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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tip of the Week: Arms in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee

The above illustration from We Are Yoga demonstrates so nicely the Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose.

*Notice how her arms aren't next to her ears, but actually stretching behind her ears. Once the hands touch the ground, the arms aren't relaxed but strong, engaged and straight as they are pulled forward away from the body. Energetically pull your arms back behind your ears as much as possible. Doing so will help to tone your arms, gain more flexibility in your shoulders, and help to lengthen your spine.

If you need to separate your hands for support on the ground, make sure you're up on your fingertips and not your palms. This will give you more length to be able to really round your spine, bringing your forehead closer to your knee.

You don't want a flat back; round your spine as much as possible like an angry Halloween cat.

For more tips on Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose "click here".

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tip of the Week: Glute Anatomy to Improve Your Practice

Of course we all want that great looking "yoga butt", but strengthening your glutes by flexing and squeezing them during yoga can have more of an impact on your body than just appearances. Many of the postures in the Bikram Yoga series put emphasis on stretching the glutes and the surrounding muscles, or involve some form of glute activation to hold the pose. Tightening your glutes during the Standing Series helps you to keep your balance, and helps you to go deeper into a back bend. Focusing on your glutes especially during Half Moon with Hands to Feet, Standing Bow Pulling, Triangle, Locust, Bow Pose, and Tree Pose will really help to build up that nice round behind.

The following article by Kate Siber for Yoga Journal "Glute Anatomy to Improve Your Yoga Practice" lends some insight into the anatomy of our glutes.
While many of the postures in the Bikram Yoga series require you to flex and squeeze your butt muscles (this action often helps you keep your balance during the Standing Series and go deeper into a backward bend, for instance), there are certain poses that put special emphasis on your rear end: - See more at:

Whether you call it a fanny, derriere, heinie, 
or caboose, chances are you’ve assessed the appearance of your posterior. But what most of us haven’t considered is just how useful those buns are. Together with smaller supporting muscles, the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus make 
it possible to rotate your thigh inward and outward, draw your leg back, and stabilize your femur in your hip socket. The condition of your glutes can have a big impact on your posture, as well as help to prevent or alleviate back, hip, and pelvic pain.
“The buttock muscles are critical in all vertebrates for simply staying alive,” says Loren Fishman, MD, medical director 
of Manhattan Physical Medicine in New York City, assistant clinical professor at Columbia University Medical Center, and author of five books on yoga. “They help you stand and walk, procreate (think about the forces at play), and, being some of the biggest muscles in the body, also help cushion us when we sit.”

Unfortunately, parts of our modern lifestyle can cause over- and under-
development in our glutes, as well as strength discrepancies between the left and right buttocks. The usual culprits are overexertion in activities like running, and sedentary jobs that lead to poor posture. Strength imbalances in our glutes can affect range of motion of our hips, sacrum—that bony plate at the base of the spine—and whether or not we experience instability and pain in forward bends and standing and balancing yoga poses.

For Leslie Howard, an Oakland-based therapeutic yoga teacher, a struggle with a painful hypertonic pelvic floor—a condition marked by extremely tight pelvic-floor muscles—led her to seek solutions through yoga. She discovered that she suffered from weak glutes on both sides, and that strengthening them and checking to make sure they activated during standing and balancing postures eased her symptoms, which included pain while sitting and during intercourse.

“As yogis, we’ve always been taught 
to tuck, tuck, tuck our pelvis for certain poses,” says Howard, referencing this common yoga-class instruction that leads many students to round their lower and upper backs and flatten their butts. “If you tuck too much, your gluteus muscles turn off.” Instead, you want to use these muscles as they were designed to be used—engaged, but not clenched, while standing and walking, or while practicing poses like Vrksasana (Tree Pose) or Virabhadrasana I, II, and III (Warrior Poses I, II, and III). When your glutes don’t fire in these situations, you are often relying on other supporting muscles, such as the hip flexors, psoas, and quadratus lumborum in the lower back, to stand, she explains. Because of the ripple effect misalignments have throughout the body, chronic tailbone tuckers often experience pain in the lower back near the sacroiliac joints, where the spine meets the pelvis.

Armed with this intel, Howard developed a workshop called Smart Ass, Dumb Ass that helps students reacquaint themselves with this often-overlooked part of the body—and not just in the mirror. A great place to start is simply standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), says Howard. If you normally tuck your tailbone and slouch, push your thighbones back and let the top rim of your buttocks release away from your lower back. “Don’t be afraid to push your fingers into the glutes to see if they’re firing,” says Howard. “There’s nothing better than direct experience.”

Before you practice, a quick anatomy lesson


On a basic level, a “smart” ass is one with 
toned, balanced glutes that can support good posture, Howard explains. It is defined, 
round, and lifted. A “dumb” ass is flat and 
folded under, disappearing into your legs. But 
of course it is more complicated than that.

The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three glute muscles. It attaches to the side of 
the sacrum and thighbone, or femur, and draws the femur into the hip socket. Glute max also works to kick your leg behind you and in external rotation, in addition to supporting upright, standing postures. If the gluteus maximus 
is weak, muscles along the lower spine, in addition to the hamstrings, will often overcompensate, potentially causing back tension and spinal misalignment. Plus, weak gluteus maximus muscles can mean a tight pelvic floor and tight groins. 

You may also notice you have a tight, gripped gluteus maximus. Don’t assume your buns of steel are good: A tight muscle is often 
a weak muscle that may not be able to fire for too long, explains Howard. “A healthy muscle can stretch, contract, and fully relax,” she says.

The gluteus medius muscle sits partway under the maximus muscle and connects the ilium, often referred to as the hipbone, to the top of the femur. The medius helps you to externally rotate your leg when it is extended behind you, and internally rotate your hip when your leg is flexed in front of you. Together, the medius and minimus move your leg out to the side (abduction). You can find gluteus minimus under the medius; it is the smallest of the three glute muscles and also helps with internal rotation.

Alright, lesson over. Back to the mat!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tip of the Week: 90 Minutes of Moving Meditation

The following excerpt by thegoodbadpeople answers the question of "Does Bikram yoga incorporate any meditation?"

Bikram’s philosophy derives from the philosophy of traditional yoga he began learning at age 3, in Kolkata. His guru was Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi, in which that guru lineage is further explained.

The core principles of the philosophy revolve around the observation that in order to sit very still and meditate quietly until achieving self-realisation, one must have a disciplined connection between the mind and the body. If not, it is simply far too painful to sit still for that long. Especially in lotus pose. Plus it is really, really, really distracting, due to the dramatic performances of the mind that monkeys around trying desperately to get your attention. Which it is super excellent at doing. And presumably self-realisation takes a pretty long time to achieve. If ever.

So the story goes that the practice of hatha yoga (the practice of postures, or if you prefer the Sanskrit, “asana,” which loosely translates to “posture holding stillness, breathing always normal”) developed to limber up the body and prepare the mind in preparation for meditation. In lotus. For a really, really, really long time. Maybe even forever.

Bikram yoga, like all posture yoga, is hatha yoga, which means the yoking of the body and the mind, creating what Bikram likes to call “a perfect marriage.”

When he tells the story of agreeing to his guru’s request that he bring traditional Indian yoga to the west, Bikram emphasizes the directive to not change it in order to make it more accessible to westerners (that is, easier with the help of blocks, straps, chanting, dim lights, music, pastel walls, sleeping, etc.). Instead, he was meant to give them the real deal: a physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging practice that enables practitioners to strengthen the five aspects of mind: concentration, determination, self-control or willpower, faith, and patience, in that order. Improvement in one facilitates improvement in the next. Eventually. Or in the future.
Bishnu Ghosh was involved with yoga therapy as well, a therapy that functioned in accordance with Ayurveda to address health issues. In other words, a treatment involving the prescription of yoga postures, similar to physiotherapy or the like.

Bikram’s sequence of 26 postures (including two breathing exercises) was developed to address the common ailments and complaints of the western individual. The sequence works the whole body through compression and release to improve the blood and move it systematically through every part until every system is addressed. Bikram speaks of five main systems of the body: respiratory, circulatory, digestive, skeletal, and nervous. Together, they sustain the sixth and overarching system that governs homeostasis: the immune system. The Bikram series addresses each system, with some extra focus on backward bending, considered to be the healer of the spine. And of course the spine houses the central nervous system, which refers to the entirety of one’s physically mitigated material experience, and so! a happy spine means a happy life.

So, in Bikram yoga, you have one and a half hours in a hot and humid room that is brightly lit and lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. You are wearing not much, and neither is your neighbour. All are sweating. Maybe some crying. Maybe you. You are requested and repeatedly reminded to regard your own self in the mirror. For very very very very very many people, this is extremely hard to do. But everyone who keeps trying starts to get used to it. Maybe even–a little bit–they start to enjoy it. And everyone gets benefit: everyone together. Bikram says the darkest place is underneath the lamp, and the hot room offers the experience of stepping into that bright place so you can see what monsters lurk there, and eventually stop running away.

With practice, you begin to learn concentration, determination, self-control, faith, and eventually, if you’re very very, very very very very lucky, patience. You learn to try the right way, to try again and again, to try harder, and to not give up. And you have to remove yourself from your complaints that try to stop you from doing all of this: it’s too hot, it’s too hard, I can’t do it, I’m soooo bad, I’m toooooo sick, I’m toooooooooo special, nobody loves me. With practice, you learn a little objectivity that requires putting that stuff aside for the moment and just doing your yoga. So: your body improves, your mind improves, and you start to have a relationship with yourself that is founded on the moving meditation of your body, with your breath, according to your mind. Posture by posture, class by class, by trying the right way, trying harder, and trying again and again, you start to heal your relationship with yourself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tip of the Week: Sore Legs After Starting Yoga

Yoga poses can challenge your leg muscles. Photo Credit Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Starting a yoga practice can give you a discipline for increasing your flexibility, mindfulness, balance and endurance. It's natural to experience sore legs after yoga, particularly when you're learning new exercises. Yoga combines stretching and strength training; many yoga poses involve supporting your body weight with your legs. This aspect of yoga practice strengthens your leg muscles. Warming up, cooling down and caring for your sore muscles can reduce leg soreness.

Leg Muscle Workout

Increasing the workload on your leg muscles results in microscopic tears. The healing process, called muscle recovery, causes muscles to grow and become stronger. Muscles repair themselves between workouts. If you're new to yoga and performing exercises daily, you might need to rest for a day between yoga sessions to allow time for recovery. Stretching farther than your body is ready to stretch also causes soreness. Many yoga poses call for stretching the body in unaccustomed ways. Using your muscles differently and increasing your range of motion can put strain on ligaments and joints in addition to causing muscle soreness.

The Good News

Muscle soreness from starting yoga is generally a temporary and harmless condition. As long as you don't push yourself too hard or stretch beyond the point that's a slight challenge, you can continue to make progress. The soreness is a sign that you're becoming stronger and more flexible. People older than 40 who practiced yoga for more than five years had significantly lower blood pressure and resting heart rates compared to a sedentary control group, according to research published in 2003 in the "Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology." Sore legs at the start of a yoga practice is a small price to pay for significant long term health benefits.

Minimize Muscle Soreness

Sore leg muscles aren't a badge of honor so minimize the discomfort by smart practices. Warming up by walking or similar light cardiovascular exercise prepares your body for exercise. A warmup pumps blood to your muscles and increases your heart rate. Warming up before every yoga session can help reduce the risk of injury. Paying attention to your body as you practice yoga helps you keep from overstretching, or challenging your legs too much, too soon. Many classes and DVDs offer modified poses for beginners. A yoga teacher can recommend exercises to prepare you for any pose that's too advanced for you. Yoga improves your posture and alignment; as you continue your practice, you'll experience less soreness.

Soothing Soreness

Applying ice packs to your sore legs for the first two days helps to relieve the muscle soreness. After the first 48 hours, soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts helps ease any remaining soreness. Applying arnica, a plant-based remedy for muscle soreness, can help, according to "Yoga Journal" magazine, which also suggests Tiger Balm, a traditional Chinese remedy in salve form. Tiger balm creates a strong, warm sensation and helps to relieve muscle pain. Talk to your doctor if there's acute or persistent pain — and get her approval before using any herbal remedy to self-treat any condition.

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