Without regaining accurate sensory perception, you cannot truly rely on what you feel while practicing yoga or engaged in daily movements and yet most people do. As a matter of fact,  it is my experience that this is the real culprit in most yoga injuries. Whether they happen on or off the mat, the majority of neck back or joint injuries if you are a healthy yogi, tend to start with your Daily Body habits brought to the mat.


SENSORY PERCEPTION REEDUCATION & BODY WISDOM

Controlling your habits on the mat then catering to them the rest of the time
is not going to get you out of the tension cycle.
It is like collecting water from your dripping ceiling when it rains 
instead of fixing the roof problem in the first place!

On the surface, it may seem that tension is the problem and yoga the solution. However,  you will get more out of your yoga when unnecessary tension is dealt with for what it is, a symptom of something else that needs addressing to get lasting results. And sorry to say that no costly gadgets can get around the need to regain accurate sensory perception!

You have a wonderful mechanism in your body called “Postural Mechanism” and it is an ambassador to your Innate Body Wisdom. It is in charge of handling your posture, fluidity of movement and balance. When you learn how to stimulate it, you can stretch and strengthen without taking a chance to overdo. In fact, as you unlearn your harmful habitual patterns, you keep empowering that mechanism to do its job. And it is available to you 24/7.

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When not aligned above support and relaxed, gravity promotes slouching.
When aligned above support and relaxed
, gravity promotes effortless good posture.

Do you want to learn more about this mind/body approach to natural good posture? 
Do you want to learn how to reclaim efficient moving for balanced living?
Join my latest FREE 6-part EMAIL SEMINAR:
"How to Unlearn Habits that Create Body Stiffness On and Off the Mat"
(Based on the Alexander Technique Principles and Facts)

 

The Top 5 Myths about “Good Posture” On & Off the Mat – Debunked!

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 MYTH #1: Good Posture means Chest Out and Shoulders Back

Reality: Good posture is not about getting it right, it is not about positioning your shoulders. This way of approaching posture creates back muscle tension and is not sustainable. In a daily context, by pushing your chest out and pulling your shoulders back, you soon find yourself slouching right back to where you started (unless you are a “chronic holder” which does not serve you either). Good posture is a dynamic and integral part of fluid functioning, not a deliberate holding in place. Look at young children! No effort whatsoever. It is your birthright!

Solution: Instead of letting your mind manipulate your skeleton by engaging your muscles, learn about integrated body use so you can let your innate body wisdom handle your posture for you. You are using your body in an integrated way when all body parts are working in harmony together guided by your innate body intelligence. As a result, you experience your skeletal system strength instead of using unnecessary muscle tension.

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Effortless Good Posture

MYTH #2: Exercising Core Muscles promotes Good Posture

Reality: Yes, core muscles are crucial for good posture. Only they are not the muscles you may think. Just like an apple core is the center part of the apple, core muscles are also located deep in your center. Inner muscles and outer muscles must work in harmony but they cannot all be equally engaged at once. When you engage your outer muscles to feel strong, you are automatically disengaging  your core muscles.

Solution: When you challenge your body in whatever position or exercise you chose to; give your core muscles a chance to step up to the plate and strengthen by not tightening your outer muscles. For instance, if you are doing a plank, you stay in your plank all the same. The challenge of it remains, only disengaging the outer muscles allows the core muscles to kick in. The secret here is to keep your skeletal alignment. Then, listen to your whole body. Do not expect the inner muscle work to feel like the outer muscles when engaged. Inner core muscles work deeper, quieter and are felt more as a whole body experience.

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Her open hands, smile, and her open upper back suggest she is building Flexible Strength rather than Body Stiffness!
This also means she is allowing her Core Muscles to step up to the plate and strengthen!
She is cooperating with her Whole Body Wisdom.

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Her uptight upper back and neck, her held facial expression and tight fists are clearly signs
she is building Stiff Strength in her Outer Muscles & not allowing her Core Muscles to step up to the plate and strengthen!
She is not cooperating with her Whole Body Wisdom.

MYTH #3: Stretching & Strengthening Back Muscles promotes Good Posture

Reality: Stretching and strengthening the back as it is commonly done is working the big outer muscles of the back, the ones you can feel being stretched and exerting effort to strengthen. It may feel good when you do it but “feeling good” and “being good for you” are two different things although they can happen together when in line with your whole body wisdom.

Solution: Discover your postural muscles for effortless and sustainable good posture. These core muscles get increasingly stronger when you let them do their job of supporting you instead of you engaging the big outer muscles to do the job. It is all about developing trust in the wisdom of your body. You don’t need to work so hard like in the plank example given earlier. Work smarter instead by choosing to experience what flexible strength feels like. The fact is that you are still building the same amount of strength. And that is the strength of the cat, not an ounce of stiffness in their body, but they are quite strong when they need to jump or pounce on a moving target.

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Power, Accuracy, Grace…. Flexible Strength at work!

MYTH #4: Good Posture is all about Proper Alignment

Reality: The truth is that there is more to good posture than proper alignment. If you are holding yourself in what you think is the right alignment, you are doing just that, “holding yourself”. And the way you are holding yourself is with excess tension. Besides, you are forcefully going again the synergy of your own body so either it is not sustainable or you are building chronic tension.

Solution: Exploring how much holding you are actually doing would be a first step. Then, choose to no longer hold your skeleton with tensed muscles. Connect with your skeletal system, keep its height, and discover its own strength. That will change the synergy of your whole body so you can experience what it is to be bone tall with relaxed muscles!

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Her arched back and belly forward suggest holding tension in her back.

His perfect alignment without back arching or shoulders pulled back suggest a released yet dynamic posture.

MYTH #5: Gravity challenges Good Posture

Reality: Not so. Gravity promotes good postural balance when you use yourself as you are designed to. When you lose your skeletal height, you are not balanced above your support efficiently. As a result, gravity claims the heavy weight of the unsupported head forward and down. It also brings the shoulders with it whether you are sitting, standing or walking.

Solution: By learning to be balanced above your support, the need to push up disappears without being replaced by the urge to slouch. Allow your weight to be evenly spread on your feet when standing and learn to find the balancing point of your sit bones when sitting, and voila, anti-gravity action works for you instead of against you, propelling you upwards effortlessly like children do all the time!

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When not aligned above support and relaxed, gravity promotes slouching.
When aligned above support and relaxed
, gravity promotes effortless good posture.

Do you want to learn more about this mind/body approach to natural good posture? 
Do you want to learn how to reclaim efficient moving for balanced living?
Join my latest FREE 6-part EMAIL SEMINAR:
"How to Unlearn Habits that Create Body Stiffness On and Off the Mat"
(Based on the Alexander Technique Principles and Facts)

Core Strengthening Language Part 2: How Helpful is the Focus on Anatomy?

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An increasing number of yoga training courses and teachers feel the need to focus on anatomical data as if the quality of their skill depended on it. Does it really? There is nothing wrong with acquiring knowledge especially for those with the right mind to enjoy learning this kind of information. However, how many doctors are being helped in their own body by the anatomical details they know? How useful is it to them or to most yoga teachers and practitioners?

What matters more with yoga is to discover the anatomy of movement and stillness as a purely kinesthetic and holistic experience which is being lost in translation when the focus is all on anatomical details. What follows about core strengthening is supported by anatomy specialists (we do need them) but is expressed in a way everyone can receive and start practicing.

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Beyond anatomical data, do you know how core strengthening happens in an organic way?

Like the core of an apple, your core refers first to the inner muscle sets of your torso which work partly intertwined and always in harmony with all other muscles to keep you up and together. Core Strengthening happens organically when you allow the outer muscles to release while engaged in a whole body activity.  When your outer muscles cooperate rather than take charge of maintaining your skeletal height, your core muscles can step up to the plate and get strong in their own deep and quiet way.

Torso muscles cannot remain efficient when engaged all at once. Like the arm or leg muscles flexing or extending in turn to allow movement, your torso muscles are part of a similar dance; while some engage, the others need to quiet down. Their way of working feels different. Postural muscles for instance quietly do their supporting job and give you a sense of effortlessness. Outer muscles however have a presence which can easily be turned into body stiffness when no distinction is made between necessary muscular tension and unnecessary muscle tension.


Releasing excess tension is neither going limp 
nor decreasing how much strength you are building. 
It is preventing building body stiffness while you are building strength.

Bracing yourself with muscle tension thinking it will give you core stability is a myth and only leads to body stiffness
as you can hear Peter O’Sullivan explain in his 2013 interview.

LANGUAGE INSTRUCTIONS AND DISTINCTIONS

Verbal instructions to get into a pose must reflect this duality of functioning to be efficient. The verbal instructions you still follow yourself or use to lead others into poses have an enormous impact on how those poses are performed. Experienced yoga teachers who actually did make some language changes felt the difference in themselves and in their students as a result. It comes down to making important distinctions.

Outer Muscles need Space to Release 
for the Inner Muscles to Efficiently Strengthen.

Yoga pose using block
The purpose for the block used in this pose is to keep the skeleton properly aligned,
not to squeeze it with all your might creating body stiffness in the process.

“Holding” makes you grab your skeleton for dear life instead of letting your postural mechanism take care of your balance.  “Staying” in a pose gives you space to release without loosing the pose kept by the skeleton. As a result, you can build strength without building body stiffness in the process. When releasing unnecessary muscle tension into what is supporting your body weight, you are activating your postural mechanism and it can do its job which is to handle your postural balance and coordination using an appropriate amount of necessary muscle tension.

“Allow the spine to lengthen” / “Lengthen the spine”. When allowing something to happen, you are less likely to overdo. When you think of lengthening the spine, you are likely to work at lengthening the spine, stiffening your mid back in the process and getting the very opposite of what you think you are doing as the woman in the picture below.

yoga-woman
Arched mid back, hips tilted forward, sits bones pointing back, upper back leaning back.

“Do not allow the back of your neck to compress as you look up” / “Look Up”. Your spine must remain an open channel all the way to the top. Compressing the back of the neck just because you can go that far into a pose is not helpful to create an integrated pose where all body parts work in harmony.

images-1 images-17
The woman in black has a beautifully integrated pose.
Her spine (including the neck part of it) and her arms are all part of the same curve started where her knee is supported.

“Allow your whole body to expand into its full space” / “Lift this or pull that to get taller”. The goal is the same but how you get there is different. Of course, you may not have been taught how to trust and experience your innate body wisdom. Just know it is possible, safer and more efficient to work with your body wisdom which is different from listening to how a specific body part or muscular area feels. 

“Listen to your whole body, not your body parts”. When always listening to your whole body at once, you will be aware of individual parts in need of attention as well. Keeping your attention on body parts to check how they feel makes you loose connection with your whole body wisdom. You may help one part of your body at the expense of another.

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If you want to learn more about the Alexander Technique or Off-The-Mat Yoga (Alexander Technique based Yoga), check my workshop and class schedule by clicking here. You can also follow my blog by signing in on the home page to receive tips of the week right to your inbox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Core Strengthening Language! Part 1: Pitfalls

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Natural+Stretching+Exercises3

Some like it slow, some like it with flow, some like it tough while others like it gentle and the varieties go on and on. How do you like it? Do you practice yoga to relax, to stretch and strengthen, or to restore? Do you use props or no props? Do you stand for naked yoga, or against it? Do you travel to practice yoga on every beach you can get your feet to or do you like the regularity of going to your yoga studio?

Yoga has become a popular trend and yoga studios are still flourishing everywhere. On some level, it makes sense, different body types, different personalities, different awareness levels, so attraction to different forms of yoga! It certainly has also become a lucrative business for many. Yet, on a deeper level, it seems like people are missing something in their everyday life and they are searching that missing thing in yoga and its community. It is an amazing phenomena and it is beautiful in many ways to witness this drive some have to satisfy their deep yearning. And it is wonderful when it becomes a family activity that brings families doing something positive together.

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However, in most adult classes, there is also some confusion in the teaching and practice of yoga due to various historic factors but most recently, due to the influence of the core strengthening and muscle stretching language which has created unfortunate pitfalls.

In most yoga studio, whether students are encouraged to do this slowly or fast, you can hear instructions relating to body parts to be controlled in one way or the other: pull your shoulders back, roll your shoulder blades down, lift your chest, tuck your chin or tuck your pelvis, squeeze your legs together, position your feet this way or that way, push this and hold that. This way of practicing yoga is made up of numerous muscular adjustments imposed on various body parts. 

If you add to the equation that most teachers have their own understanding of what those instructions mean and all students in a class have their own interpretations and corrupted translations, how is it even possible to teach without expecting trouble sooner or later? It is a way of working that has presented definite benefits but lots of unnecessary challenges as well which were not part of the original intention of yoga.

images-8Most people in this picture stick their neck forward in an effort to do a pose they are not ready to do in a healthy way.

Yoga postures as described by Patanjali are meant to be a balance between steadiness and comfort. Steadiness in various poses encourages your body to build up strength. Comfort allows for your strength to remain flexible. Yoga postures are all about this balancing act. However, our sense of balance and coordination, our ability to move fluidly and to enjoy good postural balance is the job of our postural mechanism which works with the body as one whole coordinated entity when not interfered with. For more info about this, go to: https://offthematyogablog.com/2013/12/18/what-are-postural-reflexes/

Neuroscience along with disciplines like the Alexander Technique also understand body functioning as a coordinated whole, where each part affects the whole and the whole is connected to each part in a synergy of its own for each individual. That is why in countries where people use themselves in a more natural way, you won’t find pulled shoulders and tucked bellies, you witness ease of movement and flexible strength with a smile!

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So for yoga lovers to get the most out of their yoga practice and prevent injuries, there has to be a change in the way language is used in the yoga class. Developing an understanding of how the postural mechanism functions to make it part of every stretch and every strengthening practice is an amazing way to turn things around in a fairly easy way. Yoga teachers instructed in this way of teaching have reported clear changes for the better in their own practice and in their students practice.

Like these teachers and students, you can discover how to build body strength without building body stiffness in the process. You can learn to trust your innate body wisdom instead of second guessing it and working against it with unnecessary muscular control. It can transform not only your yoga practice but your daily level of well-being. How do you go about it? Look for an Alexander Technique teacher, preferably one with yoga experience so they can speak your language (although any good teacher can help you with this).

The Alexander Technique seems like the perfect tool to negotiate this balance successfully within each pose, and best of all it translates into less muscular tension, improved posture and better coordination On and Off the mat. For more info about this, go to: http://www.alexandertec.com/what.htm

More details coming up in Part 2 and maybe 3.

In the meantime, to learn more about how to use the Alexander Technique as applied to yoga to get the most out of it and prevent injuries on and off the mat, find an Alexander Technique teacher in your neck of the woods or if in the Boston area, sign up to Cecile’s workshops and classes or keep reading her blogs. You can also, follow the blog to receive tips of the week right to your inbox!

https://offthematyogablog.com/schedule

 

 

Harmful Stretching versus Healthy Stretching Part 2

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images-6The 3 women above use their head, neck, and torso relationship for dynamic postural alignment

Dynamic postural alignment has been proven crucial for the best mind and body functioning. You can  bend down further than these women without sacrificing your dynamic postural alignment. It is not about keeping a straight back at all cost, it is about hinging at the joints instead of using your neck or back as a hinge. This way, your spine can release into a beautiful smooth curve when needed.

How do you know if you are hinging with your neck or back? Hinging from a made up hinge (usually neck or back) results in straining with compression or over-extension. You are straining your neck when you collapse your head back and down creating a compression or when you stick your head forward. You are straining your back when you tighten your back muscles to send yourself upright or when you are stretching a single area in your back just because it feels good.

How you use your body in an integrated way is more important than producing an extreme version of any pose. No pain, no gain is a myth!

Spinal overstretch as well as neck or waist compression happen when you do not work with your innate body intelligence while performing a specific stretch or movement and it shows. Moreover, this kind of tension and distortion accumulates over time and eventually promotes injury on or off the yoga mat.

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These are examples of how in an effort to reach your toes, you may bend from your upper back as if it was a hinge.

Joints in the body are the only appropriate hinges. Yet, these pictures are a common sight and it feels good and is gratifying to stretch hard but is it worth it? Their focus is on the goal at end (reaching their toes and stretching their back) instead of using the innate wisdom of their body which would simply release natural hinges (occipital joint, armpits, hip joint sockets, knees and ankles) and respect the dynamic alignment of the head, neck and torso.

Lack of flexibility or excess flexibility are both a problem as explained in the little cartoon video below. However, learning to use your body as a whole to release into a stretch will give you the best lengthening possible in your body and increasingly add to your flexibility level without leading to overstretching.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeEIoGMldyc

H O L I S T I C   S T R E T C H I N G   T I P S

1) RELEASE INTO A STRETCH.

Allow all your joints to release, starting with the ones on each side of a muscle or muscle group you want to lengthen. As a result your muscles are able to easily lengthen naturally into a stretch that spreads all over your body no matter where you started. In the process,  the skeletal alignment reorganizes itself instead of being distorted like in the pictures above! How does this happen?

By allowing a letting go of tension in your joints, you empower your postural mechanism to do its job.  And your body intelligence knows how much release and what skeletal alignment is appropriate in that moment. No risk of overdoing, yet you get the best stretch ever. A holistic stretch is like riding a wave, only the wave is going through your whole body connecting you from head to toes!

The body is a web of connections, so unless you always include what happens in the whole body, focusing on one body part at a time is not very efficient although it feels good in the moment. Besides running the risk of overstretching and creating unnecessary muscular-skeletal problems, it also promotes an ongoing need to stretch the same muscles over and over because the benefits do not have enough staying power. The fact is that the whole body synergy, when not addressed, calls for that tension to come back.

2) STOP TIGHTENING YOUR BODY AND MIND.

Consider stretching your mind as a prerequisite to gaining a looser body on and off the mat. The mind and the body are the two sides of the same coin. This  “I choose not to tighten”  practice is an intention you carry over throughout the day. It affects both your body and mind, it helps you let go of attachment to things and thoughts.

As your mind relaxes,  so do your joints and muscles which helps activate your postural mechanism in charge of your best balance and coordination. Tightening constricts your skeleton and the organs inside it all day long. Choosing to stop tightening allows it to expand back and up and out. It makes you feel lighter both in your body and in your mind.

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Alexander Technique teachers have been teaching this since the 19th century. If you want to learn to stretch in an integrated way and you are in the Boston area, come to my workshops and classes or call for a private session by calling 617 359 7841.

To inquire about my Workshops for Yoga Teachers, my Workshops for Yoga Students and my Alexander Technique Workshops or to register online, click on https://offthematyogablog.com/schedule/