... 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.
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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.
In our ongoing Wednesday "Hip Health: from Hip Pain to Living in Hip Harmony" Series, I thought we'd look at why a home yoga practice can be so healing for individuals with hip pain, injury, healing and recovery.
In Home Yoga Practice (HYP), you are the container for your practice. Which is both a philosophical and a practical advantage. You are the awareness in which your practice is held, so the practice is authentically your own and not a modification of your teacher's practice (which has its place as well). But you also get to choose: Is today a 15 minute Legs Up the Wall day to reduce inflammation and restore your inner cruise? Or is today one on which you want to explore new ways to step forward in Sun Salutations because the standard foot placement isn't working any longer? Is today a day for gentle Crow Walking and Toe Tapping, wrapped up with a Bridge before Savasana? Or do you want to explore range of motion with Figure 8s?
Whether you deal with hip pain, another locus of pain or simply want to explore your practice on your own, HYP offers you options to tailor your practice to your life that aren't possible in classes or even private lessons. As little as 5 minutes a day at first can radically change your quality of life, as well as of your yoga on and off the mat. Give it a try; comment below to share your experience and even request suggestions. See you on the mat!
Um, just everything. Well maybe.... hmmm. Nope. Everything.
In the image to the left you're looking at the illio-psoas and above it the diaphragm. The places where your diaphragm attaches to the spine are simultaneous or integrated with the places where your psoas originates from the same places on the spine.
The psoas is the one muscle of the body that integrates torso and lower extremities, that attaches the top to the bottom. It's the only muscle that traverses front to back, top to bottom. It's the hinge of the body. Hinges can get stuck closed, be weak or even too flexible. One side of a hinge can be stronger than the other, and they can even get stuck open.
You can see from the image that the psoas comes from the vertebrae forward to the inside of the pelvis and then over the hip sockets, where the femoral heads insert into the pelvis. This is only one way the core directly effects the hips. When the core is weak, the hip socket takes too much load. Think of setting a heavy box down on a spring: your torso is the box and your hip joint - in which there is meant to be space and give - is the spring. Part of what confers this spaciousness is our ability to effortlessly stack and carry the rib cage over the spine because of core tone and balance.
The muscles of the pelvic floor run laterally in the space between and behind the right and left psoas, going back to the sacrum, that bone in the bottom middle that looks like a trilobite. Their attachments integrate with the other deep core muscles: the transverse abdominus (running from hip bone to hip bone laterally across the front and up to the ribs), as well as the multifidus (leap frogging along either side of the vertebrae, under the erectors).
The strength and flexibility of this system of muscles determines not only our ability to move, but to move gracefully, to carry ourselves in a way that allows all the parts of the system to function. Want to prove it to yourself? From wherever you are right now, simply lift your rib cage evenly up and away from your pelvis. Notice your sensations.
I was reminded of this so practically and so poignantly recently. A friend who has profound knee pain and injury and is putting off knee replacement was telling me about some of the consequences of her pain. She doesn't move as well any longer, so she moves less, so the ability to move well recedes a little more, so she moves a little less and so on. The thing is, it's not just the knee joints that aren't exercised, it's the core itself that looses tone.
I remember this cycle from the days before my own hip replacement. It took so much fortitude to continue to move despite the bone on bone pain that some days I just plain didn't have it. I empathized deeply with her.
Then one day she was on the commode and when she went to wipe - her back spasmed. She couldn't reach behind, and now she couldn't get up. She was mortified and spent the next hour breathing and relaxing until she could crawl from her unlikely perch.
I remember having difficulty twisting and lifting my hip for the wiping action, too, in the days after my hip replacement surgery - the strength was simply not there. I had lost some strength and lost connection to the strength that was left. I was fortunate that was able to muster what I needed and rapidly made gains in the days after surgery, but I could easily imagine being in her position.
This is all about core. Try it. Right now. You don't have to go to the bathroom to do it. From where ever you're sitting, turn your torso to one side and lift that side's hip. That's all those deep core muscles, along with the superficial core (obliques, rectus). Here's what's cool: you can't strengthen and stretch these deep muscles without doing the same for the superficial ones. But you can train the superficial ones without the deep ones. That's why I call the superficial core the "vanity" abs. It's not that they're not important - they are, but they must work in synergy with the deep core.
That ability to lift up works in our relationship to gravity as well as when we literally need to lift a hip. When this ability is decreased, our ability to carry ourselves in harmony is also decreased and the hips, the largest joint in the body, take a lot of the brunt. The stronger your core, the less pain you'll have. Will it take away all the pain from any type of injury - absolutely not. But it will decrease the pain and increase your ability to deal with it. Win-win.
Want to do something to strengthen your core right now, and do it in a way that will help you move with more harmony and less pain? Do that same move.
If you're just starting out, you can do it from any solid chair - turn and lift the same side hip. Begin to emphasize different areas of your pelvic bowl and notice how it affects your strength and sensation.
If you're fit, you can do "Charlie's Angels:" sit on the floor in modified boat pose (sitting bones pressing into the floor, heart lifted, knees bent, toes on foor; arms reaching out, hands interlaced with index fingers pointed like "Bang!"). On an exhale, turn to the left, draw thumbs to chest and lift the left hip off the floor (or try to, engaging those muscles - don't worry, it will come). Inhale back to center and exhale to the right. Start with 5 on each side and work up to 25.
Want even more challenge? Make the starting and center pose full boat, with the legs outstretched and the body in a "V" with the sitting bones pressing into the floor and the heart lifted. You'll want to stretch your arms out on either side of your legs. If you decide to challenge yourself with this version, pay close attention to the sitting bones down, low back in and not rounded. Often people advance to this version too quickly, compromising their low backs because the deep core isn't yet ready to bring the low back and low belly together.
How do you notice core strength effecting your everyday life? Leave a comment and let me know when you try the Charlie's Angels - whether it's on a chair or on the floor, you'll be glad you did!
I've been hearing from more and more people who have dealt with hip pain and undergone hip replacement surgeries, so I thought I'd start a series on how to cope with, ameliorate and even transcend hip pain. This is the first of a series of Wednesday posts on hip pain. I do not advocate yoga as a substitute for surgery when necessary and I do advocate rest in the acute phase of injury. Yoga has its place in healing and experiencing your wholeness, despite any stage of debilitation, injury or pain. Yoga can heal many things. Yoga does not fix everything. Yoga always helps you as a whole human being.
Hip pain has so many possible causes that if you experience it you absolutely must consult a doctor about determining its cause and get options for treatment. What I'll write about here are the things I did to endure and relieve pain, to deal with post operative re-starting of my engine and to recover from my anterior hip replacement.
If you'd like to read more about that experience you can read this post - I highly recommend it if you're considering or recovering from a hip replacement. Not because of my writing or story, but because of the courageous and generous people who have commented on that post, sharing their knowledge, experience and heart.
For today.... an exercise that helped and still helps me endlessly. Crow Walking. I have no idea why this is called Crow Walking, exactly, but it is genius for creating gentle hip mobility and maintaining range of motion and lubricating the joint even when it hurts. As I say over on YogaGuide, this was my secret weapon leading up to my hip replacement, when the pain and disability was at its worst.
Re-post from my old YogaGuide Blog on WordPress:
" One of my secret weapons before the hip replacement was a version of “windshield wipers” that I learned in Pre-Natal certification from Jacci Reynolds that she called "Crow Walking."
Read more here....