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Inside Yoga – Explore the sensation, not the shape.

Familiarize yourself with a sensory and very safe approach to yoga practice. Begin to notice what it is like to be inside the lanscape of the body. We don’t have a body; we are a body.

I don’t expect students to perform perfect postures/shapes, I encourage them to notice what is happening in the body, to be interested in small changes ; to find out how to be comfortable in their own skin.

Above all, as a Scaravelli-inspired teacher, I follow Vanda Scaravelli’s watchwords:

.. …Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose….

 

Mindfulness Online – where to start

See the source image
So many resources.

A brief addition to Summits of the Mind post as I notice that Coursera, an online learning platform founded by Stanford University in 2012, recommends the Demystifying Mindfulness Course run by The University of Leiden that I listed:

https://www.coursera.org/search?query=mindfulness&

Coursera has had much success with The Science of Well-Being Course taught by Professor Laurie Santos at Yale. This is commonly known as The Happiness Course; it is free and was linked in the blog https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/insideyoga.blog/3430.

There is so much out there that it is hard to know where to start. Laurie Santos’ course may be a helpful starting point.

Online classes recommence on 14th September.

Summits in Mind

…It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves….

Sir Edmund Hilary is attributed with these words but they seem to be a combination of his thoughts in a 1998 interview and George Mallory’s words in an article for Alpine Journal (1918). Words can become obscured with the mists of time but it is true that we all have symbolic summits to scale. Meditation, yoga, mindfuless, Qi Gong and other practices help but the key is perhaps a sense of security in our life situation. This is missing for so many. Maybe that is why the use of the word Summit is appearing more and more in connection with global gatherings linked to mindfulness. The Wisdom 2 Conference/Summit started on 20th August and ends on 26th August. This free online event, features interviews with leading proponents such as Jon Kabat Zinn, whom I have often linked.

This event is hosted by Wisdom 2, founded by Soren Godhammer as a means of using technology to connect us but in a way that does not undermine our own well- being. Godhammer wrote Wisdom 2: The New Movement Towards Purposeful Engagement in Business and in Life in 2009 and hosted the first Mindfulness Conference that year. It has grown from about 325 participants to 2.500 people from 24 different countries. Now in it’s 11th year it showcases technology staff, entrepreneurs, coaches as well as “wisdom teachers” such as Kabat Zinn.

Here’s the schedule and the link:

http://globalmindfulnesssummit.com/sessions

Links to this event variously feature the words “Summit more often than “Conference”. Conference implies, I think, people with a shared interest coming together to discuss issues. Summit suggests a gathering of those at the top of their field of expertise to discuss and to present solutions, strategies, answers to issues/problems. The word came into common usage in the 1950s when Churchill asked for “parleys at the summit” in order to defuse the Cold War situation. Nowdays, “parlays”/talks seem to be common parlance for Trade and Business gatherings whilst “Summit” evokes something of the “War Against….” There is an implicit link with security.

Is it all in the words? I would express a high degee of scepticism about members of Silicon Valley telling us how to handle stress created by the use of their products. This “Summit” purports to be a means by which the problem offers a solution, I am not sure that it does but it is a complicated issue. The first Summit followed the 2008 Financial Crisis and now in 2020 we face a global pandemic in which technology has provided the only link to community for many. I am using Zoom (to what cost?) but most of us are missing the person to person contact of pre-Covid exchanges and are not ready for Zooming to be a substitute for meeting.

I am amazed by the number of Mindfulness Summits;

Mindfulness & Compassion Global Summit https://www.mindfulsummits.com/

Mindful Living Summit https://www.mindfullivingsummit.com/

Mindfulness Health Summit https://www.mindfulhealthcaresummit.com/

You may detect my scepticism. This is because I am reminded of the Mindful of Apps blog I wrote in September 2017, which I was tempted to name “A Minefield of Apps”. Then I don’t think that I questioned the apps, now I wonder. My only answer/ recommendation (until you return to your yoga class, regular meeting. pursuit) would be to investgate free Mindfulness courses offered by well known institutions. Oxford University’s Mindfulness Centre offers free online mindfulness sessions:

https://www.oxfordmindfulness.org/free-online-mindfulness-course-sessions/.

Aberdeen University is running a free Mindfulness Course to Help You During Lockdown and Beyond. Here is Mindful Breathing exercise on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfDTp2GogaQ&app=desktop. This is linked by the NHS as is Be Mindful course https://www.bemindfulonline.com/the-course but this costs £30.

In the Mindful of Apps blog I listed Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Peformance Course by Monash University on The Future Learn site Now Monash is running Maintaining a Mindful Life; Leiden University is Offering Demystifying Mindfulness and Coventry University is offering Wellbeing at Work.

You may have some tried and trusted routes, links, suggestions. All welcome.

Here is the link to the Mindful of Apps blog in which I attempt to explain the terms mindfulness and the connection to meditation:

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/insideyoga.blog/2609

Arches high and Low 2

-orange-human-footprints-icon-download-444791 (1) (1)

More than three months since the posting in which I pictured the quaking aspen (pando). Having read “The Hidden Life of Trees” as “lockdown” took grip here in the UK I was struck by learning that trees thrive in communities and within these communities they help each other:

“…..it is not in a forest’s interests to lose it’s weaker members….” p15

Yet some trees, grow far apart from their “mothers” since the seeds can fly long distances and these “pioneers” develop ways of maximizing their chances away from community.  Aspens are “pioneers” which convert energy with great efficiency.  The “shaking” leaves receive sunlight on both the top and bottom,  photosynthesize and generate energy and quick growth.  Quick growth can leave a tree vulnerable – to winds and grazing creatures which nibble the bark , so aspens expand their root system.  From these roots, many sub shoots can grow and a single tree may extend over a huge area – thus creating a mini forest.  Pando – Latin pandere – to spread. I was astonished by this example of the trees maintaining equilibrium (homeostasis) and of “grounding”.

We practice our yoga from the ground -up.  Foot exercises, foot placement, foot- ankle-knee alignment; cues such as grounding, rooting, sinking the feet; making good footprints all help.  However, the plight of those with high arches has recently been brought to my attention – particularly how difficult and painful it can be to achieve all of the above with feet that are essentially rigid.  High arches do not absorb shock well and seem to be more difficult to treat.  An interesting clip on per cavus that includes patterning and how shoes may have affected our foot function over the millenia.

foot arch types - Foot & Leg Centre***With thanks to http://footandleg.com.au

The blog Arches – high and low is one of the most read on the site and I am realizing how difficult it is to find movements to address discomfort resulting from high arches.  It is less common than low/flat arch and my lack of knowledge is apparent in the blog since I skipped over high arches (excuse the pun).  The internet is flooded with exercises to strengthen “flat arches” and to correct pronation.  Dr Kody Au again on the different effects upon the structure of the foot for those low or high arches (3.46 in for high arches)

The most common “treatment” for high arch discomfort is orthotics and custom made is obviously best.  A physio, osteopath, medical professional would be able to examine the foot and leg to look for imbalances up the kinetic chain – ankle, knee hip – and suggest movements to help stabilize the whole structure.  High arch pain may also be due to nerve irritation and this is an area  in which professional advice is crucial.

Manual therapy is very useful (Foot Mobilisation Therapy) – mobilizing the foot is key. Perhaps considering the ends of the rigid arch is more helpful than the arch itself – the connection to the  toes and to the heel – paying particular attention to mobilizing these areas:

toes under and toes flat movements

stengthening and lengthening the toes – towel pulls, toe separators etc

Lengthening the calf and soleus muscles

Sprinters,  TfHP13 – Functional mobility is good for all the above since regular practice strengthens the feet, stretches the mechanical structures of the back of the leg from the heel up and improves proprioception by “mapping” the sensory receptors in the foot.  However, since a cue when teaching Sprinters is to focus upon planting the outside edge of the foot to avoid the knee rolling in when lifting the spine, someone with high arches does this naturally  – as you can see in the Foot Arch Type visual.  The cues would need to be: –

keep a really steady footprint to avoid supination and over stressing the ankle joint

Sense whether you are side bending or rotating as you lift the spine  (as a result of the foot rolling out)

  • Tree pose does flatten the arch but may not be as helpful .  The beauty of Sprinters is that the centre of gravity is lower and since non-contact force is gravitational force, the pressure through the more rigid foot should be less.  Balance through the back foot may also help to reduce foot pain.  *** Feedback welcomed on this.

Distributing weight between the heel and ball of the foot when walking rather than hard heel strike helps with shock absorption through the whole leg.

Since high arches do not absorb shock well, cushioning in running shoes may well be very useful.

Some osteopaths use taping with some success.  I have seen this work for those suffering from Plantar Fasciitis but have not heard from anyone with high arch pain.

On the site http://footandleg.com there are short videos that may help.

As you can tell, I am struggling to provide tried and tested guidance in this area and would welcome any feedback from the readers of this blog.  Inside Yoga is not connected to FB, Instagram, Twitter etc ; it is a small community in a tiny out corner of the internet.  One reader has asked for some advice; if you can help I would be most grateful.

TfHP 14. Capturing Your Moments

The title of today’s post is taken from Jon Kabat Zinn’s book Wherever you Go There You Are. I have written about Jon Kabat Zinn in Mindful of Apps. The Young Kabat Zinn, with a Phd in Molecular Biology from MIT and an early interest in meditation, went on to found The Stress Reduction Clinic at The University of Massachussets Medical School.  That was in 1979.

A more recent book by Kabat Zinn is Letting Everything become your Teacher.  100 lessons in mindfulness. This is, perhaps, something that we have all be doing since 23rd March and we have been bombarded by ways to do it.

Mindful of the present moment and different responses to restrictions.  I have posted a lot of “stuff” and have been struck by Jon Kabat Zinn’s economy of language and his ability to “hold the space” in his daily online Mindfulness sessions.  Initially planned for the month of April, he is continuing to livestream, you can catch up with previous sessions also.  Register (free) to follow.

In a recent livestream, Kabat Zinn said that “….We live in moments.  Let’s make the most of each of them, right here, now…”  You may be enjoying yoga via Zoom, walking, virtual Sound Therapy sessions, exploring your own practice.  Time, at present has taken on a new shape but if we are lucky, we continue to engage in communities. This may  help to nourish us for the alone time.

The photograph is of a group of Quaking Aspen in Colarado.  Named Pando, Latin for “I spread out”, it’s root system is dated at 80,000 years old.  It is one of the oldest know living organisms.  Most healthy trees are members of a community.  This links to the next post.

Finally, I would never have thought that the word “cool” would crop up in this blog, but here is a link to cool online stuff from The Mindfulness Centre of Excellence, that may help to capture some moments in different ways for different people, at different times.

 

 

TfHP13 – Functional mobility

Functional movement is the ability to move around freely to perform everyday tasks. It partners moblity, stability and flexibility. In dynamic movement like walking, running the changes from stability to mobility between adjacent joints occur quickly.   Flexibility helps to improve the range of movement appropriate to the everyday task.

Sprinters – in one “package” , covers so many important aspects of mobility, stability and flexibility.  Primarily, we move the ankle, knee and hip through a range of motion that helps us understand that our joints as well as our supporting muscles and ligaments are individual to us:

  • establishes good foot placement
  • ensures that the knee tracks over the foot
  • the above both help us to activate the quads evenly (really important)
  • Activates the hamstring of the front leg and lengthens the hamstring and the muscles of the lower back leg
  • lifting the body uses core stabilty – or else we would not be able to lift

During human walking, the muscles, tendons and other biological tissues of the lower limb perform work at/about the hip, knee and ankle joints, and in the feet.

Look at this.

The previous blogs show the heel strike, rotation and push off from the toes in walking. A circular 3 point transfer and absorption of load. Running differs in that the first strike is futher forward and the load on muscles and bone is greater :

Foot Function and Sprinting — Functional Foot Map by Lee Saxby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look at how cleverly  Sprinters works on both walking and running.

Image result for Pete Blackaby''s sprinters
p115 Intelligent Yoga 2nd Edition by Peter Blackaby

The photo shows the starting point. Movement is generated entirely from the feet as the spine is lifted and the body adjusts to load. When we first practice Sprinters we tend to “rein ourselves in” because it is new to us. Thus we notice things for the first time:

  • unable to keep the front heel down? – move the front foot forward a bit.
  • Hard to flex the toes of the back foot/ they are killing you? – Prop the kneeling knee on a block or cushion.
  • the front knee caves in when we try to lift the body?- plant the outside of the front foot to provide stability.  Look at illustration above. (Little toe helps, thus my toe challenge)
  •  chin lifts as as we lift the spine because we can’t relax the upper body and or – because we can’t fully place the feet – turn the hands palm up and rest on the floor (this helps to relax the shoulders and the neck) ***
  • can’t lift the body over the front thigh – perhaps lacking the strength at the beginning. Plant the front foot for stabiity (see above illustration) and rock the kneeling knee up and back a few times to prep the body for “lift off”.  Out breath helps. It will happen.
  • back foot doesn’t flatten to the ground – lengthen the back leg as far as you can without forcing.  Forcing may cause you to tweak the knee of the back leg if you over stress the muscles and ligaments.

Modification is the key.  It is only by modifying and noticing when and how to make the movement more comfortable that you can begin to answer some of the above questions.   This is when your teacher would help you in class – with a suggestion,  a prop, with reassurance. In sprinters we are shifting load from the floor up. Strength and stability helps us to plant the front foot, to keep the knee aligned over the foot but the way we can truly understand how to manage this load transfer comfortably is to to stop, investigate, repeat  – to retrain the body when fluidity of movement breaks down

** Relaxing over the front leg and turning the palms up is an interesting modification.  No-one has asked my why but it is because  when the palms turn up, the shoulders rotate outward and the chest opens (helpful if you feel a bit “scrunched up ” ).  The cervical spine, in response, lengthens slightly and it directs our eyes forward.  You may notice this more when sitting and breathing or in meditation.  In Sprinters you are relaxing your head and your neck, so the eyes can gaze down and soften.  This should help you to keep your chin relaxed and switch off the strong extensor muscles of the neck.

Sprinters is a great gift from Pete Blackaby – it is a “narrative” of movement that we can immerse ourselves in. I am forever grateful for Pete’s generous sharing of his work and research.  Others , I have linked others who work on movement in a slightly different way are Jonathan Fitzgordon, Susi Hately , Katy Bowman and Dean SomersetDean Somerset’s site is entitled “Old School Movement with a New Age Twist”, which marks his move from focus upon strength to an increased awareness of functional mobility in strength training. The approach in our yoga is to set an intention – listen to our nervous system –  so that through heightened appreciation of our individual movement we can make long-lasting changes.

So many of  my blogs make mention of sprinters, here just a few:

Sprinters – the challenge? The vote?

Arches – high and low

It is worth repeating that the key to injury prevention is recognizing our boundaries.  Modification means more than using a yoga block or brick.  It involves taking a step back, reducing effort so that understanding and re-wiring truly happen. There is nothing wrong with practising a Warrior 1, for example ,with the feet further apart – although I would insist on both feet facing forward – if you can maintain length at the back of the waist and maintain good foot placement as well.  Nothing wrong with practising more quickly than I might teach – as long as you can sense when part of your body is not handling excess load – knee caves in

Be aware that shifting load in the body can create problems. Increased lumbar lordosis in wide leg lunges; sudden shifts of load in fast paced transitions, for example.  Mobilization is so important – mobilization of the respiratory muscles at the beginning of a session; the dreaded” toe/foot moves; sprinters; side lying shoulder mobilization etc.

If Sprinters is largely about mobility and stability , what would you move into after Sprinters?  How might you prepare to do Sprinters?

Don’t hesitate to contact your yoga teacher for help and advice.

Stay safe

TfHP12. Mobilization and Modification – feet

The big difference between being physically present in a yoga class and practising remotely is that it’s not so easy to check things with a teacher and you can’t take your teacher to task.

After writing:

….Recognizing tension is the simplest way to substitute for a teacher in your home practice……

I could “hear” some of my students shouting:

“What about the dreadful toe/foot moves?….

“What about 10 sprinters on each side?…..

Certainly, in class there would be some audible moans and groans associated with these and a “beatific” smile on my face as I hold back the words …“no pain…no gain..”

Part of our practice is negotiating our relationship with “effort”.  There may be times when more is useful and sometimes less.  My 41 day Toe Challenge has required immense effort on my part.  Firstly, to do toe moves everyday and then not to give up because it is hard and boring.  When I set the 41 days, I thought – “6 weeks, that’s ok”.  Whereas, it means  just under 6 weeks full time toe waggling , namely, 600 hours.  I try to do 5 minutes a day and at day 31, I may have clocked up just over 2 hours. I am noticing some improvement but very small improvement, which means more effort is required!!

So – In my defence :

Foot and toe mobility is absolutely crucial.  Problems with the feet can have a detrimental affect higher up the body. Dr Atul Guwandhi, surgeon and author of Being Mortal is one of the many health professionals who highlight this and the importance of foot care as we age:

Geriatricians know how to help keep people from falling: They know how to examine the feet so that you can recognize problems that can make you, as one patient put it, “tippy.”

Older people who “tip” may suffer fractures but for much younger people  foot/ankle problems can lead to discomfort further up the body – in the back and even the neck. Many of the muscles in the feet have connections in the lower leg.  They are connected by tendons that move the bones of the feet:

I make no apology for the foot/toe moves and you can modify :

Toega | VIVOBAREFOOT GermanyWe try to sit back on our heels with toes under and toes flat.  We balance on our haunches and rock the knees from side to side to stimulate the feet and the muscles of the lower leg.  Try instead:

Veerasana (Hero's Pose) - Junior Imprint

  • Sit on a chair or the floor, move your toes and feet and /or use your hands to help.
  • Lie down, in semi supine then raise 1 leg or both in the air and move your toes and feet as much as you can.  Bend the knees as suits you.  Put a cushion or support under your pelvis if that helps.
  • On all fours put toes under then flat.  Bring the pelvis back towards the heels to increase the “intensity” of toes under and the “stretch” of toes flat.
  • On all fours with one leg long – toes under and toes flat.  With toes under, rock the pelvis around to stimulate the ball of the foot
  • Instead of balancing on feet and haunches – try on all fours with knees and ankles together, move the lower legs from side to side.
  • We have also been practising single leg balance and trying to look one way and the other – effectively moving and changing the load over our legs and feet whilst balancing.

Mobilzation that activates the feet is so important for standing and walking but also for many aspects of our yoga practice.  Obviously helpful for standing poses and balances but also for bridge pose, dog pose, wheel, plank and many more. Mobilization and modification help us to recognize our boundaries – they key to injury prevention.  If toes under is difficult, then lengthening the legs in dog pose may be difficult.  Such understanding will help you to accept the need for modifications/props.

I think that reluctance to modify or to use a prop may due to the blurring between our understanding of mobility and flexibility.  Flexibility seems to be a buzz word in ynamic yoga classes and mobility seems to be associated more with “senior yoga”; “golden yoga” etc. This is probably due to the emergence of many more Mobility Centres; Mobility Aids, Shopmobility and the like which are an essential part of our ageing population but which may mean that the word has taken on a certain “spin”.

Flexibility is the range of motion that can occur at a joint and this is often the term supported by images of stretch in many presentations of yoga. Mobility relies upon strength, balance and coordination to move a joint within and up to it’s range of motion. When in semi supine you may be flexible enough to able to bring your knees to your chest, rock your knees across your chest ; you may be able to bring your knees wide and bring your feet together or cross them at the ankles but when we balance up on our toes and rock the knees from side to side, our mobilty may not support our flexibility.

Thus the foot/toe moves and the crouched balance plus rocking help us to really use the ground.  These mobility drills enable us to push off from the ground.

***DISCLAIMER***

Somewhat silly but if you bent down and held your toes with your fingers and kept the feet side by side, you would be able to move/hop backwards as much as you desired but you would not be able to move forward.  The toes can’t push you off and your load is behind you.

Please don’t do this but I will demonstrate when I next see you.

After 31 days of the Toe Challenge I am investigating a modification, but I need to issue another disclaimer if you are not a lover of toe images: wiggle your small toe separately from the rest of your toes.

This may be “step” too far but when a movement needs “re-wiring” , I have to ask myself if it’s worth the effort.  Will let you know on this one since it will increase the Toe Challenge 5 minutes to 7 minutes daily!!

Mobilzation and modification for sprinters in the next issue.

Stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TfHP 11 – intentions and goals

20200417_090110

My intention of posting the regular Wednesday blog was scuppered by a feeling of exasperation following an early morning supermarket shop where the imposed one-way system led to dense traffic jams at popular junctures, Missing the “deadline” I set a goal – to meet my Friday (self-imposed) “deadline”.

An afternoon walk, revealed some feelings of guilt, maybe disappointment (!) I reflected on the words  “intention” and “goal” and how they crop up in yoga.  More to the point how I, as a yoga teacher use them and whether I applied any disinction to them.  How might these terms apply to our home yoga practice at a time when we are “going  solo”?  In TfHP 10 : Warrior 1 from the ground up. I stated that the pose:

…….looks simple but there are many aspects to relaxing into it that help us understand the intention of lengthen and grounding………

Re-reading this, I saw that, I had not explained “intention”.  How would the intention differ from the goal in practising Warrior 1? Does this matter? Yes, I think that  it does.

  • Goals focus on the future – they are marked by external actions, generally a series of steps towards a specific achievement.
  • Intentions are in the present moment – they are about your relationship with yourself.

The goal/purpose in Warrior 1 in a sensory approach would be to practice a standing backbend that creates a blueprint for the vertebrae to move towards extension in an integrated way from the pelvis through to the upper spine.  This is functionally  useful – looking up, reaching up etc, but would also be helpful if you practised Camel pose, Wheel or half  Wheel since the structural elements of muscles etc are actively involved in this pose.  Your teacher provides verbal cues for you in class to help you activate these structures. The intention of grounding and lengthening relies implicitly on you sensing/noticing how you feel when you plant the feet, look up, raise the arms.  Only you can know that.

Recognizing tension is the simplest way to substitute for a teacher in your home practice. Holding the breath, shaking etc would be obvious cues.  There is an argument in some exercise classes that going through the shakey phase, lengthens and strengthens muscles.  However, most fitness sites I access seem to suggest that shakiness would be a sign to “back off” and to try again another day.  Even in hard physical exercise regimes, the goal may be one thing but the steps taken to achieve this goal may need to be adapted as the individual senses the body’s response at each stage of the exercise programme.  Otherwise injury may halt the programme.

Focusing on intentions doesn’t mean you give up your goals to achieve. By setting your intention first, and combining it with goals, your home practice can become more creative.  Hate to use the very corny adage about enjoying the journey as much as the end point but there you have it.

Take a pose like Warrior 1, have another look at it and notice how many possibilities it unfolds, if we give it time:

  • Making good footprints – perhaps a reminder to ramp up the foot and toe moves.  Sprinters – needless to say.
  • Upper thoracic extension – noticing whether the bossy neck extensors take over. Perhaps time to practice the movement coming from between the shoulder blades in cat/cow or “horses head” in child.
  • Ease of movement through the hips – noticing that the lumbar extension is very different for each individual, more so than lumbar flexion. This is the component to set your intention clearly.  Does the back of my waist feel pinched when I look up? Perhaps an idea to practice pelvic rocks in semi-supine and on all fours.

The very fact that you would be moving up and down to consider these movements, provides you with more possibilities.  Down through a forward bend – notice.  Back up using the feet and rocking/ via dog pose/ a modified uttanasana (forward bend). It is often the moving in and out of poses in yoga that shows us when and where we hold tension.  What happens is that we rush up to “get it over with” and that is understandable – the class is moving on; everyone else is up.

In your home practice you cater for you.  Revisiting a move is a great way of using baby steps to reach your goal.  Thus it doesn’t matter if the move is very small; finding comfort is the key.  You will find other elements to Warrior 1 because you are different to me. Small “wiggly ” movements can be fun also – wagging the pelvis from side to side, up and down….in the privacy of your own home (!).

When we review our yoga practice we have a look at something which has been infront of us for some time but that we may have taken for granted.  Seeing it again, in a different light may help us to see it for the first time and in that way the seeing becomes transformative.

This week, Captain Tom Moore achieved his goal of 100 laps around his garden taking small measured steps. His words “The sun will shine again” transformed my day.

Stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TfHP 10 : Warrior 1 from the ground up.

………..If Tadasana is standing then Warrior 1 is walking……..

The Power of Touch. A Guide for Yoga Teachers. p.62.  (2015) Monica Voss and Tama Soble (www.esteryoga.com)

The title of this book is poignant at a moment in our history when remote contact is becoming the norm. Your yoga class may include “hands-on assists” , or your teacher may employ verbal cues/assists more generally.  You may be used to a combination of the two approaches but the key, and I agree with Monica and Tama wholeheartedly, is  “..relaxation……both the student’s and the teacher’s (p 62).  Yoga teachers providing “assists” will know that students need time to understand the support – to sense that held tension can be reduced.  Tense bodies may not readily accept support ; thus patience is essential.  It is perfectly natural for a student to be tense at this stage since the “assist” comes with the premise that something can be “improved”.  In a weekly/regular yoga class, trust is established between student and teacher; ethical considerations are paramount; the principle of non-harm, a fundemental part of yoga, is observed.

The importance of relaxation and patience are even more relevant at this time, I believe.  In home practice, the absence of a regular teacher may be unsettling.  Online teaching has taken off and thus verbal cueing/assists are more common.  Warrior pose may be very useful for home practice since, as menioned in TfHP9 – Warrior 1, it looks simple but there are many aspects to relaxing into it that help us understand the intention of lengthen and grounding. Such understanding comes with an appreciation of how the ease of breathing enriches our practice. Often a “fill-in” before the stronger Warrior 2 and 3; perhaps it merits attention. Added to this, the connection to walking makes it a perfect pose to “take off the mat”.

Tips to sense Warrior 1 from the feet up:

  • Forward/backward distance between the feet = 1 natural walking step.
  • Avoid the “tightrope” stance – feet may need to be placed wider.
  • Anchor the back heel – imagine that a helpful hand is there rooting the heel.
  • Exhale, root the back heel down. Remember the activation of the back leg in the Guardian video.  Now you are activating and lengthening through the back line of the body by dropping, grounding the heels and feet.
  • Hands at the waist may square the hips and help you find your feet more easily.  These “helping hands” will sense the downward movement of the sacrum..
  • Helping hands at the back of the body – with back of the hands relaxing on the sacrum, fingers pointing down and elbows out to the side,  we can notice the elongation of the spine as the thoracic area releases upwards.
  • Or place the palms of the hands on the back of the pelvis, fingers pointing down and elbows softly bent. This may open the chest for some but it depends upon how the arms are set into the shoulder sockets.
  • The use of hands may prevent the shoulders from getting involved too early and taking us “off our feet” as the centre of gravity moves upwards.
  • Then practice the movement through the thoracic and pelvis see TfHP9 – Warrior 1
  • If all ok and breath is even and tension free. – arms can float up to a suitable level – not holding the arms up – let them sit in the shoulder sockets . This informs you of the best position for you – ie soft bend at the elbow, cactus arms or hanging arms.

The more the feet are rooted, the more the sense of the spine lengthening will be real. With a reduced stance the postural muscles, which are closer to the joints “have their day” and this takes the load away from some of the global muscles. This is useful for general agility. The wide lunge produces great force into the ball of the front foot, the quad is loaded and has to work hard to get into balance.  Practice immediately on the other side.

20200413_220527 (2)
The Power of Touch. A Guide for Yoga Teachers.

Follow on movement:

Warrior 2 or Warrior 3 is often practised after Warrior 1 .  From TfHP9 – Warrior 1 the suggestion of  simple extension moves on all fours or dog face up may help you to investigate extension through the thoracic and to “map” that movement, but also try:

  1. An easy squat/ half squat to reinforce foot placement, assess stability and how your body is coping with load
  2. From squat perhaps down to child with arms forward to open the shoulder girdle
  3. Then dog down, using the feet and legs to unravel the spine, rather than pushing up with the arms, thus creating tension in the shoulders.
  4. Then…… see how you feel.  That’s the beauty of home practice.

 

Easter Greetings.

Stay safe.

 

 

                

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TfHP9 – Warrior 1

Positioning Virabhadrasana I: Warrior I Pose | Gaia

I’m following TfHP8 – walking with a look ar Warrior 1 – Virabhadrasana1.  The front foot is firmly placed , the back foot is set behind and the pelvis is facing forward.  This may be why the pose is generally listed as a beginner pose.  I don’t often write posts on specific yoga poses (apart from Sprinters) but at this moment when many are beginning to practice yoga at home and walking is a diversion from our housebound exisitence, Warrior 1 may be attractive to beginners.  Benefits such as strengthening of the legs and feet are desirable and others such as “helps to build focus,….. improves power and stabilty ……cultivates our inner warrior..” would appeal to many at a time of uncertainty and worry.

Indeed the Wikepedia entry states:

………Virabhadrāsana has been called “easily one of the most iconic and recognizable postures in yoga…….

However, there are so many contraindications listed on so many sites. Warnings about high blood pressure; heart problems; shoulder impingement; neck problems, knee problems; ankle problems to name a few.  It is, infact quite complex due to the different planes of movement. The body is working to balance forward and backwards, It involves spinal extension, hip and knee flexion. There is  upward rotation of the arms and commonly (still) external hip rotation. Combine this with the demands of balance and it is understandable why so many instructions are given:

………………. activate the shoulder blades, contract the quads to protect the knee, lift the chest, engage the gluts………….

As well as information overload for beginners this can result in bracing at key points in the body.  Bracing tends to impair balance rather than improve it.

Warrior pose is a standing back bend in which the extension pattern can be distributed evenly through the spine.  This is movement we do everytime we look up and  reach up – you may once have seen many people reaching up to top shelves in supermarkets.  Thus it can be helpful to include in home practice.  Pete Blackaby cites the purpose as To develop compliance in extension throughout the whole body  This is difficult enough since the thoracic spine does not naturally extend very easily, thus if you are asked to hold your arms aloft over a wide base, the force – the load- will fall into vulnerable areas. These areas will generally brace in response – the nervous system is crying “help”.

I would encourage beginners to ask themselves:

Where is the centre of gravity?

Where should it be?

The most helpful way in which a novice student can answer these questions is by noticing when and where tension creeps in and how their breath is affected by this tension.  The most useful tip is how to modify.

The illustration above is an idealised representation but it seems to be a common image of Warrior found online and in many yoga books.  When replicating this many students will shift the  centre of gravity up high in the neck and shoulders.  With the centre of mass being so high, extension in the thoracic spine, which is not natural to the thoracic, is impaired still further. The diaphragm is “dragged up” with the braced chest and for beginners it must be so difficult to pull the diaphragm down for good inhalation.  The body is also coping with a wide load.  This begs another question – why do online images commonly show the idealized/advanced postures rather than  modified versions?

As soon as we put one foot infront of the other the psoas pulls on the back leg causing the lumbar spine to move towards extension.  If we practice Warrior 1 with such a wide stance this pull is intensified.  Add the rotation of the back leg, above and the gluts have to grip in order to stabilize the pelvis.  Gripping compresses the the sacro-iliac joint area and this often creeps up to the lumbar spine.  Remember that , for most beginners, the shoulders and neck are already holding tension and as muscles fatique, tension increases even more.

I am writing with beginners to yoga in mind. It is helpful for beginners to strip the pose back and focus upon movement patterns. However, I believe that it is useful for all of us to return to basics at times. to review and to put ourselves in the footsteps of a beginner.

TIPS for beginners and for home practice –

  • Stand with feet forward facing and head forward then look up.  Can you do this  without the chin leading the movement and simply wagging up and down. Try to sense that if you can relax the chin and lift the breastbone; that the thoracic spine could move behind the breastbone (a tiny movement at first but an important one).  Sense the bones -The backward movement of the skull being balanced by the rising sternum.
  • Notice whether the shoulders want to do the movment for you (jump up to the ears) and whether the ribs jut up and tug on the back of the waist
  • Don’t worry about lifting the arms.
  • Try to establish do-your-best footprints
  • Take a normal step forward and try to  make the footprints as even as possible. Repeat the movement.  You may notice that as you look up and the upper spine begins to move that the pelvis rocks forward as well.  This is crucial.
  • Don’t move into another pose before repeating this on the other side.
  • Practice this extension pattern down on one knee , front foot placed square.  This takes the hamstrings out of the equation and keeps the pelvis  balanced.
  • Repeat on the other side before practising any other pose.
  • If you think that your thoracic spine is not moving well then practice this extension pattern on all fours (beginners) and in face up dog (more confident practitioners) – see videos on http://www.intelligentyoga.co.uk

 

The British Wheel of Yoga does offer this modified version of Warrior 1 with the arms lowered but I would still encourage beginner students to reduce the stance so as to make the footprints as even as possible.

Warrior 1 can be such a balanced pose in which we tap into our roots – the process of which reminds of how much we can learn from simplicity.  Then, if we are lucky our breath becomes plenteous; nourishing.  A huge bonus at present.

More about the feet in a ground up approach to Warrior 1 in the next blog plus some suggestions for follow-on movement.

Stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TfHP8 – walking

man in grey hooded jacket walking on grey concrete road

** Photo by Farhan Abid at https://unsplash.com/photos/uj6Vz-TH2V4

Tips given to my students are often taken on board whilst the same tips give to certain family members are disregarded until they appear on a website or video link – expecially if the link is “verified” via “esteemed” sources.

So it has been, of late, with tips for walking.  Many of us are trying to walk more now, if we can.  A sensory approach to yoga practice improves many aspects of functional movement, which are transferrable to everyday life.  We try to “take our yoga off the mat”.  While it is not easy to take a structured/held yoga pose into the office, car journey or walk near home, it is possible to take awareness of an active and stable foot with us.  Noticing how that provides sequential activation of postural muscles; of support – something that many  of us need right now.

Previous posts Standing and walking – free the pelvisTfHP6 and TfHP7 include:

  • The push off by the back foot is essential to move forward open ankle is key
  • Lengthening and spreading the toes – distributes the “load”
  • Good placement of the supporting foot – produces a smooth and efficient swing at the “toe off” phase – when the toes leave the ground the the back leg swings forward

All  given and more to the above mentioned family members.  A “Eureka” moment came, however, when this clip was viewed:

How to walk better; start with your feet.

All useful clip.  I would add:

Walking is undoubtedly beneficial to our health.  A 2016 study by Stanford University is one of many that links walking to strengthened neurological and physiological pathways.  Urban polution is a little less damaging at present and walking may be more enjoyable in towns and cities. in 2019 an Irish neuroscientist wrote “In Praise of Walking”  also highlighting  strong links between the brain health and walking.  Shane O’Mara presents:

………… a “motor-centric” view of the brain – that it evolved to support movement and, therefore, if we stop moving about, it won’t work as well……..

We all, kind of know this I suppose, but we don’t take as much notice until such is quoted by a “reliable source”.

I can reliably inform you that the family member is now noticing, listening. Perhaps  taking tips onboard will be next.  The Stanford Study suggested that walking may improve creativity. Apparently, walking and talking is good because we are “multi-tasking” – moving, talking, looking around, avoiding obstacles.  Great that we can still walk in pairs.  William Wordsworth, however, seemed content to talk to daffodils.  There is hope.

Stay safe.