Share Your Story Featured Yogi – Melissa Kara
Our Share Your Story feature for the month of November goes to Melissa Kara from Atlanta, Georgia. Melissa struggled with asthma for most of her life. In her heartfelt story she recounts how being introduced to simple pranayama exercises changed her ability to breath and gain control over her debilitating disease. Breathing became a healing tonic for Melissa that revolutionized her life. Focusing on her breath allowed Melissa to gain control over her disease as well as relief from stress and anxiety. Now Melissa teaches others suffering from breathing difficulties to take control of their illness through the medicinal benefits of pranayama. Check out Melissa’s story below and continue to share YOUR personal stories with us at www.yogamedicine.com
I have asthma. I have had asthma since I was a child. But no one ever told me how to breathe. Once I started yoga I worked on my breath. Allowing my lungs to expand and stretch the lung tissue, allowing me to better control my breath especially in panicked situations. When the lung becomes tight and an asthmatic can no longer breathe, your heart rate increases and you feel like you’re being suffocated. What yoga did for me as an asthmatic, was introduce me to the ability to control my head, heart and breath as one. Union. Once I harnessed onto my breath I no longer felt like I was being suffocated. Breathe became my calming mechanism. I found my way into a place that gave me some control over this disease I’ve had my entire life. My mission now as a Vinyasa flow teacher is to connect the breath to the body. Trading ppl to become aware & create an intention for the breath. Everything we have is right here in front of us. Using our own lungs, breathing this free oxygen, using our mind to dedicate ourselves to controlling the panic and being back in control. Having the ability to train people on proper breath techniques is my passion bc of this change in my experience. It has helped me and others and I hope to give it to the youth and other people with breathing difficulties as well as people with normal breathing function because the oxygen in the body to me is one the most important things that we have, at no cost. Namaste
Melissa Kara Yoga
Follow Melissa on Instagram at @5_star_yoga_atl
Share Your Story Featured Yogi – Jane Eccles
Yoga Medicine is thrilled to be featuring our very first Share Your Story! This month’s featured story comes from Jane Eccles, an inspiring yogi who used yoga as medicine to rehabilitate her body after a life threatening illness. What resonates in Jane’s story is the potency of the yoga practice to transform and heal our lives. Read all about her road to recovery in “Wheelchair to Saddle” featured below. Thank you Jane for sharing your passion for yoga with us and the world!
Wheelchair to Saddle – thank goodness for yoga!
After the birth of my son I contracted Necrotising Fasciitis (NF) known in the press as ‘the flesh eating disease’.I was given 2 hours to live, told I’d be in hospital for a year, told I’d be in a wheelchair, was left without abdominal muscles after numerous surgeries to cut out the NF. Life has been a battle to say the least. I live with daily pain and the easiest of tasks are draining but many people say they would never know if they didn’t know my story. Which is how I like to be – smile and get on with it!
So where does yoga come in? I had learnt to walk again and had decided to walk a marathon. I did this with sheer grit and determination but I still wanted to push myself further. My husband qualified as a Sports Science Yoga Coach www.sportsperformanceyoga.com and from when he began to study my life became a little easier (or I learned how to deal with the pain better) He has been coaching me for 5 years now and this summer we completed my WheelchairtoSaddle challenge, cycling over 1000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End in 13.5 days! When I bought my bike, 2 years previous, I couldn’t even get my leg over the crossbar. Yoga is embedded in our family. I have been training for the past year to begin teaching yoga to children. I now focus, not on what my body cannot do or its disfigurement, but what it is capable of. Yoga has given me the ability to challenge myself.
Read more about Jane’s incredible road to recovery at
The Power of the Diaphragm- Part II
In the first part of this article we looked at the connection of the diaphragm to the parasympathetic nervous system to see it’s potential to affect the entire body with simple breathing techniques. In this segment I want to look at the energetic connection to the diaphragm from a Chinese Medicine perspective.
There are several distinct roles that the diaphragm plays in the body on a more energetic level, the first being its capacity to regulate the flow of energy throughout the body. In Chinese Medicine the diaphragm is considered the gateway between the upper and lower parts of the body, therefore it’s the diaphragms job to regulate the ascending & descending functions of the body. This is represented in our ability to transport qi, blood and fluids to the entire body to nourish the brain & internal organs as well as the ascending & descending functions of respiration & digestion to name a few. Because of this, the diaphragm serves a vital role in regulating energy flow throughout the body.
Another role of the diaphragm is its connection to the meridians as all of the 14 main meridians pass through the diaphragm (superficially or internally). Because each of these meridians connects internally to the organs, the diaphragm has the potential to affect both the superficial meridians that innervate the muscles & tissues as well as the deeper functioning of the internal organs. As we know from the previous article this also happens via the parasympathic nervous system stimulation from the diaphragm.
These regulatory functions of the diaphragm allow it to act as a moderator of yin & yang in the body. The diaphragm has the potential to be fierce and intense in its ability to nourish the body in a very yang way. It quickly steps into action when needed and keeps us prepared in instances like sprinting where we need a quicker exchange rate of oxygen in the body. However for most of our day we need not paid any attention to the breath it just quietly meanders through its role in a quiet & seamless way as it fulfills its more yin qualities in the body. It’s this yin quality of the diaphragm that calmly seduces our body into a state of grace both within our practice and within our lives.
One of the things that intrigues me most about the diaphragm is its power to command nourishment to the entire body and at the same time its capacity to be effortless and soft in its transactions embodying both yin and yang qualities sometimes even simultaneously.
It’s this balance of masculine & feminine or yin & yang that commands our attention to this muscle in our lives and especially in our practice. The strength and delicacy that makes the diaphragm so powerful in both its effort & effortless functions within the body are a powerful tool to be utilized both on & off the mat.
On a more emotional level, the diaphragm is also said to be the bridge or shield between the conscious & unconscious emotions in Chinese Medicine. The diaphragm tends to be a place where we store unconscious emotional tension or grief. As yogis we have the ability to use our conscious regulation of this muscle to modulate that response. During times of high stress or emotional intensity this muscle can get rigid and bound down, creating more problems from a decrease in the oxygenation of the tissues that follows. Hence we get stressed, we get tired and the cycle continues.
Tension in the diagram can affect the parasympathetic nervous system response (we looked at in the previous article) that contribute to the stress response cycle, affect the meridians that pass through it to affect the entire energetic system, has a strong connection to the digestive organs that sit underneath it and can be a place of stored trauma, tension or stress in the body.
Like with many parts of our yoga practice we can approach it from either end. We can look at sources of stress in our lives that may be perpetuating tension here or we can work with the diaphragm to alter the internal stress responses of the body. The diaphragm can be an emotional storage point or it can be a gateway to emotional processing. Either way you can see that not only does the diaphragm have huge implications for our physical & physiologic health it is also deeply connected to our energetic & emotional health.
With its ability to regulate the upward and downward movement in the body and its connection to the meridians, the diaphragm has the capacity to affect both the regulation of energy throughout the body as well as the functioning of the organs. Put that together with its connection to the Parasympathetic Nervous System outlined in the previous article, its regulation of yin & yang and the emotions and you can easily see how powerful the effects of working with this one muscle can be from both an eastern & western approach.
In Part III we’ll look at putting these benefits to our advantage with some simple but powerful techniques to balance the physical, emotional & energetic systems. Keep checking back for more!
Shoulders; Anatomy and Function Assessment Module
By: Emilie Perz
I recently had the pleasure of attending and completing the first Yoga Medicine teacher training under its new name, nestled high in the beautiful hills of Napa Valley, CA at Mayacamas Ranch. This week-long training, part of the 500 hour curriculum, was an in-depth analysis of the shoulder girdle, its anatomy, musculoskeletal function and common injuries. As a teacher, I’ve struggled to help clients with shoulder disabilities. I have often felt challenged to recommend appropriate postures that relieve pain and open the surrounding tissues that support the joint’s full range of motion.
A valuable component of this training was learning how to do a detailed professional intake and assessment of clients’ shoulders. Tiffany taught us active, passive and resisted range of motion tests to perform in order to spot abnormalities or weakness from side to side. She also provided us an intake form that addressed the chief complaint and asked appropriate questions to evaluate pain symptoms and severity all in an effort to formulate a comprehensive yoga prescription based off the information collected.
Our daily yoga practice deconstructed the kinesiology of the shoulder, allowing us to “test-drive” muscles as we moved. The experience of the muscles in our asana practice along with the palpation later on allowed us to experience them with touch and descriptively explaining them in a way for us to visualize their action and interaction with one another and their overall support to the stabilization of the humeral head and scapulae. The content for this module was designed to give teachers a clear understanding of both the shoulder structure and mechanics, as well as how to assess shoulder range-of-motion in order to prescribe an appropriate yoga regimen.
One of the take aways for me that has really influenced my teaching was learning how to perform a Passive Range of Motion (PROM) test. During this particular assessment you will establish a therapeutic relationship with your clients and ask them to sit or lie down onto one side, completely relaxed, while you perform a number of shoulder motions to assess the function of the joint. Tiffany taught us how to use point of contact to palpate muscles and tissues looking for tightness, inflammation and pain. This was key in helping me learn how to use touch and pressure to feel such things as the bunching of tissues or the irregularity of certain bone structures. This has been useful in my treatment of myofascial release and has shown me how each individual body has it’s own unique, varying degrees of stiffness and flexibility.
After a few weeks back from this module I’m starting to feel the integration of what we learned and have been applying my new assessment skills on nearly all of my private clients. I gained a deeper understanding to the many different aspects of shoulder stability including daily wear and tear on the joint that can affect its overall mobility. More importantly, I gained confidence in pinpointing misalignments and learned new ways to treat and correct common shoulder conditions. This has been particularly useful in optimizing the range of motion on my athletic clients who have shoulder injuries but still actively participate in sports. With my enriched depth of knowledge I have noticed small breakthroughs already in the postures I’m recommending and the opening of the joint.
Emilie Perz is a Yoga Medicine Assistant
Click here for her bio http://www.yogamedicine.com/assistants/
Seattle Yoga News Interview with Tiffany Cruikshank
Seattle Yoga News sat down with Tiffany Cruikshank for an interview to learn about her journey to becoming an internationally known teacher in the world of yoga. Click here to watch.