Yoga brings ego, Meditation brings pain.

Just this month alone, several senior long term meditators that I know have to undergone surgery due to musculoskeletal issues. It turns out, there are plenty of others who have been suffering quite significant pain related issue from long term meditation practice.

For years, I have been advocating the practice of Yoga and Meditation for its amazing mental, emotional, physical and spiritual benefits. Anyone who has practiced Yoga and Meditation for a while can enumerate a list of benefits but that is not my focus in this write-up.

My focus is practical and it zeroes in on what science tells us about the working of the mind and body. I mean no disrespect to the Buddhist tradition or to the spiritual Gurus that embrace the big picture.

My observation on this two groups of practitioners from Yoga body works and meditators and their long term destiny has prompted me to change my own routine so as to handle these 2 practices with much greater care and I hope you benefit too.

Meditation without Yoga is painful

I see meditators in greater risk of sitting disease comparing to long hours’ office workers. Both are equally people who spend a huge amount of their waking hours sitting, each sits to serve different purpose.

Just last week, I had my usual Catalist session with a group of office workers and usually we would end the session with a sitting mindfulness practice. What really caught my attention was the fact that 2 participants having the same reaction to sitting. Both of them responded having numbness on one leg while sitting.

Then I asked “so, what did you do when you experience the numbness” and the first one answered “I made some movement so that it wouldn’t increase the intensity of numbness” and the other answered “I stayed with numbness, it failed to disturb my sitting practice”.

It kept me curious for a while and I asked “Have you been practicing meditation regularly” and he said “yes, how do you know?”.   

Is the language familiar? As a long term meditator, we are not exposed to vulnerability of stress-worsened condition such as hypertension or depression. Scientifically, for common people, our brain’s executive center, located behind the forehead in our prefrontal cortex gives us a unique ability to anticipate the future and guard against danger but have its downside disadvantage of worrying about it as well as thinking about the past and regret. Meditators are trained to have a mind undisturbed by such mental process.

In meditation, we use our mind to direct attention to the body. For example, a common way to begin meditation, we can rest attention in our breathing. And after some times, the body responds, our heart rate begins to change, our breath becomes calmer and even our facial expression releases its mighty grip.

If we sit long enough, even our perception of physical form can change, the body felt sense can change. Perhaps our head feels like they are in space, our limbs feel like they are a great distance away from us or we feel them disappearing, certain parts feel bigger than usual.

Through this mind attention focus, we can distort our perception of the physical body, the boundary of our body can blur as we sit in meditation.

In a very popular meditation technique known to many as Goenka method, we are taught over 10 days, 8 hours sitting a day to systematically scan the body sensations from head to toe repeatedly and you only focus on bare bodily sensations. The session would include several one hour of sitting where the students are not allowed to make a single voluntary movement and only movement generated from breath are allowed.

These immobile sessions usually produce a level of pain many term it as unbearable and in many such practice, practitioners would continue to scan through the body and respond shortly afterward that pain dissolved into pure sensation that doesn’t contain “disturbing” element anymore.

The practice certainly blurs the intense signal from the body for a while during the practice, the moment they come out from meditation, the edges of the body are reconstructed again and the pain will appear more vividly during non-practice session which then, can be a real pain issue.

In intensive meditation practice, we can train to stimulate the nervous system and send altered perception to the brain to cope with pain, but we cannot escape from the real working of gravity against the body. Your pain is the proof that gravity is operating whether you believe or not.

There is the reason why Patanjali who 2000 years ago compiled Yoga Sutra and listed leaning to sit with ease and comfort as one of the essential paths a Yogi must develop.

Anything can happen in meditation, you see images, you feel certain feelings, sensations. If the feeling is pain, numbness or even non-obvious feeling arises, there may be confusion concerning what and why causes it. If there is no logical scientific understanding for that experience, your meditation practice may affect the clarity of experience. Many practitioners that are ignoring obvious body signals actually run the risk of compressing sciatic nerve, herniated disc, degeneration of disc, even raptured disc and nerve damage due to prolonged compression of nerves.

Their risk is greater because they could tolerate the symptoms while the regular office desk warriors would actually move their body to other position to space out the compressed nerve.

Meditation should not be an activity where you cushion your slump posture from one hour to the next ignoring your spinal alignment while ferociously influence your mind that your body doesn’t exist and the excruciating pain down your leg is not real.

It comes as no surprise that someone once said “Sitting meditation is a criminal activity”.

However, having said that, on the other end, Yoga Without Meditation is fitness without wisdom.

Assuming we are talking about the right group of Yoga practitioners that are not running the risk of sustaining Yoga injuries.

Yoga practitioners know about the energetic connection between the physical tension and gravity. They understand how tension trapped in the distorted shape of the spine need to be released. They know that balance and stability in the seat are maximised when the body weight passes through the vertebrae in its optimum as close to gravity line as possible.

I often say, but it bears repeating, that Yoga is not meditation.

Just like regular Yoga practice gives you better physical fitness, meditation will enhance mental fitness to some degree. Scientists claim that meditation thickens the brain’s prefrontal cortex which shrinking the amygdala, the trigger for our freeze-fight-flight response.

Meditation, even for beginner meditator will shift our brain’s set point for emotions into a more positive range.

The inner upgrade that is made available for meditators seldom benefit Yoga practitioners. In posture practice, after the high on the mat goes, you are still the same schmuck you were before. You are still stuck in your monkey drama running through your head, your mother in law is still as irritating as ever, you still hate most people on this Earth except your daughter, you still couldn’t pay your bills.

Against the common beliefs, Yoga practitioners haven’t really learned how to meditate because their own Yoga Teachers simply don’t meditate or do not have proper knowledge on meditation practice, even they self-proclaimed they do.

Well, it is always nice to hear when any teacher teaches you that you are in meditation when you are doing your Yoga postures. It’s a common misunderstanding and if both posture and meditation equal to the same thing, then most teachers that can perform Yoga better than you must therefore be happier than you.

But this is far from the truth, they could be more depressed or insecure than you are in actual fact.

 Meditation is another profound teaching which need to be guided by a qualified instructor who has many years of going inward in mind from a deep inner exploration. Life is too short to be a master of both.

In seeking a form that unites these two worlds, I found a workable blend. CATalist two major works, BodySolution (inspired by CAT) and MindSolution (inspired by MBCT) could not be further apart, but each in their own way, seriously and thoroughly, approaches the problem of body-mind tension.

What I am suggesting is an approach in working with ourselves that includes the whole person having a body and mind. I have had my struggle for decades in my own Yoga and Meditation practice and my struggle has helped me more clearly understand what I do and what I think is important.

Be it as it may, to me, the benefits of Yoga and Meditation practice unquestionably outweigh the risks. The discipline if balanced does more good than harm. If you are stranded in pain or stress despite regular practice, you know you are not alone.

You got “kut lat” or not?

My mother in law has never stopped offering her grandson, my son extra dose of her important beliefs and life perspectives every time she caught a chance. She always makes time to remind Zen to eat more, drink more and sleep enough. Occasionally, she would say to him, you must be hardworking “Kut lat” in hokkien. It was not the best piece of golden advice but got me into play of words mood.

In hokkien, “Kut” means bone and “lat” means strength, if literally translated is bone strength. Amazingly, buried in this simple word is our Hokkien ancestor’s wisdom to see the relation between hardworking attitude and bony strength. That seems obvious to me that it takes someone to have bony strength to reflect a hardworking personality.

Yesterday, I had a beautiful and fun filled evening thanks to a school play by group of 14-year-old. I have to confess up front that I am a bit of posture freak and therefore cannot help but to scan every frame that entered the stage.

Posturally, “Growing older” seems to start as young as puberty, the sunken chests, permanently raised shoulders, divided head and spine outlook, stand sloping on one leg beings are everywhere.

People rarely do enough to maintain good posture. On hindsight I must have a terrible posture too. Since I was in high school at least, and probably for even longer than that. We have a serious problem. Our image of who we are, what is our innate potential and what we can do is profoundly diminished. We have all seen it, the loss of our “kut lat”. Yet we underestimate its damage.

How can science and medicine, which protect us from diseases and virus infection, working towards expanding our lifespan to 80-odd years, but fail to protect us from simple body stiffness, aches, pain and musculoskeletal disability. Why do we assume and accept that as child grows, the body will start its “wear and tear” decaying effect?

My generation is widely condemned as lazy by the generation above us. Whatever the reason, it seems that elder folk are largely in agreement: young people are simply not “kut lat”. Our ability to be hardworking is closely related to posture—the way we move our bodies affects our own moods and habits.

 

It is difficult to change our attitude with our mind. If you can change the chemical balance in your body using balancing different muscles group, you can actually change your attitude quickly. When we are stressed we react and we release chemical in our body which reflected in our posture habits. And those chemical affect our brain, our capacity and ability to perform.

I used to work with the smartest people with PHD, master degree and so forth. But when they are stressed, they become lazy and stupid more or less like anyone else.

To zeroize or reduce stress strategy most people talk about is akin to prevent usage of your fully charged phone and hence render its existence redundant. What we need is a technique to apply stress to create body resiliency so that stress does not leave an impact in the body? One way is to change the chemical balance in the body so that our “kut lat” will regain its momentum. So it will bring you to straight position and the pressure is equalising up around you like structural strength in aeroplane.

The founder of Critical Alignment Yoga/Therapy, Gert Van Leeuwen has found 4 steps to work with the body so that you can reduce the impact of stress on your “kut lat”. 1) Relaxation 2) Mobilisation 3) Coordination 4) Strength.

Anatomically, we need to bring the body weight in the center of intervertebral disc so that there won’t be any compression of nerve here and there that cause pain. We need to change the bone memory from closeness to openness where openness will still operate without you thinking about it. Your spine is fit to do its job in a reflex. The four steps aimed to bring you into the spinal alignment where there is no stress or tension stored in the body. Just like posture of little child before stress enters and ruins our “kut lat”.

I hope by now you have a little idea of how your child’s “kut lat” is important for total wellbeing of a human being. If your child continues to lose focus, being branded “bo kut lat” (not hardworking), easily give up, one big reason would probably be the lack of “kut lat” to drive the living force to continue life with passion and enthusiasm.

The great change to introduce posture education in school need to happen. Do you agree?

This chapter of life called Happiness

There are many, many things that are difficult in life, but one thing that is most difficult for me is the “unknown time boom” especially when it happened on the first day of your long planned holiday for just the three of us by the sea sand and sun. When everyone was on the lookout for best snookering spot I went hunting desperately for doctor in the remote island in the east coast for possible relief of acute pain that was radiating around my left inner ear and spreading to my face.

And after 3 days, pain ear turned into clogged ear and it’s beyond annoying because I was basically hearing underwater all the time. Most annoying thing is having to listen to my own amplified voice, breathing sound and muffled the sound of other people talking so I often didn’t hear what other people were saying to me. For weeks, sound of vacuum cleaner was there on 24/7 with occasional thumping sound.

This has been driving me crazy for weeks, I jumped on the internet all the time and tried almost all possible remedies, from oral antibiotics, 4 times a day nasal wash, nasal spray, blowing closed nostrils, trigger yawning, jumping, inverting, oiling inhale, prayers etc, but just was not helping and I did not feel like I am going to grow out of it. In my mind “The day when my ear clears, I would be the happiest person alive”.

Life still needs me to stay sane. Well, I don’t like doctor shopping and I have decided to just allowing my body to heal itself and nurturing it with good, healthy food and exercise but after a month of blocked ear, I am beginning to think there could be more to it especially triggered by my sis who suggested it may be due to some imbalances in my life.

I jumped on Mr Google again and searched for ‘emotion for blocked ear” and I found “there is a resistance to listening to what is going on around you”. I was quick to jump on it and called a friend whom I shared embarrassing and heart breaking stories not too long ago, a friend who had been keeping a distance. I thought we may communicate our hard feelings and conflict properly. The friend refused with “Please give me a break”. Blocked ears may seem annoying but little I realised, to some people, I am annoying.

So, where does that leave my ear? I am not sure; it was still blocked after a month. Perhaps I just have to let go of trying to fix everything and just allow it to be. Perhaps if my ear wants to be blocked, I should just let it and live in harmony with it.

Reflecting on my blocked ear journey, from fighting in extreme desperation for a cure to stage of giving up and freezing in blank spot towards finally letting go of every strategy or tools I always had, reminded me of many of my CAT students. For years of seeing many of my students living with body pain for decades before they came to know CAT, I started to be humbled by their strength to live life as normal as can be as a role of someone’s parent, sibling, colleague, friend, love ones. I completely understand now when some back pain victims responded on the thick roll exercise by saying “I have had worse; this pain is nothing to me”.

Is a blocked ear such a big deal then? No, I guess not. At some point, I think I could live with it and embrace the inconvenience while remembering many others with far greater inconveniences are finding reasons to smile, I decided to remember the wise old saying of “Life is perfect when you see the beauty in imperfection.”

I was more at ease thereafter and actually, listening to my own breath and voice may be seem quite refreshing too. I was more in term with the possibility of never be able to experience joy without blocked ear anymore, just like some people having pain on 24/7, it will be blocked, with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Just then, a week ago, a blessed friend of mine offered a 10-minute ear massage which was so painful but “I have had worse” and finally bingo, it got sorted out.  Right after the massage, even though I still felt my ear was blocked the resonance was much improved so I knew things were changing. Now, I am already “the happiest person alive”.

Todate, in my life there are disappointment, relationship crisis, bad things happen, good things turned bad, but I can sit around and moan and whinge about it, or I can really help myself and others by remembering the joy of not having ear block again.

So, when things unexpectedly happened, I still go for my evening jog, listening to my singing child, catch a cup of coffee, a guard by the mall smiled at me sweetly, I smile back. Suddenly, remembering this chapter of life, I feel happy.

 

Yesterday once more …

Recently, my son, who never feel contented without a solution to everything, said to me “I need you to buy me a motorcycle once I grow up so that I can travel to work to earn my salary till it’s sufficient to get myself a car”. I was never a “I will take care of everything you need” mom so I played reverse psychology on him and said “Maybe you don’t have to work, your Ah Ma (grandma) will take good care of you. She will make sure you have enough to eat (to settle his obsession in food), you will never go hungry. So don’t worry”. And after mumbled all that, I went straight for my shower not knowing that I have caused a stir in his little mind. After I have done, he came straight to me and said “Mum, I don’t want to just live a life without hunger. I want to pursue my dream.”

I grew up in a small town where as young as our primary school days, we were free to write subject like “Cita-cita saya (My ambition)”. My early memory as a child, I remembered dreaming of the things I wanted to be when I grew up. In those times, nobody would have said it was silly, scary or impossible, nobody said it was easy too.

My son’s words of courage make me realised with deep insight that having an ambition and desire to pursue dreams was once the core of our existence as a human being. Unfortunately for us, it takes only a few short years before we experience serious interference in this natural state of being.

When my son reached the milestone of crawling to upright standing, just like any other child, the initial process of balancing on his two little feet was so unsteady that he stumbled and fell countless times. It was more insecure in the watching eyes more than the falling child. During that time, his grandma would attempt to wrap him up with her “protective blanket” and said the most insecure thing like “Don’t let him stand yet, just carry him up whenever he tries. The safest place is in adult’s arm”. But, being a bad daughter-in-law, I enjoyed seeing him stumbled and fell and rose again, not running away from the battle of change.

There is so much fear in the world which lead us to a live with quality of “never go hungry”. And it can manifest in the most destructive manner when we try to cover others with our “protective blanket”. We fear changes because we have reached a familiar comfort zone in life, in career, in relationship, in others’ expectation where any change is too scary to the comfort mind although that means staying like a worm in the cow dung.  As a kid there’s not a lot you can’t do, at least in our head, but as we slowly mature into adulthood reality sets in and suddenly only aspiring to one day own a watch to wear is no longer a secure option and neither is owning a pet elephant nor touching the moon.

This year is my 40th year of staying alive and during a recent interview an editor asked “How has your practice changed you?” which kept me pondering for a while. Many things have changed but certainly not during sunny days. In my life, I stumbled and fell too, countless times, in my career, in relationships, in matter of heart and mind, and I don’t know if I ever rise to see the rainbow after the storm. But what has “changed” is not learning how not to fall but to learn the courage to believe that there is a way out of “cow dung” in the midst of the hurtful unsupportive voice and most dishearten gesture of others with good intention. The “rising up upright” journey is not always welcomed with many clapping hands and it is in this time it matters the little sound of the people who still say “Let’s do it together” like it was natural again to dream like no others.

Overcoming shoulders hazard using Critical Alignment Therapy

Of late, just in a week, more than five students who suffered from Uneven Shoulders came to our Critical Alignment Therapy classes. They have been everywhere to get the shoulders “fixed” including massage, trigger point therapy, physiotherapy and many other, to me was unheard-of.

Again it was “please help me, fix my posture!”

Gert once said “the obvious unevenness in the shoulder level is only the tip of the iceberg”. The unevenness of the shoulders is manifestation of what lies within the spine. It is critical to understand that the impact of unbalance pressure on the vertebrae of the spine. Due to stress and strain, over years the disc is caught in the network of longstanding tension and it affects the pressure that is distributed throughout the vertebrae. Such uneven pressure on the vertebrae and the intervertebral disc causing what commonly known as “zigzag” condition of the spine.

Since we are born, spine is our centreline and it should remain so throughout the whole period of our life. But when this fascinating structure is off its centreline, it messed up our shoulders, lower back, neck and screwed up our lives.

The CAT approach is pretty logical. When someone with uneven shoulders get on the headstander, the unevenness will reveal itself in the legs leaning to one side. Even though to our view it is obviously unbalance but to the person, it is experienced as “straight”. You need a CA Teacher to examine the spine and ribs and place them in place. That works wonders because the body will search for the correct posture where the weight is exactly at the centreline.

Long life ≠ Good Life – Bones matters

A few years ago, during one of the Critical Alignment Training with Gert, practically all who attended the course consists of Yoga practitioners who practiced Yoga on a daily basis. In the beginning of the two weeks course, Gert began to press on the question of why we practice Yoga. The question will be best left unanswered in this article until Gert’s next training.

For me, I hold the belief that we are all capable of living life to the fullest. Today, we live in world rich in science and technologies extending normal life span. My dear grandmother just passed away last week at the ripe old age of 102 years. Many said “oh, she has lived long enough”. In my memory, my grandmother spent the last 10 years of her life on wheelchair. To her, living all her waking hours on a wheelchair was undoubtedly not a good experience of “living a life”.

Although modern medicine helps many people lead longer and healthier lives, it has limits. Many of us may fear that medical technology could help us to live longer but leave us dependent on others and in great pain due to musculoskeletal disorders.
Through the years of learning, practicing and teaching Yoga and Critical Alignment Therapy/Yoga, I have come to appreciate and understand what is missing in the traditional definition of strength and fitness. To many, fitness equal endurance plus muscular strength, being able to lift heavyweight or run for hours. Still, many equal housework to fitness workout.

But we failed to acknowledge the importance of spinal mobility and postural strength as we are born with it. A person can complete marathon which prove that he has cardiovascular endurance but may not have the full range of mobility in the lower back, hip and sacrum to complete the run without hurting the knees. So that lead them to acquire pain in later life.
Over the years of practicing and teaching CAT technique, I have realized that common Yoga and physical endurance exercise are inadequate in addressing what the body need in supporting you in the long run and to overcome the faulty movement patterns that arise out of stress and strain.

Being able to improve quality of people’s life is my aim for teaching Yoga. Each of my students play an extraordinary role in someone’s life. As a spouse, children, friends, employee, employer we all need to perform our best. Misaligned bones and pain limit our capabilities and it affects our mood and motivation to live a meaningful life. It is in my greatest satisfaction to equip with tools to help people feel their best and live life fullest. I hope many will join me in this fruitful journey.

Talking about Yoga’s dirty little secret.

The dispute over Yoga as a means to a healthy end or harmful end has emerged again. Just a few weeks ago, a concern friend sent me a new post from the News Straits Times reporter expressing concern over the rising percentage of severe injury in Yoga which involves Yoga Teachers and also practitioners.

All the dig-up stories about Yoga injuries among Yoga Teachers themselves who further causing injuries to students no longer remained a dirty little secret in the Yoga community. While the NST coverage may have been overly generalised, all the attention it generated that got everyone talking about the risk of injury is to my opinion, a good thing.

In response to this controversy, as part of the Yoga community, I feel the need to address this concern to regain public confidence towards Yoga as the practice has been always rewarding for me and also many people that I know over the years. My aim in bringing this out is to spark some thinking minds to start to venture into how to improve the safety aspect of Yoga.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The way Yoga progressed has taught me everything except to follow those who came before us in the name of Gurus and Masters following the Yoga traditions.

Often, Yoga Teachers and students aren’t sure how they got injured. Although an obvious and sudden injury can occur during class, many of them are cumulative from repetitive strain injury. While we could not directly point finger at Yoga Teachers for there are little evidence to support the correlation, to teach Yoga in the 21st century necessitate acceptance of the end time to blind faith and devotional Yoga practice. Taking “ignorance is bliss” is no longer a virtue in Yoga teaching profession.

As Yoga studio owner and representatives of Yoga, the practice that I have chosen to adopt should attract more confident of the public at large to the world of Yoga. Yoga, to me has to blossom that way without expecting people to lose their logic and intelligence while accepting that everyone walks into the Yoga class should be uniquely viewed and treated.

Class categorisation into beginners, intermediate, advance level certainly serves little or no purpose except to create division between sense of inferiority and superiority among practitioners where the advance classes are taught by more senior or top Yoga Teachers on the list where success is measured by the ability to squeeze students into poses the teachers could achieve in a timely manner. If that doesn’t sound scary to you, you are not alone and that is the reason for rising numbers Yoga injury all over the globe. Senior Yoga Teachers contorting body into an upside down pretzel on Instagram or Facebook further enhance public misconception that, that’s the way to “Yoga”.

For most studios, gyms where Yoga classes are easily available, there are little differentiation made between the more vigorous and intensive yoga classes (I called it “Normal Yoga”) which injury appear to be more common and which are clearly not suitable for everyone and the other styles that are alignment based where individual needs are addressed.

Normal Yoga is the approach used by Yoga Teachers, fitness instructors, personal trainees and many other physical exercise providers who lead what we commonly known as Flow, body balance, sunset sunrise Yoga, Ashtanga flow etc. Such exercise aims to improve superficial muscles tone and increase flexibility in the body. It is a good life routine if you aim for solid six pack, bulging biceps, visible thigh gap, super ability (If you are discipline, many will experience improved general range of movement. If you could not touch your finger to the floor, now you can.)

While everything worked the way it should be, I feel the need to make a difference that common Yoga exercise may be ignoring the underlying spinal issue caused by bad posture. This type of Yoga work really well for those with good body alignment and symmetry (which is the rare, near to extinction minority) but if you give the same exercise to someone asymmetry, hard stiff muscles are made harder and weak muscles weaker, body compensating the blocked part in all direction perpetuating your imbalances in the body.

The other type of Yoga can be defined as alignment or therapy based class (under supervision of a specialised posture therapist) designed to realign position of the spine towards neutral alignment, most of the time using specific techniques coupled with props. This will usually tailor with detailed posture assessment and identification of structural issue in’s function and movement.

Yoga industry suffered its mid-life crisis because 90% of Yoga classes appear to be Normal Yoga. There are only few Yoga Teachers who have studied the geometry of the spine in great details. Such teachers talk in terms of posture type i.e. sway back, kyphosis upper back etc and coordination of movement.

It is my wildest dreams to see the way Yoga mature into adulthood where Yoga Teachers will response to this challenge by taking responsibility over their own and students’ body. The aim is to prevent more people who could benefit enormously from Yoga being scared away. Unless more teachers are equipped with techniques to solve the underlying cause of the body alignment, the change will not be possible.

It has taken me over years of practice, teaching hundreds of people how to improve their posture using the same techniques I used to maintain my own posture using Critical Alignment Therapy technique. This to me, should be the way of Yoga.

Beautiful Shoulders, to pull or not to pull back?

Just last week, a mother and her 12 year old daughter came to the studio. As usual, mum complained “She has hunched back.” Immediately, I noticed the little girl actively pulled her shoulders back. And her mum looked quite contented with her adjusted shoulders shape.
How do people counter the effect of the shoulders that slump forward?
Most people who recognise they have poor posture know that their shoulders hunch forward. Unfortunately, the ways they use to fix the problem are either ineffective or harmful. A common approach for correcting hunched shoulders is to pull shoulders back.
If you attend any Yoga classes, we often hear “Roll your Shoulders back”. People could not hold this position pass 1 minute.

The action of pulling the shoulders back involve contracting the rhomboid muscles which is not designed to hold the position for a long time. Fortunately, otherwise they will suffer inflammation from over contraction of rhomboid muscles.

 

It is not really helpful. Our daily activities are often carried out with shoulder positioned too far forward. The weight of the arm is no longer carried by the spine when the shoulders are too far forward. There is therefore no connection between the arm and the shoulder blades. Just like the head and neck, the arms are not able to connect to the shoulder blades when the area in between the shoulder blades is rigid and bend.
If your shoulders are slumped forward and your chest sink in follow by head protruding forward, such posture hazard is caused by the way you carry your upper back which is bent. It looks like the immediate solution will be to pull them back with the muscles of the upper back. The fundamental cause is in the thoracic upper back and not in the position of the shoulders. You are worsen the condition of shoulders tension.

If you want to prevent slouching of the shoulders, you first need to change the shape of the upper back. When the upper back is aligned, they will provide a base for aligned shoulders that could relax while the arm is connected to the spine. There is no use to pull the shoulders back.
While lying on the rubble strip, it can stabilizing the shoulder joint, the back and shoulders can remain passive and relaxed and not be affected by the activity of the arms.
It is important to also understand that over-exaggerated movement of the shoulders back does not help when the spine is too rigid to receive the movement of the shoulders. It will only tensed up the rhomboid more and causing hypermobility and instability of shoulder joint.
In mobilising the arm connection, Critical Alignment Yoga (CAT) offer a perfect start to establish the connection of the arm to the shoulder blades while the shoulders stay relax.

Double Strip Shoulder Stretch exercise.

Seated Shoulder Stretch – Strengthening the connection of the arm to the shoulder blades while maintaining body in sitting neutral position.

Shoulder Stretch using headstander – Developing activity in the arm while maintaining the connection of the arm to the shoulder blades and chest open.

Establishing mobility of the shoulders in its connection to the shoulder blades is the best way to remedy hunched shoulders. Hunching the shoulders often disturb the nerves and blood vessel that supply blood to the arm and therefore affecting blood supply to and from the arms and nerve function in the arm.

Therefore, many who experience cold hands, dry skin, numbness in the fingers and arm pain are likely to benefit from shoulder remedy offered by CAT.

Beautiful Shoulders is what I often observe in CAT practitioners, hence the title of this article.

The beauty in Cheongsam is in a Perfect Spine


Chinese New Year is just around the corner.

You have prepared a whole list of to-do-things that need to be done before Chinese New Year.

If you are bored with your plain old hair, you need to get your hair coloured in harmony with your Chinese rooster year zodiac. You need to get your manicure and pedicure appointment fixed and maybe eyelash extension too.

Finally, you have decided that you’ll be wearing the latest trend of Cheongsam on the first day of CNY to suit your new hairstyle, new nail groom and extended eyelashes. By this time, you may want to integrate intensive fasting program into your to-do-lists in attempt to squeeze perfectly into your new Cheongsam.

To all amazing beautiful women reading this, I can’t wait a minute longer to share with you the one thing I discovered that we absolutely can’t afford to miss out on. That is your perfect posture to go along with your perfect Cheongsam. In our popular quest for culturally imposed standard of beauty, many of us unwittingly disregard the importance of skeletal alignment.

In other words, you should be shifting your attention- not to your nails, breasts or design of your Cheongsam but to your posture. Without a straight spine, you can wear the same gown with Gong Li but looking ill, depressed, lacking in confidence and actually quite silly too.

What constitute good posture?

What I noticed from years of running Critical Alignment Therapy classes and courses is the increasing numbers of postural defect issues concerning children and adolescents at school age, ranging from 10 to 17, which is a serious 21st century problem among young generation.

More parent came to me to express concerns about their child’s posture. “I told her to sit up straight but she won’t listen” is often what I hear.

So what the child does after receiving such commandment? She will lift the lower rib cage up with the misconception that is equivalent to sitting straight. That keep the nagging mum and angry dad satisfied for a while and after five minutes, it becomes a little slouching and when mum bring the attention back, she readjust it to be upright again. So, many people alternate their position between slump and tensed posture over and over again and found out after some years their natural height declines by at least 3cm.

What most parent and all others fail to understand is that the type of posture a person has much depends on the types of spinal curve she has developed over the years. Different types of spinal shape will bring different habits and preferences into their daily postures.

Naturally, a centered spine should require no effort to sit up straight and no need for reminding. All physical activities are not helpful here and it simply reinforces a faulty way of moving. When there is a bend in the upper thoracic region and a lack of movement in the lumbar, it stops the passage of movement in those strain areas. The upper body’s weight does not move through it. The deformation always starts from the spine.

Everywhere in the world, naturally aligned people is so rare that the misaligned body structure has become a norm. Nobody knows what a naturally aligned body looks like. Even the medical professionals are not well trained about the elements of good posture and how to put it into practice in a relax manner.

When the spine is out of alignment, an upright posture could not be sustained with independent effort. People keep struggling in their posture creating more tension, conflict and agitation because for as long as people carry themselves in all activities, they have to be constantly reminded to stay upright that way. It becomes new stress in life and repeatedly feeling guilty when they slouch again. For some cases I came across, such stress can lead to conflict in parent and children relationship. Most children avoid coming into sight with their parents.

What is good posture?

There is no good posture. You receive good posture when you understand all the factors which suppress good posture. We were once connected when we came to this world. Our original state is still with us. We do not need to become somebody new, it is returning to the old value of the body which is the body in the connected state. In this state we are in neutral and we lost it because tensions suppress that.

I am the fortunate few who came to know a body education and movement techniques developed by Gert Van Leeuwen. Other than CAT, there is no solutions that I am aware of in the field of posture alignment practice that is based on such specific detailed, thorough and profound of natural skeleton alignment of the spine. So, undoubtedly most parent remarked “I wish I could have known this earlier” after being introduced to this amazing techniques of CAT.

So to all young people at age or at heart, you need an appointment with your Posture Therapist to groom your spine too, just in time for CNY. It is about becoming older and straighter.