SMARTer bodies

Category: Interviews

Podcast #42 – Exposing Yoga Myths (part 4)

Podcast #42 – Exposing Yoga Myths (part 4)

Oh, so much more we discuss. Listen here for:

  • Some things that we love about yoga in our personal practice and how we use it as a tool with students and clients.
  • Yes, our book criticizes concepts often taught in yoga teacher trainings. Being critical doesn’t mean that we’re being negative. We’re criticizing something we love because we want to make it better.
  • Some thoughts on the importance of critical thinking.

Click here for Ariana’s article for Mind Body Green.

Hit us up and share your thoughts 🙂

#complimentsandwich

 

A Discussion About Mindfulness With Dr. Peregrine Kavros

A Discussion About Mindfulness With Dr. Peregrine Kavros

Dr. Peregrine Kavros is a friend of ours who is a licensed Psychologist & Clinical Neuropsychologist who provides individual psychotherapy, couples counseling, and sex therapy.  She founded Management Focus to address the often overlooked needs of students and professionals in academia and the workplace: Among the many tools she uses, Dr. Kavros has found that mindfulness techniques can change the moods that control your life.  So, obviously we wanted to pick her brain and share with you what makes her work with others so successful. She explains the neuroscience that proves that there is indeed a connection between emotions and the physical body.  This science also proves the need for all of us to learn mindfulness techniques to help maintain a functional mind/body relationship.

SB: Dr. Kavros we believe the physical, emotional and mental bodies are distinct, but connected.  Can you speak to that?

Dr. K:  There is a clear systemic or neurological basis for the inter-relationships of the body, mind and emotions. That is why having a physical movement practice is so important in helping us to affect the change that we would like orchestrate in those relationships. Centering the body can be helpful when we feel out of control either mentally or emotionally.  It’s also important that the physical movement we engage in be fun and enjoyable!

SB:  We are big anatomy and neuroscience nerds.  Can you describe some of the brain functions that fit into the context of this conversation about the body/mind and trying to create a practice that allows us to keep that connection healthy?

Dr.K:  The specific neurobiological underpinnings of Mindfulness, in this context, can be read about in the work done by Drs. David Vago and David Silbersweig.  In the linked article, they describe how one may, “through meditation…modulate self-specifying and narrative self-networks through an integrative fronto-parietal control network.” (Thankfully, Dr. K will now translate for the rest of us.)

Rather than our thoughts, emotions or body controlling us, with practices of mindfulness, we develop a greater capacity to choose which part of us needs to be in control at any given point in time. Until a regular practice of mindfulness is enacted, the Narrative self, which is associated with the structures of the brain that are more likely to hold our “stories”, (the hippocampus, ventral medial prefrontal cortex, and other memory related structures), may be overly dominant. The Narrative self, the voice that does not seem to fade and replays over and over again, reminds us of what we’ve experienced in the past and how that past may influence our experience in the future. This process of recollection can be an overwhelming sensory experience. For instance, if an experience triggers a memory of an event you had when you were 8 years old then you can also re-experience the physical sensations that go along with that memory.

SB:  So the neurobiological process you have described can make moving beyond past trauma difficult as well as make it challenging to remain in “reality” due to our ever-shifting emotions. How does practicing mindfulness effect that process?

Dr K.: These Narrative brain structures that we have been speaking about compose what neuroscientists refer to as Task Negative Networks. When Task Negative Networks are shown during functional magnetic resonance imaging (a test that measures blood flow in the brain) individuals are engaged in non-goal related activities such as, daydreaming. Alternatively, Task Positive Networks, which involve structures such as, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, precuneus (a structure involved with episodic memory, visual processing and self-awareness), frontal eye fields, primary motor cortex, parietal lobe, among others, activate on a conscious and unconscious level when individuals engage in goal related activities. In one study, prior to a sustained practice of mindfulness, the posterior part of the Insula (one of the brain structures associated with emotion) was activated at the same time as the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (the Narrative Self). After a sustained practice of mindfulness, the Insula was activated with the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, thus shifting from rumination to a stronger capacity to attend, initiate, execute and follow through. Drs.  Vago and Silbersweig suggest that the brain actually becomes more efficient in integrating information and switching between the Task Positive and Task Negative Networks; thus, coordinating our processing of emotion and physical sensory in a much more helpful manner. Rather than being lost in our emotions and physical sensations, we can direct our activity where it needs to be directed, while at the same time feeling grounded and centered in our experience.

SB: Nice!  So can a physical practice, like yoga or dance, that demands your focus be part of a mindfulness practice?

Dr.K: Absolutely! Engaging in a physical practice, while also directing one’s attention, can help us develop our muscles, so to speak, as we shift our brain activity. The brain does not function with separate conversations happening in distinct areas of the brain.  Activity in the brain is more like a chorus of voices and we are the conductor.

SB: Aaaah.  A tenent of SMARTer Yoga™ is that your physical practice should increase your awareness of your body, of your mental processes and of your emotions.  We believe that with this increased awareness comes the ability to make better choices.  Do you believe that this relates to the neuroscience we are talking about here?

Dr.K:  Absolutely!  A mindfulness practice (physical or meditative) can help one to discriminate among the voices that make up the chorus in an active brain.  With mindfulness it is easier to choose the voice that will help us to pay closer attention or complete our task without necessarily being distracted by memories that can negatively influence our experience. We become less reactive and are able to stay focused in the moment.

SB: This is so exciting! Integrating information in a way that lets us make good choices is ultimately the reason we have a practice that is physically demanding, yet meditative.  Taking our time while confronting uncomfortable sensations, breathing, staying focused and making good movement choices is the way we learn how to evaluate pieces of information in daily life, but not be overwhelmed by triggers.  Mindfulness can be an incredibly empowering experience.  How would you recommend someone begin practicing?

Dr.K:  Start with what you have: your body.  Begin by focusing on your breath for 5-10 minutes a day.  A really simple beginning to your practice can start by counting to 4 on the inhale and then counting to 4 on the exhale. One can also go to Dr. Dan Siegel’s site for more information and examples on how to begin.

 

Our Interview with Yoga Foster’s Nicole Cardoza

In case you haven’t heard of Yoga Foster now is the time to get acquainted.  This is one of the yoga-driven organizations that makes New York City an amazing place to grow up.  Here’s what they’re all about:

Yoga Foster is a non-profit initiative that fosters creativity through the children’s yoga practice. We empower yoga volunteers to teach creativity-based children’s yoga classes at schools and community centers for no charge.

It basically doesn’t get any better does it?  We know the City’s public schools’ budgets are always being trimmed, after school and arts programs often being the first to get cut.  Yoga Foster is stepping in with a helping hand to recreate those lost environments of creativity, safety and fun for the children who need it most!  We got a chance to speak with Nicole Cardoza for details on what YF is doing now and where it’s going.  Read the interview and don’t skip the video beneath it.  By watching you’ll get to know the inspiration that helped birth one of the most promising, socially conscious non-profits for NYC kids.  Of course, do your part by spreading the word!

  • Hi Nicole! You are the lovely creator behind Yoga Foster, a non-profit that provides yoga to children here in NYC. You’re also a yoga teacher.  Can you share with us your experiences with yoga and what lead you to become a teacher?

Why thank you! It’s funny, I was a teacher before I started teaching yoga. I taught piano to children for a couple years, then got involved in yoga. As my practice developed, I really wanted to find a way to share it with others, so I became a volunteer yoga instructor through New York Cares and worked in schools around the city.

  • We love the idea of children benefiting on so many levels from a yoga practice of their own! What is the age range in your programs and how did you first identify the need for yoga specifically for children?

Currently our programs range from kindergarten to 8th grade, with hopes to expand to high schools as early as next semester.

I found the need for yoga specifically for children from my experience teaching through New York Cares. The responses from the students was astounding, and it was so heartwarming hearing that their experiences on the mat had a positive effect on their attention, mood and enthusiasm during the rest of their time in school. Yoga Foster is my way of creating more classes that can make a positive impact on students, while empowering volunteer yoga instructors with the resources they need to give back.

  • I see there’s a “Yoga for Grownups” section to your site.  Are there plans for expanding your programing to adults as well?  If so, with which demographic will you start?

Currently no, although I do think everyone can use a good dose of creative yoga! Someday, it would be interesting to provide classes for parents/guardians and children, or senior citizens – but that’s far in the future.

For the “grownups” we offer tons of resources that will help them become better teachers, regardless if they’re teaching through Yoga Foster or not. All our courses will be available to any adult interested in learning more about children’s yoga, education, or creativity. We also hold donation-based yoga classes for grownups when space and time allow for.

  • Going back to the programs you have right now, it seems as though you are targeting public schools.  How do you select which ones to approach or are they mainly coming to you?

We’re thrilled to have support from various after-school administrators and teachers around the city. There have been a lot of requests from schools looking to work with us, which is great – especially since it’s our first semester! My goal is to work with public schools that are looking to establish creative programs, but may not have the resources to do so – these are the schools that need it most.

  • What’s been the reaction from the children?  I’m sure it’s a bit of a process, maybe convincing them at first to try it.  But are there dedicated young practitioners coming forward?  Maybe some children have shared stories of how yoga has helped them?

It may be surprising, but children are often excited to participate in yoga when it’s presented in a way that sounds creative and imaginative rather than restful and mindful. Naturally, we know the multifaceted benefits of yoga classes, but by positioning it in the right way for children – especially in the school environment – helps them to accept it, or at least give it a shot.

We really got to see this in our Yoga Foster in the Park series this summer, where we held outdoor yoga classes in parks around the city. Many of our participants came because of press, but others were passersby that were really interested in getting involved, because we were having fun, silly energetic classes that matched the mood of an outdoor space. How can you say no to a make-believe day at the zoo?

  • What’s your dream for the future of Yoga Foster?  How big would you like it to be? Do you want to go nationwide?

I hope to have Yoga Foster grow naturally. As long as it continues to spark creativity in passion in students, while empowering volunteer instructors to give back, the mission of Yoga Foster can spread worldwide. For now, I’m most concerned about building our core – from courses to class structures to volunteer base – before exploring other cities.

  • What does Y.F. need most right now in terms of support?

Our biggest challenge right now is space! We have a large group of volunteer instructors, helping hands, and supporters, and would love to use inexpensive space to hold meetings and events.

  • If teachers want to volunteer what do they need in terms of certifications or insurance? Or is it as simple as contacting you?

It’s as simple as reaching out! Certification and insurance is not necessary for all of our current initiatives, so we recommend anyone interested in getting involved to email us at nicole@yogafoster.com

NBC “School Pride” Feature from Nicole Cardoza on Vimeo.

Interview with William Broad, NOT a Yoga Basher!

We were fortunate enough to snag an interview with possibly the most spoken about man in the yoga community these days, William Broad.  The author of the book, The Science of Yoga, had some interesting reactions and comments to make about the recent controversy surrounding that article and was kind enough to answer other questions.  We may not agree with everything in the book and you might not either, but, as serious yoga teachers, we are thrilled to see material like this entering the mainstream of yoga culture! “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” broke down the secrecy surrounding the idea that yoga is indeed no panacea and if not practiced correctly has the potential to hurt you, just like any other physical activity. It’s great to see some scientific research supporting an activity that has been sacred and beneficial to people for so long!

Although some of the science in Broad’s book may be debatable (as ALL things scientific are and should be), it is definitely worth the read!  Why?  Because there have been amazing yoga educators working for years to elevate the credibility, integrity, and safety of Hatha Yoga. For instance, the Breathing Project, a non-profit organization in NYC, has been the center of advanced yoga teaching methods, anatomy as it applies to the body in movement and extraordinarily intelligent discussion about all things surrounding yoga in its current culture and practice. This center along with the Broad’s new book are helping to break ground for the evolution of yoga as we would like to see it.

In the book, you will see Mr. Broad refer to various scientific studies that reveal a darker, riskier side to the physical practice, but you’ll also see scientific studies that seemingly present irrefutable truth about the benefits of yoga.  You’ll most definitely be exposed to information that is not discussed in your typical teacher training.  You might even be surprised to find out that Mr. Broad loves yoga and wishes everyone had an active practice!  Shocking we know. *sarcasm* Read More