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Let me give you some perspective so you see how special he is…
David attended a workshop with the legendary John Scott as a student back in the early 2000s, and was chosen to return to Scott’s workshops as a teacher of anatomy for all subsequent teacher trainings, which he continues to do today, year after year.
He has a gift, which is to make anatomy interesting and specific to yoga.
Anyone who has watched his DVDs knows that he keeps the boring stuff to a minimum, and gets to what is really important from the point of view of the poses.
Maybe it is time to change approach in things that are not working for us.
Anatomy helps, enormously.
After reading David’s most recent book my practice was completely transformed.
I would step on the mat and have constant realizations, I’d go: “Oh… THAT is how you do triangle pose”! or “Ahhh, THAT is what he means”.
1) I have a ‘bone’ to pick with David
2) Common misalignments that he sees as he teaches all over the world
3) David’s revolutionary idea, backed by Patanjali, that asana has the power to transform people physically mentally and emotionally, and why.
4) His Million Dollar tip on how to ease wrist pain – He gives it for free
5) Why is it better for women to stay away from pointed tight toed high hells?
6) David’s notes on back pain
7) Anatomical tips we can use today
10) The ONE thing that took him a long time to understand
He has just released a book that is called Functional Anatomy of Yoga: A Guide for Practitioners and Teachers.
David started practicing yoga in 1989 as a suggestion from his Tai Chi teacher, and then he was also an instructor of kinesiology at Miami’s Educating Hands School of Massage.
That was from 1999 to 2003, and in between those years, in 2001, he met John Scott, whom he recognizes as his own yoga teacher. And the funny thing is, when he met John Scott, John Scott actually asked him to keep coming back to do a portion of his own yoga teacher training on anatomy, and David did that and continues to do that to this day as well as teaching workshops all over the world.
Also, in 2002, David did his first trip to Mysore to visit Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who is the founder of the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system, and since then, he has returned many times with his wife, Gretchen. David, welcome to the show, and thank you for joining me.
Oh, thank you for such a great introduction.
Claudia Azula Altucher:
So at the risk of sounding a little cheesy, I’m gonna say I have a bone to pick with you.
Okay. Pun intended, right?
Claudia Azula Altucher:
Yes. Here’s the thing. After reading Functional Anatomy of Yoga, my practice has slowed down a lot because every little thing I do now, I’m thinking, oh wait, that’s what he meant. And then I go, oh wait, wait, wait. Oh yeah, I feel it now. And so, as a consequence, is so long I don’t have a life anymore. So what do you have to say?
Well, I think it’s a good thing if you’re slowing down and thinking about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and even more importantly, why you’re doing it.
Claudia Azula Altucher:
That’s right. I agree with that. The why is very important, and there’s so many aha moments that I’ve been having. It’s actually incredible. So let me ask you, would it be fair to say that you have a super power of x-ray vision when you look at students?
Yes. I purchased that at Walmart about ten years ago. Wow. Yeah, I – you know, definitely I think one of my skills is to observe and to sit back and watch and see how people are moving and where they’re moving from and how they’re moving, and then work with that.
Claudia Azula Altucher:
Right. And I’m usually interested because every superhero, even if you buy it at Walmart, has an origin story. So what’s yours? What brought you into yoga and into anatomy, which is sort of an obscure side, you could say.
Yeah. Well, as you said in the introduction, you know, I came to yoga through my Tai Chi teacher back in 1989, who I’m still in touch with, and it wasn’t – that wasn’t my introduction to Ashtanga yoga, which is my current practice, but that kicked things off. And then I went off to university where I did not study anatomy. Actually I have a degree in business, and having done Tai Chi and yoga before that, and other stuff at the time in high school, I would just classify things as either self-help or new age stuff. So I’ve always had this bend towards spirituality. And so by the time I got back from university, I thought wanted to be an acupuncture physician. And the – what happened was I moved into going to massage school as a vehicle to kind of get me into the healthcare profession, et cetera, and this is, of course, where I first was introduced to very specific anatomy, and what happened for me was something that you’re saying happened to you after you read my book, which is I started having these aha moments and these realizations and connections to my yoga practice. So that’s where things started to sort of come together, for lack of a better word.
And by the time I finished massage school, I realized I didn’t wanna be an acupuncture physician. And I went on to do chronic pain relief work, dealing with people who had been in pain for anywhere from one year to 20 years and trying to work out, you know, what was going on in them. And it was around that time that I also was introduced to Ashtanga, and where I was working things out on the mat in a very different way than I had been before that, and really it’s kind of like three things started to come together, in a way from three points of view. One was having an anatomical knowledge. Number two was doing a yoga practice, and three was working on people, on living tissue. And so these three things were kind of – they just kept swimming around in my head, and this is what started to inform, you know, my own practice and deepen my understanding of anatomy, not just from the static point of view, but from the functional point of view.
Claudia Azula Altucher:
And to this day, you continue to do the yoga practice. Clearly it has been – you find benefits to it. It has –
Oh yeah. It’s – it continues to evolve. You know, I say to students that we’re all kind of going through our own process. You know, our body’s going through a process of opening or closing or strengthening or loosening, and it’s this constant play. It’s – what happens is we tend to think of things being more static because it’s a simpler way to understand things. Oh, I’m going to stretch my hamstrings or, oh, I’m going to strengthen my quadriceps or whatever the case may be. But these things are in relationship to one another and it’s a process of change over time.
Claudia Azula Altucher:
Yes. And what I like about the way you present it is that I’ve seen you even in other interviews, and there are some generalizations that I’ve heard in certain yoga classes where, for example, a teacher will say, well, put your foot in a certain position, and I’ve seen you say, well, I question why because when you look at each individual body, things may be completely different, and what we think may be the correct thing may not necessarily be the thing for everybody.
Yeah. I’m much more interested in teaching the individual than I am coming up with a generalized cue or direction for every student. And it’s difficult because, of course, you have to start with the general anyway. There’s – I don’t think there’s any way around that. It’s not a bad thing because 80 percent of the people in your room are – it’s going to be the correct thing for them, but you know, I kinda stand up for the 20 percent. And it’s also – I don’t know. When I teach, I’m very much interested in having a relationship with the students that I teach, so I set my – for instance, I set my classes up in a particular way that allows me to have that relationship. So I –
Claudia Azula Altucher:
I believe you teach fie people at a time, is that right?
When I’m teaching in my home, yes, it’s five students. And when I travel – and this is, of course, limited to the actual ____ class, I limit the number to twelve students, and they also have to sign up for five days in a row of practice. And by doing this, I create a certain – in a way, a certain commitment from them, but also a commitment from myself, and it allows just enough time to have a relationship, to see things, start to change things, see if it’s working or not working because I also don’t assume that I’m always right. You know, but I –
Claudia Azula Altucher:
Which is critical in a way, when you think about it.
Yes, of course.
Claudia Azula Altucher:
To remove the ego and sort of, like, just see what is actually happening. And you say this in the book before – without the projection that I may be putting onto the body of the person I’m looking at.
Yeah. And what’s happened is, going back to your point about the generalized instruction, is we’ve said to them so many times or we’ve heard them so many times that we – they have biased us. We assume that they are correct. And what happens is then we miss out on the person who actually needs a different instruction.
Claudia Azula Altucher:
And because we’re all having our own process and unfolding, it might not be quite the right time for that instruction. Like, maybe it’s a month away, maybe it’s a year away for a particular person. You know, I often tell students, well, you’ve been doing it that way, it’s worked for you, but it’s now time to evolve, change, move on from that instruction.
Claudia Azula Altucher: You have a very funny story in the book where you say – what is it I hear you say? You’ve been trying this posture for years and it’s still not working and then you say don’t you think it might be a time right now to perhaps change your approach to? And it made me laugh because that’s me. I keep trying the same thing, and just like the definition of madness, I expect a different result. So it’s a great resource, in a way, to open your eyes to the anatomy to understand what’s happening inside the body.
Now, let me ask you, you see thousands of people in your workshops ’cause you go all over the world. So you have a pretty big sample of the population, even though, in all fairness, these are practitioners of yoga. But if you had to say three common misalignments that we as a people have, what would you say from an anatomy point of view? What would you say those are, if you can come up with three?
David Keil: Yeah. Well, probably the most common anatomical misalignment that the majority of people have is a pelvic misalignment. Either one side or the other is tilted more forward or more back than the other. And it’s an important place. I might just leave it at that one because you can branch off from the pelvis and go in any direction. You can go up into the spine, you can go down into the legs, and sometimes this is really at the root of a number of issues because if you go up into the spine, then, it might be – it might show up as lower back pain or, you know, issues around the spine or even sacroiliac joint dysfunction or irritation or whatever. And if you go down, if one side of your pelvis is tilted, then it could lead to one hamstring being constantly in a state of lengthening and it might get irritated. Like ___ bone pain is a very common problem, and sometimes it’s stemming from a pelvic misalignment.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right, and the pelvis is what we commonly know now as the hips in more gross form, right. That’s where it is, yes.
David Keil: Yes, I’ll accept that. As an anatomist, it’s hard for me to agree, but yes.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Thank you for agreeing with me.
David Keil: Yes, no problem. Anytime.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And so that’s one. Do you have any other misalignments that you see that are sort of common? Would you say perhaps this is the main one?
David Keil: I mean, I think it’s a good place to – from an anatomical point of view, it’s the one. If we start looking at things that tend to happen in yoga, it’s usually less to do with sort of anatomical misalignment and more likely to be trying to do something and putting yourself in alignment that’s not appropriate for you.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Do I hear you saying forcing?
David Keil: In essence, yes. It can be more subtle than forcing.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Could it be showing off? Because I do that. I definitely wanna show off, and now, after reading your book, I can’t.
David Keil: Yeah. Yeah, I’ve ruined the showing off part. Yeah. You know, the way I’ve been saying it lately is we – it’s a fine balance, right. You have to put some effort in, and you have to try things. But if you try things to the point where you’re really not being yourself, like, and I mean that anatomically. It could go beyond that too, but you know, really I mean anatomically. It’s like – it’s as if, and this comes up a lot, you know, people watch a lot of videos on YouTube and on the internet to learn things, which is great. The part that sometimes misses the point is you are not that person’s body. So even though that technique might be fantastic and great for them, the question for the individual who’s trying it has to be, well, does this really fit my body or not. And that’s a hard question to answer.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. Yes.
David Keil: And that’s what I mean by not being yourself anatomically. Like, just – and in a sense, that is, you know, forcing things, but unconsciously. It’s not on purpose.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. Right, you’re trying to imitate perhaps and trying to get it right. And, you know, there is a lot of humility also that comes, for example, for me in a posture like a revolved triangle, where I’m used to having legs straight and suddenly having to bend one of the legs just to experience, say, proper rotation. Or it doesn’t matter what pose it is, but just having to adjust a little bit so that the pose will actually kick in is humbling because I tend to think of myself, perhaps subconsciously, as this great yogi, right.
David Keil: And why not? Why not?
Claudia Azula Altucher: Which is not true at all. It’s completely my ego, but it’s a good exercise in coming back to basics and saying, “Wait a minute. What is actually happening in my body right now and how can I make it effective? How can I make it real?”
David Keil: Yeah. No, that’s a good thing, definitely.
Claudia Azula Altucher: One thing that you mention, and I’m glad you brought up the pelvis and the area of the hips because I learn by reading you that the hips support two-thirds of the weight of our body, and we used to be a couple of million, billion years ago, we used to go on four legs, and now we’re on two legs, and so this is a consequence it supports – the hips have all this weight. And so what can we do to just not – to not hurt ourselves just by the fact that we’re humans?
David Keil: Well, I mean, thankfully, because the two million, billion year thing has happened over such a long period of time, you know, our body has fairly well adapted to going upright and it’s interesting. I don’t think the hip joint itself is one of the most commonly injured ones. It’s one that’s tight very commonly. You might have sensation and pain around it, but the joint itself doesn’t get injured, and that’s partly true because it does carry such a significant amount of our body weight, and the ligaments around it are so dense for this reason. That’s why it can handle the amount of weight that it does. So it’s not so much that the hips are going to get injured. It’s more like when they’re tight or dysfunctioning, they’re going to send out potentially injuries to other places, and as I talk about in the book, of course, the knee is one of the most common places to get injured from very tight hips.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. That’s right, yes. So for example, I see when I teach classes, there is a tendency to try to do the lotus pose where you cross your legs and one leg is on top of the other and very fast, and sometimes I see the disrespect in the knee a little bit, but is not really a knee issue. What is that about?
David Keil: Well, yeah, in that sense, if you’ve created the right patterns before doing lotus quickly, then hopefully you’ll be okay. And more likely than not, you will be okay. But it’s kind of – the way I say it is the knee is sitting in the middle of the ankle below it and the hip joint above it. And so it’s taking forces potentially from either of those two ends, and it’s very common to have tight hips. That’s both going forward, backward, sideways and rotating in all directions because we stand and we walk and a lot of people do activities such as cycling and running and cross-fit or whatever the case may be, all of which are fine. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they create a certain pattern in your body, and then you try to put a pattern of lotus on top of that, and sometimes they run into each other. So the force of – or I should say the tension surrounding the hip joint that doesn’t allow it to move fully into the position that we would want it to be in in lotus, has a tendency to cause stress in the knee.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. Right. So it’s not the hip really – working with the hip will help the knee.
David Keil: Yes, exactly. Exactly. Even the ankle.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Even the ankle, right.
David Keil: Yeah, most cases with the ankle in lotus where it’s stressed and pulling on the outer edge of it, it’s usually because the foot can’t be in the right position, but it’s not because of the ankle; it’s because following it back, it’s between the knee and the hip that are – and ultimately the hip that’s not allowing everything to rotate enough so that the foot is high enough so that it’s not getting compressed and squeezed and painful.
Claudia Azula Altucher: That’s right. So for anyone who’s listening who may do a lot of biking or running, would it be fair to say, then, yoga sort of postures that work on lengthening and opening the hips would be a blessing?
David Keil: Yes. I’ll give one caveat to that, which is if you plan on running and cycling at a very high level, then you don’t want to open your hips too much because then your running or cycling could be affected and you could cause other problems while doing that activity.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Interesting.
David Keil: Yeah. Because again, the body – when we train the body to do a certain thing, it’s building up a pattern of movement and muscular strength and tension, et cetera, around that particular pattern that we’re wanting to do. So if you undo too much of that pattern when you go back to doing that pattern, other things can run into trouble.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. So do enough so as to keep a certain balance, but don’t go – like if you’re training for a triathlon or something like that, respect the fact that that’s the form you’re going for and use yoga as a complement perhaps to balance things a little bit. Is that what I’m –
David Keil: Yes, yes, exactly. That’s exactly right.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So another thing that really caught my attention from your book is the spine. I finally learned where the spine, the nervous system goes through in the spine and the actual cord and how it’s protected by the spine. And you take a leap on Page 36, and I love how you say, you know, what is yoga at the end of the day. Is it – you know, because some teachers say even if you do just the poses, and if you focus on just the body, then you might as well do gymnastics. But you say, you propose even if it’s stripped down to a physical form, yoga has the power to change people physically, mentally and emotionally because the nervous system. And can you talk about that because I found that very interesting how the body can actually bring you within.
David Keil: Yeah. It’s – I really like talking about that part, actually. And the way I say this, yoga is ultimately about the nervous system, whether you’re doing one end of the spectrum, which I’ll just say is meditation, or the other end of the spectrum, which is an Asana practice or, you know, the physical postures. If you sit quietly, you’re going to come into contact with your nervous system, whether it be wiggling around and not being able to sit still or comfortable and an anxiousness or an anxiety, which is, of course, from the nervous system, or you’re confronting your mind, which is – you could say – I don’t like to say the mind is the nervous system. It’s certainly more than that, but in some ways, the mind is a reflection of the nervous system. That reflection might be a better word. Like, of course we can track – you know, we can do functional MRIs and say the word orange and watch people’s, you know, brain light up because, of course, the neurons are firing with a particular thought, and what happens is you have one thought and, of course, one thought leads to another thought, leads to another thought, leads to another thought because –
Claudia Azula Altucher: And you’re gone, yes.
David Keil: Yeah, you’re gone. You’ve written a novel in your mind and it’s just like you’re – who knows where you are. You’re miles away. And this is – this is both a function of the mind and it’s also mappable within the brain itself and neurons firing because, you know, it’s thousands of neurons that are contained within a thought, and some of those are associated with other neurons that would lead to other thoughts, and that’s how we kind of follow that pathway. I mean, that’s stated, you know, in very simplistic form. The other end of the spectrum being, you know, an Asana or, you know, physical practice, well, how are you moving your body? Through your nervous system. How are you experiencing what’s going on in your body? Also through your nervous system. In fact, everything is experienced through your nervous system
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yes.
David Keil: So if you’re taking your day-to-day patterns, whether they be physical, mental, emotional, whatever, and you’re doing a physical activity over and over again, you’re training your nervous system.
Claudia Azula Altucher: That’s right.
David Keil: And I guess it’s like it doesn’t matter which way you get into it. You’re going to have to get into it within yoga. And it’s not – I don’t know that the physical will last a lifetime of continuing to evolve things. At some point, I think it’s quite natural, and I see this over and over again with students, is you know, through long periods of time doing a physical practice, you start to pay closer and closer attention to things, or you read, you know, my book and all of a sudden, you’re really paying attention to things, you know, and it’s slowing down your practice, and really this is what yoga is about. It’s about being present with what’s going on in the moment.
Claudia Azula Altucher: It made me think, David, when I was practicing very slowly with all the aha moments, how, in a way, I felt that I was going from the most gross sort of form of my body to a more sort of inner, more subtle way of understanding. Because if I’m thinking of just my leg goes there, it’s one thing. But if I’m thinking of and feeling a muscle, suddenly I’m going closer within, and it seems to me that it is a way to go into more subtle areas of the body, finding muscles, finding details.
David Keil: Well, what happens is you’re more concentrated because you’re giving your mind something to focus on.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right.
David Keil: And as a result, the thoughts that would come up to distract you from where you are are gone.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Like breakfast.
David Keil: Like breakfast or lunch. It’s usually food, isn’t it?
Claudia Azula Altucher: It’s food, yes.
David Keil: I mean, I think it can go too far as well. I mean, I’m at the point in my own practice where I only interact with the anatomy from an intellectual point of view during my practice if something feels off, if something doesn’t feel quite right because I’d like to think – I’m holding up my fingers in quotations – I’d like to think that I’ve created good healthy patterns in my practice and so now it’s more finding where things are off of that typical pattern and then looking into that a little bit more closely. Or if I’ve tweaked something, I’ve hurt something, you know, my back’s a little sore today, so I’m paying closer attention to it and wondering what’s going on perhaps. But at some point, it should all fall away.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. So you’re saying there is hope for me. I mean, this will pass, all of these aha moments and all the new excitement over the practice. Eventually when I sort of retrain my nervous system into the right patterns, perhaps I’ll find myself in a deeper, more concentrated place with the anatomy sort of taking care of itself, unless there is an injury or something is bothering – am I understanding that right?
David Keil: Yes, you’ve got it just right. Yeah.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And you also tie these up to the definition that _____ gives of yoga, which is yoga – you wanna say it?
David Keil: [Speaking in foreign language]
Claudia Azula Altucher: That’s right, but that’s Sanskrit, and we want English because –
David Keil: Oh, yeah. Yoga is the cessation of the fluxuations of the mind, you know, of the mental stuff. I think it’s a little bit more nuanced than that, but it’s more to do with following those thoughts, being attached to those thoughts, you know, believing the stories that we tell ourself. It’s more in that direction than just – most people think, you know, yoga’s about stopping your mind or something, and that’s not true and it’s not about not thinking.
Claudia Azula Altucher: That’s very difficult. I’ve never found the off switch.
David Keil: Yeah. It’s not easy to find. It’s buried.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right.
David Keil: Yeah, it is.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Perhaps in more subtle levels as we keep practicing.
David Keil: Yeah. It’s there, and I think a lot of it comes back to, you know, finding something to concentrate on. You know, it doesn’t have to be anatomy; it could be your breath. It could be your nose. It could be your toe. Whatever it is for the type of practice you do, the concentration over a long period of time is what ceases the identification with those thoughts in your mind.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I like how you put that. Yes. Concentration for a long period of time. This is what ceases all the chattering and perhaps gives you a chance to become present, to be here, to be now with an open heart.
David Keil: Yes. For sure. It’s what all the books say, actually.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yeah I have a – I’m not enlightened, unfortunately.
David Keil: Nor am I. Nor do I know exactly what that means anyway.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Oh good. We’re together in the same boat, then. That’s good to know.
David Keil: Yes, absolutely.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So, David, you know, a lot of people complain about wrist pain because they’re sitting on computers. I know I am, even though I do yoga. We have to. And you have in your web site a $1 million tip about wrist pain, and I am wondering if you would be willing to share it for free right here.
David Keil: The $1 million tip.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yes. Is $1 million.
David Keil: Do I need to go to my web site to find it? You wanna give me a hint?
Claudia Azula Altucher: Sure. You say that the hip – the wrist sometimes gets in trouble because we flex it too much, and so there is something that has to do with ice.
David Keil: Ah, yeah. You know, I recently got in trouble on Facebook for talking about ice for inflammation ’cause there’s this whole new – there’s a lot of research regarding inflammation and pain and the anti-inflammatory response, and I still didn’t quite feel like anybody understood what I was saying, and it seemed misunderstood, so I’m gonna give the $1 million tip anyway because I’ve seen it work so many times that –
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yes, that’s what I like that you’ve seen it work, so I believe you.
David Keil: Yeah.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I’ll take it.
David Keil: I’ve had many people who show up with wrist pain, and what I simply have them do is ice their arm above their elbow for seven to ten minutes once a day for five days, something along those lines. You just fill up your sink with water and ice. It’s not easy to keep your arm under ice water for six or seven – oh, you haven’t tried it yet?
Claudia Azula Altucher: I haven’t tried it yet and I’m scared. It’s my next challenge.
David Keil: That’s gonna be the ice dunk challenge of tomorrow, I guess.
Claudia Azula Altucher: _____ community.
David Keil: And you just dunk your arm in there. I always tell people, oh, put on a couple of good songs that you know and that you like and, of course –
Claudia Azula Altucher: So you can sing along.
David Keil: Yeah, sing along and try to not focus on what’s going on with your forearm.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Because what’s gonna happen? What would you feel?
David Keil: Well, what happens is you go through a few stages. First is shock.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yeah, I imagine that.
David Keil: Yeah, and then it goes – it starts to go into a slightly tingly painful sensation, and then it starts to go numb. You don’t wanna do it for more than ten minutes ever. You don’t wanna do it over and over and over again for long periods of time, but what it does is it – one, ice creates a system response, and it floods out the fluid, right, because we are fluid-based. It pushes all the fluid from your forearm out. And then, of course, after you take your arm out of it, blood’s going to flow back in more fully. So in a way, you’re creating a pump.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I see.
David Keil: You’re getting rid of, you know, fluid, and with the fluid goes metabolic waste products, all kind of stuff, and then you put the fresh stuff in. So that’s my $1 million tip. I’ve never heard it that way, but it sounds good.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yes. I’m gonna try it actually ’cause I do get a little bit of wrist pain, and I know it’s because of the way I’m using the computer. So I’ll let you know. When I write a post about this, I’ll write about the tip and how it went for me.
David Keil: Okay, sounds good.
Claudia Azula Altucher: The feet are our foundation, and we were talking earlier about the hips and how important they are because, as we stand upright from being babies, then the hips that were at the level of the ground are now sort of like our second feet, and the feet become the base of the body. So they’re really important for you from an anatomy point of view. And I learned they have three arches, and I thought there was only one.
David Keil: Yeah. Most people are familiar with just the one on the inside of the foot, but there are definitely three. There’s one across the outer edge of the foot and then there’s one that basically connects the base of your big toe to the base of your little toe.
Claudia Azula Altucher: That’s right. And you gave a tip, and I wonder if this is – I mean, I don’t know, you tell me. Whenever I’m in a standing position, you say lift your toes. Is this a good tip for all standing positions to make sure that the leg is somewhat well-aligned?
David Keil: I think it’s especially good for beginners. The exception to doing it is probably balancing postures. If you’re in a balancing posture on one foot and one leg, if you lift your toes, it’s quite possible that that will knock you off balance.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yeah, that wouldn’t be good.
David Keil: Yeah, that wouldn’t be good. It’s a good way to connect with the quality of the arches. I don’t impose lifting the toes on all postures all the time with all of my students, but if you’re – if you have arches that are lower than you think they should be, it’s a good idea to do it, at least for a period of time. And just, you know, more for the quality that’s created out of creating the – out of, you know, lifting the toes and generating the arch. That’s what I prefer to take away from it, not that it has to be lifted all the time.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right, right. So to sort of get an idea of an imbalance in postures that you – would you say this is especially good maybe for someone with flat feet to become more aware of their arches?
David Keil: Yeah, absolutely.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I see.
David Keil: Absolutely. You know, and it’s – you mentioned alignment, and for some people, lifting the toes, it definitely can change the positioning of the body parts above it. Most people don’t realize that their quadriceps are engaged when they lift their toes. In fact, it’s almost impossible to lift your toes with straight legs and not engage your quadriceps.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Isn’t that interesting?
David Keil: Yeah, and so it points out how interrelated the whole leg is, not just a foot, not just a knee, not just a hip, but a leg.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yeah. For me, the awakening moment there was also all the tiny muscles or – well, not so tiny, but the muscles around the lower leg, around the – you know, from the knee to the ankle, all of those muscles light up when you bend the toes, and I found it a revelation.
David Keil: Yeah. You know, we’re more familiar with the bigger gross muscles like quadriceps and hamstrings. We talk about them more often. You know, maybe we know something about the calf muscles, but the muscles that are deep to the calf or on the front of the shin are – we might know they’re there, but we don’t know so much about what they do and how they function.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. Yes, that’s very true. So my husband yesterday, James, he goes to me – we’re talking about yoga. He’s really excited. He just got onto a headstand, so he’s very happy, and he says to me, “You must – it must – it’s a lucky thing to be a girl because your hips are more open because, you know, women have babies.” Is there truth to that or is that an urban myth?
David Keil: I think as a generalization, women’s hips do tend to be more open. That is the hip joint itself. Not always, but men also generally have stronger shoulders. So it’s a little bit of give and take there.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So then for our imbalances, for example, he would have an advantage over a female.
David Keil: Yes. It depends on for how many years he’s been hunched over a computer, but generally, yes, he’s at an advantage for the arm balances.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Hmm. He doesn’t like that.
David Keil: I’ll bet.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And, you know, since you mentioned being hunched over a computer, which is that I was just doing until I remember whom I’m talking to, you have – in one of your DVDs, you tell a wonderful story about a doctor called Robert McKenzie, who had a patient come visit him with low back pain. Would you mind sharing that story with us?
David Keil: Yeah. It’s from a book by Robin McKenzie called Treat Your Own Back. It’s one of the books I recommend when I teach the anatomy workshop, and what I love about it is that it’s written for the lay person. It’s open-minded. It doesn’t assume that it’s going to fix everybody’s back pain, and Robin McKenzie, who is the author of that book, actually passed away this past year. He’s from Wellington, New Zealand, and the story that he shares in his book which was the discovery of what has come to be known as the McKenzie technique, and there are certified McKenzie therapists out there, the story goes that a man came into his clinic suffering from low back pain, pain in his buttocks and down his leg, a classic case of sciatica basically, and was told to go to one of the treatment rooms for evaluation. And when he went into the treatment room, the table was elevated on one end, and when this client went in and laid down, he laid down on his stomach with the chest on the elevated part of the table, which is pretty counterintuitive for somebody in back pain. So I don’t – I have no idea why this person did it, but they did, and it took McKenzie, you know, three to five minutes to make his way into the evaluation room, and when he did, the client’s pain was completely gone.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Wow.
David Keil: Yeah, and it wasn’t a magic table. The – you know, the nutshell version is that what this person had done was reestablished their lumbar curve, and for that period of time, the disc that was, in fact, herniated had receded enough that it wasn’t placing pressure on the nerve root anymore, and so his pain had dissipated. Of course, when he stood up and, you know, went back to normal position, the pain started to come back, but it led McKenzie – McKenzie’s my kinda guy, right. He looks at that and he goes, oh, I’ll just have everybody lay down on their stomach. No, he – you know, now that’s the new fix for everybody’s back pain. You know, he’s much more measured about it. He did a lot of research. It took him a while, I’m sure, to figure out exactly what was going on in this first client that that happened to, and in the beginning of his book, he asks ten questions, and if you answer positively to, I think, more than seven or eight of those, chances are the book will help you. And it’s very common. I’ve given the book, I’ve shared the book with so many people who show up with those very classic symptoms, and they usually have jobs where they are sitting for long periods of the day, whether it be a computer or driving or whatever it is. And essentially what happens is your abdominal muscles get short and tight as do your hip flexors on the front of your thighs that attach to your pelvis, and it creates compression on the front of the vertebrae in the lumbar spine, and can lead to the disc herniating and moving backwards and out to the side.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So just by sitting down for long periods of time, you could be, like, slouching over, because you’re not respecting this lower back curve of the spine, you can be potentially at risk of serious back pain.
David Keil: Yeah, you certainly increase the potential for back pain, absolutely.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And, I mean, I found that story fascinating because in the DVD, I remember you said when McKenzie came into the room, he was mortified to see the patient laying down in that position which was sort of funny, and it took him a while to get the medical community to accept that what he found was actually real, right? That –
David Keil: Yeah, as far as my understanding is, yeah. It’s taken a while for it to get out there, and it’s still almost always trumped by the instruction to strengthen your core, and it’s important to say that, you know, for somebody who has a disc herniation, especially in the acute phase of it, strengthening your core could be a really bad idea. And I say that not long-term, but in the short term because most people, when they think of strengthening their core, they think of doing sit-ups and crunches and that kind of exercise. That can load a lot of pressure and stress on your lumbar spine, and if that happens while you have a herniation or you’re more susceptible to a herniation can be extremely problematic and very dangerous.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So respecting the curvature of the lower spine, and also the curvature of the cervical, behind the neck, the natural curve, would you say if we become very aware throughout the day that we’re – those curves are natural and in the right place, that we can somehow prevent future issues with back pain?
David Keil: It certainly sends us in that direction. And the other thing to consider is that, you know, if you’re doing some type of movement activity such as yoga, you’re also creating a rebalance, if you will. So if you sit for eight hours a day but you do an hour and a half of yoga, you know, you’re taking away at least, I don’t know, half of those hours of sitting, right, ’cause your muscle tissue is healthier and you’re generally more flexible or your tissues are more resilient to being out of position, and it’s not to say – it’s not that your body can’t do it. It can. It’s usually the long-term effect of doing that.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Absolutely. I think of yoga, particularly the Asana practice, I think of it as insurance, literally.
David Keil: Yeah, I agree with you. It should generally be seen as insurance for health.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. And of the real kind too because you become so aware of every little thing that’s happening through a daily practice, and it’s fascinating, actually. I mean, I’m telling you, reading your book gave me a whole new love for my body. You know, I used to be very – I’m very conscious of maybe, you know, I don’t look like the models and I have little things here and little things there, but after reading the book, I get this new appreciation for what it does, and I – suddenly I started going, “Wow, my body can do all of these things,” and having moments where I literally have to stop on the mat and be in awe that my body can do these things and that anybody has the potential of doing any of these things with time, with dedication, with right alignment, with paying attention and so on.
David Keil: Sure. Yeah, it’s – the body is amazing. Yoga is amazing. When you put the two together, it’s spectacular.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yes.
David Keil: Yeah, it’s spectacular. I mean, I’m – every time I teach – I’ve taught my anatomy workshop hundreds of times now. It’s well over 300 times.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Wow.
David Keil: Yeah. And so I have to keep digging and looking for, you know, keeping it interesting for myself, and every time I teach, you know, the muscular system and just the basic physiology of how a muscle contracts and the fact that it’s, you know, basically a nerve stimulation releasing calcium, changing the charge relative to two types of protein, and that causes a – all of the muscular contraction that we do. It just blows my mind.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right, right. You’re definitely at a deeper level than me ’cause I got a little lost there, but I can totally relate to the feeling of suddenly finding, oh my God, there is my quadriceps. Wow. Look at it. It’s like aha moment after aha moment. It’s amazing. Let me ask you, David, personally, have you ever opened a dead body, a cadaver, to look at things?
David Keil: No, I haven’t.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I’m scared of that. I don’t think I wanna do it.
David Keil: I’m not scared of it. I’ve just gotten too busy to – and I need to schedule – in fact, this last week, I was away teaching a workshop, and one of the students there who’s a body worker, she, in fact, just e-mailed me a form to sign up for a cadaver dissection workshop with a man named Gil Hedley, who most people know from The Fuzz Speechthat is on YouTube. He does cadaver dissections, and even as a yoga teacher, I’m pretty sure you can go do them, and it’s been on my list for years. Since I was in massage school, I wanted to go do it. It’s just never worked out with timing and my schedule and getting stuff done, but I’m gonna make an effort this year to do it.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Wow, that’s very interesting. And I’m glad you mentioned him because he talks about how, if you don’t stretch the fascia or the tissues of your body on a regular basis, then they condense – what’s the word I’m looking for here?
David Keil: They – well, as he refers to it, The Fuzz Speech, you know, the layers of the tissue, of connective tissue in particular, which wraps around all of the muscles and everything else, if you don’t move it enough, it basically starts to grow together, and that’s what he’s talking about in this speech. If you don’t stretch it out and you don’t create movement between your different muscles and the layer of muscles, then this layer of connective tissue will grow together and then restrict movement.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So that’s why, for example, if you’re in an accident or if something happens to you and you have to be in bed for a week or so, then your muscles literally begin to atrophy. Am I saying it correctly?
David Keil: It’s – well, you’re talking about the second part of it. Both you will have connective tissue tightening and possibly starting to grow together as well as, because you’re not using the muscles, they start to weaken because they’re not getting stimulated and they’re not having to do any work. So yeah, they start to atrophy, which basically means they’re slowly dying.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Wow.
David Keil: Yeah.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So what I’m learning here from this conversation is to stay alive.
David Keil: Yes, stay alive, Claudia. We need you.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Movement is very, very important. Movement with intelligence, and also respecting the curvatures of the spine and, for yoga purposes, using all of this awareness for concentration for going deeper into more subtle levels.
David Keil: Yep, that is a very good recap.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Let me ask you, David, in your own yoga practice which has been a long process, what would you say took you the longest to learn?
David Keil: In terms of posture?
Claudia Azula Altucher: In terms of – yeah, in terms of –
David Keil: Or mental.
Claudia Azula Altucher: …yoga in general. I would say in terms of yoga in general. What took you the – and it can be anatomy, it can be a body, it can be a mind issue.
David Keil: I think what took me the longest was acceptance. Really, really accepting what was happening in the moment and responding to it and not – and I say responding purposely and not reacting to it, you know. In early days, you know, especially with the physical practice, you know, I would be more reactive to the fact that I couldn’t put my leg behind my head or that my back bend wasn’t better than it was or –
Claudia Azula Altucher: You wanted it really fast.
David Keil: Yes, of course.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Like we all do. I mean, me too.
David Keil: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. You know, because, of course, I was identified with that being advancement in yoga, which I’ve come to find out really isn’t because I’ve met enough people who have an advanced physical practice who are not necessarily advanced in terms of mental-emotional development or spiritual development really.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right, that’s very interesting.
David Keil: Yeah. Sometimes they do go together quite well. It certainly can happen that way, but I’ve realized also that, you know, yoga’s a – in that sense, is a multi-prong process, so the Asana should lead to something. You know, the physical practice should lead to deeper understanding. That deeper understanding should lead to something else and that should lead to something else, and so we have this bigger sort of process of unfolding going on. But it doesn’t happen if you keep identifying with your physical practice or putting – me in particular, putting my leg behind my head as a measurement of how advanced I was.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right. You even say on Page 267, “Good news,” you say, “you’re enlightment is not tied up to putting a leg behind your head.”
David Keil: Yeah, it took me a while to figure that out, just say.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I’m so glad that you said that because I would have to agree with you. Acceptance, especially in the beginning years, I suffered from that bag I have to do fourth series now.
David Keil: Right, right.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Very advanced pose, I wanted them all, and it just doesn’t happen. And there’s been a book recently released with a story. This is a very popular teacher that was taking lessons with a master Taekwondo, I think it was, and this teacher had him do the same position 300 times one night. And so this person who’s pretty famous, I can’t say his name yet because the book hasn’t been released, but he said to the teacher, “Teacher, when are you gonna let me move to the next posture?” And the teacher said, “Oh, student. This is the next posture. The fact that you cannot tell the difference between how you’re doing it now and the last time you did it tells me that you’re still a beginner.” And it blew my mind because, especially in Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system of Pattabhi Jois, there is always this sort of desire to get to the next posture, and perhaps taking these, I realized this is the next posture.
David Keil: Yeah, exactly.
Claudia Azula Altucher: It blew my mind. So it was as if, I don’t know, somebody was speaking to me through some book
David Keil: Yeah. No, that’s a great quote, great story. Absolutely.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So, David, what are your favorite yoga books?
David Keil: My favorite yoga books?
Claudia Azula Altucher: Yes, yoga books that you refer to or, I mean, one or two, it doesn’t have to be a whole –
David Keil: Yeah. You know, the one – and I was just using this to teach a workshop this past week, so it’s at the forefront of my mind. Every time I read Yoga Mala by Pattabhi Jois, I see things in it that I would swear were not in it the fourth or the third or the second or the first time I read the book.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Wow.
David Keil: And I would – if you haven’t read that book in a while, Claudia, since – and of course it’s me changing.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Right, right.
David Keil: That sees something different in it. And I choose that book – I say that book because, for me, it’s the most unadulterated look into ____ or Pattabhi Jois’ mind.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I see. I see. I haven’t read that book in a while.
David Keil: That’s why I really love it.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I will reread it. I haven’t read it in a while. I think it has some things that threw me off a little bit. Like, it had some special things about you cannot have sex unless your right nostril is working and the sun is at a certain – it had certain things that seemed to me to be very related to maybe the Brahman branch that he was in. But he also had, in all fairness, a lot of the yoga in it, including the postures, so –
David Keil: Yeah. It’s – I wouldn’t say it’s the most clearly written book in terms of understanding the postures, but every now and again, you – not even every now and again, more often, you just find these little gems of these little philosophical tidbits or things about a posture you’re, like, really. Like, most people don’t realize that – and we don’t do it anymore, but in Yoga Mala, Pattabhi Jois says in _____, rooster pose –
Claudia Azula Altucher: Can you describe ______ for –
David Keil: Put your legs into the lotus position, which is cross-legged, right, one on top of the other. Put your arms through your legs. I don’t recommend that for beginners, but you would put your arms through and you would lift up onto your hands.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So you’re standing on your legs that are going through your legs – on your hands that are going through your legs in the lotus position. It’s a very hard posture to do.
David Keil: It’s a very hard posture to do. But while in that posture, he says to do _____.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Really? Can you describe _____?
David Keil: _____ is when you draw – you evacuate all the air from your lungs, you suck your stomach in using the vacuum of your diaphragm, and then you roll your stomach sideways.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Also very difficult to do.
David Keil: Also very difficult to do while in a difficult posture. And most people have never even noticed that it’s in there ’cause they don’t get that far.
Claudia Azula Altucher: I do not remember that part at all.
David Keil: I’m telling you, read it. You’ll see some gems in there.
Claudia Azula Altucher: That’s amazing. Yeah, I think that those are the best kinds of books, and I think your book is that way because, when I went back to your DVDs, you know, there were things – I reviewed your DVD as soon as it came out, but I realize it was a much more superficial view I had of it, and I value it now a lot more because my own practice has been deepening a little bit. I’m no expert, but there’s been a bit more of a deepening, and so I value every nugget, and I get to pick up on different things, so I’ll definitely reread this book, and that’s Yoga Mala by Pattabhi Jois.
David Keil: Yeah.
Claudia Azula Altucher: So, David, I’m very grateful that you agreed to do this podcast with me. This has been an honor to have you on the first episode of The Yoga Podcast.
David Keil: Thank you for having me.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Sure. And so the book is called Functional Anatomy of Yoga: A Guide for Practitioners and Teachers, and I personally – you don’t have to believe me, but I recommend that you get the DVDs as well that David has on anatomy because then it’s like a 3-D thing. You have the book and you have the DVD and it feels like you have David next to you and you can’t help it. you start striking poses in the living room and grabbing somebody, let me touch your spine to see if I can sense things and on and on. It’s down the rabbit hole you go.
David Keil: Right.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And, David, where do people find you to – if they wanna go to one of your workshops?
David Keil: The quickest way to find me is to go to my web site, which is Yoganatomy.com, which is spelled Y-O-G-anatomy with one A.
Claudia Azula Altucher: That’s a good web site. Yoganatomy, just one A in the middle. Okay, and you’re also on Twitter.
David Keil: I’m on Twitter, yeah, @DKeil108.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And also @Yoganatomy, right?
David Keil: Yes, I am. Yes, that’s right. I’m at both.
Claudia Azula Altucher: And so that’s in both. Okay, so thank you very much for your time, David. Appreciate it.
David Keil: You’re very welcome. Thank you, Claudia.
Claudia Azula Altucher: Okay, bye-bye.
David Keil: Bye.
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