Assisting Recovery in Eating Disorders— Developmental Movement Patterns

I teach Embodyoga@ as part of a program for the treatment of eating disorders. While Eating Disorders vary in their particulars they are all serious disturbances in the way we nourish ourselves. Eating disorders are coping mechanisms developed to control emotion, sensation and feeling and they have many adverse physical, psychological and social consequences. Eating disorders are complex sets of behaviors which often include co-morbidities such as anxiety, depression, trauma history, and body dysmorphic disorder. But at the root of all eating disorders is a dissociation from the body, a fundamental disconnect from our body-mind systems. The inability to nourish oneself is an inability to survive, a denial of the responsibility given to each of us with the great gift of the breath of life. Characteristics of dissociation include ignoring physiological signals from the body for hunger or satiation, or awareness of amounts of food that have been eaten.  Often present is a distorted perception of body image, body dysmorphic disorder, which can involve an obsession with “thinness”. irrational fear of weight gain, extreme efforts to manage weight or food intake, fixations on perceived physical flaws and a preoccupation with the unobtainable idealized bodies presented in the media.

These intense obsessions consume the lives of those suffering with eating disorders. Over time malnutrition contributes to impaired brain and organ function which can in turn affect perceptions. Over time the control required to maintain these behaviors causes not only isolation and disruption of relationships with family and community, but a fragmentation of the relationship to the Self.  Ultimately it is through our body that the universe has chosen to express itself. It is only through the body and mind working in integrated companionship that we can connect with our individual selves—and universal Self—and learn to understand our lives and our essential place in the world.

During the yoga group sessions I teach at the Behavioral Care facility I always lead clients through Developmental Movement Patterns that I have learned in my Embodyoga® Training Programs. These patterns are based primarily on the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen of the School for Body-Mind-Centering®. Over the past five years I’ve seen first hand how these simple yet profound movements can ease the way toward the difficult yet essential journey of bringing the body into the treatment equation.

These Developmental Movement Patterns are the basic progression of movements we follow as we learn and grow in the first year of life. Each phase of development forms a neurological and neuro-cellular organizational template that supports how we function in the world.  The patterns layer one upon the other. As one pattern is incorporated into the body-mind, it provides the support for the next pattern of organization to develop. The circumstance of missing one or more of these neuro-cellular patterns in our personal development may limit our choices in regard to our personal patterns of behavior, thought, and movement. It is not until we actually DO a pattern and embody it that we can awaken these layers of intelligence, perception, and connectivity that are waiting to be freed.

Even if we have missed the developmental benefits of one or move of these essential templates of integration, it is entirely possible to go back as an adult and re-incorporate these patterns and essentially re-educate these neuro-cellular pathways. Following these patterns in a yoga practice may increase the potential for the re-connection of body-to-brain communication, allowing the unobstructed flow of life force which in turn increases the potential for health and whole body integration. What we have found, is that going back, tracing and establishing these neurological and neuro-cellular connections, helps so many of us to optimize our integration and to become more comfortable in our own skins.

Behavioral  additions are similar to substance additions in that the search for comfort is directed toward an external source. Eating disorder behaviors are an effort to bring the uncomfortable sensations of emotion and thoughts under control. Extremes of binging, binging and purging, or denying food, and obsessions with weighing, measuring, mirror checking  or excessive exercise are ways to distract oneself from the awareness of one’s life situations. Eating disorders reflect a strategic abandonment of the body and the Self. The body is perceived as something “other” than our Self and often an “object” of terror and confusion.

The profound importance of  Embodyoga® is that we learn that comfort (ananda) is actually and always found within the body.  Through these Developmental Movement Patterns a baseline for processing our world is established. Perceptual and motor processes are toned and our relationship to the world around us is put into perspective. The mind and the body learn, through movement and breath (prana), to work in active relationship and discernment. Inhabiting the body in this way allows us to process sensory information in useful ways supported by the inner movement of intelligence and prana. 

download-6Spinal Movement PatternThis is the earliest pattern.With spinal movements we discover the vertical axis of our bodies and also learn to differentiate front body from back body. These movements are Spinal Flexion (forward arc of the spine), Extension (backward arc), Lateral Flexion (side bend) and Rotation (twist). Examples of these early movements might be an infant curling into her mother to nurse, or a baby turning his head. In  yoga asana we can explore the patterns of Spinal Flexion & Extension in Cat & Cow stretches. The key to the effectiveness of these movements is finding the breath, finding the support of the navel center, elongating through head and reaching the tail as you go. Simple Side Bends and Twists in Tadasana will take us through Lateral Flexion and Rotation. Support for these movements is from the navel center but also from the fortifying comfort of each and every cell.  As I continue to explore all of these movement patterns with my clients I am working toward the primacy of full body, full cellular integration.

In these early movement templates, we are approaching autonomic nervous system. In yoga we learn that flexion postures stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and relate to the exhaling phase of the breath. Extension postures and the inhaling phase of the breath stimulate the sympathetic nervous system.In yoga practice we integrate breath and movement seamlessly. The coordination of movement with the breath serves to create an increased state of balance in body and mind. When we practice these same movements in Embodyoga® we also include what we call The Fluid Patterns. The fluid patterns are layers of movement within, from the cellular respiration to the largest musculoskeletal movement. What we find is that by introducing the body’s inherent fluidity—as a conscious reality—into simple movements we enhance their effectiveness. These simple movements offer profound organization for sensing and feeling the integration of body and mind Those who may feel dissociated from their bodies can find a doorway back in, to increasing comfort, ease, and maybe even self acceptance.

In my experience a critical component is releasing effort, and then the breath—the prana—will find its way.  A reliance on extreme controlling behaviors is a hallmark of eating disorders. So learning to notice the wisdom of the body is a necessary component for a radical appreciation of the BODY AS IT IS. The client can learn that we don’t have to control the breath because we are, in fact, breathing. With only awareness as our guide we can allow more breath into the body and soften into the flow of prana as it seeps into and between each cell. While in a forward bend a student can choose to experience the sensation of a muscle stretching or contracting. Or while standing in Tadasana one can learn to appreciate the constant negotiation and communication between our skeletal system and our muscles in their combined effort to keep us upright. Each time a client notices a simple sensation he or she is learning that we can trust the body. Through repetition of patterns one learns that the feeling or sensation has a beginning, middle and end so there is no need to control or suppress it.  The sensation will pass. Each positive reinforcement allows more trust of the body as it is and as the means of comfort and support we need to live our lives.

Homologous Movement Pattern images-2The Homologous Pattern is when we initiate movement with both arms or both legs together, or differentiate the upper and lower parts of the body. For example an infant discovers the the world around her by pushing up on her forearms. In a yoga practice simultaneously inhaling both arms overhead is a great way to organize around this pattern. A simple low Cobra Pose or  Utkatasana also brings this pattern strongly and effectively into play.  The key aspects are to coordinate with the breath, move upper limbs and lower limbs at the same time, organize around center support, yield into earth, reach the tail, and feel how all cells are working together.  With each pattern we are building on previous patterns, so spinal supports will apply here as well. With homologous movement we work with the idea of coming into relationship with the world around us and discovering our unique and essential place in that world.

download-2Homolateral Movement Pattern Homolateral movement is when the arm  and leg on the same side of the body are flexing or extending together. An effective way to explore this pattern is to start in Constructive Rest Pose (on the back, knees bent, feet to the floor, arms next to the body). Inhale and reach the right arm and the right leg out along the floor and exhale them back to their starting position. Repeat on the left side and continue for several rounds. This is an important pattern for re-establishing communication from body to brain. In the Homolateral Pattern the direction of communication is from right body to right brain, and left body to left brain. So often we think that our brain signals the body to move. And of course that can be true. But the opposite is also true. The body has its own intelligence and is perfectly capable of using it to initiate movement. This pattern turns the brain centered model upside-down. This “bottom up” therapeutic model is particularly useful in opening channels of communication from body to brain for signals like hunger, satiation, thirst etc.  It has been my experience that this pattern has a calming effect and can help an anxious or restless client settle into a quieter state.  Each Movement Pattern can be practiced in any relationship to gravity and each has its merits..

images-3Contralateral Movement Pattern Contralateral movement emphasizes the diagonal reach of the body as we extend or flex opposite limbs (left arm-right leg) simultaneously. A baby moves contra-laterally as he scoots along the floor and reaches for a favorite toy. This is the most complex pattern and the one found in many yoga postures. Movement crosses the midline of the body and the brain integrates. In  other words the right brain communicates with the left body, the left brain communicates with right body and the two halves of the brain engage simultaneously. Explore this pattern from hands and knees as you inhale and extend the right arm and left leg out from center and exhale them back to the floor. Repeat with left arm and right leg.  The Contralateral Movement Pattern supports complex ideas and gets us ready to explore the world, to stand and walk and process complicated thoughts and behaviors. During the exploration of each Development Movement Pattern we notice changes in the breath. It is also useful to notice and feel the ease or relative difficulty of each pattern for you and keep at it until it is an embodied pathway.

Practicing  Developmental Movement organizational templates as we use them in Embodyoga®, may assist those who have had a disruption in their developmental movement patterns.  As adults we can find hinderances to our ability to nourish, nurture and thrive. We get stuck in behaviors and patterns of thought that are not useful or healthy. Eating disorders are never a food problem. They are problems of awareness, serious disturbances in our perception of Self. By exploring these patterns in a yoga practice we can begin to find the wisdom of each cell and the deep comfort inherent in the body.  Through integration of these neuro-cellular pathways we learn to come into healthy relationship with the  intelligence of the body-mind system as we explore the possibilities of a meaningful relationship with the world and community around us. And most importantly one may come to value, as I do, the body-mind-spirit  as the complex miracle of manifestation of the conscious intelligence of the universe.

To know more about Katherine Tancredi, Senior Embodyoga® Teacher, E-RYT 500, visit her web site.

A New Look at Alignment in Yoga

Recently, the yoga community at large has taken up a more critical look at what the concept of alignment actually means in the context of yoga asana. This is a great conversation to have. So many of us have been practicing and teaching for decades now and are confronted daily by the ways that popular rules of alignment contradict one another and are often causing more problems than they solve.

Many of the problems we see in joints, muscles, and ligaments derive from our own mistaken assuredness that we have the answers for how we (and our students) should move. Most of our instructions have been based on the musculoskeletal system. We have precise rules, many contradicting one another, and still we have a lot of injuries, and witness a lot of wear and tear on joints of the longest time practitioners. Perhaps we have accepted a false premise. Let’s look at the term and its connotations:

align |əˈlīn| verb1 [with object]

  • place or arrange (things) in a straight line
  • put (things) into correct or appropriate relative positions
  • [no object] lie in a straight line, or in correct relative positions

alignment |əˈlīnmənt| noun1

  • arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative position
  • the act of aligning parts of a machine:oil changes, lube jobs, and wheel alignments.

 

Alignment as We Know It Doesn’t Work

How we think about things matters. The term alignment itself conjures up straight lines, correct angles, mechanical movement, and positional concerns. Both align and alignment clearly connote these qualities. Even if you know better, you will be affected by your ingrained understanding of the words. The idea of “straight lines”, “align [with object]”, and even “appropriate relative position”, miss the mark for considering what is healthy human support for movement.

Alignment, as we have been using the term so far, connotes a mechanistic approach to movement. Perhaps, we have mistakenly taken alignment in yoga to mean, we must dissect, separate, and arrange our bodies into appropriate positions, part to part, something like stacking blocks. Take the popular instruction to, “Stack your bones”, in tadasana. We have perceived our joints, for example, to be something like mechanical parts that receive forces of movement, and then, from their own discreet place on the body, transfer the movement through the bone and along to the next joint. I think this is basically an erroneous way to look at the movement of force – weight and prana flow – in the body.

Of course, areas of the body that are so susceptible to compression and injury should not be taking the primary burden of movement force. Our joints actually need a much bigger and more inclusive paradigm of support than simply the muscles and bones. We need a support system that takes the forces out of them—rather than asking them to do the job themselves. The forces need to flow more wholistically, around and through the joints, rather than asking them to absorb the forces themselves and transmit them along, through the next bone, and to the next joint, etc.

What do we mean by “alignment” and how does it apply to yoga? We are clearly still at the very beginnings of understanding what “alignment” means in the full yogic perspective. It is time to question the model of our thinking. Can we even come into alignment in a yoga posture through a set of musculoskeletal actions? Is alignment a set place into which we arrive? Is alignment in vinyasa a series of places through which we move? Maybe we even need a new word. Maybe the word is something more like “Integration”.

Thinking about the alignment of bones and joints is not in itself necessarily a problem. And there is still a lot to learn from new research into movement dynamics. But when we believe something about alignment—think that we know it—we are in danger of overriding our most powerful supports, supports that come from the underlying healthy movement of life force. In thinking we know better in some way, we often will apply a certain “alignment principle” that actually impedes the natural flow of underlying integration and stability. It is all too common to obstruct prana flow—or the flow of force, both subtle and obvious— when we try to manipulate the movement of our limbs from the musculoskeletal perspective.

We Need to Go Deeper

As we look into our assumptions about alignment, we may begin to notice the highly mechanistic view that our current ideas have arisen from—like Newtonian physics. Newton’s insights have been, and continue to be, so critical to our growth and evolution. The larger, more superficial structure and behavior of things, that Newton described is still true. Now, thanks to the platform and the work of those who have come before, our understanding is increasing all the time. We are learning more and more about the subtle and microscopic layers of life that are full of potential and possibilities. We now know that at its source everything is energy and we, like everything else in the universe, are energetic beings.

 For some of us, going deeper, and looking for a kind of support that is not as solid and dense as what we have been taught to rely on, does require an adjustment in thinking. But there are body tissues that can be explored and embodied in our yoga practice that are softer and more resilient than bones and joints, and actually may be better at handling the flows of force that are created by our movements. For a primary example, look into how the biotensegritous nature of fascia supports movement in our bodies. Embodied-Bio-Tensegrity, Fascia and Yoga

Another thing we can do is begin to explore how our bodies (and our movements) do not function as a series of discreet parts. Our body functions and supports itself as a well-organized whole. It can be useful to release some of our conscious and unconscious desire to control our body’s movement as if it’s movement was based on mechanistic concepts, with individual parts functioning independently. More wholistic thinking and feeling can be very helpful.

Prana and Integrated Movement

Prana animates your very being. Prana directs all of the inner functioning of body and mind. It moves within you and it also moves you through space. Learning to feel the natural flow of prana in one’s body is actually available to everyone. It is a very clear and precise study that we can all do. You may say, “Well, prana is subtle and I don’t know if I can feel prana”. But you can feel prana. In fact, you are feeling it all the time, you just may not have paid enough attention to it yet. All you need to do is learn how, just like you learn everything else that you do in yoga, with persistence, patience, and love of the process.

We can move without stressing and straining our joints. The new paradigm of alignment needs to be looking at integrated movement in the body. Movement that is fully relational within, and also in relationship to the environment. No line of force should ever shear across a joint in yoga asana. Forces need to be distributed through all of the body tissues, not just bones and muscles. We need to begin to look much more carefully at the depth of the fascial weave that we are, and understand how to allow the fascial matrix to transfer forces multi-directionally, and with resilience, at all times.

We need to yield into the earth and push away. We need to learn to reach and pull. These simple human developmental movements create the conditions for life force to flow—without interruption or blockage in the joints or anywhere else. These simple actions will appropriately keep us from exceeding our range of motion and stressing joints because it is the “mind of the posture” that shapes the pose, not an idea of shape that is at worst harmful, and at best minimally helpful.

Obviously, one needs to let go of the concerns about obtaining a “perfect” posture, or even the “shape” of a modified posture. Not all problems in any posture can be solved positionally. You can’t ultimately solve problems of energy flow by lessening or altering the angles in the joints. No positional action will inherently bring in the healthy flow of prana that is necessary to experience integration in body and mind. Ultimately, yoga asana is not a positional study. Going too far into the search for the right position of the body in asana is a case of barking up the wrong tree. We need to moving much more from the inside out without chasing an idea of outer form.

To learn more about how to find this kind of support in yoga asana please read:

Embodied-Bio-Tensegrity, Fascia and Yoga

Shoulder Stability and Integration in Yoga Through the Embryological Spirals…It’s Prana

Rethinking Healthy Hips in Yoga

 

 

A Life of Inquiry | Yoga and the Kleshas | Journey to Clarity and Freedom

ganeshhand-carved-stone

Ganesha—the Great Remover of Obstacles

The kleshas are the tendencies of individual consciousness, that when left unchecked, form serious obstacles to our evolving awareness. In his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali has encapsulated the basic patterns of mind that cause the most trouble for us in our embodied existence. The Yoga Sutra is very clear that all of these issues arise from the primary problem of lack of correct knowledge, lack of spiritual understanding of who and what we actually are. The Yoga Sutra is crystal clear that our main problem is, “Mistaking the Seer for the seen”. In this context, the Seer is the permanent and unchanging field of Awareness, and the seen is everything that exists in the field of form. Awareness and form are bound together to form all that exists in nature. This includes the personal ego, and all aspects of mind and body.  We make a big mistake when we allow our individual ego-mind to take on the role of the ultimate perceiver.

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Rethinking Healthy Hips in Yoga

This article is specifically directed toward those of us who practice – and especially teach – yoga asana. So much is written about how to “open the hips”. Is that really what we want to be doing? The balance of stability and mobility is different for every person, and since “support” needs to precede any kind of action or opening, perhaps we need to be looking at integrity in the hip joints. Using a paradigm that is based not on increasing flexibility, but instead on increasing ease and comfort, needs to be looked at more carefully by all of us in the yoga community. What is flexibility anyway? What is tightness, for that matter?

This post is not an essay, but notes that I have prepared for a workshop I am teaching on the hip joints. I hope they might be interesting or even helpful for you. I do not include specific asana techniques in this post, but rather the philosophy of how we might move differently move. Being old school, I still think that asana should be taught in person…

Anatomy of the Hip Joints

1-hipanatomy

  • Acetabulum
  • Head of the femur
  • Articular cartilage
  • Labrum
  • Synovial membranes
  • Synovial fluid
  • Joint capsule
  • Ligaments

Stability and Range of Motion—Support Precedes Action

The direction movements of the hip joints are usually very specifically delineated. They are: flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, internal rotation, and external rotation. But rarely, in life are any of those individual movements made without at least traces of some of the others. The hip is a ball and socket joint with the possibility of a great range of motion. Movement doesn’t actually ascribe to the linear think of our anatomical analysis. Really, the joint moves pretty much any direction it wants, within its specific range of motion, which is highly variable from individual to individual. Most healthy motion in the joint needs to involve both bones – the ball and the socket – so that they are working in harmony to create the desired movement expression. As with any other movement, support needs to precede action at the joint. Support is a process that involves both bones working together to give the joint the stability that it needs to move with health.

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God’s Body

“I am the path and the goal, the upholder, the master, the witness, the abode and the refuge, the loving friend, the origin, the foundation and the dissolution, the resting place and the imperishable seed of all…I am immortality and also death, and the existent and the non-existent am I, O Arjuna.”  Bhagavad Gita 9.18

Embodyoga offers us a unique opportunity to experience God in our bodies.  Much has been said about the body/mind split, and much healing has happened in recent years as we awaken to the reality that body and mind are one whole, integrated through and through.  We know that health and healing require the re-integration and re-partnering of body and mind, rather than viewing them as individual systems to be “worked on” individually and separately.

But we also have historically created and experienced a false split between matter and God. Not just science, which in its modern dogma of fundamental materialism often denies God altogether, but religions and spiritual traditions throughout history have put God up, up, and away, out in the cosmos somewhere far away from us.  Even many yoga traditions have spoken of God as an abstraction, an idea, a story, a myth, and union with God something that happens by transcending and escaping this world through meditation or other methods.

God is not far away.  God is intimately near.  Every atom, every molecule, every living cell on Earth is made of God.  God is the Oneness that gives birth to life, and life lives in everything, even material that we often speak of as ‘dead’.  Even in dead matter, protons and electrons are swirling, life and mind are involuted but dancing, sleeping but waiting to awaken.  And this life is God’s breath, God’s life, God’s being.  This mind is the mind of God.

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Embodiment and Yoga

“Embodiment is the awareness of the cells themselves. It is a direct experience. There are not intermediary steps or translations. There is no guide. There is no witness. There is the fully known consciousness of the experienced moment initiated from the cells themselves…The source of this process is love.”
-Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

Embodiment is the fulfillment of yoga – union. The clear line of division between subject and object blurs, and we experience both as made up of the same essential stuff. In the yoga tradition this stuff is called Satchitananda. Sat = being, truth, infinite and eternal existence. Chit = consciousness that is force, what it wills becomes, infinite and eternal all-embracing awareness. Ananda = delight of being, absolute and unobstructed comfort, infinite and eternal fulfillment. These three are One in their wholeness and undivided, indivisible. They are three aspects, faces, qualities of the One that is All. Being, Will, Experience. This is the universe’s fundamental fabric.

Yoga is a state as well as a process. When we “practice” yoga, we actively and intentionally engage in the process of moving toward the state of yoga. By practicing yoga, we align ourselves with the yoga of Nature, the Earth’s yoga. Our embodiment is the Earth’s embodiment, and through us Her innate intelligence is set free to play and learn and transform the stuff of Her body. She touches Herself through our hands and loves Herself through our hearts and knows Herself through our minds. And when we directly experience the underlying unity of all that is, when we touch Satchitananda and are plunged beyond ideas into an integral and unarguable knowing of our inner being with all that is, was, and ever will be, the Earth too awakens and knows and loves and touches the fabric that manifests as Universe.

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Embodied-Bio-Tensegrity, Fascia and Yoga

The Fluid Body

“At the beginning of our life cycle, we are conceived in fluid, developed in amniotic fluid and born in fluid; our bodies are more than 70-percent fluid. New scientific discoveries demonstrate that the fascial system is a combination of a powerful fibrous web surrounded by a ground substance that is a fluid/gelatinous medium, and which is the internal and external environment of every cell in the body. Recent research shows there is a micro-fascial system (a tensegrity structure) within every cell. Inside the cytoskeleton of the cell lay microtubules of fascia that have a hollow core, which fluid flows through. Energy, information and consciousness flow within that fluid. Consciousness flows through every cell of our bodies. The fluid within and around every cell performs the important function of being the transport medium of oxygen, nutrients, chemicals, hormones, toxins, energy and information throughout our entire being, almost instantaneously.”
John F. Barnes, P.T., L.M.T.—Massage Magazine April 5, 2011

Tensegrity
“Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.” Wikipedia

tensegrity-in-sand-cerbrovortex.com

Tensegrity is a term coined by Buckminster Fuller. The word is a contraction of two terms: tension and integrity. It describes a structural relationship principle that Fuller defined as stabilizing the shape of structures by continuous tension or “tensional integrity”, rather than by continuous compression, such as is used in a stone arch or a skyscraper. A tensegrity structure is composed of firm rods that do not touch one another, but are suspended and made strong by the simultaneous action of a network of balanced compression and tensile parts.

Kenneth Snelson Free Ride Home tensegrity 1974

Buckminster Fuller was inspired in his work by the innovative sculpture of Kenneth Snelson in which we can see how otherwise heavy metal struts are upheld with a sense of levity and ease when the tensegrity principles are applied.

While most buildings utilize simple compression in alignment with gravity—block upon block and into the earth—to support their form, tensegrity structures are different. They are self-supporting, absorbing and distributing forces omnidirectionally throughout their shapes, giving them the ability to yield increasingly, without ultimately breaking or coming apart. They allow for what would otherwise be heavy limbs and reaching projections to be far away from the center without toppling the entire system.

Biotensegrity
It wasn’t until fairly recently—the last several decades—that scientist have observed that these very same principles of self-inclusive support underlie the integrity of all biological structures.

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