Lunging the hip through..

Asana is one limb of yoga and it’s the physical aspect of it. Asana is defined as bringing the body in a comfortable pose or position. Doing the yoga asanas involve our whole being, the breath, focus and body. Our physical body is a complex structure and one of its complexities is a joint. A joint is the part of the body where two or more bones meet to allow movement. Every bone in the body – except for the hyoid bone in the throat – meets up with at least one other bone at a joint. The shape of a joint depends on its function.

Hip joint is one of the largest weight bearing joint of the body. It’s where the upper part of the body meets the lower part. The hip is a ball and socket joint which consists of the femoral head, a ball-shaped piece of bone located at the top of the thigh bone or femur, and acetabulum, a socket in the pelvis into which the femoral head fits. The ligaments connect the ball to the socket, stabilising the hip and forming the joint capsule. A thin membrane called synovium lined the joint socket and act as lubricant for the joint while bursae the fluid-filled sacs provide cushioning for the friction between muscle, tendons and bones.

Different types of movement is possible for the hip because it’s a ball and socket joint. The hip is capable of flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, external rotation, internal rotation and circumduction. In order for these actions to take place different muscle groups are required. There is a prime mover or the main driver of the action, synergist or the helper or stabiliser of the action and the antagonist or the opposing force producer which in turn aid in controlling the motion.

Flexion is one movement the hip joint can do and it is when you bring the leg or lower part of the body closer to trunk. The biggest muscle for flexing the hip joint is iliopsoas (consisting of Psoas Major and Iliacus). Sedentary lifestyle as well as sports like running and jumping can cause this muscle to become tight and thus weaken. Stretches are necessary to lengthen back the shortened muscle. One yoga pose to stretch this muscle is the low lunge or anjaneyasana. In low lunge, the hip flexors of the back leg are stretched while the gluteus muscles of the back leg and the quadriceps of the front leg are strengthened.

 

 

How to low lunge:

  1. Begin in Downward-Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana. On an exhale, step your right foot forward between your hands.
  2. Lower down onto your left knee and release the top of the left foot on the ground.
  3. Ensure that the right knee is stacked directly over the right ankle, and isn’t moving forward toward the toes or outward to the left or right (this protects the knee from injury). Keep the knee directly over the ankle if it feels like enough for your body—you should feel a comfortable stretch along the left front thigh and groin. For a deeper sensation, you can inch the right foot forward on the mat until you find an edge that feels appropriate for your body.
  4. Take your fingertips to the ground on either side of your hips (you can also rest both hands on the front knee if taking the fingertips down feels like too much) and relax your shoulders away from your ears. As you continue to breathe deeply, soften the weight of your body down into your hips, and draw your tailbone down toward the ground.
  5. Feel free to remain here, with your hands on your knee or your fingertips beside you for support, or experiment with extending one or both arms up alongside your ears and moving into a backbend. Take five to 10 breaths in your expression of Low Lunge, whatever that might look like.
  6. To come out of the pose, tuck your back toes under, plant your palms down on the mat, and make your way back into Downward-Facing Dog. Take several breaths in Down Dog, bending the knees, then repeat on the other side.

Physical benefits of low lunge:

  • Strengthens the quadriceps and gluteus muscles.
  • Stretches the psoas and hips.

  • Expands your chest, lungs, and shoulders.

Energetic Benefits:

  • Develops stamina and endurance in your thighs.

  • Improves your balance, concentration, and core awareness.

  • Calms the mind.


Contraindications and Cautions:

This pose is a gentle, relaxing exercise, but you should still check with a doctor before performing the pose if you have any of the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure.

  • Knee injuries.

  • Those with shoulder problems should not raise their arms above their head, instead placing their hands on their front thigh.

  • Those with neck or spinal injuries should not take the backbend variation, and should instead keep their eye gaze forwards or downwards.

Adjustments/Modifications:

  • Place a soft foam block or pillow under the back knee for cushioning.

  • If raising the arms overhead is uncomfortable, keep your hands on your front thigh.

  • If looking up is uncomfortable, keep your gaze down or straight forward.

  • To challenge your balance, try this pose with the eyes closed.

  • To improve balance, face a wall and press your big toe of the front foot against the wall.

Understanding the different muscles involve in a hip movement (or any movement for that matter) helps us to do the asanas in a more relaxed and efficient way and also allows us to distinguish any muscle tightness and do more stretches on it and by doing so helps prevent injuries. Even simple and short stretches goes a long way. Since the hip joint is one of the major weight bearing joint it’s rightful and necessary to take good care of it.

Why I Do Yoga?

I remember when I was still working in my home country. I was one time searching for yoga studio there but seems like at that time I only found one, I actually don’t remember how I knew about yoga maybe because I was fond of reading geography and wellness articles. Growing up sickly would really let you be more concerned about health and trying to find panacea for all health related illnesses. Sadly the studio was out of my budget and I got caught up with work and other things on the sideline so I didn’t get to enrol in the studio.

Fast forward, I came to Singapore for work and since I am huge fan of treating the root cause of illnesses and not just the symptoms so I am trying to follow a good diet and right amount of exercises, read about health and nutrition. I joined HIIT classes, did running – even a marathon, learned the right food for my body type thus learning about ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph. So with this mindset, I find myself naturally inclined to alternative medicines like TCM, Functional Medicine, Naturopathy and Ayurveda. So my curiosity about yoga has arisen and thus I enrolled in a studio but after 6 months I had a wrist fracture and causing my practice to stop and eventually got busy with other mundane of day-to-day life.

Came along covid and suddenly the feeling of being trapped engulfed my being. I used to go back home to Philippines every 3 months and also travel around to different countries. Covid has brought me so much time at home and has made me think about life more and also has given me so much stress like thinking of losing my job, what will happen to my sister who is currently recuperating from stroke and is half paralysed, how am I gonna support my family. But one thing that surpasses these thoughts is how am I gonna make it through each day with these feelings I have. I found myself watching a yoga video on youtube and slowly following it. The rest is history.

So why yoga? Well, for me yoga has helped me clear my mind and make me think of what’s really at hand and important and not just apprehend of what might happen in the future. I am not good in yoga but I am trying to incorporate it in my life like just the simple breathing exercises, being mindful of what I am currently doing, mindful of my choices in life. I still have a long long way to go and I am hoping one day I will have the confidence and wisdom to impart yoga to other people so I can help them too the same way as how yoga has helped me.

 

Steady Breath : Steady Mind

Pranayama is a compound word in Sanskrit composed of ‘prana’ + ‘ayama’. Pranayama is a process of regulating the intake and outflow of breath in a firmly established posture. When the flow of breath is observed through its natural phases of inhale-pause-exhale-pause, the breath becomes smoother and its effects more subtle. Through delicate observation, the breath is refined. When breath is refined and steady, the mind also is refined and steady. Pranayama is the 4th limb of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patajanli and Patanjali reminds us that the 8 limbs must be done in sequence. Meaning we have to prepare the mind and body through Yama, Niyama and Asanas first before attempting to do Pranayama. If we attempt to do Pranayama prior to properly preparing the body and mind, tension might increase and cause harm.

Pranayama is one of the ways to attain peace and self awareness. Pranayama is channelling the energy to the 72 nadis in our body, helping us improve our well-being.

The 8 major pranayama types are:

Nadi Sodhana – this yoga pranayama is innovative and specialized in bringing balances of all the three doshas of the human body — the mind, body, and soul. For performing Nadi Sodhna, you need to sit in a comfortable in a cross-legged position. Now use the right hand to close the right side of your nose, inhale deeply with the left nostril. Repeat the same with left nostril. Practice it for 10 -15 times every day.

Shitali Pranayama – this is the most refreshing breathing exercise. You need to roll your tongue in an “O” shape and start to inhale through the mouth. Hold your breath and practice Jalandhar bandh. Do exhalation from your nostrils after some time. You can repeat it five to ten times. Shitali Pranayama mitigates pitta and increases Kapha and Vata doshas.

Ujjayi Pranayama – this type of pranayama is about mimicking the sound the ocean or waves by inhaling from your nostrils and making sound from the throat. Seat in a comfortable position, start inhaling, and exhaling from your mouth. Constrict your throat as if something is chocking, it will create an oceanic sound. Repeat it for ten to fifteen times; you will experience betterment in throat related issues.

Kapalabhati Pranayama – this type of pranayama is wholly related to deep inhalation and forceful exhalation of air in a yogic position. Air from the lungs is exhaled forcefully, but inhalation is done involuntarily. Kapalabhati Pranayama is liked for improving alertness and concentration. It also strengthens abdominal muscles and helps to burn calories.

Bhastrika Pranayama – this pranayama is best for increasing the blood circulation in the body. It also activates body channels. For practicing Bhastrika Pranayama, you need to sit in a Padmasana position, keeping your spine straight and eyes close. Inhale deeply with nostrils; fill your lungs with air and then exhale forcefully through nostrils so that your stomach will go deep inside. Bhastrika Pranayama helps a lot in calming your mind. Any asthma patient can practice it to remove inflammation of the throat.

Bhramari Pranayama – this is the humming bee pranayama that mimics the sound of a bee. Bhramari Pranayama is done by closing your ears with the thumb and eyes with the help of fingers. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly making a buzzing sound like that of a bee. Benefits of Bhramari Pranayama are an increase in concentration and memory improvement.

Anuloma & Viloma Pranayama – this is alternate breathing exercise. It involves pausing of breathing at regular intervals. It is divided into two stages called as paused inhalation and paused exhalation. You need to lie down in a comfortable position and relax your body and mind. Now inhale for 2 to 3 seconds and pause, then again restart inhalation and pause after 2 seconds. Repeat the process until the lungs feel full of air. Exhale slowly. It is known as Viloma pranayama. Whereas, Anuloma pranayama is breathing nostrils in an alternative way. Both are almost same and help in cleansing of nasal passages.

Sheetkari Pranayama – this is more like the Shitali Pranayama but with changes in practice. In this pranayama, you have to produce “Sheetkar” sound from the mouth. Inhale air by keeping your tongue behind the teeth. Apply the Jalandhar bandh and hold your breath. Exhale air using the nostrils. This pranayama should be practiced in summer for five to ten times. It will keep your body temperature under control.

I have been trying to incorporate pranayama on my routine lately and have been doing Kapalabhati more than the rest. To do kapalabhati one has to do the exhalations active and the inhalations passive thus sucking in the belly during exhalation. At first I didn’t know how to do it that I tucked my belly during the inhale. After a while I got it right and have been doing it everyday in the morning. One thing I noticed is that even if I didn’t have enough sleep after doing kapalabhati I would have enough energy to last through the day and also my bowel movement somehow improves. I also like Nadi Shodana or the alternate nostril breathing as it relaxes me especially during those stressful days at work and when I feel anxious with everything that’s happening around. At night, I usually just do deep breathing to prepare before sleep, those that the exhales are longer than the inhales.

Mastering pranayama is still a long way for me and I know for sure that I will be doing this more often and cultivate this together with meditation. Yoga, for me, is one big tool to learn to feel the fullness of life, to live joyfully and blissfully and I am still a work-in-progress and still a very long way ahead. I feel demotivated sometimes as I am struggling with many poses (asanas), regardless, I am continuing on in this journey.

Meditation and some of it’s benefits.

What is meditation? Meditation is the process of observing the mind. Meditation doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t be thinking anything but rather observing the mind as it wanders and traversing it gently back to the breath or to the area of focus and eventually quiets the mind. Meditation is observing the thoughts without judgment and eventually better understand them. Meditation can be defined as a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.

Nowadays, more and more people are into meditation and attesting that it really has done something good for them may it be making them more focus, more calm, more grounded, more wisdom among others. Since meditation has become more popular so studies about it have also been conducted to know more what really are the effects and benefits of meditation. Numerous studies have been conducted over the past years and have shown different benefits of meditation practice. The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits. Below are some amazing benefits of meditation:

Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain

A study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter (handles things like processing and other cognitive functions) volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators.

Meditation Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center”

Study at Yale University found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is “on” or active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down.

Meditation is good for Depression and Anxiety

A study at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.

Meditation May Lead to Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain

A Harvard University team found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well.

Meditation Improves Concentration and Attention

One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE. In fact, the increase in score was equivalent to 16 percentile points, which is nothing to sneeze at. Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job.

Meditation Can Help with Addiction

One study for example, pitted mindfulness training against the American Lung Association’s freedom from smoking (FFS) program, and found that people who learned mindfulness were many times more likely to have quit smoking by the end of the training, and at 17 weeks follow-up, than those in the conventional treatment. This may be because meditation helps people “decouple” the state of craving from the act of smoking, so the one doesn’t always have to lead to the other, but rather you fully experience and ride out the “wave” of craving, until it passes.

In conclusion, living amidst this chaotic world, it’s necessary and it’s one’s responsibility to find balance, harmony and clear our minds from all these negativities around and meditation might be one of the actions we can let ourselves embrace into to live a more blissful and contented life and to respond better to life’s adversities by knowing ourselves within that is understanding our being and our very existence in this universe.