Anatomy

Balance

Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 in Anatomy | 0 comments

Balance

In Yoga Asana, balance poses are an ingenious way of challenging oneself both on a physical and mental level. However, there are many systems involved in balancing if we take a closer look. The ability to balance depends upon sensory, muscular and motor systems as well as the vestibular system of the inner ear. Proprioceptive information which informs the body’s position in space enters visually, through the tiny little levels of the vestibular system, and through skin, joint and muscle receptors. Input from tactile, pressure and vibrational changes are necessary to stand, walk and detect the body’s relationship to gravity. The extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of the foot, meaning the muscles that begin in the shin and foot respectively create a ping-pong ball effect of support all over the body through these receptors to maintain a direct point of balance with gravity. In other words, balance is a series of falls and catches over and over again. In many cases, falls are caused by a loss of balance or the inability to maintain the body’s center of gravity over its base of support. Strengthening the body’s balance centers will prepare your body for avoiding bad falls. Here are some things you can do to strengthen along with yoga asana poses like tree pose, half-moon, and warrior three. -Write the alphabet with your foot: With the foot in the air, write the alphabet with your foot. Try to reach all the edges of space with your toes, not to cut any letters short. This will maintain a full, dynamic range of motion of the ankle. -Balance on one foot: Sometimes known as “storking” in physical therapy lingo. Prepare your arch by grounding all four corners of the foot and lifting the inner arch. Balance until your ankle gets tired. Increase difficulty by swinging your arms, closing your eyes, or a combination of both! This helps the coordination of the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot, as well as challenging your visual input. -Theraband: Sit on the floor with legs outstretched and use a stretchy band around the ball of the foot to add resistance to pointing your toes- try a set of 15. Then place the theraband around the pinky edge of the foot and do three reps of 8 times pressing your foot out to the side (or pronating). These are important muscles to reinforce because in common sprains, the weakened ligaments are on the outside ankle. -Toe scrunches with towel: Strengthen the transverse arch of your foot, the arch that runs crossways just beneath all 5 toes. Sit in a chair with a towel under your foot, scrunch the toes and the transverse arch repeatedly pulling the towel towards you. This strengthens the intrinsic muscles of the foot. -Self – care: Massage the entire length of the shin, just outside of the shin bone beginning at the top all the way to the ankle. Massage the full length of the calf all the way to the Achilles tendon and give that tendon some love by squeezing it. Massage the outside edge of your shin from the top all the way to the ankle. This is especially helpful if you work on your feet and/or wear uncomfortable shoes all day. -Raise the legs: Lie on your back and lift your legs up the wall at the end of a long day. This allows the flow of blood to release from pooling at the ankles will reduce swelling, and increase neuromuscular efficiency of the lower leg. An architect or contractor would agree that the most important part of a...

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TRANSVERSE ABDOMINUS

Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in Anatomy | 0 comments

TRANSVERSE ABDOMINUS

The Transvers Abdominis (TVA) is the deepest and in my opinion the most important abdominal muscle. It literally forms a “corset” of support around the spine and internal organs. The TVA attaches to the inside of the lower 6 ribs to the top of the pelvis at the iliac crest and ASIS (or hip points). It wraps around the waist from the thoracolumbar fascia in the back of the body to the linea alba (or midline) in the front of the body forming a “support belt” around the soft belly. The TVA has fibers that interdigitate with the diaphragm (our main breathing muscle) and some of the fibers also blend with the fascia of the psoas. It is an extremely important muscle to strengthen for low back pain, diastasis (or separation of the linea alba, which can happen during pregnancy), and abdominal hernias. A healthy TVA is supposed to contract whenever we move, raise our arms, walk, lift our leg, twist our spine, etc. but several factors inhibit its function including a sedentary lifestyle and certain poor dietary habits. It is a respiratory aid that fires when we cough, sneeze, laugh, or forcefully exhale. One of the main reasons it is so important to low back health is that when contracted it decompresses the lumbar spine and acts as a spinal support by “stiffening” the intervertebral discs to sustain loading. The Transverse abdominis plays a key role in Uddiyana Bandha, or the “flying up lock”. The usual cue for Uddiyana Bandha is to draw the navel in and up but I would further that by saying draw the entire waist in and up. Try it: Engage your TVA by pulling the sides of the waist in towards your spine and away from your shirt. Put this idea in all your asanas, and your back will be protected. Shila...

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Wrist Strengthening Strategies

Posted by on Nov 11, 2014 in Anatomy | 0 comments

Wrist Strengthening Strategies

Wrist pain is a common problem among yogis as we are often weight bearing on the arms. The pain can stem from a variety of reasons so if it is severe, it is important to understand what could be causing it in order to take proper action. If you’ve been taking a lot of classes lately and/or working on arm balances, handstands, planks and chaturangas for instance, the cause is most likely from overuse. Here are some steps you can take to prepare your wrists for bearing the weight of the body with more ease: Strengthen The Tennis Ball Squeeze: squeeze a tennis ball as hard as possible without causing pain and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times Wrist Curls with Theraband: take a theraband (preferably the bands that have handles on the ends but a regular theraband will do) and step on one end while standing. Hold the other end as if you are about to do bicep curls but instead stabilize your forearm at a 90 degree angle and hold forearm with opposite hand. Perform wrist curls isolating the movement in the wrist. Perform 3 sets of 8 in each of the following movements: flexion (with palm facing up), extension (with palm facing down), and lateral deviation (with thumb facing up/palm facing the midline) Stretch Stretching Flexors: Hold arm out in front of you at shoulder height, straight elbow with palm facing up. Take opposite hand and pull fingers and hand back until the wrist is in full extension stretching the flexors of the wrist. Alternative stretch: place hands in a prayer position in front of your chest and slowly lower the prayer down to the level of the waist without losing contact of your palms against one another. Hold stretches for 5 long, slow, deep breaths. Stretching Extensors: Hold arm out in front of you just below shoulder height, straight elbow with palm facing down. Take opposite hand and pull hand down so fingertips face the floor, flexing the wrist and stretching the extensors. Alternative stretch: come down onto hands and knees. One at a time flip the palm of one hand to face the ceiling and point fingertips towards your knees as you stretch the wrist extensors against the floor. Hold stretches for 5 long, slow, deep breaths. Twist Stretch: Hold both arms out in front of you at shoulder height, elbows straight with palms facing out. Cross right arm over left (now palms face one another) and interlace fingers. Bend elbows as you bring your interlaced hands towards you and flip them over the other way as the elbows extend away from you. Only lengthen elbows as much as your wrists will allow without pain. Hold stretch for 5 long, slow, deep breaths. Repeat other side. Self-Massage Extensors: Thoroughly massage the back of the forearm (a kneading action with opposite hand’s fingertips) from the elbow, down the fleshy part of the forearm, and down towards the back of the wrist. If there is a particularly tender spot, stay on it with static compression and hold until the intensity lessens. Flexors: Cross fiber the inside of your forearm (with opposite hand’s thumb) from under elbow crease down to wrist. If there is a particularly tender spot, stay on it with static compression and hold until the intensity lessens. Carpal Tunnel: Massage (with opposite hand’s thumb) the thumb pad and pinky pad of the palm near the wrist creases. This is where the little bones of your wrist reside which create your carpal tunnel. Many muscles attach to these bones so press in deep and...

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Shoulder Placement

Posted by on Nov 11, 2014 in Anatomy | 0 comments

Shoulder Placement

Shoulder placement can be very confusing. We hear so many cues: drop your shoulders, pull them back, squeeze them together. When is it appropriate to perform these actions and why? And what the heck does “deepen your armpits” mean? I hope to answer some of these questions for you. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, which means there are many options of where it can be in space. This could explain why it’s so confusing to place the shoulder in the correct position. Understanding how the shoulders should be placed when weight bearing on the arms is extremely important for the health of the shoulders. There are 5 joints in the shoulder but we’re only going to focus on two: glenohumeral joint – where the arm bone, or head of the humerus, fits into the glenoid fossa, or “socket”, comprised of the lateral shoulder blade and lateral collar bone scapulothoracic joint – which is where the shoulder blades are on the ribcage itself.   In neutral, the shoulders actually reside about 15 degrees forward of the midline, called scaption. This allows us to easily perform all our daily activities such as computer work, driving, cooking, etc., where all the action is in front of us. In tadasana however, we want to counter that action and open the heart center by drawing the shoulder blades slightly toward the midline using the rhomboids and middle trapezius. Relating our two joints’ actions; in the glenohumeral joint the arms externally rotate and in the scapulothoracic joint the scapulae retract, or “squeeze” towards the midline. There are a small percentage of these actions in tadasana and other neutral spine poses such as triangle, and a much larger percentage of these actions in big heart openers such as cobra, upward dog and bow pose. However, when the arms are above the head the rules change. The movement in the scapulothoracic joint becomes that of upward rotation. Upward rotation is an important movement to understand. It is when the shoulder blade spins in the frontal plane (like turning a knob) and the bottom tips of the shoulder blades begin to face out laterally. What’s confusing is that the side tips of the shoulders do lift and rhomboids actually have to relax and lengthen. So pressing the shoulders down, or squeezing them together when the arms are above the head is actually a counter cue that is often misunderstood. If the arms were properly externally rotated in the glenohumeral joint, the heart will automatically be open, and if the scapulae are properly upwardly rotated in the scapulothoracic joint, “dropping the shoulders” when the arms are overhead doesn’t have to happen so long as the medial shoulders stay relaxed. Scapular rotation happens very rapidly up to the first 90 degrees of lifting the arms “out to the sides and up”. From the point when the glenohumeral joint is at 90 degrees (arms out to a “T”) the arms do most of the movement to lift the rest of the way overhead. When the arms are overhead, the movement in the glenohumeral joint is that of strict, unwavering external rotation otherwise there could be a pinching of the supraspinatus tendon and/or the subdeltoid bursae. This scenario could lead to muscle imbalance, pain, rotator cuff tear or frozen shoulder. The scapulae and humerus placement is crucial to understand when weight bearing on the arms in a neutral pose such as downward dog and even more so in heart opening poses such as full wheel. When arms are overhead such as urdvha hastasana, downward dog, or wheel,...

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THE UNDERAPPRECIATED FEET

Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Anatomy | 0 comments

THE UNDERAPPRECIATED FEET

One of the best things about summer is walking barefoot in the sand. Walking barefoot in natural terrain is very beneficial to the health of the arches of the feet. We normally spend most of our time in shoes that are often too tight or even worse… heels, and walking on hard, flat surfaces which are all a great disservice to the health of our feet. Our underappreciated feet are so important to us: they are our foundation, bear the weight of our entire body, and are the building blocks of our posture (and look how cute your toes are!). Energetically, they are thought to have small chakras, or energy centers along with the palms of the hands and the 7 major chakras that line our spine. Most of us know about the medial arches of the feet. They are the most mobile and shock absorbent of the arches and when dysfunctional contribute to “dropped arches”, “flat feet”, and plantar fasciitis. In actuality, there are three arches of the foot and maintaining all three arches will give you more spring to your step (both literally and figuratively). Think of your foot like the pyramids of Egypt in which all three parts of the base are domed upward. This “dome” so to speak has a facial relationship to the dome of the pelvic floor and the dome of the diaphragm. When collapsed, the other two domes are affected which can lead to major imbalances. The Medial Longitudinal Arch runs from the base of the big toe to the heel and is supported by fibularis longus, tibialis posterior and flexor hallucis longus. In a healthy medial arch, one should be able to slide their first finger up to the first joint underneath this arch. The lift of this arch should be executed in ALL YOGA POSES (check it out in your back foot in Warrior I!). As an exercise, lift all ten toes while grounding the base of the big toe and heel to feel the arch lift, then gently place all ten toes back down while maintaining it. The Lateral Longitudinal Arch runs from the base of the pinky toe to the heel and is supported by fibularis longus, fibularis brevis, and abductor digiti minimi. This arch is designed to transmit force when walking or being mobile. As an exercise, stand in tadasana and make your feet seem shorter, which engages all three arches but it’s a good way to feel the lateral arch. The Transverse Arch runs horizontally along the base of the toes and is supported mainly by adductor hallucis. A very good exercise for this arch is to sit with a towel under your foot, scrunch the toes and the transverse arch repeatedly to pull the towel towards you. Another great self-care exercise is to thoroughly roll a tennis ball under the foot. If you experience plantar fasciitis, this can be done with a frozen water bottle as the roller. Take care of those precious feet by supporting all three arches in your yoga practice, walk barefoot in Mother Nature and most of all give them love. Namaste, Shila Tirabassi...

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WHAT IS THE PSOAS?

Posted by on Apr 19, 2014 in Anatomy | 0 comments

WHAT IS THE PSOAS?

You may hear the word psoas tossed around in yoga class, but where it is and what does it do? You have a right and left psoas and it is primarily a hip flexor – which means it folds the hip to bring the knee into the chest. Deep in the center of the body, it attaches the entire length of the lumbar spine to the inner thigh. As it crosses the front of the hip, it merges with another muscle called the iliacus. That is why it is sometimes called iliopsoas. The psoas is important in finding a neutral pelvis. If the psoas is tight, it will pull the lumbar spine forward and increase the lumbar lordosis curve in the lower back. Sitting for too many hours during the day can tighten the psoas. In order to stretch a tight psoas, use poses like high lunge, warrior one and anjaneyasana which lengthen the psoas of the back leg.   Conversely, the psoas shortens in poses where the thigh pulls in close to the chest like a step through to lunge from downward dog or boat pose. Just like everything in yoga, we are looking for balance. I love lengthening the psoas in a neutral position to find this balance. Try it: lie on your back and straighten the left leg along the ground – this is the psoas that will be lengthening. Pull the right leg into the chest. Work on finding length on your left side by pushing your heel away from you. Now imagine that the area just to the left side of your belly button down to your left inner thigh gets longer. Keep reaching your left heel away and take 5 long breaths. Shila...

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