Yoga: My journey to a happier life

I came to practice yoga in 2019 when I wanted to have a better health. At that time, my health screening result was quite bad and it took me to a point that I should do something to improve my physical health, then yoga came to my mind. I signed up for a yoga package later.  

I had been practicing yoga on and off from then until late 2020, I started to practice regularly and I saw some positive changes in myself – physically and mentally.

  1. I am healthier – this has proved by my job as an assistant to mural artist. When I have to draw at site, I tend to stand for long hours. Previously, I had painful back and legs every time after I finished my work, but now, I have no pain at all and I am not easily get tired like I used to be. I am more productive – it’s just wonderful!
  2. I love my body even more – with yoga, I can see improvement in my body. I become more flexible and stronger. With the regular practice, I am able to do some poses that I was not able to do before and I don’t have to compete myself with anyone, it’s just myself. It’s a kind of development that I can see in my body. Also, after yoga classes, I feel good to eat healthy food and I opt to eat vegetarian more often. I feel that my body is much lighter when I eat Sattvic food.
  3. My mind is clearer – I easily get stressed and yoga helps me to relieve stress and anxiety. Being mindful with the practice, it helps me to stay present and enjoy the moment. It’s a kind of meditation to me. Especially, when I came to practice Yoga Teacher Training, I learned more about alignment and when I practice with correct understanding of the alignment, I have more body awareness and the practice become even more mindful and joyful.    
  4. Lastly, I am happier and just feel I can achieve what I want in life easier. From yoga philosophy I have learned, maybe it’s just because I am contented and grateful for what I already have.

I believe yoga will continue to give more benefits to me, so what I can do is…KEEP PRACTICING.   

When Santosha (being contented) hit me hard!

People always want to have something they don’t have and never feel enough for things they already have. We keep seeking happiness from outside. Me too!

When I studied yoga philosophy, this Santosha which is the second of Niyama of the 8 limbs of yoga has hit me hard.

Niyama is freedom from all observances, consist of:

  1. Saucha: purity of thoughts
  2. Santosha: contentment, acceptance
  3. Tapas: discipline, persistence
  4. Swadhyaya: self-study
  5. Ishwara-pranidha: devotion

I felt that Santosha is telling me something. From young, I always wanted to be successful especially in my career and whenever I got what I wanted e.g. promotions, salary increments, I still wanted to have more and took more actions to get more. I thought that when I get what I want, I will be happy. Yes, I was happy for a moment and started to want to have more again – sounds so greedy, but I am sure I am not alone. The result was I rarely enjoyed and appreciated what I had, I aimed for more and more. My next goals were bigger and more challenging.   

In Santosha, being contented (not happy or sad), enjoy every moment, supreme joy is achieved. Wow, it sounds easy than I thought and from my own experience, it’s so true. Yoga teach me to stay present. When I practice yoga, I am mindful with my body for movement and alignment, I forget about my past and my future. I enjoy the moment. That’s why I fall in love with yoga.

Off the mat:

To adopt Santosha into my life, I practice to be more mindful in my daily life activities. I practice to be grateful and appreciate with what I have including my work, my health, my relationship, my possession, and even my food. Yoga, pranayama, and meditation help me a lot to be more mindful and I added all these into my daily life. I meditate every morning and practice yoga and pranayama at least 3 times a week.

On the mat:

I also adopt Santosha to my practice in a way that there are some poses that I can’t do well, for example, all hips flexion poses like Paschimottanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana. I need to keep practicing to make my hips more flexible. Sometimes I am unhappy that I can’t do the poses like my other classmates. With Santosha, it makes me understand that I should enjoy that I still can do the pose, it is not perfect, but it may be better than last year and it’s enough. Everyone is different and I should be contented with the way I am, the way my body is. With continued practicing, one day when my body is ready, I will be able to do the pose 🙂 

Anulom Vilom and its benefits to my body and mind

I am personally interested in spirituality and I have been trying a few kinds of meditations. But I only learned more about pranayama techniques in the yoga teacher training (YTT) with Tirisula, so Pranayama is new to me. I practiced some pranayama when I attended some yoga classes earlier, but I didn’t know much about its benefits and details. 

 

In Sanskrit, ‘Prana’ means life energy and ‘Ayama’ means expansion. I am interested in pranayama because the course manual says it’s a link between body, emotions, mind and spirit – so interesting!

 

Because of the homework of pranayama practicing, so I have been practicing Anulom Vilom every morning for a few weeks. For myself, I want to be more mindful and energize my body before I start my day so I choose to do Anulom Vilom to see if there is any effects to my body and mind.

 

Anulom Vilom is an alternate nostril breathing. To breathe with Anulom Vilom technique, we use the right hand with middle and index fingers folded towards the palm. Place the thumb on the right nostril and ring finger on the left nostril. Close the left nostril (or right). Inhale through the right (or left) nostril, close and exhale through the left (or right) nostril. Focus on the breath and continue for at least 10 rounds. It’s best to be done on an empty stomach.

 

From my studies, there are many benefits of Anulom Vilom:

  • Intake more oxygen and purify blood
  • Relieve stress and tension
  • Improve concentration and focus
  • Energise the body when do it in the morning
  • Calm the mind down when do it at night

 

When I do Anulom Vilom in the morning, it helps to improve my concentration and energise my body. I like the fact that we can control our mind by control our breathing.

 

At night, when I can’t sleep, I will lie down on my right side so I can breathe well from my left nostril and it helps me to fall asleep faster. I don’t have insomnia, I only take time to fall asleep and Anulom Vilom helps!

 

This is only one pranayama technique among many other techniques that I learned e.g. Bastrika, Brahmari, Sheetari, Sama Vritti, etc. I will also use other pranayama techniques to suit the benefits I want for my body and mind and I would encourage everyone to try too 🙂  

Nadi Shodana

The Nerves Calming Effect

To rest my eyes from staring too much on the screens during work, sometimes I like to look around and peculiarly, I would pick up one or two random facts in the room, for example, different breathing patterns. In a same room, some people breathe fast and shallow even though they are not working out, some people has less belly movement when breathing, and some create noises. I guess there are many reasons causing the differences, such as their body types, respiratory systems and living environments, or the effect of certain diseases or trainings. 

Breathing is vital because the oxygen we breathe in keep us alive, we use the oxygen to create energy. One person uses about 550 litres of oxygen per day and the tiny capillaries, the smallest type of blood vessel in our body transport the oxygen to the 50 trillion cells in our body. Over the century, human understand the importance of the oxygen in our body and developed many techniques, practices or exercises to educate the generations on how to take the full advantage of the air, and one of it is pranayama in Yoga. 

In Sanskrit, pranayama is the combination of 2 words, prana (vital energy) and ayama (expansion), literally, we shall learn how to expand the flow of the energy in our body. Pranayama is the teaching of using different breathing techniques to manifest the prana of the air into every cells of our body, and to train our breathing pattern within the realm of our conscious awareness.

One way to train our breathing pattern and to have a good control of it is to practice nadi shodana, a nerves calming breathing technique. Nadi shodana enable us to learn in getting control of our breathing by elongating the length of inhalation, exhalation and retention of the breath. And by elongating the length of the breathing, we slowly maximise the use of our lung capacity, which in turns able to provide healthier amount of oxygen to all the cells in our body.   

To practice nadi shodana, sit comfortably, spine straight and body weight distributed equally on the hips and legs. Eyes close, body relax and take a few smooth, even breaths. 

Take a last smooth and even breath and exhale completely. Gently close the right nostril with right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Inhale deeply for about 6 seconds.

As soon as the inhalation is completed, gently close the other nostril with the ring finger. Retain the breath for for about 12 seconds, or up to 24 seconds.

Keep the left nostril close and release the right thumb, begin exhaling through right nostril. Exhale slowly for about 12 seconds.  

After the exhalation and still on the right nostril, inhale deeply for about 6 seconds. Subsequently, block both nostrils and retain the breath for about 12 seconds and exhale through the left nostril for about 12 seconds.

Continue the breathing cycles for 10 minutes and finish the pranayama practice with three resting breaths through both nostrils and feel the calming effect.

The advantage of practicing nadi shodana is to help calming the nerves, or the astral energy tubes (nadis), as well as to reduce the soreness of the muscles.

Going Upside Down

We should all turn upside down.

I mean, we should all do inversions for our yoga practice. It doesn’t matter whether you are going into a handstand, headstand, shoulder stand, Pincha or downward facing dog – It is a great addition to your practice for the multitude of benefits it brings. I would like to bring our focus to the headstand aka Salamba Sirsasana in this article. In Sanskrit, salamba means “supported” and sirsa translates as “head”.

Headstand is considered the king of yoga poses. It builds stamina, alleviates insomnia, reduces the occurrence of heart palpitations, helps to cure halitosis, strengthens the lungs, improves the function of the pituitary and pineal glands, increases the haemoglobin content in the blood, relieves the symptoms of colds, coughs and tonsillitis. Additionally, it brings relief from digestive and eliminatory problems when practiced in conjunction with Salamba Sarvangasana. Mentally, as inverting your entire body brings a rejuvenating supply of blood to the brain cells, it enhances clarity of thought, increases your concentration span, and sharpens memory. Consistent practice of this asana widens your spiritual horizons. This asana also helps those who get mentally exhausted easily. (2)

Normally, headstand is practised towards the end of a yoga class and functions to allow energy to flow towards your head, activating our crown chakra. While this advanced pose does require much focus, precision, balance and strength, this asana is essentially meant to be a resting pose. (3)

Getting into a headstand:

Kneel in front of a wall and interlace your fingers. Place your interlaced fingers down on the mat with the palms apart so you create a support for your head and place the crown of your head in your interlaced fingers onto the mat. If you’re unsure where, bring your thumb to your third eye in between your eyebrows and wherever your middle finger lands, that’s where the crown of your head is. Make sure that your elbows are shoulder-width distance apart and that your wrists are perpendicular to the floor. Shoulders should be protracted and rotated upwards. Cradle the back of your head with your hands firmly.

Next, lift your knees off the ground and straighten your legs and your spine. You will be in a modified dolphin pose with your head on the ground. Start to walk your feet as forward towards the body then lift your legs. The goal is to get your hips stacked over your shoulders. This is where hamstring and lower back flexibility comes into the game.

Once you feel stable, lift your legs straight up towards the ceiling. If you feel confident and have done it a few times, lift them both at the same time. Make sure that your body is in one straight line and there is no bent in the hips. (3)

Being in a headstand:

When you stand on your head, the first sensation you will feel is pressure—pressure on the crown of the head, pressure in the arteries and veins, and pressure in the soft tissues of the head and neck. And along with these comes more subtle aspects of pressure—the demand for maintaining your balance and the psychological urge to come out of the posture. These physical and psychological pressures affect every system in the body in one way or another: muscular, skeletal, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary, immune, and reproductive. (1)

In headstand no muscle is in an eccentric movement, but every body part is either stabilizing or contracting. Ultimately, your body will be stacked in a single vertical line. Muscles involved in this pose are the trapezius, the rhomboid muscles, rectus abdominus, the levator scapulae, the pectoralis minor, iliopsoas and flexors, and the serratus anterior. It is important to strengthen them through regular practise of asanas and strengthen training. (4)

Contraindications:

Please do not practise this asana if you have high blood pressure, cervical spondylosis, a backache, headache, or migraine. Also, refrained from starting your yoga session with this pose if you have low blood pressure. Perform the asana only once in a session and do not repeat it – seasoned yogis can hold up to 5 minutes. It is best not to practise this asana during menstruation. (2)

 

Let me end this article with a quote:

“Sirshasana is really a blessing and a nectar. Words will fail to adequately describe its beneficial results and effects. In this Asana alone, the brain can draw plenty of Prana and blood. This acts against the force of gravity and draws an abundance of blood from the heart. Memory increases admirably. Lawyers, occultists, and thinkers will highly appreciate this Asana. This leads to natural Pranayama and Samadhi by itself. No other effort is necessary.”

— Swami Sivananda

 

Reference:

  1. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teachers, and Practitioners-Body & Breath Inc (2017) by David H. Coulter
  2. The Path to Holistic Health by B.K.S. Ivengar Yoga
  3. How To Do Headstand – Alignment, Anatomy, Benefits & Preparation by Joschi Monika
  4. Yoga Anatomy-2nd Edition by Leslie Kaminoff

Uttanasana

The Magic of Standing Forward Bend

I think most of us experienced a friend of ours asking to perform an asana when they first hearing that we are practicing yoga. At most circumstances, I would quietly fold myself forward to a standing forward bend (in Sanskrit, uttanasana) and surprisingly, this always does the trick and they started to acclaim.

For most people, the long hours of sitting in office or studies have slowly constraints the flexibility of their spine and hip joints, to bend forward and able to touch the toes appears to be an impossible task.

The spine, also known as vertebrae column is a part of the axial skeleton in the human body to maintain the upright posture and to protect the spinal cord, a long, thin, tubular structure made up of nervous tissue. From top, the cervical vertebrae is connecting the skull to the torso, the thoracic vertebrae is the upper and middle back of the torso, the lumbar vertebrae is the lower back, the sacrum is at the hip, and lastly the coccyx is commonly known as the tailbone.

In between the vertebrae, there are intervertebral disc, or disc in short. These are the spongy cushions that separate the bones of the spine and provide shock absorption, keep the spine stable and give the vertebrae ‘gliding points’ to allow movement. Disc changes happen across our lifetime as connective tissues change with age, and the structures of the spine adapt to cope with the physical loads of daily life. These changes happened even in healthy people with no back pain and they are common age-related changes. The changes include disc bulge, narrowing of the disc space (loss of disc height) and disc dehydration. Overtime, the disc would develop from spongy cushion to a harden cushion if the persons are rarely moving their spine. To prevent the disc become harden, regularly exercising and stretching the spine is the key.

Back to the yoga asana, standing forward bend, a pose where we align the long axis of the femur and tibia bones with the direction of the gravity and allow the spine to elongate in a comfortable or effortless position. This asana help us in releasing the pressure on the disc that it sustains from long hours of sitting during the daily activities. It also helps to activate the movement of the spine. An active spine benefits the spinal cord and in result keeping the brain cells active.

     How to get in and out of the pose?
  1. Stand in tadasana, a normal and relax standing position. Feet together or slightly apart.
  2. On inhalation, tilt the pelvis and arch the lumbar. Grab hold on the side of the lower waist to feel the anterior tilt of the pelvis.
  3. Keeping the anterior pelvis tilt and on exhalation, slowly bend the torso forward, belly touching the thigh.
  4. Place the hands on the outer side of the feet, or holding on the back of the calves.
  5. Continue normal breathing in this intense stretch pose. Lengthen the spine in every inhalation and try to bring the chin closer to the knee in every exhalation.
  6. To get out of the pose, place the hands back to the side of the pelvis bone, inhale and slowly raise the head up and bring the torso back to the upright position.
  7. Relax the hands to side of the body and take a few breaths in the standing position to feel the benefit of the stretch.

What are the muscles that we are stretching on while in this position? Mainly we will feel like the pose is stretching on the hamstrings and the external rotators of the hips because these muscles are the factors that normally limit a person from going deeper into the forward bend if he or she has a tight hamstrings or hip rotators. Even so, we shall always try to shift our attention to stretch on the back muscles, such as erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and trapezius because the main aim of the pose is to elongate the spine. A healthy erector spinae muscle will help in preventing the spine from rounding when lifting heavy weights. The latissimus dorsi stabilise the lumbar spine and the trapezius will greatly influence the smoothness of the neck movement because it is an important shoulder mover and stabiliser.

For contraindication, a person who is having slipped disc shall avoid from doing this pose because the herniated disc may pressurise the nerve when bending forward and cause pain. 

Yoga therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Yoga therapy is a process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well being through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga. Scientific research on the impact of yoga therapy on human health is relatively limited but tends to increase due to the rise of popularity of yoga.

The top four areas of research into Yoga therapy are: mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases and musculoskeletal systems.

I am personally interested in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Those kids typically display poor eye contact and sitting tolerance, poor balance and awkward body posture, poor imitation skills, poor breath awareness, poor receptive skills related to spatial relationships.

Few studies have already shown the impact of yoga therapy on those children:

  • Improvements in sensory integration, attention, sensory defensiveness, and increased verbal receptivity for commands related to spatial perception(1)(2)
  • Increased concentration, focus, organisation, and relaxation after 25 yoga sessions(3)

The overwhelming feelings that a child with ASD is experiencing are manifesting as physical sensations and stress. Therefore, addressing these body reactions with regular practice of yoga postures is a great place to start.

The most kid-friendly yoga poses to support those kids are:

Position Description Benefits
Bee’s breath Sitting on the knees, the kid inhales and extends his spine with arms back.

He then exhales and lower his forehead toward the ground, buzzing like a bee all the way down

Create a moment of pause to help release tension
Cat Pose The kid inhales and looks up, letting the spine drop low.

He then exhales and tucks the chin, lifting his spine up like a cat

Release frustration, stress or anger

 

Cloud pose The kid inhales and bends his knee, and scoops the invisible clouds in front of him.

He then exhales and straighten his legs, lifting the arms above his head

Scoop all the invisible frustration in front of him. Helpful to name the feeling without having to solve it yet
Tree Pose Standing up, the kid must become tall and extend his spine. One foot rests on the other ankle or above the knee until the right balance is found. His hands can be palm-to-palm at his chest or in the air like branches.

After a few breathes, he can switch feet.

The stillness and concentration required in this pose brings rest to a frustrated mind
Child Pose Begin the position on hands and knees. The kid then sits back on his heels and brings the chest to rest on top of his thighs. Arms can be stretched out in front or tucked in by his sides.

He can then breathe deeply and rest

Wonderful calming effect on the central nervous system

Yoga is non-invasive and has no side-effects. Parents and therapists get more and more convinced about the benefit of yoga practise as complementary and alternative medicine for children with ASD.

I am confident that there is much more to explore on the value and benefits of yoga therapy for children with ASD as well as children with other special needs.

(1) Kenny M. Integrated movement therapy. [cited on 2002].

(2) Goldeberg L. Creative relaxation a yoga based program for regular and exceptional student education.Int J Yoga Ther. 2004;14:67–78

(3) Oldenberg L. Use of yoga with occupational therapy.Int J Yoga Ther. 2004;12:71–7

YOGA FOR THE ELDERLY

I have always found myself more drawn to the elderly, in which has also probably led me to specialize more on the geriatrics department and found myself working in a nursing home. With the growing aging population in Singapore, more research is also looking into non-pharmacological approach in tackling the problems that comes with ageing. One common approach on the rise is Yoga, especially interested within groups of elderly who are still ambulant/ physically active who wants to make a change in their lifestyle. Because yoga recognizes that that body is not just a physical body, it incorporates the mind and spirit and raise questions of existentialism and philosophy, it has a higher draw to these group of people who recognizes that the span of their lifetime is nearing death.

 

Problems of aging

The ‘problems’ of aging (as compared to the younger self) is that, although it does not equate to developing medical conditions, they tend to be more at risk of fraility. There is lesser joint range of motion, strength and balance, which puts them at risk of falls and other secondary problems that comes with it. Some of the common conditions seen in this age group are osteoarthrisitis, Hypertension,hyperlipidemia, diabetes,  low back syndrome(mostly kyphosis), which may deter them from doing the actual asana pose properly and modifications needs to be done.

In a recent randomized controlled trial done by Osth et al (2019), showed that a 12 week yoga programme improved the health and well being, mobility, mood and cognition in physically inactive elderly age 65-85 years old.

They used the same treatment intervention (YESS-yoga empower senior study) that was previously done by Greendale et al in 2013.

 

What is the Yoga Empowers Seniors Study (YESS): Design and Asana Series?

YESS is formed by a group of people with knowledge in physical therapy, yoga, and movement science. They developed a hatha yoga asana series (included pranayama and asanas) meant for ambulatory participants of age 65 and had medically stable condition in their criteria group for 2 days/week of 1 hour session for 32 weeks. There were 2 series-series 1 progressively increase intensity to series2.

The main key points of designing the series is based on

  • Ensuring safe yet challenging pract (exclusion criteria on those whose medical conditions are not well controlled/ acute musculoskeletal injuries/awaiting for surgery)
  • Target major muscles that assist in their functional daily activities (eg reaching overheads to carry groceries, sitting to standing). Making the exercise more meaningful to the participants.
  • Asanas that improve balance
  • Asanas that increase their joint ROM.

 

Series 1 and 2 is described in detail in this website for more reference. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3639444/

For Series I : Chair, Wall Plank, Tree, Warrior II, Warrior I, Downward Facing Dog, Side Stretch, Chair Twist, Cobra, Bridge and Abdominal Cultivation.

For series 2: Chair, Wall Plank, Tree, Warrior II, Crescent, One-Legged Balance, Side Stretch, Chair Twist, Recumbent Leg Stretch, Bridge and Abdominal Cultivation

 

What kind of modifications was done for the elderly?

Props and hands on tactile cues were given for exteroceptive feedback to achieve better alignment in poses. Some of the examples were:

Series 1 Series 2(more advanced compared to series 1)
·         Chair pose done with yoga block inbwetween knees and back against wall for support

·         Chair pose

 

·         Planking against the wall instead of the floor to reduce upper extremity loading

 

·         Chaturanga with feet placed further and hands more caudally     

·         Tree pose done with hand on wall for support and 1 leg just slightly lifted

·         Tree without wall and on lifted leg on other side of medial foot
·         Warrior 1 and 2 done with rear foot against wall-floor and hand on chair for support

Warrior 1 and 2 without wall and chair support

·         Downward dog done on wall to reduce demand on hamstring flexibility

·         Uthita hasta pandangusthasana modified to 1 legged balance with back against wall and blocks under feet

·         Side stretch same with wall ·         Side stretch with use of chair instead of wall. Increase trunk forwards and hip flexion.

·         Bharadvjasana twist seated on chair to reduce hip and knees flexion demand and using the chair as a lever to twist from the trunk

·         Same as series 1

Most of the other sitting and supine poses uses towels/blankets to cushion the parts of the body which has more pressure (eg hip, pelvis, knees), and modifications of lesser ranging were done.

 

EVALUATION

Overall in the scientific research arena, there is still no exact yoga exercise prescription (frequency, intensity, time, type) for the elderly whether healthy or even those with medical conditions. The supposed gold standard of exercise prescription is ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine). In which the guidelines recommend elderly to participate in minimum 30 mins/ day of moderate intensity aerobic  , at least 3-5 days/week to total of 150mins/week and supplementing resistance, flexibility and balance exercise training.

Therefore, this YESS intervention study is useful in providing a starting framework for development of a yoga class for the elderly. However it is important to note that the 2 studies -Greendale et al (2013) and Osth et al (2019) were done on generally healthy elderly population with controlled medical conditions. It is best to get medical clearance from doctors and screening of each individual elderly is a must. Assessing their balance,joint range, strength, flexibility and physical function can give the instructor an idea of their impairments which will determine certain asanas to be more difficult to manage/needs modifications.

As yoga is not just as exercise intervention, explaining to the elderly the theory and philosophy aspect is equally important. Explanations like how the chakras can be stimulate for each pose, importance of pranayama and breath with movement can help them better understand the purpose and apply even on their daily function (eg, being more mindful and balanced with walking/standing/bending to pick things). This can translate to benefit them in the long term and may even help in preventions of falls and fraility, also reducing the reliance on pharmacological treatments.

 

 

References:

-Effects of yoga on well-being and healthy ageing: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial (FitForAge). Osth et al (2019)

-Yoga Empowers Seniors Study (YESS): Design and Asana Series. Greendale et al (2013)

 

Make Your Hamstrings Strong and Flexible

Hamstrings are the three muscles (bicep femoris, semitendinosus, semimenbranosusat) at the back of the thighs and they’re the third biggest muscles in our body. Their function is the opposite of the quadriceps muscles on the front side of the thigh.

Hamstrings have to be strong and flexible

While you’re training your hamstrings, it leads to an increase in your metabolism and helps prevent injuries or pain during yoga (or any sports).
Tight hamstrings cause poor posture, back pain and other various problems such as sacroiliac joint pain, as they will tend to pull the pelvis out of its normal position.

Function

– Hip joint: thigh extension, thigh external rotation
– Knee joint: leg flexion, leg external rotation
– Stabilizes pelvis

Application on Yoga poses

It works to stabilize the lower body when performing powerful asanas such as hero poses.
Contracted 
– Chair pose (Utkatasana)
– Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana III)
– Bridge (Setu Bandhasana)
Stretched 
– Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
– Standing Wide Legged Forward Bend (Prasaritha Paddottanasana)
– Half Splits (Ardha Hanumanasana)

Anterior Abdominal Muscles

The abdominal muscles play a big role to stabilize, rotate our trunk and protect the abdominal organs. It has the airbag effect to protect our lumbar spine and prevent the hyperextension of the lumbar spine when we do the backbend in the yoga postures.

The anterior abdominal muscles can be divided in to four groups:

Rectus abdominis

External obliques

Internal obliques

Transverses abdominis

Rectus abdominis

It is a long flat muscle which originates bilaterally from the pubic and pubic crest, inserts on the xyphoid process of the sternum and cartilage of the 5th, 6th and 7th ribs. It is divided into four muscular bodies, separated by the horizontal fibrous bands, resulting into a six pack shape for those who have low body fat.

The main tasks of this muscle is the movement of the trunk, stabilization of the vertebral column and the tension of the abdominal wall. The abdominal press increases the intra-abdominal pressure which occurs during defecation or vomiting. It also support the exhalation by pulling down the thorax through their contraction. Contracting the rectus abdominis brings the trunk forward or ventral flexion, elevation of the pelvis, lowering the thorax. The yoga asana navasana can strengthen the rectus abdominis.

External obliques

It is the largest and most superficial abdominal muscle which is located on each side of the rectus abdominis. It originates from the front of ribs 5 through 12 and lower section of latissimus dorsi, inserts on lower ribs, linea alba, inguinal ligament and anterior half of the iliac crest. When the external obliques are contracted, the same side of the shoulder will be drawn forward. It is responsible to the twist of the body by combining the contraction of the external obliques with the contraction of the other side internal obliques.

Internal obliques

It is located under the external obliques and originates from the lower borders of the lateral 1/3 of inguinal ligament, iliac crest, thoracolumbar fascia and linea alba, inserts on linea alba and ribs 9 through 12. The contraction of the internal obliques brings the opposite side of the shoulder forward, example parivrita trikonasana.

Transverses abdominis

It is the deepest abdominal muscles and originates from the iliac crest, inguinal ligament, thoracolumbar fascia and inner surface of lower six costal cartilage and their ribs 7 to 12, inserts on xyphoid process and linea alba and pubis. The contraction of the transverses abdominis compresses the abdomen and tones the abdominal organs, example santolasana.

 

The abdominal muscles plays an important role in the stabilizing of the body. The weakness in the abdominal muscles may cause the bad posture and the lower back pain is the most common symptoms especially the seniors. There are some yoga poses can strengthen your abdominal muscles.

1 Navasana (boat pose)

Lie down on the back, feet together and hands by side of hips. Inhale, lift both legs up to 60 degrees. Raise the hands points fingers towards the feet. Exhale, pull in the belly, engage the transverses abdominis and peel the upper body off the floor, leaving the sit bones in contact with the ground.

2 Parivrita trikonasana (revolved triangle pose)

Stand in utthita tadasana. Inhale, bring the right leg to 90 degrees and turn the left foot inwards to 45 degrees. extend the both arms at shoulder level, raise the left arm up and lengthen the spine. Exhale, place the left palm on the outside of the right foot. Twist the mid and upper body and gaze at the extended hand.

3 Dwipada uttanpadasana (double leg raise pose)

Lie down on the mat. Inhale, raise both legs up to 90 degrees slowly. Exhale, release both legs down slowly. There are some variation where any one can hold the legs on 30 degrees, 45 degrees or 60 degrees.

 

 

The tightness of the abdominal muscles limits the depth of backbends. The stretching of this muscles can help you to relax and ease the muscles stress and tension.

Bhujangasana (cobra pose)

Lie down on the belly and and bring the hands below the shoulders, palms down, elbows close to the ribs. Inhale, slide the upper body forward and up. Extend the elbows, push the ribs and lower abdomen up, roll your shoulder back. Gaze between the eyebrows.