Category Archives: yoga therapy

Acid Reflux, Control and the Knot of Vishnu

It’s fascinating how emotions, narrative and experience can live in your body, long after pre-frontal processing occurs.

You know that feeling you get after eating too much acidic food?  The rising of stomach acid, either pooling just below your diaphragm and rising up through your esophagus and then…  yeah, you get the point.  I began experiencing acid reflex about two months ago, for the first time in my life. I thought this odd as I had not changed my diet, my exercise routine has picked up a bit but has not changed drastically.  Aside from noticing some tightness beneath my diaphragm and some unpleasant indigestion, I hadn’t thought much about it.

Rewind to last weekend.  I began a five month certification in “Yoga’s integration into Psychotherapy” geared towards therapists who are interested in melding their knowledge of yoga into their clinical work.  The first module, “The Embodied Therapist” focused on Interpersonal Neurobiology and Attachment theory as well as Countertransference and Empathetic Receptors.  Throughout the module, we were encouraged to track emotions and narrative in our own bodies, while beginning to understand how to assess the somatic experiences of others and how to distinguish what’s ours and what belongs to the person we are working with.

During one exercise, we were assigned a number.  The participants who were assigned “1” photo (56)lined up on the back wall.  The participants who were assigned “2”, lined up directly across from the “1’s” in the middle of the room.  The 1’s were to slowly approach the 2’s, and the 2’s were asked to lift a hand when they were ready for the 1’s to stop walking.  This non-verbal exercise was meant to explore our own boundaries as well as the boundaries of others, as well as what we anticipate others’ boundaries will be, and whether or not that expectation is based on somatic cues or our own “stuff.”

I was assigned a “2.”  As a “2”, I was the first to be approached and set limits.  After I set my boundary, we were asked to reflect on how we knew that a boundary needed to be set.  As my partner approached, I noticed a dull, tight sensation near my diaphragm.  When I approached her, I experienced the same sensation milliseconds before she put her hand up.

We went through other exercises last weekend, where we were asked to reflect on our somatic experience, and over and over again, I noticed tightness in my diaphragm, particularly related to exercises that left be feeling vulnerable and destabilized.

Last weekend wasn’t the first time I have noticed the tightness in my diaphragm, nor was it the first time in the recent past that I have felt vulnerable, destabilized, not in control.

Last June I went to the Grand Canyon with friends and family to celebrate my birthday.  Being surrounded by the people I love most and the beauty that only nature can create was an incredible way to launch into a new decade.  One of my closest friends is an acupuncturist.  When I met her in 2007, she shook the very core of my being.  She is incredibly warm, intelligent and skilled.  As I got to know her better, my perceptions of the world I live in shifted dramatically.  She knew things about me that she couldn’t have known, had she not had some kind of gift; the kind of “knowing” that I have always been skeptical of (and still am).  But this friendship challenges my rational mind, and I like to be challenged.

1064521_853089435117_1473520324_o (1)This friend joined me at the Grand Canyon and gave me an acupuncture treatment in the cabin we stayed in.  This was one of the most intense treatments I have ever had and the first time I became aware of the lack of somatic feeling in my diaphragm.  I am typically quite sensitive and can sense subtle changes in my body, but during this treatment I realized that while most of my body was buzzing with sensation and movement, this area felt stagnant, null.  During the treatment, imagery of a dark vortex was evoked but the force of the vortex was no match for the stagnation I experienced.  It was almost as though there was an energetic pause button that served as a gatekeeper to accessing the junk beneath it.

After returning from the trip, I went to my massage therapist and as she was palpating my abdomen and she commented on how tight I was just below my liver and up into my diaphragm.

It was in November when I first started to experience acid reflux.  This coincided with a major life transition.  This life transition, while a happy one, kicked up a bunch of my old “stuff”:  feeling out of control, voiceless, vulnerable, destabilized.  At that point, my somatic experience of my diaphragm transitioned from stagnation to heaviness.  As I rode this transition, old emotions began to bubble up.  It wasn’t until I became conscious of the pattern that was playing out, that I could begin to reconcile the emotional and somatic experiences that were tapping me on the shoulder, rather peskily.

It all came to a head last Monday.  I went to an acupuncture appointment to address something unrelated.  As the acupuncturist was palpating my body, she mentioned that I have a knot just below my diaphragm.  During the treatment, I fell into a deep relaxation and imagery of knot came up and as soon as the knot popped into my mind’s eye, this knot transformed into the cap of a vault.  Underneath the cap, I noticed the same imagery that came up for me when I was in the Grand Canyon, a vortex, except this time it didn’t seem as intense.  In this meditative state, I began to play around with the imagery that was before me, and attempted to open the cap that was protecting the vault.  I couldn’t will the vault open even in my imagination; the cap just kept spinning, but in the spinning I felt safe/protected.

As the cap to the vault was spinning rapidly, so did my curiosity.  What is this all about?  Or perhaps is it about nothing and was I just grasping for something to understand my experience, to connect with myself?  I wrote a bit about my understanding of the subtle body, including chakras, here.  Even with the (perceived) dissonance that exists between my rational mind and my somatic experience, I choose to explore my body within the chakra construct, as doing so has been powerful for me in the past.

7-chakras-in-the-body-symbols-and-meaning-1024x810-meditationgongs.net_When I do chakra meditation, I notice different things on different days.  One thing that has been fairly consistent, particularly in the last six months or so, is a feeling of being blocked, in the area just above my solar plexus and below my heart chakra.  My root is sometimes muddled and sometimes strong, my sacral and solar plexus tend to be clear (resulting from a lot of  work) but then I experience almost a hop of energy moving up towards my heart.  It feels as thought a force is both skipping over and also laterally circumventing the area just below my diaphragm.

Interestingly, my digestive issues follow suit.  My stomach acid rises and upon leaving my stomach and passing though my diaphragm, the acid stops and feels as though it pools just below my diaphragm.

To counter balance of this inward looking, I took it to Google.  Interested in a yogic explanation of all of this, I searched for: “the place between the solar plexus and the heart chakra” and learned about The Knot of Vishnu. A KNOT!  I like the way this blog describes it. In essence, having a knot in this area just below the diaphragm represents an obstruction between will power (which I am terming control) and the heart.  This obstruction makes perfect sense in the context of my recent life transition.  It’s uncanny to me that my indigestion halts at exactly the point that ancient yoga theory postulates the Knot of Vishnu resides, which is atypical for acid reflux, and curious to me that these symptoms as well as the tightness co-occured with a triggering event. Coincidence?  Perhaps.  But I am choosing to work within this paradigm in order to see what happens.

How does the Knot of Vishnu become untied?  I imagine it’s different for everybody.  In hopes that the cap on the vault will loosen, even slightly, my plan is to…

  • set aside time to breathe diaphragmatically while focusing on the imagery that came up for me.
  • use 3 part breath supported with a bolster to ensure that I’m filling my entire core, from the pelvis up into the chest, with breath, in order to work towards clearing obstructions.
  • paint in order to externalize the imagery and work with it in a more tangible way.
  • uddiyana bandha
  • surrender expectation of any particular outcome.

My body is ready to surrender.




If today is any indication of what is to come, Fall is here in Chicago. Rain is dropping, leaves are falling and there is so much transition around– weddings, babies and people heading back to school. It’s a good time to look at ourselves and determine what, if anything, we would like to change.

Yoga is a wonderful way to observe what we are holding on to. With that knowledge, we can then decide what serves us. Through yoga practice we can begin to understand and then move through old narrative that no longer serves us– things we tell ourselves about who we are, old emotions that linger but no longer serve a functional purpose.

On this rainy fall day, I had the privilege of teaching a private yoga lesson. I learn something new every time I teach and for that I am grateful.

During the Fall season, I like to let go. This fall I will loosen my grip on self doubt and trust more than ever that I am all that I need to be.

Below is a sequence that is meant to be practiced slowly and with reflection.  Move through each posture at your own pace and take note of what comes up for you in each posture– physically and emotionally.


Fall is beautiful for many reasons.  Galway Kinnell’s 1980 poem, “Blackberry Eating” speaks to both the sweetness and the prickliness of the season…

Blackberry Eating

by Galway Kinnell

“I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths and squinched,
many-lettered, on-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.”

Happy Fall, friends!


What are you interested in learning about?

Hi readers,

I hope you all have been enjoying your summer (or winter if you’re in the southern hemisphere!)  I have been busy, busy this summer.  While it’s fun to have a flurry of activity and time outdoors, I am really looking forward to the fall.  Fall is one of my favorite seasons. I love the crunch of the leaves and the the cool temperatures. I love the smell of pumpkin, spiced apple cider, and fire pits and I especially enjoy walking my dog this time of year.  My dog, Bucko is a Texan but upon moving to Chicago, he discovered the magic that is Fall.  His favorite thing to do (other than eat, pee and cuddle) is to kick up leaves– the larger the pile, the better.

As we move into fall, I anticipate having more down time to write and am very much looking forward to exploring new topics. I have several ideas brewing for upcoming posts, but am interested in hearing what you all are interested in learning about.  More specifically, I would like to explore the application of yoga to various physical, emotional and behavioral processes.  

What would you like to see covered in upcoming posts?

One of my favorite things about blogging is sharing information and learning together.  I truly appreciate your ideas and feedback.


P.S.  Today Bucko is having a dental cleaning which requires anesthesia.  It is an extremely routine procedure but I am an anxious doggy mom today, particularly because he is 11 and has had some health issues recently.  I know he will be fine, but to get me through the day, I am posting an obsessive “Bucko montage” for your enjoyment.  Okay, let’s be real… I am posting it for my sanity!  A little pug love and pranayama to move through the day.

photo (37)photo 4photo 31030940587_9db0dc776c_ophoto 1 (4)photo 2 (4)


Elllll. Ohhhhh. Veeeee. Eeeeee. Love.  Why is it that four letter words are impossibly weighty?  Love.  It sounds so simple. To pick apart the layers of love would take more than a lifetime and the definition of the word would differ from lover to lover and from loved to loved.

photo (43)

The simplicity of the sound and vibration of the word love is misleading.  The frequency with which we use the word love in our everyday (myself included) doesn’t do justice for just how complicated the concept is.

I am still trying to figure out how to best love and be loved– how I want to give and receive love. Love is visceral, electric, soft, nurturing and sweet.  Love starts with the self and once we love ourselves, we are then ready to fully love another. It’s a foundation for which growth can occur; not just for the individual, but for the whole.

When I love fully and when that love is reciprocated fully, love permeates my entire physical body and stirs my insides like a ladle in a vat of soup: warm, spicy, satisfying.

Love is wonderful, even when it hurts. Love is wonderful, even when it’s muddled.  In my body, love feels expansive, tingly, cleansing and electric.  I LOVE that feeling.  I LOVE love.  When things get messy in love, whether with family, friends or with a significant other, two things are vital for me– I need to open my heart and I need clarity.

I have put together a yoga sequence to address both clarity and heart opening.  I threw in some of my favorite postures (postures that I feel a sense of ease in) to create balance given the intensity of a heart opening series.  This series focuses on back bends.  Back bends should be practiced with caution and only when your spine is warm and ready to move.  Backbending is contraindicated for high and low blood pressure, migraine and serious low back and neck injury.  As always, please practice with caution.


What does love feel like in your body?  


“When love exists, nothing else matters, not life’s predicaments, not the fury of the years, not a physical winding down or scarcity of opportunity.”  -Isabel Allende

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  -Elie Wiesel

When my insides get ANGRY…

Body aches, angry belly and exhaustion: inflammation! inflammation! inflammation! My insides are pissed. I’m not sure what the culprit is though I have some suspicions– (I’m looking at you: food allergies, overtaxed muscles, coming down from an emotional high and STRESS.)  This last week has been brutal.

I have been doing some reading about the impact of yoga on inflammation in order to revamp my practice to address my angry bod. I came across this journal article. The study found that IL-6 levels were 41% higher in novice yoga practitioners than in individuals who have been practicing longer.

**For reference, Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a cytokine (molecule that signals cells) which mediates the immune response that occurs due to fever, infection, allergic response or trauma leading to inflammation.

Encouraged by this finding, I decided to dig a little deeper to see if I could find other studies that demonstrate the impact of yoga on inflammatory markers.

Click HERE, HERE, and HERE for a few studies that I came across.  There were many!   If this isn’t motivation to get my rear in gear, then I don’t know what is.

When you’re feeling uncomfortable in your body, it can be challenging to engage in a body centered practice because it requires acknowledging the discomfort.  I know that for me, if I ignore the discomfort, it will persist.  I put together a gentle yoga sequence that feels good in my body to reduce inflammation.  As always, just because this is a good sequence for me, that doesn’t mean it is what your body needs.  Feel free to use it as a guide and make any changes along the way.  All yoga should be practiced with caution.  Respect your body.  New bodies are hard to come by.

Gentle anti-inflammatory mini sequence:

1. Balasana (childs pose)

2. Seated tummy circles

  • Sit up with your legs crossed.
  • Place your hands on your knees.
  • rotate your stomach in a large circle counter clockwise for 90 seconds.  Imagine drawing a big circle with your belly button.
  • After 90 seconds (or really, however long feels good to you) rotate your stomach clockwise.

*Benefits of tummy circles: warms up lumbar region of the spine,              improves digestion as the gentle movement massages your internal organs, particularly those involved in eliminating waste.  This movement also activates and aligns the ileocecal valve.  (TMI?  Oh well!)

3. Seated tummy massage

  • sit on your knees with your bottom resting on your heels (if your knees are sensitive, fold a soft blanket under your knees for cushion.  If your hips do not reach your heels, prop up your bottom with a block (placed between your legs)
  • reach your arms out in front of you and make two fists.  Your knuckles should be facing up towards the ceiling.  Your 2 fists should be against one another, with your thumbs touching.
  • curl your fists down and under so that your knuckles are facing your belly.  As you move your fists closer to your belly, lean into your fists so that they begin to compress into your belly.  Use your fists to explore any tension in your abdominal area.  begin on the lower right hand side of your belly, just above your pelvis.  This is your ascending colon.  Move your fists in a circle starting at your ascending colon up and over (just below your diaphragm) ending at your descending colon.  I lean deeper into any area that feels especially tender and massage that area with my fingers.  Please note that if anything hurts, STOP!  You know your body best.  Practice with (20)

4. Table top to cat/cow with dynamic movement (shift hips back and side to side)

5. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog)

6. Uttanasana (forward fold) come into a wide legged forward fold

  • in this posture, lift your left heel off of the ground (leaving your toes on the mat)
  • lower your left heel and repeat with your right heel (you should feel a stretch in the gluteus medius)

7. Arda uttanasana (half way lift)

8. Come to a seat for a seated body scan. Check in with your body and notice if there are any areas that feel swollen, inflamed, bloated or irritated.  Imagine soothing warm salt water infiltrating those parts of your body– moving in an out and around the irritated parts.  That imagery works well for me, but you can choose whatever is soothing to you.

9.Viparita karani (literally: inverted action; a.k.a. legs up the wall)– get cozy and hold for 10 minutes.

10.bring knees to chest and roll gently left to right to massage lower back

11. savasana- 10-15 minutes

One of the very first posts on the Acorn Bends Facebook page was this photo from The American Institute of Stress, shared by Anatomy in Motion (if you have an interest in anatomy, I recommend following their Facebook page– great, accessible information on the human body.)


Click to enlarge! credit: The American Institute on Stress

What do you do when your insides get angry? If you have any favorite ways to decrease inflammation, please share!


“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel “burnout” setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.” -Dalai Lama

Yo-Yo Yoga

“The yo-yo in its simplest form is an object consisting of an axle connected to two disks, and a length of twine looped around the axle, similar to a slender spool. It is played by holding the free end of the string (usually by inserting one finger in a slip knot) allowing gravity or the force of a throw to spin the yo-yo and unwind the string (similar to how a pullstring works), then allowing the yo-yo to wind itself back to one’s hand, exploiting its spin (and the associated rotational energy).” (Wikipedia)

photo 2 (3)

Do you ever feel like a yo-yo? Over the past several weeks, I have felt a tremendous shift in my life.   Specifically, I have noticed a change in my perception of myself and of what I am capable of.  I recently returned from a trip to Arizona, where I traveled with a large group of friends and family.   Arizona was absolutely beautiful; I woke up every morning to a cascade of colors: red rocks, blue sky, shiny quartz poking through the red dust that covers the town of Sedona.  I was surrounded by beauty and love and returning to my life in Chicago was disarming.

Reintegration was more difficult than I had imagined.  I realized quickly that I needed to make a concerted effort to integrate more joy and beauty into “the everyday.”  This realization carried with it a great deal of action which resulted in exciting opportunities- lots of them- all at once!   Even with the excitement, the ferocity with which the opportunities arose left me feeling overwhelmed.  I felt like a yo-yo, like “my spin” was being impacted by excitement and opportunity,  swept up by a hasty force that felt intense, almost esoteric.

As the dust begins to settle and I feel more at home in my shifting perception of myself, I am left thinking about the forces we are confronted with, over which we have very little control.

Aristotle wrote a great deal about entelechy, actuality, the vital force that directs an organism towards self-fulfillment. As viscerally as I feel the movement of the force, my rational mind fumbles with these concepts.  The concepts of “vital force” and “universal provision” seem really abstract to me but experience is difficult to ignore.  This seems greater than cause and effect.

In Aristotle’s depiction of entelechy, the “acorn and oak tree example” is widely used:

While the acorn looks and feels like an acorn does (hard, sturdy, round) it is capable of moving, growing and bending. The acorn has the potential to become an oak tree but in order to shift from acorn to oak tree, there is a process of actualization and realization of its essential nature.  It’s this vital force that moves the acorn along and encourages it’s growth. the growth is sometimes slow and steady and sometimes rapid and forceful.

The same can be said for a human embryo or a popcorn kernel. The process of self actualization, growth and change occurs in all living things and takes shape differently depending on the object undergoing transformation.

There are always forces at play in our lives that impact our sense of stability and balance.  Sometimes these forces come from within (our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations) and sometimes they come from without (nature, other people, circumstances, etc.)

When I begin to feel as though I’m spinning out of control, whether from my own internal process or external processes, my practice emphasizes balancing Vata in order to return to feeling grounded and steady. In Ayurveda, Vata governs movement and change in our mind and our body. The elements are air and ether.

Samastitihi with hands in prayer at heart center

My ayurvedic dosha (constitution) is primarily Kapha, meaning inertia is where I party.  My Pitta traits fuel my drive and forward movement but I am very rarely aggravated by Vata energy.  In order to pacify the Vata aggravation, I developed the below mini sequence “yo-yo yoga” to reconnect with the earth.  My favorite grounding posture is samastitihi (“equal standing pose”– essentially mountain pose with hands at heart center.)

Mini Sequence

Yo-yo yoga: a sequence for balancing vata

pranayama: 3 part breath. I prefer to practice this lying down, supported by a bolster.  As I practice, not only do I attend to my abdomen, mid and upper chest, but I also incorporate my pelvic area.  I learned this simple yet powerful technique from the fabulous Brooks Hall of Root Wisdom Yoga.

*a note on beauty…  I didn’t have to look hard.  Once I really opened my eyes, I found cascading colors everywhere.  Sedona is beautiful and so is Chicago.


“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” -Anaïs Nin


To make a short story long, I am a newly minted yoga teacher with a lot of curiosity.  I am interested in continuing to explore the mind-body connection.  In my day job, I work as a clinical social worker.  I moonlight as a yoga teacher and by teacher I mean that I use my own practice to learn.  I am also beginning to teach private yoga lessons.  I enjoy working with others, therapeutically.  I am also a self-determinationist.”  I don’t think that’s a real term… yet.  I believe that we aren’t this or that or the other unless we self-determine so.  Labels are inaccurate until the labeled has determined it a fit.  Social constructionism is a big topic with many layers.  I enjoy peeling the layers back and seeing what lies underneath.

When we think of yoga in the west, we often think of asana.  Asana (a.k.a. posture) is only 1 limb of yoga.  In Rāja yoga, Patanjali writes about “the 8 limbed path.”    Asana is an external limb that prepares the student for internal work. Specifically, asana helps to develop body awareness and an ability to disengage from external stimuli, improves concentration and facilitates meditation.  

The eight limbs of yoga are as follows:
Yama :  Social ethics
Niyama :  Personal practices
Asana :  Physical postures
Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
Pratyahara :  Sensory withdrawal
Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating internal awareness
Dhyana :  Meditation
Samadhi :  Nondualistic state of consciousness

 If we look at the 8 limbed path as a machine (that’s probably sacrilege but let’s just run with this analogy for a second), we see that limbs 1-4 are external (things that we can “do”.)  Limbs 4-8 are internal (require stillness and an ability to let go and simply “be”)   In this machine, yamas and niyamas are aspirations and behaviors, asana is posture and pranayama is controlled breath. All of these limbs require “doing.”  Limbs 4-8: Pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi, all require “being.”
I would propose that one reason that we attach so strongly to asana is because it’s a moving part, something that we can control. It’s much easier to “do” than to “be”.  Quieting our body and quieting our mind can be challenging (or even terrifying) in the context of our hyper stimulated culture.  We are constantly both consciously and unconsciously being inundated with messages about who we are and who we should be. When the body begins to still, the mind has the propensity to race.  
This is a drawing of my dog.

This is a drawing of my dog.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is founded upon the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviors.  In CBT we talk about how by developing awareness of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, we can begin to respond to external events rather than react to them.  We can do this by becoming aware of our automatic thoughts (<— seriously, check out this link) and then can ask ourselves whether or not these thoughts are an accurate response to what occurred.   If the answer is no, we can change our perception which will directly impact our emotional response.   This awareness disrupts the automaticity of our (often maladaptive) cognitive patterns.

Many therapists are now incorporating “body” into the CBT model, drawing awareness to the physical sensations elicited by thoughts, emotions and behaviors.  This is to say that the body is impacted by our cognitive patterns.  Just as the body is attentive to the brain, the brain is attentive to the body.  
We can work from the inside out AND/OR the outside in! 
Asana, when practiced with awareness of breath and mind, can have a profound impact on our sense of self, our sense of being connected to the universe around us and an ability to “be” still.  
 I would argue that there is not one limb that is more important than another.  Once we start assigning value to the limbs, we miss the point. 

Yoga is awesome.  All of it.  While I stand by that statement, in this blog, I will (mostly) be singling out asana.  
I told you I was going to make a short story long.  Now, to make a long story short, I will be using this blog to explore and comment on my experience of asana as a vehicle to delve deeper into an understanding of the physical postures in my body and to examine my response to these postures.  With each asana, I will comment on the following:
Psychological response
other psychological reactions (imagery, narrative, etc.):
Physical response
Felt open:
Felt strengthened:
other physical sensations:
Mini Sequence (to move into and out of this posture) 

*Note that the mini sequences that I come up with are sequences that feel good in my body.  Safety and intention are my biggest priorities. I’m not as concerned with “rules” set forth my different “brands” of yoga.  Please practice with caution.  Respect your body.  New bodies are hard to come by.

Of course I will sprinkle in a dusting of curiosities from the other 7 limbs, the intersection of yoga and psychology and musings from my life off the mat.  As is the trajectory of life, we start at “point A” with a specific destination in mind, but often “point B” is not what we expected.  Your guess of where this blog will go is as good as mine!  I’m so glad you’re along for the ride!  
Stay tuned!
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf”  -Jon Kabat-Zinn