BOOK REVIEW: The Healer Within by Roger Jahnke

The Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques To Release Your Body's Own Medicine *Movement *Massage *Meditation *BreathingThe Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques To Release Your Body’s Own Medicine *Movement *Massage *Meditation *Breathing by Roger Jahnke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book examines how four techniques – movement, massage [specifically, self-applied], breathing exercises, and meditation — can be used to facilitate a robust immune system and to stimulate the body’s innate healing capacities. Jahnke, as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, specializes in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM,) but he acknowledges that these activities aren’t the exclusive domain of that system. The book is designed to be one-stop shopping for an individual seeking to build their own self-healing practice either as preventive medicine or as a part of one’s treatment regimen for an ailment or infirmity.

The thirteen chapters of the book are divided into five parts. The first two chapters form the book’s first part, and they discuss the body’s innate healing capacity and the literature on the roles of mind and self-applied activities on health outcomes.

Part II forms the heart of the book, and it consists of chapters three through seven. Chapter three offers insight into the process of building a personal practice from the four key activities including guidelines for how to organize disparate parts into a whole and how to fit it into one’s life overall. The other four chapters provide examples and techniques for each of the four components of the system: gentle movement (e.g. qiqong), self-applied massage, breathing exercises, and meditation and deep relaxation techniques.

Part III expands on the issues touched upon in Chapter 3. That is, it explores in greater detail the nature of building and deepening a personal practice.

Part IV, entitled “The Way of Nature,” provides a philosophical context for a global self-healing movement and describes how a community can be built around this endeavor. There are three chapters in this section. The last part consists of only one chapter and it describes a potential future self-healing regime. Throughout the book there is a recognized that, while modern medicine is invaluable, it’s also developed a dysfunction by undervaluing the role of the body’s innate healing factor, while not only removing the patient from of the driver’s seat but also stuffing them in the trunk as a sort of cargo in the health and healing process.

The book has line drawings to help clarify the techniques. There are several pieces of back matter (an appendix, a bibliography, and a resources section) to help make the book more useful. [The appendix is a little strange and unfocused for an Appendix. It’s almost more of a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version for someone who wants to get to brass tacks, but it does offer some interesting insight into how a community built around these ideas has formed.]

I found this book to be informative and believe it offers a great deal of valuable insight into how to not only develop one’s own preventive medicine activities, but also how to situate those activities within a community of like-minded individuals. I thought the author did a good job of presenting scientific evidence for building a self-healing practice while not becoming too bogged down technical detail and offering a way of thinking about it for those who look at such activities in more metaphysical or spiritual terms. I’d recommend this book for anyone who is considered engaging in health enhancing activities.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Science of Yoga by William Broad

The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the RewardsThe Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards by William J. Broad

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I brought a great deal of interest and enthusiasm towards this subject as I began reading this book. As I proceeded to read, my feelings about The Science of Yoga became much more mixed. At its best, the book shows the state of scientific research on yoga and crushes myths that are deeply ingrained, and it points out risks of which yogis and yoginis should take notice. At its worst, it is sensationalism run-amok–suggesting hugely expensive solutions to issues that are either relatively small problems or that the author fails to prove are really problems at all. Put more simply, at its best it’s outstanding, but at its worst it’s tripe. What I will say about this book is the same thing that its author says about yoga, which is that—on balance—it does more good than harm.

The book is arranged into seven chapters, each of which discusses the scientific research on a different dimension of controversial beliefs about yoga. These include the historic claims of supernatural yogic abilities, the issue of whether yoga increases cardiovascular health, the role of yoga in mental health and well-being, the safety of practicing yoga, the role of yoga in healing, the sexual claims of yogis, and whether yoga enhances creativity. It is written in a scholarly format, heavily end-noted and with bibliographic citations. There is front matter giving information about key people, time lines, and yoga styles in outline form.

In an afterword, Broad points out that this has been his most controversial book to date. I can see why, but, to be fair, I’m sure much of the criticism is unfairly based on a failure to read the book or a desire for the author to treat many of yoga’s mythical aspects as science (as many of its practitioners do.) The former problem was exacerbated by the fact that a single chapter excerpt was published in the New York Times as a teaser for the book. Designed to spark controversy (always good for readership), it was one of the most negative of chapters—the one dealing with yoga injuries. Some who took umbrage probably didn’t realize that Broad is a yoga practitioner, and that there are chapters that are overwhelmingly positive on yoga (e.g. the chapter on “mood” which deals with yoga’s influence on psychology has mostly great things to say about the discipline.) While all of the chapters combine a mix of good and bad news, one comes away from some of them seeing a positive picture of yoga and others with a negative one. In the first half of the book it seems as though chapters may have been arranged to alternate positive and negative dimensions.

Of course, there will also be people who are outraged because of the discussions of the debunking of the con games of their beloved yogis, or for a failure to discuss the critical importance of things like Chakra fluffing. It should be noted that Broad doesn’t deride or mock such spiritual beliefs, he more or less ignores them beyond the occasional off-hand mention—as one would expect in a book about science.

My primary criticism with The Science of Yoga is a common one consideration of problem-solving utilizing public policy (not just with respect to yoga), which is to become so impassioned about a problem that you lose all sight of cost-benefit considerations or the negative feedback effects incentivized by your “solutions.” The problems about which Broad gets so exercised as to suggest an overhaul of yoga as we know it, largely fall into two categories. First, there are problems that are exceedingly rare but catastrophic for in individual involved. This is exemplified by the apparent heightened incidence of strokes among individuals engaged in certain inversions (e.g. a shoulder stand in which the neck is under compression.)

In an interesting turn away from science, Broad makes assumptions in the face of lack of evidence about the incidence of stroke in yoga practitioners. He assumes that yogis have at least the same incidence of stroke due to vertebral artery injury as the general population because of inversions and other yogic activities that put pressure on blood vessels in the neck. He does make clear that it’s just a guess, but one could equally well speculate that those who practice yoga suffer a diminished rate of such strokes because of greater flexibility and strength in the neck. (For the most part the human body is an anti-fragile system, i.e. it grows stronger when subjected to stresses—up to a point—than when shielded from stresses.) While he does call for increased study of the issue, he’s also simultaneously calling for expensive reforms. In essence, he’s calling for a solution before awaiting the evidence that there’s actually a real problem. Stroke is the 800 pound gorilla of the risks the Broad writes about in terms of damage, and so it’s not surprising that he paints the risk in ominous terms. He criticizes the Yoga Journal for dismissing it as a “minuscule number of cases”, but even taking his estimate of 300 (and realizing it could be much lower and is compared to 800,000 cases of stroke per year in the US according to the CDC) “minuscule” does not sound that out of line in a country of 314 million people.

Second, there is the issue of bad information being spread by yoga teachers and authors either because they don’t know any better or because they have an incentive to deceive. This is exemplified by the widespread notion that yoga (and particularly pranayama— breathing exercises) increases one’s cardiovascular fitness. Is it wrong? Yes, but it’s not clear that this propagation of bad information has hurt anybody. That may sound harsh, but—think about it–many people lead long and fruitful lives believing things that aren’t true. Now you may say, “Yes, but people who believe the Earth is flat can’t get hurt believing that, but yoga practitioners can be hurt by wrong information.” I would agree that some wrong information could be damaging, but consider the example given, which–I might add–is one of the main thrusts of Broad’s book. If it were the case that many people got fat because they thought yoga would help their cardio when instead it decreased their metabolism (as the evidence suggests it does), then no one would believe the myth. The idea wouldn’t have the strong hold that it does. What happens more often is that people either lose weight because they stress and eat less or they stay the same—either way they haven’t been hurt any more by bad information. Even if someone came to yoga to lose weight and gained some, they will abandon yoga and go to Zumba or Taebo with greater flexibility and probably a diminished risk of injury for having done yoga.

By spreading information about the risks and the state of scientific understanding of them Broad is doing good work. However, he goes on to suggest that we need lots of bureaucrats to monitor and license yoga and that we need much more rigorous requirements for yoga teachers than the 200 or 500 hour Yoga Alliance certifications that currently exist (or the teaching certificates issued by the gurus or teacher trainers of various styles of yoga), and herein lies two problems. It’s not clear that a problem exists to merit such an expensive solution.

First of all, many of the worst cases that he points out were people engaged in questionable practices on their own. I’m sorry for my frankness, but you can’t regulate stupid out of existence. There was one kid who sat for hours in Vajrasana (sitting on haunches), one who fell asleep in a forward bend, and another who had a stroke after holding a shoulder stand on a hard surface for hours. Now, my experience may not be as extensive as others, but I’ve attended yoga classes in the US, India, and Thailand. I’ve had teachers tell me to hold a pose for 5 deep breaths. I’ve even had teachers tell me to hold a pose for 10 deep breaths. No teacher has ever said to me, “Hold that pose for four hours or until you have a stroke, whichever comes first.” Even teachers with a couple hundred hours of instruction and a couple hundred more of experience don’t—as a rule—give patently stupid advice. (To the degree that there are rare exceptions, thinking that no teacher would ever again give a piece of bad advice if they just all had PhDs is a little presumptuous.)

The major problem with Broad’s suggestion of a need to overhaul the system and install bureaucratic gatekeepers and overseers and to make teachers jump through vastly more educational hoops is that it increases the cost of doing yoga with a teacher. Now, I know that yoga is associated with relatively affluent people, but—believe it or not–there are yoga practitioners who aren’t SUV-driving, Abercrombie&Fitch-wearing, maid-hiring suburbanites. If the monthly cost of attending yoga class goes from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars because every yoga teacher has to have a PhD in Kinesiology and every studio has to comply with the extensive regulations and licensing fees of the newly formed Department of Yoga Management, then many people who are happy with the level of instruction they are currently getting are going to be emulating books and videos and injury rates could actually go up.

Another example of a “problem” that is not definitively shown to be a problem is Broad’s extensive criticism of an author of a popular book on yoga (i.e. Larry Payne) for using a Ph.D. designation that was from a southern Californian diploma-mill. While there is something objectionable about putting a PhD behind one’s name that wasn’t justly earned, it’s not at all clear that this was a problem. One expects to hear how Larry Payne left a pile of wrecked souls in his wake. However, while Broad devotes pages to ridiculing Payne for putting PhD after his name, the few mentions of the Payne’s interactions with others suggest that he helped them get healthier (e.g. Dr. Ursatine) and that he furthered the state of his professional field. The implication being that the credential matters vastly more than the individual’s experience and diligence. Interestingly, Dr. Fishman (for whom Broad has nothing but kind words—presumably because he holds an MD) is quoted as speaking glowingly about Payne and his contributions to the field.

Another example of sensationalism can be seen in the chapter on sexuality. While we would expect this chapter to be entirely about the claims of yoga being able to enhance one’s sex life, a fair amount of it is devoted to pointing out instances of lecherousness among yogis. I’m not saying that it’s bad to point out bad behavior of gurus in terms of harassing or molesting their female students, but unless there’s some evidence that this inclination is tied the sexual practices of yoga, this would seem to be the wrong venue for the discussion. In other words, if yogis are no more lecherous on the whole than other teachers or coaches, then it would seem that mention of this issue is just to titillate. If yogis are uncontrollable horn-dogs because of yogic practices, then fine, but you’ve got to establish that there’s evidence for that somehow.

Overall, I’d recommend that individuals interested in the scientific literature on yoga read this book. It provides a good overview of the literature, and is well-cited. The books weakness comes from insisting that a large number of mole hills are really the Himalayas. These mole hills can be addressed with education, but can never be eliminated. Suggesting we upend the apple cart to produce “solutions” to marginal problems is ridiculous. We may think a world in which there was never another fatal traffic accident would be nice, but I assure you we would not want to live in the world in which all the actions were taken necessary to achieve said goal. If one compares the extrapolated estimates of hospital visits for yoga injuries, they are really quite few and we have no reason to believe that the vast majority aren’t life-threatening or permanently disabling.

For me it would have been a great book if it laid out the risks and rewards, and suggested caution. Of course, then it probably wouldn’t have gotten any more attention than the many books that already exist on the subject of yoga injuries, so maybe some good can come of Broad’s implication that going to the yoga studio is akin to storming the beaches at Normandy and that we need to stop the horrors or yoga practice.

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BOOK REVIEW: Mind Over Medicine by Lissa Rankin

Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal YourselfMind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book is one of many that challenge the conventional approach to medical care in which a patient is a passive character who just goes to the doctor and does (or ingests) whatever the doc tells them to. In the vein of works by Deepak Chopra and Bernie Siegal, this book is written by medical doctor who has different beliefs on healing. So what’s the niche of Mind Over Medicine, given that there are already a number of prominent medical doctors preaching the same message? That message is that your body is a healing machine and will do MOST (not ALL, none of these individuals advocates abandoning modern medical science) of the heavy lifting of healing, if you create the right conditions. Rankin presents results from scientific studies as the thrust of her book. I’m not really that familiar with Siegal, but you’ll find Rankin’s work a great deal less spiritual and more scientific than the works of Deepak Chopra.

There’s a lot of scientific interest in understanding why some people experience spontaneous remissions from the most lethal of ailments while others succumb to diseases that most people weather with ease. While many people will chalk it up to divine will or chakra nudging or having one’s demons expunged, these aren’t satisfying answers for the scientifically minded individual. However, neither is the extreme skeptic’s suggestion that these are just randomly distributed flukes of nature—and it’s a waste of time to try to explain the outliers. The latter being unsatisfying because phenomena like the placebo effect are well documented.

So what conclusion does Rankin draw from the scientific literature. As suggested earlier, the conclusion is that the body is extremely good at healing what ails it, but it has to be in the right mode to have this healing take place. What’s the right mode? It has to be in relaxed mode, or, in scientific parlance, the parasympathetic system must be engaged. The problem is that when a person is under stress, the body switches into a fight or flight mode. Humanity hasn’t really come to grips with the fact that work deadlines, fears about ailments, or fears that our spouse may be cheating aren’t really the same as our ancestor’s experience of being chased by a saber-tooth tiger. When that ancestor was being chased by a tiger, his or her body shut down everything that wasn’t germane to immediate survival (e.g. digestion is interrupted, blood isn’t evenly distributed but goes to lungs and skeletal muscles, etc.) The tiger chase is over shortly, and the body returns doing its regular at-rest functions (e.g. digesting, healing, etc.) However, if we let our stressors kick us into that immediate survival mode–and just having a disease can be stressing enough in itself–then our healing can be severely or completely curtailed.

Can faith healing, karma cleansing, chakra fluffing, or sugar pills contribute to healing? Sure, but not in the way that the faithful thinks. These systems–each of which has proponents who’ll swear they witnessed first-hand the power of faith or magic or invisible energy (and they are probably not lying)–work because the person who firmly believes in these therapies is able to relax and let their bodies can do what they do.

Does this mean that those who don’t believe in religion or cosmic energy manipulation are out of luck? No. You just skip the middleman and engage in activities such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or breathing exercises that allow you to put the body in a relaxed state. Secular meditation works just fine if practiced consistently, and particularly if one confronts, addresses, and eliminates the long-terms stressors in one’s life.

At the heart of the book is a discussion about how to go about performing one’s own diagnosis and writing one’s own prescription. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t about cutting the doctor out. In this case one is diagnosing one’s stressors and prescribing activities to eliminate them. This doesn’t mean one should pass up medical treatment or doctor’s advice. However, it may entail switching doctors if you have a doctor that firmly believes you are incapable of getting better—you don’t need any doubts about your body’s ability to do its thing being foist upon you.

I’d highly recommend this book for scientifically-minded individuals interested in learning how they can help their bodies get into a state conducive to healing.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Massage by Lucinda Lidell

The Book of Massage: The Complete Step-By-Step Guide to Eastern and Western TechniquesThe Book of Massage: The Complete Step-By-Step Guide to Eastern and Western Techniques by Lucy Lidell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

I picked up this book because I recently began studying Thai Yoga Bodywork (TYB.) While The Book of Massage doesn’t specifically deal with Thai massage, as a neophyte, I figured some general reading was in order, and there aren’t a lot of widely available books that deal with Thai massage specifically (at least not where I currently reside.)My first testimonial of this book is that I looked through over a dozen books on massage at my local bookstore, and this is the one with which I walked home.

I found Lidell’s book to be a valuable resource. The book covers three approaches to massage: oil massage, shiatsu, and reflexology. As the subtitle suggests, this book addresses both Eastern and Western approaches to massage. The section labeled simply “Massage” is one that deals largely in the Western approach, as it’s suggestive of the Swedish style of massage. This involves oil, no / few clothes on the recipient, and a variety of strokes that are delivered over relatively broad areas (as opposed to the deeper acupressure approach of the latter methods.) The oil massage chapter begins with an overview including what type of oil to use and the basic strokes, and then provides a sequence before delving into specific techniques for various body parts or groups of body parts.

Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage that is based on the concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM.) I found this style to be much closer to what I’ve learned in TYB. Like TYB, both patient and recipient are clothed, there is no oil, acupressure is the norm, it requires no table, and there is a match up between what are called “energy lines” in TYB and “meridians” in Shiatsu. Shiatsu even employs similar stretching techniques to those that are the hallmark of TYB. I can imagine these systems having a common ancestral art.

The order of the shiatsu chapter is basically the same as the chapter on Massage. First, there’s necessary background information. This consists of a couple of pages on the basic Taoist concepts on which TCM is based (e.g. Chi, Yin & Yang, and the five elements) and related vocabulary like “tsubo” (pressure points) and meridians. The section then goes on to address basics of posture and bodily tools (palms, thumbs, elbows, knees, etc.), the sequence of the massage, and then the specifics of various body parts.

Reflexology massages only the feet and hands in the belief that points on these appendages map to other parts of the body. In other words, practitioners believe one can increase wellness throughout the body by working points on only the feet or hands. It’s said that the roots of reflexology may be ancient and that it may have been practiced in Egypt in 2300BC, but the modern school was developed by an American physician in the early 20th century. TYB does borrow from reflexology (though not necessarily the modern form of it), so some of this was also similar to what I learned in TYB. Again, the order of this section went from the generic information one needs toward the specifics of how to apply a given technique on a particular part of the foot or hand.

In addition to the three core sections, there were chapters before and after that provide the reader with useful information. Some of this was banal but obligatory (e.g. a brief history of massage and a discussion of the importance of touch among the human species), but some of it was essential practical information such as how to create the proper environment and how to center oneself before delivering a massage. There was also information that will be useful for some about massages involving babies, expectant mothers, the elderly, athletes, and oneself.

Perhaps the most beneficial of the “supplementary” chapters was one that dealt with the subject of how to read bodies. This may seem like an odd topic. However, it’s useful to be able to recognize where an individual holds his tension or where her posture is off–a problem that can create many muscular difficulties. There’s a short overview of anatomy, which I found useful, and a shorter overview of “chakras and auras,” which I personally didn’t find useful but can see where others might.

There are several strengths and relatively few weaknesses to this book. I found the organization to be logical. The graphics are a combination of photos and line drawings, and they work well together. I thought it was great that the author explained that Shiatsu is to be done in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and that the only reason the graphics display the masseuse in a skin-tight body suit was so that the baggy clothing wouldn’t inhibit the reader’s view. Also, I found the written descriptions worked well with the graphics. One often needs a written cue as to where to find a certain point or line, and just showing it in a picture can be misleading given the wide variety of body types as well as the granularity of the graphic in contrast to the specificity of a point one may need to hit.

I suppose I should warn the easily mortified and / or very religious that there are full and partial frontal nude photographs in the section on oil massage. [I doubt such people are a major demographic for giving or receiving massage, but one never knows.]

I don’t have a lot of complaints. As it’s set up like a workbook, a spiral binding might have been nice, but I recognize the huge challenges of that. Plus, I’m not certain that one can or should learn massage from a book. Rather one should look at it as information to support study with a skilled teacher–or to experiment with once one has already developed some skill. The sections early and late in the book that talk about the importance of human touch didn’t add much, but they were also brief.

If you’re looking for a book on massage that covers a broad set of bases, but yet gives adequate detail for learning, I think this book is a good choice. I’d say it piqued my interest in learning Shiatsu.

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Why I Study Thai Yoga Bodywork

Receiving my 60 hour course certificate from the teacher.

Receiving my 60 hour course certificate from the teacher

Thai Yoga Bodywork (TYB), also called Nuad Boran (ancient bodywork) or Thai Massage, is a system that integrates assisted yoga-style stretching, reflexology, acupressure massage, and elements of Ayurvedic healing to stretch and massage the body. Its history is believed to date back 2,500 years to Northern India, where its roots lay with Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha–a physician in Buddha’s community. However, the art reached its perfection in Thailand, the nation with which it remains most closely associated.

I recently completed an introductory course in this system in Bangalore through the Inner Mountain School of Healing Arts.

Before I moved to India, I thought a lot about what I would like to learn while I was on the other side of the planet. There’s a great deal of expertise on subjects sparsely taught in the US, and it can often be had at a bargain in comparison to American prices.

Some of the skills I wanted to foster were to be expected. I wanted to learn more about meditation and the ways of living in the moment and with a quieter mind. I’ve played with such practice for a long time, and I came to believe that becoming a better martial artist  and person depended upon cultivating fudōshin— an immovable spirit. I’ve seen no route to that state that circumvents quieting the mind, and that requires observing and training the mind. One can only become more physically capable for a time, then growth depends upon the mind, on shedding petty impulses, on being incapable of manipulation, and on being unswayed my the vagaries of emotion. I’ve begun working on this objective through visits to meditation centers and by making my own practice more regular.

I also want to learn about other martial arts, besides the one I’ve been learning my entire adult life. It makes sense to learn something about the indigenous martial arts of the places I visit. I want to experience the similarities and differences of these arts, and to learn about the cultural elements that shape those differences and elements of uniqueness.

However, one of the biggest surprises has been my new-found interest in studying Thai Yoga Bodywork (TYB.) When I visited Thailand last fall I studied Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) for a week and Thai cooking for a day, but it didn’t occur to me to take one of the many Thai Massage short courses until I was back home. My interest in TYB is reflective of a broader desire to learn more about the indigenous healing methods of Asia, and that goes back a few years.  I developed a vague feeling that I wanted to study such things a couple of years back when I realized my body was deteriorating too fast for comfort, and Western medical treatment consisted of advising me to stop doing a number of the activities that I love.  Still, I must admit that I didn’t really give  a lot of thought to this interest until I started this course.

Having now thought about it, my interest in studying TYB is closely linked to my interest in martial arts. This notion might seem hard to reconcile.  TYB is a healing art, and martial arts, while they should be grounded in a sound moral philosophy, are essentially about inflicting damage on a body. The  two disciplines seem to be at odds. Still, they have a great deal in common. In each, mindfulness is key. Control of the breath is a common element of both. In Japanese martial arts there is a word, taijutsu, which means body skills, but which implies efficient use of the body. This means favoring bigger muscle groups over smaller ones where possible and taking advantage of the body’s natural alignment (e.g. straight spine) and body weight. These concepts that I had long practiced in budō were also ubiquitous in TYB. Furthermore, a number of the points that I had learned to attack, were now targeted to heal.

Still, some of these same points could be said to be common to any system of movement done properly, be it dance or exercise. So why I was drawn to TYB in particular? The most direct reason is to learn how to fix the failings of my body, and those that I’ve witnessed in others. I experienced these methods as a recipient in Thailand, and could see their value at once.

There’s also a benefit from increased understanding of anatomy and bodily awareness. One learns about how the musculature works to move the body in a way that isn’t easily picked up from textbooks. One begins to read bodies like others read books. One gains insight into the bodily deficiencies that one has taken on without even being cognizant of them. A martial artist may, on average, be a hundred times more bodily aware than the average person, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t great room for growth. (It speaks to how sadly lacking in bodily awareness most people are as much as anything.)

Still, this isn’t the full story of why I wanted to learn this art. Another reason came to mind in the introductory session, before we even began learning the technique. The teacher was talking about how TYB teaches humility, and how one has to learn to touch a stranger’s feet with compassion and devotion to that person’s well-being–an act that doesn’t come naturally to most of us.  Admittedly, this isn’t a level of humility and compassion that I have developed in life to date. Though I am the son of a mother who–as a nurse as well as a mother–was probably more at ease with putting the well-being others above her own comfort than anyone else I’ve ever met, for me this is a struggle outside my comfort zone. The martial arts teach a kind of humility (a lesson that all too many practitioners find a way to make an end run around), but if one’s practice is separate from one’s career field it’s easy for the notion of service to be so abstract as to lose meaning.

This, of course, returns back to my earlier mention of the mind. One’s ego is the biggest barrier to personal growth. Ego makes one easily manipulated. Ego makes one subject to petty impulses. Ego makes one give into fear and anger.

Learning a stretch

Learning a stretching technique