Week 237: Thumbs Up
Another excellent session with senior teacher, Paula Carnegie Fehr, from Red Deer this weekend. Focusing on all things anatomy and yoga.
This workshop’s primary focus was on the skeletal and muscular systems. The handy skeleton was working overtime as we all poked and prodded, twisted and turned, and moved the bones every which way to see how yoga asanas would work. I have been loving the use of the words stability and mobility. It amazes me that the knowledge I already have is coming alive in a yoga scenario. What parts of the body allow for stability? And what parts of the body allow for mobility? It is easy to make these reflections outside of a lab and on the floor of a yoga studio.
The skeletal system is HUGE for yoga. Yes, you’d think the muscles are paramount, but with this weekend’s practice it has become more clear to the intricacies of alignment via the skeleton. Dare I say, the skeletal system is what makes yoga asanas happen.
Here are some of my light bulb moments from my yoga anatomy work…
I’d always recognized the importance of foundation. I’ve been working on mine for years. However, I believe there is always something to be learned on how we are placed on our mat. Two specific areas of the skeletal system that, let’s be honest, don’t always get my attention - the hands and feet - are so intimately linked to a good foundation.
We played with multiple ways the feet hold us up in space, from a standing to a lying position. Initially, we worked on the foot placement during a forward fold. I can fully admit that the practice of tadasana at my last workshop shook me a bit. My partners watched as my left foot supinated and literally my left big toe didn’t even touch the floor. Exciting insight! I took this to my tadasana today to only watch how things change with the feet facing outward, inward or in neutral position by rotating the thigh at the hip. On self reflection, I soon realized that if I want length through my sacralillio (SI) joint, I am better to position my my thighs slighted rotated outward (laterally) or in a neutral position. The length across my back was so welcomed.
How did I know?
We palpated the SI joint with our thumbs (thumbs up anyone?) and felt as the joint moved and flatted between the two ilium bones.
The second way the feet played into my foundation today was in table top position (Bharmanasana). I had been conscious in the past about pressing the “shoelace” side of my foot down into the floor but never took the time to feel what actually was happening. Looks can be deceiving. What looked easy was tremendous effort into my hips. I had no idea that by pushing my feet down, it helped activate my hip abductors and it too helped to lengthen through the SI joint.
My SI joint loves me!
Now talk about the neglected and well worked part of the skeletal system! How often do I work to take care of my hands? Dare I say never.
The work we did was extremely valuable as I think it can be said that the hands are crucial to asana foundation but never really considered.
At least not in my body!
Yes, I’ve thought about pressing my “finger prints” into the mat from time to time but always struggled with getting my thumb down (thumbs up again!). We tried a basic flat hand approach to placement, which to be honest, was quite uncomfortable. Then Paula suggested tenting our hands slightly and slowly placing only the outside edges of our hands on the floor. Soon I realized that in fact, this was something I never considered. By doing so, the middle of the hand stays ever so slightly lifted off the ground. The lift protects the flexed wrist but provides a super stable foundation.
Clearly, not me.
Now to the thumb. I asked Paula about my thumb. I was demonstrating something fairly different with my hand than my fellow yogis. Since she was aware of my anatomy knowledge, she simply said, contract your thenar (thumb) muscle. And like magic, my body did what I asked and my thumb flattened (mostly) to the floor.
Awareness and intention are powerful things!
All in all, the thumbs showed up multiple times during practice so I would be remiss if I didn’t give them an additional shout out.
After our lunch break, Paula led us through a meditation with mudras. What showed up? A thumbs up. We placed our hands in a thumbs up position and sat with our hands on our thighs. One fellow teacher wanna-be even reflected that the position just felt good and that things were “all good”. We proceeded to supinate our hands so that the thumbs faced outwards. This opened the chest and I thought it was a time to dump out what I don’t need. To follow, we pronated our hands and the thumbs landed inwards where I felt a charge of energy. This energy flowed between my thumbs…can’t explain that one!
The “thumbs up” mudras, similar to shiva linga is known for energy charging. Maybe there is something to the energy I felt through the two thumbs! But more like merudanda mudra, a mudra focusing on breath.Much more to learn about the mudras!
All in all, I’d give this workshop a thumbs up, literally,
Week 181: Follow Your Breath
What do you call a downward facing dog in a room of upward facing dogs?
ME - in a yoga class this week!
Hold up. You mean to say I made it to an actual class, in studio again this week!
Yep, I did!
There is something to be said about being out of synch, with anything in life. The outlier, the anomaly, the deviation. My yoga practice this week brought forth that at times I swim against the current, I go out on a limb and I stand out on my own. I was the sole person in downward facing dog and well, loved it!
At other times, I like to join the crowd, keep in line and stay with the group. Maybe it is from my rhythmic synchronized swimming days that I think I must be on cue (or else) or maybe I like to be lost in the pack.
Either way, I think my home practice has allowed me to march to the beat of my own drum or more likely breath through my own practice that suits my needs. I freely admit to love breathing long breaths; seven, eight, nine counts at a time, inhaling and exhaling. There is almost nothing else that calms me like extended breathing. Sometimes I follow this count as I move through asanas, yet at other times I move without it.
Let me be clear. This infamous downward facing dog was in the middle of the class and likely the fifth or sixth one of the practice. I was rolling through flow/vinyasa and making my movements and transitions relatively quick. No slow breathing here!
It got me to thinking that…
A. this is my practice. The teacher had no concern, nor did my fellow classmates (really?! They probably had no idea I was the odd ball out). If this is for me and me alone, then who cares that I am moving quicker (or slower for that matter) than the rest of the class.
B. as a teacher, I must recognize the rhythm of the participants' practice. I, too, cannot get worried about how synchronized the group is or how well they follow my cues. As long as everyone is safe and doing what they need to do for themselves, then they can follow their own breath too.
The overarching theme, however, is that one must follow their own breath. That is what does matter.
In doing a little poking around the internet, I found this lovely and meaningful quote from Thich Nhat Hanh. Enjoy!
My date with I Embrace…my breath and my practice.
Week 90: Yoga in Everyday Life
Sprinkling yoga into my day to day life is just how things have to go. No formal classes or dedicated practice, just "hits" of yoga when it works. Here is a list of my current favourite yoga poses and where they fit into my day:
Yoga has to fit. And this is just how it works...for now,
It's game time!
I've been waiting 40 weeks for this and all my pre-yoga work has (hopefully) helped!
Things began to ramp up in the wee hours of the morning. As I said last week, I knew my body was getting ready for this baby's arrival. By sunrise, I thought it best to inform all parties involved that it's time.
With everyone at my home and ready to head to the hospital, the labour begins to slow down...contractions come to a halt.
It took a lot for me to come to terms that labour doesn't go from zero to one hundred but it has bumps and turns throughout. I suppose it is kinda like a yoga practice as well. It's not the same every time you step on the mat.
Working with some natural labour inducing options, contractions began again and we were off to the hospital.
For those of you who haven't experienced labour, it can sometimes feel like an out of body experience. I have a distinct memory of being in the delivery room shower, light very dim, soothing music being played and the smell of peppermint. All a while trying to control my breath. It was like a yoga class minus the painful contractions!
I think my doula purposely set things up this way as she knew it was bringing me comfort during one of the most challenging physical feats of my life.
Being drug free, I felt every thing. The wild roller coaster of labour and delivery was upon me. By all accounts, everyone said I did a great job but all I could do in those moments was to listen (to my body and my team) and breathe!!!
Surely enough, one last push and instant relief. I had a new baby boy laying on my chest. Just like the feeling after an intense yoga session (probably a hot one!) but times ten more! I had done it!
Now the lifetime of work was to begin!
Week 69: Christmas Spirit
I came across the following breathing practice, Tonglen, this week and thought it fit well with yogic principles even though it is a Buddhist practice. And it fits very well with the Christmas Spirit.
Breathe the Christmas Spirit!
"Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Breathe in suffering - yours, others, the world's. Breathe out compassion - for yourself, for others, for the world."
Wishing you the best during the holiday season,
Week 63: Ujjayi Breath
As I said last week, my body is ever changing and in this week's practice I've already experienced how I must modify and/or change poses.
I'm particularly feeling that lying on my stomach is not very comfortable nor on my back. I can withstand it for some time but long durations don't seem to work anymore.
Instead this week, I've put more emphasis on my breathing, specifically the ujjayi breath. It has been a breathing technique I've done for years but really haven't explored it in much detailed. I thought this was a fitting time.
Yoga Journal describes ujjayi technique as "[g]ently pulling the breath in on inhalation and gently pushing the breath out on exhalation [which] against this resistance creates a well-modulated and soothing sound—something like the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out." In practice, I've used the "haaaa" sound, which translates well into the ocean wave sound.
The technique typically modulates the breath and creates a nice balance between the inhalation and exhalation. It is commonly translated into "victorious breath". How fitting as it can be used to calm the body (victory over discomfort?). Ujjayi breath is such a soothing and relaxing breath and using it during challenging poses is extremely helpful. And now being pregnant, it too is helpful when moving a body that is slightly different from the norm.
And it so happened that I received an email recently from Leslie Kaminoff, of www.yogaanatomy.net and author of Yoga Anatomy, with a perfect video outlining some key parts of the ujjayi breath. Click here for his take on ujjayi breathing.
As this pregnancy moves into the later weeks, the emphasis on breath will be ever important! It's good to start working on it now!
The power of the breath always amazes me,
Week 62: Here I Go Again
So the fatigue and stomach distress can only mean one thing, I'm pregnant!
Yoga has been a blessing each week as I transition into my second trimester. But with the transition, I am now moving a new body where I have to ensure my yoga is adaptable to my ever growing belly!
Here is what I remember from before (and from my other hat of being an exercise physiologist who specializes in pre/postnatal exercise):
1. Avoid overheating so no hot yoga for now.
2. Modification to supine poses (elevating torso by 20 degrees or so with a towel, block, blanket etc.) after 16-20 weeks due to the compression of the vena cava (large vessel that carries blood back to the heart) when lying flat on my back.
3. Stand close to a chair or wall with balance poses...just in case I feel like I'm going to fall.
4. My joints are more flexible because of the release of the hormone relaxin, which increases joint laxity...everywhere...not just through the pelvis. So, no being a hero with the poses and not to overdoing the obvious increase in range of motion.
When I was pregnant last time through, I was able to take a weekly class with Judy. However, I am on my own this time. As I listed, I recall some poses that need modification but this pregnancy brain of mind isn't always clear.
What do I need to be watchful of and how does my practice change? And, the overarching theme of what can pregnant women safely do in a yoga class?
Yoga Journal has a four part series that outlines a basic overview of modifications in pregnancy then an article for each the first, second and third trimester. With further investigation, I also found an article specifically on contraindications. All five articles are very comprehensive as a student but also for the future teacher in me.
So rather than rehashing the detailed articles, here are a couple more key things for me to remember!
1. Controlled breathing will be very helpful for labour but also ensure I'm not holding my breath during any of the poses. Obviously, not good for babe.
2. No head stands, hand stands or plow poses. Okay, this is pretty obvious that my physical body probably won't let me do such poses but it is really about blood flow and not having blood shunted away from babe. Makes sense!
3. Limit abdominal contractions (i.e. flexion and extension) such as in full boat pose and abdominal stretching such as in bow pose or full cobra pose. Having a strong pelvic floor is much more important than overemphasizing abdominal work right now.
4. Yoga is a great place to practice and ready my body for labour. Holding chair pose for about one minute is challenging just like a contraction. Practising hip opening poses such as bound angle pose will help keep the adductors (inner thigh) flexible which is essential for natural birth.
So, there we have it, a refresher for me and a learning opportunity with my changing body. I'm positive I will stumble on more gems of wisdom over the next 24 weeks!
16 weeks done, April 25 is sure coming fast! Yoga is essential to my prenatal care,
Image: Me at 8 months pregnant...last time around...and more blonde than I remember!
Week 60: An Oldie But a Goodie
It surprises me that I have yet to write about cat-cow pose (Marjaiasana-Bitilasana). It has been in my practice since starting yoga and it is frequently in my practice.
What has always got me about this pose is it's name! Cat and Cow together at last...well, maybe only in yoga. As a self-proclaimed non-cat lover and a city girl with rural roots (yes, I've been close to cattle but never milked one or done anything with them other than moo at them), if based solely on the pose name, I'm sure I'd never do it!
Nonetheless, with a history of back injury, this pose has been fundamental to my back health. It helps with mobility but also flexibility through the pelvis as it tilts the pelvis anteriorly in cow pose and posteriorly in cat pose. Completing multiple cycles of cat-cow can also massage the gastrointestinal and reproductive organs. Bonus!
The other quite profound role of cat-cow pose is it spontaneously synchronizes breath with movement. As the chest collapses forward in cat, the lungs are compressed which naturally forces an exhalation. Alternatively, as the chest opens into cow pose, the lungs expand and inhalation occurs. The breath flows seamlessly with the compressing and opening of the abdominal cavity. And in my books, nothing beats breathing well. What an benefit!
Cat-cow pose can be a tricky pose if one has a neck injury, wrist or knee pain so I like to do a seated cat-cow as an option with hands supported (like on a table top). The range of motion is not as great but it is still effective in moving the spine through a range of motion. I use it frequently as an exercise physiologist and very often patients wonder about the name too. I usually speak of the angry cat and they get the cat part but trying to explain why the extension is cow, is another story (refer to the video above). I usually just moo myself into cow pose and hope that is enough for them to remember how to do it!
Never to late to write about the classic poses,
Toddler asleep, tip toe downstairs, shut the basement door.
Drop your mat, find your blocks/strap/eye pillow.
Adjust the 17 year old TV so the DVD player will work.
You might have two hours or less to get things done you just CAN'T do with a toddler around.
And yoga is one of them.
That pretty much sums up most of my yoga practice these days.
Hurry, rush...Breathe? Can I?
Now, don't get me wrong. The major life change of having a child is well worth it but over this time, I think to myself, how does my breath (and the associated human physiology) get affected?
This week's practice had me ponder my breath again. I started my practice with the same DVD set as last week, which was nice because it was already in the DVD player and it was still new to me. I didn't know what was coming and what did show up was exactly what I needed.
The new teacher focused solely on moving through each pose with the breath. If the breath was slow, the pose took time and I did it less times through; yet, if the breath was fast (which it was in the beginning), I rushed through the poses and finished many repetitions. It is so fascinating that the breath truly dictated how fast or slow I would move. Apparently, breathing is the only autonomic system of the body that can be controlled. This definitely is the merging of the mind, body and spirit of yoga.
With the rushing life of a toddler, it is in my yoga practice that I slow down and breathe (and maybe why I need to not just want to practice at least once every week). As a future teacher, I hope to provide the guidance and gift of breath work (as many teachers have done for me in the past).
My next big question this week is: how can I breathe better in every day activities?
It is a bit of a loaded question, but I think, as with everything, we must practice.
So, when prompting my son to pee in the toilet for the umpteenth time, chasing him around the house to take off his shoes and cleaning up the mess which is every meal, I will breath. It will need to be conscious, likely, to start and maybe always will need to be. But one of the reasons to do yoga, is to learn and grow and be better so this will be my breathing challenge off the mat.
Take a big, long, slow breath, and go,
Oh - and this song has always helped with my breathing. Love the chorus.
Has your life been a bit busy lately? Does it feel like its ramped up a notch? Are you feeling September fatigue yet?
Sad to say it, but I'm feeling it! For whatever reason, the slow paced summer has turned into the scheduled (over scheduled?) September and I don't even have children in school yet! I'm feeling the hustle and bustle and busyness of the Fall.
So this week, I'm venturing into some of the therapeutic aspects of yoga. And asking the question, "what is/are the best yoga poses for fatigue?". Oh google, my friend, don't let me down!
The top three (i.e., most common poses or yogic techniques) are as follows:
1. Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) or Two Legged Table (Dwi Pada Pitham)
I started my fatigue lifting practice this week with bridge. A supine back extension is a back strengthener but also a chest opener. I initially started with my hands on my mid back to support the position but found having my shoulders folded back with my arms straight (under my torso) was a better position for me. In the pose, I had time to contemplate, why was bridge recommended to cure fatigue.
After practice and some reading, it realized that since it is such an opening pose, it allows for unrestricted breathing. And in some respects, taps into the three different locations of breathing considered in yoga (I don't fully understand that to date so I'll explore it in more detail in another post...).
And beyond breathing, in Timothy McCall's book, Yoga as Medicine, he notes that bridge is thought to help with heart disease, via the assistance in developing collateral blood vessels. But of course, this is not necessarily backed by research evidence. Interesting nonetheless.
2. Wide Stance Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)
I continued my practice with wide stance forward bend. I have to admit, this is one of my favourite poses. It is in almost direct opposition to bridge so it counteracted well in the sequence I followed.
Being a forward bend, the back and hamstrings are stretched and the release is awesome (especially when you've got the flexibility). The only challenge was in the full pose, one's head rests on the floor. I have to admit, having a block with me would have made the pose better, but as time progressed I was able to get my head to the floor.
Again, thinking about how does this pose relieve fatigue, it dawned upon me that it is all about blood flow to the brain. Gravity is a huge help to let blood come back to the brain in this pose. More blood equals more oxygen which equals energy. Pretty cool how this works!
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.