Are you still doing sit ups and crunches?
When you understand and feel in your own body what true core strength is, you'll never do another sit up again.
Modern life brings us many conveniences through computers and through cars. These are the 2 nearly ubiquitous experiences of modern adult (and more and more, child) life. Both create what's come to be known as "desk hunch" - shortened hamstrings, psoas, head forward posture, with a coincident loss of the curves of the spine, space for breathing and even, over time, for proper circulatory function.
You come to yoga, go to the gym, hike, run, walk, bike in part to reverse this pattern. Sitting has become, as many of you know, "the new smoking" because of this pattern.
Sit ups and crunches work in a single plane, bringing the rib cage toward to the thighs, and very few people are able to complete even a set of ten without bringing the shoulders forward and chin down. Does that shape remind you of anything? Perhaps the graphic above? Don't practice that shape!
You come to yoga to practice getting the body into shapes that make you feel great.(Check out this post on the "Power Pose" phenomenon for more on that!) And there's a reason they do: they access your true core.
Most "core" workouts target the muscles that join the front ribs to the front of the pelvis (the rectus abominus) and the ones around the sides (the obliques). These muscles are important but they're only a part of the story. And the story can be too short: you can engage, strengthen and buff out these muscles and never engage the deeper core. That's why I call them the vanity abs. Like beautiful skin, their health comes not from focusing on them and applying efforts on the surface; their health comes from paying attention to what they draw upon. In the skin's case, proper nutrition and hydration, and in the core's case, accessing the deeper, unseen and too often unfelt muscles that yoga refers to as "locks" or bandhas and the other muscles that connect to them and form functional groups. The locks aren't key locks, but rather locks like on rivers that when closed create strength (or lift) further upstream.
The pelvic floor is known in yoga as the "root lock" (mula band), the respiratory diaphragm (also a muscle) is the "flying lock" (uddiyana band) and the vocal diaphragm and muscles around it, jalandara band. The first two are our concern for this article. The respiratory diaphragm is actually part of your core and the pelvic floor is actually part of breathing, and both are integral in the body knowing where it is in space and maintaining balance.
The pelvic floor and respiratory diaphragm are joined by the psoas, which originates along the front of the spine just where the respiratory diaphragm is ending and in situ, they are nearly indistinguishable. The psoas then moves diagonally down and forward to attach inside the pelvis, from where it takes off for one more trip diagonally down and inward to attach again inside the upper femur (leg bone).
This complex is what I refer to as the "c" of the core, because it makes that shape inside the body in movement. The c attaches to all the other abdominal muscles - including the vanity abs.
The result is that you cannot engage the deep core (the c) without engaging the vanity abs - but you can - and workouts often - do it the other way around.
Yoga focuses our attention and awareness on the deep core and offers a multitude of ways to engage and strengthen these deeper core structures without compromising their flexibility, which is equally as crucial as being able to access their strength.
Would you like to experience true core bliss in a class? Just come to any class this month, where our focus will be on deep core in every pose. Out of town? - no problem! Simply comment with "True Core, please!" to receive a complimentary yoga audio class you can keep and take over and over.
Workbooks for the following workshops will also be available for purchase after the workshop - comment "workbook" to be notified when these are released.
In person workshops are held at OMA from 1-3pm on the Saturdays indicated. One workshop a month is included in Unlimited Memberships (both Freedom and Committed)!
... and your body includes (at least some of) your mind. Stress: physical reaction. Emotions: at least in part physical. Thoughts: require physical activity that can be imaged and tracked.
You don't have to know how the body and mind interact or whether they are in fact one to understand that what you do with your body effects how you feel. How you feel effects how you think. How you think effects how you act. How you act is what you do with your body, so the cycle goes round and round.
Whether you are dealing with a malady recognized by the healthcare system such as diabetes, arthritis, allergies and inflammation or just want more strength or flexibility (or both), or seek "stress" reduction, more vitality or mood support - there's a yoga for that.
Yoga is a system of techniques and practices for increasing and decreasing reactions and processes in the body and what we usually refer to as the mind. That's why it sometimes gets construed as mystical or religious. Yoga is the user manual for your body.
Does this mean yoga will fix any or all of these things all the time? No. Does yoga hold all the answers? Absolutely not. Yoga works hand in hand with many other answers - but it is part of the solution when the question is about how to effect the body. Yoga is a set of practices and techniques that you do yourself, under the guidance of a skilled teacher for the best results. This is empowerment, this is understanding and this is something that enhances other systems and techniques that support the body in wellness and you in experiencing your wholeness. One of my favorite ministers recently said in sermon that healing isn't fixing: it's returning to the experience of wholeness. Sometimes this comes with a "fix." Sometimes things can't be returned to any prior state. But as long as you are you, you are whole Returning to an experience of this - as opposed to experiences of disconnection, reduction, dissembling, evaluating, comparing and objectifying which so often happens when we seek to experience more or less of something - is the beginning of what yoga provides.
Want to feel more awake? There's a technique for that. Want to wind down for a good sleep? There's a technique for that. Want to suffer less from pain? There are techniques for that. Want to be stronger + more flexible? That, too. Cardio? Yep. HIIT? Yep. Resistance? Yep. Want to experience less stress? Yoga's got you covered.
Here's the rub: yoga isn't like a car wash: you go in one end dirty, have a few solutions applied and get rubbed by a brush and come out the other end shiny. There isn't a pill or a cut for that in yoga. Yoga is something is something you do. If you're looking to be fixed, move on. If you're looking to do something positive that will help you feel the way you want to feel, you're in the right place.
Sign up in the upper right hand corner to receive more information on how to read the manual and apply it to your life - and leave a comment with your particular question or concern! I reply to every comment and when you sign up for the newsletter and hit reply, you'll have a direct line to my email. I answer every one. See you on the mat!
During September 2015 we'll be focusing on forward folds. Poses referred to as forward folds in yoga are poses in which your femur, or upper leg bone, is closer to your torso than 90 degrees.
When we focus on a particular class of poses - like forward folds - we focus on the actions of all the poses we do that involve this action. For instance, Downward Facing Dog has forward fold actions in the hips and backbend actions in the shoulders: we'll focus mostly on the hips this month. In Warrior I, instead of focusing primarily on shoulder actions, we'll focus on the leg strengthening action in the forward leg.
Forward folds both require and create strong, flexible core muscles - both the deep core and the vanity abs - to support a long, aligned spine with all its natural curves.
Hamstrings are a major focus during folds because the action of rotating the pelvis forward lifts the sitting bones from which the hamstrings originate. Since they attach to the bones of the lower leg (the tibia and fibula) and cross the knee, keeping the knees bent while you flex at the hip with your core supporting your spine is the best way to enter forward folds form the majority of people - even very flexible ones. This allows you to create the container of the pose, focus on aligning with your breath and then to feel into the lengthening of the hamstrings as you straighten your legs, lengthening the hamstrings. Only go as far as you stay connected to your breath and your low back stays in great alignment; if the hamstrings are pulled down because they're not yet flexible and strong enough to cross the back of the leg fully extended, they'll pull your pelvis back toward its upright position and this will round your lower back. Rounding your lower back in forward folds puts you at risk for disk injury and generally compromises the fullness of your breath as low back rounding leads to shoulder and rib cage rounding. Bent knees allow you to stay connected through the entire body and create the strength you'll need when you're flexible enough to extend fully.
Forward folds are more contemplative, in general, than the mood elevating forward folds, and are great for calming anxiety, preparing for sleep and soothing your worried mind.
Look for forward folding focus in all my hatha, yin and restorative classes and explore the strength and flexibility that will allow you to rock your world from a place of calm and stability.
Questions about forward folds, hamstrings, home practice or yoga? Comment and get your answers here!
May is "True Core" month here in the Badlands, which means in every class we'll be experiencing some connection to "core" muscles and fascia. Learning to sense these structures is part of learning to engage and move from the deepest sources of your power. Traditionally in yoga these structures are referred to as the "bandhas," or locks - like ship locks, not like key locks. The bandhas refer to the three diaphragms of the body, structural horizontal elements that are key to both breath and movement: the pelvic diaphragm/floor made of 8 interlocking muscles in a fascial sheath (mula bandha), the respiratory diaphragm which is also a muscle wrapped in fascia (uddiyana bandha) and the vocal diaphragm through which we speak and modulate breath (jalandara bandha). Most focus in the beginning is on the first two.
The cool thing about working with the bandhas is that when you engage these muscles, the vanity abs (rectus and obliques) come along for the ride - this doesn't work the other way around, which is why crunches are less than counterproductive.
The pelvic and respiratory diaphragms can work in concert, supporting both breath and movement, and are each functionally connected to two of the other deep core muscles - the pelvic diaphragm to the transverse (from hip point to hip point horizontally across the low belly) and the respiratory to the psoas, the only muscle that crosses from lower to upper body, often referred to as a "hip flexor" but oh so much more crossing from the thoraco-lumbar vertebrae forward and down to the insides of the pelvic bowls with extensions to the inner femurs.
The video below is a human dissection demonstrating the connection of the deep front line which includes the sting ray looking diaphragm-psoas connection. If you prefer not to see this clinical demonstration then read the next blog post instead. For some people, seeing this will help you connect to the same structures in your own body, which is why I include this wonderfully beautiful video. Some folks would rather not see human cadavers which is why I include the bold, large letters.
Leave your reaction to the video or to your feeling of these connections in a comment below.