Category Archives: Anatomy

hip stability

Shift your focus from hip openness to hip stability.

In yoga, there is a tendency to assume that we can stretch our way through perceived problems. Consider the ever-elusive “hip opening.” We aspire to use our hip-opening practice as a panacea for all our aches and 
woes. We imagine that open hips will allow 
us to wrap our legs into fancy postures like Padmasana (Lotus Pose). But it’s possible that at a certain point, the coveted range of motion begins to work against us.

Hypermobility of the Hip Joint

Enter hypermobility, a general term that refers to an excessive range of motion in a joint, with a lack of stability to support that mobility. It can be something we are born with or something we develop through regular stretching. In the hip joint, it can also stem from weak hip stabilizers—the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and other muscles—from prolonged sitting or decreased activity. Hip hypermobility is something anyone can develop, especially in the yoga world where we focus so much on long, deep stretches to get that feel-good release.

hip anatomy stabilizers gluteus medius

Consider a classic hip opener like Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose). It can seem more like a resting pose for some people, so they continue to seek a deeper stretch in variations or harder modifications. Yet stretching those areas that are already flexible makes the hypermobility more pronounced. This might not seem like a problem initially—deeper stretching feels good, and you get the release you crave—but the surrounding cartilage and ligaments also take on the impact of your movements, which can overtax and reduce their strength and 
stability, diminishing the support that is so key to the integrity of the hip joint.

So, instead of pushing deeper into flexible areas, notice spots where you are tight or weak. Then, look instead for poses to challenge the strength of the hips, thus shifting your focus from hip opening to hip stability. You don’t need to over-analyze this; the only thing required is mindfulness to honor what you feel.

hip joint anatomy

The Five Layers of the Hip Joint

To comprehend the effects of hypermobility on the hip joint, we need a basic understanding of its five main layers, moving from deep to superficial. First, the boney structure of the joint is found where the ball-shaped head of the femur fits into the socket, called the pelvic 
acetabulum. It is surrounded by articular cartilage and a labrum, or lip, made of fibrocartilage and dense connective tissue, to help hold the ball in the socket. The joint capsule is a thin, fluid-filled sac surrounding the joint, held by ligaments, those tough but flexible fibers that connect bone to bone. Finally, atop these structures are the many tendons and muscles that effect movements.

Each of the deeper structures of the hip plays an important role in stability. The labrum deepens the socket and makes it more difficult for the head of the femur to slip out. It also plays a vital role in decreasing contact stress on the joint, 
and in ensuring lubrication between the femoral head and its socket.

The joint capsule adds another layer 
of stability, plus secretes a lubricating substance that reduces friction. Meanwhile, the ligaments that surround the hip limit how much the joint can move, preventing dislocation and wear to the deeper layers 
of cartilage—the ligaments hold the bones together. However, ligaments aren’t elastic, so once they have been overstretched, they remain that way, and their ability to support the joint is compromised.

Finally, closest to the surface, the many tendons and muscles create all the motions of the hip and stabilize the joint when they are balanced in terms of strength and flexibility.

These five layers work together. When any one layer is not functioning, the rest have to work harder to pick up the slack. 
If your ligaments are overly stretched, the muscles must labor to stabilize the joint. 
And if your muscles are weak or not firing properly, the deeper layers of the ligaments or the labrum must compensate by absorbing the impact of your movements.

The trouble is, you can’t always tell when one layer is falling down on the job. The cartilage and ligaments have less sensation and deteriorate over longer periods, meaning you may not feel pain or notice any problems until the damage has already happened. As you get more flexible or “open” in the hips, it becomes even more important to create strength in the hip muscles to help stabilize that mobility.

A good way to practice is by focusing 
on your standing leg in balancing poses. Gluteus medius and minimus are critical 
for hip stability any time you are standing upright. These muscles help to position the femoral head in the hip socket, to keep you from sinking into and wearing down the labrum, cartilage, and ligaments. A pose like Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III) is a challenging opportunity to practice using gluteus medius and minimus to stabilize 
the hip of the standing leg, and strengthen those muscles so that they support you in 
all of your standing poses.

How to Activate the Hip Stabilizers

Here are three easy steps to activate the hip-stabilizing muscles—the gluteus medius and minimus—to prepare for a balancing pose like Warrior III. The key to each step is to keep the movement subtle rather than aim for large contractions. When we stabilize the joint, we simply need a gentle engagement rather than a huge action that can create tension.

1. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). First, imagine hugging your outer hips into the sockets by drawing them toward the midline of your body. Though the movement is subtle, you will feel the outer-hip muscles gently turn on to support the joint.

2. Next, visualize riding higher in the hip socket rather than sinking in the joint. This creates the integrity of those muscles that support the joint, to help protect the deeper structures.

3. Finally, gently engage the lower abdominals, to help support the hip joint with your core.

Once you achieve all three steps, slowly lean forward at the hip crease of the standing leg to come into Warrior III without losing that support, as you raise the lifted leg straight behind you. The arms can extend forward, come to your heart, or reach backward. 
If you get tired, come out by returning to Mountain Pose.


Excerpts from Yoga Journal article Anatomy 101: Understand Your Hips to Build Stability byTiffany Cruikshank. For more info, go to yogamedicine.com.

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eka pada bakasana with kino


kelly mcgonigal: how to make stress your friend

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.


yoga for chronic pain

yoga for chronic pain

Worldwide, 1 in every 5 adults suffers from chronic pain (Breivik, Hattori & Moulin 2005). In the United States, the number is even higher. A recent survey found that more than half of Americans live with chronic or recurring pain that interferes with their mood, sleep, ability to work and enjoyment of life (ABC News 2005). The National Institutes of Health (NIH), citing pain as the number-one reason Americans seek medical care, estimates that the annual total cost of pain in the U.S. is more than $100 billion in health care and lost productivity (NIH 2003). To address this growing problem, Congress officially declared 2000–2010 the “Decade of Pain Control and Research.” Halfway through this 10-year period, yoga has emerged as a powerful tool to help relieve the suffering associated with chronic pain.

Understanding Chronic Pain

Chronic pain triggers vary broadly and include traumatic injury, autoimmune disorders and musculoskeletal problems. Whatever the initial cause, all chronic pain shares a common effect: the frustration it causes to both sufferers and healthcare providers. By its very definition, chronic pain—pain that lasts 3 months or longer—has not been successfully managed through medical treatment or self-care. Individuals with chronic pain have typically tried—and found little relief from—an exhausting number of remedies, including over-the-counter and prescription medications, massage, chiropractic care and physical therapy.

Yoga Research Reiew

Because chronic pain is a mind-body phenomenon, many researchers and chronic-pain sufferers are turning to yoga for pain relief. Yoga integrates physical movement, which can play an important role in pain recovery, with mindful practices that address the cognitive and emotional components of pain. Studies show that yoga can reduce not only the experience of pain itself but also the emotional distress and physical disability associated with it, as well as the use of pain medication (Kolasinski et al. 2005; Garfinkel et al. 1998; Gaur et al. 2001). Two recent clinical trials demonstrated the benefits of yoga for back pain, the most commonly experienced form of pain among adults in the U.S. (ABC News 2005).

Building Self-Efficacy

Research suggests that self-efficacy, the belief that you can cope with the stress and challenges of a specific situation, is an important part of recovering from, or adjusting to, chronic pain (Turner, Ersek & Kemp 2005). Greater self-efficacy is associated with less pain-related disability and depression, even when controlling for pain intensity. Self-efficacy also predicts individuals’ willingness to use physical exercise and stretching as a way to manage pain.

Dealing with Fear of Activity

Chronic pain and fear of pain can become part of a vicious cycle: Fear leads to avoiding any activity that might trigger pain, and inactivity leads to greater physical disability and pain (Boersma & Linton 2005). Research shows that breaking this cycle, and being willing to engage in activity, is an important predictor of improvements in both physical function and emotional suffering (McCracken & Eccleston 2005).

Teaching Mindfuness

In yoga, mindfulness is the ability to notice sensation, to focus attention on the present moment and to move with conscious intention. This turns out to be incredibly important for individuals with chronic pain, as they learn to face their fear of activity and develop new ways of being present in their bodies. Along with avoidance, many individuals have learned to rely on distraction as a coping strategy. Distraction makes it possible to ignore pain and perform an activity in the short term. However, people who use distraction as a coping strategy during activity experience more pain afterward than those who stay mentally engaged (Goubert et al. 2004).

Core Lessons

Chronic pain is a complex and frustrating phenomenon. The good news is that effective yoga for chronic pain classes do not need to be either complicated or overwhelming. Research and experience suggest that the most beneficial interventions distill the practice of yoga to its core lessons: how to breathe; how to take care of yourself through conscious movement and a balance of rest and activity; and how to make peace with the present moment. These, of course, are useful lessons for all of us—not just those in chronic pain. But for those in pain, the lessons of yoga may mean the difference between the usual moment of suffering and the much-sought-after moment of ease in mind and body.

Excerpts from Yoga for Chronic Pain: Adapted practices and interventions from hatha yoga help pain sufferers learn how to cope and thrive. By Kelly McGonigal, PhD


pasasana

pasasana

You can be sure that when you fold your legs like a grasshopper, bend your ankles into a superlow squat, twist in half, and hold hands with yourself behind your back, a variety of sensations and emotions will arise. Although examining those feelings is an important part of the yogic process, beware of sensation hunting. Notice whether you instinctively push and pull on yourself until the grasping noose of your arms becomes like a scary vice that inhibits your breathing. Struggling in your asana practice like this leads to injury, and it can dull your natural sensitivity to the point where you don’t feel anything at all without extreme effort. The whole idea of yoga is to tune in to yourself so that you can create more sensitivity to subtlety—not less.

At the same time, Pasasana is a pose that requires some perseverance. If you are too passive as you practice, you will miss the vibrant aspect of juicy exertion that strengthens your muscles and bones and increases your ability to stay focused. Put simply: If you don’t put enough oomph into it, you’ll never touch your hands behind your back.

The solution then, is to look for the middle path, the place where you walk the line between too much effort and complete passivity. You tap into the middle path by listening to your body, moving with sensitivity, and engaging with what’s happening. You often hear the phrase “being present to the moment.” What this really means is being part of the moment. This happens through the middle path of commitment, patience, and listening.

The Buddha offered insight into this process. The story goes that a musician asked the Buddha how he should meditate. The Buddha replied, “How do you tune your instrument?” The musician said, “Not too tight, not too loose.” The Buddha said, “Exactly like that.” If you learn to apply this to Pasasana, your noose will evolve into a warm feeling of being held and supported by yourself and by your healthy, wakeful, engaged practice.

Pasasana (Noose Pose)

Extend your legs into Dandasana, and send some refreshing breaths into your ankles, knees, and hips. Bring your knees into your chest, rolling back on your exhalation and forward on your inhalation. The last time you rock forward, come up onto your feet into a low squat.

Start by doing a variation of the pose. Squat with a block or a wall about one foot behind you. Organize your legs and feet just as you did in Utkatasana, heels and toes touching. If your heels do not touch the ground in this position, slip a folded blanket underneath them.

Exhale and twist to the right. Place the outside of your left shoulder between your legs. Internally rotate your left arm and wrap it around your left leg. Reach your right arm behind you and place it on the block or touch the wall. After a few breaths, untwist and try the other side. Continue to work this way until you feel an opening to go farther.

To develop the full pose, use your abdominals to twist to the right again, but this time place your left shoulder on the outside of the right thigh. Strongly activate the inner thighs and cinch your legs together. Internally rotate both arms and reach around behind your back to bind. Use a strap if you can’t reach. Eventually, you will hold your right wrist with your left hand. Try to find a way to hold hands with yourself so the noose can be more a garland of flowers. After a few breaths, release the pose and do the other side.

As you work on Pasasana, take time with every step of the process. Listen to your muscles, bones, connective tissue, breath, and mind. They will all have valuable suggestions for when you should engage more effort, let go a bit, or perhaps just stay where you are, waiting to see what unfolds. Eventually your experience of physical feelings in your asana practice will evolve into an evenness of sensation throughout your entire body.

Often when you feel intensity in one particular area, it draws all your attention there. The entire mind becomes occupied by the little drama of the right shoulder, and you may forget you even have a whole body. Doesn’t that sound similar to how we sometimes live life, getting stuck in the small stuff and missing the big picture? When we do that, we have a harder time keeping things in perspective and making smart choices.

Rather than going for extremes, see if you can discover subtle shifts that might begin to even out your various sensations as well as your responses to sensations. Find balance by letting your awareness spread through your whole body. Observe what happens with your breath and your mind as your body finds balance and creates a container—not too tight and not too loose—of equanimity.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article and Sequence Find Freedom in the Noose By Cyndi Lee


marma points of ayurveda

Marma-Points-of-Ayurveda-Vasant-Lad.09673

In S¡nkhya philosophy, mahad or cosmic intelligence creates order in the universe. It permeates every aspect of creation from the gross to the subtle and from the macrocosm to the microcosm, from the order governing the vast galactic universe to the infinitesimal genetic code guiding the unfoldment of life within every living cell.

Opening to Infinity According to the S¡nkhya philosophy of creation, there is universal mind, called vibhu, and individual mind, called anu. Universal mind is the ground mind, and individual mind is particular mind. Universal mind is vast, unbounded, infinitely creative and eternally pure, unclouded consciousness. Particular mind is conditioned mind, based upon its stockpile of thoughts, feelings, and emotions stored in memory. Memory is the background to all we think, feel and perceive, and imposes itself upon the foreground of pure, direct experience. The more the particular mind fails to apprehend the ground mind, the more life becomes suffering. The root cause of suffering is this division between the ground mind and the particular mind. Through marma therapy, new pathways are opened within the mano vaha srotas, which allow particular mind to transcend its conditioned state and expand into universal mind. This unity of individual mind and universal mind brings radical transformation and total healing in the life of the individual.

At this time in history, important changes are taking place in the Western scientific understanding of mind and body, and of the nature of life itself. The old paradigm, which held that mind lives in the brain, is giving way to a new paradigm that says the brain lives in the mind. The old paradigm assumed that mind is within the body. The new paradigm asserts that the body is in the mind. According to the old paradigm, mind and body are separate and distinct, the concrete, solid, material body being “real” and the abstract, non-physical mind grudgingly accorded a shadowy sort of existence. The new paradigm says that we cannot separate body from mind. The body is crystallized mind, and mind is the energy aspect of the body. To speak of mind and body as two distinct entities is simply not true, and creates confusion and separation. That is why we speak today of mind-body medicine. ayurveda has always recognized this. From the ayurvedic perspective, going back thousands of years, we really should speak of mind-body or body-mind, because they are one.

From a reading excerpt of Marma Points of Ayurveda: The Energy Pathways for Healing Body, Mind and Consciousness with a Comparison to Traditional Chinese Medicine by Vasant D. Lad, B.A.M.S., M.A.Sc. and Anisha Durve, M.S.O.M., Dipl. Ac., A.P.  and Sonam Targee, Traditional Chinese Medicine Reviewer


stretch and strengthen the psoas

Most yoga students are aware that the psoas is a central player in asana, even if the muscle’s deeper function and design seem a mystery. A primary connector between the torso and the leg, the psoas is also an important muscle off the mat: it affects posture, helps stabilize the spine, and, if it’s out of balance, can be a significant contributor to low back and pelvic pain. The way that we use the psoas in our yoga practice can either help keep it healthy, strong, and flexible, or, conversely, can perpetuate harmful imbalances.

The psoas major is the biggest and strongest player in a group of muscles called the hip flexors: together they contract to pull the thigh and the torso toward each other. The hip flexors can become short and tight if you spend most of your waking hours sitting, or if you repeatedly work them in activities like sit-ups, bicycling, and certain weight-training exercises.

A tight psoas can cause serious postural problems: when you stand up, it pulls the low back vertebrae forward and down toward the femur, often resulting in lordosis (overarching in the lumbar spine), which is a common cause of low back pain and stiffness; it can also contribute to arthritis in the lumbar facet joints. On the other hand, a weak and overstretched psoas can contribute to a common postural problem in which the pelvis is pushed forward of the chest and knees. This misalignment is characterized by tight hamstrings pulling down on the sitting bones, a vertical sacrum (instead of its usual gentle forward tilt), and a flattened lumbar spine. Without its normal curve, the low back is weakened and vulnerable to injury, especially at the intervertebral discs.

Although the psoas is one of the most important muscles in yoga poses, it is also one of the most misunderstood. Many students and even teachers have only a vague idea of where it is located. The psoas originates from the lumbar vertebrae and forms a strip of muscle almost as big as a wrist along each side of the spine. Looking at the front of the body, you’d have to remove the intestines and other digestive organs, as well as the female reproductive organs, to be able to see the muscle in the very back of the abdomen. It proceeds down and forward, crossing the outer edge of each pubis, then moves back again to attach on a bony prominence of the inner upper posterior femur (thigh bone) called the lesser trochanter.

Along the way, the psoas picks up its synergist, the iliacus, which originates on the inner bowl of the pelvis (or the ilium) and joins the psoas on its path downward to attach to the femur. The two muscles work so closely together that they’re usually referred to as one, the iliopsoas. The other hip flexors include the sartorius, the tensor fascia lata, the rectus femoris, the pectineus, and the adductor brevis. Besides flexion, these muscles might also contribute to the internal or external rotation of the hip. This action is important for yoga practitioners to understand because the psoas may try to externally rotate the hip in poses where we don’t want external rotation, such as backbends or forward bends.

Virabhadrasana I

Virabhadrasana I (Variation)

A good way to isolate the psoas stretch, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced practitioner, is to practice virabhadrasana I in a doorway. Find an open doorway (or a pillar) and step up close so that the right side of your body is just behind the door jamb. Step your left leg through the doorway, and place your right foot two to three feet behind you, with that back heel off the floor. Stretch your arms overhead and rest your hands on the wall. Bend both knees slightly, and align your pubic bones, navel, and breastbone with the door frame.

The whole key to stretching the psoas is in the tilting of the pelvis. Remember, a tight psoas tries to tilt the pelvis anteriorly (pulling the spine and top of the pelvis forward and down), so you must tilt the pelvis posteriorly to stretch the hip flexors. The door can help you achieve this action: simply move your pubic bones toward the door jamb, your upper pelvis and navel back away from the jamb, and draw your breastbone toward the jamb. These actions help you tilt the pelvis posteriorly, move the lumbar spine toward the back of the body (instead of letting the tight psoas pull it forward and down), and lift the rib cage vertically up out of the low back. Altogether, you’ll be lengthening the psoas and relieving compression and discomfort in the low back.

When you’re ready to deepen the stretch, straighten the back knee fully (let the back heel stay off the floor, especially if you’re a beginner or have knee or low back problems), and gradually bend the front knee more. If you’re not getting a deep stretch on the front of the right hip, redouble your efforts to bring the pubic bones toward the wall, and the navel away, and bend the front knee more. Hold the pose for a minute or more, keeping your breathing slow and steady to help the muscle relax into a deep stretch. Then repeat on the other side.

A well-balanced asana practice helps keep your muscles strong enough to do their job and flexible enough to allow full range of motion of associated joints. By incorporating poses that both strengthen and lengthen the psoas, you can release habitual muscle-holding patterns, improve your low-back alignment, and create a more balanced and spacious posture.

Excerpts from Yoga International Article How to Stretch and Strengthen the Psoas: Want to find a new sense of balance and freedom in your practice? Learn how to skillfully stretch and strengthen the mysterious psoas muscle. By Julie Gudmestad