SMARTer bodies

Tag Archives: the brain

Balance Is Not Symmetry: Where are Your Organs?

Balance Is Not Symmetry: Where are Your Organs?

In our last post, we quickly explained what brain processes occur during balance postures. To fitness professionals like us, understanding neuroscience is not only fascinating but also helpful in assisting our clients to overcome challenges with movement including balancing. This information can definitely help boost your yoga practice!  But you should also incorporate another bit of information to bring your practice to the next level:  Organ Placement.

Organ Placement is not often included in the dialogue about improving performance in yoga postures. Big Mistake!  It may not seem obvious at first, but for us (and those of us who are interested in the “fringe” somatics), organ participation is obviously pertinent in every aspect of movement/fitness. We all have moments of getting caught up in the popular definition of balance as involving or connoting symmetry. But this visually oriented concept  is more of an imposed aesthetic or cultural ideal.

Let’s make this point very clear and put it into the context of asana. Tree Pose, Vrksasana, is a one-legged balance posture. Usually when we practice this asana, we try to experience this posture in the same way on both sides (we try to “feel” or balance on the left leg in the same way we did on the right). This seems appropriate considering that the skeletal body superficially does appear to be symmetrical. But upon examining the rib cage more closely, we can see how the asymmetrical arrangement of the internal organs affects the skeletal shape. Because of the placement of the liver, the right side of the rib cage may be rounded out more than the left. Don’t believe us? Go to the mirror and check it out. Touch both sides of the rib cage and see how they feel.

Each individual’s experience/performance in Vrksanana, on the left and right side, is affected by the placement of our organs. Your brain integrates information about the movement of the organs and the musculoskeletal system in order to make micro adjustments necessary to help you maintain your balance while standing, walking, lifting weights or twisting yourself into pretzel-like shapes in accordance with every breath you take. You are just not usually consciously aware of your brain/body on this micro level of functioning, which is not necessarily bad.  Being conscious of every process in our bodies, big and small, would be time consuming and exhausting.  Yet tiny processes, like the one described above, happen all the time.

Every so often you can take time to see if you can deepen your sensory experience by trying to get in touch with a part of body that often goes untapped in a conscious way. Can you feel your lungs move with every breath? Can you feel the movement of your diaphragm press against the liver, stomach, spleen, intestines and so on (maybe not sense the organs individually, but feel the shift of movement inside your abdominal cavity when you breathe)? Can you incorporate their movement as you flow through your next practice? If not, you should try it. Stop ignoring your organs! Making them a conscious part of your yoga practice could add insight and benefit you. With their asymmetrical placement inside your body, they have just as much to do with your sense of balance as anything else you can think of.

Bad Yoga: Being Upside Down Helps Combat Gravity (Part 1)

Bad Yoga: Being Upside Down Helps Combat Gravity (Part 1)

Ok, so many ways to try and address this.  First let’s just try to get our thoughts organized, so that this doesn’t get out of control.  Here’s what is typically said in many yoga classes, “gravity is harmful to us or at the very least takes it toll on human bodies as we age.”  The follow up to that statement is the postulate that inverted yoga poses can help combat those gravitational forces.

No.  no no no no nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

In case you haven’t heard these statements before, here are the results of a google search using “yoga poses fights gravity”:

When we turn the body upside down, we reverse the pull of gravity and create long-lasting benefits for our entire system! Some claim that for every minute spent in headstand, the aging process is suspended. Inversions (even half inversions like downward facing dog or standing forward bend) allow a fresh flow of blood to the brain, they enable you to see the world from a different perspective, and, when you can get your legs above your heart, they provide a much-welcomed rest for the circulatory system. I’ve had many students tell me they measure at least an inch taller after beginning a consistent yoga practice.

In a sense, spending time upside down temporarily suspends aging since you aren’t susceptible to gravity in the same way that you are for the vast majority of your life. You also give your heart a break, as it doesn’t have to work so hard to get blood to and from your extremities when you are upside-down. This little breather helps your heart gather its strength…Finally, inversions help the flow of lymphatic fluid, which is an important component of the immune system.

Because forward-bending poses fight against gravity by turning the head toward the ground instead of toward the sky, Fanto refers to them as fountains of youth. Blood flows into the face faster, bringing with it oxygen and other helpful nutrients that fight free radicals, encourage skin cell renewal, and give the visage a rosy glow.

It reverses gravity (yes, it’s anti-aging!), restoring the position of vital organs and increases the circulation to the neck resulting in an improved quality of sleep (which might be the main reason why you find yourself so tired in the first place). Circulation to the brain also surges, which can help things like intelligence, memory, vitality and confidence. Inversions are revitalization incarnate.

Honestly, no offense meant to the quoted sites.  Despite the fact that we disagree with the popular thinking that makes up the yoga-gravity dialogue, these sites may still be full of other useful information.  But the aforementioned dialogue does need to be acknowledged and engaged with in such a way as to improve upon our work as yoga teachers.

There are immediately two concepts that have not been mentioned that if included would make this “yogic science” more well-rounded and valid:

  • Homeostasis – a process in which the body’s internal environment is kept stable.

  • A belief in the Inherent value of of yogic postures

This first part of the post is to get you familiar with popular, but scientifically questionable claims surrounding an inversion practice.  Part 2 of this post will discuss why we don’t agree with what has been covered here now by analyzing the claims through the lens of homeostasis.  Part 3 will tackle the (we think controversial) belief in the power of yoga poses to affect the human experience in specific ways.  We will further flush out and use these two concepts as an argument against the use of inversions for the purpose of combating the effects of gravity. We look forward to any thoughts you may have to contribute to this discussion.  Please feel free to use the comments section or our FB page.

Leonardo DaVinci and the Brain

We all know that Leonardo da Vinci is a renowned Renaissance artist with incredibly recognizable work: the Mona Lisa, the Vitruvian Man.  But what catches our art-loving eye is his work with anatomy.  Here’s a quick synopsis according to Wikipedia of what his anatomy work entailed:

Leonardo’s formal training in the anatomy of the human body began with his apprenticeship to Andrea del Verrocchio, who insisted that all his pupils learn anatomy. As an artist, he quickly became master of topographic anatomy, drawing many studies of musclestendonsand other visible anatomical features. He studied the mechanical functions of the skeleton and the muscular forces that are applied to it in a manner that prefigured the modern science of biomechanics. He drew the heart and vascular system, the sex organs and other internal organs, making one of the first scientific drawings of a fetus in utero.

He did all this during a time when the Establishment wanted to vilify anybody interested in serious, scientific study of the human body as a heretic. Leonardo is considered to be one of the first true scientists.  He was especially forward in his intense study and beautifully accurate rendering of the human brain, “which he believed was the key to understanding the relationship between the senses and the soul.”He was one of the first to find and map out the ventricles of the brain. We wanted to share some of these staggering works with you.  If you want to learn more about Leonardo’s contribution to neuroscience start here Behind the Canvas.


brain3The brain of an ox injected to demonstrate the shape of the cerecns

Brain Health: More Reasons to Pay Attention

It’s Monday, which can suck, but here’s a great video to provide some fun distraction.  It explains the benefits of a mindfulness practice, giving yourself down time, giving children your full attention and respect, and how the internet measures up to your brain.  Whew!  Who would have known all this could be covered in 10 mins?  Our take away:  Attention is your brain’s most valuable resource.