Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This Thing is a Perfect Holiday Gift*

A work friend is obsessed with tea. I get that; I'm obsessed with lots of things. My kid, also, is utterly nuts for the stuff - particularly all of the crazy (and many hideous, truth be told) flavours available at David's. (Every heard of Birthday Tea? Seriously, sparkles and tea should not mix.) My mother loves matcha and other varietals, particularly the hardcore, antioxidant ones. 

Poll 10 people. 8 of them are going to be bonkers for the tea and its accessories.

Here's the thing: While some of the flavours are concerning, many are recognizable and of rather high quality. Moreover, the accessories and marketing at David's Tea pull all the punches. In addition to the most adorable tea boxes and mugs and tins of tea available, this store also stocks an amazing little gizmo - one even I can get with:



It's called the Steeper (as you can see) and it comes in two sizes. The 18 oz is about 20 bucks and it makes a perfect cup of loose leaf tea with utterly NO fuss. You simply put the leaves into the carafe and then add water till the carafe is 3/4 full, steep and - this is the cool part - put the carafe atop your cup, press down and the tea pours through a gate at the base. Rinse the carafe with water to get rid of the residue. That's the whole story.

Did I mention that it looks great?

Wrap this up (it's boxed) with some leaves and you've got an affordable gift for under 40 bucks. 

You're welcome.

PS: Nobody's paying me to say this.

*And while you're at it, get one for yourself (unless you're my mother).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bras in the Time of Pain Management

This post has a little something for everyone (well, except for pain-free guys who don't like shopping). If you're into bras, we've got it. Like to purchase vicariously? Check! Have you been dealing with some pain? I sure as hell hope not but, if yes, there is definitely some useful intel below.

For starters, I don't think one needs to worry much that very snug bra bands will cause chronic pain (particularly if the cups of the bra fit well). And, as I've said 8000 times, for proportionately large, heavy breasts a taut band is the secret to "lift" that those with less large and/or heavy breasts need not concern themselves about. Mind you, if you're in pain (for whatever reason, but especially if it's musculoskeletal or neurochemically motivated) and that pain happens to live in your mid/upper back, the likelihood is that a taut band is going to torment you and, sadly, exacerbate the underlying issues.

I can't tell you how much this pisses me off. Especially since I have 4 drawers of bras in 30 and 32 bands that I simply cannot wear at the moment.

One thing's for certain, though, you may feel like shit but you can still look fantastic and, take it from me, it's important to care about looking fantastic until you're cold in the grave. It's what sets us apart from the animals.

After 2 weeks of wearing an ugly bralet to work, I felt so demoralized I could barely stand it. Happily, the problem was resolved, via online and in store methods, just yesterday. But before we check out the loot, let's talk about the plan...

Kristin's Guide To Buying Bras When You're Managing Pain Exacerbated By Wearing Bras:
  • Know when it's time to bite the bullet. If you keep waiting for the problem to resolve so that you don't have to spend money on bras that you hope won't be required for very long, you're going to suffer for longer than you have to. You might even find yourself wearing a bralet to work.
  • Shop locally. I know I'm big-time down with the online bra shopping - though I have resorted to an online purchase in this instance - but, unless you are seriously competent in the ways of buying bras online, you gotta manage this in a boutique. The secret to ensuring that you'll end up with a bra that works is to try on 8000 of them, of all styles and brands - and in numerous sizes within each style. This isn't workable online. Yeah, it's going to cost more.
  • Make sure you understand your pain and where it originates from (to the very best of your ability) before you go shopping. Is it neuro-muscular (and this shit's a bitch that likes to hide)? Are you managing an acute injury that isn't healing quickly? Did you just have an operation? Are you in treatment for breast cancer? If you're pain is referring on account of wires, you need to go wire free (if at all possible). If it's worsened by pressure on straps, you've got to find some wider straps. Meditate on the issue - and I know that's not difficult when all you can think about is the pain you don't want to think about.
  • Be prepared to spend. You're in pain. Buy the bra that works, even if it's out of the budget. Your very being will thank you. And the comfortable bra will pay for itself many times over.
  • Be upfront with the SA about what's going on. Explain your issue clearly. Ask to work with someone who's knowledgeable in this arena. Don't be afraid to say: No, this one doesn't feel right either. I went into the store with the following objective, which I expressed immediately: I need an attractive bra that provides support, recognizing that a band that puts any significant pressure on my back ribs is a no go. Though my under bust is 30.5 29.5-30 inches (just remeasured for kicks) in circumference, I'm interested in trying 34 or even 36 bands (if the brand runs very tight in the band).
  • Get over your fears (about buying a bra under these circumstances). This is a solution-oriented exercise. If a 36 band is ridiculously loose, you'll move on. If a bra hurts, you'll put it back. Trust me, there's a bra out there that will work for you and that will not worsen your problem.
  • Give extra consideration to brands that focus on wide bands (to displace weight) of 3+ hooks and eyes. If a long line works, all the better. Sport bras can also work, but compression can be a problem over the long run and, man, those bras are not pretty. (Nor can you wear anything lower than a crew neck while you're in one.) A brand known for super tight bands (Cleo, anyone?) likely isn't the one for you. Sure, you can go up 2 band sizes - but then the proportions of the cups is likely to go all wonky.  
  • Also, remember that the minute the band rides up, the bra doesn't work and it's likely to contribute to pain in the long run. You've got to walk a fine line between a band that holds things in place but that doesn't cinch things. Ordinarily, I espouse that the band size should more or less mimic your under bust size (accounting for things like a very muscular frame). If your under bust is 30.5", you probably want to wear a 30 or 32 band. When back pain is an issue, you might need to go with a +2-3 band (2-3 inches larger than the under bust). That veers dangerously close to the debunked "plus 4 method" but you only need to do this while there's pain.
  • Don't go for the skinny straps (they can cause or worsen trigger points). Go with the snuggest band that doesn't worsen pain and then use an extender when you're having a particularly bad day.
I wish I could tell you the best styles for managing your particular pain but, here's the thing, I'm new to this gig (and I'm not intending to be here long!). Furthermore, your pain is as unique as mine and everyone else's. This is a trial and error exercise that requires your sincerest engagement.

Here's what I opted to do: I decided to supplement my regular bra wardrobe with 2 new offerings designed to help when the pain is in flare: a basic (but pretty) beige bra and a basic (but pretty) black bra. Both work well under all outfits. Each is a bra I'm either very familiar with (through years of wear in other sizes) or the brand is one that works well for me. I went for each in a 34 band (which means I had to size down in the cups). I have colour coordinated extenders, which I use, as necessary. These match with any beige or black undies (though I've bought more in both colours) so that I don't have to wear unmatched sets in this challenging time. Unmatched sets are the worst.

Fantasie Smoothing Underwire Balconette (4520)


I so wish I could find a version of this bra that actually fits the model, but this one's a toughie on many figures. It either works or it doesn't. And, happily, it works for me - though the proportions of the 34 back are a bit odd. The wires are trending slightly too wide and there's a bit of rippling in the (molded but soft-cup/unpadded) fabric because it's slightly too full in the upper cup for me in the new size. Mind you, there's lift and separation happening and the lines of this bra are very attractive on me (which is why I've been wearing it as my standard T shirt bra for more than a decade). The 34 band is adequately snug so that there's no riding up (but not in a way that makes the pain worse). Wearing this with an extender is tricky because the proportions are already a bit wide for my narrow frame. I'm not opposed to unhooking it at 3pm when I'm sitting at my desk and no one's around. The straps on this bra are quite comfortable (but they don't look wide) and the under wires are very firm - so they support. Of course, if under bust pain is your issue, you've got to be careful about overly firm wires.

I bought this online, given my longstanding experience of it. It was 50 bucks all in. A bargain, IMO.

Empreinte Melody Full Cup (0786)


Here's the thing about Empreinte bras - the brand is French. Those people don't do full-cups. They do full balconettes and call them a full cup. This is a molded bra (like the Fantasie above) - unlined /unpadded.

Silver lining!: I've always wanted this bra but, in the 32 band, the cups aren't the right shape for me. Remember, molded bras don't have seams (which allow for better fit). So a molded bra either fits or it doesn't. Empreinte changes its wires with every band size and cup size. Because a 32F doesn't have the same wire size and cup proportions as a 34E (the way most brands cut costs and "sister size"), every combination of cup and band size is a new opportunity for the shape to work.

So, in a 34 back, this bra works and, as per most of Empreinte's offerings, it looks fantastic on Kristin. Here's a video that shows it on a real person, fitting pretty well (except for a bit of weirdness on the upper side band which is truly not problematic for the model). It really looks that good.

Empreinte makes angled bands, to ensure best alignment on the back, and as a result, they don't need to be tight in order to be supportive. There are 3 hooks and eyes and, as a design feature, the straps on this style are wide and slightly padded. As always, the wires and gores are narrow but this shape is not as projected as some of the other styles. Molded bras are never as projected as seamed bras, one of the reasons that women with projected breasts either swim in them (in a size too large) or bust out at the upper cups.

The silhouette is lifted and round. No, it's not boobs on a plate (the photo makes that clear) but it is very elegant and sophisticated. This isn't a "youthful" bra but it's not in any way frumpy. It's understated and sexy and it's designed to ensure your comfort (if you're pain-free) or to facilitate comfort when you're working with pain.

This one ain't cheap. It was 200 bucks all in but it's a gem. It isn't easy to spend that amount when one is trying to save money - and given that the goal is to not need to wear it for long. But I'm following my own advice. It's worth that price to feel gorgeous and comfortable at a time when those things are elusive. And even when this pain goes (mercifully we're making strides, peeps, but I can see it's complicated and it's going to take time), I'm well aware that it is likely to recur, at least until menopause.

So, there you go. Whatcha think of these bras? Or my methodology? Or the brands? Or the spree? Let's talk!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Yoga and Myofascial Pain

I should start this post by saying that, in the last month, I've learned enough about "yoga for myofascial pain" to write a book. This is somewhat concerning, if you think about it, as both have been a huge part of my life for 25 years.

I'll also add in the obligatory disclaimer about how the degree of complexity involved in understanding and managing chronic pain is matched only by the degree of complexity when it comes to understanding yoga and how it works to heal and strengthen the body/mind.

This post ain't out to change the world, peeps, but to share some of the more mind blowing things that have influenced me lately. And when I say "influenced" I really mean "deeply experienced" because I've been locked in some cult-like therapy session with my pain lo these past 6 weeks.

On the plus side, we're finally talking.

I don't even know where to begin. In the same way my pain is a huge loop that, when it flares, sucks everything into its grip, my increasing awareness of it is circular, like the ripple produced by a stone skipped into water.

How about starting with the elephant in the room: How does a woman (whose fitness, health and spiritual life paths centre around a practice based on listening to the body) develop debilitating pain - likely produced by years of not listening to her body? I cannot tell you how many classes I've taught over the years wherein I've cautioned my students to listen. I cannot tell you how many more classes I've been to (and personal practices I've done), wherein that's the mantra.

How the fuck did this happen?

Well, the origins of pain are not always clear (and this is the complicated subject of another post) - and one can never discount the nature of the practitioner when it comes to adaptation. I have always been the kind of person who throws herself into things passionately - actually, one might say violently. My mind and body don't really understand moderation. This is no secret - especially on this blog. It's what makes me fun to be around. It gives me scope. It exercises a very fast-moving neuro-chemistry. It makes me incredibly productive. It feeds my ego. I love jumping out of a metaphoric airplane as often as possible (which is strange because, in real life, I'm exceedingly cautious with my actions). Sometimes, all that I can see is the outcome. I'm not naturally adept at interpreting the impact.

I started yoga at a very young age - at a very hard time in my life. My parents were moving to another country. I was in Canada alone. I had just left the fold of my high-school, a small, extremely meaningful place where I'd learned how to relate to everything and to truly be myself. Adulthood had begun, but I wasn't ready. I was, in my mind, cast adrift without family, a crushing emotional experience that I recognized all too keenly: I had lived through it once already, in early childhood. I knew, intuitively (certainly not consciously) that I needed yoga to ground me. I can only say I was very fortunate to have found the Iyengar method right off the bat. It worked for my personality (and against it). It was a "safe" practice focused on structural alignment. It came with a community (albeit one I would eventually eschew).

In retrospect, I remember my teacher constantly smacking me (in the yoga way, to bring awareness to a dull part of the body), telling me not to grip. When I wanted to jump, she made me stand still. When I wanted to go further into a pose, she'd stop me half-way. I had the physical confidence of youth and I felt compelled to move, to achieve. For me, deepening my practice was related to improving my physical ability and form. I could do some fancy poses. Mind you, so can lots of people. Even today, in this ridiculous state, I could warm up my body, move past the pain with some heat and breath work, and do a very active practice in such a way that you wouldn't know - more to the point, neither would I - that I'd distracted myself from dealing with injury produced by chronic pain.

The truth is that you can always work any instruction to suit your unconscious desires.

I realize now, as I meditate, in three different styles - to achieve 3 different states - for about an hour each day (30 min morning, 30 min evening), that my yoga has never been as sincere as it is right now. I do everything with the intention of listening to my body, of incorporating its need for release and extremely precise (almost non-) movement. I learned/practiced these techniques (a pranayama method for quieting the nervous system, a biofeedback method and a method of meditative dialogue) in my late teens. Of course, back then, I thought meditative response was something reserved for the very advanced - or else it was a scam. I was doing it, but I wasn't feeling it.

In one of those fortuitous life-ironies, I turned my attention to yin yoga (to the notion of connective tissue release) at just the time I finally began to understand that my pain is based on its utter restriction. It's possible that my return to active yoga practice in the summer led me, 6 weeks ago, to this particular pain "crisis" - a variation on my semi-regular pain bouts (about which I've written all too often here). This one isn't willing to go, though. It's digging in its heels. And honestly, while I hate the pain, I am so incredibly grateful for its message. As my mother likes to say: You pay now, or you pay later. Really people, I am ready to settle up this bill.

At this point, my methods for working with pain are numerous (again, the zillions of inter-related processes would require a full post of their own). But in terms of yoga, when I wake up in the morning (feeling like I've been hit by a truck, if you must know, and afraid of how my body will last the day in an incredibly stressful job), I meditate. Then I do about 15 minutes of yoga postures that don't look a damn thing like yoga. I prop my body with, say, my dining room table and other furniture. My goal is to stress connective tissue in my left hip, low back and upper thoracic. Gradually, the ridiculous morning stiffness (I've recently developed) abates.

Cut to the evening. I begin by using props very carefully and lying in poses to undo the physical damage of the day. (Note: Yeah, I do realize I've got to find a way not to take it all into my body. But one fucking thing at a time! This is the topic, not of a post, but of a long conversation over dinner and a bottle of wine.) Depending on what's up - and lately it's been pretty fucking hard core - I do very simple, non-weight-bearing poses which I hold for very long periods. These aren't simply yin asanas, though I bring that awareness into the poses via intention. I also do many of the Iyengar supported poses I loathe. Ah, my latent pain (in the early days) knew even then how to avoid things.

Eventually, for the sake of endorphin-release, I may opt to bring some flow (heat) into the work - but not your average vinyasa. My trapezius and related muscles are SO hair-trigger, that one weight-bearing movement can throw everything into a literally nerve-wracking spasm. I use my head stander (have I mentioned how I love this thing) to allow me to get neck and shoulder traction, while also calming my nervous system and regulating my (ever so taxed) endocrine system. Man, I spend a long time hanging upside down.

I can do this because I have the knowledge and the years of technical experience. I own the (expensive) props. I have a yoga studio. I have access to information. I can only imagine how someone without these resources struggles to function. I'm calling on years of mudra - those poses I've done all my life have been saving my ass for decades. The roots of this pain have been in my body for as long as I can remember.

If you are in terrible chronic pain and you haven't done yoga before - please, find yourself a good teacher. When you most need support, don't try to learn something complex on your own. Of course, practice as often as you can in your home, but invest in private classes or a good Iyengar therapeutics class. The teacher, whatever her method, must be knowledgeable, sensitive, able to communicate - and she must be able to see the pain in your body in order to help you to fix it. You wouldn't go to a mediocre chiropractor or physical therapist. Don't take yoga risks when you're managing pain.

When I look at people with my "yoga eyes", I often see their physical (and mental) pain. The very pain I haven't been able to access in myself is writ large in others and it's much less complicated than my own because I see it objectively. I understand how it can leave. When I teach a person in pain, I tell her to listen to her body, to make her actions minute, to hear the feedback of those actions and to face the untenable.

Now onward.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What's a Girl to Do?

Wanna know the most ridiculous thing about this pain thing I've got going on? I can barely stand to tell y'all but I cannot wear my regular bras.

Please take a minute to process that statement. Please consider that I - the woman who has no use for bands that don't snug and the people who eschew them - have been going to work, every fucking day (lately), wearing the Bali Comfort Bra I couldn't bring myself to link to when I wrote about it as my lounge bra option.

Just thinking about this gives me goosebumps of horror. I wear a bra - in public! - that basically does nothing but smush my boobs together and keep them from bouncing (sort of).

Lord. I cannot believe I just admitted that. I considered hiding this fact but it seems, well, wrong. Totally disingenuous, like. And while I've never understood how someone could blame "sensitivity" on her choice to wear a band that is objectively too large to hold things up optimally, let's just say I'm getting the picture.

The price of compassion, people.

You know what? I may be horrified but I'm still doing it. Because my big-time pain trigger point is exactly underneath where my delightfully snug bands sit (on the left side). I can either manage excruciating pain and have boobs that look fantastic, or I can hide smushness under a blazer and feel somewhat less excruciating pain. Great choices, no?

On the plus side, people have told me (believably) that my boobs look practically as lifted (if not as well-appointed) wearing the bandage some would term a bra. So maybe my rack is not as subject to gravity as I'd believed.

Don't worry, I'm on this case. The Comfort Bra is an option of last resort. Cuz I may be in pain, but I will not descend into the realm of frumpy. Please stay tuned as I spend money I really should be saving in the adventuresome quest for some bras (or new sizes of bras) that provide some sexy without causing me utter misery.

Of course, my goal is to quiet the trigger point, regain equilibrium and go back to wearing my gorgeous offerings of yore. In the meanwhile, I'll just have to get creative.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pain: A Primer

Apparently, in the subjective landscape which is pain perception, I have a very high tolerance (and threshold). To wit:
  • When I broke my foot 4 years ago, a fracture which presented with tissue damage, I managed on an occasional Advil. Moreover, I walked around on it till they confirmed (with secondary scans) that the foot was actually broken.
  • When, at work, I sustained a sizable third-degree burn on my hand (microwave soup accident, people), which my doctor friend Hilary saw afterwards and responded to with horror, instead of going to the hospital (recommended by peers, I should confess), I attended a briefing with a bag of frozen peas to take down the swelling.
  • When I had a baby with no medication, at home, and there were unforeseen complications, I was one of the 2 per cent of midwifery patients to require an episiotomy. Following this, my midwife reached inside my body (while paramedics were on the way to my house to take me to the hospital) and unwrapped the cord around my baby's neck (it was wrapped 3 times) while pulling her out fast. I needed 36 stitches and it's only by dint of my midwife's long-standing in the community that they didn't take me to the hospital to do this. (Note: They did freeze the area before stitching, which I found hilarious given that I'd basically just had surgery without medication.)
The interesting thing about these three examples (and I have a few others, but those are the flashy ones), is that they chronicle a pain response to immediate trauma. Effectively, my body responded to nocioceptive pain (that of injury to skin, tissue and bone) in a reasonably sanguine fashion.

Did I feel the pain? Oh, yes. But, more to the point, was I able to distinguish it from the trauma I was experiencing? Yeah.

That quality is probably what's saving my ass right now as I experience an extreme instance of chronic neuropathic pain. This is the kind of pain that comes from a seemingly endless, fucked up conversation between your brain and your body. It's not in response to trauma, but it can produce the symptoms of it.

To wit, apparently, the current degree of scar tissue in my upper back (left side) is consistent with that produced in a serious car accident or a fall from a high height. It wasn't there 3 years ago (before my pain began in earnest). I can only imagine how badly off I'd be at this point if I didn't do yoga all the fucking time.

The latest practitioner to look at what's happening, asked me what narcotic I was taking to manage the pain. When I told her I was subsisting on the occasional Advil gel-cap, yoga and another natural treatment I won't discuss here, she was shocked.

Technically, I think we can consider this the outcome of myofascial pain syndrome, though I've resisted definition for a long time. I know that the only thing my allopathic doc can do is offer me some drugs that I'll acclimate to, all too quickly. I also know what's been going on from the vantage point of the person who lives in my body. I've told y'all for years that this is about hyper-tension of muscles and spasm. What I didn't realize is that I've likely been dealing with peripheral nerve excitability (something concerning that I don't feel like linking to), a condition that requires me to exert effort to prevent my body from twitching in a weird rhythmic fashion.

That's what I've got to deal with first and foremost because it's the sign of damage and, unchecked, it will continue to contribute to it. Note: I intend to fix this with body-work, not drugs.

For those of you interested in myofascial pain - and I urge you not to be - I'm like the poster child. It usually arises out of the comorbid experience of TMJD, migraines, tension headaches, anxiety, noise and light sensitivity and mitral valve prolapse. Stress doesn't help. I experience all of these in force.

I'm telling you this by way of connecting with the broader universe - those who are pain sufferers and those of you who have known me for some time.

This is not an easy moment. The last 4 years have not been an easy moment but occasionally things seem very hard and this is one of those times.

I can't type easily right now. It takes a toll and I need to be judicious. Work is getting the bulk of my energy because it pays me. I will write when I can though, for reasons of life insanity and, well, pain management, I won't be writing as regularly for the next while. My body and mind are, frankly, exhausted.

Mind you, with silly definitions out of the way, next time we chat I can tell you about how I'm managing things. I can assure you that this pain isn't me, which is likely why I'm managing at all.

But in the meanwhile, I'd so love to hear from you. What's your experience of pain? Is it chronic? Are you oblivious to it? Do you have a terrific story of recovery? Can you provide advice - pain-havers and regular peeps alike. Let's talk!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The 24-Hour Knit

OK, if you want a great, quick knit that's totally practical, you've got to make yourself one of these:



It's All You Need, by LondonLeo and it takes up about 180 yards of yarn. It looks great in stripes.

I've been getting a lot of use out of my hot water bottle lately. It's got quite cold here, and my neck is hard as a rock. But man, I'm 44 and I still wrap the bottle in a towel. What am I, a savage?

This project wasn't boring by a long shot. I learned two new techniques: Magic Cast On and Slip Slip Knit (Stretchy) Bind Off.

I've tried the magic cast on before and it was a disaster. This time, I actually figured out what's going on and it really is an ingenious method. I mean, I don't love working it, but it creates a totally seamless join in bottom up knitting.  SSK bind off is fine. It's good to know different methods but, really, regular bind off, in rib, is always very stretchy. I naturally bind off loosely.

The colour of these photos is misleading. I used Madeline Tosh DK in Dahlia. This yarn is just beautiful to knit. The stitch definition is gorgeous. It's got good recovery and it feels great.

Voila. The 24-hour knitting project - a bespoke hottie!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Yoga for Pain Management

Here's the deal peeps: The chronic pain bullshit continues. I don't know why I'm all flippy about it right now. It's nothing new. But managing pain takes so much fucking will. There's no pill to fix it. Rather, there's a pill and a potion and supplements and body work and the mindful application heat and cold and exercise and (potentially) diet. Most of all, though, it's about fortitude.

Actually, as of yesterday, it's also about a jaw splint because, on top of everything else, I've been dealing with pretty significant TMJD for most of my life. It's hit a peak of badness lately, unsurprisingly. Life stressors, age and hormonal shifts have contributed to this. But the latest little life glitch to contend with is that my jaw actually dislocates when I open my mouth. (It does click back into the right spot thereafter, but this ain't a good development.)
 
I don't want to dwell on the bad right now. I have enough opportunity to do that in the wee hours of the night. The measure of a person is not in her ability to handle the fun times, of this I am certain. And, since I don't appear to be living a life of constant fun times, I'm going to focus on the gift that is pain. For example, you never have to wonder about the verity of the mind-body connection when you live with pain. It shows itself to you in every moment.

This is actually a relevant segue to a topic I've been meaning to discuss for a while: the specifics of the yin yoga method. I've discussed it briefly before. It's a system that's gained popularity in the last decade - and mostly in the last 5 years - though it's been around since the 70s.

It combines Daoist principles, elemental constructs of Chinese Traditional Medicine with long-held asana (many analagous to yoga postures you'd be familiar with). The objective is to work the body, in these postures, "cold" because you don't want to engage muscle groups - what active yoga practice aims to do. You want to by-pass muscular response so that you can stress (and thereby tone) connective tissue and fascia.

Yin practice works distinctly from active practice. They are complementary but different physical and meditative activities. Often, long-standing practitioners of active styles (Iyengar, Ashtanga) feel that yin yoga isn't "real yoga" because it functions on the plane of the passive. Yes - yin yoga is unapologetically, deliberately passive. The premise is that you do not want to engage regular physiological feedback loops because they're in opposition to those that stress the connective tissue. In this context, stress is a good thing. It implies new growth of healthy tissues and strengthening of existing structures. You cannot stretch connective tissue. That's the purview of the muscles. To stretch ligaments and fascia would be to damage them. So you stress them instead.

Any yoga can be practiced by any person at any stage of ability - but I warn you against embracing the yin style until you have a well-established active practice. The style assumes a certain amount of muscular flexibility and strength. Regardless of the passive intention re: holding postures for upwards of 5 minutes each, it takes strength and pliancy - both physically and mentally - to do so.

Unlike the Iyengar restorative method (and I'll discuss the distinctions between these in a moment), the yin method doesn't dwell on how to prop the poses to allow for long holds. Some teachers address this better than others - but a strong background in Iyengar yoga is the perfect complement to the yin practice. Iyengar yoga is particularly focused on muscular activity in the context of structural stability. Yin yoga focuses on non-muscular activity in the context of structural stability. Skillful application of props is germane to both of these goals.

Here's what I'll say about the yin style (as a person who is very experienced in the ways of the restorative Iyengar method):
  • The yin practice is entirely different than restorative practice in its intention. The restorative Iyengar practice focuses on improving health (mental and physical) by taking postures to balance the endocrine system. Those postures, while heavily propped, are not passive. They engage muscles inasmuch as the maintenance of muscular "tone" is inherent to remaining safely in the postures for long periods. The emphasis is on supported back bends and full inversions - which are known for promoting endocrine stability. There is no emphasis on Chinese medical principles. There is an emphasis on the movement of prana.
  • By contrast, the yin practice emphasizes complete passivity in the poses. The mantra is: With no expectation, every posture is correct. Time is the only meaningful variable. With long-holdings, comes optimal stress to connective tissues - if you can handle it. These poses focus on the large muscle-groups between the knees and ribcage, particularly the hips and the emphasis is on seated poses, modified standing poses and forward bends. As fascia is interconnected between all muscles in the body, stress on the largest muscles achieves the greatest result. And, as this fascia tones, via stress, one can feel the impact of yin hip openers widely throughout the body. Postures are explored from the vantage point of Chinese medical principles (meridians and elements) and also from the standard yogic vantage point of moving prana.
The last few years of pain management, and near constant meditation on the semi-regular pain-loop I experience, has led me to understand that stretching my muscles does nothing to help my pain. My muscles are pretty stretchy. I mean, I've been stretching them regularly for 25 years. They're also strong and fairly well-aligned. When the pain flares, however, my connective tissue grips like a mass of plastic that just doesn't want to move.

It's taken me years to figure this out. But I was totally shocked to discover that the premise of yin yoga (a method I'd heard about and arrogantly assumed was like "restorative yoga lite") is all about the very thing I cannot contain or work to my will.

Here's another way of looking at things re: yoga as pain management. (Note that yoga is about much more than pain management, of this we are all well aware...)

Iyengar restorative practice seeks to ameliorate pain by balancing neurotransmitters (the hormonal precursors in the brain). Talk about taking things back to the studs. It presumes a non-trivial amount of physical and mental self-awareness - and the ability to stay in some serious poses for a long period of time. When effective, biochemical balance leads to a significant decrease in pain.

Yin yoga doesn't go straight to the brain (well, even as it goes straight to the core :-)). It posits that passive stress to a sheath of tissue (which runs throughout the body) can elicit a change in the pain response. Does that go back to the brain? Yeah. But it's a more accessible vehicle for most peeps.

Is one better than the other? I don't think so. In as much as yin yoga and active yoga are different modalities, so is Iyengar restorative practice distinct from the yin method. One may work better for a particular practitioner at a particular moment. The pain loop is not static. Pain comes from and goes to different places depending on a myriad of factors that are so minute it's sometimes impossible to detangle them. In this respect, knowledge is power.

I often modify my yoga sessions (while in a pain moment) to include elements of active, supported and yin practice. I also modify my intention to suit that of the practice I'm doing. When I work actively, my meditation is on slowing breath and moving that breath to the muscle groups (to improve endurance and flexibility). When I work supportedly, my intention is to use inversions (and pressure points) to restore endocrine balance. When I work in the yin practice, my intention is to be entirely passive - which is almost impossible for me. It's to feel the pain I run from much of the time. To integrate it and to make peace with it.

The value of intention cannot be underestimated. I spent years wondering about whether there's any specific correlation between outcome and intention. Trust me, cuz I've done the work. The correlation is significant. You cannot remove your mind from the pain equation. Nor can you remove it from the yogic one.

Today's questions: Do you practice all three types (active, yin and supported)? What is your experience? Do you manage chronic or semi-regular pain? What are your techniques for managing? How does intention alter your experience of yoga practice (if at all)? Let's talk.