human back

Yoga for Comfort

Yoga for Comfort

The practice should suit the individual. 

For some of us challenging is great, and for some of us a quieter practice is better. In some parts of our lives, or when we are going through certain life experiences, those needs change again. In fact, our needs - and therefore the appropriate practice for us - change daily. 

What Every Yogi Should Know About Plank Pose

Jenifer Parker from Healium has a fantastic variation on plank to prevent sag-asana. It's great! Read on for some practice-changing tips.

So many people fear or hate the plank pose. I can see why. For many of us -- girls in particular -- we are taught that this is difficult, and that we don't' have the upper body body strength to do this well. Add to that idea that we might have a few specialized (awesome!) curves, and for many of us, it just seems ridiculously unattainable.

But that is just so not true! Plank pose is totally possible. You can do it!

This modification is designed to access our strongest muscle groups and make this possible for pretty much anyone. So long as you don't have shoulder, wrist, elbow or hand injuries, you'll succeed. If you have any of these problems, other modifications exist -- and you'll have to ask your teacher for those!

This modification has three primary elements:

1. Push away!

One of the big problems that gals have is that they think their arms are weak. And while that may be true, the reality is that this pose is meant to use your back muscles -- in particular your massive lats!

Oh yes, you know you have massive lats.

The MASSIVE lats of bodybuilder Dorian Yates.

The MASSIVE lats of bodybuilder Dorian Yates.

Ok, maybe not that massive.

Still, you have angel wings -- we all have them, and they are a pretty large muscle group. In plank pose, we need to use them, which means "pushing away" when you stack your shoulders over your wrists. Most of us "sag" our chests down (and drop our heads!), which means we are not using our lats, which is super important.

And by the by, there's no way in hell you'll ever look like Dorian from doing plank pose. Dorian is the only man on the planet who looks like that. I've been watching body building competitions since I was a kid (Arnold Classic anyone?) And ain't nobody looking like Dorian in the lat-region.

2. Engage your Legs

If you have sexy thighs, you can leverage them for plank-awesomeness. The sexy thighs, btw, come in all shapes and sizes, so if you don't think you have sexy thighs, think again.

Here are some good ways to think about your sexy thighs in plank pose --

A. Press the back of your thighs up toward the ceiling.

B. Push back into your heels as you press those thighs toward the ceiling -- this accesses the whole leg.

3. Hips High

The typical version of plank shows a steady decline from shoulders to ankles. That's cool and all, but it requires a different amount of back/belly strength that most of us don't have access to when we start.

Please note the language "don't have access to" -- if you can stand up, you have the belly/back strength to do this posture (or most of them honestly). It's just that your body isn't using to "standing up" against gravity in this way. That is why it's about access. You have the strength, you just don't have the experience/body awareness yet to access it.

This helps us to develop that body awareness and access the right muscle  groups.

So, put the hips up in line with the shoulders. It cuts the weight a bit, and allows you to access the two larger muscle groups that we want to access for the posture -- lats and legs.

4. Pelvis Aligned

This is the real key to this modification and transfers not only into the full version of the pose, but pretty-much most of the postures that we do!

So, a (probably not so) quick chat. In order to get the pelvis to the right point, you want to back that thing up. It's a good idea to try this standing first -- just to get a feel.

Add in the rather common tendency to, rib-shearing and you have a perfect storm of back pain. Yowchers! You'll need to stop doing that too...

Ok, so, most people tend to think that the fix to all this is to flatten the back entirely. But pushing the pubic bone forward -- often with the accompanying pelvic thrust and total gluteus engagement-- causes a different kind of misalignment and back pain -- a tight, rounded lower back with a tucked-under tailbone.

So where IS the right alignment?  Well, it's specific actually.

First, you'll need to put on underwear. I'm not talking about cute boy shorts, boxers, or your thong. None of these will help. Regular old grannie panties will do. Though, even better is the "french cut" which is slightly higher along the mid-line of the butt than the grannies but not quite as high as the brazillian cut.

Guys who are reading this, it'll be extra exciting for you to imagine you are wearing panties.

So, if you start standing up and imagine that you are wearing underwear, then you'll feel this diagonal line across your back side that makes a stripe from hip to the bottom of the butt.

You want to feel this engage, without feeling the whole gluteus engage. This is the gluteus medius, and accessing it moves the tailbone down toward the heels without thrusting it forward or tilting it back and away.

Do you feel it? If you don't, don't' be too alarmed, it can take practice. But it's "somewhere in the middle."

So in plank pose, we have shoulders over wrists - and pushing away from earth in the process -- hips in line with shoulders, strong thighs, and then your gluteus medius engages.

You'll notice as you do this that the posture is lighter.

Now: Breathe for goodness sakes.

Here's a video.

Here's another: Melanie giving her experience of learning plank pose.

You can do it.

And don't forget to finish with a nice cuppa!



The truth about exercise

Karen (yes, again) put me onto this documentary, which she'd seen on SBS.  It's super-interesting stuff, although we mostly all know this already. Basically, sitting really is the new smoking. It is, apparently, the new killer of modern humans.

It's not sitting itself that's problematic, although holding your hips in just the one position for such long periods does have rather unfortunate postural side effects, but the inactivity.

This documentary showed two very interesting bits of research: that you may need only three minutes of high intensity exercise per week to be healthy (HIT protocol) and that we all need to move more (to up our NEAT - Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis).

We keep still, gunk builds up. Not just the fuzz that hooks our muscles and connective tissue into a velcroed mess, but also fat and sugar in our blood, because our muscles aren't burning energy & asking for the fats and sugars they use as fuel. Humans, it turns out, were made to move.

Whilst coming to yoga class is great, it's not enough.

So what to do? 

Well, standing desks are a start. Walking meetings, walking at lunch. Going to the supermarket on foot & carrying your groceries back (I do this quite often, and although I whinge to myself most of the way home, I suspect it's one of the main reasons I can now deadlift 70 kgs. Yes, I can lift more than I weigh) .

Basically, move more.

The truth, according to James Levine of the Mayo clinic, is that most of us don't take any exercise at all. So we have to get more NEAT. Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Folks who work in hospitality and are running around all day are prime examples of this. Yoga teachers fall a little lower on the scale I guess, because we mostly don't sit during our workdays but we don't have the same intensity as a tradie or hospitality worker would.

If you sit at work, you will need to modify your life just a little to make huge changes to your health. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Stand and stretch every 20 minutes. Walk to chat to a colleague instead of emailing them. Can't hurt to try eh? In fact, the science seems to be increasingly indicating that it can really, really help. 

If you have the time, watch this video:

Shoulder Pain?

Yeah, sitting at a desk will do that. And sometimes, you don’t have time/don’t want to do a full yoga practice, which you KNOW will help those aching shoulders, right? I get it. So, without further ado, I present to you…

The Lazy-Pants guide to Yoga for Your Shoulders.



Bye-bye, hunchasana.

Got a hunch? Not in the good way, rather that slumpy-shouldered thing most of us have going on?

That hunchy thing makes our necks and shoulders hurt, does Bad Things to our breathing, and brings on headaches.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you stretch the muscles in your chest, especially your pectoralis minor:

and the inside surface of your arms, especially your biceps brachii, it has a profound effect on your posture and relieves a lot of the tension you feel in your neck and shoulders.


Because, although the muscles in your back and shoulders are big and strong, and those in your chest aren’t,  the way your chest and arm muscles connect to your skeleton gives them much more leverage. So if they are tight, you will hunch, and the muscles in your shoulders will eventually spasm with the effort of trying to pull your shoulderblades into a more neutral position.

Two of my fave stretches:

Wall clock:

  • No arching in lower back, keep base of ribcage lined up with top of pelvis
  • No pinching on back of shoulder socket
  • Torso ideally at 90 degrees to wall.

Standing cobra:

  • Roll shoulders open
  • Keep elbows bent to isolate stretch into front of chest
  • No overarching in lower back. (see second image for what not to do)

Ahhhhh. And breathe, of course.