Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: movement

Falling Out of Love with Yoga

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Over the last few years, I've fallen out of love with yoga, or at least the western approach to yoga...but wait, let me explain.  It may seem problematic that a practicing yoga teacher would admit to this, but read on first.

  I first started practicing yoga in 2007 during my senior year of college, and it was a powerful physical and mental practice.  It helped with my awareness immediately, and gave me something to tether my mind and flittering thoughts to as a classical musician.  I was fortunate enough to have creative and thoughtful teachers who wove in non traditional movements with traditional yoga asana, which was how I assumed everyone taught.  They also respected my limitations, my body size, and made classes fun, challenging, and interesting. I then moved to Rochester NY for my graduate studies, and tried new styles of yoga, had my first yoga induced injury,  and I missed my Boston community.  I then went to Miami, was puzzled by the love of hot yoga in a hot climate, tried some more yoga, and then moved back to Boston, and did my training with the teacher with whom I took my very first class, David Vendetti and his business partner Todd Skoglund of South Boston Yoga.  Our teacher training was wonderful, and both of them brought other, non-yoga movement interests- martial arts, hand balancing, manual therapy, Anatomy Trains, pilates, and more.  I not only learned traditional sequences and philosophy, but also creative preparatory movements that could be woven into classes to challenge and diversify movement.  Fast forward a few years, and I take my first Yoga Tune Up® training where I see teachers bringing that same spirit of creativity, non-traditional movement, and innovation to the yoga space with great success.  I knew this was the way I wanted to teach and move, and so I happily continued on that train of thought of embodied movement, creative sequencing, problem solving, self-inquiry, and more.  I then moved to Texas to play with the San Antonio Symphony, and I discovered that many yoga teachers and students were not particularly interested in that way of thinking.  A little creativity was nice, but I was told that my classes incorporated too many "physical therapy" style movements, that it wasn't "real yoga," and that my classes weren't dynamic enough (despite the fact that students couldn't move fast with integrity).  I also got the distinct sense that I didn't belong to the club- I wasn't trained in Texas, I don't particularly have alliances with any one style of yoga, I don't care about big fancy poses, and I don't have the body of a supermodel or the flexibility of a gymnast.  I'm a normal person with normal body issues- I'm not immune to the human condition because I teach and practice yoga.  The bottom line?  Things weren't working.  

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Maybe it's the location, the community, me, or the personality of yoga people, but I didn't (and still don't) fit in.  So after a few years of trying (and failing) to be in the yoga clique, I started trying other movement disciplines.  I tried pilates and loved it, took some dance classes, tried Crossfit, did a MovNat training, and discovered that the framework of other movement formats allowed for more creativity of movement and important strengthening work not available in yoga. Although there are camps of traditionalists in every discipline, I found body nerds plentiful in pilates and other modalities, as well as less emphasis on stretching and acrobatic poses.  And so at some point in the last few years, I fell out of love with yoga, or at least the landscape of yoga in America.  You could say we broke up.  I wasn't teaching much, partially because I was driving all over the city to get paid $20 for a class with a few people in it (or no shows), and I just focused on my own movement practice and exploring different movements that felt good, regardless of modality or method.  I realized that I was not necessarily ever just in love with yoga, but I was in love with movement and cultivating a relationship with my body through mindful movement and breath awareness.  Yoga was my entry point for this, but it opened up a door to other things.  Once I let go of the idea that I was a "bad yoga teacher/student" if I tried other practices, it was liberating.  I no longer felt like I was walking into the set of "Mean Girls" when I showed up at certain yoga studios (because I no longer went, or if I did go to a class, I didn't care what people thought).  I moved in a way that worked for me and interested me, and I started following teachers online that shared a similar philosophy (Jenni Rawlings, Jules Mitchell, Kathryn Bruni Young, Jill Miller, my YTU teachers, and many more).  Sometimes my practice and teaching incorporates traditional yoga poses, sometimes, it doesn't.  At some point, I let go of the idea that I needed to practice traditional yoga postures every day, and instead I practice some form of mindful movement every day, and some meditation.  Oh, and I've become stronger, more resilient, and have less pain in my body.

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One of my yoga teaching acquaintances has been really frustrated with her community as her teaching moves away from traditional postures and incorporating other movements, pain science research, and creativity.  She's been harshly criticized by some of her students, and I get that.  As frustrating as it is, we have to trust that we all have something to offer as teachers (of any modality), and that we will find our community, tribe, and audience.  I've been fortunate to train with wonderful teachers who encouraged that creativity and knowledge, even if it sometimes feels like I'm on an island.  At the end of the day, yoga is about creating connection- to one's body and mind, through movement.  It's not about specific poses or lineages, or having super woman/man flexibility, it's about cultivating a relationship with our bodies through self-inquiry (svahdhyaya) and non harm (ahimsa), and it's about being open to change.  After a hiatus of teaching yoga classes, I started teaching weekly classes again last fall, and I have enjoyed being creative and challenging my students, even if it's not for everyone.  I have found students that do like the way I teach, combining traditional asanas with pilates, primal movement patterns, and more.  There are millions of ways to move, and you have permission to explore all of those ways, even if you practice yoga.  

Osteoporosis, and Why Your Bone Density Matters

About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass. It affects one in two women over 50! However, daily exercise and movement can help prevent low bone mass.-2.jpg

I recently went through the statistics for search queries on the blog, and one that came up was "violin and osteoporosis," which I thought was worth addressing.  We typically think of osteoporosis as something that old fragile ladies get, but frankly, it's something worth thinking about for both men and women, especially as we move past the peak bone density period of our twenties.

Simply put, osteoporosis is weakness of the bones, which causes them to be more brittle and susceptible to breakage.  The precursor to osteoporosis is osteopenia, meaning low bone mass.  Our bones are in a constant cycle of regrowth (ossification) and resorption (removal).  These two processes remain in balance throughout our youth, but as we age, there is often more resorption, and less ossification.  This is turn can cause a reduction in bone mass (osteoblast cells are less active than osteoclasts).

When I was at my doctor's office, I took a few pictures of this model spine, which shows a range of spinal issues.  Focus on the bottom three, (green, pink, and yellow), which compares bone density for osteoporosis (green), osteopenia (pink), and normal (yellow) bones.  Notice how large the porous surfaces are with the osteoporosis?

When I was at my doctor's office, I took a few pictures of this model spine, which shows a range of spinal issues.  Focus on the bottom three, (green, pink, and yellow), which compares bone density for osteoporosis (green), osteopenia (pink), and normal (yellow) bones.  Notice how large the porous surfaces are with the osteoporosis?

There are many factors that affect osteoporosis, from genetics, diet, and exercise, to hormonal levels due to cancer treatment, prescription medications, thryoid issues, or other endocrine dysfunction.  Osteoporosis affects one in two women, and one in five men, so this is definitely not a ladies' disease.  I became acquainted with osteopenia a few years ago when I was being treated for my pituitary adenoma (non cancerous pituitary tumor), which completely threw all of my hormones out of whack, essentially putting me into the hormonal cycle of menopause.  Our sex hormones (as well as the hormone thyroxine) stimulate bone cell growth and osteoblast activity.  This means that low estrogen and low testosterone negatively impacts your bone density, regardless of age or gender.  This also means that if you have a thryoid issue (most commonly underactive thryoid or hypothyroidism), and you take medicine to balance your hormones and TsH (thryoid stimulating hormone), you are also at risk because the meds you take may either overbalance or underbalance said hormones.  This is also true if someone has had hormonal treatment for cancer, i.e., hormone replacement therapy for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, etc.  Osteoporosis is a definite secondary risk from many forms of cancer and subsequent treatment.*

*Quick aside: before I was diagnosed with my tumor two years ago, I knew very little about endocrinology.  Now, a few MRI's, many articles, and many blood tests later, I know a bit more.  I highly recommend learning about your own health issues as much as you can, so that you can have dialogues with your doctor about medicines, side effects, long term care, etc.  It's made a HUGE difference in my treatment.*
This image is a bit more difficult to process, but do you see the shape of the vertebrae is actually different?  The top four vertebrae are all compressed, whereas the healthy bone on the bottom is normal shaped and the disc isn't compressed either.  The top two vertebrae are fractures (anterior wedge and compression) and green is osteoporotic and pink is osteopenic.

This image is a bit more difficult to process, but do you see the shape of the vertebrae is actually different?  The top four vertebrae are all compressed, whereas the healthy bone on the bottom is normal shaped and the disc isn't compressed either.  The top two vertebrae are fractures (anterior wedge and compression) and green is osteoporotic and pink is osteopenic.

So why am I discussing this?  Well, musicians (and frankly most people) tend to be sedentary (risk factor for osteoporosis) and our occupation forces us into a sitting situation for 6-8 hours a day.  Our peak bone density occurs in our mid twenties, which means that most of you lovely readers have already peaked!  As we begin to work towards our thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies, regardless of gender, we need to take care of our bones.  In addition, many musicians don't challenge their upper body strength out of fear of injury which doesn't help muscle or bone strength.  In looking at aging populations, one of the biggest risks is falling and balance, in conjunction with osteoporosis.  Hip, wrist, and spinal fractures are a serious risk which could put a musician out of commission for months to a year.  The good news is that bones also grow in response to mechanical stress, so daily exercise in a gravitational context (not swimming or cycling), walking, and weight bearing activities are really beneficial for your bones.  Osteocytes build bone in response to stress of 72 seconds (according to Dr. Loren Fishman), so for example, if you hold a plank for 72 seconds, you are hypothetically fortifying your upper body bones. If you do standing lunges, squats, and other body weight exercises, you are also fortifying your bones.  Since this is an isolating research study, I would imagine this applies to more dynamic movements such as walking, running, yoga, pilates, weight lifting, and all body weight activities. Biomechanist Katy Bowman writes that osteoporosis is not an all-body disease, but often restricted to specific location which also lacks movement and loading:

  • Ribs(This could serious affect breathing, which is a major issue!)
  • Wrists (If you're a musician, this is particularly scary)
  • Vertebrae (Hello, back issues)
  • Head of the femur (top of the thigh bone)

From a musician point of view, we want to keep our bones healthy and prevent fractures to our axial skeleton (spine, neck, sacrum, etc.)  Healthy bones permit a long lifetime of music-making.

Want more resources?

Katy Bowman has a few great articles on osteoporosis as well as a great podcast on bones.

Buff Bones is a great exercise program developed by Rebekah Rotstein addressing osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Jill Miller writes on Osteoporosis

Yoga For Osteoporosis in the Huffington Post: I don't love the demo pictures in terms of alignment, but the content is solid.

Why Astronauts Get Osteoporosis, by Brooke Thomas (Also interesting to think about in the context of the film Gravity, and why it wouldn't be possible for Sandra Bullock to swim/crawl/etc)

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