Beginning this Saturday, September 3rd, I will be teaching 4 yoga workshops that focus on four of the fascial meridians found within Tom Myers theory of Anatomy Trains. Our first workshop will cover the Superficial Back Line. To sign up please click here. The following post is to provide you more information about fascia and yoga.
Unbinding The Rope-Yoga for Fascial Length
What is fascia?
Simple put fascia is connective tissue. There are many types of fascia within the body but in our workshop we will specifically be working with long sheaths of fascia that are part of Tom Myers theory of Anatomy Trains.
One of the key jobs of fascia is to distribute force throughout the body. When you walk the weight of your body transmits from your foot up the entire structure of bones and muscles. These bones and muscles are wrapped in fascia which helps to distribute the workload throughout your body. Fascia not only supports the structure of your body but also affects your posture and movement.
What is the SBL?
The SBL also known as the Dorsal fascial sheath runs the distance of the entire back side of the human body. It begins with the plantar fascia on the sole of the foot, runs up the back of the legs, attaches to the sacrum, continues up the length of the spine and neck and wraps around the skull until ending at the brow line.
What is the purpose of the SBL?
Since the SFB has the formidable job of holding the body erect while standing, it is comprised of dense sheets of fascia such as the achilles tendon and the sacrotuberous ligament. The entire line from feet to head acts like a guy-wire to keep us upright. Depending on your posture you may have tightness on part or all of the SBL or you may be over stretched on the backside and compressed in the front body. In either case working to lengthen or strengthen the SBL will help the preserve the health and longevity of your spine!
Common Postural Compensation Patterns Associated with the SBL-
Common Pains Associated with SBL-
How can yoga help?
There are many postures in yoga that are designed to lengthen the SBL such as downward facing dog and forward bends. Alternatively back bending encourages spinal strength and shortens the SBL. Everyone’s structure is unique and the purpose of this workshop is to help you identify where you are stuck in your fascia and to learn ways to safely open those areas. You will also learn where you may be compensating and over stretching your fascia in which case strengthening and support are encouraged. The series of fascial workshops require no previous experience with yoga however a desire to understand your fascia and how to work with it is a good start!
Last night was the first yoga class of a new "no-dog" series that I am teaching at Castle Hill Fitness in Austin Texas for the month of April. After everyone had an opportunity to introduce themselves one student raised her hand and asked a very relevant question.
"Why is down dog taught SO much in yoga class...I mean, what's the point?!"
The importance of knowing why to do a particular pose, when to teach it and how much to practice it is crucial! I feel yoga teacher trainings often leave teachers unable to answer these questions and thus the fall back plan becomes teaching the familiar. Unfortunately for people with compromised shoulders this leads to a lot of painful downward facing dogs and injuries from repetitive chaturanga dandasana (the yoga push-up).
Her questions of "why" highlights that many students are being led through their yoga class with no information about the therapeutic effects of the postures they are finding themselves in. With that being said let me take the opportunity to highlight the benefits of adho mukha svanasana (down-dog pose).
Benefits of Downward Facing Dog Pose
I feel quite strongly that a healthy yoga practice is one that works with the bodies limitations (not against them). It may be the case that at some point doing down-dog is not going to serve your wellbeing, and in that case, there are alternatives!!
You can lengthen your hamstrings similarly to down dog by folding forward and then bringing your hands onto your shins and straighten your spine. You can also work with the arms and shoulder girdle by doing down dog at the wall or using a chair for the hands. If you have access to a yoga wall you can practice the posh version of down dog in which your upper legs are strapped in and your arms get to extend without any weight bearing- that is my favorite!!
Whatever you do, take the time to ask yourself if the postures are benefiting you, and if the answer is no then modify or skip it all together! When done correctly yoga has the power to heal and bring your body into a place of ease.
Enjoy the process!
There are a variety of reasons for practicing inversions on a regular basis. The therapeutic highlights of inversions are enhanced circulation of blood, the suspension of the organic body which frees up restrictions around the organs, and gravitational assistance of lymphatic drainage. Not to mention the energetic effects of changing your perspective and encouraging greater internal reflection.
There are also many reasons why students do not practice inversions. Sometimes this has to do with structural limitations such as rotator cuff injuries or lack of strength in the required muscles. Other times the very thought of taking the feet overhead is anxiety producing or students don't trust their own ability to support themselves. Even for a seasoned yoga practitioner holding an handstand or head stand for 5 minutes is quite demanding.
All of the above pros and cons are exactly why one of my favorite ways to practice sirsasana is supported on two chairs. As someone who has suffered from bursitis in my shoulder this variation was the perfect way for me to invert without hurting myself. Also due to the pressure of the chair on the upper trapezius muscle this supported posture has similar effects as getting a trigger point massage in the shoulders!
HOW TO GET INTO SUPPORTED SIRSASANA
* Please note that inversions can be contraindicated for those suffering from high blood pressure. Also full inversions such as this are not advisable for women on their moon cycle.
This coming weekend I will be teaching a therapeutic yoga workshop for women only. I think a lot of women could benefit from learning yoga techniques that will support the inner workings of their bodies for the rest of their lives. I certainly view my own practice as one that will nurture and support my health until I am old and a practice that can modify with my body as it goes through inevitable changes of time.
You may be wondering why do women would need their own yoga and how that would differ from a man’s practice. In all honesty men can benefit from the same postures that women benefit from. However our anatomy and physiology are vastly different from a man’s and that should be reflected in our practices. Take for instance the facts that it an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2015 as well as about 12% of women 15–44 years of age in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. This leads me to explore the ways that yoga can help women become healthier in the face of such alarming numbers.
One of the most powerful and therapeutic effects of yoga is the movement of fluids. The result of many of the asanas is the hydration of muscle tissues, organs and joints with fresh blood and synovial fluid. I like to compare this hydrating effect to adding WD40 to squeaky hinges. When you consider the anatomy of a woman’s body you see that the reproductive organs have a rich bed of capillaries that supply the area with blood. Now consider that muscular and fascial tension in the inner legs, abdomen and chest can restrict the flow of that blood. Suddenly the idea that an area that has restricted blood flow could be more prone to infection or disease doesn’t seem that far fetched. So then the goal of the asanas to facilitate openness and movement of blood becomes more relevant.
Image of blood capillaries in female reproductive organs
Another thing to consider and one that I have talked about in previous blog posts is how yoga assists with lymphatic drainage. Lymph is a fluid in the body that works directly with our circulatory system. As blood supplies nutrients to cells and collects waste the lymph acts as transportation medium for many of these metabolic byproducts. Unlike the blood, lymph does not have a pump, like the heart. Thankfully the muscular movements, twisting and inversions found in yoga DO help push the lymph fluid towards exit points. Again when you consider the female body can you see how the collection of lymph nodes in the groin, armpits and breast tissue could benefit from the detoxifying effects of yoga asana.
Aside from physiological effects I also think yoga can help women to develop a stronger connection to their inner compass and intuition. In today’s culture women are working double time to build careers, raise families and keep their lives together, so much so that I think we may be letting our own self care, nurturing, and presence of mind fall to the wayside. I’ve always felt that in order to help others you have to be in a good place with yourself and I think this is true for mothers, lovers, sisters and friends. To be your best self you’ve got to take care of yourself! Make the time to slow down, take inventory, heal and reconnect to that unflinching and powerful feminine mystique that is your birthright!
This mothers day weekend I hope that you will join me for this women’s only yoga workshop at 12:30 on Saturday May 9th where we will work directly with these concepts. In honor of building a strong female community the class requires you to bring a female partner. This could be your mom, sister, best girlfriend or any other awesome woman in your life. No yoga experience is needed just a desire to go inward and experience the ways yoga can support your amazing female body for years to come!
View the workshop details and sign up here.
The holiday eating season is upon us and the truth is that many of us are going to overeat at some point or indulge in rich foods that are not in our regular diet. As a yoga teacher I could give advice on good food choices to make but even I know those kind of rules are difficult to follow when you are face to face with a bourbon pecan praline pie.
So here are some yoga postures for that inevitable moment this holiday season when you are feeling bloated and stuffed like the turkey everyone just ate. Sneak off to a quiet room in the house, unbutton your pants and take some time to literally decompress your belly. Don't worry if anyone discovers you! It will either confirm you are the fruit cake they always thought you were or they just may follow in your footsteps.
Begin with some simple twists. This can be done laying down or sitting up. Twists help to wring your belly out and flush fresh blood into your organs. They also help your intestines move their contents along for elimination.
Next work on creating more space in your organic body. My favorite pose for digestion is supta baddha konasana supported on a big stack of pillows. This pose should feel very comfortable! Take supports under your knees or head if needed. Once you are there you can also gently rub your belly in circles moving from top, to your left, then around the bottom and up the right side.
Last, but definitely not least, take some time to invert. Vipartta Karani is a great pose for sending blood into the belly and for restoring your energy after the exhaustion that often comes with group gatherings. This is another pose that should feel good and easy. If your low back is uncomfortable take a smaller lift under your sacrum. Focus on taking long slow breaths and feel how the expansion of your ribs and diaphragm affect your belly. Every time you take a big breath it is like an internal massage on your organs so enjoy and breath.
Wishing you a cozy holiday season filled with good health, peace and joy!
The Above image is of the Jnana Mudra aka the wisdom mudra. There are many different interpretations of this hand gesture depending on where you look. However my favorite explanation is that the forefinger represents the self and the thumb represents the universe or the Supreme Reality. When the two come together it exemplifies the notion that there is no separation between the self and God or the universe and that with that understanding comes wisdom.
This mudra is often used while sitting in a meditation and can be seen in countless statues of the buddha. I personally like to use this mudra as a little reminder of a few things. One being not to get too caught up in the dialog that is running through my head at any given moment (meditation included). It can be comical, if not a little frustrating, to come to see that I've been sitting on a cushion attempting to connect to that higher self or the Supreme Reality only to discover I've actually been talking with myself the entire 15 minutes. There is that blasted ego again! So thumb and index fingers together just to simply recall my intentions to step outside of my small self for a moment.
There is another way that I like to use this mudra and that is to serve as a reminder that I am not alone in this world and everything I do has an effect on someone else. Embodying this understanding means offering love and kindness to all others- even people I don't like or don't know. It is becoming more and more relevant and important for me to attempt to see myself in others simply because doing so breaks down barriers. So thumb and index fingers together to serve as a nudge in the direction of non-judgement and compassion.
All love in compassion
There are many types of yoga out there and hundreds of asanas (postures) to go along with each style of yoga. The type of yoga that I prefer to practice and teach is hatha yoga with an emphasis on alignment and intention. When I sit down for my opening meditation I take the time to be quiet and still and ask myself what I am needing from my practice at that moment. The answer varies from day to day and my practice responds accordingly to those changing needs. As Donna Farhi suggests in Bringing Yoga to Life "consider your practice in terms of how it can balance and serve the rest of your life." In light of this concept of asking ones self "why am I doing this particular pose today?" I would like to investigate the value and importance of Salamba Sarvangasana also known as shoulder stand.
In his book, Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar refers to shoulder stand as the "Mother of asanas" and states that the importance of this pose "cannot be over-emphasized". In order to understand the value of the shoulder stand you must first understand the role of the lymphatic and circulatory systems in the body. The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system and is comprised of a network of lymphatic vessels that carry lymph fluid to the heart. The movement of this fluid is essential for a healthy immune system as it transports white blood cells and nutrients around the body and also assists in elimination of metabolic waste.
Unlike the circulatory system the lymphatic system does not have an organ designed specifically to push the fluid through the veins. So the ways in which the lymph fluid is moved is through contraction of muscles i.e: exercise and movement, manual lymphatic drainage, breathing and gravity. So this brings us back to the benefits of yoga and the shoulder stand.
When you go into an inversion such as shoulder stand you have several therapeutic actions happening. Possibly the most obvious is the affect of gravity on the body's fluids. As you settle into the pose you notice all of the blood in your body moving downward towards your heart, face and throat. Instantly your thyroid and parathyroid glands are bathed in blood which assists in hormone secretion. Also while you are upside down lymph fluid has an opportunity to move towards the clusters of lymph nodes in the groin, belly and throat which not only helps your body to combat viruses, bacteria and cancerous cells but also to eliminate toxins. Another thing to consider here are the organs in your belly. Being upside down allows your bowels and internal organs to move more freely and have a momentary "lift" from the daily compression caused by prolonged sitting. Iyengar also writes, "It is no overstatement to say if a person regularly practices sarvangasana he will feel new vigor and strength.. new life will flow into him." Not bad just for being upside down for 10 minutes huh?
Now to address how to practice shoulder stand. The photograph below shows a few options ranging from easiest to most difficult. I personally enjoy shoulder stand towards the end of my asana practice after my body has been moving around and warmed up. I also feel it is important to practice with several blankets under the shoulders and arms with the head off of the blankets to avoid any compression in the cervical spine. One thing to note is that shoulder stand is contraindicated for those with high blood pressure and props or alternative therapeutic postures should be used by those with spinal injuries or complication in the cervical spine. This brings us back to that important point of honoring and respecting your body and it's needs! "The rhythm of pausing and surrendering to life is the most daring, for here we can learn to just be."- Donna Farhi.
After your practice and whatever variation of inversion you may choose, take the time to sit and meditate. Observe how your body responds to the postures and what may have arisen for you. A dear friend and yoga teacher Jenny Russo once told me "As things start to change on the outside they also open and evolve on the inside". It is my hopes that your living practice connects you to your highest self and help you to be present with all that you experience upside down or not.
Join me on April 5th 2014 at Castle Hill Fitness in Austin Texas for a special 90 minute "yoga for detoxification" class!
Based out of Austin Texas, Anna teaches Yoga and offers therapeutic massage. She is interested in Zen-Buddhism and the spiritual journey that yoga offers. Check out her blog for inspirations, teaching on yoga, educational information about the body and interesting stuff that she comes across out there in the world.