Forward bends last week, side bends this week. The more I explore yogic bends, I realize there is much more to them than meets the eye.
Side bending, as one would expect, is to stretch the lateral sides of the body. The side abdominals (obliques) and rib musculature (intercostal muscles) receive a nice lengthening with bending to the side. However, depending on the exact positioning, certain anatomical parts are moving and others are fixed and this will dictate what actually is happening.
In Coulter's book, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, he outlines the differences explaining the role of the spine and the pelvis. For example, this week I practiced a standing side bend with my feet together. The movement is initiated by the torso and is a lateral flexion of the spine.
Try it - you barely move laterally to the side.
Yet, if I simply changed the position of my feet to a shoulder width stance, my pelvis and hips would also be a part of the movement. As I lean to the right, my right hip will drop and I will not only be doing a side bend but also a slight twist and forward bend.
Interesting! At least from my anatomy and biomechanic loving self!
This or that?
With every post, I am also striving to determine the Sanskirt name for the poses I explore. Well, this one took some effort to figure out.
I've frequently heard this pose called half moon (Ardha Chandrasana) but as I enter this into google images, it shows me multiple poses (as above).
Wait a minute! There must be more to this as well.
It turns out that the side bending pose of half moon in Hatha yoga is the foundation of the half moon pose in Bikram yoga; Hatha yoga is the ancient practice versus Bikram is the more modern practice and Bikram derives many if it's 26 poses from the original Hatha yoga. The reason the pose was modified, is due to the fact Bikram is a much faster paced practice and the original half moon pose would not have fit in a more fluid, quick paced practice.
So, I was partly right in calling it half moon pose but I didn't realize it was the name of two poses. I suppose as in English where an orange is a food and a colour, Sanskirt can also have the same name for two things too.
To further explain my questioning of naming, in Schiffmann's book, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, he explains there is Ardha Chandrasana I (standing side bend, what I did this week) and Ardha Chandrasana II (half moon pose) and both can be done in practice.
I've barely scratched the surface of side bends it seems. And as I look through multiple books and websites, as I said, there is more than meets the eye with side bends.
More bending to come…at many angles!
I've wonder for a long time about standing forward bends (Uttanasana) and it's "sister", half forward bend (Ardha Uttanasana ). Over the years, sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) have been a common and frequent sequence in my practice. Yet, I needed to know more about these two basic and fundamental poses in the sequence.
This week's practice included multiple forward and half forward bends and it got me to thinking, what is the role of these poses. Why do they both exist? Is it that the half forward bend is just for someone who has tight hamstrings or is there more to it?
As an exercise physiologist, my brain goes straight to what is happening in the body. As most sun salutations start with a standing forward bend followed by a half forward bend then back to the forward bend, my initial thought was the pairing of the two is for the purpose of stretching the hamstring. The method would be through Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching. And more specifically, through the contract and relax PNF stretch. But is this the case?
My knowledge dictates that when stretching a muscle (i.e., the hamstring) and then forcing it into a contraction via the lift into half forward bend, it will then cause the muscle to relax via the golgi tendon organ (fancy name for a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ). The second forward bend is then able to move into a greater hamstring stretch due to the neuromuscular system reacting to the force of the contracted muscle.
The challenge was that I found minimal content online or off that supports my theory.
Is this what is actually happening? Educated guess or over thinking?
Nonetheless, the benefits of standing forward bends and half bends are not only stretching the hamstrings but it elongates the spine, stimulates the belly whereby it massages internal organs, tones liver, spleen, kidneys. It is also a pose used frequently as a rest between more strenuous poses.
So, I don't have answers to my query but interesting to dissect these poses this week.
Do you know the answer?
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,
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!
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.