Project U. Blog

Connecting Mind and Body

Posted by Catherine Saar on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 @ 03:43 PM

MP900302954 resized 600After years of feeling unable to find my yoga “voice”, I recently began deepening my yoga practice and teaching. I owe that to the inspiration of Matt Sanford, a paraplegic yogi who teaches yoga to able bodied and disabled people and yoga teachers.  After attending a short workshop with him, I remembered that the power of yoga lies in deepening our awareness of the connection between our bodies and our minds, not in creating perfect poses, or in caloric reduction – (although both of those things may also occur as a result of rigorous practice).

My brief time with Matt helped me to touch the impact yoga made on me when I first began practicing.  I was a young married mother, working in corporate America, who began to find a connection to myself through my practice – not even being aware that I had become disconnected!

This is not uncommon for people who have experienced repetitive physical or emotional trauma in their lives.  And lets face it, there are way more of us who have experienced trauma than those who haven’t.  Consider caregivers and first-responders! They see trauma daily.

And here’s what I find most interesting: according to trauma research, trauma ”lives” in our bodies on a cellular level, such that certain sounds, movements, smells, sights, any number of things can act as “triggers” causing us to feel as though we are re-experiencing the event that caused our trauma.  A physical practice, like yoga or martial arts can help release the trauma on a somatic level. (You can read articles about trauma research at )

As human beings, we unconsciously try to protect ourselves from traumatic pain by creating a separation between our mind and our body.  We literally cut off the connection; we “dissociate”.   For example, I sometimes work with coaching clients who claim they cannot feel or cannot identify sensation in their bodies.

This is a handy device in some ways, and unfortunate in others.  When we disconnect ourselves from our somatic pain, we sometimes also disconnect ourselves from our joy – and a ton of other useful information that our bodies can provide to us.

Apparently, I unknowingly, employed this protective behavior.  There were times in my youth that I woke up on a Saturday morning and had no idea of what I wanted to do, or why. The good news is that after I started yoga in the early 90’s, I reestablished a relationship with my body.  I didn’t even realize the transformation in myself.  Looking back now at 15 years of practice, yoga has so integrated me with myself that I nearly always feel centered.  Most of the time, I can perceive what I want and what I need with ease, even under stress.

Yoga reeducated me that my body and my mind need to take care of each other – and helped me to learn how to do this.  In this way, I have developed a loving, caring friendship with myself.

In short, I feel at home in my body. I can relax there.  I no longer discern who is master and who is servant. Mind and body have become partners, cuing each other as to what the other needs and wants.  And I am grateful and joyous to return daily to my mat to calm my mind and to reaffirm its partnership with my body.


Tags: relationship, connection, coaching, transformation, loving, Matt Sanford, emotional, martial arts, yoga, inspiration, disconnected, physical, research, triggers, friendship, grateful, bodies, calm, joy, awareness, caregivers, somatic, caring, integrated, relax, minds, stress, trauma, protective

How Knowing and Trusting Yourself Could Save Your Life

Posted by Catherine Saar on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 @ 06:23 PM

During a recent spin class, my instructor seemed vaguely familiar - but if this was who I thought it was, he appeared transformed.  This instructor’s hair was darker and bushier; he was a bit beefier and a little easier going than I remembered.  As I pondered the resemblance, the instructor shouted, “Dig!  Dig!  - Dig!”  This sealed the deal.  This had to be Doug – how many spin instructors actually use that expression in exactly that tone of voice?save your life resized 600

After class, I decided to say hi and confess to Doug that I barely recognized him. He told me that he wasn’t surprised; he had gained quite a bit of weight because he had been very ill with a rare autoimmune disease that attacked his brain.  After a year, he was still undergoing chemotherapy.  He said he was glad to be alive and then added, “Yoga saved my life.”  

 “Say more,” I asked, feeling my “yogi” curiosity kick in.

Apparently, Doug had been practicing yoga several times a week for many years.  One day, he noticed that his balance had been progressively (and inexplicably) getting worse for a while. This alarmed him, so he decided to go to the doctor. 

“I think there’s something wrong with my brain. My balance is off, and I seem to be losing my short term memory,” Doug explained to his highly regarded physician.  Sadly, the doctor dismissed Doug’s concerns and suggested that Doug might have the flu.  “Give it another week,” he told him.

But Doug knew himself better than that.  Years of yoga indicated to him that something was very different and very wrong about how he was moving through space – and he didn’t notice any flu-like symptoms.  So he decided to seek the advice of a second doctor, who also dismissed his reported symptoms as probably something minor.  Finally, another week or so later, a concerned family member made a call to a physician friend who agreed to give Doug an MRI.

Hours later, Doug found himself in intensive care, with several intravenous needles inserted in his arm.  He had an autoimmune disease that had attacked his brain. Large black areas appeared in his brain scan.  Not only was his ability to function at stake, but also his life.  The doctor advised him that he had no time to lose in getting treatment.

Obviously, Doug survived.   After a year of difficult convalescence, including learning to walk again and adjusting to a major hearing loss, Doug is back to work and teaching spin classes.  He credits his self-awareness and his yoga practice with saving his life.

While yoga was the tip off, Doug also had the confidence to trust his self-knowledge and to persist in his beliefs, regardless of what the “experts” told him.  As a result, he is one of just a few hundred survivors of this rare disease.

Doug’s story resonated with me. How many times have I dismissed my inner voice, when I hear it telling me something is wrong? Call it a gut feeling, a hunch, or an instinct, but the implication seems the same. It’s important to pay attention and to honor your hunches.  Check them out. Be mindful of your body.  Notice the specifics of how you feel when you are well.  Notice how it feels when you are tired, or when you eat and drink different foods.  Pay attention to how your chest and stomach feel when you meet someone you like, versus where and how your body feels when you are in a challenging situation.  Notice when long-term patterns change.  These are clues, and clues provide important information.

 Time and time again, I find that our bodies will tell us what our conscious minds cannot discern.  All we need to do is listen (somatically), and learn to interpret and to honor the signals we receive.

Know yourself; know your body.  Trust that knowledge.  It might just save your life.

Tags: challenging, brain, yoga, ill, self-awareness, self-knowledge, instinct, somatically, transformed, body, confidence, save your life, mindful, bodies, trust, inner voice, syptoms, patterns, minds