All posts by Victor

Your Hips: The Junk Drawer of Emotions?


By: Catalina Hubbard

Often times in yoga class the teachers will tell you “hips store a lot of emotion, and hip opening postures can evoke a powerful experience.” I always sat there, bent over in pigeon pose, wondering exactly what this meant. I pictured tiny, sad, angry, and anxiety ridden gremlins living somewhere deep in my psoas and iliacus. Or sometimes I would visualize a series of miniature filing cabinets sitting on my sacrum, overflowing with papers describing my worst days. In my true answer seeking nature I really wanted to find out exactly how we “store emotions in our hips,” and what I came across was incredible.

Our body’s sympathetic nervous system response can stimulate a strong contraction of the flexors of the body, drawing the ribs around the visceral organs and the knees up to the torso to offer protection. This tightening can stay with us long after the original threat or stress is gone. Tightness in the hips and other muscles of the body often arise due to insufficient relaxation of the muscles subject to the contraction of repetitive mechanical or emotional stress. The tightness itself further inhibits relaxation because when the psoas is tight, deep abdominal breathing is constricted. Stretching these muscles can ease back pain, allow for deeper breathing via the diaphragm, and improve circulation to organs such as the intestines, liver and pancreas.

Here is where the neuroscience comes in, and things get really interesting. Candace Pert, an internationally recognized neuroscientist and pharmacologist, found that neuropeptides actually act as biochemical agents of emotion. To put it very, very simply, neuropeptides are molecules that influence the activity of the brain in specific ways based on triggers. They bind to receptors on cell surfaces, and activate a chain of biochemical reactions in the body. These reactions change the aspect of the cell to have either a positive or negative effect on the body. This research basically supports the idea that every cell of the body has a consciousness that stores memories and emotions, hence the “emotion is stored in your hips” claim.

To make this information even more amazing, it coincides with ancient Hindu philosophy. The second chakra, known as the sacral chakra or Svadisthana, encompasses the hip region and is known for its connection with emotion. The chakra system originated in India between 1500 and 500 BCE in some of the oldest texts called the Vedas. This means that while we just made the scientific correlation between emotions and our hips in the last 100 years, ancient civilizations have know about this for thousands of years!

So, next time you’re deep in a hip opener and you get the overwhelming urge to let the water works flow, embrace it!  It’s our bodies way of saying it’s time for some spring cleaning of the frequently ignored junk drawer.

Catalina Hubbard is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, yoga student, and receptionist at NOURISH, in Santa Cruz, CA.

7 Years of Heartfelt Appreciation

Hands Only Namaste

The other day, a NOURISH member who is a regular yoga student and massage client, stopped me, unsolicited, to tell me how important NOURISH is to him. That it is a place of health and healing that his body desperately needed and a place that continues to serve his body, mind, and spirit. He expressed his gratitude for us being here and for the hard work and dedication that Jocelyn and I give to NOURISH and our community. Needless to say, I was honored and inspired by his kind words and heartfelt appreciation.

Today, on NOURISH’s 7th anniversary, I’d like to take a moment and express our appreciation for the beautiful community that has grown in, around, and up from all that NOURISH has been, is, and is becoming. On March 5th, 2009, Jocelyn and I signed a lease in Wayne Shaffer’s office. On April 4th, 2009, NOURISH opened its doors for yoga classes, nutrition consultations, massage, and wellness product sales. I don’t know how familiar you are with construction timelines and commercial build-out, but less than 4 weeks to build walls, do electrical, paint and floors, is nearly unheard of. We owe great gratitude to our general contractor, Mel Dion of Cardinal Construction and her crew, and Tom Hartje painting for getting things done, not just quickly, but cleanly, and well.

During that time and for many months after we opened we were aided by the advice and counsel of Gil Spencer, Mike Moore, Denise Ryan, and Laurie Fried. They provided, each in their own way, voices of calm in a storm of uncertainty. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road and it was important to have friends like these to be able to talk to.

Those of you who come to NOURISH know what a stellar job our reception team does. While that role has been transformed over the years by the many bright and friendly people who have assumed it, we are indebted to Katie Beden for the role she played as the very first NOURISH receptionist.

Long before hiring receptionists, forming a board of advisors, hiring contractors, or signing leases, we told 2 people about our plans to create a more integrated center of wellness where we encouraged people to make long term commitments to themselves, their health, and their wellness. We were and continue to be grateful for the support of yoga teachers Kate Robbins and Roxanne Gingery. While Kate no longer teaches at NOURISH, she was instrumental in helping initially get the program going. Roxanne is NOURISH’s longest standing employee. She was there with us from the beginning and continues to be here helping to NOURISH Santa Cruz with her enthusiasm and seemingly unending care.

While there were many needs that were met to get NOURISH up and running from people in these formal roles, there were many who helped NOURISH less formally. Like the day we rented the Uhaul and moved all of the props and some furniture from Om Room to NOURISH. Those of you who pitched in that day were just as crucial in making NOURISH happen.

Finally, many of you became NOURISH Members well before the last nail was hammered, the paint was dry, the props were placed, the people were hired, or the doors were open. It was your faith in us that propelled us forward during those challenging moments. Without your commitment, emotional and financial, we never could have gotten NOURISH off the ground, never would have been able to reach the tens of thousands we have, never would have made it here, to seven years, still going strong, still serving our community, still being honored and inspired by you.

Low Pressure Tactics

Victor With Lower Blood Pressure
Victor With Lower Blood Pressure

My father has high blood pressure. His parents had high blood pressure. My mother has high blood pressure. Her parents had high blood pressure. So, it came as no surprise when in a 2010 annual check-up I had blood pressure readings of as high as 140/95. Instead of immediately prescribing medication, mostly because I had no other major risk factors, my doctor suggested that I purchase a home blood pressure monitor and take my blood pressure in a particular way and on a regular basis. I bought an Omron electric sphygmomanometer at Target for under $60 and began measuring my blood pressure, taking 3 readings at a time, 3 times per day, morning, afternoon, and evening. The 3 readings at a time, 3 times per day, are a much more accurate picture of actual blood pressure, as any one reading might be abnormally high or low. I’m certain statisticians can agree that larger sample sizes often lead to more accurate results. I recorded the readings in a spreadsheet that allowed me to calculate average and see time of day and longitudinal patterns.

While I am certain that the doctor’s recommendation was more aimed at gathering data, it turned out to be a prescription for awareness. Simply taking my blood pressure regularly made me more aware of this phenomenon that was always present inside me, which in my case lead to some more mindful choices. I was already a runner, yoga practitioner, and vegan. I’ve been running since I was a teenager, doing yoga since college, and eating vegan since 1995, all studied interventions for blood pressure reduction. But just doing these things in general was not enough to impede the encroaching family induced high blood pressure. What more could I do lifestyle wise?

First, I scheduled a consult with a registered dietitian. She had me do another data collection/awareness exercise, a 72 hour food diary with extremely precise descriptions of each food and each meal. I measured amounts, listed brands, and counted everything I ate and drank for that 72 hour period. While she did give me some very specific ways to change the way that I eat, which I will enumerate, the exercise itself, taking 72 hours to mindfully observe (without judging or changing anything in that 72 hour period) everything I was eating and drinking, had a profound effect on my awareness of what I was specifically consuming.

After my diet diary was complete I had my consult with the dietitian. She suggested, based on the data I had collected, that, even though I was already eating a plant based diet, I was consuming too much sodium, a known culprit in elevating blood pressure. As a result during my next several grocery shopping trips I made note of the sodium levels in some of the foods I had been consuming. While I did do some elimination of a few processed items, I mostly just shifted from one brand to another, or the low-sodium version of a product. I know that many people would rather “just take a pill” than give up some of their “favorite foods.” Although I would have eventually acquiesced to taking medication if lifestyle interventions proved inadequate, I was determined not to end up on prescription blood pressure medication. I wanted to see if simply changing my choices could impact my physiology.

What I also learned from the diet changing process is that taste and food favorites are not fixed. Once I had reduced sodium levels for a couple of months, I no longer noticed the missing salt. In other words, my taste buds and brain had adapted to the new circumstance. Foods that I once found delicious (like certain frozen enchiladas and pizzas) now tasted too salty and foods that I had found bland now tasted just right. I am certain that some of you will attribute this to some kind of placebo effect, that I wanted the bland food to taste good, so it did. I don’t think so. I think my taste buds and brain chemistry changed. Even dishes that I have never eaten will now taste too salty to me while not salty enough to some of my friends. This cannot be explained by placebo alone.

Still, others, in defense of their own lifestyle choices will critique mine. They will exclaim that I am missing out, that I am deprived, that I don’t know what I am missing. In my place, they would make a different choice. They would risk the higher blood pressure for the convenience meal, or the social comfort of sharing in those foods with friends and family. That is their choice to make. While it is not my choice, I accept that others will make it. This exposition is not for them. It is for those of you who understand and connect with my desire to be in control of my own life, my own body, and who have the desire to do the same, but lack the tools and support to do so.

As I took more control over food choices, I also made changes to my running routine. The biggest and most profound change I made was to create and stick to an exercise schedule, no matter what. I did increase the intensity and duration of my runs, but not by much and not anything close to extreme. I run 2 times per week, between 2 and 4 miles each time. What has proved most effective is not how far or intensely I run, but simply that I show up for the routine regardless of circumstances. For example, if I am injured, or just run down, I do not “take a day off”. Instead, if it is my scheduled time to run, I go to the same place that I usually run and either walk for the same amount of time I would have run, or if I am so sick that I cannot or should not spend that much time exerting myself, then I show up at the usual place, at the usual time, and just stand and breathe in the fresh air for a few minutes. I have found that it is keeping the schedule that has been most effective in supporting not only my lowered blood pressure, but also my sense of wellbeing.

I also began scheduling consistent, but not necessarily frequent, acupuncture and massage, once per month each. Once a month I go to the acupuncturist to help keep my blood pressure in check. I have found that acupuncture can be a very powerful tool for affecting the nervous system. Similarly, I began scheduling 1 massage per month, with an emphasis on relaxation and blood pressure reduction (rather than deep tissue muscle release for example). During these sessions I begin with visualizing the release of tension from my body and end up very often (almost always) drifting off into a very restful sleep. Like with running, I have found that, as much as the acupuncture and massage practices are specifically helpful, it is the routine of keeping these appointments that has bolstered a consistent path of self care.

Like the changes I made to my running routine, I made similar changes to my practice of yoga. While I have had a practice for some time, there was a period when it was more haphazard and less consistent. Once I got the blood pressure warning, I started scheduling a more regular yoga practice. I have said for a long time that 80% of the benefit of doing yoga comes from just doing yoga, and that you can adjust the intensity and duration to tweak the other 20% of the benefit if you want. Philosophers, sages, thinkers and people of good common sense have had it right: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” So, I set a routine to do a little bit of yoga 5 days per week. The standard I started with was set around my family responsibilities. At that time I needed to start prepping breakfast and lunches at 7:30 a.m. So I decided that my practice would start at whatever time it could and always end at 7:30. Some mornings I would get up and start practicing by 6:30, but most morning I would start around 7:05. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to start until 7:26 and I would contemplate just scrapping it altogether, but then I realized that the routine mattered more than the duration. So I would practice for 3 or 4 minutes and then end at 7:30. Other times when I did end up scrapping the practice altogether for the day, I would be more irritable, moody, stressed, and inevitably my blood pressure readings would be elevated. In other words, even just 3 or 4 minutes made a dramatic impact in lowering my blood pressure! Don’t get me wrong, I am not starting a new fad “3 Minute Yoga!” There are times when a longer practice really helps and makes a bigger difference. I’m simply suggesting that an all or nothing attitude is ultimately destructive.

Having said that, I did make some changes to the type of postures I practice in order to positively impact my blood pressure. For example, I started prioritizing the inclusion of more inverted postures: headstand 1, headstand 2, handstand, forearm stand, and shoulder stand. People with excessively high blood pressure above 145/95 should avoid fully inverted postures. When one first goes upside down, cerebral blood pressure is increased. This increases the risk of stroke for those who already have extremely high blood pressure. However, after a few moments upside down, the body readjusts to the new circumstance and blood pressure lowers. This lowering effect is magnified as inverted postures are practiced longitudinally (over time). While there is a complex physiology as to why this happens, including baroreceptors and the autonomic nervous system, the main point is that by practicing inverted postures I was retraining my body to lower its own blood pressure. I also included some specific forward bends to have a similar blood pressure positive effect.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, I made adjustments to my practices of breathing (pranayama) and meditation, like including them. While in the past sitting in meditation was an afterthought, I began front-loading a sitting practice before moving through yoga postures (asana). Meditation can be just an important a tool as physical exercise when reducing blood pressure. Sometimes I would sit with my sphygmomanometer (blood pressure monitor) going and experiment with different ways of breathing to observe which breathing practices best lowered my blood pressure. Longer inhalation as compared to exhalation increased my blood pressure and longer exhalation as compared to inhalation decreased my blood pressure. As a result of these self experiments, I started engaging a breathing pattern of elongating the exhalation with relationship to the inhalation. I also experimented with different meditation foci. While many topics of meditation/contemplation had a positive effect on lowering my blood pressure, some that seemed to lower it most and most consistently are thinking of my loved ones and how I love them, broadening my view of nature and the natural world, and whatever makes me smile.

I suspect that comedy is like aerobic exercise or practicing inversions. In the short term it elevates blood pressure, because you are laughing and the breath is shortened, but in the long term it lowers blood pressure. I have just some scant evidence from my own blood pressure readings, but would love to see a study on this. Perhaps I could even participate!

Today, as I write this, my blood pressure reading is 113/74. It is my hope that my personal example of change and self determination will be of support and inspiration to those of you who are engaged in similar struggles. You can make change, big change, and it can be made without tremendous shifts in your life. Laugh. Meditate. Breathe. Do some yoga (any yoga). Get outside. Think about what you are eating before, during, and after you eat it. Make commitments. Be consistent. Be dedicated. Be mindfully aware.

Face Under The Covers Music

On Saturday I played covers of Beatles songs. Here are the playlists:

10:00 a.m. Class

1993 Here Comes The Sun Richie Havens
1970 We Can Work It Out Stevie Wonder
2002 I’m Only Sleeping The Vines
1978 Come Together Aerosmith
2001 I’m Looking Through You The Wallflowers
1985 Eleanor Rigby Aretha Franklin
1977 With A Little Help From My Friends Joe Cocker
1979 Day Tripper James Taylor
2001 Two Of Us Aimee Mann & Michael Penn
2001 Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds The Black Crowes
2002 Revolution Grandaddy
2001 Mother Nature’s Son Sheryl Crow
1969 Hey Jude Wilson Pickett
2001 You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away Eddie Vedder
1971 The Long And Winding Road Aretha Franklin
2001 Help! Howie Day
2001 Strawberry Fields Ben Harper
2001 Don’t Let Me Down Stereophonics
2001 Nowhere Man Paul Westerberg
2001 Across The Universe Rufus Wainwright
2001 Blackbird Sarah McLachlan
1975 For No One Emmylou Harris

Noon Class

1993 Here Comes The Sun Richie Havens
1970 We Can Work It Out Stevie Wonder
2001 I’m Looking Through You The Wallflowers
1977 With A Little Help From My Friends Joe Cocker
1985 Eleanor Rigby Aretha Franklin
2001 Two Of Us Aimee Mann & Michael Penn
2002 Revolution Grandaddy
2001 Mother Nature’s Son Sheryl Crow
1969 Hey Jude Wilson Pickett
2001 You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away Eddie Vedder
1971 The Long And Winding Road Aretha Franklin
2001 Help! Howie Day
2001 Strawberry Fields Ben Harper
2001 Don’t Let Me Down Stereophonics
2001 Nowhere Man Paul Westerberg
2001 Across The Universe Rufus Wainwright
2001 Blackbird Sarah McLachlan
1975 For No One Emmylou Harris

Got to love The Beatles. Straight up or covered.

Parivrrita Mix

As requested here is the playlist from today’s twist inspired class:

2000 The Time Of The Turning Peter Gabriel OVO The Millennium Show
1992 On the Turning Away Pink Floyd Momentary Lapse of Reason
1968 Revolution 1 The Beatles The Beatles (White Album)
1992 Ain’t Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around) Aretha Franklin Queen Of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings [Box Set]
2003 Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose James Brown
1959 The Twist Hank Ballard & The Midnighters Say It Loud!
1998 Twistin’ The Night Away Sam Cooke Greatest Hits
1974 Revolution Bob Marley & The Wailers Natty Dread
2007 You Turned the Tables On Me Ella Fitzgerald Love Letters From Ella
1966 Here, There And Everywhere The Beatles Revolver
1968 Circle Round The Sun James Taylor James Taylor
1960 Spiral John Coltrane Giant Steps
 Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season) Pete Seeger Pete Seeger Greatest Hits
1988 In Orbit Thelonious Monk The Complete Riverside Recordings
1970 The Circle Game Joni Mitchell Ladies of the Canyon
1975 Simple Twist Of Fate Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks
2003 Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me) Tony Bennett and Bill Evans Together Again


Yoga Defined

There are so many people practicing yoga these days. But what exactly is yoga? There are many forms of yoga and countless “styles” of hatha yoga. Here are some definitions that I find useful. I hope you will too.

“Patanjali defines yoga as a multifaceted method of bringing consciousness to a state of stillness.” – Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

“The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj meaning to bind, join, attach, and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply.” – B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga

“It [yoga] means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions, the will, which that yoga presupposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to look at life in all its aspects evenly.” – Mahadev Desai, The Gita According to Gandhi

“Work alone is your priviledge, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive; and never cease to work. Work in the name of the lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by succes or failure. This equipoise is called yoga.” – Bhagavad Gita

“When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not – then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as yoga. Who attains it is free from delusion.” – Kathopanishad

“The meaning of yoga is union, the bringing together of the various polarities within, in order to reach a state of balance and transcend our limited vision.” – Swami Radha, Hatha Yoga The Hidden Language

“Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are.” – Erich Schiffmann, The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness

“The Sanskrit word yoga means union, although reunion is perhaps closer to actual usage. Reunion implies a reconnection of factors earlier joined but subsequently separated.” – Raeburn Heimbeck, Ph.D.

“Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.” – K. Pattabhi Jois

“Whether you are sick or weak, young, old or even very old, you can succeed in yoga if you practice diligently.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika

“Yoga is a systematic technology to improve the body, understand the mind, and free the spirit.” Timothy McCall, M.D., Yoga As Medicine

“Yoga means acting in such a way that all of our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are currently engaged. Yoga attempts to create a state in which we are always present – really present – in every action, in every moment.” – T.K.V. Desikachar



It’s Review Week

For the last couple of months we’ve been working with the Niyamas. Last week I defined Niyama as the collective practice of Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana. This week we’ll bring Niyama back into the context of the other limbs of yoga practice that we have already discussed over the past year or so. Here is the review list:

Yama: The collective practice of Nonviolence, Honesty, Acceptance of What You Already Have (or not covetting what you don’t), Mindful Use of Energy (your own life energy, but feel free to conserve electricity as well), and Non-attachement.

Niyama: The collective practice of Clarity (or cleanliness), Contentment (reflexive of Asteya in the Yamas), Commitment and Dedication, Self Study (inquiry, exploration), Complete Surrender (giving yourself and your actions fully)

Asana: The Mindful Action of Your Body; Includes Yoga Postures

Pranayama: Mindful Breath; Intentional Breath; Focused Breath

Pratyahara: Turn Your External Senses Inward

Dharana: Concentrate; Focus Your Mind

Dhyana: Meditate; Be Present; Be As You Are

Some students of yoga will note the abscence of the 8th limb of Ashtanga. You may already be practicing it, but we’ll be addressing it directly in the weeks to come.

Yoga Unveiled

Yoga UnveiledWhile yoga continues to gain tremendous popularity, there is still often a veil of mystery within which it is shrouded. Particularly the history and variety of expressions that yoga takes are often unknown even to long time yoga practitioners. The film Yoga Unveiled does an excellent job of illuminating the past, present, and potential future of this powerfully dynamic system that we call yoga. From yoga’s roots in India nearly 50 centuries ago, to its spread to the west over the last 100 years, this film explores the depth and breadth of yoga in a clear, relevant, and insightful way. If you get a chance, check it out.


Essential Yoga Practices

For the last several years I have been encouraging students learn and engage some essential yoga practices. These have been around much longer than the last several years. They are the 8 limbs of yoga, ashtanga, that Patanjali codified in the Yoga Sutras.

I have also promised over the past several weeks that I would blog the definitions for a few of these. These definitions are in no way intended to be the end of a conversation, but rather the beginning. It is my intention that students and others will not simply take what I say as gospel, but will dig deeper and come to their own conclusions about the best way to define and practice each of these.

Finally I would like to note that while some of these practices can be construed simply as philosophical concepts or as end points to be acheived, they are intended as processes of exploration and are best engaged actively.

Asana: posture; mindful physical action;
Pranayama: intentional breathing;
Pratyahara: turning the outer senses inward; inner reflection; deepened awareness;
Dharana: concentration; mental focus;
Dhyana: meditation; presence; openess to what is;

More to come next week.


The Fuzz

So, I know I tend to get on my soap box a little bit in class sometimes. It’s just that I think yoga is fascinating. It’s been a great gift to be teaching again after taking time off to have the little one. Sometimes I get a little carried away!

Speaking of my soap box, I was going on in class a few days ago about “the fuzz”. “The fuzz” are strands of cobweb-like connective tissue that develop between the muscles and between muscle groups when we fail to move our bodies around in all the magnificent ways it can move. These strands of connective tissue multiply and bind together during long periods of inactivity (like when we sleep).

As time passes the fascia thickens and hardens between those once juicy, smooth and slippery surfaces rendering them less and less able to slide and glide past one another. As the individual muscles lose their ability to move freely and independently of other muscles our movements become less multidimensional and refined. We call this ‘stiff’. If you’ve ever had an injury that left you immobilized in a joint for a number of weeks, you’ve noticed this in your process of rehabilitation. Physical therapists include deep tissue massage in their treatments as ways of recovering this loss of mobility and literally breaking up “the fuzz”. A sedentary life, or physical activities that limit motion to simple gross-motor movements can have the same effect. We notice we’re no longer able to stretch as high for the tennis serve. Turning around in the car to parallel park becomes more difficult.

I first saw the video about “the fuzz” a few years ago in a workshop I took from a dear teacher of mine, Paul Grilley. Paul teaches the most practical (and eye-opening) anatomy lessons I’ve ever had. He transformed the way I think of alignment in yoga (and in everything else too).

I had never actually mentioned the ‘fuzz’ concept in any of my classes before. I’m not sure why. Anyway, that very day…the day I (it felt like not so eloquently) introduced “the fuzz” for the first time in one of my classes, my dear friend Brendan Armm posted “the fuzz” video on Facebook. What are the chances? I snapped it right up, and am happy now to pass it onto you.

The video is by a brilliant Ph.D, Gil Hedley. Anyone interested in anatomy can take his workshops and attend a dissection of a human cadaver. For the less adventurous, you can buy a video of a dissection, and see the real world examples of what is going on inside your body. He’s a fascinating narrator, as you will see below. The unique thing about Dr. Hedley, is that he is very spiritual in his approach to understanding the human physical form; he is personal, respectful, and sensitive in his explorations.

A little warning: The following video includes some very palatable for the average person (in my opinion) video of “the fuzz” in the tissues of a real human cadaver. Enjoy!!


Gil Hedley: Fascia and stretching: The Fuzz Speech