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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tip of the Week: Understanding Backbending

“If you have a good spine, the gods will chase you. Nobody has psychological or emotional problems, everyone has a bad spine.” Bikram Choudhury

By Barbora Simek on Oh My Bikram

Understanding why and how back-bending is beneficial for the spine is a challenge for many yoga students. For many, back-bending is an emotionally charged, challenging and often uncomfortable part of practice. However, despite its discomforts back-bending can be one of the most therapeutic parts of a yoga practice.
Think of all the time you spend bending forward in a day, from enjoying a coffee with a newspaper, to driving, to typing at a computer, cleaning or lounging with a friend. The reality is, we spend most of our day in an unsupported forward bend.
Internally, forward bending causes the front of vertebrae move closer together, forcing the inter-vertebral disks and spinal nerves back. Prolonged poor posture can:
  • cause or aggravate back and neck pain
  • constrict blood-flow and put pressure on vital organs and glands preventing them from functioning properly
  • has been shown to have negative effects on self-esteem and mood in studies
Ironically, when most people experience back pain or discomfort their first reaction is to bend forward, not knowing it is the cause of their discomfort. In reality back-bending is what is needed to counter-act the impact of continuous forward bending. This impulse is not easy to unlearn.
First it is important to recognize that back-bending is a natural range of motion for the spine. “Think of monkeys or children climbing in a tree who reach backward for a branch, the spine bends backward,” says Jeff Weisman a Toronto based Bikram Yoga teacher and Hellerworker.
As you bend backwards you compress the posterior part of your spinal column, pushing your disks away from the spinal nerves and decompress the front of the vertebrae. This effectively counteracts the damage of hours spent forward bending.
Those concerned and intimidated by back-bending should rest assured that the controlled environment and proper progression of the Bikram Yoga series allows for back-bends to be performed safely. For those with limitations and injuries, remember to speak to your instructor, move slowly and listen to your body.
Physical Benefits
  • Stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and prepares the body for action.
  • Helps counteract damage of bad posture.
  • Relieves back pain, bronchial distress, scoliotic deformities, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder.
  • Realigns the spine.
  • Promotes proper kidney function.
  • Helps with digestive function, eliminating constipation and flatulence.
Energetic Benefits
  • Stimulates all the chakras, primarily creating opening in the fourth (heart) chakra.
Emotional Benefits
  • Helps to break through insecurity and fear.
  • Relieves stress and tedium.
  • Opening the lower back helps to free you from insecurity and taking yourself too seriously.
  • Helps to build confidence and self-esteem in children.
Tips from the Pros
Allow your exhale to lower you into your maximum depth, allow your inhale to lift you up and forward. Reverse this pattern on purpose by pulling backward more vigorously into the posture during the inhalation (taking you more fulling into the posture) and then relaxing and easing off the posture during the exhale (thereby reducing tension).- Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, Dr. H. David Coulter

“Lift your breastbone up as you go down into it, instead of jamming only the lower waistband spine. You HAVE to have your elbows pressing IN, not bowing out before you go down.
Also, LIFT the front of the neck and shoulders and armpits before you drop down.
Then you lift UP, OUT and OVER your waistband spine so you do not get that crimping feeling.” – Mary Jarvis for All Back-bending Heals the Spine

Do not contract the gluteal muscles until you reach your maximum expression then tighten – Rajishree Choudhury 

The standing back-bend is regulated by locked knees – Craig Villani

Drop the head back as far as it goes. The head and arms do not need to stay together. – Bikram Choudhury

Tips for teachers
Beginners are always afraid of back-bending. Make sure to stress that the hips, stomach, legs everything must come forward. – Bikram Choudhury

Thursday, May 24, 2012

4 Common Mistakes Yogis Make

Walking into your first yoga class can be overwhelming. As a full-time instructor since 2004, I’ve seen a range of emotional responses from new students. Some immediately love the practice; others are put off by the physicality, or an injury, or simply feeling insufficient even though they are brand-new. Considering that there are dozens of different styles of yoga, it takes patience to find the right teacher and approach that works best for you. Fortunately, patience is one thing that yoga is great at helping us cultivate.

While these four misperceptions about yoga are the most common that I’ve come across, they definitely don’t only apply to beginners. Since yoga is about creating sustainability in your body and emotions, it truly is a life-long discipline. Your practice inevitably changes as you age and your body adapts to new circumstances. I suggest reading this list with what we in yoga call “a beginner’s mind,” no matter how seasoned a practitioner you might be. And if you’re brand-new to yoga, welcome! I hope this is helpful to you in your journey. 

Mistake #1: Thinking you need to be flexible to do yoga.
If I thought this 13 years ago, when I first stepped onto a yoga mat, a much less flexible version of myself would be writing a different article right now. Yoga helps you become more flexible. Everyone has a different anatomical structure, and there are certain poses that may always challenge you, as well as ones that might not be right for you at all. Don’t push too hard, ever. Be open to being challenged. Always remember to breathe before moving. (As I like to say, breathe into a pose instead of getting into a pose and then figuring out how to breathe.) Most in-class injuries occur when a student is holding their breath and tries to force a muscle or joint to bend too far. Flexibility comes with dedication and self-acceptance, and is a worthwhile pursuit at any age.

Mistake #2: Treating your yoga teacher like a doctor.
I’m constantly asked for medical advice, and I always have the same reply: See your doctor. While I’m comfortable giving alternative poses for students with injuries, I would never offer medical advice. You won’t find answers to statements like “My shoulder hurts right here when I do this” in my class, and for the most part, you should not listen to any medically-related answers from the vast majority of yoga instructors. Instead, simply ask for different postures to practice if something bothers you. Some students tell me that they don’t trust Western doctors, but these physicians have devices like X-ray machines — something a yoga teacher does not. That is important to remember. 

Mistake #3: Thinking yoga classes are serious.
They definitely can be; a strong sense of focus is often required. Yet taking postures too seriously is counterproductive. There are many times I look out at and see the contorted and stressful faces of my students; but scrunching up your forehead and clamping down on your jaw is not going to reduce anxiety. Very often, we simply transfer tension from one part of our body to another; faces hold a key to understanding what’s going on in your head and your body.
Simple exercises like fluttering your lips and opening your eyes and mouth wide and closing them helps to soften those areas. If you approach yoga with a loose and playful attitude, your entire practice will flow with ease. If you’re too rigid, the chance of injury increases, and you don’t have nearly as good of a time practicing yoga. If there is no fun at all, it’s simply not worth doing. 

Mistake #4: Trying to attain the perfect pose.
Alignment is important. I’m a huge fan of teaching physical cues to help students get the most out of a pose. Still, I’ve seen numerous students spend the entire time we’re in a posture making tiny adjustments with their hands, hips, shoulders, and so on. There is no perfect pose. Our practice will change every day. It’s much more important to hold a pose and try to still your mind than to overanalyze every subtle shift in your body.
The Sanskrit word for posture, asana, is translated as “seat.” The idea is to be able to “sit” in a pose for as long as possible with a meditative mindset. While you’re learning the poses, small corrections are important; but at some point you have to let all the correcting go and simply “sit” in the posture. When that happens, an enormous amount of space is made in your mind, and you can truly enjoy being in the present moment. 

—Derek Beres, Women’s Health Reporter

Friday, May 18, 2012

Come to the Saturday 10am Class!

Marie Ocianie Zamy is a microcredit client in Haiti. With her loans from Whole Planet Foundation's partner Fonkoze she was able to turn her food selling business into a restaurant which she has built next to her home. Her business enables her to priovide support her 11 children and 4 grandchildren.

Tomorrow's Saturday 10am class will be our monthly class in which we will be donating $1 to the Whole Planet Foundation for every student who attends class. Please come and help us support this wonderful foundation that helps women and families support themselves.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

7 More Reasons for the Heat


1. Enhances vasodilation* so that more blood is delivered to the muscles.
2. Allows oxygen in the blood to detach from the hemoglobin more easily.**
3. Speeds up the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids.
4. Make muscles more elastic, less susceptible to injury.
5. Improves coordination.
6. Reduces heart irregularities associated with sudden exercise.
7. Burns fat more easily.***

*The capillaries that weave around the muscles respond to heat by dilating. This brings more oxygen to the muscles and helps in the removal of waste products such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid.

**When blood passes through warm muscle oxygen releases more easily from the hemoglobin.  Blood passing through cold muscles releases much less oxygen.

***Warmed muscles burn fat more easily than cold ones.  Fat is released during stress.  The stress of intense exercise causes a deluge of fatty acids into the blood stream.   If you exercise with a cold muscles they can’t use the fatty acids, and they end up in places where they aren’t wanted, such as in the lining of your arteries.

Note: Muscles aren’t the only beneficiaries of heat.  Higher temperatures improve the function of the nervous system, meaning that messages are carried more rapidly to and from the brain or spinal cord. Warm muscles are more elastic and are less susceptible to injury. Warmer temperatures produce a fluid like stretch that allows greater range of motion. Cold muscles don’t absorb shock or impact as well and aren’t stretched as well so they get injured more readily.

Excerpt from “Smart Exercise” By Covert Bailey.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Never Ever Give Up

This video is one of the most inspiring stories we've ever seen.  Arthur Boorman was a 297-pound, disabled Gulf War veteran and one-time paratrooper who was told by doctors that he'd never walk without support, when he sought the help of yoga instructor Diamond Dallas Page. Even when Arthur is falling flat on the floor and into a hutch he says, "Just because I'm not able to do it today, doesn't mean I'm not going to be able to do it some day...". His transformation should inspire us all to never give up even when we feel we can't do each posture perfectly. Believe in yourself and never ever give up!