Additional Information on the
Tom Hanks Yoga Article
by David Scott Lynn
This page is an extension of the original article I wrote on
the LinkedIn Pulse platform, titled:
Does Tom Hanks Do REAL Yoga?
Or Just Stretching?
On The Differences Between “Mindful Yoga”
and “Regular Old Stretching”
What follows is additional information I removed as the article got WAY too long, as is usual for me.
NOTE: Tom Hank’s Yoga Practice gives us a great opportunity to look at what yoga “is,” or is not, and how it works. Yet this is only one way of looking at yoga, and does not pretend to be the only way.
From a Western Philosophical & Scientific Perspective, from the point-of-view of neurology, “real yoga” is not a system, practice, or thing “out there,” but is an essential element inherent within us all, emanating from the very physiology and neurology of each unique individual.
In this neurological view, “yoga” is the physiological intersection between, and resulting actions of, the conscious mind, the various levels of the brain, and the central nervous system, all operating in a fully harmonious and integrated fashion with the physical body.
Any systems or practices, such as yoga postures, are designed to help us more consciously access that essential element of being human.
This transcendent “yogic” phenomena was even mentioned in the New Testament on several occasions, but glossed over by subsequent superficial translations.
So given the many unique possibilities of what yoga “is,” the answer on what it is for me might be very different than yours. This article is one way of looking at it.
Yet some people, like myself, say that if you’re doing modern postural yoga (the “stretchy stuff” or various related exercise), and there is no introspective self-awareness, then it’s not “real yoga.” It’s just plain old stretching. Or maybe some advanced form of stretching, but not Yoga.
Most of our tensions & stresses have a mind & brain component. Yoga without a psychophysical element (meaning mind & brain working integrally with the whole body) does not allow a practitioner to access all or even much of what “real yoga” has to offer. …
It’s just a purely physical practice.
Meaning you’ll get no where near the benefits of “conscious stretching” if there’ no mindfulness involved. If we do not engage the mind within our physical practices, then much of what yoga offers remains inaccessible. …
So, we were, in my original article on LinkedIn, using Tom Hanks Yoga comments as a starting point to discuss what “mindful yoga” is compared to regular old, non-mindful stretching.
More on all that below.
Letting Go of Tension, Stress & Negative Habit Patterns
It always amazes me how many problems many of us are dealing with are just accumulations of what I call C.E.M.&.N.T. or Chronic, Excess Muscle & Nerve Tension & Stress (<== GO TO this link for an in-depth description of C.E.M.&.N.T.). I wrote a whole book on that, titled BodyMind Breakdowns, as yet unpublished. (If you think I should put it higher on my priority list, please let me know.)
Yet managing C.E.M.&.N.T. is one of many things yoga does quite well. From a physiological point-of-view, much of the benefit from yoga comes from neurological inhibition (reduction or relaxation) of accumulated tensions, stresses, and negative habit patterns.
Although they might not think of it this way, yoga practitioners (among other things) are trying to reduce (inhibit or let go of) their physical conditionings — the tensions & stresses. They’ve accumulated them over the years, putting many conditioned limitations on what they can do.
The Secret Key is understanding how many of those tensions and stresses are held in place by the mind and brain. And engaging the mind in physical, postural yoga is what helps de-contract those tensions, reducing those factors significantly.
And maybe Tom Hanks Yoga practice could benefit too?
Repetitive Action Creates Chronic Tension
Just typing on a keyboard, driving a car, or walking down the street involve mental processes. Your mind, via your brain, is telling your body what to do. Repeating such actions, no matter how apparently benign, over and over again, modifies your nerves to produce a habit, eventually becoming part of the physiology of your body, sometimes chronically so.
That, among other processes (such as exercise and sports) and events (such as injuries), is how C.E.M.&.N.T. shows up.
And usually, once we’ve done them often enough, we’re not very conscious of such actions, if at all. And even though we’re not consciously thinking about those actions, they become part of daily life, and the brain and mind are still quietly involved to varying degrees.
Many people find yoga, or even plain old stretching, is far better for getting rid of aches and pains than is the typical, strength-focused exercise. Relaxation, as simple as it sounds, produces many benefits in the body and mind not usually discussed, or even thought of.
Relaxation is associated with reducing tension, stress, negative habit patterns, over-active organ tissues, emotional issues, and so on.
On the other hand, fitness oriented exercise — without sufficient counter-balancing with stretching or yoga — tends, over time, to tighten muscles, reducing flexibility, resilience, and range-of-motion. Left to their own, our conditionings build up more-or-less on automatic.
Any repetitive neuromuscular action leads to increased, chronic muscle tension, very often more mental and/or physical stress, and is part of the so-called “aging” process. Especially if it’s done with any amount of intensity and long periods of time.
(Ironically, among my private clients, aside from those with a history such as car accidents or professional football, the most “physically fit” are usually the ones with the most aches, pains & dysfunction, including athletes.)
It’s NOT About How Flexible You Are (Or Are Not)
— What People Want From Yoga or Stretching —
In my original Tom Hanks Yoga article on LinkedIn, I mentioned he must be getting some good benefits from his stretching, even if not doing it with a mindful yoga perspective. He did say it’s the best thing you can do!
And by-the-way, for many (if not most) people, contrary to the super-flexible images of young, nubile “yoga women” we see all over the place now, what most people are really looking for in yoga or stretching is, for example, resilience, freedom of motion, and reduction of aches & pains.
Contrary to the many monthly covers of Yoga Journal, high levels of flexibility are not necessarily high on a lot of people’s list, let alone deeper conscious awareness. They just want to be able to feel better, to reach down to tie their shoes, to pick up their grandkids. Or get out of bed without being stuck bent over.
So they’re probably not going to be doing “Pretzel Yoga” or extended sitting meditations anytime soon, if ever. Basic, simple postures or stretches are enough for most people. And that’s perfectly okay (with me anyway).
Most of the time, purely physical relaxation happens at an unconscious level. A great example of that is breathing. Your diaphragm automatically contracts on inhale, relaxes on exhale, moving the air in and out. The breath happens, most of the time, unconsciously, and is regulated by the internal, autonomic processes of your body. … Without thinking about or paying attention to it.
Yet you can intervene and influence your breath with your mind, for the better if we apply proper techniques.
And yoga, the psychophysical kind, in a similar fashion, gives us many opportunities to consciously turn our neuro-musculo-fascial units on and off as appropriate. It’s a matter of focusing our awareness on the correct tissues.
We literally learn how to turn our nerve pathways, and therefore muscles and certain organs, OFF … and then on again when we need them. … Yes, this takes time, patience, practice, and investment of mental & physical energy.
Beginning in the 1960s, Joel Kramer’s approach to modern, postural yoga was far more about introspective, mind-body integration in a mindful, meditative way than what the hatha (physical) yoga gurus from India were teaching. Joel carried the mind-body, integrative connection of physical / mental yoga much further than was evident from most teachings of the Indian postural yoga teachers.
They often talked about meditation and spirituality on one hand and physical postures on the other. Yet they didn’t provide much of a way to bridge the gap between physical and mental. If the bridge happened at all, it just sort of showed up without a lot of education on how it happened.
Yet Joel did more to fill in the mind-body integration gap than anyone I know of up to his time, especially in postural yoga.
So in this view, inherent within yoga is an introspective, self-examination. We use the physical postures to study our internal conditionings manifesting as muscle tension, feeling and experiencing them as well as our other physical tissues, at a much deeper level.
Whether the tensions are “deep” in the nervous system and difficult to let go of, or more easily accessible, is a major question and issue while doing yoga. It’s also one reason yoga therapy, or yoga-based, hands-on bodywork, becomes useful or even necessary.
But again, though we’re acknowledging mental processes, we’re not talking psychiatry here. … At least, not necessarily.
There are some psychotherapists using yoga quite successfully in their practices, especially with PTSD sufferers from the military. And many vets say that combined with talk therapy, yoga is more effective than the drugs they take, with a lot fewer, if any, side-effects.
Do Muscles Ever (Really) Stretch?
The word stretch generally implies elasticity or “length-ability” and “bend-ability” of tissues. That means the soft tissues can lengthen or bend, then return to normal without harming or distorting the tissue. Kind of like a rubber band, or spandex.
Some people think it’s their muscle tissue that “stretches out” like a rubber band. Other people think it’s the fascia (the tubular casings of the muscle cells) stretching out.
For one thing, too many people (including many yoga teachers and therapists) fail to realize muscle cells and their fascial casings as intimately integrated units, and stretching or treating them separately is near, if not fully, impossible.
Some go so far as to say “fascia is Yin” and “muscle is Yang.” Yet as I describe in one of my books on yoga, in fact healthy muscles are able to go from very yin to very yang instantaneously, and right back again. Fascia stays pretty stable, sort of in the middle, in comparison.
Think of healthy muscle as being able to move instantly from being like a Willow tree to an Oak tree and back again. … That is Yiness to Yangness and back to Yin again.
Anyway, “elasticity” (yin yielding) is closer to yin than to yang, so I have trouble classifying fascia as outright yin, although t does have some yin characteristics, in that it is, compared to muscle tissue, passive. Fascia cannot take or make an action.
Regardless, many are waiting for their “lost elasticity” to return and “stretch out” like when they were two or three years old or so. (For some it lasted a while. For a few, the really flexible among us, it lasted a lot longer. Or we really worked at it.)
They put themselves in various positions and applied some level of force to their muscles to get them to “stretch out.” Like waiting for the ketchup to pour, taffy to pull, or stiffened rubber to stretch out … or something.
Muscles Are Not Rubber Bands!
But NO! … Muscles have very little “elasticity.” …
They bend very easily, but not lengthen.
(For you science geeks out there, muscles and fascia are elastic relative to bend-ability, but inelastic relative to extensibility [or length-ability]).
Think of a leather or web belt. You can twist it into knots, and fold it many times, no problem. But if you pull on the ends, it does not lengthen, or not much anyway. The belt is bend-able, but not length-able.
The fact is, if your muscles and fascia were very “elastic” as in length-able, they’d be extremely inefficient, if not nearly useless, for delivering strength through your bones to your environment and the tasks at hand.
Yet muscle fibers have something about half the tensile strength of steel wire! That is not very “stretchy.” Fascia has just a little more stretchiness, about 4 to 7% of it’s resting length, depending on which physiology text you read. (That small amount of stretchiness appears to help provide some “shock absorber” effect.)
Yet muscle cells can lengthen as much as 150%. How does that happen if there’s little or no elasticity?
The components of muscle fibers do not stretch out the way a rubber band does. Neither does that “fascia” stuff everyone’s been talking about lately. But they sure do bend well, until they get too tense or rigid from excess muscle tension and metabolic problems such as dehydration or thixotropy, a “gluing down” of fibers and cells.
What Makes Muscles Feel “Stretchy”
In reality, muscles contain tiny little actin/myosin molecules similar to mechanical ratcheting mechanisms (called cross bridges). They can turn on or off, depending on whether the controlling nerve is turned on or off.
When the relevant nerve turns on, the attached ratchets activate, causing their respective muscle cells to contract. As in the above illustration and the below linked animation, the two elements of the muscle (actin and myosin filaments) are pulled past each other by the ratchets, causing the shortening of the cell.
Except in severe metabolic disturbances, when you turn the nerve off, you turn the ratchets off. The ratchets on the myosin elements let go of the actin elements and the muscle relaxes or DE-contracts.
It is that DE-contraction (relaxation) allowing your muscle(s) to lengthen.
And it is that lengthening (de-ratcheting & de-contracting) of your musculofascial units providing more relaxation and flexibility (or range-of-motion), giving the feeling of “stretchiness.” This lengthening takes excess pressure or force off your joints, nerves, blood and lymph vessels, organs, and so on.
(For those who are saying you can stretch or treat fascia separately from muscles, I have a different article for you.)
Even for a lot of “yoga” practitioners and teachers, this level of conscious de-contraction seldom or never happens to a significant degree. For one thing, that approach is not well taught in a lot of yoga classes, if at all.
And yes, the very unfortunate associations with the dark side of the “New Age-y” movement prevents some people from going in that direction. But even much of modern neuroscience has proven what I’ve said here about yoga, and is an inherent part of the physiology of the body-mind.
It’s time to stop fighting that reality.
Therapeutic Let-Go Yoga and The DSL Method of
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And the Neuro-Structural Sciences
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“I read David Scott Lynn’s book which I highly recommend for every massage therapist. I was amazed at how intricately he delves into and emphasizes, over and over from various angles, how our work mostly works to affect the nervous system in a variety of ways.
He explains ‘nervous system to myofascial relationships’ brilliantly!”
Dr. Michael A Koplen, DC
Santa Cruz Area, California
Thanks for Reading,
David Scott Lynn (DSL*)
* DSL: Your Hi-Touch Up-Link to the Inner-Net.
Inner-Net: Your Psycho-Neuro-Musculo-Fascial System.
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