Balancing the Body’s Basin

Today we address a more delicate subject. A part of our anatomy that is not discussed often but plays a huge role in our day to day lives. Commonly known as the pelvis, it’s the “basin” for many biological systems and the root of our support. Not only is the pelvis the foundation of our stability but it is home to our organs of elimination and reproduction – thus the sensitivity.

As a structure, the pelvis is more like an architectural feat rather than a mere bony skeleton.

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It shelters and provides entrances and exits for a vast number of muscles, ligaments and nerves that feed and bring movement to our upper and lower bodies.

Therefore, the pelvis needs to stay fluid. Not too tight yet not too loose. The stability of its frame and the musculature within is easily off balanced. Pelvic distortion can lead to chronic hip misalignment, lower back pain and scoliosis. Strain or misalignment at the spine base can also lead to pelvic floor abnormalities affecting both women and men. Muscle weakness or even tightness can bring about urinary incontinence, urinary frequency, cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome and prostate problems.

Luckily, yoga can help stabilize the pelvis, engage, strengthen and relax pelvic bowl muscles. A study performed at the University of California San Francisco studied urinary incontinence and found that participants who practiced specific yoga postures experienced a 70% reduction in this abnormality. Some of the postures included in the study were baddha konasana (bound angle pose), salamba setu bandhasana (supported bridge pose) and utkatasana (chair pose).

In addition, the yogic practice of mūla bandha is helpful in generating awareness and encouraging blood flow into the hips and pelvic floor or perineum (the perineum can be thought of as a hammock of muscles between the sitting bones and the pubic bone). Although mūla bandha (along with the other bandhas) is considered an advanced yoga practice, it can be more simply characterized as a set of pelvic floor contractions much like Kegel exercises.

In Tias Little’s book Yoga of the Subtle Body, he describes one basic technique for engaging mūla bandha:

Sitting in a cross-legged position, “align the center of your skull over the center of your pelvis. Be sure to release your jaw and tongue…begin by relaxing the tissues in and around your pelvic floor. Take several long, slow breath strokes. Once your breath has settled, exhale deeply and, at the end of the exhalation, contract your perineum (or pelvic floor) rhythmically in a set of seven pulses, in what amounts to a catch and release action. Then take a long inhalation brushing your breath against your spine. Repeat 5-10 times.

A beautiful description for a delicate subject.

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YOLY Challenge #40: Making a Joint Effort

There certainly is strength in numbers.  Take joint ventures, joint commissions, joint statements, joint maneuvers or joint peace talks. The joint effect of most things is stronger than the result of standing alone. background-478072__340

There is also strength in forming a joint connection between two things such as mortar between bricks or a wood joint that links the ceiling to the floor or a knee that connects the lower leg to the upper leg. They all work to create a thing that is stronger, more complete, more effective than the single component.

Your challenge for the week is to apply this principle to your yoga practice.  We’ve explored strength through alignment, now we will investigate the balanced effort of flexibility and strength.  This is critical for the health of our joints. Hips, shoulders, elbows, spine, knees, ankles, wrists, and even the fingers and toes all benefit from this “joint concept” of  mobility and stability.

Focus on one area each day this week to create joint mobility and stability. Be sure to warm up with a gentle sun salutation prior to beginning these sequences.

Hips    Stabilize: Warrior III Mobilize: Eka Pada Rajakopatasana

Spine   Stabilize: Utkatasana  Mobilize: Cat/Cow

Shoulders   Stabilize:  Elbow Plank  Mobilize: Gomukasana/Garudasana

Wrists   Stabilize: Balasana to Half Dog (with correct hand position)  Mobilize: Reverse Namaste

Ankles   Stabilize: Ardha Chandrasana  Mobilize: Malasana

Knees   Stabilize: Parsvakonasana  Mobilize: Virasana

Toes   Stabilize: Tadasana (spread toes away from each other) Mobilize: From Vajrasana, lift forward, curl toes under & sit on heels.

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YOLY Challenge #38: What Kind of Warrior Are You?

Last week I revisited the island of Oahu in Hawaii – a place I have held dearly in my heart since living there in the late eighties/early nineties.

During my trip, I was reacquainted with the ancientness of the land and its rich beauty. Despite the fact that there were more high rises and roads than I remembered, the nature of the people on the island was just as dynamic and compassionate as years gone by. hawaii-1427662__340

The root of these virtues can be traced back to the Polynesian heritage of the Hawaiians. A prime example is the ancient culture of Samoa. Its foundation was centered around the principle of vāfealoa’i, the relationships between people. These relationships were based on respect, or fa’aaloalo.  This sense of respect continues today in the way the islanders show admiration for their land with all its gifts and the kind treatment they bestow on each other.

As ancient warriors, Hawaiians valued compassion as well as powerfulness. The most revered chiefs were those that held the wisdom of healing in as much esteem as the knowledge of war. This balance between power and humanity was their most treasured quality and has been carried down to the present time.

Your challenge this week is to evoke the ideal warrior character in yourself. To master the art of inner peace while practicing the robust qualities associated with Virabhadrasana or Warrior I.

Points of Action for Virabhadrasana I

  • Bend the forward leg deeply while keeping the knee aligned with the ankleyoga-241614__180
  • Extend the back leg strongly, pressing into the outer heel to secure your base
  • Lift the torso firmly, drawing upward from both sides of the chest
  • Draw the upper back forward, extending the sternum proudly
  • Rotate the upper arms externally to fully project the arms upwards

There can be conflict within this pose as you experience extension vs compression, twisting vs backbending and internal vs external rotation. However, the non-harming nature of yoga should lend a peacefulness to this fierceness. In order to balance the two qualities, locate within yourself a sense of triumph for the spirit within – be mindful that the breath is your support as you yield to the true warrior who is both harmonious and powerful.

Aloha!

(If you are new to the site, here is where we began our quest for a Year of Living Yogically!)

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The Glorious Glutes

tomato-949629__340I could have titled this Friday Focus as “Maximizing Your Glutes” or even “Glute Camp”.  But I really want to generate a positive, more yogic vibration.  No calisthenic connotations here. Then came the idea “Glutton For Glutes”. Although the word “glutton” most often refers to a glutton for punishment, a glutton can also be someone who is extremely eager for something, whether that be food or adventure…hmmm.

Lately, I am a glutton for glorious glutes. Because I have come to realize how vital this set of muscles is to my strength, alignment and overall well-being. Also, I am discovering that as my backside slackens (yikes), my quadriceps tighten. There is always a give and take within the body.

Here are some of the ways that the strongest muscle in your body, the gluteus maximus, and its supporting actors, the deep rotators, help with developing the overall best picture.

  • stabilize hip joints
  • allow you to stand straighter
  • ease strain on knees and low back
  • support entire back, pelvis and legs

All great points for ranking these muscles as number one for strengthening this month.

As we addressed in class, many of the one-legged standing poses do this job nicely.  Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III), Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon) and Natarajasana (Dancer’s Pose) all assist with activating the glutes as does Salabasana (Locust Pose).

However, there is one other posture that we didn’t have time for in class today. It is the One-Legged Bridge Pose or Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana. thAs you practice this pose, an important thing to remember is to push downward through your shoulders as well as your grounded leg. As you hold the posture, try to interject tiny pulses upward through your extended leg. The trick for persevering with this is to focus on your breath.  Extend upwards as you inhale and ground down as you exhale.  Remember if it’s not with the breath, it’s not yoga!

Thanks to Yoga Journal for the photo!

 

 

 

 

Friday Focus: Compassionate Flow

To finish off this month of purification, our classes for the week were geared toward clearing out the old to make space for the new – in a compassionate manner.

From this intention, the Compassionate Vinyasa was created.  A twist on last week’s flow, this sequence focuses on the region of the heart to remind us to move with kindness in our pursuit of revitalization.  Just in time for spring!

Again, be sure to do a little warming up first with Cat/Cow, Side Stretching &/or Child’s Pose before transitioning to the flow below:

Compassionate Vinyasa

Anjali Mudra to Standing Cactus to Uttanasana to 1/2 Uttanasana to High Lunge to Crescent Lunge to Virabhadrasana II to Wide Angle Urdhva Hastasana

Pivot to the left and reverse the sequence:

Virabhadrasana II to Crescent Lunge to High Lunge to 1/2 Uttanasana to Uttanasana to Standing Cactus to Anjali Mudra

Once again, I have included a visual diagram (by popular demsilhouette-1746389__340and) here.

As you glide through your sequence, keep in mind this beautiful quote by Wyatt Townley:

“Take this opportunity to begin to shed your outer layers, your coverings…Find the way back to center, flesh, muscle, bone, to the river that underlies us, solid and fluid…”

Namasté my friends.

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Friday Focus: Meet Your Psoas

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During our Cultivating the Core class this week, a discussion of the postural muscles came up. I mentioned how the psoas muscle was the hidden performer in our core strength and stability. And, because it plays such a large role in many of our yoga postures, I promised to address it in our Friday Focus this week.

Pronounced “so az” (the letter p is silent), the psoas is the only muscle that connects the upper body to the lower body. Basically, it is fundamentally responsible for your posture and regarded as the most important skeletal muscle in the body.

Technically, the psoas is made up of two muscle groups, the minor and the major psoas. The major psoas is attached all along the lumbar spine and travels deep from the back of the body to the front of the body where it inserts on the inside of the femur (or thigh) bone. iliopsoas_muscle_lgThe minor aspect, being smaller and nearly function less (since we are now an upright standing species), joins the top of the lumbar spine to the inside of the pelvis.

To make things more complicated the psoas is also part of a larger muscle group called the iliopsoas which includes the iliacus. It stretches from the iliac crest (top of the hip) to the femur. Together the three muscles are integral to hip movement.

Needless to say the psoas’ involvement in body function is immeasurable. Physically, it is essential to our balance, critical to healthy alignment and a major stabilizer. It functions along with many other muscle groups to move the hips, lumbar spine, and legs.

Within the subtle body, the psoas is credited as the mover of energy and related to the actions of the third chakra. Because it is located so deeply within the body, the psoas is also known to be linked to the nervous system and many emotional functions.

Want to Learn More?

Here is an excellent book for you to explore: The Vital Psoas Muscle  Although it is only 128 pages long, it is filled with valuable information regarding anatomy/function and the emotional/spiritual qualities of the psoas.

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Get Twisted!

I have dedicated this month to restoring my body.  Revitalizing the body is for everyone. A gentle, unhurried yoga practice permits us to nurture ourselves and establish a relationship between our breath and body that feeds us and brings new energy to our lives.

I am finding that the deepest restoration work, for me, is accomplished through twisting postures.  Twists are basically a way of giving yourself an internal massage.  But be warned, in the process of healing, a twist is capable of releasing toxins into your blood stream that could give you flu or cold-like symptoms.  So, if you are focusing on twists – drink extra water to dilute those contaminates.

And, now for the really good news.  Twists target the Manipura and Anahata chakras.  As we have learned, these are important chakras that rule over your metabolism and breath mechanics.  Esoterically, they are the centers of power, purpose, love and compassion.  No wonder I feel so much positiveness when I restore via twists!

For this Friday Focus, we reiterate a pose performed in class that I have termed  “lifted twist”. Its unique quality is that it supplies us with a truly effortless release.

Be sure to keep the twist initiating from your torso and stabilize the knees via some firm support.

If you do not have a bolster or want to decrease the “lift”, use your blankets (1-2 depending on your comfort level) to stack underneath your hips and add a block between the knees.

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