In this installment, a slight deviation from the norm in celebration of the Summer Solstice.
Originally a pagan celebration, it is when the Earth's axis is tipped closest to the Sun. At this point, the Earth stops its inclination toward the Sun and reverses its direction. Therefore, Sol (Sun) stice (standing still). Thousands gather at Stonehenge to witness the Sunrise. As it is the longest day of the year, it is often seen as a representation of our most illumined time; A time when we are closest to the Light.
Since we already are close to the Light, we can use the Summer Solstice as an affirmation and a time to reflect and re-establish our intention to continue to move toward the Light.
What does it mean that we are already always in communion with God? Not that the everyday world is an illusion. The illusion is simply that we appear separate. The underlying reality is that all of life is One. The ideal of the vedas, upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita is to live in the world in full awareness of this Unity. Giving, receiving, enjoying, participating in other's joys and sorrows, but always aware that the world comes from God and returns to God. This life we have is everlasting in that our true Self is never born and never dies and is eternally in communion with God, Lord of Love, the Light, the Om.
"Hear O' children of immortal bliss! You are born to be united with the Lord. Follow the path of the illumined ones and be united with the Lord of Life."
Kyphosis is the spinal curve that is associated with your upper back. It can manifest in
other areas of the spine, but the most common form is a "rounded upper back." The
normal curve of the thoracic spine, called the primary curve, is rounded forward 20-45
degrees, however, when your back rounds more than 45 degrees (>2.5 cm forward shift),
it becomes "hyper-kyphotic" and is abnormal.
Although kyphosis can be congenital (from birth), caused by osteochondritis
(Scheuermann's disease), due to poor nutrition (Vit D deficiency), or caused by trauma, the
most common is acquired postural kyphosis. Postural kyphosis is due to "slumping" or
"slouching" which unnaturally rounds the upper back. Overtime, your spine and
surrounding structures become altered. The worst case of this that I have seen was a
middle-aged man who was an avid weight lifter and had tightened his chest and abdominal
muscles to the point of having a permanent "hunchback." I also worked with a woman with
osteoporotic spinal compression fractures that had a permanent hyperkyphosis. In some
severe instances surgery is indicated, but when compression fractures are present or your
spinal structure is permanently altered, kyphosis may be irreversible.
What I want to talk about is the postural hyperkyphosis that is reversible. Now, we have
probably all been told "you're slouching, sit up straight!" by someone with the best
intentions. That's not usually the most effective way of creating positive change and
kyphosis is more complicated than that. Besides just a bad habit, slouching creates
inherent muscle imbalances that promote and advance the problem. The most common
imbalance is tightness of the muscles on the front of your body and weakness of the
muscles on the back of your body. This is somewhat of an over-simplification. More
specifically, tight pectorals and abdominals with weak spinal erectors. Our breath is
shortened due to the downward collapse of the rib cage. And what complicates this further
is another classic manifestation: shoulders rounded forward and head protruded forward.
These associated problems are most commonly due to weak anterior neck core muscles
and tight posterior neck muscles, along with tight anterior shoulder muscles and weak
posterior shoulder muscles. So, you can see how this gets complicated and a simple "sit
up straight" will not do the trick.
Generally speaking, a practice of postural awareness, breath awareness, opening the front
of the body and strengthening the back of the body is indicated. You can do the
necessary exercises on your own with minimal props to alleviate the muscle imbalances
and restore natural postural alignment. Goodbye, kyphosis!
When I think of Spring cleaning, I think of sweeping out the old, getting rid of that which no longer serves me. Letting go of the past. Releasing old habits and patterns.
The ancient yogi's recognized that the root of our dysfunctional patterns (samskara) is the conditioned mind. So they developed the science of meditation to understand, transform and master the mind. According to the ancient yogi's, mastering the mind is the path to Self (God) realization, fulfillment and liberation (moksha). Yoga uses an integrated practice to establish a deeper state of awareness, through which we can surface and transform habit patterns and realize our highest potential.
We can use yoga postures (asana) for structural purposes like postural awareness and
physical healing, or to prepare for breathing practices (pranayama). We can use
pranayama to influence the autonomic nervous system and our physiology, or to prepare for meditation. We can use meditation for stress reduction, or to understand our minds, become aware of our unconscious patterns and transform them. This leads to actualizing our highest potential, finding joy and happiness in the present moment, finding peace, and a means of linking our heart to God, known as Self-realization.
How do we do this? Yoga gives us tools and teaches us a number of methods:
svadhyaya - "inner self-study" where we surface our dysfunctional patterns.
pratipaksa bhavanam - "go to another room" where we re-frame our perspective to our
highest potential, sankalpa - "set an intention" and make a commitment to doing the work required to transform ourselves.
Your transformation should be specific to your life experience, your patterns and what
works for you. Also, your transformation should be consistent and practiced in all
earnestness for a long period of time. Yoga Sutra I.14 sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya
satkarasevito drdhabhumih” Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness."
Gurudeva Paramahansa Yogananda referred to it as "the art of emerging from what you
are into what you are going to be in the future. Every time you give up a weakness and
feel happy in being good, Christ is resurrected anew." Divine Freedom is gained by many
little victories. Jai !
When we talk about Yoga Therapy, what are we really talking about?
We are talking about using the tools of yoga to treat the causes and symptoms of dis-
ease. There are many possible tools to use, so let's use shoulder pain as an example and break it down to make it accessible.
viyoga - decrease (or ideally, eliminate) the negative stress on your shoulder. This could
mean decreasing the amount you use your shoulder, the amount of weight you lift, and the range of motion that you use when you move your shoulder. This might include how you sleep on your shoulder (or not) and the cumulative stress that happens over several days. What about dietary considerations? Are you eating things that you are allergic to or that are creating inflammation? How is your sugar? Statistical evidence puts people with high blood sugar at risk for adhesive capsulitis. It might also include reducing mental/emotional stress, which has been shown to increase pain. It might mean looking at negative patterns of "shouldering too much" or "carrying burdens." The arms are extensions of the heart, so look at patterns involving giving and receiving, especially love. Release your expectations and embrace the reality of the situation with compassion. This list is not exhaustive, and remember the blog post from March 9th.
samyoga - apply positive stress to your shoulder. Move your shoulder only in the pain-free range of motion. Only lift things that do not increase your pain. Maintain healthy neck and shoulder posture. Gently warm-up and stretch tight structures and strengthen weak structures. This includes the right yoga breath-centric asana. What I mean is the right posture and movements will help to heal, but the wrong posture and movements could harm. This may include specific rotator cuff and/or other shoulder exercises. Change your diet to reflect healthy eating of whole foods and drink plenty of purified water. Surface negative thought patterns using svadhyaya or other yoga methods and transform these patterns into positive thoughts, which lead to positive behaviors. Connect with your heart around giving and receiving love to create positive emotions. Use meditation to manage stress and prayer to give you hope for healing. There are many other tools like pranayama, mantra, mudra, marma cikitsa and ayurveda, etc. Ultimately, yoga is about accepting our soul journey with compassion and aligning our heart and mind with our true spiritual nature.
In this special Sunday edition of the Healing Arts Blog, I want to address an important
aspect of Life, Death.
Early this morning, my dad passed. He finally succumbed to throat cancer after being
diagnosed a year ago. He died peacefully without suffering in a hospice care facility in
Bloomington, Indiana. He was 90 and lived a full life. Even though his death was coming
(as it is for us all), the finality of it does carry a poignancy. I will never see him again, or
hear him again, or feel him again, except in my memories. A couple of days ago, I felt him
in my heart and I knew he was about to go. We have these soul connections on Earth and
are aware of each other. So, I let go and let God.
So, what about death.
In classic yoga, one of the most important reasons to practice is to prepare for our moment
of death. Prepare ourselves for the inevitable passing of our soul into a new dimension.
How do we prepare ourselves? By living as a constant offering to our Higher Power. By
being in constant awareness of God's presence in our lives. By living our lives as souls
destined to be with God and realizing that we are already always with God. All we have to
do is awake to this truth...this universal reality. That is what Yogananda meant when he
said "When you work for God, then you know that you are not surrounded by death but by
the immortal breath of God. When you look at the limited surroundings of the material
world and relate yourself to the world and its limitations, you forget your Infinite Nature and
you think that you are also limited." But when you live in communion with God, and love
God with all your heart and mind, soul and strength. When you love one another as
brothers and sisters. When you surrender to God's omnipresence, omniscience, and
omnipotence, then you will find your true life and not fear death. Amen.
What does happiness have to do with health? Well, a vast amount of scientific literature
has detailed how negative emotions harm the body. Serious, sustained stress or fear can
alter biological systems in a way that, over time, adds up to “wear and tear” and,
eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and
anxiety can disrupt cardiac function by changing the heart’s electrical stability, hastening
atherosclerosis, and increasing systemic inflammation.
In a 2007 study that followed more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 for 20 years,
for example, researchers found that emotional vitality—a sense of enthusiasm, of
hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional
balance—appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The protective effect was
distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not
smoking and regular exercise.
Research suggests that certain personal attributes, whether inherent or learned, can help
people avoid disease or manage disease better. Here are the qualities of a happy, healthy
1. Emotional Vitality - a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness and engagement in life.
2. Optimism - the perspective that good things will happen and that one's actions account
for the good things that occur in life.
3. Supportive networks of family and friends.
4. Being good at "self-regulation" that is choosing healthy behaviors and avoiding
unhealthy behaviors. Also, bouncing back from life's stressful challenges and knowing that
things will eventually be better.
So, don't let the world, life and your dis-ease get you down. Undo the patterns of negative
thinking and create health through life-affirming positivity.
The management of pain is a hot topic. According to the US Department of Health and
Human Services, opioid use and abuse is at an all-time high. (no pun intended) Our nation
is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. More people died from drug
overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record, and the majority of drug overdose deaths
(more than six out of ten) involved an opioid. (CDC, 2015) Since 1999, the rate of
overdose deaths involving opioids—including prescription opioid pain relievers and
heroin—nearly quadrupled, and over 165,000 people have died from prescription opioid
overdoses. (CDC, Vital Signs;60(43);1487-1492) On an average day in the US, more than
650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed, 3900 people initiate nonmedical use of
prescription opioids, 580 people initiate heroin use, and 78 people die of an opioid-related
overdose. (IMS health national prescription audit; SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use
and Health; CDC National Vital Statistics System) The economic impact of this opioid
epidemic is estimated at $55 billion annually in health and social costs related to
prescription opioid abuse and $20 billion in emergency department and inpatient care for
opioid poisonings. (Pain Med. 2011, Pain Med. 2013)
I would say we have a pain management problem, wouldn't you?.
What we need is a Pain Management Revolution!
Using opioids as a "silver bullet" for pain management is a big part of the problem.
Although opioids do reduce pain, we have to understand that we are just treating a
symptom and not healing the root cause. When it comes to finding the cause for pain, we
are at a loss. Recent research has shed some light on the complex nature of pain.
In the past, pain has been described as "a sensory experience associated with actual
tissue damage." The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as "a
sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage." The
national pain society has found that individual pain responses to the same pain stimuli vary
from person to person. And the same person can have different experiences of pain under
different circumstances. Pain stimuli that are perceived to be more threatening will be
perceived as more painful. Also, we know that fear and expectation of pain increases our
perception of the intensity of pain. Our pain experience is defined, not just by nociceptive
input (pain receptor stimulation), but by a complex integration of neurologic conditioning,
social context, individual beliefs, and emotions.
When a tattoo artist was asked: "What is the most painful location for a tattoo?"
Their response: "What matters more than the location is the reason for the tattoo. If there
is a lot of sadness, then there is more pain. If the tattoo is a celebration, then pain is hardly
So you can see that nociception and pain experience are not the same. On its way to the
brain, a nociceptive signal is modulated by context, cognitive set and mood thereby
influencing our overall pain experience. Likewise, pain and suffering are not the same.
We will have painful experiences in life, but how we relate to and respond to those
experiences varies. So how can we consciously and purposefully modulate our
experience of pain and suffering? If we alter the things that affect our pain experience, we
can change our pain from the inside out.
One change to make is changing our fear of pain. Remember, our fear, anticipation and
expectation of pain makes it worse. Personally, I want to feel my pain because it is
information about what is happening with my body and mind. I don't want to numb out,
because I want the information provided by the pain... Where is the pain? How bad is the
pain? What is the quality of the pain (sharp, dull, burning, electrical). These things provide
me with valuable information.
Another change is to let go of our excessive attachment to things, people and mental
constructs. If we are attached to them, we will suffer when we lose them. By letting go of
attachments, we find a sense of freedom from the pain of loss when those things are
gone. The reality is that all these things ultimately will be gone.
Unreasonable aversion, or pushing things away, equally binds us to them. If we are
constantly trying to get rid of our pain, we are so focused on that, it consumes our life. If
we can accept our pain, at least to a certain extent, we can relax a little. As we relax, the
parasympathetic system (relaxation response) will give us a sense of ease and decrease
our pain experience.
Ultimately, chronic pain can become a disease in itself, especially if we begin to identify
ourselves with our condition. When the pain becomes who we are, it is overwhelming to
escape it without giving up part of our identity. Some of my patients come in with their
diagnosis deeply rooted into their identity. Who am I to tell them that they are not their dis-
ease. The truth is we are pure awareness having an experience through this body and
mind. If we can connect to our true nature, we can have our experience without seeing it
as who we are. This is what yoga teaches us and the practice of yoga holds the keys to
Namaste (the pure awareness in me honors the pure awareness in you)
Good question. I'm glad I asked it.
Just like with neck pain, shoulder pain can be caused by many things in the shoulder (we'll
get to that in a future blog), but sometimes it's not a shoulder problem at all. It could be a
referred pain from your neck. "But it doesn't hurt in my neck," you say.
Well, the nerves exiting your cervical spine travel past the intervertebral disc, through the
intervertebral foramen (a canal in between the vertebrae), through the posterior triangle of
your neck (between the anterior and middle scalene muscles), over your first rib, under
your clavicle (collar bone), under your pectoralis minor muscle, through your arm pit and
down your arm. (over the hill and through the woods) At any point along their narrow
journey, these nerves can be pinched and cause symptoms, not in your neck, but
somewhere down the line like your shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand and/or
fingers. These symptoms can be pain (sharp, dull, achy, burning, etc.), hot, cold, tingling
and/or numbness. A pinched nerve can also cause muscle spasms and/or weakness in
the muscles that it innervates.
So, how do you know if your shoulder symptoms are from your shoulder or your neck? (or
a combination of both, Oh my!)
Try gently moving your neck in different directions to see if there is a change in your
shoulder sensations. If you don't move your shoulder at all, and you just move your neck,
and your shoulder symptoms change, then you best suspect that your neck is involved.
In my experience with my own shoulder, I learned some valuable lessons.
I tore my rotator cuff a few years back. I was doing "dips" in the gym with weights strapped
to my body (don't judge) and mid-dip, I heard a tearing sound and felt a sharp pain in my
right shoulder. "uh-oh," says me. It was bad. I lost strength, range of motion and of
course, function. I did what we know to do for an acute injury...Rest, Ice, Compression,
Elevation, Splinting. Then after 4 days, I started the long rehabilitation process.
Fast forward 3 months of rehab with me still suffering from pain, limited range of motion
and weakness in my right shoulder. One day, I was stretching my neck and felt a pain in
my right shoulder. My deduction: part of my shoulder problem was the result of a pinched
nerve in my neck. (maybe my shoulder was even more vulnerable to injury!) Once I got
the pinched nerve in my neck resolved, I was able to accelerate my shoulder rehab and
within 1 month, my shoulder was pain-free, near normal strength, range of motion and
function. Granted if my rotator cuff muscle was completely torn, no amount of rehab would
have fixed it. But in my case, it was only partially torn and it healed!
Bottom line: Even an obvious shoulder injury could be caused or exacerbated by a
pinched nerve in your neck. And it won't fully heal until it gets full nerve energy.
Do you have a pain in the neck? Is it someone close to you? Just joking. Not really. Yes, I
Neck pain can be caused by many things. Here's the short list:
Muscle tension / spasm
Tendonitis (inflammation of the muscle tendons)
Ligament sprain (from an injury or chronic repetitive stress)
Facet joint irritation / arthritis (joint inflammation)
Intervertebral disc irritation / degenerative discs (from an injury or chronic repetitive stress)
Nerve irritation / inflammation (neuritis)
Or any combination of the above!
So, you can see that even in the "physical realm" it may be a challenge to figure out what
is causing your neck pain. Add mental/emotional distress, inability to get comfortable
sleep, etc. and you really start to get the picture of why it is so hard to manage neck pain.
You've got to start somewhere.
With my patients, I start with correcting posture. The chronic "forward-head posture" is the most common stressor of the neck. The weight of your head (approx. 8 lbs.) must be kept over the center of gravity of your cervical spine or it puts stress on all the musculoskeletal structures. It's so easy to let the head drift forward while looking at the computer screen and don't even get me started about looking down at the cell phone. "Text neck" is the new epidemic of the technology era. I was really hoping that google glass would have taken off and be the new standard for hands-free, heads-up display. No, I didn't buy a pair.
When trying to achieve proper neck posture, there are challenges...
First, if your muscles are tight, they won't let you get into the right position. Second, if your cervical core and upper thoracic muscles are weak, you won't be able to hold the correct posture. So, back to Physical Therapy 101... stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak muscles. Then there is the body awareness issue - you will tend to default to your old posture when not paying attention (which is, unfortunately, often). Because I am constantly teaching people how to "sit up straight," I have to be a role model. You know, practice what I preach. Yes, I stretch everyday several times. Yes, I strengthen my cervical core and upper thoracic muscles every other day. Yes, I have my computer work station set up ergonomically. No, I don't look down at my cell phone. (although you could probably catch me on that one) Yes, I maintain a healthy cervical posture. I have incorporated these things in my "Yoga for a Healthy Neck" DVD. see on the website.
Until next time. "Sit up straight!" I ain't yo mama, just a concerned citizen.
Since last week I spoke of faith healing, this week is about spiritual healing. Is there really
a difference? Here is an a exerted quote from Paramahansa Yogananada:
"What is the power that really heals? Is it medicine? If so, why doesn't it heal everyone?
Medicine is not the source of healing. A certain amount of body preparation is necessary
for body healing. If you continually eat too many wrong foods, you will die sooner than you
should, even though you use medicine when disease overtakes you.
If you believe in a doctor, go to a doctor. If you believe in a mental healer, go to a mental
healer. But you must believe, above all, in God who gave them both the power to heal.
Nothing can operate without God's power. God's vibration is in the medicine.
When you work for God, when you realize through meditation the Power that is within you,
then you know that you are not surrounded by death but by the immortal breath of God.
When you look at the limited surroundings of the material world and relate yourself to the
world and its limitations, you forget your Infinite Nature and you think that you are also
limited. The saints and sages of India have shown that the Divine Power works in a
practical way providing you have really established communion with It. What is the way?
How shall you reach the unlimited power of God? How to tune your mental radio with the
Divine Harmony that destroys all disease and lets the cosmic vibration of God pass
"Find God! Vibrate energy in mind power and charge the body with that energy destroying
the demons of bacteria with the flaming energy of God. Bring God to you, not merely by
imagination but through the actual drawing on His vitality. Bring His energy into your body
by affirmations such as this:
"God is in my mind, I am healed."
"Spiritual ignorance is the root cause of all suffering...remember this: if you heal yourself of
soul ignorance, you will have healed body, mind and spirit. Knowing the laws of truth, you
have it within your power to obliterate diseases and make yourself what you want to be."
What else can I say. In these few words, Yogananda gives us the universal truth of all
healing. His teachings also give us the practical template of wellness through the physical,
mental and spiritual practice of yoga. I highly recommend his lessons.
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