Bo Forbes on Yoga, Mindfulness, and Neuroscience

This post is part of a series about my experience at the SF Yoga Journal Conference in January 2014.

bo forbes

Bo Forbes’ 2 hour session was packed with insightful research findings, tiny two minute tools (we’ll get to these in a second), and a new way of looking at yoga for healing. She shared the same sentiment as the other conference sessions I attended in that yoga is less about flexibility, strength, and thinness and more about listening to your body and observing your breath. She is a yoga teacher, integrative yoga therapist, and clinical psychologist with tons of determination to help us see how behavioral change and emotional balances happen. 

Bo is a big advocate for restorative yoga for emotional healing. In restorative yoga, you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) which slows your heartbeat and aids in relaxation. This is important because it helps balance your autonomic nervous system that is also comprised of your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). Thus, a more mindful practice helps reduce anxiety and depression by balancing our nerves and releasing stored tension. More so, she pointed out that research supports this notion.

One finding highlighted that 20 minutes of yoga daily is more therapeutic than a 90-minute yoga workout twice a week. Yet, most of us would opt for the longer class less often, because it’s in our DNA to think more is better. Sound familiar? Rodney Yee continuously shared this belief in his retreat. Bo coined the term the “tiny two-minute tools” to highlight this notion of less is more. She suggested doing 5 to 10 minutes of practice throughout the day on a daily basis. One example of these tools is simple, relaxing yoga poses using props – like in restorative yoga. The class chose which pose (blockasana or scapula hang) was best for their energy level by utilizing another tool, called the yoga practice lab. Essentially, your yoga practice lab is a pre- and post- assessment where you check in with yourself and consider your emotional state, physical agitation, speed of thoughts, and energy levels to help determine what is best for your body. This tool highlighted one of her underlying themes that you are your own best teacher. While you may listen to the teacher’s instructions, ultimately it is up to you to decide what feels best for your body.

Essentially, Bo is recommending a yoga practice that is integrative – where you link meditation and asana with slow, mindful transitions. Through this integrative practice you become more aware of your internal states. She led the class through a yoga sequence demonstrating this principle, as well as bringing awareness to our enteric nervous system (or gastrointestinal system) where many of us hold emotions. Your emotional state is intertwined with your entire nervous system and your physical state – in order to improve one of them, we need to be mindful of all of them. Yoga teaches you to rely on your self-knowledge of your own mind and body so that you become aware of your agitation levels and know when it’s time to use one of the tiny two-minute tools.

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