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Protect Ya Neck

“Protect Ya Neck” was Wu-Tang’s debut single.  I spent ages 12-16 in Santiago, Chile– formative years!  When I lived in Chile, I fell into a group that was part of Santiago’s hip hop scene.  I never felt like I was part of that scene.  During those years, I can say that I never felt fully part of any specific thing- always one foot in, and one foot out.  But there was (and still is) something about hip hop that is alluring to me.  Sure, there are a lot of problems with hip hop but it’s not my place to pick apart a culture that I don’t fully know.  Hip hop is audacious and loud, often brilliant and sometimes crude.  

I was a spunky little kid, no doubt, but even in my spunkiest spunk, I always carried around the idea that I “should”(<—- see # 9) be or act a certain way .  We grow up with so many messages about what it means to be “good” or to be “a girl” or “a boy” or whatever.  These messages come at many levels (political, cultural, peer, familial, etc.)  Hip hop gave me an outlet to hear other people speak out, in an emphatic way, about their observations and strife.  I am in no way likening my “stuff” to the “stuff” of hip hop artists, but hearing other people speak frankly, inspires me to consider that I might also have something important to say.  


Do pelicans quack?

Just the other day, my good friend walked into my office and just stared at me.   Her brow began to furrow and her eyes were wide.  She asked me “what ARE you doing?”  For as much body awareness as I believe myself to have, I had no idea that she was referring to the fact that the bottom of my skull was resting on my T1 (thoracic vertebrae.)  My cervical spine was pretty much completely collapsed.  I imagine that I looked like a pelican does, as it is savoring it’s prey.  

Since becoming aware of this, I have noticed just how often I collapse my neck.  Why has no one ever pointed it out to me?  It’s super weird looking!  In order to help release this samaskara (pattern), I have started to integrate Jalandhara Bandha into my practice.  In Sanskrit, bandha means “bond” or “lock.”  There are 3 main bandhas in yoga and a 4th that ties them all together.  Click here to learn more about bandhas. 

Jalandhara Bandha activates the Vishuddha chakra (throat chakra).  The term chakra gets tossed around a lot these days.  When I first started learning about this stuff, the idea of “the subtle energy body” which includes concepts such as chakrasnadis and koshas was incredibly alienating. Over time, I have opened myself up to different frameworks for understanding the layers of anatomy.  In many Eastern systems of understanding the body, there are 7 major energy centers located inside the body.  In Hindu philosophy, these energy centers are referred to as chakras.  In Western science, there are major nerve plexuses located where the chakras are said to be, in the body.  Each chakra is associated with the physiology of a specific organ system, glandular system and nerve plexus.  The Vishuddha chakra governs voice.

There are several ways to work with this chakra and the approach will vary from person to person, depending on the origin of the disharmony. Blogging is a great way to work with “voice”.  By activating the Vishuddha chakra,  I am working towards freeing myself to speak fearlessly.  

Hip hop helps too. 


Not feeling so heroic in Supta Virasana

I recently purchased a snazzy new bike.  Okay, snazzy is pushing it but it’s purple and has red wheels.  The purple reminds me of the (now defunct) Welch’s grape soda can.  Welch’s grape soda was really the only saving grace in the steamy Texas summer, in the 1980’s.  I HATED tennis lessons.  I really only took them because my older brother did.  He was good.  I was not.  I was more interested in gymnastics, my skip-it and in challenging my hula hoop to stay above my knees while twirling and the like.  The reason I kept going to tennis lessons: Welch’s grape soda.  This was my post-tennis treat and I enjoyed the hell out of it!

I bought this bike to replace my OLD, HEAVY pile of steel (1970’s 10 speed Schwinn.)  Oooof.  I tend not to attach too strongly to material goods, but the thought of letting go of my Schwinn made me fight back tears. I felt as though I was walking around with a 10 pound dumbbell adhered to my chest.  This clearly gave me pause.  Fortunately, I have enough people around me to check my attitude when I am blindly and strongly spewing funk.  When I stopped long enough to look inward, I realized that the feelings I was having with letting go of my Schwinn, mirrored the feelings that I’m having in another part of my life.   

My Schwinn represented the heaviness of the past, memories and stagnation.  Holding on to it felt safe.  My new bike is lighter, more colorful, swifter.  It feels like freedom.  With freedom, comes the unknown and the unknown can be scary.  When I recognized the parallels between my bike situation and the other situation I referred to, I no longer felt attached.  Up on Craigslist the Schwinn went.  


I bought the new bike in order to ease my commute to work.  I was certain(ish) that this bike was lighter.  To make sure, my girlfriend stood on my bathroom scale to get her poundage sans bicycle.  She then lifted my (almost!) 40 pound Schwinn and got back on the scale.  She’s a strong girl!  She did the same with my new bike.  At 7 pounds lighter, I felt confident that my purchase was worth the emotional flux.  I suppose the emotional flux was worth it, in and of itself.  Sometimes it takes an external event to realize what’s going on inside.

All of that to say, I biked to work today and after biking a total of 18 miles today, my quads needed some love.  I decided that Supta Virasana (reclining hero pose) was the way to go.  Supta virasana requires the body to be warm.  Please do not practice the below mini sequence without a proper warm up.  Watch out if you have knee pain, stiff ankles, extremely tight quadriceps or lower back pain.  All yoga should be practiced with caution.  Respect your body.  New bodies are hard to come by.

In Supta Virasana…

Psychological response
Thoughts:  THIS. SUCKS. GET. ME. OUT.
Emotions:  When I think of supta virasana, I think of my quadriceps.  I hadn’t considered that it’s also a major heart opener.  With so much transition happening in my life right now, stretching the front line of my body felt incredibly overwhelming.  
other psychological reactions (imagery, narrative, etc.):  Supta virasana reminds me of my gymnastics days.  My coach used to caution against sitting on our knees.  He said that he tore his knee doing this.  For years, I didn’t dare sit on my knees and still refrain from doing it, unless it’s with extreme caution and for a specific reason. 
Physical response
Felt open:  quads, knees, hip flexors, front body, chest, throat
Felt strengthened: low back
other physical sensations: I felt waves of movement in my front body.  I felt like a human pin ball machine.  It probably didn’t help that I had recently had dinner.  I don’t usually eat before I practice but tonight I did.  I was hungry after that ride! 
Mini Sequence (to move into and out of this posture)
1. seated pranayama in supported virasana (hero pose)  (block under sit bones)
2. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog)
3. Uttanasana (forward fold)
4. Arda uttanasana (half way lift)
5. kick back to Anjaneyasana (crescent lunge) on right with chest expansion
6. release fingertips to the mat and come into high lunge.  Dynamic straightening and bending of the front leg.
7. Uttanasana (forward fold)
8. Arda uttanasana (half way lift)
9. kick back to Anjaneyasana (crescent lunge) on left with chest expansion
10. release fingertips to the mat and come into high lunge.  Dynamic straightening and bending of the front leg.
11. Uttanasana (forward fold)
12. Arda uttanasana (half way lift)
13. plank– gently lower down onto belly
14. Bhujangasana (cobra)

15. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge)

16. Ustrasana (camel)
17. Supta Virasana (reclining hero pose)
18. Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose)
19. seated meditation

“Next to a leisurely walk I enjoy a spin on my tandem bicycle. It is splendid to feel the wind blowing in my face and the springy motion of my iron steed. The rapid rush through the air gives me a delicious sense of strength and buoyancy, and the exercise makes my pulse dance and my heart sing.”  -Helen Keller

Do acorns bend?

A friend once sent me a birthday card that reads:


“Every oak tree started out as a nut that stood it’s ground.”  

We all have the capacity to create, to grow, to bend a little.  Meaningful and lasting change is typically initiated by a movement of sorts: a person or a group of people coming together for a cause– strongly convicted, deeply rooted and ready to organize, to move, to connect, to create and to bend.  We have seen this time and time again in social movement, political uprisings and in community organizing.

The same concept can be applied to one’s physical body.  Our bodies become vehicles for our narratives. We embody the stories we tell ourselves about who we are what our journey has been like.  Our bodies are containers for perception, emotions, our learned sense of safety and place in the world.  When we think of our bodies as vessels for these essential elements of meaning and identity, it makes sense that we should be able to use our bodies to access and re conceptualize these resources/elements of “self.”

Let’s use public speaking to illustrate the above…

Every time I am asked to speak publicly my stomach “drops” and my hearts begins to race.  These visceral responses happen at the mere suggestion that I enter into a public speaking role.  Because I believe in the power of sharing information and facing my fears head-on, I accept.  Let’s fast forward to the day of the presentation.  I am nervous as all get out!  My hands are fidgety and my heart is racing.  As the time to approach the podium nears, my mind begins to go blank!  Imagine!

If we are operating under the construct that our body is a vessel for these reactions, it would make sense that our body could serve as an entry way into mitigating these reactions and ultimately retrain the way that our body copes with emotionally charged situations.  In the above situation, my sympathetic nervous system is operating on overdrive.  I become so anxious that I begin to move from feeling grounded in my body, in my “self” to a mode of “flight, fight or freeze” (the 3Fs.)  None of  the 3Fs are especially effective when it comes to public speaking. Do I have any control here?  Not especially.  Control is an illusion.  Are there things that I can do to move out of the sympatheic response and into a parasympatheic state?  YES!

When I’m feeling anxious, fidgety and light headed, I take a moment to breathe.  I take deep, slow, diaphragmatic breaths, extending the length of both my inhale and my exhale. I might also practice alternate nostril breathing. As a result, my respiration feels less shallow and my heart rate slows.   If after the breath-work, I’m still feeling “blank” or distracted, I will often go into a gentle inversion in order to improve blood flow and circulation.  Slowing down and reconnecting with my physical body through subtle movement and vibration profoundly impacts my state of mind and ability to approach the podium and to speak in front of a group.

Physics tells us that all matter has movement and I believe that all movement matters.  There has been a decent amount of research looking into yoga’s impact on physical and emotional wellness and centuries of anecdotal evidence speaking to the impact that movement (dance, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, etc.) has on identity, emotional state and narrative.  Is it a panacea?  Heck no!  But I truly believe that each time we interrupt disruptive patterns, we are training our bodies to respond rather than react, and are shifting our narrative about what we are capable of accomplishing.

So do acorns bend? Of course!


“The body says what words cannot.” -Martha Graham