What has happened to Yoga now?

Yoga, traditionally, is an individual practice. Even if the yogi is to learn from a Guru, the guru will not spoon feed you and tell you instructions on how to do the asanas or pranayama. For Ashtanga Yoga, in Mysore (a place in India), no instructions are given during the asana (yoga poses) practice. Practitioners are do perform a set of about 70+ yoga poses in a continuous flow, and the guru will adjust and correct.
It is a quiet practice. All you hear is the sound of oceanic breaths, called Ujjayi breathing, plus the sounds of landing on the feet from an uncontrolled practitioner. Sometimes the rhythm of the breaths can be so mesmerizing, that brings you into a calm mode, amidst the challenging asanas.
The most important thing of the asana practice is to go inward, focusing on your breath, gaze and bandha (lock), which is 180 degrees different from what is happening currently in the common Yoga classes in Singapore and the region.
Yoga is to help you go inwards.
In most gyms and fitness centres, Yoga became a dance or aerobics dancing class, where you have huge mirrors and music. Plus a nanny Yoga instructor who nags at you, instructing you specifically what to do. For students who doesn’t use their ears, they rely on a Yoga demonstrator to perform all the yoga poses and they follow. When there is no demonstration, they become lost.
The mirrors can be very distracting as you will find yourself staring at yourself half the time, and the other half the time, looking at other people, comparing yoga poses, are you the best or worst.
Do the students learn anything from that monkey see monkey do ‘yoga’ class? No! (Only a few intelligent ones do) Basically, they don’t use their brain to remember or recall anything. They awareness may not be in their own body to remember the bodily positions that they have held 1 hour ago. There may be too many postures done for beginners to remember the whole sequence. (Sometimes, this is the trick used by more Yoga instructors, so that their students can keep coming back, instead of letting them go for their individual practice. Show them 1000 moves so that they don’t recall any single move)
This ‘Yoga’ brings your attention outwards.
I find that this is not the proper way to teach Yoga. This is very misleading and because of publicity and marketing, common man choose to believe that the ‘Yoga’ is the right way to go. I want to clear up the misunderstanding as much as possible, therefore, we came up with this program:
Yoga for Self practice course (click the link for more details)
This is the most value for money investment that you can make for your own health. The course is not cheap, cheap things cannot be good. If you were to compare this investment to the time taken you need to travel from your house to a yoga studio, the class fees you have to pay, the transport cost, the time taken to travel from yoga studio to work place for 1 year, this course is definitely worth it. What’s most important is to learn the right things and not to damage your body.
That’s all for now. Time for me to go inward.

Meniscus and lotus pose

Knee pain problem is very common especially for marathon runners &  elderly people. Of course, there are also other groups of people which I did not mention here.
Majority of the people complaint about the pain in their knee which is the medial side of the knee. However, there are a minority group expressing the pain is outside of their knee & also about pain running through thte centerline of the knee or around the knee cap. These 3 areas mentioned are due to stress in the knee in different ways.
In yoga, pain inside the knee is the most common problem and is mostly associated to the leg being in a half or full lotus position. This is mainly due to the compression of the medial meniscus. However, it does not mean that the meniscus is torn , it could simply mean that this area has been irritated repeatedly.This knee pain could also be related to  hamstring or adductor  & hence, a good assessment is the key for knee injury.
 In this article, only medial meniscus will be discussed as there are many stories of knee problem in the lotus position. This could be indicated by the swellingin the back of the knee and sometimes regular clicking sound that follows the pop. However, again, good assessment of the injury is needed and the best option is to seek the doctor and if needed a MRI  will be done.
 Before we go deeper into meniscus, below is a brief explanation in anatomy context:

 In anatomy, a meniscus (from Greek μηνίσκος meniskos, “crescent”[1]) is a crescent-shaped fibrocartilaginous structure that, in contrast to articular disks, only partly divides a joint cavity.[2] In humans it is present in the knee, acromioclavicular, sternoclavicular, and temporomandibular joints;[3] in other organisms they may be present in other joints (e.g., between the forearm bones of birds). A small meniscus also occurs in the radio-carpal joint.

 In the knee structure, there are two separate pieces of cartilage that make up the meniscus. Each is an additional piece of cartilage that sits between the femur and tibia and this is where the two bones come together and form the femorotibial joint ( knee joint). The function of this cartilage is to add cushioining to the joint and allow the knee to flex, extend and rotate.


The shape of the meniscus is crescent shaped and sits on top of the tibia which is referred to as tibial plateau. One of the meniscus is on the inside ( medial) while the other is on the outside ( lateral) which makes up the anterior & posterior.The MCL (medial collateral ligament) attaches to the medial meniscus, which is why injuries to these structures may occur at the same time. The MCL runs up the inside of the tibiofemoral joint. On the outside runs the LCL (lateral collateral ligament) which has no attachment to the lateral meniscus. The lateral meniscus does, however, attach to another structure called popliteus. Popliteus is a muscle that covers the back of the knee and helps “unlock” the knee from a fully straightened position. It is also thought to help pull the lateral meniscus out of the way during knee bending, so to avoid pinching and subsequent tearing of the meniscus .The area of the meniscus with the most problem is the posterior portion of the medial meniscus especially in the lotus scenario.
 
Can torn Meniscus heal?
This is a very common question and the answer is dependent on the degree to which the meniscus is torn.If the tears occur on the outer edge of the meniscus, it can heal on their own as there is a small blood supply that feeds the outer edge to help it heal.If the inner part is badly torn, surgery could be required as joints should not have friction and a tear will cause an increase in friction which will then result in swelling, irritation and pain. If unattended, the tear could grow in size and damage the cartilage on the femur that has slide over to the torn area.
 Medial meniscus and lotus pose
There are 2 movements that would put tremendous pressure on the medial meniscus which are the flexion of the knee and the internal( medial) rotation of the tibia.In lotus position both the femur and the tibia have to rotate externally. Hence, if the tibia does not have enough outward rotation, there should be enough in the hip to make it up.In order to avoid any injury while doing the lotus pose, we will need to understand the problem. The degree of mobility for Hip joint is very important in this pose. 
 Meaning:
Lotus Pose (Padmasana) is a supreme position for meditation, and Lotus variations of other asanas can be profound. However, forcing the legs into Lotus is one of the most dangerous things you can do in yoga. Each year, many yogis seriously injure their knees this way. Often the culprit is not the student but an overenthusiastic teacher physically pushing a student into the pose. Below are some variations which we could do in the lotus pose:
 Variations:

    1. Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (Half-Bound Half-Lotus Forward Bend),
    2.  Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose):As one move from the Dandasana( staff pose) to baddha konasan,the ball-shaped head of the thigh bone must rotate outward In the hip socket about 100 degree
    3. Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose):Bending the knee and  placing the foot in preparation for  Janu Sirsasana requires somewhat less external rotation, but as a student bends forward in the pose, the tilt of the pelvis relative to the femur brings the total rotation to about 115 degrees

Padmasana requires the same amount of external rotation (115 degrees) just sitting upright, and the angle of rotation is somewhat different, making it more challenging .When we combine the Padmasana action with a forward bend, as we do in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, the total external rotation required at the hip joint jumps to about 145 degrees.

The above picture show the safe knee placement. Most of the people , the thighbone stops rotating partway into the pose due to tight muscles or ligaments( shown in the below picture). In some cases, it could be due to bone-to -bone limitations deep in the hip.When the femur stops rotating, the only way to get the foot up higher is to bend the knee sideways. Knees are not designed to do this-they are only designed to flex and extend.
 
 
 

Beginner ( first timer) lesson plan

5 min:

  • Introduce your self
  • Ask for medical history, not feeling well

20 min:

  • Do OM X3; explain OM

It is believed to be the basic sound of the universe, the cosmic vibration and contains all other sounds. When repeated correctly it penetrates all and creates harmony and unity with all that exists – with mind, body and spirit and that to all others

  • Start on breathing; show them how to breath, exhaling sucking in the belly and inhaling expanding tummy.

Warm up :
Legs:

  • Move your legs on the spot( jogging style)
  • Swing your left leg forward and backward x5 ( do the same with the right leg)

Hip:

  • Stretch out your hand and move up ( inhale ) & move down ( exhale) with hands touching the mat x5
  • Stretch your hand up and interlock your fingers. Inhale and stretch. Do the same on the left side and right side (holding breath for 3 counts)

Shoulder:

  • Rotate your shoulder clockwise and anti clockwise

Neck:

  • Rotate your neck, left to right and right to left x5

30 min:
Asana:
Sun salutation A

  • Stand at the front of the mat, place hand together in prayer position.
  • Inhale, arms up and As you exhale, hollow out your belly and fold into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), connecting down into the earth. Keep your legs firmly engaged.
  • Inhale half way up, look up , hands placing on the mat, step right leg backwards followed by left leg.
  • Stay in plank position
  • Inhale and exhale normally
  • Exhale,8 limbed staff pose on the mat  where  toes, knees, chest, chin are touching the floor
  • In hale , lift the knees, moving slightly forwards into upward facing dog.
  • Exhale into downward facing dog.( adho mukha svanasana)-breakdown as below:
  1. Come into all fours
  2. Place your knees right under your hips, making sure first you have fully extended your spine.
  3. Place your hands on your mat, shoulder-width apart
  4. Light spread your fingers and making sure your middle finger faces directly forward.
  5. Lift your pelvis to the ceiling and draw your hips back, look at your feet. They should be hip distance apart.
  6. Your heels may / may not touch the ground- try to ground your heels ( you will be able to feel your spine being stretch and your hips, hamstrings & shoulders)
  7. Press hands and stretch your hips back from the tops of your thighs.
  8. Shift your weight back into your hips and look towards your belly
  9. Ensure the crown of your head is aligned to the natural line of your spine
  10. Breath slowly X5
  11. On your 5th exhale, bend your knees & look between your hands.
  • In hale, look up place right leg between the palms and repeat the same for left leg.
  • Exhale back into uttanasana ( standing forward bend)
  • Inhale and stand up in praying post.
  • Remain here for a few breaths & continue your next  salute

Standing pose:
Trikonasana=Triangle pose;Utthita trikonasana:
(Do take a block if needed)

  • From Tadasana( mountain pose) facing the long edge of the your mat.
  • Step your feet wide apart and turn your left foot out so it is parallel to the front of your mat
  • And turn your left foot in slightly.
  • On inhalation, raise your arms parallel to the floor, extend your arm bones away from your center with all your heart.
  • On exhalation, bend towards right leg, keeping hip square. Place your right hand on your right leg / on a block/ hold the ankle.
  • Keep your gazing point towards the your left thumb; keep your breast wide apart and look up. Breath for x5 . Repeat on the left side.

Savasana/Cool down( 5 min):

  • Lie down, spread your legs apart, your palms facing towards the ceiling.
  • For instant relaxation, in hale & tense your toes, ankles, thighs, buttocks and abdomen. Exhale
  • Inhale and make your hands into fist, tense your chest, biceps/ triceps , facial muscles, crown of your head and exhale
  • Relax and focus on your right feet, relax your toe, thigh, ankle. Relax your left feet, toe, ankle, thigh.
  • Relax your abdomen, and focus on your hands. Relax your shoulder, hand, ankle, wrist, fingers.
  • Relax your facial muscle, your eyes, your head crown
  • Bring the awareness back to body and sit in Sukhahasana. Bow gratitude.

YOGASANA – the elixir* of life

Yogasana is the ultimate workout
A wonderful elixir without a doubt
With deep breathing and own body weight
To increase circulation and oxygen intake
With the breath, pranic energy** is introduced
Penetrating the cells and fatigue is reduced
This vital energy is the source
For awakening the dormant spiritual force
All joints and muscles are challenged into action
Lubricating the joints and increase their flexion
The spine is coaxed to bend in all directions
To maintain its flexibility and increase retraction
With the twisting, bending and body resistance
The internal organs are reminded of their existence
Glands are encouraged to secrete and work properly
Normalising imbalances within the body
The practitioner becomes lithe and agile
The bones bear weight and become less fragile
The skin is nourished with increased blood flow
The whites of the eyes shine and glow
Each asana is carefully designed
With spiritual and physical benefits in mind
Postures are practised with purpose and precision
With proper alignment and correct positions
At times, the body may show some resistance
But the body is pliable so practise with persistence
Practise with Tapas*** and mindful concentration
The results will bring you great satisfaction
The standing poses strengthen and revitalise
The prone poses energise
The sitting poses are calming and soothing
The twists are cleansing and rejuvenating
The supine poses are restful and relaxing
The backbends are exhilarating
The balancing poses give a feeling of lightness
The inversions bring mental brightness
Yogasana removes tension and relieves pain
Invigorates the body and refreshes the brain
Sharpens the intellect and aids concentration
Stills the mind and steadies the emotions
Yogasana strengthens the body in every way
Improves the immune system and keeps diseases at bay
Promotes healthy sleep and aids recovery from illness
Creating a vigorous being with overall wellness
To term Yogasana an exercise is a gross insult
The elixir of life will give rewarding results
Get on the mat!! I do plead
How much more convincing do you need?
An original
By Val Adams
15th Sept 2010
* Elixir=supreme remedy
**Pranic energy= vital force or ‘chi’
*** Tapas =A burning effort which involves purification, self-discipline and austerity. “Light on Yoga” B.K.S. Iyengar

Extended hand-toe pose

This post is written by a 200Hr Yoga Teacher Training student, Nancy. I’ve just posted it on her behalf. Here is goes:
Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana,
Extended hand-toe pose.
Translations:
Utthita: extended
Hasta: hand
Pada : foot
Angusta: big toe
Asana: Pose
Level: intermediate
Actions:
The upper body: the spine is neutral; shoulder is flexed; hand holding the lifted leg: elbow extended; index and major are flexed. Hand resting on the standing leg hip: elbow flexed;
The standing leg: extension of the hip and the knee;
The lifted leg: flexion of the hip of the lifted leg; knee extended;
Muscles contractions:
Upper body: Isometric contraction of the Deltoid and the for-arm muscles holding the lifted leg; Advance variation: in step one if flexibility allows the lifted leg is lifted more upward the face, this induce an isotonic concentric contraction of the biceps brachii
Lifted leg: isotonic concentric contraction of the Hamstrings, Iliacus, and posterior deep muscles;
Standing leg: isometric contraction of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, astus medialis, gluteus, gracilis, adductor magnus and calf’s muscles.
Drishti (gazing): Step one of the pose, look forward on something steady over the lifted leg. Though some suggested focusing on the big toe, and I do it personally, I noticed that when my balance is not settled then I am distracted by my shaking toe, I find it easier to focus on something in front that does not shake. Step two of the pose look at something fixed over the shoulder of the standing leg, same idea. The difficulty in the Ashtanga primary series is when you have to keep your balance from gazing A to gazing B, sometimes it easy and sometimes I lose my balance. I noticed that when rotating my head and leg, I need to keep my abdominals really tucked in.
Getting into the pose:
Stand tall and firm in tadasana (mountain pose)
Balancing:
Abdominals are contracted. The deltoid, pronator teres, flexor carpi and Palmaris longus of the extended hand holding the big toe are engaged. The chest is open, spine straight, abdominals contracted. The standing leg is fully engaged, muscles squeezed tighly.
Critical zone: abdominals, standing leg and chest upright.
Tips: stretch your legs on something high, it will help lengthening the muscles when lifting the leg.
Benefits:
Physical: improves balance, strengthens the arches, ankles, calves and tights, strengthens the hamstrings, and lengthens the spine.
Mental: stimulate the mind, develop focus concentration and willpower.
Coordination of the muscular and nervous balance
Contraindications:
For those with knee, or ankle injury, the lifted leg should be kept into the chest
Those with hernia problems, hip injury or sciatica should avoid this position.
Breathing: Ujjahi breathing. Avoid moving the abdomen as the muscles have to remain contracted for a better balance.
My experience:
I found it easier to balance myself when squeezing tightly my standing leg and my abdominals, keeping my chest up right.
I had a tendency to bend my back because of flexibility issues with the lifted leg, however when beginner in this pose, it is best to bend the lifted leg and focus on the engagement of the standing leg and upper body as described above. Once balance is achieved then we can start working on the extension of the lifted leg.
Each of us needs to find our own center point and which method works best for ourself. Feel the pose with your body and your breathing. As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said, yoga is “99% practice and 1% Theory”, after 4 weeks of practice I may not be to the top but I am working to improving.
~Nancy
Reference: Hatha Yoga illustrated, M Kirk, B Boon, D Dituro; Yoga Anatomy, L Kaminoff; Anatomy and physiology, Cliffs quick review; Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, Swami S. Saraswati.

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Stick Pose)

Chaturanga (chatur=four; anga=limb; danda=staff, stick) is an excellent pose to build awareness of the muscles that support and stabilize our shoulder blades. It is also an excellent core exercise to prepare us for more challenging arm balances. Benefits are as follows:

–   Strengthen the legs, buttocks, back, abs, shoulders, arms, and wrists;

–   Improves circulation and digestion

–   Relieves minor tendonitis and fatigue

–   Energizes the body

–   Improves concentration and develops focus.

 

1.         Contraindications :

–   Carpal tunnel syndrome

–   Pregnancy

 

2.         Anatomical Focus:

–   Core

–   Shoulders

–   Back

–   Buttocks

 

3.         Getting into the pose:

 

a.         Preparation

Starting from plank pose, or high push up, our wrists are stacked under our shoulders and our body is parallel to the floor with our toes on the mat. In this position, the pectoralis muscles of the chest are keeping us in a push-up position. To avoid sagging into the wrist joints, we need to recruit the larger muscles of our shoulders for support. Imagine moving our heart closer to the floor without bending the elbows, the shoulder blades will tend to glide closer to each other. This actively engages our rhomboid muscles between the shoulder blades and the spine, and the middle portion of our diamond shaped trapezius muscle.

 

b.         Upper Body

To lower our body from plank position, the action of inward and outward rotation at the shoulder joint must be balanced. The outward rotation of teres major and infraspinatus muscles of the rotator cuff counteract the inward pull of the pectoralis muscles, and lattisimus dorsi on the back. By nature of the fact that our palms are on the mat, the pronator muscles of the forearm are activating an inward rotation at the wrist. To maintain neutral rotation at our shoulder joint, our elbows must hug to our sides to engage the triceps, whose natural action is pure flexion and extension at the elbows. It is important to maintain the engagement of the scapular support muscles that we started with in plank pose. This means that we keep an open heart moving forward, broad across the collarbones, and our shoulder tips never drop below our elbows. The subscapularis muscle of the rotator cuff (on the underside of the shoulder blade) is working over time to prevent the arm bone from moving forward out of the shoulder joint.

c.         Core
To avoid sagging into the low back or popping up with our hips, our core muscles must be engaged. Use a gentle contraction of uddiyana bandha, sucking the belly button up and in, flattening the lower belly. This action corresponds to engaging the transversus abdominus, which provides stability to the lower spine. A slight tuck under of the tailbone can aid this action. The contraction of the transversus abdominus is maintained throughout chaturanga to keep our body parallel to the floor and avoid any lower back discomfort. Press back firmly through the heels to distribute the weight to our core and upper body and send weight into the legs.

d.         Lower Body

The action of pressing back into the heels activate the muscles that dorsi flex our ankles, namely tibialis anterior on the front of the shin. Our hamstrings lengthened by the action of the extended knee initiated by our quadriceps muscles in the front of the thighs. To keep our alignment, our thighs are pressing towards each other but not touching, like we are holding a block with the adductor muscles of the groin.