Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Explore Hate - MEDITATE

by Gina Caputo, Colorado School of Yoga Founder & Director

2016 has been a year of getting schooled. Professionally, personally, it’s been a doozy so far and I know I’m not alone. Recently, the great teacher Rod Stryker reminded me that Yoga, which means union, is a practice that also includes its opposite Viyoga, which means division. In other words, to know union, we must explore our division and separation. And 2016 seems to be the year of studying Viyoga; of studying our division in order to dismantle it.

I didn’t identify with the big “isms” this year has showcased, racism, sexism, homophobism…I mean, I’m a YOGA TEACHER and we’re supposed to love everybody. From the comfort of my Boulder, Colorado home and an echo chamber of a loving yoga community, I got angry and sad at so much injustice and hatred and cruelty. It is horrible! And unfathomable! And wrong of those hateful people to treat others that way. How could they??

But beneath the anger and incredulity, I also felt helpless and unsure of how to help. And social media started to scare me into inaction. I wanted to speak up but began to doubt myself, my intelligence, my empathy and my ability to express after seeing many well-intending, but perhaps short-sighted, friends take that leap and then get shot down in a blaze of criticism for their blindness and privileged ignorance. I let my fear of judgement put me into some kind of activism paralysis.

A conversation one day snapped me out of that. I realized that if I was so concerned with what I didn’t know or understand then what I needed was to get schooled. So I started to subscribe, read, pay attention and ask questions. And what I learned HURT. It hurt to be told I was a participant in rampant systemic injustice. My first reactions were defensive. What? Not me! I teach inclusivity, acceptance, tolerance and LOVE. How could I be lumped in with such atrocities?! And yet, somewhere in there I knew there was a kernel of truth in the soil of my privilege.

As an introduction to the practice of meditation, I often explain that it is a bit like turning on a light in a room and all of a sudden you can see everything in vivid detail inside the space. And it’s not all pretty. And when you feel like you can’t stand to look anymore, you turn back around only to find that the switch on the wall has disappeared. And there’s no turning the light back off. So meditation practice made it so that I didn’t just react but also witnessed my defensive reaction. And that awareness is what told me that it was time to study my Viyoga in much greater depth.

I realized that one of the best ways to show my support was to not just feel bad but to LISTEN and STAY OPEN, even when it hurts or makes me feel guilty to do so. And not just externally listen but also internally listen, closer than ever before. How could I advocate for union until I fully understood the ways I participate in division?

Here’s the thing - I don’t have EXPLICIT biases rooted in hate, which would be attitudes and behaviors that I consciously endorse. I felt defensive when I read or heard certain things because I wasn’t consciously thinking or doing things that supported the injustices being brought to light and resented that my not having explicit biases didn’t give me a Get Out Of Hate Jail Free card. I’d like to think that most of us have some sense of our explicit biases, but then again, why is it that every person that gets caught doing atrocious things or posting horrible, hateful things on social media always seems to say “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”. But, I digress…in general, these biases are the kind that you engage in with intention, so they’re more noticeable. And yeah, maybe some of us that identify as “woke” don’t have hateful explicit biases.

Where it gets tricky are IMPLICIT biases. Unlike their conscious counterparts, these are attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. Meaning, they’re activated without intention, generally reside deep in our subconscious mind and are more likely than not to go unnoticed. They develop over the course of our lives through privilege (or lack thereof), social learning, personal experience, exposure to direct and indirect messages about others and generally favor our own ingroup and can therefore be divisive (viyoga). Herein lies the work. Because implicit bias results from subtle cognitive processes, one can’t expect to read a blog about it and be on top of it. It takes practice. Enter meditation…

At around the 6th century BCE, the Taittiriya Upanishad was written and yogis learned a map of our consciousness called the Panchakosha or the 5 sheaths of consciousness surrounding our soul (Atman). Through practices that include mantra, visualization, asana and meditation, we cultivate stronger awareness or cognizance of each layer, from gross (body) to subtlest (soul). With a 2600 year old map in hand and a cushion to sit on, we have an opportunity to take advantage of implicit bias’ inherent malleability and access the subtle, illuminate the shadow and reveal the viyoga that is impeding union.

Meditation feels mostly tedious. Sit, breathe, think, observe, repeat. But in building stamina for the practice, we slowly but surely strengthen our ability to notice subtlety, fluctuations and patterns in our minds. Through this noticing, we may be able to thoroughly examine our implicit biases to foster opportunities for intention and change.

Yogis, we are students of consciousness and union. We are resourced with invaluable tools and practices to transcend the regressive patterns, both gross and subtle that keep us in a state of division or Viyoga. I feel like we are uniquely poised to be leaders in change. Please don’t think small. Devote yourself to what you value and love, to what you want to see more of in this world.  The opportunity is here, right now. Are you ready to do the work together?

At this time in history,
We are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves!
For the moment we do,
Our spiritual growth and journey comes to an end.
The time of the Lone Wolf is over!

Gather yourselves!
Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done,
In a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are all about to go on a journey,
We are the ones we have been waiting for!

-Thomas Banyacya Sr. (1910-1999);
Speaker of the Wolf, Fox and Coyote Clan

Elder of the Hopi Nation

Monday, October 3, 2016

Yoga & Knee Pain - What To Do About It!

Yoga & Knee Pain
by Nicole Haas, PT, DPT, OCS and 2016 Colorado School of Yoga Alum

Do you ever wonder why your knee “talks” to you during or after yoga practice, even though you may pay particular attention to alignment and the cues your teacher gives while holding a pose? Do you try to keep your knee stacked over your ankle versus too far forward when you’re lunging in Crescent? And do you try to press your knee outward toward your little toe in Warrior 2? And do you use a blanket or a block to take the pressure off your knees when you kneel or sit? And does your knee still complain regardless of all your attempts and intention to align it correctly?

It’s possible you are doing everything right… while in the poses. And it’s very possible your knees are getting aggravated during the transitions between poses as you move. As in life, we can all have a tendency to rush the transitions to reach the calmness, stillness, and support of a well-aligned pose. A place where we feel stable. And when we transition slowly, it seems to take more effort and create more discomfort. Transitions can be hard…especially when you’re paying attention to them.

As a yoga teacher- and especially as a physical therapist of 18 years who did her doctorate research on knee pain- I cannot help but focus on the transitions and movement patterns between the poses, and to wonder how much attention and effort we are giving our knees as we flow. According to research on knee pain (the kind of pain on the front of your knee or related to your knee cap), it is the lack of control of the knee and hip muscle engagement during squatting and lunging type of movements that correlates with pain. And the reason I think it’s so important to focus on the alignment and control of the knee during the transitions.

How, then, can you keep your knees happy during the transitions? You can start by keeping these important things (from a biomechanical perspective) in mind as you move and flow between the poses…

Don’t allow your knee to collapse inward as you move into or out of a lunge.
Try to focus on keeping your knee lined up with your 2nd toe when looking down at it. You shouldn’t see your pinky toe peeking out from the side of your knee- that indicates your knee is diving inward in relation to your foot. Cue your outer hips and gluteus muscles to help you, to help guide your knee outward. Interesting to note, weakness in the gluteus muscles is strongly correlated with knee pain as well, and is the muscle group that prevents the knee from collapsing inward during a lunge or squat type movement.

Don't use momentum to get to the next position.
Why miss the opportunity to engage your muscles properly and work toward finding the ease of your flow and transition? Momentum can create susceptibility to the knee as it waffles back and forth, in and out over the top of your foot as you lunge and squat. You might also miss your knee’s “feedback” to you as you move in a way that aggravates it. Slowing down allows the mind-body connection to engage and pattern properly, and from the knee’s perspective, to keep it aligned and free from irritation.

Transition with intention.
Be mindful of the pose you are moving from and towards. Activate your muscles before you move to gain their support during the transition. For example, from downward dog as you lift one leg up and then step through to your thumb, engage your hip muscles and draw you knee outward as you ground through your feet to rise.

And what if your knee is already painful and gets more aggravated with yoga?

Try these 3 tips to ease knee irritation.

1.     When squatting or lunging, avoid bending your knee deeper than 60 degrees (0 degrees = straight leg, 90 degrees= knee bent at right angle). This causes greater compression of the knee cap mechanically. For example, in standing poses, remain a bit higher in the pose to unload the knee, and focus on engaging all the hip and core musculature for support.

2.  In kneeling poses, keep the pressure off of the knee cap to avoid further irritating it’s sensitive tissues. It’s common to use a blanket or double one’s mat to pad the ground for knee contact, but it’s best to pad the area of your lower leg below the knee cap so that the knee is free from pressure.

3.     Avoid prolonged positioning in full knee bend, or use a blanket between your heels and your hips to keep the knees more open/ less bent while in the pose.