Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Basic Tenets of Movement Vulnerability

1. All body posture and movement creates mechanical stress.
2. Some mechanical movement stress is necessary, therapeutic.
3. Some mechanical movement stress is injurious.
4. Over time injurious movement can stress inflames tissue, degenerates disks and joints.
5. Repeated faulty posture and movement cause a vulnerability to their mechanical stress.
6. Repeated faulty posture and movement lowers the threshold to movement stress that soft and bony tissue can tolerate.
7. Faulty posture and movement is unskillful and unconscious.
8. The body can lose the “catch-up” game. It can process just so much inflammation.
8. The body can heal itself, if given the chance.
9. Skillful movement is healing.
10. Movement can be relieving or provocative.
11. Relieving movement reduces muscle tone, opens joint space, relieves disk pressure, supports strained ligaments, tendons, puts the body at rest.
13. Provocative movement, done poorly, will create more soft tissue inflammation and joint degeneration.
14. Provocative movement, done skillfully, will create stability, mobility, and manage movement vulnerabilities.
15. Hatha Yoga is skillful, conscious movement
16. Hatha Yoga can teach someone with movement vulnerabilities how to heal themselves

Friday, March 02, 2007

Savasana can be meditation

After an active yoga class, our students usually welcome savasana (translation: corpse pose). Students sometimes fall asleep during savanasa, the last pose the the class. I won't wake them unless they are snoring loudly. When one's mind quiets down, a tired body will fall asleep because it needs the rest. The mind has slowed down enough, it will not keep the body awake, just like when we go to sleep at the end of our day.

In 200 AD, Patangali wrote"Yogas citta vritti narodha" (translation : "Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind.) He did not mean that Yoga slows the frequency and reactions to thoughts down enough so we can sleep. He was assuming that the yogi was observing the change in the flow of thoughts. When we are lost in thoughts, when we are totally absorbed in these thoughts, as they slow down, a tired body can fall asleep.

In our western culture, hatha yoga is, many times, an exotic exercise that can be quite intense and exhausting. We can be very intent on getting back into shape, performing some advanced pose after much preparation, or completing some difficult sequence. Savasana is a welcome relief after such intentions.

25 years ago, hatha yoga was a snazzy way for me to stay in shape. I later realized the therapeutic effect and started treating my physical therapy patients with hatha yoga. But it has only been in the last 10 years or so, that I began to see the meditative side of hatha yoga.

Meditation is observation, witness to what arises in our attention. Savasana can be meditation. During savanasa, we could fall asleep, try to breath well, try to be still. Or we can take this opportunity to let go of all effort. Movements of our mind can keep us absorbed in these thoughts. To lie supine in a warm supported position is simple, but not easy.

I had lived most of my life from the flatland viewpoint ( the scientific mechanistic Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm). I never had appreciated depth of consciousness until I started to observe the subtlety of energy in breath and movement. This inquiry into movement allowed me to see beyond the surface of function and performance of movement. The richness of experience from deeply observing movement of body and mind is my vehicle to freedom.

In savasana, can we just watch sensations, feelings, thoughts, and reactions to thoughts as they arise?

Can we broaden our perspective to realize that we are this awareness watching this body, its sensation and this mind and its thoughts and feeling?

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Same Neck

It seems like practically every adult in the West has a cervical spine that can be described as some variation of a tense upper, hypermobile middle, and a rigid lower neck. Our excessively visual world pulls our heads forward as we focus outward. In our culture, we sit entirely too much in chairs peering into monitors, over steering wheels, and across tables. This forward head posture along with dull, flexed thoracic and lumbar spines are the cause of many musculo-skeletal symptoms.

The muscles that extend the cervical spine were not designed to hold our heads up for a long duration. A skillful lengthening spine is suppose to support the head. The excessive muscle work ends up in a mass of tension right under the occiput [most prominent bump on the back of our heads]. Many muscles that start from the pelvis, ribs, and shoulder blades attach under the occipital ridge. These muscle insertions are very tense all of the time, if not when holding our head up, then when trying to relax on a pillow, but still contracting as high resting tone. The upper 3 or so vertebraes do not move much from their capital extension position because of the muscular tension. Body workers are always digging their fingers in this muscle tension under the occipital ridge.

The mid cervical veretebraes are notorious for a diagnosis such as cervical disk herniation or cervical spondylosis. The relatively excessive movement in C4, C5, C6 simply wear away the disks, joint linings, and cause abnormal mechanical stress to form osteophytes [spurs] . Cervical spondylosis is this arthrosis of the spine with spurs and joint degeneration. The cervical disk walls can handle so much mechanical stress before the lateral walls begin to weaken and herniation [bulging] begins.

It seems everyone in the West has a cervical veretbra #7 that pokes out in the back of their neck. If we run our finger down the back of our neck, C7 is very noticable as it is the first veretebra to stick out from the top down.

The thoracic spine continues this moving backwards creating a rounded upper back [kyphosis], starting from C7. This lower cervical and thoracic spine is usually dull, tight, and stiff in flexion. The epitome is our grandparent with osteoporosis and the infamous Dowager hump. Sometimes they even have hemiveretebra fractures, where they literally lose height. Dullness of our spine is not as extreme as it is for our grandparents. But most of us have dull spines in part due to poor centers, and a lack of grounding in our legs.

I believe our entire body needs to support our heads. The skills of grounds our legs, centering our pelvis, and lengthening our spines are necessary to support the position and movement of our heads. Hatha Yoga is one great way to develop these skills with standing poses.

Chest openers are an absolute necessity to increase the flexibility of our thoracic spines towards back bending. Bridge pose, up dog, and wheel pose have important spinal backbending movements that our dull flexed spines need.

We use a hard plastic wedge designed by Joe Mannella DC []. Briefly, we first place the wedge direct under the occipital ridge to release the deep set muscular tension. We briefly roll through the hypermobile mid cervical spine while supporting the head, so not to hyperextend into compression. Then we turn the wedge around to press just before, directly on, and just after C7.

Associated with forward head are very tense top shoulder blade muscles [levator scapula] and side neck muscles [scaleni]. We also perform a headless headstand in-between 2 folding chairs to release this hypertonus.

The litmus test is the standing poses. Can we continue to ground, center, and lift as we move through the different ranges of standing poses, whiles lengthening our cervical spines to support the movement of our head and arms?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dog Pose is for Dogs?

Downward facing dog pose is one of my bread and butter poses. It does it all. It is a backbend, a forward bend, a standing pose, and an inversion. It prepares me for backbends, arm balances, and inversions. It is a great counter poses for backbends and lotus poses.

We are told that the great sages developed the conscious skillful movements of asana from observations of nature. The movements of animals supposedly inspired the yogis. They, as well, compared the movement of young and old humans.

We assume that how movement is good for animals is good for humans. But I question how dog pose is for dogs is not the same for humans.

I researched dog anatomy and kinesiology. I found out that a dog only has about 70 degrees of shoulder flexion or sometimes called elevation. They can bring their front legs [arms] into their side but elevates that front leg less than ninety degrees away from their body before their scapula [shoulder blade] begins to move.

The human is said to have 180 degrees of shoulder elevation. But the last 20 degrees depends mostly on thoracic spine extension. The human shoulder is a quite complex system of relations amongst the spine, ribs, breastbone, shoulder blade, collarbone, and arm. Our shoulders are designed for a biped that needs shoulder mobility for upper extremity functions. A dog shoulder is designed for a quadruped that needs mostly stability for locomotion.

Everyone has seen a dog wake up from a nap and "stretch" in his or her "dog" pose. Their whole spine backbends in an effortless way. Since they have such little shoulder elevation, they begin to backbend very shortly after they begin their movement. Dog photo from

Yoga teachers have difficulty presenting Down Dog with out new students impinging their rotator cuff or tensing their top shoulder muscles and rounding their upper back into rigidity. I have demanded that my new students keep their head up slightly in downward facing dog. This facilitates upper back extension to prepare the shoulder blades and collarbones to be in optimal position and action is the foundation of the rotator cuff muscles to do their job. They are to cinch or glide the head of the humerus [arm bone] down as the humerus elevates upwards, clearing the A-C [acrominoclavicular] shelf. This prevents impingement.

It seems that a dog does dog pose to stretch the spine into backbend. A human does dog pose to activate the spine, shoulder blades, and collarbones into backbend to prepare the arm to elevate without impingement.

If a human want to stretch their spine like dogs do in dog pose, they would have to do urdhva danurasana [wheel pose].

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Poses can be too tense or too dull

The old yogis described the quality or attributes of anything as the gunas. Rajas is very active, muscular, or high energy. Tamas is relaxed, dull, or quiet. Sattva is the balance in-between rajas and tamas, that of spaciousness, grace, and skill.

In everyday life, most people have a dull [tamasic] posture where they collapse into flat feet, locked knees, tilted pelvis, forward pelvis, overarched or flat low back, rounder upper back, and forward head. This causes compression in specific joints and disks. Eventually this results into structural changes as joint surface degeneration, spurs [ostreophytes], herniated [bulging] disks, as well as compensatory soft tissue tensions and constrictions.

Then in a yoga class, students become rajasic in attempting the poses. They rely on muscle work to impose the position , the shape to the pose. This rudimentary understanding of the poses is superficial, ineffficient, and not what poses are all about. Western culture values strong effort, willfulness, goal orientation, essentially the masculine principle.

Asanas [poses] are intended to be sattvic. Patangali cites the sutra "asanam stiram sukham". Poses [Asana] are to be easy, comfortable, relaxed [sukam] and at the same time, steady and grounded [stiram]. This demands the poses not be muscular, tense on the surface. But if one relaxes muscle, dull happens. The skill of grounding, centering, and lifting into gravity happens with a sattvic quality. These skills are the inner actions using of breath, imagry, and kinesthetic [body sensation] awareness. According to the femine principle, the surrender, release, and receptiveness allows poses to slowly evolve from an innner body movement of energy.

A student has to figure out how to do a pose relaxed but not dull, yet light and lively but not tense. A student has to walk the middle path between collapsing into joints and imposing some surface shape with muscle tension. When one can balance the quiet steadiness of tamas with the effort and action of rajas, there is graceful, fluid, steady sattvic movement of Hatha Yoga.

Happy Yoga [Yogas Sukham],


Monday, March 27, 2006

Good Pain or Bad Pain ?

Greater Baltimore Yoga Blog
A level 1 student reported that that he finally found out how to stop the pain in his thoracic spine. Chest openers. [See my article : Reawakening the Spine] When he lays over a bolster, there is instant relief. At night he will lay over an ice pack to backbend and add cold to an irritated inflamed area. He is convinced backbends are the answer, not only because of the instant relief but also, pain does occur when he bends forward. He has a diagnosed herniation [bulge] of some of his thoracic disks. More commonly, the cervical and lumbar disks bulge and cause inflammation, but the thoracic disks are obviously not immune from bulging and causing pain. [See my article : Low Back Pain]

He asked whether he should or should not tolerate the back pain when he bends forward. I told him: definitely not. Some intense sensations in yoga are to be tolerated because they are therapeutic. But the soft tissue and nerve root irritations from bulging disks cause intense sensations that are signals to stop and avoid whatever movement that caused this sensation. There is "good pain" like stretching tight hamstrings or backbending a spine skillfully. Eventually the stretching sensation subsides and one feels better for having gone through the intensity. But there is "bad pain" where the bottom line is that one continues to worsen afterwards. One is then perpetuating one's condition, and it becomes chronic in nature. One does not have to cause more soft tissue inflammation. The study of yoga helps one develop the skill in knowing the difference in the quality of sensations and therefore the affects derived .

Do you know if the sensations that you experience are telling you that your yoga pose is therapeutic or injurious?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

S/I Pain in Standing Poses

Greater Baltimore Yoga Blog
Last night, I had a student who asked why warrior pose hurt his back. When he spread his legs wide, pressed more through his heels, He reported a pain in the back of his pelvis. I discovered that he had a sacro-ilial compression caused by sacral outflare. This means that when ever anyone rotates their leg outward [external rotation], the ilium [side of pelvis] has to move along with the leg in what is called outflare. The problem is that the ilium can compress and irritate the S/I joint on the back/ side of the pelvis. So, when he squeezed his front hip bones [ASIS] towards each other, the outflare was reduced by a inflare movement. He then could roll his legs out in external rotation as necessary in Warrior pose II, as long as he squeezed his hip bones together.

Another common compression problem is sacral compression from too much ilial anterior torsion [tilting pelvis forward too much relative to the spine].

Any comments? Review my article on Sacro-ilial compression problems.