Charity Workshop and Masterclass at Naada Yoga

I am excited to be presenting a yoga anatomy workshop and masterclass at Naada Yoga to support the Paper Kite Foundation.

Steady and Powerful Knees

Sunday, March 2  4:30-7

Explore fundamental anatomy and alignment principles that will enhance the strength, balance, and care of your knees in classic standing postures. This yoga anatomy workshop will include an invigorating all-levels hatha fusion practice.

logo_CF_tag_colorEvent proceeds to go to the Paper Kite Foundation a non-profit charity working to ensure that basic necessities are available to orphanages in the state of Bihar, India.

WHERE: Naada Yoga, 5540 Casgrain Ave, Montreal QC

NaadaYogaLogoCOST: by donation

PREREGISTER: reserve online www.naada.ca under ‘workshops’

There will be exciting giveaways from our generous sponsors:

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Montreal Yoga Festival 2013  Samastah Yoga Jewelry

The Disadvantage of Our Internal Rotators

Poor posture is often a combination of cascading, dysfunctional elements acting on our musculoskeletal system.  This dysfunction is not helped by the fact we have a strong tendency towards a dominance of our internal rotators of the humerus (upper arm bone).  As muscle tension imbalances set in across the shoulders and upper arms, the dominance of internal rotation places dragging tension onto the shoulder blades.  This ultimately draws the shoulder blades forward that leads to inhibition and weakening of the musculature needed to counter dominant internal shoulder rotation.  Let’s look at all the various internal rotators to gain a better sense of these tension imbalances.

pectoralis majorPectoralis Major – this power house chest muscle runs from the collar bone, chest bone, and ribs to connect into the top, front aspect of the upper arm bone (humerus).  Besides pulling the arm bone into the body (adduction), the pectoralis major has a significant internal rotation action on the humerus.

anterior-deltoidAnterior Deltoid – traveling from the collar bone and partly from the shoulder blade (acromion process), the anterior deltoid is responsible for flexing the shoulder (lifting the arm bone forward) and abduction (IF the arm bone is externally rotated), but also has a strong internal rotation component.

latissimus_dorsiLatissimus Dorsi (and Teres Major) – another powerhouse muscle running from the hip crest, spinous processes of the vertebra, and ribs, this large back muscle comes from inside the arm to attach on the front, inside aspect of the upper arm (similar location to the Pectoralis Major).  Coming just off the shoulder blade and attaching very close to the same insertion as the Latissimus Dorsi (at the upper arm) is the Teres Major.  Both of these muscles play a major role in extending the shoulder (or bringing the arm bone back down into anatomical position from a flexed state).  Because of their line of insertion at the upper arm, these muscles also contribute to internal rotation of the humerus.

subscapularisSubscapularis – one of our 4 rotator cuff muscles responsible for stabilizing and supporting the head of the arm bone in the shoulder socket, the Subscapularis runs from the inside (anterior) aspect of the shoulder blade and connects onto the anterior aspect of the arm bone.  Besides shoulder socket stabilization, the line of pull from its’ contraction facilitates adduction of the arm bone and clearly also internal rotation.

Our body has a set of external rotators of the humerus: Posterior Deltoid, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor.  When we compare the internal rotators to the external rotators, it appears that the external rotators are at a disadvantage in creating a balanced muscle tension relationship against the internal rotators.  Compound this structural disadvantage with postural imbalances from work, home, physical activity, health, and injuries, and we clearly see how the internal rotators can overwhelm the external rotators.  How much of our day is chronically spent with the arms forward (shoulder flexion), arm bones internal rotating, and shoulder blades being drawn forward?

By acknowledging these tendencies towards tension imbalances and structural disadvantages, we can integrate more mindful approaches to our exercise and yoga practices as well as bring more awareness to the need to avoid poor habitual lifestyle patterns throughout the day.  How can we change the design and sequencing of our yoga flows to more effectively restore tension balance and a harmonious relationship across our musculoskeletal system?  What changes and additions to our work and home life can we make to prevent the body from settling into a dysfunctional adaption state and instead help the body memorize postures that retain fluid space?

Yoga for Stronger Feet, Stronger Balance

Balancing yoga postures can be an intense challenge for many practitioners.  When we hold balancing poses for extended breaths and even cycle in multiple balancing poses in a row, we readily see many students in the group coming out of the sequence needing to shake off the tension and lactic acid build up in the feet.  Equally problematic for many is just the simple process of finding steadiness.  When I did my teacher training (eons ago), we were taught to suggest to students that they step off their mat to find more stable grounding.  I have recently come to a conclusion that this may be of disservice and in fact, we may want to consider going in the opposite direction to, in fact, challenge our balancing poses even more.

Balancing postures primary goal is to develop core strength, endurance and awareness regardless of the limb position.  Therefore, spinal quality and alignment trumps how simple or how contorted one’s desire of the limbs.  We want to strengthen and enhance proper spinal lines, not exacerbate poor postural form and lifestyle patterns.

Balancing postures also provide the opportunity to enhance coordination and proprioception (spacial body awareness).  This coordination begins with healthy connection and biomechanics of the foot and ankle.  Due to overuse of improper footwear from childhood and a vast array of dysfunctional lifestyle habits, we have a society disconnected to their feet and suffering from structural foot issues.

I often took for granted my ease of balancing as I saw new students struggle with the most simple of balancing poses. It initially made sense to suggest to people ‘step off your mat to a firmer surface’ as we entered balancing poses.  However, let’s consider that much of the surfaces we act on in life are NOT perfectly flat and ideal.  Should we not actually practice (at least once and awhile) on less-than-ideal surfaces to mimick reality?

Yoga for FeetAn interesting approach by Katy Bowman of Align and Well is to fully engage the muscular of the feet and ankles by balancing on surfaces that are unstable.  She recommends working the arches and supportive tissues of the feet by balancing on a folded towel.  For beginners, I would recommend simple poses keeping the body upright (like Crane pose or Tree Pose) and using a wall or chair close by to offer stand-by ‘support’.  For more experienced practitioners, I would integrate a series of multiple poses on the towel that transition the body in different planes (vertical, to horizontal, to twisting).  Example: start with a basic single leg Quadricep Stretch, flow into Tree Pose, ease into Twisting Stork, and finish with Warrior 3.  Tell me that after this you aren’t working your feet!

Foot Stretches

Given the deep work going into the feet and ankles, ample isolated stretches afterwards are recommended.  Ease the feet through natural dorsiflexion and planterflexion, and pass these motions into the toes and arches.  Single or double toe tuck stretches would readily stretch out the tension felt after these towel exercises – be mindful, though, of any discomfort in loaded knee flexion.  Child’s pose or Zen Pose (sitting on heels) would counter stretch the toe tuck stretches.

Consider adding a towel to your next yoga practice or teaching.  Sequence in a series of appropriate yoga poses and emphasize working those all-important feet, arches, and ankles.

Final Tips:

*Maintain buoyancy in the knees (avoid knee locks)

*Sustain an ample, but not rigid, connection to core engagement

*Set a drishti (focal point) that encourages neutral neck and head lines

*Avoid grasping the towel with your toes to avoid pre-mature fatigue and lactic acid

*Retain your central line of gravity through the front aspect of your heel

*Concentrate on keeping a functionally balanced spine and pelvis ALWAYS

Some Truths About Stretching and Flexibility in Yoga

One of the key benefits and primary interests for people doing yoga is to increase flexibility and joint range of motion. I have compiled expert opinions on the physiology of stretching.

Elastic Edge:

Muscles, tendons, and ligaments have an ‘elastic edge’ where by they can stretch to a certain length under force and then return to resting length. Overall, there is a set ‘length’ for the elastic edge of all these tissues.  Muscles have a much longer edge than tendons and ligaments.  Once this edge has been passed, tearing and damage readily occurs.  As we develop our flexibility over time, we can readily adapt into the muscular edge and pass too much force into the shorter ‘edges’ of other connective tissue – this is where we see the onset of impingement, tendonitis, bursitis, and connective tissue tears occurring.  It is common for those beginning a yoga practice to see significant flexibility gains in muscle tissue – just remain mindful that tendons and ligaments required greater adaptation time.

Sensitivity to Elastic Edge:

As we progress with consistent flexibility training, it is common with increased range of motion that we have decreased sensitivity to our true elastic edge by altering our reflex sensitivity in muscle stretch receptors.  For those starting in flexibility training and yoga, they will feel a sense of stiffness and ‘resistance’ sooner than those who have been practicing for extended periods.  This is part of protection mechanisms in muscle and connective tissue.  With practice, we can override these mechanisms to allow us to ease into these edges with less sensitivity.  The downside is, if we are practicing with ego, we do not have these mechanisms effectively telling us when to stop and become more susceptible to passing elastic edges and causing injury.

muscle anatomy and sacromeresFlexibility Comes With Consistency:

Doing a single yoga practice can create the sensation of tension release, but due to elastic qualities, tissues within minutes return to their original resting length. A single practice here and there will not increase overall flexibility and muscle length.  Muscles lengthen by increasing the microscopic subunits called sarcomeres at the muscle-tendon junction.  We can also manipulate the orientation of collagen in connective tissue to allow for SOME (note SOME in the limited sense) greater elastic length potential. The addition of sarcomeres and enhanced collagen orientation only occurs with regular, consistent, progress practices.

What Makes Me Feel Stiff:

Stiffness is partially related to overall muscle and connective tissue length. We can not change what is called technical “stiffness” without without adding on more sarcomeres or manipulating collagen orientation. We may experience extra stiffness due to muscle conditioning (force loads or stretching that cause micro-fiber tears … common in weight training programs).  We may develop adhesions in fascia (connective tissue surrounding and supporting muscles).  We may also have adhesions at the sarcomere-level in components called titin which are responsible for passive tension and for returning muscle filaments back to resting length after  being stretched.  In the case of fascial adhesions (often caused by dominance of poor posture or activities OR from injury), you may need to receive specialized treatments to break down the adhesions and prevent scar formation. Flexibility programs like yoga work directly on fascia to prevent adhesion formation and maintain fluid motion among the fascia and muscle.  Stretching programs are showing to have some influence on titin – for example: longer titin units results in tension at longer sarcomere length, therefore being able to reach elastic limit at higher sarcomere lengths.  Stretching may increase titin unit length especially in stretching programs with youth.  Much more research is underway addressing the effects of flexibility practices at the sarcomere level.

Flexibility and Age:

As we age, we lose sarcomere units meaning reduced overall muscle length and increased stiffness.  With age, we experience changes in collagen structure in connective tissue leading to decreased compliance in tendons and ligaments.  Stretching programs can reduce the onset of these age-related tissue changes.

Stretching and Other Activities:

Progressive stretching has shown to reduce maximal force output of muscle tissue.  Therefore, it is not advised to do deep stretching prior to activities requiring vigorous force generation.  Instead, slow and gradual warming of tissues mimicking movements to be performed (easing through joint range of motion) in those activities is preferred.  So, if you plan to do yoga and weights in the same day, best to do the yoga after your training.

Ideal Way to Stretch to Develop Flexibility:

Researchers have fully concluded that there is not enough research to adequately conclude what is the best way to stretch in order to develop flexibility.  Given the vast number of variables: age, gender, predisposition to muscle fiber types, types of stretching, length of time, muscle isolation versus multi-muscle integration, goal specific training, etc, researchers are far from offering any concrete prescriptions.  They clearly do recognize the benefits of stretching and most advocate exploring methods that your body readily responds to and suits your specific needs.  This pretty much resonates the overall intention we should have within our practice: discover your uniqueness.