Why I Do the Work that I Do

workI guess this is a labor day themed post, (though I don’t belong to a union— I believe in, and support them) as it is about work, but the truth is that I was writing it anyway and the calendar coincided serendipitously. Also, I have never really wanted to work, at least for wage. If I could do nothing but read for the rest of my life I probably would.

A few years back when I came into some money, I did just that—nothing.

Before that I wandered through my early adulthood as a waiter, carpenter and anything else that appealed to me at a given moment. Then at the age of thirty-two I found my way to a yoga room and discovered something that truly appealed to me.

There are many teachers in my family so becoming a yoga teacher wasn’t a great leap and I do have to say that I was born to educate. It comes naturally and I am extremely into sharing what I learn and helping others with issues that they are dealing with.

A few years ago my daughters’s pre-k teacher told my wife and I that she felt her mission was to make the students love school and want to keep coming back. I often equate yoga with pre-k— we play on the floor, we use mats and blankets and we nap at the end of class. As a yoga teacher I see my role in a similar light to my daughters teacher.

My goal is to explain in simple terms why people need to change the way they stand and walk, and to make them understand how incredibly essential a dynamic body is to aging well. I hope to do it in a way that makes them feel comfortable with the concept.

For whatever reason I am a teacher that attracts a less than yogic group of students. Lot’s of husbands and partners are sent my way and I feel an obligation to make them feel at ease and want to come back.

But, and it is a big but, I don’t believe that people should do exercise that they don’t like. It is counter-productive to force the brain and body into rhythms that aren’t emotionally appealing. In truth, people don’t need to exercise if they move a lot but our world (particularly industrialized nations) has become ridiculously sedentary.

And if being sedentary was not bad enough we are sedentary in ways that are terrible for our body and health. Car seats, desk chairs and couches are rarely ergonomically designed and they usually make a bad scenario worse.

So if you are going to live a modern life in the modern world you have to figure out ways to move that serve both your body and your mind. For many of us, exercise is essential because without it we would be lost.

I have admitted numerous times in these posts my strained relationship with working out and one of the reasons that I keep teaching is to keep myself moving. And to share with others that not every exercise teacher is a hard body who works out for two to three hours a day.

So on this day that celebrates an essential movement that allowed for fair labor practices and a reasonable work week I am proud and lucky to say that I love the work that I do, but will add the caveat that I can’t wait to retire.

Sunday Morning Music Labor Day Edition: The Clash

I was going to go with a Phil Ochs song for labor day as I have been on a bit of a folk kick lately but you can’t go wrong with The Clash and Career Opportunities. I fell in love with each and every song on this, their first, album but Career Oportunities might have been the first and longest lasting.

And I’ll throw in another live video from the run of shows The Clash did at Bonds in 1981. I waited on line overnight for tickets though the line basically broke down just before the ticket booth opened and it was a bit of mayhem. The Clash ended up doubling the number of show they performed and I ended up going to most of them. It was a good time to be eighteen.

Coracoid: Spinning Out of Control

Spinning out of control. Fingering the coracoid, it's part of th

Blog:  Day Books

Coracoid: Spinning Out of Control

A while ago I was reading what Jonathan wrote about his wife Caitlin’s shoulder trouble.  I had to let it stew for a while — shoulder injuries are one of the continuing dramas of my life. I work on my range of motion every day — go through three long shoulder stretches every day in the shower and than do some more work in that vein throughout the day. And that discipline is very, very helpful.  And I’m careful about my shoulder position when I do yoga.  That works too.  I should take more care while I’m sitting on the floor, doing drawins/paintings and while I’m working at the computer.  That’s harder.  When you’re in-the-moment, in an activity, it’s hard to be truly in your shoulder.  And it’s hard to remember to pause for stretching every once in a  while.

There are other variables too.  Like the floor.  At home in Brooklyn we have wood floors, that hang on their structural supports, if that’s clear.  There’s some spring to them.  They’re not wood on concrete: deceptively inviting, but you can feel the impact of hardness through your skeleton.  I’ve written about the difficulties inherent in co-existing with the hard tile surfaces of southern Spain.  And some of the wood-on-concrete we find in other places sneaks up on my skeleton as well.

Downward dog, pressing into a hard, hard surface is felt all the way though the hands and wrists, and up the arms, into the shoulders.  I think it’s important be be very aware of how your hand is making contact with the floor (even through the travel mat), getting the little tunnel in your palms, keeping some spring everywhere.  Because there is no spring in the floor.

It’s not always feasible to put a hold on living in your body until you’re back home.  Nothing to do but get comfortable to the new normals.

Weekend Mashup: August 30th

Here is the weekend mashup, a links to articles from the past week that won’t get a post of their own. There are lots of fun things to be seen.


weekend mashup

A woman put dogs in a photo booth. What happened next is the cutest thing ever!


weekend mashupCool weather and chronic pain

weekend mashup

I like bananas and I like entrepreneurial children. Check out what this girl is able to create with bananas.



18 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Poop


weekend mashup

Teaching the Nervous System to Forget Chronic Pain

The Patella (Kneecap) is not a Weight Bearing Bone

the kneecap is not a weight bearing bone kneecap kneecap is not a weight bearing bone

The patella bone, commonly called the kneecap, is not meant to be a weight bearing bone so I usually tell my students that they can put a blanket under their knees for poses where the knees are on the ground. Some choose not to  and I can relate as I used to be of a similar mindset.

But these days a blanket can always be found under my knees.

The kneecap covers and protects the front of the knee joint and is the largest sesamoid bone in the body. A sesamoid is a bone is embedded within a tendon, usually across a joint and acts to increase the mechanical effectiveness of a muscle.

The kneecap is embedded in the quadriceps muscle. The quadriceps muscle group is made up of four muscles that meet to form a common tendon that houses the kneecap and attaches to the tibia, the larger of the two shin bones.

The quadriceps muscle is an extensor of the knee, an action accomplished with the help of the patella. The rectus femoris, the lone quadriceps muscle that attaches to the pelvis, is also a flexor of the hip.

If you are standing and you lift the knee up towards your chest that is the work of the rectus femoris (and the iliopsoas). If you extend the knee to straighten the leg, that is the work of the rest of the quadriceps as well.

On a gruesomely related note—to reinforce that the kneecap is not a weight bearing bone— I am currently on the final installment of the Child 44 trilogy by Tom Rob Smith. Following the harrowing adventures of Leo Demidov we learn a catalogue of torture techniques, a number of which our hero must endure.

The one I am mentioning now (spoiler alert) is when he is tied up (basically in bow pose) and hung from the ceiling by his armpits with the full weight of his body resting on his kneecaps—for twelve hours. The results are not pretty.

I love reading things that apply to what I teach, even in such a context.

What is a Baker’s Cyst?

baker's cyst   Bakers-cyst   bakers cyst

When is a cyst not a cyst? When it’s a Baker’s cyst.

First described by, and named after Dr. William Baker in the 1800’s, a Baker’s cyst is not a true cyst, because it is not within a fully enclosed fluid sac. A Baker’s Cyst isn’t fully enclosed because it usually forms due to an excess of synovial fluid that ideally maintains a healthy environment within a joint cavity.

A Baker’s cyst is a bulging pocket, usually soft, that appears at the back of the knee. It is also known as a popliteal cyst because it tends to bulge out in the popliteal space at the back of the knee capsule.

In the case of a Baker’s cyst, something inside the knee joint gets irritated, increasing the production of synovial fluid as a protective measure. When enough fluid develops the cyst is formed pushing out from the back of the knee.

A Baker’s cyst doesn’t necessarily hurt, though depending on the size it can reduce range of motion and get irritated and unhappy depending on the position of the leg, with a bent leg often being the most painful environment.

Injury to the cartilage of the knee (meniscus) or other issues around swelling such as arthritis can lead to the formation of Baker’s cysts. These types of cysts aren’t usually treated in and of themselves. The underlying cause of inflammation needs to be addressed for the swelling that led to the formation of the Baker’s cyst to reduce.

If Baker’s cysts aren’t painful they are often left untreated and will usually go away when the main knee issue resolves. They can be drained of fluid but there is little reason to imagine that the fluid won’t return depending upon the situation with the knee in question.

In truth there isn’t much to be done with Baker’s cysts by themselves. In some cases steroidal injections are used to reduce the swelling, though this option isn’t always effective. If the fundamental cause of the Baker’s cyst cannot be remedied (such as in an arthritis that will be maintained rather than eliminated) surgery is an option if the cyst is painful, or if the size interferes with the basic functioning of the joint.

Sunday Morning Music: Edith Piaf

My love of French music is strange and knows no bounds. A host of French singers resonate with me emotionally in a very deep way even though for the most part I don’t know the content of their songs.

Edith Piaf is one on a fairly long list.

CoreWalking Testimonial: Tim Yeh

CoreWalking Testimonial: Tim Yeh

When I set out to teach people how to walk it was something of a lark. I was looking for something new to do and learn and walking seemed a natural outgrowth of yoga. I thought it would be an interesting way to help people take their yoga practice off the mat into their daily lives.

As I developed the program as a private practice and realized how effective it could be with help people with all sorts of pain, I started to expand my horizons trying to figure out how to provide an experience similar to working with me one-on-one. I made a series of DVD’s and wrote some short anatomy books meant to teach people how their bodies were designed to work.

But even then I knew that not everyone would learn via videos and books (I know it isn’t easy for me). With a bit of searching I found a site that would allow me mark videos up like instant replay on football along with a voice over about an individuals movement pattern. This, to me, is the most important piece of the CoreWalking Program, personalizing the process and making it much more intimate and accessible.

I am amazed and humbled each and every time we recieve a CoreWalking testimonial like the one above from Tim Yeh. While I know that the program might not work for everyone, I am so glad that we are having some successed helping people help themselves out of assorted body and pain issues.

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.