Analysis & Yoga poses that engage: internal, external oblique muscles, and pelvic girdle

Location of internal and external oblique muscles

The internal abdominal oblique is a broad thin muscular sheet located on the lateral side of the abdomen while the external abdominal oblique is a paired muscle located on the lateral sides of the abdominal wall. As both names suggest, the direction of its fibres are obliquely oriented, making up the anterolateral abdominal wall. Together with the other abdominal muscles, the internal oblique affects the movements of the trunk, maintaining abdominal tension and increasing intra-abdominal pressure. The internal oblique muscle is also found deep in the external oblique with both working together to produce movements of the spine as well as to compress the abdominal viscera. As the external oblique muscle originates from the external surfaces of ribs 5-12, with the muscle fibres fanning out towards the midline and inferior margins of the abdomen, it is considered as the largest and most superficial of the lateral abdominal muscles.

Functions of internal and external oblique muscles

The internal abdominal oblique muscle has several functions that are dependent upon on the parts where the muscle contracts. Upon contraction, the internal abdominal oblique flexes the trunk, simultaneously causing compression of the intra-abdominal viscera, thereby increasing the intra-abdominal pressure which is utilised for functions including breathing, singing, defecation, and more. While the external oblique muscle has a variety of functions dependent on its contraction – either unilaterally or bilaterally. When contracted unilaterally and in synergy with the internal abdominal oblique, it rotates the trunk to the opposite side. However, when contracting bilaterally, the muscle works together the internal oblique to flex the trunk anteriority. This activity also increases the tone of the abdominal wall and positive intra-abdominal pressure, which is a part of various physiological process that includes exhalation, and labour. Along with other muscles of the abdominal wall, both internal and external oblique are highly important for maintaining normal abdominal wall tension and therefore, the contraction of these muscles play both a protecting and supporting role to reduce the risk of abdominal hernias.

Yoga poses that engage external oblique muscles

  1. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolving Lunge)Considered as one of the most common twisting poses due to its versatility, the revolving lunge can be performed by almost anyone – from beginner to an advanced yoga enthusiast with varying degrees of difficulty. As this position is performed, the opposite elbow is brought to the outside of the forward leg, with the body twisted towards the ceiling. This pose also stimulates the opening of the internal organs, allowing a deeper twist towards the ceiling which can be performed with the hands clasped together. To do this pose, simply stand with your feet three to four feet apart, point your right feet towards the right with your thigh at 90 degrees, extending your left leg straight with the heel lifted off the mat. Ensure that the weight is brought towards the right thigh and hinge your hip forward, twisting to the right and placing your left palm beside your right pinky toe, with your right arm extended towards the ceiling and gaze through your right thumb.2. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose)As we find ourselves slouching and our shoulders and hips carrying more stress, this is where Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) comes in handy to add in our yoga practice to realign and strengthen our body. This is where our upper arm, external oblique muscles, and back leg form one beautiful continuous diagonal line, working and stretching the various muscle groups. For those experiencing back pain, this pose also relieves back pain by lengthening the spine, strengthens the knees, tones the legs and increases stamina. To do this pose, simply stand with your feet three to four feet apart, point your left foot forward and ensure your right foot is 90 degrees to the side. Bend your right knee 90 degrees, raise your left arm over your head towards the right while you’re learning towards the right and gaze towards your right thumb. Open your chest and remain in five breaths before repeating on the left side.

Yoga poses that engage internal oblique muscles

  1. Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)

If you’re a bicycle rider, try practicing the revolve triangle pose for increasing performance. Although at first glance it might appear as your regular triangle pose, the body is twisted around so the opposite palm is placed just beside your right pinky toe. The revolve triangle pose helps open the chest and activates the spine with the help of the internal and external obliques, lengthening and releasing any muscle tension in the glutes and hamstrings which is great for improving balance and coordination. To get into this pose, simply stand with your feet about three to four feet apart, with your right feet pointed to the front and turn your left feet 45 degrees to the left. Square your hips and hinge from your hip toward the front, twisting your body to raise your right arm to the ceiling and open your shoulders. Stay here for five breaths before repeating on the left side.

2. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)

The side plank pose is a very integrative, body aligning posture that has been found to an important part of a yoga routine to reduce scoliosis and increases engagement of the internal oblique to support the position.  It is valued not only for its strength-building capacity but also for its many variations, making it suitable for multiple class levels so whether you’re a beginner looking to modify the posture or an experienced yogi exploring advanced variations, expect to build upper body and core strength while honing your capacity to balance. Simply get into a downward facing dog pose, and come up to a plank position while placing your left palm on the mat. Pivot towards the edge of your left feet, and raise your right arm towards the ceiling aligning to the left shoulder. Engage the oblique muscles to lift the hips with the spine, reducing the weight on the left wrist and open your chest to gaze to your right thumb. Remain in five breaths before repeating on the left side.

Especially for desk-bound workers who experience tightness in their neck and shoulders due to prolonging of sitting infront of the computer, having firm oblique not only appears good but also supports the back and overall posture which helps to prevent injuries and pain associated with the lower back and shoulders including lumbar spine, thoracic and lumbar flexion.

Location and functions of the pelvic girdle

A ring-like bony structure, the pelvic girdle is located in the lower part of the trunk and connects the axial skeleton to the lower limbs and the bony pelvis consists of the two hip bones (also known as pelvic bones), the sacrum and coccyx. With this, the ligaments attached to the lateral border of the sacrum on the bony pelvis adds to the stability of a person. The strong and rigid pelvis is adapted to serve a number of roles in the human body, with the main functions including the transfer of weight from the upper axial skeleton to the lower appendicular components of the skeleton, especially during movement, provides attachment for a number of muscles and ligaments used in locomotion, and contains and protects the abdominopelvic and pelvic viscera.

Yoga pose that engage pelvic girdle

  1. Marjaryasana Bitilasana (Cat Cow Pose)

Awake the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles with this posture as it prompts you to hug the outer hips, which helps you feel the direct link between the outer hip/thigh muscles and pelvic floor. Simply get into downward facing dog pose, and soften the upper and inner thighs to roll them toward the wall behind you. From there, inhale as you drop your belly into cow pose then exhale as you push your hands into the mat and round your back into cat pose. Repeat for 5 breaths.

In the case of pelvic girdle instability, the ligaments that hold the pelvis together would have become loose. The main causes are usually physical stress, hormonal changes during pregnancy, a sports injury, births, and more. Pelvic girdle instability is characterised amongst other symptoms through low back pain, restricted mobility, and overstretch ligaments. To rapid reduce pain as well as strengthening and relieving the ligaments, massages of the pelvis usually help to alleviate the pain with heat treatments being able to effectively support therapy.

Grounding Your Centre with Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Balasana – Child’s Pose

This asana gets its name from the Sanskrit words ‘bala’ (बाल) that means child and ‘asana’ (आसन) that means pose. This asana resembles the fetal position. It is a resting pose that focuses on the thighs and also helps alleviate back pains. If this asana is performed with a full gravitational pull, one can notice a great sense of mental, physical, and emotional solace.

The Science Behind The Child Pose

The Balasana is a restorative, calming pose that relaxes and rejuvenates the body. The stretch in the back relaxes the spinal column. It calms the muscles, thereby helping to alleviate pain, especially in back, neck, and shoulders. The knees are also stretched and relaxed, and therefore, the tendons, muscles, as well as joints are healed and made ready for functioning. The pose resembles a fetal position and is said to provide physical, mental, and emotional solace to the being.

This pose truly promotes positive feelings, transporting you back to your childhood days and stripping you off ill feelings and arrogance.

Alignment Guidelines

  • Lengthen and widen the spine with each inhale. Sink deeper into the pose with each exhale.
  • Keep the arms engaged by reaching through the hands.
  • Sink down into the hips.
  • Relax the shoulders down, away from the ears.

How To Do Balasana (Child Pose)

  1. Kneel down on the floor and touch your big toes to each other as you sit on your heels. Once you are comfortable, spread your knees hip-width apart. Inhale.
  1. Bend forward, and lay your torso between your thighs as you exhale.
  2. Now, broaden the sacrum all across the back of the pelvis, and narrow the points of your hip such that they point towards the navel. Settle down on the inner thighs.
  1. Stretch the tailbone away from the back of the pelvis as you lift the base of your head slightly away from the back of the neck.
  1. Stretch your arms forward and place them in front of you, such that they are in line with your knees. Release the fronts of your shoulder to the floor. You must feel the weight of the front shoulders pulling the blades widely across your back.
  2. Since this asana is a resting pose, you can stay in the pose from anywhere between 30 seconds to a few minutes.
  3. To release the asana, first stretch the front torso. Then, breathe in and lift from the tailbone while it pushes down into the pelvis.

Precautions And Contraindications

These are some points of caution to take into consideration before you do this asana.

  • If you find it difficult or uncomfortable to place your head on the floor, you can use a pillow for comfort.
  • It is best to avoid doing this asana if you are suffering from diarrhea or knee injuries.
  • Patients with high blood pressure must avoid practicing this asana.

Pose Alterations

To try a variation of this asana, you can also place your hands beside your body, alongside your torso, with your palms facing upwards. This will increase the relaxation quotient in the asana.

The Benefits Of Balasana (Child Pose)

  • It helps release tension in the chest, back, and shoulders.
  • This asana is highly recommended, especially if you have a bout of dizziness or fatigue during the day or during your workout.
  • This asana helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • It helps to massage and flex the internal organs in the body, keeping them active and supple.
  • This asana helps to stretch and lengthen the spine.
  • If this asana is done with support on the head and the torso, it relieves pain in the lower back and neck.
  • It helps to stretch the ankles, hips, and thighs.
  • It promotes blood circulation all throughout the body.
  • The tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the knee area are thoroughly stretched.
  • It encourages the right way of breathing and calms both the body and the mind.

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The Balasana is a basic yoga posture that brings out the child in you. While it completely stretches and relaxes your body, it also successfully makes you very happy.

Yoga and Testosterone

What is Testosterone?

Testosterone is an androgen hormone produced by the adrenal cortex, the testes (in those assigned male at birth), and the ovaries (in those assigned female at birth). It is often considered the primary sex hormone associated with those assigned male at birth. Present in much greater levels in men than women, testosterone initiates the development of the male internal and external reproductive organs during foetal development. Testosterone is produced by the gonads (by the Leydig cells in testes in men and by the ovaries in women), although small quantities are also produced by the adrenal glands in both sexes. In women, testosterone is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. The majority of testosterone produced in the ovary is converted to the principle female sex hormone, oestradiol.

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Functions of Testosterone

  • Testosterone signals the body to make new blood cells, ensures that muscles and bones stay strong during and after puberty.
  • Testosterone aids in learning and memory. It is especially associated with spatial intelligence.
  • Testosterone enhances libido both in men and women.
  • For biological males, testosterone stimulates the development of secondary sex characteristics associated with males (like body hair and muscle growth) and is essential in the production of sperm.
  • For biological females, testosterone helps keep bones and the reproductive system healthy and contributes to the sex drive.
  • A balanced testosterone level is important for fertility in any gender. Low levels of testosterone in men can cause infertility. High testosterone levels are associated with infertility in women.

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How Is Testosterone Production Regulated?

The regulation of testosterone production is tightly controlled to maintain normal levels in blood, although levels are usually highest in the morning and fall after that. The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are important in controlling the amount of testosterone produced by the testes. In response to gonadotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland produces luteinising hormone which travels in the bloodstream to the gonads and stimulates the production and release of testosterone.

As blood levels of testosterone increase, this feeds back to suppress the production of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus which, in turn, suppresses production of luteinising hormone by the pituitary gland. Levels of testosterone begin to fall as a result, so negative feedback decreases and the hypothalamus resumes secretion of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone.

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Cortisol and Testosterone 

Cortisol suppresses the production of testosterone in the Leydig cells located in the male testes.  There is an area of the brain called the hypothalamus which is responsible for signaling the body to create testosterone. This part of the brain is affected by cortisol during stressful times, but when you are able to manage stress, you can suppress cortisol levels and allow your body to keep on producing testosterone at optimal rates.

Also, cortisol and testosterone both require substance for synthesis – cholesterol. If there’s too much cortisol in your bloodstream, the body will prioritize using the cholesterol for cortisol synthesis instead of using it for testosterone stability. If you’re not overly stressed, cholesterol can help create testosterone.

Meditation and Yoga help you manage stress and offer the perfect solution for how to lower cortisol levels and enjoy healthy T-levels.

What happens if I have too much testosterone?

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in women
    PCOS is a common hormonal disorder that affects reproductive, metabolic and psychological health. It is estimated PCOS affects between 5 and 15% of reproductive-age women, and it is the most common cause of anovulatory infertility. Women with PCOS may experience irregular menstrual cycles, hirsutism, acne, male-pattern hair loss, subfertility and higher incidence of miscarriage. Reducing androgen levels, including testosterone, is key to managing these symptoms.

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What happens if I have too little testosterone?

  • Low testosterone levels can cause mood disturbances, increased body fat, loss of muscle tone, inadequate erections and poor sexual performance, osteoporosis, difficulty with concentration, memory loss and sleep difficulties. Current research suggests that this effect occurs in only a minority (about 2%) of ageing men.
  • In adult men, low testosterone may lead to a reduction in muscle bulk, loss of body hair and a wrinkled ‘parchment-like’ appearance of the skin. Testosterone levels in men decline naturally as they age. In the media, this is sometimes referred to as the male menopause (andropause).

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How we can manage?

Reduce Testosterone via Mindful Yoga

  • Researchers found a one-hour mindful yoga class, done three times a week, reduced testosterone levels in women with PCOS by 29% over a three-month period. Other androgen levels, like DHEA, were also reduced, and depression and anxiety levels improved by 55% and 21%, respectively, according to the study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

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Boost Testosterone via Yoga Asanas

The primary way that yoga boosts testosterone is by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This is how yoga helps you to let go of stress and relax. There are also specific asanas that directly increases testosterone production by increasing circulation to the genital area.

1. The Cobra

A study conducted by Russian scientists in 2001, wherein the participants held the Cobra pose for 2-3 minutes, found that afterwards their testosterone levels had increased an average of 16%, but some as high as 33-55%. It was also found that the Cobra pose lowered cortisol levels.

The key to the pose is to lift your head and chest without the help of your arms, pressing the pubic bone into the ground. Keep your hands and arms shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees almost together. Now lower your legs and waist to the floor, so your legs are straight out behind you. Keep your upper body elevated. Look straight up while extending your arms to the floor. Keep your arms angled towards you. If you have neck problems and can’t look straight up then only look as far as what is comfortable.

2. Full Lotus

The full lotus requires you to sit on the floor with your legs straight and your arms at your side. Put your right ankle in your left thigh crease. Then put your left ankle in your right thigh crease. Rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing upward.

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3. Locust Pose

This pose helps to improve testosterone levels, prostate health and alleviate erectile dysfunction. This pose looks simple, but it requires a lot of core strength.

Start by laying flat on the floor on your stomach with your arms at your sides. Keep your legs hip-width apart and straight. You don’t want your ankles to roll inward or outward. Inhale and lift your head off the floor. Exhale and lift your arms over your head and raise your feet.  This is the beginner locust pose. To do a full locust, continue to raise your upper body, so you lift your upper spine. Extend your arms out to your sides and back so that you look a bit like a bird trying to fly.

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4. Bow Pose

This is an intermediate yoga backbend pose which will strengthen your core and all of the muscles in your back. You will also notice that it improves your posture and spinal flexibility. This pose puts pressure on your abdomen, which will stimulate your digestion and reproductive organs. You should also feel relief from stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

To do this pose start by laying on your stomach. Bend your knees and bring your feet up and as close to your butt as possible. Now reach back and hold onto the outside of your ankles. You’ll then want to lift your heels towards the ceiling, so your thighs come off of the mat. At the same time, you will raise your head, shoulders, and upper torso off of the floor too. The goal is to lift your entire upper body off the floor so that you are only resting on your hips.

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It’s all about the hips

When I first started yoga, I realized I had a lot to work on to be able to get into a number of postures. I thought the two most important things for me were building arm strength and gaining flexibility. Both were true, but taking this YTT course made me realize I had omitted the most important thing: the hip, and particularly the hip flexors.

The hip is the foundation to almost all poses and is the key to understanding even the most simple asana that you thought you had mastered. It is the central element of the body that grounds us.

But what exactly are the hip flexors and why are they so important?

The hip flexors are actually a group of muscles at the top of the thighs which enable us to walk, run, jump, climb stairs, so, yes, the basics (which is why we tend to totally forget about them). They include the tensor fasciae latae, the pectineus, the rectus femoris, the sartorius, the iliacus and the infamous psoas (the psoas major being the primary flexor). Together, these muscles allow the flexing of the hip and also help to stabilize the spine.

In yoga asanas, strong hip flexors are therefore of the utmost importance in forward folds, balancing poses, and also back bends (help in avoiding lower back pain). In everyday life, strong hip flexors are also important to maintain a good posture and avoid back pain, but our sedentary, sitting-at-the-office lifestyle usually causes tight and weak hip flexors.

Basic yoga poses that engage the hip flexors include: Trikonasana (triangle pose), Parivritta Trikonasana (revolved triangle pose), Adho Mukkha Svanasana (downward facing dog), Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend), Veerabhadrasana I, II (Warrior I, II), Ardha Chandrasana (half moon).

Trikonasana example:

The iliopsoas contract in triangle pose to allow the pelvis to tilt forward. The key in bringing awareness and engaging this muscle as described in Bandha yoga’s psoas awakening series, is to “imagine lifting the forward leg straight up toward the ceiling”.

source: www.bandhayoga.com

Yoga poses that stretch the hip flexors include: Malasana (yoga squat), Badhakonasana (butterfly), Utthan Pristhasana (lizard pose) and Ardha Kapotasana (pigeon pose).

During this course, I realized that, as a general rule of thumb, the more challenging the poses become, the more they require strong hip flexors. Bringing awareness to these “hidden” muscles, strengthening and learning to engage them is therefore essential to any yoga practitioner who wants to improve. Of course, a strong core and a strong back will help balance, and will altogether help achieve those poses that just seem impossible!

Alignment to optimize effort in asanas

Ever wonder how alignment plays a role in asanas? Alignment is important not just to protect your body from injuries, by keeping your joints in place, but also to optimize effort in asanas.

When we stack our bones in alignment with gravitational forces, we find that the weight we have to bear is reduced. While we have to use our muscles to pull our bones into alignment, once they are stacked, the tensile strength of bones is activated and our muscles can bear less weight.

Let’s explore this through a plank pose and head stand.

Phalakasana (Plank pose)

In plank pose, the emphasis is often to stack the wrists, elbows and shoulders in a single perpendicular line to the yoga mat. In doing so, the radius and ulna and humerous are stacked with the wrist (radiocarpal and ulnacarpal) joints, elbow joints and shoulder (glenohumeral) joint aligned. The heels and toes are also aligned. This allows for the bones to counter the downward pull of gravity, and for the practitioner to focus on activating the key core and lumbar muscles in the pose.

Sirsasana (Head stand)

In head stand, the desired stacking happens when the ankles, knees and legs are brought together and stacked over a stable hip (parallel to the ground), which allows for a straight and stacked spine. Additionally, shoulders are stacked over the elbows to support the body. As the various stacks of bones counteract gravity, engaging the relevant core and trapezoid muscles to stabilize the joints in alignment becomes easier.

Working with, not against our body

By understanding skeletal alignment and the natural range of stability and movements in different joints, we bring anatomical awareness to our asana practice. As we stack bones in alignment, we are able to engage the key muscles of each pose and optimize for comfort.

Yoga: A Therapy for Kyphosis

Everyday life can have major impacts on our muscular and skeletal systems. From the way we stand and sit to the pressure that we put on our bodies doing daily activities can have lasting impacts throughout the years. One major result of poor prolonged sitting posture is kyphosis, which is when the thoracic vertebrae are rounded exaggeratedly. It is normal for the spine to have a slight curve in the thoracic area, however a kypho spine can resemble the letter ‘C’ in extreme cases. It affects posture, flexibility and can lead to pain in the upper back. Many practitioners recommend yoga to individuals who experience the rounding of the spine as it can help to properly align the spine. One of the poses that helps alleviate kyphosis is mountain pose. Standing up straight, properly aligning the spine and shifting the shoulders back so that the shoulders are aligned will help to push the curve back to a normal amount. Marjaryasana, or cat pose, is also another posture that aids in kyphosis. It is done by going to table top position and slowly arching the back and then pressing it up (cow) repeatedly. This helps to stretch the spine, in a way that it may not experience during daily activities. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) is one of the most popular poses for realignment of the spine as it also builds strength within the erector spinae muscles. Matsyasana is another posture which helps to correct the curve of the spine. Due to the movement of the shoulder blades drawn together, this helps to open up the chest, and relieve any tightness within the pectorals major and minor which could be causing the need to round the shoulders. This fish pose targets the erector spinae muscles as well, helping to build strength within the back to create the proper strength to keep the spine straight. Bhujangasana or Cobra pose is another very therapeutic posture for rounded shoulders and curved spines as it involves the opening of the chest and curving on the spine towards the back, counteracting the forward facing curve of kyphosis. Chest opening and erector spinae strengthening postures are very important for aiding kyphosis as the shoulder muscles, including the pectoralis major and minor, and the subclavius are stretched and therefore the tension built from kyphosis decreases. The shoulders are then free to externally rotate back to the proper alignment. Kyphosis also causes the rotator cuff muscles to be weakened and therefore poses that require the conscious external rotation of the shoulder blades to squeeze them together, such as warrior 1, utthita/parivritta trikonasana, Prasarita padottanasana series, dandasana, purvottanasana and many more are very therapeutic to properly align the spine.

Pelvic Tilt and How Yoga Helps

Today, many people live in a sedentary lifestyle. The prolonged sitting has led to some musculoskeletal disorder such as knee pain, scoliosis and pelvic tilt. Today we will zoom into pelvic tilt and study its causes, symptoms and how yoga postures can help improve it.

Anterior and posterior pelvic tilts are two main types of pelvic tilt. Pelvic tilt, other than prolonged sitting as mentioned previously, some are caused by genetic factors while some are also caused by poor postures over the time. This results in increased curvature of lower spine and upper back of the body. Muscle imbalances is another symptom caused by anterior pelvic tilt and lack of stretching and strengthening activities further contribute to pelvic tilt.

There are some yoga poses that help correct pelvic tilt. For anterior pelvic tilt, one is Setu Bandha Sarvangasana/ Bridge Pose. Bridge pose requires one to engage his glutes and hence the pose helps to strengthen the glutes. Weak glutes, on the other hand, may result in hamstrings working overtime and hence are more prone to injury. Meanwhile, anterior pelvic tilt makes hamstrings feel even shorter and one would be trapped into the cycle of anterior pelvic tilt – shorten hamstring – difficult in stretching and overwork of hamstring – more serious anterior pelvic tilt. Practicing bridge pose allows one to strike a muscular balance between glutes and hamstring.

Another yoga pose that helps with anterior pelvic tilt would be Santolasana/ Plank Pose. Anterior pelvic tilt means that hips consistently pull down, having strong abdominal muscle helps pull hips back up. Santolasana strengthens one’s abdominal muscles and hence help improve anterior pelvic tilt. To deepen the practice, one can add side plank during the practices.

For posterior pelvic tilt, one yoga pose that helps is Bhujangasana/ Cobra Pose. It helps to stretch tightened abdominal muscles and hence lengthening them and pull the pelvic bones to a more neutral position.

Another pose to correct posterior pelvic tilt would be Eka Pada Rajakapotasana/ Pigeon Pose. This is because pigeon pose is a great drill for opening up through glutes and outer hips. It is easier for individual to maintain a neutral pelvis and hence correcting posterior pelvic tilt.

Today, with our lifestyle being more sedentary, we have encountered many musculoskeletal disorders which affect us daily mobility if being serious. By engaging these yoga poses in our daily life can help gradually improve the situation.

Journey to Front Splits: A Hip Opening Flow

Source: Yoga Dharma

 

Hip openers powerfully stimulate and balance the muladhara, or root chakra. By physically rooting our pelvic floor and the base of our spine into the Earth, we plug ourselves into the vibrational current of the planet. It also activates the sacral chakra, Svadisthana, which is translated as dwelling in a place of the self. This energy center relates to fun, freedom, creativity, flexibility, and pleasure. When we open our hips, we restore our reproductive organs, which at a base level represent the original force creating existence. Through creating balance in these chakras we can become grounded, comfortable within our own identity, inherently creative, and flexible in changing environments, not excessively holding on to what you thought before. Before you start this practice, meditate on something you would like to let go of that you feel prevents you from expressing yourself fully.

Each asana holds meaning that’s intended to connect us to our deeper beings. This hip opening flow ends with Hanumanasana, the yogic name to the famous front splits. Hanuman, the ancient Monkey God in the mythological times, was famous for his powerful leaps, as he was able to jump over South India to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita, the Queen, who was kidnapped by the Lord of Darkness. Such leap is memorialized in the pose. Similar to Hanuman’s devotion in saving the queen, this asana expresses the expansiveness possible when you fully commit to your practice.

This flow will focus on the following major movements and muscular engagements:

(1) Opening the Hamstrings

(2) Opening the Hip Flexors

(3) Lengthening Your Stride

(4) Engagement of Glutes, Pelvic Floor, Psoas, and Core

(5) Keeping the spine neutral while performing all (important to prevent lower back injury, don’t go into anterior tilt).

It’s important to note that any hip opening pose must be approached with humility, even if you’re already quite flexible. Many flexible people further stretch their already-open hamstrings but allow their pelvis to tip forward (anterior tilt). This creates an imbalance and leads to lower back pain when students attempt, as they should, to lift the spine.

Hanumanasana requires the work of the hips and hamstrings, while balancing the upper body on the pelvis. With the hips and the legs moving in opposite directions, the hip flexors and hamstrings need to be strong and flexible to attain the required balance and stability.

 

Warmup (5 mins)

  • Table Top Cat Cow (1 min)
  • Table top with leg pulsing on each side (1 min)
  • 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar A (3 mins)

Main Sequence

Standing Sequence (25 minutes)

  • Prasarita Padottanasana ABCD (3 minutes)
  • Parsvottanasana
    • Praying hands (1 minute)
    • Hugging and kissing knee (1 minute)
  • Surya Namaskar A Half til Downward Dog (30 seconds)
  • Vinyasa on Both sides: Downward dog – Three legged downdog with knee flexing- Active pigeon- Sleeping Pigeon- Child’s Pose- Repeat on left side (6 minutes)
  • Vinyasa on Both sides: High lunge- Warrior 1- Skandasana- Warrior 2- Birds of paradise- Tadasana (8 minutes)
  • Surya Namaskar A Half til Downward Dog (30 seconds)
  • Lizard pose + Quad Stretch Both sides (2 minutes)
  • Active Malasana (2 minutes)
    • Active Malasana Level 2: For more adduction stretch, step on the blocks while still pushing the thighs back and engaging hamstrings
    • Active Malasana Level 3: place forearm and palm flat on the ground, flap legs sideways
  • Goddess Pose (1 minute)

Seating Sequence (10 minutes)

  • Paschmitonasana A (1 minute)
  • Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana Both sides (2 minutes)
  • Triang Mukha Eka Pada admotanasana (2 minutes)
  • Split drills with blocks (Get two blocks. Put them near your pelvis. Keep on placing one block in front of another until you extend your arms to its maximum. Once arms are at maximum, fold forward) (2 minutes)
  • Hanumanasana (3 minutes)
    • Focus on leveling the pelvis instead of reaching to the ground
    • Keep hips squared; try to avoid going into an anterior tilt
    • Press your inner thighs towards each other to help support the pelvis.
    • Engage hip flexors, glutes, pelvic core, psoas, and core

Counter Pose/ Closing (5 minutes)

  • Hug knees in supine pose
  • Supine twist
  • Shoulder stand
  • Shoulderstand Lotus Pose (Padma Sarvangasana)
  • Inversion: Headstand or Tripod

Shavasana (5 minutes)

 

 

The Core Muscle That Truly Matters

For the longest time, I have associated core muscles only with rectus abdominis, otherwise known as ~abs~. We live in a society that glorifies the possession of the so-called ~6-pack~, making it the ultimate goal for any workout, a social trophy that could mean you have strength, endurance, and overall attractiveness. On our 2nd week of YTT, I have learned that it is in fact, only one of the three muscles that make up our core. The other two are transverse abdominis and oblique muscles.

Of the three, the most overlooked is the Transverse Abdominis (TVA). This muscle runs between the ribs and the pelvis, horizontally from front to back, acting as a corset. It’s extremely important as it’s the deepest core muscle, and acts as a support for the entire lower back, stabilizing the trunk while maintaining internal abdominal pressure. Additionally, it increases pressure on the thoracic spine (where the lungs are) to aid in breathing and heart stimulation.

TVA is also responsible in getting yogis to gracefully jump and float into inversion asanas.

TLDR version: the stronger the TVA, the less likely one will experience lower back pain.

Are you someone who, despite doing several crunches and push-ups or other rectus abdominis-defining exercises, still have the abdominal wall bulging forward?
In other words, does your belly pooch seem to not disappear despite doing 1 minute of chaturanga and 100 curl-ups each day? That is a sign of a weak TVA.

When you feel tension in your lower back and hip flexors when you cycle, perform leg lifts, or bridge, it also means you have weak TVA.

Luckily, our ignored and forgotten yet very precious TVA works very efficiently which means you don’t have to put that much physical effort to activate it. In other words, no crunches and push-ups needed.

So, how exactly can you work this muscle?

First things first. Locate your TVA by following these steps:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, internally rotate your shoulders. Relax your belly completely.
  • Place your fingertips on the boney part of your hips, then move them an inch inwards towards your navel.
  • Feign a cough. Feel that muscle pressing on your fingers? That’s your TVA.

Now, here are a few simple ways to strengthen it. While doing these drills, make sure to consciously feel your TVA being engaged.

 

  • Uddiyana Bandha (Upward binding; navel lock)

Uddiyana bandha is the abdominal lock. It is the second of the three interior body locks used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy (prana) in the body.

Uddiyana Bandha is best practiced first thing in the morning when the stomach is completely empty.

Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale quickly through your nose.

Push as much air as possible out of your lungs by contracting your TVA and two other abdominal muscles.

Perform what’s called a “mock inhalation” by expanding your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but without actually doing so. The expansion of the rib cage creates a hollowing sensation and appearance in the belly.

Read more about its benefits and proper ways of doing it here.

  • Abdominal Bracing (Breathing technique).

Take a deep breath in.

Expand your rib cage.

Pull your rib cage down.

Think about tightening your midsection as if you were just about to be punched in the gut.

 

  • Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana (Bridge Pose)

Lie with your back flat on the floor.

Bend your knees and set your feet parallel on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible.

Pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your TVA upward toward the ceiling, firming (but not hardening) the buttocks, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Thighs and feet must be parallel.

Clasp the hands below your pelvis.

 

  • Single Leg Extensions.

Lie down on your back. Keep your spine straight.

Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle and slowly bring one leg down.

Repeat on the other side. Repeat for as many times as you can.

 

  •  Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

Lie on your mat.

Draw your right knee into the chest.

Slowly straighten and extend the right leg up.

Make sure that your arms are straight and shoulders are pressing down.

Repeat on the other side.

 

  • Bitilasana Marjaryasana (Cat and Cow Pose)

Cow- round your back, lift your lower back up, open your chest, look towards the ceiling

Cat- curve your spine, drop your head, push the floor away, contract your TVA, look towards your navel

 

  • Kumbhakasana (Plank)

Position your wrists and elbows directly under your shoulders.

Maintain a straight body line from head to heels.

Contract your TVA.

Lightly squeeze your butt and the fronts of your thighs.

 

Practice doing these asanas everyday and you’ll surely enjoy a more stabilized lower back, and feel better when performing inversion asanas!

My Backache

A few years ago, I woke up with a backache. Like any normal young adult, I decided to ignore it and went about my days. The pain grew over the months to the point where I could not sit for extended periods of time. I would drive and exit the car in numbing pain. I went for massages which only provided temporary relief. The pain would return with a vengeance and extended into radiating pains down my thigh. I was worried that I had a spinal injury, a herniated disc perhaps. I went for checkups, scans, and second opinions but alas, my spine was in good condition! The doctors simply sent me to physiotherapy that only helped minimally.

After more than half a year, I was introduced to a Chinese physician. After listening to my condition, her team proceeded to give me the most painful deep tissue massage (tui na) I have ever had in my life. I have a high tolerance for pain (case in point: half a year of radiating pain) but I will not send my worst enemies to her. I have seen grown men cry in her clinic. However, it was worth it. 90% of my pain went away after just one session. What surprised me was that she did not massage my legs nor my back much. Instead, she pressed deeply into my buttocks in all angles, seemingly searching for gold. I did not understand why or what she was doing but I recovered fully after 3 sessions, so I told everyone it was a miracle that Western medicine could not achieve.

Fast forward to my YTT course today, I learned about the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle originates from the anterior part of the sacrum and inserts into the greater trochanter of the femur. In short, it starts from the front/ bottom of your spine to the top of your thigh bone. It is in charge of externally rotating your femur and also abducting it when hips are flexed.

More importantly, when the piriformis muscle is inflamed, it will impinge on the sciatica nerve. This causes lower backache, pain down the back of thigh/calf/ foot, and pain after prolonged sitting. Sounds familiar? This is also known as piriformis syndrome.

This is the pot of gold that my Chinese physician was looking for! Causes of piriformis syndrome include overexertion due to impact or exercise.

Today, I wonder why my doctors and physiotherapist did not diagnose me as such. Nevertheless, this lesson has taught me the importance of body awareness and anatomical knowledge. Your physical body is the only vehicle carrying you for the rest of your life. You are the passenger, driver, and mechanic. Take care of it.