• Sukhasana: Sitting Up Straight and Expanding the Chest Forward

    Sitting up in Easy Cross-Legged Pose aids to bring the spinal column into alignment, so that the vertebral bodies and their discs support the torso; expanding the chest forward enhances breathing.

    With practice this can lead to a comfortable, easy position that is reflected on the central nervous system—an example of the mind/body connection in yoga. Slumping the back and collapsing the chest is a common occurrence in Sukhasana, especially in those who are new to yoga. Factors that can contribute to this posture include fatigue, defeated mental state, and tight muscle groups. Many yoga poses are designed to counteract these factors, Sukhasana being one of them.

    Here’s the cue:

    Place the hands with the palms facing down on the knees in Chin Mudra. Then, while holding onto the knees, attempt to draw the hands back towards the torso. This engages the latissimus dorsi. The hands are constrained, so the force of contracting the latissimus is transmitted to its origin along the midline of the back. The result is what is known in kinesiology as a “closed chain” movement, whereby the origin of the muscle moves (instead of the insertion). Activating the lats in this manner lifts the spine and expands the chest forward. If you tend to hyperextend the lumbar, then engage the abdominals to counteract this. Note the effect.

    Slumping tilts the pelvis backwards into retroversion, so that one is sitting on the back part of the ischial tuberosities (the sitting bones). A portion of the latissimus dorsi originates from the back of the iliac crest, so that activating this muscle also tilts the pelvis forward, bringing the sitting bones more upright.

    This technique is portable to other poses. In Tadasana, for example, simply fix the palms against the sides of the hips and attempt to drag them backwards. Note how the chest expands forward and the back straightens. See this concept in action for Sukhasana in the video above.

    Here’s the Anatomy and Biomechanics

    The latissimus dorsi originates from the spinous processes of thoracic vertebrae 6—12, lumbar vertebrae 1—5 (via the thoracolumbar fascia), ribs 9—12, the supraspinous ligament, and the posterior third of the ilium. It inserts onto the intertubercular groove on the humerus and the deep fascia of the arm. The latissimus dorsi extends, adducts, and internally rotates the shoulder (open chain movement). It extends the spine and lifts and tilts the pelvis forward (closed chain movement) and is also an accessory muscle of respiration.

    An excerpt from “Yoga Mat Companion 2 – Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends”.

    An excerpt from “Yoga Mat Companion 2 – Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends”.

    Want to learn more anatomy and bio-mechanics to improve your yoga? Click here to page through all of our books. Thanks for stopping by. Check back for our next post when we’ll give a finishing touch for Dog Pose. This article was originally posted on www.dailybandha.com.

    Practice the bandhas with Kino MacGregor on Omstars

    Practice hip opening Lotus with Patricia Amado

    By Ray & Chris of The Daily Bandha

    Author Ray Long MD FRCSC is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga. Ray graduated from The University of Michigan Medical School with post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, The University of Montreal and Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over twenty years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters.3d Graphic Designer / Illustrator Chris Macivor has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years. He is a graduate of Etobicoke School of the Arts, Sheridan College and Seneca college. Chris considers himself to be equally artistic and technical in nature. As such his work has spanned many genres from film and television to videogames and underwater imagery.

  • Easing in to Chaturanga Dandasana

    In our last post we focused on the hip abductors and adductors and how they can be used to stabilize the pelvis and synergize flexing the hips in forward bends. In this post we zoom out and look at a technique that can be learned with Chaturanga Dandasana and then transported to other poses to improve benefits and safety. I call this technique “ease in, ease out” and it relates to how one approaches the end point of a pose.

    Figure 1

    For this cue, I take a yoga block and place it at the level of my sternum, then lower down to lightly touch it from plank position. I then straighten my arms to return to plank. The image that body weight practitioners use for this is “kissing the baby” because one touches the block as gently as kissing a baby on the forehead. Working in this manner teaches muscle control and sensitivity.

    Figure 2

    Those who avoid full Chaturanga due to weakness of the muscles involved can develop the strength for the full pose by starting at a wall as shown in figure 2. Here instead of the chest touching the block, bend the arms to lower towards the wall and gently touch the forehead, hold for a moment and then straighten the arms. Work in this manner until you can comfortably do ten repetitions. As strength builds, transition to a plank with the knees on the mat, lowering down to touch the block as in the final version. (Figure 3).

    Figure 3

    Visualizing the muscles involved is a powerful adjunct to this technique. Use a mental image of the triceps, pectoralis major and serratus anterior muscles engaging to stabilize the arms, shoulders and chest as shown in figure 4. The triceps straightens the elbows and is a secondary stabilizer of the shoulder joint. The pectoralis major draws the upper arm towards the midline (adduction) and helps to expand the chest (when the shoulders are held in place). The serratus anterior extends from the upper nine ribs to inner (anterior) medial surface of the scapula. It acts in concert with the rhomboids to stabilize the shoulder blades and thus preventing “winging” of the scapula in this pose. (Figure 4).

    Take a moment to review our post on “co-activating the glutes and abs in Chaturanga” and integrate these muscles into this technique. Also, feel free to browse through the Yoga Mat Companion series. The illustrations in these books are designed to aid in visualizing the muscles in action in a variety of poses.  Slowing the movement as one approaches the endpoint of the pose also sets up a cadence or rhythm, especially when working with a Vinyasa Flow based practice. It can be applied to any pose and also to inhalation and exhalation, thus smoothing the breath. It also aids to protect the joints, which have smooth curved surfaces that adapt best to gradual transitions during movement.

    An excerpt from “Yoga Mat Companion 4 – Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions”.

     

    An excerpt from “Yoga Mat Companion 4 – Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions”.

    Check in next week for Part Three of this series on preventative strategies for lower back strains in yoga. Also, be sure to visit us on Facebook for your free Chakra poster and e-book.

    Namaste’

    By Ray & Chris of The Daily Bandha

    Ray Long MD FRCSC is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga.

    Chris Macivor is a 3D Graphic Dessigner and illustrator who has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years.

    This article was originally posted on www.dailybandha.com. If you would like more practice with Chaturanga Dandasana, check out the tutorials below on Omstars.com.

    Adrian Molina’s Chaturanga Tutorial on Omstars

    Laruga Glaser’s Chaturanga Tutorial on Omstars

  • Your Glutes in Backbends

    In this post we take a look at the glute max in backbends and how to avoid splaying out your knees in poses like Urdhva danurasana (Wheel). I give you some cues for sequencing muscle engagement and also address a misconception about contracting your adductor muscles.

    For decades now we’ve heard the instruction in yoga, “soften your glutes in backbends” with no valid explanation why. Your hips are extending in backbends, and your gluteus maximus is the prime mover for that action. Why wouldn’t you want to contract the very muscle that creates that movement?

    Let’s look closer. When you deliberately soften your glutes, then the hip extension comes from the hamstrings, because your hamstrings work as synergists to the gluteus maximus for this action. So, why not just use your hamstrings to extend the hips and avoid getting scolded for using the prime movers (glutes)? Well, if you do that enough, you potentially set up a muscle imbalance that can lead to “synergistic dominance” wherein the hamstrings become the prime mover of this action. In the hip joint, this can result in abnormal kinematics and, ultimately, pain. I’ll go over some other problems with doing backbends without the glutes in Part II of this series.

    One side effect of using your gluteus maximus is that it is also a powerful external rotator of the hip. Thus, when you engage your glute max in a backbend, your hips will rotate outward and your knees tend to splay apart.

    Do we care if the knees splay out? Well, it depends on your objective in the pose. Recent literature shows that if the femurs are parallel, you fire your entire gluteus maximus, whereas when they are splayed apart, you fire mainly the upper portion (Selkowitz, 2016).

    The “solution” that is usually proposed for this is to have folks try to squeeze a block between their knees to “fire those adductors!” In India, this instruction was often accompanied by much shouting at the frustrated person attempting it. There is a reason, however, why this cue works so poorly, despite the yelling. That is because when your hips are extended (in a backbend), the orientation of the adductor muscle fibers makes them become external rotators of the hip and synergize the gluteus maximus in splaying your knees apart. So it’s a bit like hitting the brakes and gas at the same time. Frustrating.

    The real counterbalance for the gluteus maximus causing the knees to splay apart is to contract the muscles that internally rotate the hips, namely, the TFL and front part of the gluteus medius.

    This cue works well, but it must be implemented in a sequence to function optimally. You have to engage the hip internal rotators before going up into the backbend. It’s difficult to engage them once you are up in the pose because when the hips are extending, the TFL and front part of the gluteus medius are at a biomechanical disadvantage for initiating contraction. Thus, you want to first train the cue to engage these muscles with the hips flexed, where it is easy to contract them. Then bring in the glute max to do the backbend. I’ve taught this sequence all over the world and had great feedback. Done properly, the muscles form a “sheath” that lifts the pelvis in a balanced and stable fashion.

    Here’s the sequence.

    Step 1) 

    Lie on your back and bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the ground as shown. Place your hands on the front part of the pelvis to feel your internal rotators contract. Now, on exhalation, press the feet down and attempt to scrub them apart while allowing you knees to roll inward. Don’t actually move your feet. You should be able to feel your TFL contract. Release on the inhalation and repeat for about 10 times to train the action. Press your feet down and then attempt to scrub them away from the midline. The feet should remain fixed on your mat, as your knees roll inward and you should feel your muscles contract if you’ve got it.

    Step 2)

    Follow the instruction from step 1, maintain the cue of pushing away from the midline with your feet and then dial in contraction of the gluteus maximus to lift the pelvis. You will be pushing down and away from the midline to engage your internal rotators and then engaging your glute max to extend the hips. Go up on the exhalation and down on inhalation. Try this about 10 times (2-3 sets). I recommend working with this set of cues for a few days before integrating them into a full back bend. Once you get it, then try the block thing (if you want). You’ll find it works better this way.

    (NB: if you experience knee pain in this pose, try pressing down with the heels more–this often helps.)

    I hope you enjoy this post. Use muscle engagement as a barometer to help identify imbalances between the two sides of the body. Then carefully work to balance things. This is one of the benefits of practicing Hatha Yoga using knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics.

    By Ray Long MD

    This article was originally posted on dailybandha.com. Now put the techniques to practice, or learn more about yoga anatomy with Tim Feldmann on Omstars!

    Learn More About Yoga Anatomy On OMstars

  • How to Use the Adductor Muscles to Refine Downward Dog

    If you’r’e new to yoga, you might not be aware of how much awareness goes into every single pose in the practice. When we’re in tadasana (mountain pose) we’re not just standing there; we’re activating a set of very specific muscles throughout the body to create strength, get grounded and find balance. When we’re in upward facing dog, we’re nut just pressing ourselves up with our hands; we’re also activating every single muscle in our backs and our abdomens to protect our spines. Asana is not just about making shapes with our bodies, it’s about developing a deep awareness of the body as we work to build both mental and physical strength and flexibility. In today’s blog post, Dr. Long is sharing his anatomy insight to teach us how to refine one of the most basic poses in the practice: downward facing dog.

    In our blog post, “Strong Thigh Muscles Benefit People with Knee Osteoarthritis,” we gave a tip for activating the tensor fascia lata in Downward Facing Dog. This synergizes the quadriceps for extending the knees, aids in flexing and internally rotating the hips, and helps to align the kneecaps to face forward. You can further refine alignment in this pose by using the adductors longus and brevis and their synergist, the pectineus. Co-activating these muscles and the TFL balances external and internal rotation of the femurs while at the same time synergizing hip flexion. 

    First the Anatomy . . .

    The adductors longus and brevis originate from the superior and inferior pubic rami, respectively. The longus inserts onto the middle third of the linea aspera, a ridge of bone on the inside of the femur. The brevis inserts onto the upper third of this ridge. Both muscles act to adduct (draw the thighs together), flex, and externally rotate the hip joint. They also stabilize the pelvis.

    The pectineus originates from the pectin of the pubis and inserts onto the pectineal line on the inside of the femur, running from the lesser trochanter to the linea aspera. This muscle adducts, flexes, and externally rotates the hip and stabilizes the pelvis.

    Adductor muscles in downward dog

    Here’s the Cue . . .

    Use Utkatasana to get the hang of isolating the proximal adductor group. Warm up with Surya Namaskara A (do several). Then move to Surya Namaskara B. When you take Utkatasana, on your exhalation, gently press the knees together to contract the adductors longus and brevis and the pectineus. Note how this action becomes progressively refined with each cycle and with each practice session. You should feel more stable in the pose.

    Adductor muscles in chair pose

    Navasana can also be used to gain awareness of the proximal adductors. Squeeze the knees together and feel the muscles contract at the top insides of the thighs. This helps to flex the hips and stabilize the pose. If you’re new to Navasana, try one of the intermediate variations illustrated below and in the Yoga Mat Companion series.

    Adductor muscles in navasana, boat pose

    Engaging the adductor group in Utkatasana and Navasana brings awareness and control of these muscles. Once you get a feel for this, contract them directly to refine alignment of the leg bones in Downward Facing Dog. You can apply this same principle in Urdhva Hastasana (Tadasana with the arms raised overhead) and other poses. Click here for details. This is an example of the concept of “portability” of the techniques between poses.

    By Ray & Chris of The Daily Bandha

    Ray Long MD FRCSC is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga.

    Chris Macivor is a 3D Graphic Dessigner and illustrator who has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years.

    Learn More About Yoga Anatomy on OMstars

  • Diaphragmatic (Belly) Breathing

    In yoga classes, you’re probably used to hearing your instructors guiding you to breathe using your diaphragm or what we often call, belly breathing. In this blog post, we’re excited to be sharing the knowledge of Dr. Long from Dailybandha.com regarding the diaphragm. In this article, he explains the action of diaphragmatic, or belly breathing, the benefits, various techniques and more. 

    Diaphramatic belly breathing skeletal system image

    In diaphragmatic breathing, you actively expand the abdomen during inhalation. The abdominal expansion occurs via the diaphragm contracting and pressing down on the abdominal contents. Chest expansion is kept at a minimum in this type of breathing. Exhalation is a relaxed process and occurs through the elastic recoil of the chest wall and lungs.

    Regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing draws the mental focus into what is known as the “belly brain”. It has a calming effect on the mind while, at the same time, potentially strengthens the diaphragm. I recommend practicing diaphragmatic breathing for 5-10 minutes per day. We have included a video link below to guide your practice and aid you in visualization of the movement of the diaphragm and abdomen.

    Diaphragmatic Breathing Video:

    How much does your diaphragm actually move?

    The answer to this question depends on how deep of a breath you take and what part of the diaphragm you are asking about. The diaphragm is a sheet like dome-shaped muscle (when it is relaxed). Upon contraction, it flattens out and presses down on the abdomen. The net result is a negative inspiratory pressure, which draws air into the lungs.

    Tidal, or resting breathing results in smaller movements of the diaphragm, while vital capacity breathing (as in a deep diaphragmatic breath) results in much larger movement. This is where you take a complete full inhalation.

    The posterior, or back part of the diaphragm exhibits the greatest excursion; the amount of diaphragmatic motion decreases progressively as we come forward. Figure 2 illustrates this. MRI studies (which are considered the most accurate) have quantified diaphragmatic motion during deep breathing, with the posterior region moving an average of 10 cm (about 4 inches) between inhalation and exhalation. This decreases progressively moving forward, with the most anterior portion moving about half that of the posterior. Diaphragmatic motion decreases by about one-third in the sitting position compared to lying on your back. (see reference below)

    diaphramatic belly breathing skeletal system image 2

    Does the heart move with your diaphragm when you breathe?

    Yes, but not the full excursion of the posterior diaphragm. The pericardium, which is a sac surrounding the heart, has fascial connections to the diaphragm. Accordingly, the heart does move during breathing. Your heart is located more anterior on the left dome of the muscle, and so it moves less than the full excursion of the posterior portions of the diaphragm, but it moves significantly nonetheless. Click here for a video that illustrates diaphragmatic and cardiac movement during breathing (I recommend you start viewing at about the 40 second point, and later at about 4:00 for deeper breathing). This cineradiography video strikingly illustrates this process. (you may also want to mute the sound 🙂

    Learn more about anatomy, biomechanics and physiology for your yoga in “The Key Muscles of Yoga”, “The Key Poses of Yoga” and the Yoga Mat Companion series. Click on any of these books to page through

    By Ray Long, MD and Chris (illustrator/animator)

    This article was originally posted on dailybandha.com. Now put the techniques to practice, or learn more about yoga anatomy with Tim Feldmann on OMstars!

    Learn More About Yoga Anatomy On OMstars