General

THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM

We have all had swollen glands when we were sick. Those glands are lymphatic nodes and when we are sick, they swell.  We may not have heard much about it, these nodes are part of the lymphatic system. It is important because it regulates our immune system by removing damaged cells and other waste from the body (and they swell when they are working hard to fight infection).  You can’t really see the lymphatic vessels, but they are found directly below your skin throughout your body.

The flow of the lymphatics can be impeded either by scar tissue or just fewer lymph nodes in the affected area just enough to cause a pooling of the lymphatic fluid, commonly in the hand and/or arm for breast cancer survivors, in the leg for prostate or cervical cancer survivors, and so on.

This condition is called lymphedema, and it can be primary, when one is born with the condition, or secondary, when one develops it.

According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer survivors have a 17-53% chance of developing lymphedema as a result of having some of their lymph nodes removed, or as a side effect of having radiation treatment. For some, who only had a lumpectomy, the resulting lymphedema can affect quality of life much more than the cancer ever did!

Recently, there have been some incredible medical reports that discuss major changes in the way we understand how this lymphatic system functions.  There have been new developments that now allow actual, real-time imaging of where and how the lymphatics flow that is causing quite a stir in the medical community. One article, from the University of Virginia* was titled: “They’ll Have to Rewrite the Textbooks” !!!  Here is an excerpt from this article:

“It’s a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching: researchers at the School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist. “I really did not believe there were structures in the body that we were not aware of. I thought the body was mapped,” said Jonathan Kipnis, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience and director of the University’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia.”

What they discovered is that there are lymphatic vessels in the brain! This is HUGE. The article continues by saying:

“But the true significance of the discovery lies in its ramifications for the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.“

So, what does all this have to do with yoga? Since we all have lymphatic systems, first of all we all need to keep the flow strong and healthy.  Also, the implication is that western medicine is admitting that they do not have all the answers to questions about the body.  To realize now that there are lymphatic vessels in the brain that can be affecting our behavior is an enormous change in direction from centuries of thinking.

I have been working with lymphedema patients for about 15 years and I also run a company, called Lymphedema Seminars, that holds educational seminars for those in the medical community working with lymphedema patients. These include physical and occupational therapists, oncology nurses, oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, etc.

For yoga teachers, most likely you will have survivors in your classes at some point. They could be at different stages, recently diagnosed or many years later, and you should be aware of the potential issues this might present. It is especially important to know the precautions for lymphedema, for those who already have it or are at risk for developing it.

I have 2 older blog posts that you might want to revisit.  On OCTOBER 1, 2013, I wrote “Yoga for Cancer Survivors” and then on DECEMBER 2, 2013, “Lymphatic Flow Yoga Series”.  You can find both of these posts on my website at www.yogawithshoosh.com under OLDER POSTS to find these dates.

screenshot-0816-blogMy “Lymphatic Flow Yoga Series” is also a YouTube Video that you can access directly from my website, or from this link:  http://bit.ly/1ncm6JZ.  This video has been used by thousands of lymphedema patients and therapists. The blog explains why the poses were chosen and are done in the speicific order, as well as how to do each pose.  The video only takes about 10 minutes and is done seated, so almost anyone can follow it. Check it out and pass the info about it along to other yoga teachers and any cancer survivors you might know.

In the next years, because of the newly discovered lymphatic vessels in the brain, we will be hearing more about the lymphatic system. Learning about how to keep it healthy and flowing is important and we, as yoga teachers, can be part of this new, exciting conversation.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

ATTITUDE

FIND JOY IN YOUR YOGA!

FIND JOY IN YOUR YOGA!

This is often the time of year when we review our previous months and look forward to the months ahead. I try to look back over the year and put my disappointments in perspective and to highlight the joys instead. As I was thinking about what I wanted to write in this blog, I decided that, at this stage of my life (mid-sixties), attitude is more important than I had realized in my earlier years. I think in the yoga community, this is a very important issue that should be addressed more often.

 

With millions of people now practicing yoga, there are thousands who are hyper-flexible, ex-dancers and gymnasts, superior athletes, and so on, whose bodies are not typical and who can perform the yoga movements beautifully. The poses seen in magazines seem to be getting more complicated, more challenging, and are certainly not for the typical, average body. The key word here is “perform”. For those who have been teaching for decades, and also just for many who already get this, I feel that yoga is something that by definition should not be competitive, or painful or depressing. It should be uplifting, energizing, and calming. I always teach my new students that yoga is simply a path to helping you feel better in your own body. Therefore, this means that what feels good and appropriate for you is really all that matters.

 

So, how does attitude figure into all this. Well, if you tend to be a competitive person, your habits will be difficult to change and you will probably bring that competitiveness onto your yoga mat. On the other hand, if you tend to be more fragile or meek, you might also bring that version of yourself with you to yoga class. Of course, as I’ve said already, the fact remains that some people are very strong or very flexible and that is evident in their ability to perform fantastic poses easily. But, that does not really have anything to do with yoga, in my mind. It is the PROCESS of learning about yourself that is the true yoga, and that path can be affected by your attitude. Sometimes I have found that those who struggle more with some poses seem to learn more, since they have to discover more about themselves to figure out how to move ahead or beyond their supposed limitations. Those who find the poses to be easy often don’t have the chance to learn more about themselves as a result. It is the process of learning that is yoga.

 

How does attitude manifest itself in yoga? The minute you step onto a yoga mat, or enter a yoga class, attitude is present. Therefore, recognizing this, and then looking inside to observe your attitude can be useful. Notice if you are uptight, are you tense, are you angry, are you depressed, are you envious of those who look better or perform more easily than you. OR, are you arrogant, overly confident, ready to show others how wonderful your movements are? Be honest. How do you approach each yoga class or session. Where is your head, your heart? Are you just happy to be on the yoga mat, happy to be doing something for yourself to make your life better, happy to be sharing yoga with others? So many things to notice…

 

I remember teaching a student who has gone on to become quite a famous yoga personality in his own right now. But, I felt at the time, he was always pushing so hard, trying to conquer a pose. I suggested that he needed to love his poses, to love his practice and to enjoy more instead of constantly trying to push so hard. I don’t mean that as a yoga student, you should not try to move forward, but what does that really mean? The art of being able to observe yourself, to notice when you are adding too much ego to your practice, to accept when your body is telling you to slow down, even though your mind is wishing you could do more, is your yoga. I remember once being told that Mr. Iyengar said yoga teaches you the meaning of infinity. In other words, you will NEVER really conquer a pose, or reach the end of a pose. There is always more to learn. And, it absolutely does not matter how flexible, strong or beautiful you are to follow this path. ATTITUDE. Pay attention, make adjustments, and enjoy yourself. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

 

If you have any questions or comments, or want to preview a copy of my Yoga for Arthritis DVD, my Yoga for MS DVD, or my book, Yoga for Fibromyalgia: Move, Breathe and Relax to Improve Your Quality of Life, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com. These are all also available at Amazon.com.

RESTING LEGS

Tired legs can result from too much walking, standing or exercising, but also can come from too much sitting! So, basically, your legs get tired from almost everything you do all day! Fortunately, there is a simple and easy pose that can make your legs feel better.

Legs on Couch.BLOG.Viparita Karani, or Legs-Up-the-Wall pose, has wonderful benefits. The meaning is not literally “legs-up-the-wall”, but it really means “inverted action”, and just has been most commonly used as the name for this particular pose. In my teaching, I have adapted this pose for a more generalized population, by having the legs rest on the seat of a couch or chair, with the knees bent, instead of having the legs rising straight from the hips, going up a wall. The reason I alter the pose is that most people have a place at home where they can easily do this pose, and the straight legs on the wall can sometimes be uncomfortable for those who have very tight hamstrings, or hyper-extended knee joints, unless lots of straps, blocks and blankets are used. It is absolutely fine to use these props, but I find that the easier I make a pose, the more likely my students are to try it at home. Either way, the potential benefits are both restorative and relaxing. This simple pose can reduce stress, improve circulation in the lower body, reduce edema (swelling) in the legs, and can relieve lower back pain.

Legs-on-the-Couch pose, as I refer to it in my classes, is a pose everyone always loves to do. Luckily, in one of my classes, we use couches that we have moved to the perimeter of the room, but folding chairs work just as well. My students bring their mats and place them perpendicular to the couch. Then I have them sit on the floor, with one hip along the couch, and they swing their legs up, as they lie down, slowly. The goal is to have the backs of their thighs along the front of the couch, with their knees bent and the lower legs resting on the seat of the couch, with the sacral area on the floor. If that is not possible, either put a towel under the hips so they can fully settle and feel heavy, or move a few inches farther away from the couch. If a support is needed under the neck, I have them use a folded or rolled towel. Then, they relax with their arms by their sides and their legs gently flopping open. (see photo)

Once in this pose, we do basic breathing exercises, focusing on the ribcage expanding and contracting, pelvis being heavy, shoulder blades as flat at possible, and head relaxed. From this position, we also work on the Butterfly Pose (Badhakonasana) by bringing the knees out to each side with the bottoms of the feet coming together along the front of the couch, as low toward the groin as possible. This is a wonderful way to practice this pose since the back it stable and relaxed and you can really focus on opening the hips and inner thighs. We also do a series of other poses from this position that I will cover in a later blog.

So, find a spot in your home that you can comfortably use to put your feet up while lying on the floor, and RELAX!!! Try to stay in this pose for 5-20 minutes and see how great you feel!! Sometimes the easy poses are ignored and yet, can provide the most consistent benefits!

If you have any questions or comments, or want to preview a copy of my Yoga for Arthritis DVD, my Yoga for MS DVD, or my book, Yoga for Fibromyalgia: Move, Breathe and Relax to Improve Your Quality of Life, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com. These are all also available at Amazon.com.

YOGA YOGA EVERYWHERE

Have you noticed that there are now signs for yoga studios in almost any small strip mall, shopping center, gym, spa, etc.? Since I started practicing yoga more than 40 years ago, I still am constantly amazed at how its popularity has become so mainstream. When car advertisements on TV include yoga poses, this tells you how much it has become accepted in our culture!

SKU_P2DVDIn the late 1990s, I have a very vivid memory of sitting over tea with Tracey Rich, of the White Lotus Foundation, after she had previewed my Pathways to Better Living with Arthritis and Related Conditions video. I had partnered with the national Arthritis Foundation to make this video, and had needed the approval of many of their physical therapists and doctors to get their logo on the box. At that time, however, they would not let me use the word “yoga” anyplace in the video. Tracey and I were talking about how someday, wouldn’t it be wonderful, to be able to have “yoga” be accepted. I had decided that it was really just semantics, since the movements were yoga, and I really didn’t care if they needed to avoid that word, but yes, we dreamed of the day when we would be more widely appreciated. Whenever I was asked what I did for a living, the typical response when I said I “taught yoga”, was “what do you REALLY do”! I was not permitted by the Arthritis Foundation to actually change the video, but I have since made a “descriptive cover” which now describes this same video as Yoga for Arthritis and Related Conditions. This video has been consistently selling since 1997, since it is a solid series of poses to help improve range-of-motion and address many issues that those with arthritis face. It also was one of the first videos to offer relief for those with fibromyalgia or for anyone who just needs to practice while seated. I added a Spanish version to the DVD, so it has been used in many Spanish-speaking countries as well. (If you have students who could benefit from some adaptations for their arthritis or fibromyalgia or seated poses, check out the video either from Amazon.com. OR, I will send a free copy to anyone who wants to preview it.*)

So,back to yoga everywhere. Tracey and I could never have imagined the explosion of yoga’s popularity. Never. It still makes me smile to see signs for yoga studios everywhere. I am happy to think that even young children are now exposed to the body awareness that yoga encourages. That the breath, relaxation, and stillness are now common terms and focuses in our culture.

BUT, and here is the BIG BUT, are all these places and people REALLY practicing “yoga”? Well, of course they are, but maybe not in the same sense that I used to consider the practice. There seems to be lots of competition, extreme joint hyper-flexibility, and even yoga contests!! And yet, whatever it takes to attract new people to what yoga can provide, bravo. Maybe students might be drawn into the Ashtanga challenges, for example, but as time and age progresses, those who learn anything from these yoga classes hopefully will also learn that they must adapt to what their bodies are telling them they need. With age and time, this often means a gentler, more subtle practice, with less competition and more intensity. When I see the 20-somethings in their tiny tight clothing, able to move their bodies in astonishing directions, I known that these bodies will also age. These bodies will need to alter their practices and their teaching to suit the needs of aging bodies. But, they will all be aging with so much more awareness and involvement! I am still smiling from memories of that tea so many years ago with Tracey…

* If you have any question or comments, or want to preview a copy of my Yoga for Arthritis DVD, my Yoga for MS DVD, or my book, Yoga for Fibromyalgia: Move, Breathe and Relax to Improve Your Quality of Life, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com. These are all also available at Amazon.com.

KINDERGARTEN YOGA

Shoosh's grandson Jasper on his 6th birthday!

Shoosh’s grandson Jasper on his 6th birthday!

I love teaching yoga to children of all ages. When I was a special education teacher for emotionally disturbed elementary school kids, my students loved how the yoga we did made them feel! It was such a unique feeling for them! They could relax and let go of so much of their angst. Later, teaching at a juvenile detention center was at first a challenge, with all the locked doors and probation officers around at all times. But, on the days I did yoga with the teens, it was recorded that the behavior was always better and more relaxed. Even the staff participated and looked forward to “yoga days”. I also taught breathing techniques and relaxation in a state mental hospital for teens who had tried to commit suicide. The simplicity of being shown how, and then being allowed to let go safely was something they had not ever experienced. And, I especially enjoyed time spent teaching yoga at colleges over the years, with up to 100 students in an enormous room, including the computer department teachers as well as students, the wrestling team, football players, etc., all who were already getting lots of muscular focus, but not in a way that was helping them cope with the stresses of their academic and sports lives. They were very vocal about how yoga was something they would carry with them after they graduated!

Now, as I have mentioned once or twice, I have grandchildren. And now I love to teach yoga to little 5-year olds. What a joy! They are attentive, treat me with respect, and really do learn what I teach them, as is evidenced when their parents approach me and tell me their children come home from yoga and teach them what they learned in class. (That is what I request that they do, and they actually DO it!!!) In Kindergarten, I get to see the germs of body changes. I can see the tension that some young ones carry or the openness that others express. I always marvel at how lucky they are to be getting exposed to yoga at such a young age!!! To learn so early in life that breath is important, that paying attention to your posture and to how you move can make you feel better. To guide them to be able to balance and look internally is definitely a gift for me, as well as for them.

Here are 5 very basic, but important things I teach these little ones:

  1. Paying attention to your breathing can help you relax and focus.
  2. The more relaxed you are, the heavier your body feels.
  3. Your neck and spine move in 6 directions. Always move them in all directlons every day.
  4. It is easier to stand on one foot if you keep your eyes focused on one spot.
  5. It feels really good to relax!

These 5 points might seem too simple or obvious. BUT, for little 5-year-olds, these are things that are accessible and easy for them to ponder and actually learn! I always try to teach them things that they can be successful doing and also that they will like well enough that they will remember them. I also teach them the Seated Mountain Pose and my Seated Sun Exercises (see my previous blog or my YouTube video on how to do them.) Eventually I will have another YouTube video with a brief sequence for children! Stay tuned!

If you teach yoga to your children, or any kids, or have any question or comments, feel free to write on my Ask Shoosh page, or email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

SEATED SUN EXERCISES VIDEO (YouTube)

Seated Sun Ex for BlogI wrote about the Seated Sun Exercises in a BLOG in 2013, but I would like to add to it since I now have a YouTube Video that shows how to do them. There are 2 models in the video, both shown seated. One is Theresa, who has MS and is the person for whom I created this sequence about 20 years ago. She was wheel-chair-bound then and after having been a dancer for many years, she told me she really missed moving and so I created a way for her “flow” while seated. I asked if she would like to be in this video since if it had not been for her, I may not have created the routine, and she graciously accepted. The second model is my 68-year-old husband Colby who has some arthritis. I thought he would be representative of many who could find this routine unintimidating and beneficial. I have been teaching this series to all of my students ever since I created them. For those who cannot get up and down from the floor, this series can be a very beneficial adaptation. For those who are capable of the standard version but maybe are tired or don’t have space to do them (like at work), this version can be energizing and certainly a good substitute on occasion.

This not a difficult series. Your breath will change with each position: when you move forward/down, you are exhaling, and positions when you are lifting up or arching back, you are inhaling. You can be creative and vary this by holding each position for more than one breath, but that will change the flow of the series.

Start by sitting comfortably at the front edge of a sturdy chair. (See my May 15, 2013 blog on Seated Mountain Pose.) Here is the sequence:

  1. Start sitting up tall with your hands at chest level in Namasté (prayer) position with your thumbs on your sternum. (A teacher of mine showed me this variation that I like: it connects the thumbs to the heart, but placing your thumbs on your sternum is optional.) Inhale.
  2. As you exhale, slowly lower your hands down on either side of your legs.
  3. Inhale and raise your arms out to the sides, rolling your open palms forward until they are facing up, then lifting them as high as you can. End up with your arms straight up on either side of your head, with the palms facing each other.
  4. As you exhale, roll down over your right thigh, letting your arms drop towards the floor and relax your head and neck.
  5. Grab under your right thigh with both hands and as you inhale and slowly roll up, lift your bent knee as high as you can. Keep your pelvis stable by not tilting it back.
  6. Lower your right leg and, exhaling, roll down between both legs and hang there. If this is uncomfortable, bend forward and rest your elbows on your knees and relax your head and neck slightly forward, instead.
  7. During the next inhalation, roll up and bring both hands behind you on the sides of the chair seat. Arch back and, if your neck allows it, look up. This is a cobra variation and will open your chest.
  8. Exhaling, roll down over your left leg (as in #4).
  9. Inhale and lift your left leg (as in #5).
  10. As you lower the leg, roll down between both legs (as in #6).
  11. Inhale slowly as you role up to a sitting position, lifting your arms up high (as in #3).
  12. As you exhale, lower your arms and return to the starting position with your hands in Namasté (as in #1).

Repeat the sequence 2-4 times, or as many times as you feel like doing it!

This might appear more complicated than it really is, but CLICK HERE to look at the YouTube video to see how to do each pose and that will help you. Also, you can just follow along with the video and that way you won’t have to think about what comes next! Hopefully, with time, though, you will learn to do the sequence on your own. It is actually just a few poses, repeated on each side. It provides a nice flowing movement, you stretch and lengthen your spine both forward and backward, you work the hip flexors by lifting each leg (as in a lunge), you get some inversion by rolling forward with your head down, and you work on your breathing.

There is no weight-bearing for the arms and hands, as there is in the standard Sun Exercises, so here is a an additional variation that you can add to the series at the end for arm strengthening:

  1. Sitting as you were above, place both hands on the chair seat on either side of your thighs.
  2. Push down with your hands, keeping your trunk upright (not bent forward), and feel      yourself lift your weight slightly off the chair.
  3. DO NOT tilt your pelvis and try to lift your sitting bones off the seat. Instead, just feel the weight lift off your sitting bones as you push down, and then feel the strengthening in your wrists, elbows and shoulders..
  4. Hold for 3 breaths, rest and then repeat.

Give this additional variation a try, and if you like it, add it to the end after you have completed your last round of the Seated Sun Exercises!

In the YouTube video, you may have noticed that the models are wearing tee-shirts with some stick figures on them. Look closely and you will see that this graphic shows you how to do the whole sequence!! Check out the design by clicking on CAFÉ PRESS on my HOME page. You can have this design made on tees, totes, mugs, even bibs and kids clothes, etc. to remind yourself and others how to do it! Meanwhile, I hope you share and enjoy these Seated Sun Exercises and do them often!

If you have any question or comments, feel free to write on my Ask Shoosh page, or email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

MOTHER’S DAY

I am going to visit my mother next week to celebrate Mother’s Day with her. She lives in Arizona in a senior retirement place – of her choosing – and she will be 94 this summer. She loves it there! I have always learned, and continue to learn a lot about aging and life from her.

I am sure there are many “older” people like her who are in better and/or worse shape. She feels very lucky, compared to many of her friends, though, to have lived most of her life pain-free. She has swum an hour every morning for decades! She does whatever a therapist or her pesky children suggest she do to add to and maintain her mobility. She therefore practices standing on one foot for balance, she climbs a few stairs daily, etc. She sleeps well and she knows how to relax.

But, time is winning and unwanted changes are becoming more evident. There is arthritis in her joints. It never really bothered her until recently, so that’s a good thing. But, during her annual physicals at her HMO, not one doctor examined her feet or her hands to notice the deterioration of the joints. Not one! And, it was not until she started losing her ability to grip things and complained about that, did anyone offer some suggestions. If she had been in pain earlier, or had noticed herself that these changes were not simply to be accepted as the process of aging, then maybe her hands would be more usable now and she would not be in as much pain in her toes or back.

Our healthcare system is terrible. We can probably all agree on that. So, as the younger generation, we need to pass along some valuable lessons and concepts that will make the lives or our children and grandchildren better:

  1. Look at your parents, really look. Check on their feet, their hands, their posture, their balance. Ask them how they feel. Do not rely on their doctors to notice and ask these questions. Hopefully they will, but you can also be observant and pro-active.
  2. If you notice problems with hands or grip, find a hand therapist who specializes in older hands. (Or feet or backs, whatever hurts!) You do not need to be in the same location as your mom or dad these days since this type of info in available online. Call the place yourself to get a feel if it is what you are looking for. Then, help your parent get an appointment.
  3. Teach your children and grandchildren the importance of exercise and body awareness by example!! Our kids are couch potatoes, sitting in front of their computers or TVs and watching sports instead of playing them. This sedentary lifestyle will shorten their lives and bring more pain. Yoga certainly provides a wonderful path of awareness and movement! I am so lucky to have yoga in my life, and also to be able to share it with others as a teacher. Find a way to share this valuable tool with your family.

I continue to make sure my hands stay mobile and my feet stay flexible by diligently doing a daily regimen of stretches and movements (see my previous blogs on Hands and Toes.) And, as a yoga teacher, I will pass along to my students the importance of these seemingly easy movements that youth takes for granted.

This Mother’s Day, enjoy time with your mother, if she is still around, and give her any tips that can help her age more pain-free and comfortable.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

My Loose Shoulders

My Loose Shoulders

In my youth, I was one of those kids who could always do splits, wind my arms around my body, etc. Loose ligaments. It was sort of fun and was probably one of the reasons I was attracted to yoga in my early 20’s. I could grab my elbows behind my back in Cow Pose (Gomukhasana). No one told me that this could be damaging to my shoulder joints. We have learned so much about the body in the last 40 years, since I started yoga, that now I make sure my students don’t overextend as I used to do. But, loose ligaments are not a positive attribute, as one learns with age.

Shoulder ligaments

Shoulder Ligaments

Ligaments are connective tissue and they connect bone to bone to form joints. There are many ligaments in the shoulder joint (see graphic) that need to work properly to keep the joint healthy. When the ligaments are too loose, they make the joint unstable. They are mildly elastic to a point, but if they get over-stretched, especially over time, they do not return to their original shape. And, as we age, women, whose hormone levels change after menopause, often lose the ability for their ligaments to bounce back. Therefore, the joints become less stable. And, for those who are born with loose ligaments, this should be addressed early, as education can help prevent future damage.

I still meet hyperflexible yoga teachers who do not feel these restrictions apply to them. But I know many yoga teachers, now in their 50s and 60s, who are needing hip and shoulder surgery as a result. Yoga was not the cause of their problems. Most likely, it was genetically loose ligaments. Overextending into poses probably didn’t help, but may have sped up the time when surgery was needed.

Recently, a doctor of physical therapy told me that the combination of genetically loose ligaments combined with a genetic pre-disposition for arthritis is responsible for my shoulder “issues”. It was only a question of time. And, the time is apparently now.

So, what does this mean? I started noticing that my range of motion was becoming inhibited, and I had a feeling that my shoulder was not in the correct place in the socket. But, I also thought I could work on it myself, increase my stretches, and build strength in the muscles to support the joint. I did not know enough to be able to diagnose the whole problem and to therefore stop the deterioration sooner. By not knowing exactly how to slow this process, my body compensated and began using a new sequence of muscles in the shoulder instead of the “normal” one. Also, since there was such instability in the joint and genetically I am prone to arthritis, my body started making new osteophytes (bone) in the joint to help keep it in place. So, I need to re-learn the correct sequencing subconsciously, make sure I keep a diet that protects against inflammation (to prevent the arthritis), and regain the stability and strength to return the joint to health. This is certainly humbling, and I hope I can do this without surgery, but we’ll see. I have a few great teachers and guides who are helping me. I’ll keep you posted.

Are any of you having hip or shoulder problems? Please send me some comments on whether you are finding similar issues and how you are working on them.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

Listening to Your Body

The eternal battle in knowing the difference between what your body is telling you it needs, and what your mind is telling you it wants does not always improve with age. It just changes.

Learning to listen to your inner self, the brilliance of your natural, innate self, is not easy. Since early childhood, parents are always trying to get their children to pay more attention to their inner workings. We, as yoga teachers, try to instill this objective in our students. But, are we always good listeners? And, is our sense of our innate self always accurate?

Sometimes, what we think we are “hearing” is what we want to hear. And, that old “no pain, no gain” adage only encouraged us to turn off our inner signals and “move beyond” them. Well, those signals exist for a reason. Our bodies are intricately and beautifully designed, yet we so often find ways to subterfuge ourselves.

In yoga, we would hope that we are learning to let go of these diversionary tactics. And, in some ways we do. But, we also tend to find alternative areas to focus on. For example, let’s use hamstring stretches. Almost everyone has tight hamstrings because we either sit too long, or exercise too much or a combination of both. Hence, tight hamstrings. So, we learn how to stretch them. And we keep stretching them. Yet, do we know when we have over-stretched them? Usually not. Do we recognize when we are beginning to stretch into the ligaments? Usually not. Do we feel that we are doing something wrong when we stretch? Of course not!!! And yet, stretching into the ligaments can be very damaging to the joints. As we age, the ligaments become less resilient and don’t bounce back to their original shape as they can do when you are younger. You are then left with unstable joints. Because when the body said to stretch the hamstrings, we stretched. We forgot to then listen to when the body was telling us to stop!

I have been working recently on general alignment from a new perspective. I have always felt that when I sincerely focus on my posture and alignment, I can feel when and where I need to make adjustments. After all, I have been teaching and practicing yoga for decades. But, I am having some shoulder “issues” and have been seeing a wonderful therapist who pointed out that what I feel to be correct can simply be years of my body telling my brain what “balance” is, which can be the result of much misguided info. The body will always find ways to create balance. It may not be correct, but the brain will have the body compensate for areas that are weak or tweaked, to create a sense of balance so we can stand, function, etc. And, after years, this can become your new “normal” and feel correct.

So, instead of just learning to feel what is correct alignment, take a good look in a mirror. Sometimes what we think of as balanced and aligned is quite off the mark. YIKES! But it feels aligned! SO, the point I am making is this: as yoga teachers, we should certainly continue to instill the sense of understanding how postures and movements make us feel. BUT, we should also make sure we remember not to blindly trust that we are “hearing” truth. Tell your students to go look in a mirror occasionally and make sure the alignment they are feeling is what they think they are feeling. And if some contradiction is apparent, they should figure it out and try to work from there. Then, they can eventually create a new “normal” which might be more realistic and healthier in the long run.

Please send me some comments on whether you are finding similar issues and how you are working on them.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

2015

I have been very busy ending 2014 and beginning 2015 and thinking about what to write in this blog. Reflections of a year gone by, goals and plans and hopes for the new year are ever-present at this time, but by now, we are already off and running since the first full work week of 2015 has just gone by. So, instead of thinking about how one more year is over, I am going to focus on how many years are going by, and how aging is a game we all play. And, then, from this perspective, appreciate this new year.

I will be 65 this year I will be able to get Medicare. AARP keeps sending me info and I am now officially on the LIST as a senior citizen. My thoughts feel the same as ever, although my memory certainly is not as sharp. My body feels the same as ever, although my joints don’t move as well as they used to. My waistline has expanded, which infuriates me, but my legs have slimmed, so I guess it is just a trade-off of aging.

So, where does this lead me? Aging. During the holidays I visited my 93 year-old mother. She lives in a wonderful retirement village that she chose to move into 23 years ago and she says these have been the best years of her life. Every morning she swims for one hour. My brother, who lives near her, helps her do some walking and stair exercises and takes her out for a daily coffee. Her short-term memory is very sketchy, but her long-term is quite in tact. She is still the woman she has been, having earned an honorary doctorate from Yale University for her work with autism, among other very admirable accomplishments. But, she now uses a walker and she listens more than she talks. She still enjoys life.

My sister, who lives in Italy, has a mother-in-law who is 94 and still lives alone, cooks all her own meals and cleans her own house. But, she is more diminutive by the minute, more fragile, and has some health issues so her son helps her every week for days at a time. She is not very happy and is not enjoying her life so much lately. She misses her husband who died a few years ago and she is often amazed that she is still alive.

There are many levels of aging and I wonder what my path will be. Then, I stop to realize I am on my path NOW! To my grandchildren, I AM OLD! But, I still run with them, they come to my yoga classes (and I am about to start teaching a little class at my 5-year-old’s kindergarten!) and we play on the floor together.

The bottom line, really, is that as we age, we must continue to move, and to be joyful! Exercising, walking, doing stairs, yoga, biking, whatever keeps you moving and happy is what is important. As a yoga teacher, I try to encourage my students to be aware of their joints, their range-of-motion, their breath, and their tensions. When I was a much younger teacher, I used to think that just continuing with yoga was all I would need to do. Now, 40 years later, I am realizing that, while this is vitally important and of course a major part of my life, there are other aspects, such as genetics, environment, and how you enjoy your life that play a huge part in how we age. What yoga does give me, however, is the ability to observe my body, to provide focus for areas that need attention, and to offer tools that can help me improve those areas. And, as we age, this, to me, is becoming one of the most important gifts that yoga provides.

So, it’s always back to yoga. Keep moving, keep feeling joy and watching your breath; keep smiling and enjoying life. And keep doing your yoga! Happy 2015!!!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.