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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tip of the Week: Stretch Your Pinky Toes Back

 2015 Utah/Wyoming USA Yoga Asana Champion Nella Holden

When pulling on your flexed feet with your hands during Janushirasana (Head to Knee Pose), and pulling on your big toes with your first and second fingers during Paschimottanasana (Stretching Pose immediately after Head to Knee Pose), focus on actively stretching your pinky toes towards your body. Our natural tendency is to stretch our big toes back towards our body, causing our feet to go out of alignment. By instead focusing on stretching the pinky toes towards us, we are better able to keep our feet and ankles in alignment. Stretching the pinky toes back also helps to engage the outer quadricep muscles which in turn helps to straighten the legs, lock the knees, and bring the heels off the floor. If you're unable to straighten the legs during these postures yet, try stretching the pinky toes back and see if that helps to bring your legs just a little bit straighter.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Tip of the Week: Work Your Logical Brain with Yoga

Awesome video from brainboostcamp on how to give your logical brain a great workout with yoga! 

"Our aim with each posture is to challenge and train the logical brain (the prefrontal cortex) to achieve long term improvements in its ability to redirect attention and thoughts and suppress the emotional brain. This training will raise the threshold at which our emotional brain triggers a stress response in any situation. We can increase the load against which our logical brain has to train by including stretching, muscle contraction and backward bending, all of which may temporarily raise the 'tense' signal. Regular practice at this can result in longer term improvements in attention control and the avoidance of rumination. 

There are four aspects of yoga postures that will help achieve this, as this short video shows. If a series of yoga postures meets these criteria, you are likely to be giving your logical brain a great workout!"

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tip of the Week: Fix Your Neck During Pranayama

Today's tip comes from Gabrielle at Hot Yoga Doctor:

What do you do if you have a neck ache that prevents you from doing Pranayama to start with? Sitting out is an option but (besides being awkward and annoying) what if I were to give you a technique to fix your neck DURING Pranayama?
Yep, it works in many, many cases. Just be careful to follow these crucial and precise directions, and listen to your body.

You already know the basic Pranayama 101 rules:

  • That you have the hands at the chin and you move the elbows up and then together in front of you.
  • And you know that you move your head back and forth. And you know you’re supposed to coordinate these 2 activities.
  • So you know you inhale as you raise the elbows and bring the chin back to parallel with the floor.
  • Then you exhale and push the fingers into the chin to push the head backwards while bringing the elbows together.
Once you understand the many, many nuances you can get through Pranayama, and really deepen your breath and get a stretch.

Now to get one huge leap further and fix your neck takes some attention.

Simple … IF you’re actually doing it consciously

It sounds simple. In fact I warn you now. You’ll probably read the following paragraphs and say to yourself “I am already doing that”. But you actually are not. You’re doing something that seems similar. This technique really needs you to be super conscious and attentive of head/hands connection, 100% of the time. Not just drifting in and out of that mindful attention. I am serious. So please, stay open-minded.

When you press the fingers against the chin instead of allowing the neck to be pushed back easily, press back strongly with the chin to RESIST the movement, and slow the movement of the neck backward and forward … right … d o w n.

In other words consciously press the chin into the hands as the hands press the head backward. Then press the jaw into the fingers as you lever the elbows back up again. Make it active rather than passive. If you think you’re doing this, then it’s likely you have constant contact, but I can guarantee that you can quite massively increase those reciprocal forces … otherwise this will simply not work.

Most people have the contact (most of the time) but it’s pretty passive. This action takes a lot more attention. Mark my words, this is placing a new focus on the interplay between head and arms. It also takes more energy and can (aka will) make Pranayama quite a lot more tiring.

When I have had a neck ache from sleeping funny, if I pay attention to the active pressing and resisting of head and hands I can feel the kinks iron out from 1 to half a dozen cycles. Conversely, if I just try Pranayama without this technique, I literally cannot participate.

For a video on Pranayama breathing, click "here".

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tip of the Week: Understanding Muscle Groups

Today's tip is understanding the relationships between muscle groups to get the most out of your practice. For almost every major movement in the body, there is an agonist and antagonist muscle involved.

The agonist muscle is the primary mover involved. Usually this means a contraction or shortening of the agonist muscle in order to create movement.

The antagonist muscle has several functions. It can relax (lengthen) in order to allow the agonist muscle to function to its fullest. It can also slow down the movement of the agonist muscle to prevent tearing or overuse.

An example is the biceps and triceps muscle group. When you do a biceps curl (see image above), the agonist muscle is the biceps, and the antagonist muscle is the triceps.
Now this is where it can get tricky. When you create the opposite movementwhen you bring your hand AWAY from your shoulder (see image below)the agonist muscle is the triceps and the antagonist muscle is the biceps.

This is because in order to create the movement of bringing the hand away, the triceps has to contract or shorten and the biceps has to lengthen or relax.

Why is this important in yoga? Because if you understand the relationships between muscle groups, you can work smarter to get the most out of your practice! 

When you contract (or shorten) your quads (agonist), you will help your hamstrings (antagonist) lengthen more effectively and more safely.

When you suck your stomach in, thus contracting your abs during a forward bend (agonist), you will help to more efficiently stretch the muscles in your back (antagonist).

Think about all the muscle pairs that work together in the movement of the body. Different movements will engage different muscle groups in the wrist, arm, shoulder, spine, hips, knees and ankles. Think about what muscles you contract in order to get other muscles to relax.

*Some examples of agonist/antagonist muscle pairs that essentially counteract each other’s activity about a joint:

Pectorals/latissimus dorsi—pecs and lats
Anterior deltoids/posterior deltoids—front and back shoulder
Trapezius/deltoids—traps and delts
Abdominals/spinal erectors—abs and lower back
Left and right external obliques
Quadriceps/hamstrings—quads and hams
Forearm flexors/extensors

Here’s another element to consider: as mentioned above, another job of the antagonist muscle is to slow down the movement to ensure a safe bend. In our muscles, there are these things called “stretch receptors.” They are there to prevent you from overstretching and tearing muscle.
When you first start to stretch, you might find resistance in the muscle. But if you hold the stretch, in a few moments, you might find some relaxation and give in the muscle, thus allowing you to stretch deeper. That’s the stretch receptor saying to the muscle, “Okay, I can see this is a safe stretch, you’re not going to tear anythinggo ahead.”

This is why, for example, in Standing Separate Leg Stretching, it’s so important to both contract the quads (agonist) to release the hamstrings (antagonist) and also hold the pose for probably longer than you’d like to get the best stretch possible. Bouncing is not so good; a long, slow, firm and constant pull will get best results.