Tag Archives: phd

Aloha Yogis,

It turns out, it’s quite difficult to send periodic newsletters as a full time PhD student. Who knew? While I had every intention and hope to keep you all up to date on yoga classes, events and also monthly yoga themes, it simply didn’t happen! In fact, I can’t even imagine a scenario in which it could have happened! I spent nearly every free moment studying, I learned a whole lot, and now I am coming up for air to say hello!

Only those of you who I see regularly in yoga classes heard and practiced the weekly intentions with me. Not much has changed for me on the yoga front. Meaning, I am still teaching events, classes, and running trainings; however, advertising this all has become truly a word of mouth process. If you weren’t aware, I am a student again, not just of life and yoga, but at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Here is my last update.

To be honest, there are some differences on the yoga front. In terms of my overall view of the practice, I see it through a new lens. Before going back to school to study biomechanics for my doctorate, yoga for me was an immensely spiritual practice. The postures and alignment cues were truly rooted in the ancient practice and teachings. I thought, if B.K.S. Iyengar teaches Warrior I this way, he surely knows best and I followed suit. Of course, I always offered modifications for students and believed everyone should listen to their body, but I stayed very true to the yogic root origins.

This year, after studying in a cadaver lab for 10-15 hours per week, digging into biomechanics research, and learning all about exercise physiology, it’s not surprising, the big change for me is knowledge. They say, knowledge is power, and I am here to say – it’s true.

I love the practice of yoga and even more so now believe in its healing powers for the mind, body, and soul. No longer is it the same spiritual practice where I trust in the healing powers, in the same way, I trusted in Iyengar’s alignment cues. Now, I know there are healing powers, and I know how to cue specifically to each student.

Most of my teaching this year has been on a private basis. I teach privates with many students, most of whom I’ve taught for many years. There is a reason the ancient practice began on a private basis, everyone is different! My private teaching along with my growing knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics (statistics doesn’t really help here) has been the perfect way to enhance and reinforce my studies.

One area I am really keen to study is balance. Many research studies use a one-legged balance test, and I hope to as well in upcoming pilot studies. Generally with age our bone mineral density declines and so too does our balance ability. This is a disaster combination, because it places us at high risk for falls and injurious falls. Our ability to balance is a skill we can build with practice, one that requires our central nervous system and musculoskeletal system to work in harmony. I will be digging into more research in this area over the summer, but for now, I wanted to leave you with some positive and exciting thoughts.

Just as when you exercise new capillaries sprout as an important adaptation to exercise training (to ensure adequate diffusion for oxygen and nutrients), a similar process takes place in your mind. It is a heck of a lot harder to study, but essentially, our brain ‘hears’ our thoughts  and responds to our work (for example, running or yoga) and shunts or spurs growth accordingly. Meaning, if we think positive thoughts certain adaptations happen, likewise, if we practice half-moon pose, certain adaptations occur. Both occurring in the brain, in different capacities.

My life completely changed after really studying the brain and seeing the cranial nerves and having a-ha moments, as I connected my learning to the practice of yoga. For example, as I connected what I learned about the vestibulocochlear nerve (cranial nerve VIII) to the practice of yoga, I realized it’s one reason why our drishti, our gaze, is crucial to our ability to both balance and focus throughout our yoga practice. In this way, our muscles, our brain, and our focus are yoked. Yoga’s root, yuj, means ‘to yoke’ – meditation becomes the ultimate form of this practice. I could write an entire piece on the brain and mediation. To be brief, meditation has been associated with differences in gray matter brain cortical thickness. Sara Lazar of Harvard University demonstrated this in her study, other researchers has similar findings. Excited yet? Me too.

I’m not going to get into the discussion of stress and cortisol, but as you can imagine when we let this get the best of us there can be deleterious effects on the brain. One of the best antidotes? Exercise. Through neuroplasticity our brain has the ability to change throughout our life. Whether you are learning new facts or kinesthetic movements – your brain is ready to adapt. Aerobic exercise in particular promotes adult neurogenesis, and consistent aerobic exercise over a period of months creates clinically significant improvements in executive function as well as increased gray matter. In other words, our brains are not plastic in the literal sense, but rather, just as our muscles grow and capillaries sprout, so can our brains. Aerobic exercise enhances cognitive function and attenuates age-related deterioration of the brain. Here are a few articles to get you started (1234, enjoy!).

Can we all just agree to get moving? For these reasons, I made sure to sweat nearly every day this year, even on my busy days. The night before finals, I hit the track. I walk to and from school, every day. I am in the practice. I hope to see you on the mat soon!

Deep breaths and Sun Salutations,

laura mary

Photography by Lululemon.

may 5th email
Hello Yogis,

I don't even know where to begin this newsletter, because there is so much to cover! Happily, 2017 has been a very full year. After kicking off January with my Goal Chaser workshop series, it inspired me to re-focus my own goals. This turned into a lot of reading and self-study (svadhyaya). I enrolled in an anatomy and physiology course at Kapiolani Community College. We did several dissections and learned all about the way our bodies align and function. For those of you who attend my classes, you know I am very interested in the anatomy of yoga, alignment, and just simply being. This experience and more sparked within me an even deeper desire to learn.

A year and a half ago I had reconstructive ankle surgery on an injury that I have had since 5th grade (I broke my tibia and fibula). As a full-time yoga instructor the experience was both humbling and informative, and it shifted my entire mindset on kinesiology. After months of physical therapy with minimal improvement, my surgeon recommended that I find a sports exercise trainer in Honolulu who specialized in biomechanics of the ankle. Aside from enrolling in more physical therapy, I was at a loss as to how to find somebody with such specific qualifications. In fact, many people come to me to improve function through yoga after an injury or to enhance athletic performance, but I have nowhere near the knowledge to guide a person, even myself, back to their full capability. I knew I wanted and needed to learn more.

My own rehabilitation has precipitated a complete change in the way I instruct yoga and the way I lead my yoga teacher training program. What began as a lot of self-investigatory work has become an even more narrowly focused passion or a purpose. I am on a quest to learn more about biomechanics, exercise physiology, and anatomy. With a background in both psychology and public health, and of course yoga, I know that improved physical function translates to happier people and improved public health. Aside from my recent ankle surgery, over the years of my research career, I became more and more interested in the physical aspects of function as opposed to the psychological aspects. I have seen how the former can improve the latter. If you are interested in this topic, respond to my email. I have always had the intention of earning my doctoral degree but then life happened - in a beautiful way, my plans changed.

I truly believe in listening to the pull of life. Whether you feel the pull of your interests or what makes your heart leap, we have to practice getting quiet and connected enough to hear and feel it. Between yoga and some consistent vision and goals work, I make a practice of trying to feel these pulls. I have been an athlete all my life. I’ve always been intrigued by the way our bodies move and function. I was a psychology major, and I’ve always been interested in how our thoughts impact our reality. In college, I nerded it up big time and hit the books really hard. I did well and entered the world of research and had aspirations to become a doctor.

I became a yoga instructor after college because it was the natural next step in my yoga practice. I worked in psychiatric research for three years following college before studying public health in graduate school (which was a stepping stone to earning my doctorate). Through graduate school I continued my teaching of yoga. I stepped into it as a full time teacher after graduate school, it was intended to be a temporary gig. But all I wanted to do was teach, I absolutely loved it and I still do. I allowed myself to continue to be pulled. I learned so much. I developed programs, taught 200-hour teacher trainings, hosted retreats, large events, corporate yoga, and more than one thousand private classes. I was also lucky enough to work with many amazing companies as an ambassador. Shout out Lululemon, Manduka Yoga, Banan, Jugo Life Juice, UltraMana Coffee, Peace Cafe, Moana Surfrider, and most recently Susan G Komen.

As I mentioned, things started to shift for me after having an ankle surgery 2015. I poured over physical rehabilitation literature, enrolled in an online nutrition program, and the anatomy and physiology course. I worked with many physical therapists and I practiced yoga. All in an effort to bring my little ankle and everything it affected back to “normal”. In many ways, the healing I sought was similar to the healing my students were seeking. This “pull” of interest became so strong, that I connected to a University of Hawaii professor who is at the forefront of biomechanics research. I began sitting in on a few of his lectures. In just a few hours time, I felt information overload (in the best way possible). I loved every minute of it all. Before I knew it, I was applying for a PhD in exercise science.

Because my yoga business took off, and life pulled me into my yoga career, I always said that the only circumstance under which I would ever go back to school for my PhD was if I had a burning desire to learn everything on a topic and if I had a personal interest in it. I’ve decided to become an expert in this area. I am still going to be teaching yoga, so don't worry there!

I am so excited to tell you that I am going back to school to study exercise science. Trust me, I never saw this day coming. I will be doing research in biomechanics. I already integrate a lot of science into my classes. Earning a doctorate in this field will definitely help take my knowledge to the next level. I am so excited for this step in my career. I am especially excited to integrate this knowledge into my yoga teachings. YOU will all benefit from this next step.

Now that I have been accepted, it is hitting me, just how much work lies ahead. Right off the bat, I begin with teaching an 80 person lecture. Let's just say, there will be a lot of studying and yoga happening this summer before school begins in August.

Deep breaths and Sun Salutations,

laura mary

Photography by Lululemon and Chelsea Abril.