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.

Understanding Diastasis Recti

Diastasis Recti is a condition when there is a split between the two side of the rectus abdomens muscles. This condition usually develops during pregnancy, when the uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen to make space for the growing baby.

This is a simple test for diastasis recti:

  1. Lay on your back, flex your knees, feet resting on the mat
  2. Relax head and shoulder and place two fingers above the belly button along the midline 
  3. Place the other hand under your head and lift your head gently (like a crunch position)
  4. If your fingers can feel a space, you likely have a split rectus abdominals, which is diastasis recti

If you have diastasis recti condition, you will want to avoid movements and poses that stretch and open the midline of the rectus abdominals. Generally, these are backhanding poses like Danurasana (Bow Pose), Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Urdhva Much Svanasana (Upward facing dog) etc. 

Instead, you should work on poses that strengthen your transverse abdominus and obliques. Transverse abdominis is the inner most abdominal muscle. The obliques are layer of muscles that overlie the transverse abdominis and strengthening the obliques can provide a more balanced core contraction, easing off pressure on the rectus abdominis. Recommended pose and movements are vasisthasana (side plank) , single-leg lift, hip raises.

As you understand the anatomy of diastasic recti, you may also modify the poses as necessary to reduce the pressure on the rectus abdominis by using the transverse muscles and obliques. By focusing on the right muscle and performing the right exercises reguarly, you will regain your core strength and notice the gap in your rectus abdomens closing up.

Recovering your pelvic floor after birth

Pregnancy stresses the pelvic floor muscles as your uterus expands to carry the weight and size of your growing foetus. You will experience an anterior tilt in the pelvis as the body supports the pressure. Furthermore, the pelvic floor muscles will also stretch and weaken further as you undergo natural childbirth.



What is the role of pelvic floor muscles and how can we strengthen them? Basically, pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, uterus and bowel. Often, we are told to contract and relax our pelvic floor muscles through Kegel exercises. However, I have learnt to understand that we should explore beyond the pelvic floor muscles, consider the muscles attached to the pelvis as strengthening these muscles can also help to stabilise the pelvis. For example, our adductors are connected to the pelvic floor muscles at the pubic bone, so when you contract your adductors, you are also tightening your pelvic floor.

So here are the 3 yoga poses I’ll recommend that will improve our pelvic floor strength and I’ll briefly explain why:

1) Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
This is fundamental yoga pose but has great benefits to your pelvic floor muscles if the correct muscles are engaged. In this pose, your quadriceps muscles are engaged, thighs slightly rotated inwards and pelvic should be in neutral alignment. The psoas is lengthened and it helps to stabilise the pelvis. I also recommend that you place a block in between the thighs to engage the adductors. 


2) Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
When you flex your knee joints, you will engage your rectus femurs and the iliopsoas which help to stabilise the pelvis. Keep your spine lengthened, hips and knee joints in a line. Try to lift your pelvic floor upwards as you hold the pose. 

3) Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
The gluteus Maximus, medics and minibus, together with other smaller muscles act as a base for pelvis. This pose activates your glutes and also counterbalance pelvic floor.

In addition to the above, you can further strengthen your pelvic floor muscles through Mula Bandha. This focuses on activating your deep core muscles (transverse abdominis supports the pelvis).

Pelvic floor is one of the most important area that moms should start working on after giving birth. If you do not treat this area and jump straight into other activities like running, you may encounter an exaggerated pelvic anterior tilt as your hip flexors get excessively tight. Eventually, your pelvic floor will become so weak and may lead to more serious problems such as urinary incontinence or even pelvic organ prolapse. So…Maintaining stable and flexible muscles around the pelvis is important for both yoga practice and daily life!

 

 

Yoga for shoulder mobility

As I started my yoga journey with YTT 200 hrs course , I was excited , elated and full of enthusiasm. A total beginner but great passion and willingness to incorporate yoga into my life.

But to my surprise, when I attended my first two classes and after practicing a few asanas I had acute pain in my shoulders and couldn’t move them even a little for few days, hence discovering my shoulder immobility. I could not bring my arms over my head and realized that I have tight shoulders.

In our busy lives where we spend most of our time sitting in front of the computer and at home lying on bed fiddling with our phones, never we realize what are we doing to our body.

When your shoulders are tight, it is often related to stiffness and tension in the upper back and neck. In general, our shoulder is a highly mobile structure that allows us to place the hand in nearly any position. When we talk about the shoulder joint we are talking majorly about the coming together of two bones, the scapula (the shoulder blade) and the humerus (the upper arm bone) .

All movements in anatomy are described as if they begin in anatomical position(AP) which is a person standing with palms facing forward.

Movements of the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) are:

Flexion (forward)

Extension (return to AP)

Abduction (to the side)

Adduction (return to AP)

Rotation (twisting along the axis of humerus)

Circumduction (combination movements)

For healthy shoulder function, we need a balance between stability and mobility. We need sufficient stability of the scapula to create a stable base of movement for the shoulder joint and the rest of the arm.

HOW TO PERFORM THE SHOULDER FLEXIBILITY TEST:

Start by bringing your right arm straight up over your head.

Bend your right elbow and place your right arm on the back of your neck with your fingers pointing towards your feet.

Using your left hand reach down behind your back and rest the back of your hand on the spine.

Without straining. Bring the right hand down your neck and left hand up your spine.

Once you have reached as far as you can, measure the distance between your fingers.

Perform the test on the opposite shoulder.

Based on the test results, your shoulder range of motion is:

Excellent: when your fingers overlap

Good: when your fingers touch

Average: fingers are less than two inches apart

Poor: fingers are more than two inches apart.

So tight shoulders ? No worries, there are many yoga poses that help open up your chest and stretch your neck and shoulders. With the help of yoga I have improved my shoulder mobility to a great extent and would like to share with you all few asanas pertaining to this area.

  1. Extended puppy pose
  2. Thread the needle
  3. Dolphin
  4. Side plank
  5. Locust
  6. Bridge
  7. Cow face pose
  8. Camel pose
  9. Eagle pose
  10. Bow pose

How can yoga help with menopause?

Symptoms of menopause vary significantly in duration and severity from one woman to the other. They are generally linked to declining levels of estrogen and other hormones. It takes time for the body to adjust to those changes. And during this transition, symptoms can be quite debilitating both physically and emotionally. They commonly include hot flashes and night sweats, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, palpitations, reduced libido and vaginal dryness, joint aches and pains (joint, back, neck), problems with memory and concentration, reduced muscle mass and increased risk of osteoporosis.

Hormone replacement therapy is now widely used. But it has been linked to an increased risk for certain health conditions (cardiovascular risks, breast/lung/colon cancer, urinary incontinence…) and comes with side effects. Therefore, health practitioners and patients alike have been looking for healthier and natural alternatives to support this transition. Those include lifestyle changes, diet, exercise… and of course yoga! Research has shown that specific regular yoga practice is bringing significant relief to several menopausal symptoms.

 

How can yoga relief menopausal symptoms?

  • Yoga helps building mental resilience

Regular yoga practice helps to quiet the mind and body. It has been associated with an increased tolerance for pain over time and may help reduce the discomfort. Yoga, and specifically pranayama, have also been shown to relieve stress and quiet the mind. Hence, insomnia can be improved, overall mood is more balanced leading to less irritability and mental calm can help going through menopausal aches and pains. Finally, mental focus required for yoga practice and meditation exercises can improve memory and concentration issues.

  • Yoga supports a strong physical body and the flow of energy

Yoga has been associated with good joint health and joint pain relief. It helps strengthening joints and increasing flexibility. Yoga practice is also energizing and can help with menopausal fatigue. Finally, it will help counteract reduced muscle mass commonly observed with menopause.

  • Yoga helps regulating body functions

Blood pressure may increase after menopause and a consistent yoga practice has been linked with reduced blood pressure and better blood circulation and oxygenation. Yoga is also linked with better weight management which can assist in menopausal weight changes due to hormonal imbalance. Similarly, it can help with hot flashes.

 

Which specific yoga practices are recommended for menopause?

Regular practice of specific asanas, pranayama and dyana have been shown to be all beneficial to relief menopausal symptoms.

Specific Asanas

While asanas may not directly influence estrogen production, specific postures can help control unpleasant symptoms. Restorative postures, in particular, can help relax the nervous system and may improve the functioning of the endocrine system.

Hot Flashes

This is the most common symptom of menopause which is characterized by sudden increase in body temperature and pulse rate. And stress or any tension in the body can make it worse. Hence, recommended poses should be cooling and restorative poses. Supported reclining poses are interesting such as Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), Supta Virasana (reclining hero) and Supta Padmasana (reclined lotus) which will soften and release any tightness in the chest and belly. Ardha Halasana (half plow) with supported legs and Janu Sirsasana (head-to-knee) with the head supported, can also help to calm nerves.

We should use props, blocks, or any other support that will help to relax. Supported postures can help relief from anxiety and irritability, without heating or stressing the body. It is important to note that unsupported inversions, strenuous poses, and backbends can sometimes make hot flashes worse.

Anxiety, Irritability, and Insomnia

Hormonal imbalance imposes continual stress to the sympathetic autonomous nervous system and the adrenal glands which exhaust themselves. Forward bends, such as Uttanasana (standing forward bend) Padangusthasana / Pada Hastasana and Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend) are helpful to relax those by calming the mind. For insomnia specifically, inversions then followed by restorative postures can help such as Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand).

Fatigue

Also, a very common symptom, it is likely due to low levels of progesterone and/or exhausted adrenal glands. Gentle supported backbends can help to reenergize: Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), again, is recommended. Standing poses like Virabhadrasana I and II (warrior I and II) help feeling strong and combat the fatigue.

Depression and Mood Swings

Regular yoga practice is associated with better regulation and control of your thoughts and attitude. It helps to feel strong, healthy and grounded. Backbends, especially if supported, are recommended bringing a sense of lightness into the body and opening heart and lungs such as Ustrasana (camel) and Chakrasana (wheel). Furthermore, chest opening poses energize the body by improving breathing and circulation such as also Dhanurasana (bow), Bhujangasana (cobra). The same inversions as above, can also help to improve mood. All those positively affects the mind.

Memory and concentration

The same postures that counter depression, such as backbends, chest openers, and inversions, can help increasing cognitive abilities. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) and Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (dolphin) can also improve mental alertness. And Savasana soothes the nerves and can help with better concentration after.

Pranayama

Regular practice of pranayama has also been shown to be beneficial in treating a wide range of stress disorders. It develops a steady mind and strong willpower. It slows down mental chatter and infuses positive thinking. Practice can help, in particular, with menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings.

Some cooling pranayama such as sitali and sitkari pranayama can be very interesting in menopause. Both are activating the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system, relaxing the body whilst also cooling it down. It is important to note that in the case of hot flashes, other more regular pranayama such as Ujjayi or Kapala Bhati are not recommended as they are also heating up the body.

Dhyana

Meditation or dhyana is known to help still the mind and regulate the nervous system. It will similarly help for all stress related and mental imbalance of menopause, with no contraindication. It has been also found to be associated with increased melatonin level leading to improved sleep quality, particularly if done in the evening before sleep.

As a conclusion, we need to highlight that every woman is different and will experience different symptoms. Those will also evolve over time and may not be the same from one day to the other. So, it comes down to each of us to experience and adapt practice accordingly to smoothly ride through this life transition!

Breathe yogis…there is so much more you can breathe!

Why is breathing so important for the body? Life begins and ends with breathing. About 5 minutes without breathing and we are dead. All cells in the body need oxygen to live. Oxygen is necessary for the cell’s energy supply, to ensure its metabolism. Low levels of oxygen will have a direct impact on the functioning of the cell. Breathing is also vital to remove waste products during exhalation, such as CO2 from cellular respiration.

Breathing impacts all the major body’s systems:

  • cardiovascular system: slow, deep breaths will cause the heart rate to slow; inhalation is linked to vasoconstriction and exhalation to vasodilation; blood homeostasis (pH / pO2 and pCO2 to avoid acidosis)
  • nervous system: breathing volumes and rate will either activate or relax the body; the brain consumes a lot of oxygen (20%) and optimal breathing will support intellectual activities and concentration
  • endocrine system: the variation in blood parameters (pO2, pCO2, pH) modulated by breathing will regulate the hormonal activity aimed at restoring homeostasis. For example, a deep inhale and a full exhalation will decrease the production of noradrenaline and if this is done over a few hours, the cortisol level will also decrease.
  • muscular system: as mentioned above breathing is fundamental for metabolism and energy supply (aerobic). A well oxygenated muscle will increase its power and tone. A good exhalation will eliminate the CO2 produced by muscle activity.
  • digestive system: the mechanical movement of the diaphragm during inhalation and exhalation massages digestive organs and stimulates peristalsis so that digestion and transit are improved.
  • immune system: Shortness of breath increases, over time, the level of cortisol which kills lymphocytes (key cells of our immune system).

Breathing is an “automatic” function governed by the autonomic nervous system, but consciously, we can control our breath e.g. modify the amplitude, the frequency, choose to breathe through the nose or the mouth.

When we discussed about the respiratory system during the Yoga Teacher Training and I went on checking the various pulmonary volumes, I was quite amazed at what I discovered. Our lungs have a volume of around 5 L. But the “automatic” breathing, also called “tidal volume”, is only of 0.5 L, so only 10% of our lung capacity! By consciously inhaling fully we can add another 1.5 to 2.5 L (also called “inspiratory reserve volume”) so increasing the air coming in (and out) fourfold to 2L! And by consciously exhaling fully and then inhaling fully we can add an extra 1.2 to 1.5 L (also called “expiratory reserve volume”), so overall increasing the air coming in (and out) sevenfold to 3.5L! And now we use 70-75% of our lung capacity…so much more powerful! So much more oxygen we can provide to our cells, so much more toxins we can get rid of.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have optimal breathing, leading to both physical and psychological consequences. People are now advised to “learn to breathe” and many techniques have emerged for various indications such as stress management, depression, ENT ailments, nasal structure defects, snoring, concentration…Yoga, and Pranayama specifically, have a great role to play there.

Practicing pranayama is a great way to learn to control our breath and leverage its impressive power. Research shows that regular practice of pranayama significantly improves  numerous pulmonary parameters: it increases vital lung capacity, tidal volume, expiratory reserve volume, breath holding time, diffusion capacity, resting respiratory rate…And those indicators are important for both prevention and treatment of all respiratory dysfunctions and illnesses.

So, yogis, don’t forget to practice your pranayama and…breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out….

Cardiac coherence and Ujjayi breath: when old meets new

The impact of breathing on the nervous system has long been established. Increasing the inhalation volume and the respiratory rate will act on the sympathetic autonomous nervous system, which will activate the body: increased heart rate, vasoconstriction, sweating… Conversely, increasing the exhalation volume and reducing the respiratory rate will act on the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system, which will relax the body: slowed down heart rate, cell regeneration, digestion… And when the two systems are in balance, one is serene, both alert and relaxed.

Cardiac coherence is gaining traction and is now regularly used in the cardiology field. Research has shown that regular practice was regulating blood pressure and was significantly decreasing overall cardiovascular risks, the #1 killer in the world today. But what is cardiac coherence? It is a method based on respiratory techniques bringing the cardiac and respiratory systems into resonance and thus balancing our autonomous nervous system. The principles were developed in the 1990s in the United States from medical research in neuroscience and neurocardiology. The technique is simple: it consists of, 3 times a day, breathing calmly at the rate of 6 breaths per minute (inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling over 5 seconds; rate can vary slightly for each person) for 5 minutes (“365 method”). Inhalation is abdominal through the nose and exhalation is through the mouth with pinched lips. To all yogis, does it ring a bell?

When I learned about the Ujjayi breath, it felt familiar! Cardiac coherence is in fact a simplified or less “throat activation” Ujjayi breath. Indeed, in both techniques, one breathes calmly and continuously (without retention), equalizing inhale and exhale, using abdominal inhalation and some restriction on the exhalation. Ujjayi breath, though, is constricting exhalation at the throat level with mouth closed, whilst cardiac coherence is constricting exhalation at the mouth level, with lips pinched. Hence there is more throat activation in the Ujjayi breath and consequently also more building of heat.

What can we learn on Ujjayi breath from recent research on cardiac coherence? Of course, as the two methods have slight differences, one cannot strictly extrapolate research on one to the other. Nevertheless, given the level of similarly, results on one are very likely to constitute a solid proxy for the other. Firstly, both techniques target the physiological balance of the autonomous nervous system through equalization of inhalation and exhalation. The heart rate is constantly changing, with the heart modulating its activity according to internal and external stimuli. By controlling your breathing, you allow an increase in the heart variability amplitude (an important health indicator). Additionally, there is a direct heart-brain link as the heart informs the brain. And by improving your cardiac pattern, you send positive messages to the brain (less stress, a feeling of well-being). Finally, recent research on cardiac coherence has demonstrated numerous benefits on physical, mental and emotional health with short, mid- and long-term effects. Short term immediate benefits include improvement of cardiac patterns and relaxation. Medium-term benefits, after about 4 hours, include hormonal regulation (the main effect being the decrease in cortisol -stress; also increased DHEA -youth and atrial natriuretic factor- antihypertensive), regulation of neurotransmitters (dopamine – pleasure and serotonin – well-being), increased cognitive abilities (increased alpha brain waves for concentration and memory). Long-term benefits, after ten days, include significant regulation of cardiovascular risk (significant regulation of blood pressure and improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels), improved stress management and emotional balance, improved cognitive abilities, increased immunity (in particular via lower cortisol levels), improved conditions for inflammatory diseases and asthma.

Now taking a step back…yoga is a fascinating holistic practice. It encompasses thousands of years of experience and wisdom. It is almost funny to think that a modern successful technique such as cardiac coherence was just “hiding” there, in the millennial knowledge of pranayama. The potential to derive impactful techniques from yoga for the health and wellness space is endless!

Hypermobility in Yoga

Have you ever wondered how are some people so naturally flexible? They can walk into a yoga class and without warming up go into a full forward fold. These people may be hypermobile. While they can perform asanas that require flexibility effortlessly, they are also at risk of injuring themselves.

Hypermobility is where joints can easily move beyond their normal range. This is because the tissues that hold them in place, the ligaments, are too loose or “lax”. Sometimes that could be due to the bone structures in the joints. Weak muscles around the joint may exacerbate hypermobility.

Hypermobility may also be a result of diseases affecting connective tissues (e.g. ligaments) such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Most of the time, hypermobility is inherited and cannot be prevented. Many people with hypermobile joints do not face any issues throughout life, in fact, most of us are on the spectrum on hypermobility – some of us have naturally hyperextended elbows and knees. But for those who experience pain and complications – on the other end of the spectrum – they may be considered to have Joint Hypermobility Syndrome.

Hypermobile people usually find themselves naturally “good” in yoga as they are able to get into many difficult poses that require flexibility. In fact, some of them can do a full split without warming up! However, with hypermobility comes instability. One way to visualise this is to look at our shoulder, which is the most mobile joint in our body and also the most commonly injured and dislocated.

In a non-hypermobile body, the ligaments are naturally “tight” to restrict our joint movements to a certain range. This creates joint stability. In hypermobile people, they lack this natural signal of tightness to stop them from going beyond the normal range of motion, thus risking injuries. With the deeper range of motion, they may overstretch their muscles which besides hurting the muscles, also weakens them, making the muscles less efficient at supporting their weight during impact activities.

So… can hypermobile people still do yoga?

Yes they can! Here are some things they should note to protect themselves:

  • Use muscle control to prevent excessive hyperextension e.g. engage the quadriceps to ensure that knees are not locked in standing postures
  • Micro-bend the knees and elbows
  • There is no need to feel a stretch in every pose. Just because they can go further, doesn’t mean that they should or that it is safe to do so. If no stretch is felt in a pose, it just means that stretching is not their work in that pose. They can shift their focus to stabilising themselves and their breathing.
  • In poses, think of bringing the joints into the centre of the body e.g. in Warrior II, think of the arms moving into the shoulder sockets
  • Strengthen the muscles around the joints through light resistance in yoga. Complement the yoga practice with a strengthening routine at the gym.

If you are a teacher, you can do the following to ensure a safe practice for your hypermobile students:

  • As always, pay close attention. Notice their joints and how their bodies move during the warm up.
  • Create stability for them. If a student seems to be going beyond a safe range of motion, gently encourage them to do “less”. At the same time, understand that for hypermobile students, it may be more difficult to “back off” than to go deeper as stabilising requires more strength.
  • Cue micro-bends in elbows/knees and engagement of the muscles surrounding the joints.
  • It may be helpful to give hypermobile students some resistance, for example, give them something to push into like their elbows into your palms while in Downward Facing Dog
  • Remind students that it’s not about how far we go in an asana, but how we get there

Hypermobility is also something to take note of in other physical activities such as high impact exercises, gymnastics, dance etc where injuries may occur if joints are not taken care of.

Are you now wondering if you are hypermobile? You can find out how mobile your joints are by doing the Beighton Score Test, which is a simple system to quantify joint laxity and hypermobility. It uses a 9-point system, where the higher the score the higher the laxity. However, scoring a 9 doesn’t mean you are hypermobile. It is always recommended to have a diagnosis confirmed by a medical professional.

But whether we are hypermobile or not, we can make a conscious effort to engage our muscles and not lock our joints in our yoga practice 🙂

Beighton Score Test:


Image source

Yoga for Herniated Disc

A herniated disc occurs when the intervertebral discs become compressed and bulge outward or in some cases rupture, causing a severe lower back pain. This slipped disc may occur in any part of the spine. In most cases, it is frequently affected in the lumbar spine.

 

What causes a herniated disc?

  1. Degeneration of the spine with age, wear and tear.
  2. Accident and resultant injury.
  3. Sports related injuries.
  4. Sedentary Lifestyle

 

How can yoga help?

When done correctly, yoga can help to relief pain from herniated disc. Emphasis is placed on the extension of the bones in specific yoga poses and the same time, strengthening your back. Ensure to move from each sequence slowly and intentionally. Here are some great poses to ease the discomfort in the back.

  • Bhujangasana (Sphinx or Cobra pose)
  • Setu Bandhasana (Bridge pose)
  • Virabhadrasana (Warrior 1 and 2)
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

 

What to avoid?

A herniated disc can cause more damage if not taken seriously and treated carefully. Do not perform poses which encourages flexion, the rounding of back. These may often aggravate the discs even further. Here are some common poses which should be avoided.

  • Uttanasana (Standing forward bend)
  • Paschimottanasana (West posterior stretch pose)
  • Prasarita Padottanasana (Spread legs stretch pose)
  • Padangusthasana (Forward bend with bound toe)
  • Padahatasana (Forward bend with palms under feet)

Yoga and Climbing Part 3

Pushing vs Pulling
Having explored the physical and mental similarities between Yoga and Climbing, and briefly discussed on how they complement each other, we will discuss more on the complementing aspect of the two disciplines specifically in terms of pushing and pulling movements.
As a form of practice and exercise, many believe that yoga is a completely balanced one because it provides growth opportunity for strength, flexibility and even spirituality.
While there’s a truth in that, on a closer look however, we may realise that yoga focuses a great deal on pushing movements. Majority of the asanas such as Chaturanga, handstand and crow involve pushing our own body weight away from the floor.
With consistent and long term practice, practitioners will definitely develop more strength especially on the shoulder pushing muscles (scapular protraction) but if yoga is the only form of exercise they are doing, functional muscular imbalances in the shoulder will start to develop simply because of the lack in pulling movement (scapular retraction).
As with any other form of exercises, muscular imbalances will translate to higher risk of injuries.
Certain asanas do involve pulling – Utthita Hasta Padanghusthasana pulls the big toe towards the body or Dancer and Mermaid pose pull the foot close to our bodies. However, the force required to do this pulling movement is comparatively small to the pushing movements involved in the other asanas.
Here, we are comparing pushing our own body weight to pulling a toe or feet.
There are other asanas which include scapular retractions such as Purvottanasana, Cobra, Upward Facing Dog, Wheel and other backbending poses but again, the intensity of the force involved is different to the ones involved in pushing our own body weight.
This is the main reason climbing is a great balancing exercise for yoga. Climbing mainly involves pulling our own body weight up the wall / rock. Although some may point out that climbers work their way up by pushing their foot / legs against the foothold, there is still significant shoulder pulling movements involved.
Alternatively, yoga practitioners may also include other exercises such pull up and seated / barbell rows or even make use of resistance bands to perform simple shoulder pulling movements.
With more balanced healthy shoulder strength, we may be able to access poses or climbing problems which seemed impossible previously.