The most important anatomy lesson I have ever learned

vitruvius man

Human anatomy is a fascinating field of study that has inspired awe in both scientists and artists for centuries. It is also a compelling subject for people who want to explore their own bodies as a means to better know themselves. In this context, anatomy offers us information that we can use to refine our proprioceptive awareness, the sensations of our inner body, thus enriching our lives. 

The most important anatomy lesson I have ever learned – and one that I love to teach – is the notion of different tissue “layers.” Think of the different tissues of the body as overlapping layers fabric, one resting on top of the next.

The skin is the outermost layer, we can see it and touch it. Right below the skin we encounter the superficial fascia. This connective tissue layer ensheathes the body like a wetsuit keeping all the underlying structures in place. The next layer down is muscle which is in charge of movement. Beneath the fleshy muscle tissue, we can feel our bones which support our structure and protect vital organs. Deep fascia is woven inbetween muscles, organs and bones, separating them from one another. Fascia also allows the different layers of tissue to glide over one anothther facilitating movement.

Refining my understanding of these layers has played a crucial role in my development as a bodyworker. Each layer has it’s own palpable characteristics: it can be slippery, fibrous, dense, thin, thick, spongy, etc.. The more attention I pay to each one the more my touch improves. Exploring layers has also given me more awareness of my inner body which results in a feeling of spaciousnees and grounding. 

I believe that anyone can benefit from developing more awareness of their body. For this reason, I teach my students to palpate these tissue layers on one another. When we touch, we learn in a whole new way: we associate information with a physical sensation, thus embodying it. Learning anatomy through touch and movement allows one to close the gap between abstract theory and physical reality.

010 FOTOS CLASSES JULY 2014-C

In just a few days you can learn anatomy with me. On the 12th of may I launch a brand new applied anatomy study group and I still have a 2 available slots. 

PS: Do you have any anatomy questions for me? Post them here.

Stretching: why its good for you & how to do it right.

People often believe they aren’t flexible enough to practice yoga, as if yoga were only meant for flexible people. It’s not! The opposite is actually true: a regular yoga practice will increases your flexibility and range of motion. So if you are feeling tight and stiff there’s no better practice for you than yoga. Take me for example: just recently I was able to comfortably do “the splits” for the first time in my life. I’m 41 years old and I never thought this would happen… Ever!  But it did. Just to be clear: I wasn’t born with the flexibility I have now, It has developed slowly over time, thanks to yoga.

The reason yoga bestows so much flexibility is that it involves a lot of stretching. Many of the poses regularly performed in a yoga class stretch and therefore lengthen the muscles. This is because yoga poses (asanas) hold the muscles in a lengthened position as you take several long slow breaths. This allows for short and tight muscles to reset their “normal” length to this new, longer position. This is the opposite of what you do in gym workouts where the muscles are shortened (and become bulky) through fast repetitions.

Though it may take a while to do the splits, the benefits of stretching are immediate. Stretching relaxes both the body and the mind. It reduces muscle tension, relieves stiffness and it also calms the nervous system, reducing stress. With consistent practice, stretching improves flexibility and range of motion. It also increases body awareness (proprioception) and improves posture.

Interestingly enough, the benefits of stretching are similar to those attributed to yoga: increased flexibility, stress reduction and relaxation. Coincidence? I think not! Yoga involves a lot of stretching which not only benefits the body but the mind as well. I hope all this talk about stretching has inspired you to give it a go.

Here’s a few tips on how to stretch safely to maximize results and avoid injury:

  1. Warm up first. It’s important to warm-up before stretching to avoid injury. Five to ten sun salutations – will help get the blood flowing to the muscles and raise your body temp. It is important your muscles are warm before stretching as stretching cold muscles can cause injury.  
  2. Hold each stretch for 3 to 5 slow breaths – or 10 to 30 seconds. Start small holding for 10 seconds at first and letting your practice build up over time. Holding a stretch too long too soon could cause over-stretching.
  3. Don’t push. Stretching should not be painful, it should feel good. Breathe mindfully into the tighter spots while keeping and equanimous mind (meaning, don’t judge yourself). And please, no bouncing!
  4. Make sure the stretch takes place in the muscle belly, not in the joint. An example: many people tend to hyperextend their knees which can create pressure on the tendons and ligaments in the back of the knee. This is a sensation you want to avoid. You want to feel the stretch happening in the muscle belly, not in the joint.
  5. Focus on main muscle groups. When choosing a stretching routine, focus on main muscle groups, such as the calf, front and back of the thigh, trunk, chest, shoulders and neck.
  6. For best results, practice regularly. 10 to 20 minutes of stretching 3 x a week is generally recommended for best results. Remember, this should not feel like a chore but like a gift: it is your present to yourself. You will be glad you did it.

I hope this article has inspired you to start stretching today – or better yet, to start practicing yoga. Sometimes committing to a regular weekly class can help establish a new exercise habit. 

PS: If you want to come stretch with me, I’ll be back to teaching my regular Thursday yoga class at Centre Cos on May 7th at 8:15 pm. RSVP required. See you on the mat 🙂

Anatomy & Yoga with Marta and Julia

yoga anatomy with Julia Zatta

If you follow this blog you already know how much I adore Marta Puig and her restorative classes. Marta is a great teacher who is particularly skilled in sequencing, articulation and effective use of props. Plus, I adore her BackMitra yoga prop, it makes every class delicious.

We are both excited to announce that we are collaborating on a series of workshops on yoga anatomy and alignment based asana practice all in one. We believe all yogis can benefit from learning anatomy: it helps to get in touch with the body and improves your yoga skills. Our goal is to offer a fun and dynamic approach to yoga anatomy. 

Here’s why you should come:

  • Two teachers means double the experience
  • Anatomy theory and Yoga asana practice all in one class
  • Visual presentation + take home material
  • Personalized instruction applicable to your level of practice
  • Inspiration for your asana practice

What is included in each class?

Anatomy class with Julia

  • Visual presentation
  • Printed material and resources
  • Partner exercises and explorations

Yoga asana with Marta 

  • Skillfully crafted sequence revolving around the central theme of the class.
  • Use of yoga props including my favorite: the BackMitra!!

What will I learn?

Class 1: Intro to anatomy

We will discuss the different tissues that make up the different layers of the body paying special attention to fascia = connective tissue.

Class 2: The breath

Breath is crucial to yoga: it is through breathing that we extend our vital energy (prana) and focus our minds inward. But how should we breathe, and why? You’ll find out here!

Class 3: Core strength

A strong and dynamic core is vital to a sustainable and enjoyable yoga practice. It also has great benefits off the mat. You will learn all about how to cultivate core strength and why this is important.

Save the date:

May 9th, May 30th and June 20th, from 11:30am to 2pm @ Zona Ioga, Sabadell. (Plaza San Roc 8, Entresol 1ª)

Special offer!

Sign up by April 17th, 2015 and save 15€ on your enrollment fee. Email me for details.

PS: If you’re interested in studying anatomy in depth, check out my Anatomy Study Group, next course begins in May. 

How to be your own friend: a self-compassion exercise

 

lotus flower“I’m only as hard on others as I am on myself”  – Brené Brown.

As you may have gathered from my last post, I’m having a bit of a rough time here. My main source of frustration right now is my body. It’s a recurrent theme and it boils down to feeling inadequate. I think if my shape, proportions and tissues were different, I’d be a much happier person. If only I were someone else, things would be better. 

In my endeavor to understand what is going on with the “monsters” that keep coming at me, I’ve discovered the compelling findings of of Dr. Kristine Neff on the topic of self-esteem and self-compassion. According to Dr. Neff, negative self-talk is fueled by attaching our sense of self-worth to our achievements. When we measure ourselves against an outcome, failure to achieve that goal will inevitably lead to dejection. Neff says that the way to reverse this is by practicing self-compassion.

Neff explains that our current education system has focused on boosting self-esteem through competition and goal-setting, with grave consequences to our sense of worthiness. On her website, she offers some useful tools to help us develop a self-compassion practice. I find these resources extremely valuable and I’ve outlined my favorite exercise below. I like it because it is practical and can be used on the spot, right when you most need it. 

Step 1: “This hurts!”

Acknowledge the pain you are feeling right now. It’s ok to admit that  this moment is hard, uncomfortable and challenging. You can place a hand over your chest, face or belly while you say this to yourself.

Step 2: “I am not alone.”

Suffering is a very normal human experience. We are imperfect, we make mistakes, things don’t always go the way we plan. There are lots of people out there who have experienced something similar to what we’re going through.

*It helps me to name the people I know who are struggling with my same/similar issues. I’ve even started to list those people’s names in my journal, so I can send them good thoughts. It helps me to feel connected and it also helps me keep things in perspective.

Step 3: “What do I need to hear?”

This question it is a great antidote to “What’s wrong with me?!”  Wracking my brain in search of a solution while I’m experiencing inner turmoil isn’t helpful. In fact, it usually makes things worse. 

Dr. Neff even suggests writing out a script you can refer to later on, in an emergency. My script is:

  • I forgive myself for not meeting my expectations.
  • Showing up is good enough.
  • Trying is good enough.
  • I am ok just the way I am.

These are self-care thoughts. This is being my own friend. After all, we are only as kind to others as we are to ourselves.

PS: Watch this video, it’s really good!

About the creative process and the “monsters” that hold us back

Liz Gilbert

In Australia, when the ocean is a mess of waves and foam they say it’s like a “washing machine.” From the shore it certainly looks that way: waves breaking in all directions and tons of foam everywhere. Sometimes, life takes you to a similar place within yourself. It shakes you up and turns you around until everything you thought to be certain is completely questionable. You try to calm yourself down and find a logical explanation to your situation. When that doesn’t work you cry, kick and scream.. still, no relief. Finally, there’s nothing left to do but surrender. This is how my last few week have been.

Yoga puts you face to face with yourself and sometimes what you discover  is hard to swallow. During the last weeks a few monsters turned up to reap havoc in my internal landscape. They are ugly and scary. They love to criticize everything and they’re never satisfied. “If only this were different it would be much better,” they say. They are actively looking for the flaw in every thing, in every circumstance and in me. We have long arguments that feel like and endless ping-pong match going on in my head. It’s exhausting. 

I found some solace two weeks ago at an event with Liz Gilbert, the author of the Eat, Pray, Love book. She was touring this side of the world with her friend (and hairstylist) who just published her own book. On the stage, they had a casual and intimate discussion about the creative process and the obstacles we encounter along the way. They talked a lot about how to confront the ugly thoughts I call “monsters.”

Liz described her “monsters” as abandoned children with grubby faces who clamor for her attention. She said that at a certain point in her life she had to come to terms with them and figure out how to deal with them. She imagines herself as their mother and makes it her responsibility to care for them. It is a metaphor for taking care of herself, for being her own mother.

She also told us that at the start of each new project she writes a sort of proclamation, a formal letter that she reads out loud in her studio. In it she invites Creativity and also Fear to join her on a new adventure. She know she cannot exclude Fear, but there’s one condition. She tells Fear: “You can have a voice and you can have a seat, but you don’t get to vote!” I thought that was brilliant.

Liz encouraged us to continue forth with our creative work and to “get it done!” She reminded us that our art “doesn’t have to be good, helpful, marketable or pleasing. It just has to be Done. Get it done!” 

 She ended with these words of wisdom:

“What differentiates a life of suffering from a life of learning is a sense of belief that life is your friend. Do the work. Repeatedly. Build a life of meaning.”

Here’s to to a life of learning. Onward!

Why it’s important to know your audience

writing

Presenting out loud in front of a class makes me pretty uncomfortable and it’s something I long to get better at. These days in class I’m learning how to give an introduction on yoguic philosophy and ethics to my students back home. It’s an exercise that I love almost as much as it makes me uncomfortable. And it’s right in line with my new year’s resolution to improve my communication skills.

Today’s article is for those who, like me, need to express themselves in a precise, concise and effective way. Usually, those of us involved in complementary therapies find it challenging to explain what it is we do to people outside of our professional circles. If you find yourself in this predicament, here’s a few things I’ve learned.

The first thing to consider before writing is: who is my audience? Who am I writing for? (Note: this also applies to anything you post on your Facebook business page and, hopefully, your timeline).

Knowing your audience will help you to..

..choose the appropriate tone and language for your text. 

In our daily lives we adapt our tone of voice and our choice of words to the people with whom we are talking to. The same should happen when we present our work.

An example: when speaking with a child I’ll try to be as simple and clear as possible. It is the same when I teach. On the other hand, when speaking to a colleague, we will often utilize specific terminology that a layperson would not understand. I’ve often made the mistake of using professional lingo with laypeople. This has had the adverse outcome of pushing people away rather than bringing them closer. 

Before you write, think about who you are writing to. What will be the most appropriate tone and language to use with you audience? Are you educating newbies? Brainstorming amongst colleagues? Writing a letter to a friend?

..build a relationship with them.

When your address a specific person (or group of people) you are initiating a conversation, which implies the beginning of a relationship. Sometimes we forget that our mission is to serve and we expect our audience to serve us. We ask them to listen patiently while we expose pedantic information that is of little value to the listener. Remember, it’s not about showing off how much you know about X, Y and Z. You can gain credibility just by being helpful to another person. If you want to advertise your services, the best thing you can do is to be of service. Offer up something useful from the start! 

Ask yourself: How can I better serve my audience?

What hurdles can I help them through?

What problem can I help them solve?

..decide what information to share.

Good communication implies listening. When you listen to your audiences you are not only showing your interest but also your level of involvement with them. Sometimes, professionals tend to maintain a distance that isn’t so much professional as it is condescending. I’ve had this unfortunate experience a number of times within my field. It is no fun, especially when you are in the (already vulnerable) position of seeking help.

This is why, as a professional,  listening to your audience’s feedback is of vital importance for your career. It will show you the hopes and needs of the people you work for. You will also gain a lot of insights into how to better serve them.

We are living in an era in which information abounds, but connection and compassion are scarce. Each time you to share content that is both useful and empathic you are doing the world a huge favor and delivering an amazing gift. Own it!

(Tip: if you still aren’t sure who your audience is, choose one person that represents you “ideal audience” and imagine you are writing to them)

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