Who Killed Robin Williams?

robin williams suicide neurontinAt this point in time, anyone with access to a TV or the internet knows that Robin Williams committed suicide. The first reports of this terrible tragedy mentioned that he was battling depression. Soon after it was revealed that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease.

I have no idea if Robin Williams had begun taking any medication for Parkinson’s but I will take this opportunity to write about a possible connection between depression and the drugs administered for Parkinson’s and many other ailments.

Personally I am on no medications and I plan to work hard to keep it that way. Not knowing what the next thirty or forty (dare I say fifty?) years will hold, I will absolutely hold out for as long as I can. Ironically, I could possibly get away with taking the drugs I am referring to. I don’t suffer much from depression and anxiety which would allow me to think differently about these medications.

But this post is for a certain slice of the population that needs to pay particular attention to the warning signs about possible side effects from the medications they are sometimes blithely prescribed. Reporting issues with anxiety and depression is of the utmost importance when it comes to informed choices about treatment.

If Robin Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s it is possible that he would have been taking Neurontin, the active ingredient of which is gabapentin. Neurontin is a seizure and pain killing medication that is associated with, though not necessarily approved for, a number of other ailments as well including epilepsy, shingles, restless leg syndrome, migraines.

Neurontin, and drugs of its kind, can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior in patients. If that isn’t scary enough there is a particularly violent aspect to the ideation created by the negative side-effects. The concept of stabbing oneself in the chest might seem beyond the pale, and even beyond common sense, but as you can see below this is a common trait amongst people who suffer from a downward spiral of this type.

Here is a paragraph from the list of possible side effects from Neurontin,

A small number of people who take anticonvulsants for any condition (such as seizures, bipolar disorder, pain) may experience depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, or other mental/mood problems. Tell your doctor immediately if you or your family/caregiver notice any unusual/sudden changes in your mood, thoughts, or behavior including signs of depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, thoughts about harming yourself.

An obvious question is why any doctor would prescribe such a pill to someone susceptible to these types of side-effects?

For a number of reasons:

  • Patients might not report on anxiety and depression issues on an intake or when offered a prescription for Neurontin.
  • Some patients who do report issues might have doctors downplay the role of side-effects in a well-meaning attempt to find relief for an ailing patient.
  • These drugs are often started at very low dosages and a doctor might honestly think that a low dose would have a lesser effect on a sensitive person’s nervous system.
  • Too many patients don’t read the fine print.

I won’t go on too much longer and again I have no idea if, and what, drugs Robin Williams might have been taking. I am simply using the moment to make a point. As a culture it is imperative that we start reading the fine print of our health.

It would be best to avoid medications if at all possible but if you have to take them spend some time getting to know what you will be taking. It is worth the research.

And you don’t have to search too far to read a macabre tale of Neurontin’s path. Search Neurontin & suicide, and here is the second link you’ll see:

Neurontin Killed Our Husbands, We Believe


What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis?

What is Ankylosing SpondylitisAnytime you see a medical condition that ends in itis, you are looking at a swelling, or inflammatory issue. Ankylosing spondylitis is grouped with a host of other arthritic conditions (psoriatic arthritis, ulcerative colitis, reactive arthritis) that are known as spondyloarthropathies.  Even though spondylo refers specifically to the spine (it means vertebrae in Greek) ankylosing spondylitis can occur in a number of joints throughout the body.

There are many forms of connective tissue throughout the body. Muscle, ligament and tendon are all connective tissues. Another connective tissue that lives between tendon or ligament and bone is called the enthesis.

When it comes to ankylosing spondylitis, it is usually an inflammation of the enthesis that is the source of the problem. While ankylosing spondylitis can occur in joints throughout the body it is located most often in the spine and very often at L5/S1 where the lower spine meets the sacrum.

Ankylos is the Greek for fusion. So ankylosing spondylitis refers to the fusion of the spine due to the swelling of the enthesis. When the enthesis swells during a bad episode and then heals, scar tissue is often left in its wake. Over long periods of time that scar tissue can calcify forming new bone.

This type of calcification can lead to more limited movement within the spine and ultimately, in really bad cases, enough scar tissue can form leading to the fusion of numerous joints together. Lack of movement in any part of the spine can have profound implications for the rest of the body as well.

What is Ankylosing Spondylitis

All joints are meant to be reciprocal so that movement in one leads to movement in another but fused joints interrupt this chain of movement and can lead to greater pain, and can also affect posture negatively, throwing off the ability for the spine to align correctly.

Ankylosing spondylitis can also affect the breath as well if the middle of the spine and rib cage are involved. The cartilage between the ribs is susceptible to this same swelling of the enthesis and the same process of swelling and healing with the formation of scar tissue following healing can lead to decreased ranger of motion in the rib cage which in turn limits our capacity for breath.

As with so many aspects of our lives, there is a use it or lose it aspect to ankylosing spondylitis. While there isn’t a known cure, movement and exercise will serve the issue way more effectively than rest. In fact, rest will often lead to greater stiffness and discomfort.

Since I live in the world of improving posture it is obvious that I think better posture will help the body combat the progression of ankylosing spondylitis. And it might seem weird to say but if you are going to end up with a fused spine it would serve you well if that spine were correctly aligned.

When it comes to spinal issues I am a big fan of muscular support. Problems like ankylosing spondylitis, or spondylosis etc., can be supported with balanced muscle tone. If the muscles that surround the joints are strong and supple, the spine will be supported in a way that can minimize the deterioration of the spine that is often associated with these issues.

Something to Think About Before Having Surgery

  having surgeryhaving surgeryhaving surgery

As a veteran of three knee surgeries I can look back at having them with no regrets. Fifteen years later my knees are pain free, the arthritis that they said I should be wary of has never arrived, and I am fully functional.

As a result I used to be fairly laissez-faire about the idea of having surgery. It worked for me and I also heard many success stories from others when it came to assorted procedures.

But isn’t there always a but? Over the years, doing the work I do, I have come into contact with many people and their stories of having surgery with less than stellar results.

One of those stories hits particularly close to home. My mother’s quality of life took a nose dive some twenty years ago when she went in to the hospital for a spinal fusion surgery. After suffering through eighteen months of pain she was assured that a spinal fusion that wedded two joints together to eliminate movement between them would alleviate her suffering.

Post surgery, she never truly recovered. I believe that the doctor must have nicked a nerve during the procedure because after the surgery and rehab, her walk was never the same again. She went in with back pain and came out with a very different set of problems.

Soon after the surgery it was apparent that something was wrong. At first my mother was able to fake it a bit with the way she walked but her abductor muscles on the outer leg began to atrophy. It took a while to happen but my mother developed a trendelenburg gait as there was no muscular support provided by these all important muscles.

To my mother’s credit she tried everything imaginable to regain strength and to improve her gait. But if the nerves were not communicating with the muscles there wasn’t much chance of recovery.

She managed for a few years making effective use of a yoga block between her thighs but eventually she gave way to using walking sticks, then a walker and finally she has been relegated to a wheelchair and electric scooter.

This shift from an incredibly active lifestyle to one that was increasingly sedentary has had profound consequences on more than her hips. It seems clear to me that her brain has not fared well due to the lack of movement.

A woman who was once sharp as a tack is increasingly confused and cloudy. It has been a long gradual decline but shocking in its scope.

I will mention (though this is actually the subject of a future post) that three years ago she had one of her hips replaced going under general anesthetic at the age of eighty. I believe that she has never fully recovered from that experience as well, and that is another factor that has led me to radically reassess my views on surgery of any sort.

To reiterate what I said at the top, I don’t regret the surgeries that I had and plenty of people are put into situations where surgery is absolutely unavoidable. But, and it is a huge but, if there is any way to avoid a recommend surgery, think long and hard about strategies for a different kind of recovery.

Sunday Morning Music: Primal Scream

There isn’t much by Primal Scream that I don’t love but Screamadelica remains the pinnacle of their oeuvre, and tops on my list of all-time favorite records.

Who Do You Love?

who do you loveHere is a question for yoga teachers—if you enter a room of ten students, five of whom are advanced and able to do pretty much what you ask of them, and five are tight and none to nimble—which group are you attracted to and who gets your attention.

Teaching yoga is a very interesting profession for a number of reasons. For one, you don’t have to do much be become a yoga teacher. Pony up a few thousand dollars (give or take, depending upon the school) and you are free to ply your trade.

For another, you don’t need to know much. It might be good to know what you are doing but it isn’t always a prerequisite to getting a job. Personality, looks and confidence can be as compelling a reason for hiring as knowledge. It would be nice to think that in the long run talent wins out but it isn’t always the case.

It is a great job. How many jobs can you fulfill while padding around barefoot in some semblance of pajamas. While it isn’t all that lucrative for the vast majority of teachers it sure is fun.

But who do you love? Why do you teach? Are you in search of those who need help or do you cater to those who can do the practice easily?

I started learning about body mechanics because I didn’t feel comfortable being unable to answer students questions about pain and injury. Over the course of time my classes became much less advanced and geared towards those who couldn’t do as much as those who could.

For me it makes the job much more interesting. I tend to cater to the lower end of the abilities in a given class while offering plenty of work as well as some variations for those who want to work harder.

I love all of the students who come to my class, it is near on impossible not to, but I want to help those most in need.

A Poem From the Tao Te Ching

tao te chingThe Tao Te Ching has long been a favorite book of mine. I first got a copy of it in my early twenties and have always had a translation close. It is a book of mystic poetry which serves me well. I love reading it but don’t always get it, and often “get it” in a different way than I did previously.

When I first started teaching yoga I would read poems from it on a regular basis. For whatever reason that habit fell to the wayside for many years but it has returned of late.

The translation that I have been reading from is by Stephen Mitchell who has translated a number of the more important books of my life in a way that allowed me to understand them. The big three are the Tao Te Ching, Letters to a Young Poet, and The Bhagavad Gita. And I am planning on diving into his Iliad and Odyssey soon.

I have read the poem below in the last few classes and it is one that I am particularly fond of.


The Tao Te Ching by Lau-tzu

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Poem 27

A good traveller has no fixed plans

and is not intent upon arriving.

A good artist lets his intuition

lead him wherever it wants.

A good scientist has freed himself of concepts

and keeps his mind open to what is.


Thus the Master is available to all people

and doesn’t reject anyone.

He is ready to use all situations

and doesn’t waste anything.

This is called embodying the light.


What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?

What is a bad man but a good man’s job?

If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,

however intelligent you are.

It is the great secret.

The Update On The Guitar That You Have Been Waiting For

guitarWriting a blog is very odd business.

I really love doing it for a number of reasons:

  • I learn so much while working on individual posts.
  • It reinforces my learning as I often write about what I am working on in my own practice or with clients.
  • I get lessons in the form of corrections from readers (which I much appreciate).
  • It gives me something to do.

The odd parts are meeting someone who tells me that they read my blog and “follow” me. It is very flattering, somewhat bizarre, and can also be unsettling. I am pretty open book and it is easy for me to spew onto the page without realizing that there are actual people reading the nonsense that I write.

That being said, I am sure everyone has been waiting with baited breath to read about the progress I am making as I fail— I mean try— to learn how to play guitar.

When I am teaching people to walk or do yoga I am focusing on two main lessons:

I thought the second lesson would be easily applied to learning how to play guitar

This journey started last summer when I learned three chords on a friends guitar. I have huge hands with long fingers and I was able to get my fingers where they were supposed to go so I thought to myself, “How hard could this be?”

There were ulterior motives as well as I thought it would be good for my kids to watch me learn something new. This also put pressure on me to see my folly through. Having purchased a guitar and watched numerous videos lessons on YouTube I promptly gave up after a few short weeks.

That didn’t feel good but serendipitously I met a guitar teacher and have now had a few lessons.

Being forced to practice what you preach is actually a pain in the neck. Yoga is easy for me so when I employ platitudes like, “This isn’t brain surgery, it is merely repetition”, or, “Perseverance will further”, I am being slightly disingenuous because like I said doing yoga is a very natural thing for me to do.

Playing the guitar is not. I practice my assignments and the weeks go by and nothing changes… or does it?

My wife said this morning that she can definitely notice that my chords are sounding better and cleaner. I have formed some true callouses and my fingers are starting to move with a tiny bit more fluidity. And the most interesting things seems to be that my left and right hand have begun communicating together and coordinating their actions.

Can I admit that I genuinely thought that this would never happen? As much as I preach patience and sticktoitiveness, it is painfully hard to practice if I am not in my comfort zone, and I had become fairly demoralized.

I am in New Hampshire with my family and last summer the plan was to learn guitar and be able to play in front of people this week as there is a fun night at the family camp where we are staying.

While that didn’t happen, I am not giving up. I am simply readjusting my schedule and now plan on being ready to perform next year because as I am fond of saying perseverance will further.

Sunday Morning Music: Bert Jansch

I will admit to being a little late to the Bert Jansch party. But at the moment I can’t stop listening. Anything you read about him includes a recitation of his influence on a list of my favorite musicians from Neil Young to Jimmy Page and many others.

While on the subject of Jimmy Page, I have taken a very patient approach with my kids and music, listening to way more than my share of Iggy Azalea and Katy Perry. But today when we got into the car my son asked for that “Black Dog” song, and was followed by my daughter, “And then Rock and Roll.”

With Led Zeppelin on the stereo all is good in the FitzGordon house.

Weekend Mashup: August 9th

Here is the weekend mashup, a collections of articles from the week that won’t get a post of their own. Lot’s of interesting tidbits within.

Let’s start with a wicked cool parkour video courtesy of French Free Run Family



Interesting blog from the New York Times about:  Footprints to Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer’s Are Seen in Gait



I like sleep and I like sleeping in a cold room. Sleeping in a Cool Environment May Boost Your Metabolism



Boing Boing is a very cool website that provides me with endless opportunities for procrastination. Here is a cool piece on What Happens to Dead Trees



What’s The Use Of Core Tone?

What's the use of core tone?What is the use of core tone? The simplest answer is stamina. While building muscle tone in order to be athletic and do fancy yoga tricks is all well and good, we really need core muscle tone to sit or stand correctly for long periods of time.

At the moment I am in New Hampshire at one of my favorite places on earth, World Fellowship Center, where I am teaching for a couple of weeks (And offering a Psoas Release Party! on July 13th) and my kids are running around all day and night with fifty other kids.

I am writing in the yoga room which is not well equipped for sitting. I have been working while sitting on a stool and doing what it takes to sit up well with a natural curve in my lower spine. That is where the core tone comes in.

When I teach yoga classes we always start with sitting. I have students sit up tall trying to find a curve in the low spine with a balanced trunk on top of the pelvis.

And then I wait.

There is an ideal resting length for every muscle and if we have that ideal resting length we could sit up in the same position for long periods of time. If we lack balanced core tone maintenance of that position, whatever it is, will not last long.

As I sit patiently watching the students in front of me, some will be able to sit until I tell them to move while I will see others at first struggle to keep an upright posture, and then ultimately, lose the ability to stay where they are and most often they round the lower back into a C-curve.

Basically, I teach and say the same things over and over again. I like to put people into fairly simple positions that are easy to start but not necessarily easy to hold. That’s when things get interesting. When our musculature is balanced we develop the strength and stamina to hold our bodies in a position for as long as we’d like.

There is a great deal of benefit to creating this type of an environment in the body but the main one refers back to my main theme in yoga and in life: Aging Gracefully.