Menstrual cycle

The endocrine system is an intricate and complex combination of glands secreting a specific set of hormones which have an impact on the whole body.

 

If your hormones are not balanced well in the body, there will be some serious issues you may have to face!

 

It is quite obvious in women. We all know how drastic the changes in women who are close to their moon cycle are (I heard of men penciling down the dates in a calendar, as a note to self for the so called “no” days of their relevant halves). What causes that obvious shift in the mood, skin features, body changes and more to it, is the rather relevant revolution of the level of hormones in a woman’s system.

 

Let’s talk about this specific case.

 

The menstrual cycle is divided into 4 phases:

 

1.    Follicular phase

The ovaries are getting ready for the ripening of an egg (this is the phase between menstruation and ovulation)

During this specific moment the pituitary releases a specific hormone called the follicle stimulating hormone or FSH. This hormone stimulates the follicle (which contains an egg) to mature. Also luteinizing hormone or LH is released and it is responsible for ovulation.

At the beginning of this phase estrogen and progesterone are typically low. They will rise as the phase proceeds and will have the effect of boosting the mood and energy level and brain skills.

Estrogen makes the skin look beautiful, suppresses appetite, boost extroversion.

As this phase approaches the beginning of the next one, the lining of the uterus thickens, cervical liquid is being produced and it’s the most fertile moment for women.

 

2.    Ovulatory phase 

This is a rather short phase as it lasts for roughly 2/3 days. Thanks to the LH the dominant follicle will burst open and will release the egg into the fallopian tube. There are roughly 12 to 24 hours for the egg to be fertilized or it will disintegrate. A very interesting fact about this specific moment is that the cervix moves up higher so that only the best sperm can reach the egg as it will have to swim higher. The cervical fluid is fertile during this moment. Healthy fluid is needed to protect the sperm from the naturally occurring acid environment in the vagina.

Levels of estrogen and testosterone are peak high during this phase. Self-confidence and sex drive is generally high during this time thanks to the levels of these hormones. It is a good time to perform high energy activities.

 

3.    Luteal phase

This is the phase that occurs if the egg doesn’t get fertilized, therefore the body needs to prepare to release it. This phase last for about 12-16 days. FSH and LH levels will drop. So do estrogen and testosterone. (estrogen will reappear at the end of this phase). The follicle that released the egg will transform into the corpus luteum, a temporary endocrine gland that produces progesterone. It’s a hormone which produces heat, making the basal temperature of the woman rise. This is a typically infertile moment as the cervical fluid has a consistency which should prevent the sperm to reach the egg. Emotionally the woman will still feel quite energized at the beginning but will slowly wind down due to the effect of the rise of progesterone. Progesterone is naturally a sleep aid and antianxiety hormone. During the second week of this phase estrogen will rise slightly to drop again together with progesterone causing the uterus lining to shed leading to the next phase. This is the moment where PMS symptoms become quite obvious.

 

4.    Bleeding phase

This phase lasts 2 to 7 days. This is the lowest point of the woman. They may feel tired, withdrawn, introvert, and the energy will be at the lowest point.

This is a great moment for downtime. Yoga is still a great option here as it helps to reduce bloating, boost energy level and relieve cramps. Remember to avoid all the inversions during “those days” as the blood would flow back in the system. Energetically speaking bleeding is a downward flow, therefore the asanas chosen should follow the same “path”. Moreover, inversions require quite a bit of energy and this is the moment of the month when the woman feels less energetic.

Nevertheless, there are some who feel that their energy level are quite high making it somehow a personal choice. As a rule of thumb inversion should be held for a short time and women should enjoy the practice of more relaxing practices. Pranayama and meditation are excellent ways to cruise through this time. Best poses are twists, chest openers and legs up the wall. 

 

I also love to use essential oils to help me navigate through tough times. Lavender is an excellent oil. It has calming, relaxing, and balancing properties. It works as an analgesic, anticonvulsant and relaxant oil. It has many more property and is one of the safest oils to use.

 

 

Chiara G. May 2

Muscle anatomy: why does it matter?

During this third week of training, we spent a lot of time on learning the muscle names, functions, insertions and origins on the bones which may sound very boring and is definitely difficult to remember. However, being a yoga teacher or just wanting to practice yoga on your own require this knowledge, not only to help prevent injuries but  also to ease common muscle pain.

How many of us suffer occasional or constant lower back pain? I would say most of us feel at least discomfort on the lumbar area after being in a wrong position for too long (in front of our computers maybe) or carrying something heavy, or just standing up for a long time. How many of us know why it hurts and more importantly how to ease the pain? We might easily do a forward bend to stretch but what else can we do to avoid this pain to occur again? Well, learning about the muscle anatomy would definitely help in identifying the causes of this pain which for instance might be due to weak abdominal core muscles, or weak back muscles. In these cases, stretching the spine when it hurts will only be a temporary fix-up.  In addition, it is very important to work your core muscles and selected yoga asanas will help you do that.

The human body is a beautiful machine, every bone, every muscle is designed perfectly to accomplish its function. A well-balanced body with adequate strength of every muscle becomes light and free of discomfort in any position. On the other hand, a wrong habit, a lack of strength in some muscle and excessive strength on others will force the body to adjust to accomplish the movements by over straining some muscles, over stretching others. Up to my knowledge, yoga is the best practice to strengthen and stretch all the muscles in synergy for a well-balanced body.

– Stephanie –

Yoga world records and over stretching

Yoga World Record in Colombia and risk of overstretching

Yoga now has its own International Day on 21 June since 2015, so it’s not surprise that Yoga is often featured in the Guinness World records. From the oldest yoga teacher at 95 years old, largest yoga lesson involving 55,506 participants, the longest yoga marathon by one person of 103 hours or the longest yoga class at just over 35 hours. This last record took place in Bogota Colombia in 2017.

The class started with 18 students, but only 11 were able to finish. They needed a minimum of 10 to qualify as a group. They were allowed to rest for 5 minutes every 60 minutes.

Yoga classes are often designed to last 60 to 90 minutes maximum. A session of more than 30 hours is indeed very extreme. What can happen to the body at such extreme situation, to the muscles, to flexibility and to the mind?

There seems to be a lot of research on the benefits of stretching, but not so much on the dangers of over doing it.

Over-stretching can lead to injury, strains, loss of muscle strength, hyper mobility and general weakness. When a muscle is being lengthened, it’s not just the actual muscle being elongated but the connective tissue (fascia) as well. 

This connective tissue is an essential part of our body as it connects muscles to bones and bones to bones (tendons and ligaments are also considered fascia). It keeps organs in place, protects the vertebrae, brain and spinal cord. It comprises up to 30% of a muscle’s total mass and when we over stretch the fascia tissue can lose their ability to recoil. Even micro injuries in the connective tissue can lead to chronic pain. 

It’s very important to be careful with over stretching, specially young adults until the age of 21 as their bodies are still developing and their bones and muscles are not fully formed. When practicing yoga, it’s not how flexible you are, but how safely you are practicing so it’s enjoyable, at the end of the day, yoga is to be enjoyed now and for many years to come. During my yoga teaching course, Master Paalu gave us very good advice… choose 15 or so poses you can do for the rest of your life, poses that you can sustain and practice on a daily basis. Over-stretching and hyper flexing the joints is not going to allow me or anyone to continue with our yoga journey for many years to come. So listen to your body, do what you enjoy and warning: don’t attempt any yoga records!.

– Angela – 

Yoga world records and over stretching

Yoga World Record in Colombia and risk of overstretching

Yoga now has its own International Day on 21 June since 2015, so it’s not surprise that Yoga is often featured in the Guinness World records. From the oldest yoga teacher at 95 years old, largest yoga lesson involving 55,506 participants, the longest yoga marathon by one person of 103 hours or the longest yoga class at just over 35 hours. This last record took place in Bogota Colombia in 2017.

The class started with 18 students, but only 11 were able to finish. They needed a minimum of 10 to qualify as a group. They were allowed to rest for 5 minutes every 60 minutes.

Yoga classes are often designed to last 60 to 90 minutes maximum. A session of more than 30 hours is indeed very extreme. What can happen to the body at such extreme situation, to the muscles, to flexibility and to the mind?

There seems to be a lot of research on the benefits of stretching, but not so much on the dangers of over doing it.

Over-stretching can lead to injury, strains, loss of muscle strength, hyper mobility and general weakness. When a muscle is being lengthened, it’s not just the actual muscle being elongated but the connective tissue (fascia) as well. 

This connective tissue is an essential part of our body as it connects muscles to bones and bones to bones (tendons and ligaments are also considered fascia). It keeps organs in place, protects the vertebrae, brain and spinal cord. It comprises up to 30% of a muscle’s total mass and when we over stretch the fascia tissue can lose their ability to recoil. Even micro injuries in the connective tissue can lead to chronic pain. 

It’s very important to be careful with over stretching, specially young adults until the age of 21 as their bodies are still developing and their bones and muscles are not fully formed. When practicing yoga, it’s not how flexible you are, but how safely you are practicing so it’s enjoyable, at the end of the day, yoga is to be enjoyed now and for many years to come. During my yoga teaching course, Master Paalu gave us very good advice… choose 15 or so poses you can do for the rest of your life, poses that you can sustain and practice on a daily basis. Over-stretching and hyper flexing the joints is not going to allow me or anyone to continue with our yoga journey for many years to come. So listen to your body, do what you enjoy and warning: don’t attempt any yoga records!.

– Angela – 

Manage ACL Injuries with Yoga

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four ligaments that stabilises your knee joint, connecting the bones in your thigh to your shin. The ACL forms an X with the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) to prevent the knee from sliding forwards/backwards and prevents rotations. Without a normal ACL, your knee becomes unstable and can buckle in abrupt motions. You will also find that all the muscles connected to the torn ACL becomes stiffer due to a re-programming of the central nervous system to project the injured area from further injuries.  

Function of Rehabilitative Training

In the long run, non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy is important in managing torn ACL conditions. Such rehabilitation programs focus on increasing the strength of the other knee stabilisers, which includes the major muscles of the thigh, such as the quadriceps and the hamstrings. Proprioception training will help prevent future injuries and deterioration by increasing our subconscious body awareness to react faster to protect an injured joint. Finally, gentle stretches should be regularly incorporated to counter muscle stiffness around the injured knee.

Yoga for Rehabilitation

There are a number of yoga asanas that can aid in the rehabilitation process of partially torn or surgically re-constructed ACLs. Depending on the choice of asanas, this program can adequately cover strength, flexibility, proprioception and neuromuscular control. Here is a lesson plan that I have designed for ACL rehabilitation:

  1. Sun Salutations A &B
  2. Trikonasana
  3. Parivritta Trikonasana
  4. Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (include hops on grounded feet)
  5. Virabhadrasana 3
  6. Dancer’s Pose
  7. Vriksasana (close eyes to improve proprioception) 
  8. Vakrasana
  9. Pursvottanasana
  10. Downward Dog
  11. Sethu Bandasana (use one leg at a time to increase challenge)
  12. Sirsasana
  13. Savasana

When to Stop 

While I’ve been advised not to do the lotus pose due to my partially torn ACL, I’ve thankfully been able to continue executing this pose without pain. My limitations (for now) are asanas that require a deeper rotation of the hips and knees, particularly the Marichyasana D. That said, always stop at the first sign of a sharp pain when working on any exercise program. Listen to your body to know what you can and cannot do, keeping in mind that every body is different. If you’ve had a torn ACL like me, I welcome you to join me in practice!

 

– Vanessa Tang –

How to Hold Your Breath

This is a good skill to have if you wish to take up freediving as a hobby. Or if you run into someone trying to strangle you. 

Yogis (and freedivers) can hold their breaths for extended periods of time. A number of techniques in yoga practice is useful for lengthening the period in which you can hold your breath. The average lung capacity is 4 litres for women and 6 litres for men. You can directly impact your lung capacity and effectiveness with knowledge of yogic pranayama (breathing techniques), asanas (physical postures) and meditation techniques. 

Awareness of Intercostal Muscles: The intercostal muscles run between and around your ribs. With awareness of how these muscles function and operate, you can expand the area covered by your ribcage on every inhale, which increases the volume of air that you can bring into your lungs. Ideally, your ribs should be able to expand sideways, giving additional room for your lungs to fill with air. Practice with a twisted yoga pose such as Marichiyasana C or D, which requires that you engage your intercostal muscles fully in order to continue taking deep breaths in the pose. 

Breathing Techniques: The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle when relaxed, and flattened when contracted. It extends across the bottom of the thoracic cavity which separates your heart and lungs from your abdomen. During inhalations, the diaphragm contracts flat to create space for your lungs to expand. Yogic pranayama techniques such as Kapalabathi and Ujjayi trains your diaphragm further by bringing your awareness to how it feels and works in your body when you practice a variety of breathing exercises. In Kapalapathi, you forcefully pump the air out of your lungs by engaging your abdomen muscles. In Ujjayi breath, you lengthen the period of exhale by slowing down the amount of air released from your lungs. 

Meditation: Calming your mind and reducing the amount of thoughts in your head reduces the body’s metabolic rate, which slows down the conversion of oxygen to carbon dioxide, allowing you to go longer on the air that you already have. When you start holding your breath, you begin with a mental battle with yourself to believe that your body can survive on the oxygen available to it. In meditation techniques, you are supposed to hold that thought and let it disappear from your mental horizon, thus in a sense ignoring your mind and body’s compulsion to breathe. When you are very relaxed in meditation, you will find that you have dramatically slowed down your pace of breath. 

Here is a simple exercise that you can do to start practising: 

  • Come to a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes. 
  • Inhale 6 seconds, hold breath for 6 seconds, and exhale for 12 seconds. 
  • Inhale 6 seconds, hold breath for 18 seconds, and exhale for 12 seconds.  
  • Inhale 6 seconds, hold breath for 24 seconds, and exhale for 12 seconds. 
  • Inhale 6 seconds, hold breath for 48 seconds, and exhale for 24 seconds. 

It takes time, technique, and a lot of patience. You will find that your capacity to hold your breath improves. 

In the meantime, don’t hold your breath!

 

– Vanessa Tang – 

Backbends & Shoulder Flexibility

I find it counter intuitive that the quality of your backbends is directly related to the flexibility in your shoulders.

After all, the word “backbend” suggests that you bend with your back. Shoulders seem like an unrelated anatomy. But you should give attention to the flexibility in your shoulders if you wish to improve your backbend technique: so that you can bend more from your thoracic spine, rather than your lumbar spine.

Here is one of the sequences that I really enjoyed in the course of Tirisula’s YTT training. It leads you through poses to prep your shoulders before going on to backbends. 

  1. Sun Salutation A x 5 
  2. Sun Salutation B x 5 
  3. Pigeon pose > head down > elbows under ankle > hands on floor and lift chest 
  4. Shoulder opening on wall > place armpits on wall > chin on wall > chest on wall > stomach on wall 
  5. Shoulder opening on floor > chest on floor > bend knee to touch head
  6. Wheel pose > with hands on floor > elbows on floor > touch feet with hands 
  7. Camel pose > move hand to knee > crown to floor > elbow to floor
  8. Transitions > crow to tripod headstand > to chaturanga > to crow 
  9. Headstand variations > lotus pose > backbend to floor > transit to camel pose with elbow to floor 
  10. Side plank > left > centre > right > centre 
  11. Handstand 
  12. Savasana 

I find this sequence helps me get deeper into my backbends. It’s tough and effective. And don’t try this at home unless you’re prepared to get the walls dirty!

Here’s us working on item 4 (shoulder opening on wall – chest on wall) during the YTT course. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Vanessa Tang –

Backbends & Shoulder Flexibility

I find it counter intuitive that the quality of your backbends is directly related to the flexibility in your shoulders.

After all, the word “backbend” suggests that you bend with your back. Shoulders seem like an unrelated anatomy. But you should give attention to the flexibility in your shoulders if you wish to improve your backbend technique: so that you can bend more from your thoracic spine, rather than your lumbar spine.

Here is one of the sequences that I really enjoyed in the course of Tirisula’s YTT training. It leads you through poses to prep your shoulders before going on to backbends. 

  1. Sun Salutation A x 5 
  2. Sun Salutation B x 5 
  3. Pigeon pose > head down > elbows under ankle > hands on floor and lift chest 
  4. Shoulder opening on wall > place armpits on wall > chin on wall > chest on wall > stomach on wall 
  5. Shoulder opening on floor > chest on floor > bend knee to touch head
  6. Wheel pose > with hands on floor > elbows on floor > touch feet with hands 
  7. Camel pose > move hand to knee > crown to floor > elbow to floor
  8. Transitions > crow to tripod headstand > to chaturanga > to crow 
  9. Headstand variations > lotus pose > backbend to floor > transit to camel pose with elbow to floor 
  10. Side plank > left > centre > right > centre 
  11. Handstand 
  12. Savasana 

I find this sequence helps me get deeper into my backbends. It’s tough and effective. And don’t try this at home unless you’re prepared to get the walls dirty!

Here’s us working on item 4 (shoulder opening on wall – chest on wall) during the YTT course. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Vanessa Tang –

Easing Beginners into the yogi’s squat Malasana (Garland pose) 

Malasana (Garland pose) is one of my all-time favourite poses because of its simplicity in improving back posture, strengthening the ankles, stimulate digestive organs to eliminate wastes, and the nice stretch felt when one presses the elbows against the inner thigh as the pose tones the lower body. 

 

I have incorporated it into my Beginner yoga lesson plan and included asanas that open the hips, stretch the hamstrings and strengthen the inner thigh muscles. The sequence after warming up and Sun Salutation A (Surya Namaskar A) includes: Chair pose (Utkatasana), Warrior I & II (Vribadhasana I & II), Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana), Lizard pose (Utthan Pristhasana) before transiting into Garland pose (Malasana).  The only comment from my YTT classmates that trialed my teaching is the challenge to stay longer in Lizard pose.

 

So happily after making minor adjustments to my lesson plan, I started to teach at home to accumulate practicum hours.

 

Over the two classes I conducted, 4 out of 5 students could not get into my favourite yogi squat without falling all over! I was caught off guard when the students were having such a challenging time.  However, I didn’t want to just skip a pose and move on. The graceful Plié Squat came to my mind. 

 

Plié Squat is an exercise that originated from the ballet position to keep the back straight while also bending the knees. Standing with the feet wider than hip distance apart, keep the feet turned and pointing in the same direction as the knee (45 degrees or wider). Because of the feet placements, the pose place deeper emphasis in the inner thigh adductors, while working on the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves as intended in the earlier asanas of my original lesson plan.

 

After holding in Plié Squat for 30-45 seconds, I got the students to narrow the standing stance, by shifting the foot towards each other (approx 2-3 steps inwards). The feet are still pointed towards the direction of the knee cap. And the magic happens! Keeping their back straight, all of them can now ease and lower more comfortably into Malasana and stay for 5 breaths… (before wobbling around while trying to keep the heels grounded!) 

 

Try this preparatory technique if you’d like to teach beginner students Malasana (Garland pose).

 

Cheers!

Ying.