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. (

“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" (

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.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

It always come back to mula bandha...

As everyone who practices regularly knows, your practice is cyclical. Postures come, postures go, postures come back again and…. go again. The body always finds the path of least resistance. So too does the mind. Which is exactly why we practice day in, day out, to explore the whys and wherefores of these changes. Giving up on this exploration, for us, is not an option.

I've been suffering with pain in the right side of my sacrum and tightness in the left hand side of my erector spine muscles. The sacrum pain is dull and feels dense and congested. The tightness in the spinal muscles eases with each forward bend….I can feel and hear whatever it is there releasing on every inhalation and every exhalation, and it feels good. The pain in my sacrum is at its worse when I am back bending. I have a bendy back, well, lumbar spine. And this is exactly what is causing the problem. This week at the height of my pain I practiced second. My teacher thought I was nuts! But given the pain in the sacrum I wanted to see if practicing with more awareness would cause some shift to release the pain. I concentrated all my efforts into engaging uddiyana banda in my backbends and from this point of contraction in the lower abdomen, lifted my spine out from it and who knew…the pain was not there! The thing is I did know, I'd known all along, but for a while that awareness I'd let slip and the pain came. It came back. I've had this before and it had gone due to the exact same method I'd used before. Cyclical. Memories come and they go. Muscle memory comes and goes when you are in the early stages of your practice, which, of course, I still am (7 years now). Pain, it seems, is a great reminder of this. A reminder to embrace the dark as well as the light.

"When you practice, the other shore comes to you". (Can't remember who said that)

Thing is, I find it hard to engage the bandhas (doesn't everyone) but I find it very difficult to engage unddiyana. My teacher Ben, sticks his fingers deep into my transverse abdominus in the hope it will remind me. All I feel is his fingers sticking into layers of flesh, pain…

And then there's my hips. My right hip especially. It drops, I notice it in the standing sequence, the prasaritas, parsvottanasana, my left hip doesn't seem to want to rotate outwards enough, forwards enough, funny, especially when I thought my left hip was more open…? It's causing pain in my left knee. Not a good sign for ashtangis. But again I feel Ben's fingers in my hip socket, reminding it to rotate, fingers press into the left hand side of my abdomen willing me to engage uddiyana and a constant reminder to engage mula. It's funny, I sometimes feel as if I only engage mula on my right side, how can this be?! But the more I focus internally on the engagement of muscles, the more I notice. and the more I can work on these little nuances which affect every aspect of my practice. It's working at least :)

I'm awaiting arrival of a couple of dear friends. My girls from uni. K is down, having had a shit time of it the past two weeks. The FB post from earlier said, 'it's been an awful couple of weeks so it is with gratitude and love I get to spend the next 24 hours with my girls B and Michelle'. B replied, 'Always helps to spend time with soul mates'. When you need grounding, when you need re-centring, you always come back to your core friends, the ones always there for you, the ones who will always support you. Mula bandha, you are one of my bestest friends. :)

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Samskaras and neuroplasticity

So I've moved back into my house after just over a year away. Things are, 'same same, but different', to coin a phrase used a lot throughout my time in Mysore :) Settling into new patterns of work whilst settling into my old, whilst familiar house is hard. Things are the same, but very different.

Sutra 3:9 of Patanjali's yoga sutra states:

The transformation toward total stillness occurs as new latent expressions fostering cessation arise to prevent the activation of distractive stored ones, and moments of stillness begin to permeate consciousness. (Chip Hartranft, 2003).

Exploring the word samskara; Sam = To come together; kara comes from the root 'kud' which means 'to create'. So samskaras are creations, things that we create ourselves. If we think of samskaras as grooves, we can think of our repeated actions chiselling out these grooves, making them deeper, imprinting them deeper into our consciousness, which makes these grooves harder to get out of, harder to fill in. 

Samskaras are things that come into being, through a process, through the coming together of actions. If this is the case, then what comes into being can also come apart. What arises can also pass away. All formations created out of conditions are transient, they come and they go.  Beliefs too, are samskaras. Beliefs are born out of our conditioned (material) world. Therefore if beliefs are born out of conditions, which are arbitrary and transitory, then it follows that they have no solid foundation and as such can pass as quickly as they were born. Luckily for us, samskaras are transitory, the grooves can be deep, but we can create new grooves and the old grooves over time will infill themselves until they are just a faint scar in our conscious mind, having no hold over us. We all have the innate power to change through practice.
You are not just a brain in a vat!

Thus as Patanjali states, we can create new latent expressions (samskaras) which will stop the old distractive stored ones and total stillness and peace can arise. 'Neurons that fire together, wire together'. 
Neuro-plasticity is the core of understanding samskaras; no-one is 'hard-wired', they may have deep samskaras yes, but the brain is plastic and as such can change its structure and function by how we act, re-act, don't act, how we think and how we imagine things. It may just be harder and require more practice to carve out new and healthier neurological pathways. Plasticity exists at every level, the behaviour of the body, of bones, of cells, of thoughts and images. So in yoga we first of all work on the gross body, we change the way it moves, it functions and the more we do this the deeper those changes permeate into the bones, the muscles, the cells, our thoughts and our beliefs. It is even thought it can change on a genetic level, with the possibility of affecting the evolution of the human species. 

So we can use our regular practice to re-sculpt our brain, first finding more plasticity in order for it to change, then to create more structure so that new, healthier patterns remain. 

So for me at this moment in time, these new patterns which I find myself in are exciting but challenging at the same time. We are creatures of habit, but we must be careful not to let the grooves we sometimes find ourselves in become too deep, as they could become too deep to easily climb out of! 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The red sun, reflected on the square, of the TV...

I'm back to work as an urban planner, exactly one year after I took redundancy from my previous job. I'm grateful, of course, especially given the area I am now in charge of assessing planning applications is ridiculously beautiful, with some of the most stunning English landscape I have ever seen. I even have a favourite view from  my car on my commute into work, the morning light radiates gold off a vast wheat field viewed from the brow of a hill, off the A429 toward Stratford. However living in Coventry I sometimes forget that nature is everywhere.  Living in the city you have just to listen a little harder sometimes. I knew I'd find some haikus which reverberate with how I'm feeling right now...

Instead of foxes howling, or waterfalls, there's a car-roaring up the street, or the drone of  a refrigerator ... part of the life in which we are living.

             The red sun
              reflected in the square
                of the TV.

        Neons flash red & green.
April rains on still street.  Man
   Nods.  Red lights blink, blink.

                        After April rain
                        -in puddles of oil
                        city rainbows

        The whole block flooded.
        Men hauling pumps & hoses;
        children, plastic boats.

                        A great freight truck
                                        lit up like a town
                        through the dark stony desert.

So as sure as nature is found in the city, human nature leaves traces, samskaras if you like and cuts tracks in nature. Haiku can express not only nature, but human nature too. The name for  this kind of haiku is "senryu". Putting human nature in the foreground and nature in the background, everyone can see something of universal human nature in themselves or the world around.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Anthony Hall's Krishnamacharya's Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama Workshop Review, June 2014

I was really lucky this weekend to have been able to attend a workshop run by Anthony Hall, his only teaching gig in the UK before he leaves to live back in Japan. Anthony is known mainly for his awesome blog Krishnamacharya's Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at Home. I've been following Anthony's musings on yoga since I began my ashtanga apprenticeship a few years back, found his blog extremely relevant being a mainly home practitioner and so helpful in breaking down the practice, the asanas and the philosophy, so I have a real soft spot for his teaching. 

Anthony doesn't see himself as a teacher, OK, he's done a couple of teacher trainings, Ramaswami's and Manju's, but he first and foremost considers himself 'just a blogger'. However, I would argue that it is his blogging and his dissection of his and 'our' practice of ashtanga that makes him such a great teacher, and his willingness to share every single detail of the ins and outs of his practice, the highs and the lows, the successes and failures. He's also shared so much information on Krishnamacharya and has spent hours upon hours dissection and analysing his writings, making sense of it all for the benefit of the western mind. So it was Anthony's work on Krishnamacharya and his teachings of Vinyasa Krama as taught to him by Ramaswami that he chose to share with us at the workshop and I felt blessed to have been there.