Yoga

More restorative yoga, yeah baby!

Does it seem like a bit of a theme round here right now? It's probably because it's been (more) on Teamm...Yoga's minds since Sophie gave us her talk about autoimmune disorders and how yoga can help. As you may recall if you hang with us on Facebook or get the newsletter, the main takeaway was: slow the heck down to stay well.

legs up the wall

One really interesting study that Sophie quoted in her talk started out saying:

Yoga has been used in the treatment of such diverse health problems as asthma, type II diabetes, fatigue in breast cancer survivors, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep, depression, and anxiety. Mechanistic explanations for yoga's mental and physical health benefits have highlighted reductions in sympathetic nervous system (SNS) tone, and increases in parasympathetic (vagal) activity, both of which could have favorable immune and endo- crine consequences by reducing stress-related responses. However, surprisingly few studies have attempted to relate endocrine or immune function to yoga practice, even though some hatha yoga pos- tures are characterized as immune enhancing or restorative.

To address yoga's impact on inflammation, one key facet of immune function, we compared novice and expert yoga practitioners' inflammatory responses [13]. Despite the fact that novices and ex- perts did not differ on key dimensions including age, abdominal adiposity, and cardiorespiratory fitness, novices' serum interleukin 6 levels were 41% higher than those of experts, and the odds of a novice having detectable C-reactive protein were 4.75 times as high as that of an expert. Differences in stress responses between the groups provided one plausible mechanism for their divergent in- flammatory data; experts produced less lipopolysaccharide- stimulated IL-6 in response to laboratory stressors than novices.

Inflammation is a robust and reliable predictor of all-cause mortality in older adults. (emphasis added by me)

You can read the whole thing here. Basically, learning to calm your fight-or-flight response (reduce sympathetic nervous system tone, in the science-speak) will reduce inflammation, chronic and otherwise, and thereby drop off the severity of many autoimmune symptoms as well as, like the study says, reduce your risk of all-cause mortality. Otherwise known as early...retirement.

The study talks about the endocrine (hormonal) effects of yoga practice, specifically the kind that clams your body. Not the kind that amps you up.

That, friends, means more child pose, and more lying around on the floor. Or in bed, actually.

So, here are four more ways to do that.

Did you download the PDF yet? No, but seriously, you need to. Click here.

Have a lovely, restorative week folks.

Nadine & the mm...Yoga! team.

Si Joint Pain and Yoga

My friend Kate and I were talking about our dodgy sacroiliac joints the other day. The topic came up because hers is hurting right now, following a popping noise in an early morning yoga class. Popping noises, when related to SI Joints, are alarming things. Popping noises, when related to ANY joints, are alarming things. Now, for the scientific lowdown on SI Joint dysfunction, please read this excellent wikipedia article.

I will add that in yogis, SIJ dysfunction is almost always a result of acquired hyper mobility in those joints. This hyper mobility generally develops over time, by repeated insult to the ligaments that hold the joint stable.

Insult?

Yes, insult.

Extreme adduction (crossing the legs over your midline) and abdcution (taking your legs out to the sides), especially with bent knees, as in some of the poses below, is fine for many people. But not all. As a result of how our bones are shaped, and the loads and forces we subject them to (think tightening your psoas muscles and other external hip rotators with years and years of sitting), not all of us can move our legs in such a big range of motion in our hip sockets, and so, when we are trying to get into poses that we don't have the mobility for, we inevitably recruit flexibility from other joints - knees and SIJ's usually.

Over time, the ligaments that stabilise these joints get stretched and damaged, and the joints get destabilised. Not pretty. Very painful. Not necessary, but once it's happened, you live with the consequences for, probably, ever. Ligaments are generally accepted as being avascular - that is, they don't have their own blood supply, and since their job is to staibilise your joints, they are not very elastic either. Once they are overstretched, they don't go back to their original length.

(Side note: I found prolotherapy (a simple injection into the ligaments which causes them to form scar tissue & therefore tighten) useful, but the ligaments in my pelvis are still less stable than those of other people.)

My early yoga teachers didn't know this stuff, or if they did, they ignored it. I didn't question their teaching: I was too green back then to know that I don't bend right for yoga.

I got stood on in Baddha Konasana to get my knees to the ground (they still don't go to the ground, but now I have an unstable pelvis. Thanks, teacher, for standing on my knees).

I got taught to yank myself into twists, even the bound ones like Marichyasana D, below. The injury to my pelvis didn't show up until years later.

Things not to do with a shonky SIJ #1. With thanks to Ursula, whose SIJ seems to be fine.

I got taught (and, full confession, I WANTED) to reach for extreme ranges of motion, and then use my arms and legs as levers, to get into Supta Kurmasana, as below. My poor lower back!

Ursula again, with her (hopefully) well-functioning SIJ and bendy body...

Now, you can tell from the photos  - some people can do this stuff. Not everyone. Certainly not me. Also, I have no idea if the woman in the photos has pain. She might - I haven't asked because I found her photos by way of Google, as you do.

Kate was asking whether I still manage my SIJ every day.

Yes. Every day,  I work on strengthening the muscles that stabilise my pelvis and core. Every day, I work on improving the rhythm between my pelvis, low back and legs. Every day, I work on relaxing my psoas muscles.

And some days, I work on pain management, when my SIJ's are inflamed from too much sitting (on the back of a motorbike, for example).

Kate was also asking whether hip openers help with the pain or make it worse.

Mostly? They make it worse. Especially the kind where each leg is doing a different thing. I will republish the post about the things I do for happy SIJ's, soon, but for now, if you have SIJ pain, try practicing the constructive rest position:

Or Supta Baddha Konasana, possibly with a sacro-wedgy (or a rolled up towel, which is what I use). Hang out there for a long time, at least a few minutes, and you are looking for pain-free, or at least no increase in pain! THe picture below is old, so please excuse the terrible alignment. It's better now, I promise. Also, a lot of people with SIJ issues need to place cushions or bolsters under their thighs to have any chance of doing this without having pain afterwards.

Also, my all-time favourite psoas release, which helps immensely with the sacro-lumar rhythm, is this one from Katy Says:

Prenatal Yoga

This is a post from Janene.

 

I had a conversation with my fellow mm..yoga teachers recently about the special teaching adaptions required for pregnant students. During my own pregnancy I taught yoga up until a week before the due date, but I knew intimately what I could and couldn’t do safely (both formal learning and of course life experience) and what my body could handle. I was also very conscious about what worked and didn’t with my evolving shape.

Image via

Here are my top ten points to keep in mind for any woman who is pregnant or knows someone who is:

  1. In yoga and in daily life, remember everything is just a guide. You might read books, hear stories, or have people telling you about their experience. These are helpful, but what is right for others may or may not be right for you. For example, that whole 140 beats per minutes (bpm) exercise limit, can only be a guide, because if you normally had a higher heart rate, then even walking could tip you over 140bpm. A better guide: can you can comfortably hold a conversation while exercising? Listen, but make your own decisions.
  2. Only lie on your belly as long as it feels ok – depending on how fast you show will guide you, but it’s still a personal choice. Once your belly is too large, use hand and knees as your modification to practice.
  3. As you get bigger, lie on your left side for relaxation – why, well this is because the body is pumping more blood around and your body is under strain just due to this. As you grow larger it becomes harder for the body to do this so when you lie on your left side you are relieving pressure on the inferior vena cava which runs along your right side, thus helping return blood to the heart. And it’s also really nice.
  4. Lying on your back - yes or no? – now I found that working in a pose on my back for a short time was ok, but if it was an extended practice your options are –i) use a cushion under your buttocks to lift the hips higher than your heart ii) work in an alternate position or different pose iii) lie on your side. If you feel a tingle then you’ve done enough. The official stance is don’t do this after Trimester 1 but see point 1.
  5. Don’t squat high after 34 weeks – this is because you want to start to relax the muscles around the hips and pelvis in preparation for birth
  6. Don’t work your core after first trimester – this one is the most contentious. Yes you do need to relax your belly muscles to help the muscles stretch to accommodate the increasing belly, BUT, there is a difference between actively working and strengthening the muscles for that 6 pack and keeping the muscles engaged to help support your baby. I always encourage mums to be to keep gentle engagement through the abs to support the baby’s weight, and to help keep posture. The back can get very overworked if the tummy muscles are not active, and this can lead to complications later. Point 1 again.
  7. Work your pelvic floor until around 34 weeks – your pelvic floor helps keep the baby supported in a little hammock, so strengthen this area to help keep that load supported. Only stop when you have to. This was my life saver. (Nadine's note: read this too. Super important for HOW to work your pelvic floor)
  8. Now the one I wish I had known – don’t stretch to that point where you go ‘cool look at what I can do’. Why? This stretch is only possible because you have hormones racing around your body relaxing your muscles. Yes they are stretching, but it’s not in your normal range of movement and this means you are really making the area stretched unstable and unsafe. This can lead to evil problems eg back pain, pelvic instability etc. Nasty.
  9. Breath deeply, keep relaxing and go with the flow - the body is under great stress so remember, be kind. No harm every came from resting did it. And, if you feel short of breath then it’s likely your blood volume.
  10. Your pregnancy is unique to you, right here, right now. Just because a woman is pregnant doesn't mean that they will have issues, BUT pregnancy will exploit known and unknown weaknesses in your body, known or not.   

Neen headshot

About the author: Janene Watt crams a lot into her days. She's a working mumma who teaches yoga on the side. 

Giveaway: Creative Yoga Games for Kids Vol 2

Grownups aren't the only ones who benefit from yoga! Kids love it, right from the time they are babies in the womb (article from Janene about prenatal yoga coming next). http://youtu.be/DeXAqBsgSoQ

Over the years of teaching private yoga classes in people's homes, I, and most of the other mm...Yoga! teachers, have often included kids in the class proceedings. They love climbing through the 'tunnel' when their parents are doing Down Dog. Also, they love climbing up when mum or dad is doing plank pose. You think it's hard, try it with your three year old on your back!

Kids also love DOING yoga, and often come up with the most awesome poses (probably how all the coolest yoga poses get invented, if you ask me).

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The challenge is in keeping kids engaged enough to get the calming and focusing benefits of yoga. This is something Edna Reinhardt does masterfully.

I first met her in 2009 at a yoga conference: she had a stall to sell her original yoga games for kids cards. I bought some. Then I gave those to the son of one of my private clients (he adored them so much) and promptly bought more. Also, signed up for a workshop with Edna to learn how she does what she does.

I learned two main things that day:

  1. I am not a teacher of children. I like teaching adults.
  2. Edna is a master of teaching kids.

Edna's a really lovely person, and even though she's been teaching kids movement since the 70's, she's still innovating and getting better. No wonder her products can be found all over the world, and in practically every school in Melbourne with a teacher interested in movement/meditation.

She's also provided us with a sample lesson plan using her creative yoga games cards - click hereto view/download.

If you want a copy of her brand new yoga games for kids cards, we have three to give away!

CYGFK-V2

You can enter in the following ways:

  1. Join the mm...Yoga! mailing list (if you are already signed up, that's an automatic entry)
  2. Share this post on Facebook & tag mmYoga
  3. Leave a comment on this blog post telling us why you'd like a set of cards

You can enter in any of these three ways, up to three entries per person. Entries close on 29 August and the winners will be announced on Facebook and via email to the mailing list on Friday 30 August.

Update: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winners:

Carly Lewis Horwood

Nicholas Martin

Lynn Vedelsby

Step into your power zone.

Chandni Kapur has been practicing yoga with me (Nadine) for a year and a half. In this article, she shares her love for tadasana (mountain pose). Here she is, reaching for the sky, in tree pose (vrksasana).

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“Stretch your hands and feet toward the sky… reach for the stars”

The words of my then yoga teacher when I first learnt Tadasana some 15 years ago still ring a bell. Too easy, I thought at the time. What an easy way to exercise — stretch …stretch… and stretch some more.

As time passed by and I caught up the do's and don’ts of everyday life, Tadasana was no longer important. It was just one of those easy stretches that didn’t feel valuable enough to do because I was after the more rigorous stuff that would cut my belly fat, make it vapourise!

Until last month.

 

I’ve rediscovered the magical power of Tadasana.

 

The ever so simple, full body stretch and I’ll tell you why you should let it support you.

A considerable few years of neck, shoulder, back and knee pain and all other sorts of body aches that a 36 year old shouldn’t even know about, have left my body fully misaligned. It mainly meant I was trapped in a vicious cycle of being unable to stretch and exercise. And not helpful that I’m flat-footed, overweight, and have no arches to support my feet and take the weight off my knees and back.

Over the past 1.5 years, Nadine has been helping me (patiently) revive each muscle back into action. It’s been a frustrating journey until earlier this year when I decided to take her advice and be more compassionate to myself. So I listened to every word she said, every muscle movement she explained to me, and started to learn to respond to what my body was telling me.

I needed support. Big time!

I decided to wipe clean all my assumptions and scepticism and just follow what felt good for my body. This meant that I was squeezing my buttocks because I needed those muscles to support my back better. And while I started with some scepticism, it’s now a habitual practice and happens quite unconsciously!

With consistent practice and a more compassionate outlook, I spent one month learning how to raise my feet gradually just a few inches above the ground and enter Tadasana. I vividly remember the early days – staring out to the Westgate Freeway to keep my mind focussed (terrified internally that my knees won’t bear the weight.) As I practiced I felt better, more still and more at ease. Often forgetting I had knees and legs - so fully focussed on the idea of surrendering to the asana.

The next step was crucial – the arches. I had to get those working to take the pressure off my spine and knees.

So, nervously, I followed the instructions and demonstrations. As Nadine patiently kept showing me how to create the arch in my feet, I realised this is such a new concept for my body that I can’t comprehend such a simple thing. It was a humbling moment. The turning point for me was when Nadine broke the instruction down to small tactile cues.

So I focused on the two most important aspects - Toes screwed into the ground and heels dug into the floor. I suspended my intellect.

No fear, no judgement, no analysis.

Just do those two steps and voila I could feel the muscles along my legs and into the buttocks tighten up like a warrior ready for battle.

That’s not just a literary expression, Tadasana has allowed me to create a calm stillness in my body that feels right, feels aligned and feels in control.

While I’m still in awe of the physical stability it gives me, I’m super excited about the clarity it creates.

It’s my best time to visualise, to focus on my intentions and often to let them emerge as I stand empowered. It’s been my answer to my fear of pain and a fantastic support – fully aligned.

Try it – it’s a step into your own power zone.