Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Book review: Ashtanga Sadhana for Mothers by Anna Wise and Sharmila Desai


So I've been graciously sent a copy of a new book from Yogamatters entitled, 'Ashtanga Sadhana For Mothers' for review. Many thanks to the guys at Yogamatters for the opportunity to read and review this book :) Was a little worried at first as I'm not a mother, in fact have not a single maternal bone in my body, but upon reading last night, was instantly drawn in and could not put it down. It's been written as an offering to women and families in the practice. The intention was to create a resource for women steeped in the practice of ashtanga yoga who are going through the rite of passage to becoming a mother. 

Here are the contents:



The book beings begins with a section entitled Parampara. The word parampara means an uninterrupted succession; the direct and unbroken transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. In this section we hear directly from the female lineage holders of Ashtanga yoga—R. Saraswathi, Guruji’s daughter, and Sharmila Mahesh, Guruji’s granddaughter. These interviews offer insight into the Jois’s family life and Ashtanga yoga as practiced by women. Both Saraswathi and Sharmila share their memories of life with Guruji and his beloved wife, Amma, revealing how this impacted on their own personal journeys into motherhood. They also share traditions that have been passed down through generations, and which Indian women follow for health, healing, and longevity. Parampara gives a cultural and historical background for what is to follow, and sets the book firmly in the traditions and teachings passed directly from Guruji himself.

The following section called Sadhana addresses the Ashtanga yoga practice itself in the context of pregnancy. Sadhana can be translated as ‘practice towards a spiritual goal.’ Written with direct input from Sharath and Saraswathi and using the Primary series by way of example, each asana is listed according to the traditional Sanskrit count, with instructions and photographs to show how it should be modified during pregnancy. These guidelines are primarily aimed at pregnant women who already practice Ashtanga yoga, and show how they can adapt their practice while maintaining a sense of form and flow. 


The personal narratives in the next section, Anubhava, are the heart of this book. Anubhava means ‘knowledge based on personal experience,’ and here 31 women from the worldwide Ashtanga community share their stories about conception, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. These women come from all walks of life, often with long years of practicing with Guruji and Sharath and have experienced a wide range of realities in pregnancy and birth. The stories as a whole naturally unfold the different ways in which women weave pregnancy and motherhood with their Ashtanga practice. What they all illustrate is that motherhood is a path that relies very much on personal intuition.

The final section is called Chikitsa, which means ‘therapy.’ This final part of the book focuses on approaching postpartum recovery from a holistic perspective and especially how to use the practice as a tool for healing. Included here are Ayurvedic foods for mothers that give strength and health, supporting the process of recovery after birth. All the tips in this section and in the appendices that follow are ones directly experienced by the women and who have found particularly useful in their own pregnancies, postpartum, and in teaching pregnant women over the years. 

Whilst I am not a mother myself, I found this book just beautiful and insightful. The accounts from the women who have shared their own accounts of the practice, pregnancy, birth and motherhood are both profound and at some times heart wrenching. I have not read all of the women's stories yet (as I wanted to get this post done asap) but I read those stories of the women I have met, who are Saraswathi, Lucy Scott, Joanne Darby, Bella Rossi (my Oxford teacher, along with her wonderful husband Manu), Harmony Lichty (my first teacher at Purple valley, Goa) and Katia Marcia Gomez who along with her lovely husband Nick I had the pleasure to practice along side in Bali, late last year. 

Included is the suggested primary series for women who, after the first trimester, are advised to practice. This is a great tool for both the pregnant practitioner but also for the teacher who wishes to teach pregnant students the primary series. This section of the book has given me the confidence to teach the primary series to pregnant women, as it goes into great detail about modifications which Guruji gave and has photos of all the modified asana, for example…


These modifications would also be helpful for teachers and practitioners of any form of yoga. 

The last section is returning to practice and outlines the basic principle of sensibly returning to practice. What I found most heartwarming and inspiring is the honesty of the women in how their practice changed after childbirth. Sometimes, a lot of the time, the body did not go back to how it was pre-childbirth and the honest accounts of how these women now practice is both inspiring and encouraging.   I sometimes feel even practicing in this way during a period would be beneficial. I can imagine myself (if I ever have a baby) looking to this book for encouragement and inspiration. It even goes as far as giving ayurvedic advice on how to look after your body and your baby's after childbirth, which it seems most mothers did follow and which worked for them. 

There are also 'prenatal appendices' detailing the potential issues of pregnancy and how to overcome them. Finally the book gives advice from 'Birthlight Yoga' on the five gentle steps to postpartum recovery. 

All in all, this book is well worth the buy, for any female practitioner, whether or not they are a mother or not, it is inspirational for any woman. Thank you, Anna and Shamila.





Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sharing our lives...

"Nobody's life is just their life, it is an expression of the place and time we're living in." (Fisher, 2014)

This time of year, when the nights draw in and as it gets closer to my birthday, my mood changes. I tend to withdraw from society, hibernate, spend more time on my own, sleep more, and reflect on my life more. It's normally a difficult time for me. I should probably spend more time with others, get out more and socialise, but I just can't summon the energy. As a result I feel more alone.

In Heideggan philosophy, it is said that human suffering results from the fact that you live in the world with others, all of the time. Even if you are alone, you are with others, given the impact others have on all aspects of your life. There is no such thing as an isolated 'me'. We can only experience the feeling of 'being alone' because we are fundamentally always with others. So even the time spent on my own, I'm not alone, I'm always being affected in some way by others.

We all share the same ontological structures, such as time, space, mood and body, these intertwined experiences. However, our experiences of those ontological structures are not the same, they are our own (ontic) experiences, on which we imprint our own stories and individuality. So whilst you may have shared experiences with someone, both of your experiences will be different. This is why it is a waste of time trying to understand another person. It's healthier to accept that you've had different experiences and understand that you can't change them. The only thing you can change is your own reaction to the other (person), and yoga and meditation helps.

We all breathe the same air. We breathe it in (the they) and inside, we translate it and breathe out our selves, our own interpretation.  

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Mindfulness and compassion

What I like to teach students in my yoga classes (without them really knowing) is the art of mindfulness. You cannot practice yoga without mindfulness, mindfulness cannot be divorced from yoga. I'm enjoying seeing my students asana improve through the teaching of being mindful.

I was first introduced to mindfulness when I was suffering a really low point in my life back in around 2006. My mum had read somewhere about a book called 'Peace is Every Step' by the Buddhist monk, Thict Nhat Hanh. What I learned from this beautiful little book, I still practice every day.. Stuff like making my bed every morning, taking my time when washing the dishes, making sure my clothes are put nicely on the washing line, enjoying taking them in when dry, the smell of freshly washed clothes, bed linen, mmmmm…one of the best things.

Mindfulness is being taught everywhere now, people are being taught how to pay attention and this leads to being more effective at what you do, which is great yet sometimes it feels like it's just being taught as just being able to pay attention to something and not much else. But I feel its more than that. Mindfulness cannot be divorced from the practice of meditation, it is meditation. Michael Stone puts in nicely, mindfulness is being taught as having one foot in the traditional meditation practice and one foot in secular society. And that's fine too, as long as it's getting out there. It's like someone coming to  a yoga class to get physically fit, and finding it more a spiritual practice.

What I didn't know about mindfulness (well, zen meditation/buddhism actually), was that it was taught to the Nazi's and the Japanese Military, so they were able to be more effective in killing and well, I guess, be able to separate their actions from themselves. So whilst mindfulness is seen as a great thing, we must be aware that it can lead to being able to bad things effectively too.

But deeper than the 'being able to pay attention' part of mindfulness practice, beneath the superficial layer perhaps, lies the true meaning of the practice, compassion and right ethical conduct, being truly present and being able to fully engage with life in this moment. Being fully present in the moment doesn't mean you are always going to be happy however, it means being fully present even in the unhappy times. Not hiding from them or putting your head in the sand.

I have resurrected my pranayama and sitting practice, which I'm so glad about, it's made me feel about the practice the way I did about ashtanga practice back in the beginning, when I couldn't wait to get home and practice along with David Swenson's DVD :) Now I can't wait to get up, out of bed, still dark, lighting a candle, wrapping my blanket around me and sitting quietly. I  actually enjoy watching the thoughts as they come, acknowledging where they have arisen from, why they have arisen, distinguishing the good thoughts from the bad and letting the ones that do not serve me, drift away. And in the midst of these 40 minutes, there are one or sometimes two moments where there is nothing, but pure clarity.

There is a free mindfulness and compassion event on tonight at Coventry Cathedral, being run by The Flame where I teach my saturday class. If you're in the area you should go, Dav Panesar, an amazing teacher will be there to lead the meditation. I've attached the link to the Facebook page below.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/coventry-city-centre/mindfulness-and-compassion-event-breaking-new-ground-at-coventry-cathedral-for-s/780061405386122

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Black eyes, aversion (dvesha) and the quest for enlightenment...

During my ongoing quest for 'enlightenment' I nearly knocked myself out jumping into bhujapidasana on Monday night. 

It was funny, all in slow motion of course, but just prior to the jump, thought, 'hmmm my bandhas don't feel right tonight' (I was struggling with navasana (boat) and then 'I feel a little heavy' and 'my balance was awful in utthita hasta - will I make it?'...then jumped….nothing engaged, leant forward and then, 'tiiiimmmbbeeerrr!!!' as I fell head, well face, first into the brick wall of Ben's shala…! There was an almightily crack and I let out an audible 'Oh noooo…' as I curled into a ball on the floor, unravelled my arms from my legs, saw the egg which had appeared on my brow out the corner of my eye, put my hand over it and through the gasps from the back of the room, sloped out into the loo… 

(Just wanted to reach out to those who came to my rescue with cold water eye patches and neurofen, big love, you know who you are :)

Anyway, with my first workshop pending (Nov 8th) on 'Overcoming Fear in Asana' maybe it was meant to happen, maybe to focus my mind on what I'm trying to get across in my workshop! I was also asked today by someone who is interesting in attending, what my workshop is about, so started writing an itinerary for the afternoon. 

Here is my reply:

"Hi Janey

Nice to hear from you :) 

Yes, the workshop is on overcoming fear in the ashtanga practice. I decided to bring together all the knowledge gained from my year studying ashtanga in Mysore/Bali/US/Canada and formulate it into some kind of workshop! I haven't finalised the program for the afternoon but it will include:

  • Examining why and where fear arises in the practice
  • The nature of fear - examining the Kleshas (the '3 poisons') of Hindhuism and Buddhism
  • Exploring attachment and how to 'let go' in postures - a short guided meditation
  • How to effectively employ breath, bandha and drishti in postures and transitions
  • Then on the practical side looking at postures of the primary series and some of intermediate if that's appropriate on the day; hip openers such as baddha konasana and lotus, balancing in bakasana (crow), jumping out of bakasana, jumping into and out of bhujapidasana, jumping in and out of tittibhasana and back bending, including dropping back."
I've just had a reply from Janey, asking to book her and a friend on, so I'm really quite pleased :) Mercifully she didn't ask where I got the black eye from ;) Anyway…

For those of you who don't know what the 'kelshas' are, here's a brief summary…. 

In hindhuism, there a 5 kleshas, namely, ignorance (misconceptions of reality); egoism (erroneous identification with the self and mind); attachment (raga); aversion (dvesha) and fear of death (clinging ignorantly onto life). 

In Mayayana buddhism, they've wittled the 5 down to 3 main kleshas (the root of other 'minor' kleshas ), namely, ignorance; attachment and aversion. These 3 kleshas are known as the 'Three Poisons' in the Mahayana tradition. Other traditions have other kleshas, such as anxiety, fear, doubt, anger, jealousy, desire, depression and pride. 

So the kleshas are, to cut a long story short, destructive emotions which obscure actual reality, they dull the mind and lead us into 'Maya' or illusion (dillusion), where were end up with a 'wrong view' of reality. 

Now, whilst these philosophical view points are based primarily on overcoming obstacles to meditation and 'enlightenment', they can be used as a framework for how we approach our asana practice, our ashtanga (or other yoga) practice. 

But, the good news is, these kelshas, (these 'afflictions') can be overcome, so you can progress your practice  in the 'right' direction by the correct application of breath, bandha and drishti. 

And so I don't give all my workshops secrets away, I'm going to stop there. 

Book onto my workshop! It'll be fun and for anyone who has any doubts over whether their practice is advanced enough for the workshop, yes... yes it is... breath, bandha and drishti underlie the whole ashtanga system, no matter where you are in your practice. Oh, and I should mention, just in case you're worried about getting a black eye, the studio I've booked has a cushioned floor, so perfect for experimenting and allowing yourself to 'let go'… :)


And just so you know, I had Tuesday off as my unofficial moon day and practiced wednesday instead. I did intermediate, and whilst s**t scared of jumping into anything which could potentially damage the other eye, I did all the jumps. Aversion (dvesha)? What aversion?!! :)


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Yoga, TYM and Gary Lopedota

They say that following receiving the "10 series" of Rolfing (Structural Integration) the body can continue to 'open' on its own for quite a while, before the need for further therapy. This certainly has been my experience, as I continue to be able to experience subtle shifts in energy and shifts within the physical body as I practice, deepening the experience of breath and postures. 

A good friend of mine Ray, a Thai Yoga Massage therapist based in Coventry and Warwickshire recently gave me some great info on TYM and releasing energy in the body following a conversation we had about it. (https://www.facebook.com/ray.cluer)

“Happy reading may not answer all your questions fully but you might find it interesting, Re energy lines, and energy awareness, again speaking from personnel experience only, in a recent chat with you, you asked which came first yoga or Thai massage well I guess in an intelligent way Thai massage came first and yoga is recent although having dabbled with it for years but now its to stay and I am finding it very beneficial, but my experience with Acupuncture and our energy came 25 years ago when suffering from stress related illnesses, I was fortunate enough to meet a guy who in my opinion was a master Acupuncturist and also chiropractor, over a two year period he kind of rebuilt me and left me with a interest and knowledge of  the energy lines and pressure points that work for me, kind of a personal prescription so to speak, I have a good awareness, when certain points are buzzing, so I just palpate the point until the energy dissipates, but what I think you are describing is that since you had the “10 series” Rolfing treatment you have kind of been "switched on" to your own energy and its  subtle ways in which it guides you, I have had a couple of people say that they are now more aware how they stand or how they walk after of few TYM’s (postural adjustment maybe) and report subtle energy shifts in areas worked on.

It's my view that you have great physical body awareness through your practice and have now developed a energy awareness, I recently read that when sitting in padmasana its the right leg first with the left leg on top the liver and spleen are purified, so to high light that there are 600 recognised Acupuncture point on the human body it would be remarkable to think that they were not being worked whist doing practice, however Chinese medicine is complex and I feel very lucky to be married to a qualified Acupuncturist (mind you trying to get a treatment is like blood letting from a stone lol ) so it's my view that its better to look at your energy in simpler terms as in Thai sen lines or Indian Nadis although still quite complex but much easier to get your head around, here goes…

The Sen Lines / Myofascial Pathways
- The traditional model of Thai Yoga Massage works on the notion of energy flow, which until now has made it a deeply intuitive and feeling based art form built up over thousands of years. This had caused problems for some westerners used to working on the physical, on symptoms and with sound empirical evidence, but learning to feel and not think too much was good for them. It’s about that letting go thing again and learning how to feel and flow with natural forces; learning to tap into the deep unconscious and instinctive aspect of nature and ourselves. It was this intuitive ability that could feel and work with the subtle energy body and map it. The physical body is only a part of who we are, but its also the tangible basis upon which we can work and influence the deeper and more subtle aspects of our being.
Until very recently nothing was really known about Sen lines, but there has now been some important research, which shows that the 10 Sen lines manipulated in Thai Yoga Massage are in essence the same as Nadis and Meridians, in being subtle energy pathways and part of a huge inter-connected network running throughout the entire body. 

On surface appearance Sen lines seem to follow different pathways to meridians, because Sen lines follow muscular contours, the myo-fascial pathways between muscles and between muscles and bones. So the myofascial Sen lines are what we can get our hands on, whereas the meridians of TCM also follow the internal cyclic flow of energy between vital organs. Research though carried out at the University of Vermont and college of medicine used high frequency ultrasound scanning acoustic microscopy to study acupuncture channels and the effects of needling, and found that most meridians are located between muscles and between muscles and a tendon or bone also. So it could be that meridians, nadis and sen lines are part of the same subtle connective tissue network of fascia and that the meridians which follow the cyclic flow of energy between organs are in fact part of the deep fascia, subserous facia and membrane linings.
Although the 10 Sen lines are a complete system and very effective model to follow, there are some contradictions on the precise location of these lines between some schools. 

Most professionals though and myself seem to agree that Sen Lines are energy lines of connective tissue, known as the myo-fascial pathways between muscles throughout the entire body. This network of fascia is so vitally important because it provides stability and structure to the body, enables movement of muscles, metabolism to take place, protects the vital organs and nervous system, allows for communication between cells and boosts our immunity to fight infection to name a few functions.
One common point of view now is that Thai massage can be explained in the same way that Structural Integration therapy or Rolfing can, because each of them apply a deep and sustained pressure into the body’s fascial binding in order to release deeper tensions and blockages fixed into the fascia elsewhere in the body. It can do this because fascia forms an intricate web co-extensive throughout the body, central to its performance and well-being, and so releasing these trapped tensions in one area of the body can correct postural imbalances, chronic conditions and unexplained pain symptoms elsewhere in the body, because they are often caused by tensions locked into the binding tissue of the fascia. These blockages are often quite subtle and may be due to injury, or emotional trauma, so when therapist and client both focus into the same area being worked, then its far more than the physical body being manipulated, and even childhood issues and holding patterns can be unearthed from the depths of sub-conscious being and let go of.
 

Fascia is so important. The myo-fascia extends from the deep fascia in the body, which is central to the flexibility and function of vital organs, and it covers, supports and separates skeletal muscle. Myo-fascia helps attach muscles to other muscles, and runs between and separates them, thereby improving movement function and acting as a protective sheath. It also provides a protective route and sheath for blood vessels, nerves and lymph to flow through. The fascia also acts as a very important circulatory and communication system and recent evidence now suggests that within the collagen cells of myofascia is cerebrospinal fluid and thus creating a very complex communication system, stemming from the ventricles of the middle brain and reaching out to the heart of every living cell.
The effects then of manipulating fascia during thai massage are endless and perhaps timeless as we tap into a karmic web of the bodies history and capacity. It is obvious that the early Buddhist monks and teachers of Thai Yoga Massage understood this and therefore laid great emphasis on becoming and giving Metta in Thai Massage, which is Indian Sanskrit for loving Kindness. So meditation is practiced at all the main teaching schools in Thailand before the beginning of each class to bring one into the right frame of mind and focussed intention.

We influence the people we touch with our state of mind and so its important to achieve that feeling of benevolence and loving kindness within ourselves because this quality and healing vibration is transmitted to every cell in the body through the huge and living conscious inter-connected web we call the fascia
Despite common agreements, there still exist conflicting ideas around whether Sen Lines can actually be used as a diagnostic tool, as in TCM. But we might say ‘can the body or meridians really be used as a diagnostic tool anyway? Meridians can be used to diagnose a problem in the body and with a particular function, but this does not reveal an underlying cause. The body just reveals symptoms of underlying causes, and all treatments using their particular model try to work on the energetic basis of them. We can work on the symptom, but we can’t always get to the causes which are more often than not based in the mind, past experiences, present stressful conditions and specific attitudes that are preventing the free flow of vital energy in the mind body network. In my experience of giving Thai Yoga Massage, I think we can treat Sen lines revealing a blockage and at the same time help to unlock the flow of energy and stimulate a vital psycho/physical healing process for a client." 

Following my last post on energy channel stuff a blogger friend Doug asked if I'd heard of trigger points and although I had, I've not read anything about them. He also said that, "Anthony Gary Lopedota noted that when adjusting Paschimuttanasana Sri K. Pattabhi Jois always used to press the same pressure points you've mentioned." Which I found really interesting. I've tried Googling Gary Lopedota to try and find further info on it. The only thing I could find was on his website in one of his articles where he talks about 'the series' and how he used postures for therapeutic reasons, adapting postures for students where necessary:

"Tim (Miller) has a rare anomaly; his liver and spleen are switched. Maybe 1 in 70-100,000 people have this condition. Therapeutically he switches his lotus; keeping with the theory that the liver and spleen are the reason the legs/feet are place in that order. That is all good, he does what he thinks is best being the responsible person that he is. My point is that as the therapist, Patabhi Jois told him to switch his lotus to be in therapeutic alignment" (http://ashtangayogatherapy.com/the.series)

If anyone has any further information on the use of trigger points or can point me to more Gary Lopedota information I'd be very grateful. There are also some great old school photos from back in the day of the guys with Jois. :)

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Ashtanga, pressure points and more energy channel stuff...

I don't really know how to start this post, I've had the concept of a post in my mind for a while on pressure points and utilising them in a yoga practice, especially since being 'Rolfed' and since my Mysore experience, but having very little experience and knowledge on pressure points and body work in general, I kinda felt I didn't really have enough knowledge to be able to explain my experience in a useful way. Nevertheless, its something I'm gonna just throw it out there and maybe I'll get some positive (or negative) feedback, and either way it'll be helpful :)

So, having been someone who came to yoga with very little (if any at all) body awareness, the journey towards becoming aware of what's going on in my body has been a long one. But also, a very interesting and enlightening one. I started my ashtanga practice off going to a David Swenson retreat at Purple Valley, having only practicing a very tenuously linked style of ashtanga yoga at a gym! What a shock! At this point I couldn't even do chaturanga, The concept of chaturanga evaded me, to the point when David was explaining it I put my hand up and said 'but what it you just can't hold your belly off the floor?!'. David was like, 'Don't worry it'll come!!'. On my return home I sent the best part of an afternoon practicing going from downward dog to chaturanga, possibly around 65 times, until my arm muscles learnt what they had to do to hold chaturanga! To this day I still can only hold it for a short length of time…anyway, I digress…

It's only been since I have had the '10 series' of Rolfing that I have actually felt energy in body and as I have said before it's changed my life and especially changed my outlook on yoga and the 'energy body'.  My Rolfing experience has enabled me to notice specific energy lines in my body and where they aren't working properly. It's really hard to explain in generic terms but I'm going to try and explain where certain concentration on certain pressure points in the body help in certain postures. OK, here goes…

Dropping back: Before dropping back, going up onto your tip toes seems to energise the correct muscles in the front of your legs. Slowly coming down whilst still engaging these muscles gives a firm foundation in the legs and abdomen to be able to drop back. After all, it's all about the foundation.

Kapotasana: There's a tiny point on the inside of your kneecap which is a bit fleshy, haven't a clue what it's called.. anyway, when setting up for kapo, pressing this part of the knee into the mat, which I feel creates an internal rotation of the femur and engages the front thighs, enables the thighs to remain engaged enough to be able to drop without collapsing in the lower back. It's useful to mess around with this in your practice, I know if I rush kapo without sorting the knee position out I tend to not be able to engage properly.

Paschimottanasana: The one holding your toes - always hold with two fingers and a thumb. Krishnamacharya obviously had a reason for this kind of bind. I haven't read anywhere why it was so important, but I have a suspicion it was because of energy lines. There's something going on in that little fleshy bit between the big toe and the second toe which when pressed creates energy though to the groin area (if you haven't got blockages in rest of your legs). Always hold on tight, point your toes to create an opposition and don't interlink your fingers like I tend to do without noticing!

Urdhva mukha svanasana - upward dog - pressing the base of your big toe into the mat will engage your leg muscles correctly, if you don't do this your heels will splay and your lower back will suffer. Many students tend to outwardly rotate their feet and 'sink' into their lower back. Hamish Hendry teaches this slightly different by flexing your ankles so the topes of your feet/toes engage, but I don't think you have to necessarily go this far to protect your back. (My opinion)

Actually, all postures where you grab your toes, make a point of pressing through the base of the big toe/second toe, so utthita hasta, urdvha padangustasana etc. Same in the Janu postures and baddhakonasanas.

In Baddha konasana pressing into the big toe/second toe area seems to automatically outwardly rotate the femur at the same time as pushing the thigh away from the midline, then you can work on outwardly rotating it down, by using mula bandha (squeezing the anus).

I must have more tips in this vein, but I'm tired, so I'll leave you with these for now and hope they'll help you in your practice :)


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Hyper-flexibility, energy channels and the not-so-helpful 'micro-bend'…..


Probably gonna get lynched for this post but I think I'm giving informed advice and from the heart and from personal experience. Feel free to give your two-pence worth, I've asked the question for years to teachers but haven't had sufficient enough answers…here goes...

During many classes I have taken throughout the years, I have been told to keep a 'micro-bend' in my elbows and in my knees so as not to 'hyper-extend'. Thing is, yes I do hyper-extend, that's my body's make-up, it's its natural holding pattern, but, I've been practicing yoga now for what, 7+ years and I think have a good enough understanding of my own body, not to have to be told to keep a bend in my arms and legs, which let's face it, feels unhelpful and bloody awful.

Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the need to teach beginners who have hyper-flexible joints not to hyper-extend them, because it could cause further instability. But I have a problem with the instruction 'keep a micro-bend' itself. What is a 'micro-bend'? One millimetre? One centre metre? Enough of a bend so your teacher can see you're bending your flexible bits? I can understand teachers are trying to ensure the safety of their students and I have been one of those teachers. However, I just don't think it's helpful and I've changed my mind.

In my own personal experience, keeping a micro-bend, of whatever degree, in my hyper-flexible joints, actually creates, rather than reduces instability. For me, the instruction should be, 'do not hang in your joints' or something similar and to that effect. 'Hanging' meaning, allowing the joint to extend to its maximum potential without engaging the muscles around the joint to keep it stable. Basically, what you don't want is to be in downward dog say, 'hanging' in your elbows, and some guy to fall out of a handstand into you whilst you have no 'strength' in the joint and your arm snaps in half! Nice thought...

Paul Grilley appears to be the only yoga anatomy teacher to agree with me. I've asked the question to many others and they all say, 'must keep the micro-bend'. Not helpful. Are any of you hyper-flexible?

So I'm gonna take this even further. Having had the 10 series in Rolfing, having had my entire body re-aligned, I can finally feel energy flowing, where once it just did not. I can feel energy flowing from my toes to my groins, I can feel it flowing through my hyper-flexible knees. I can feel it flowing from my thumbs to my armpits and up through my hyper-flexible elbows. I can feel it. Do not try and tell me I can't. BUT when, I am told to keep a micro-bend, I cannot feel the energy flowing. When I press my knees back in downward dog I feel the energy, when I press the knees back in paschimottanasana I can feel the energy. When I bend them…nothing. Stagnant.

Now I'm not anatomical expert. I just know what I can feel. I believe that the postures we do day in, day out, we should try and do them so, just like in Rolfing, your body is working in its most efficient manner. We should be, in my opinion, trying to, at all times, align the body with gravity so it works most efficiently, continually encouraging the body to work towards its vertical axis, creating a sense of lightness, as if we are being lifted up through our joints rather than gravity pulling us down. Chronic holding patterns take a lot of energy to maintain, for me, the 'micro-bend' takes a lot of energy to maintain.

I spend most of my practice at the moment indulging in these new subtle body sensations, which I have been afforded, due to structural integration. Releasing restrictions I had in my body, my knees especially after suffering trauma, have directly stimulated energy channels, which I never believed existed. This increase in energy, has, changed my life, changed my outlook on yoga, the energy body and the way I look at consciousness and psycho-spirituality. We work on the body to change the mind, no? Of course be careful, work on strengthening the muscles around your hyper-flexible joints, but don't let the uninformed, non-hyper-flexible yoga teacher block your path to greater energetic awareness.
“True verticality, the goal of Structural Integration, is a functional phenomenon, 

a line around which the body’s energy fields balance. They manifest 
in real myofascial material structures…The vertical expresses an energy 
relation between Earth and sun.”
- Ida P. Rolf, PhD.