“FLOATING YOGA” WITH THE NEW INDO YOGA BOARD

By Michelle Gierst

Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarding is all the rage these days. There are many forms of SUP including distance paddling around a harbor, ocean or lake or standup paddle surfing in the waves and of course there is even yoga and other forms of exercise on SUP boards.  Standup paddling is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and for good reason.  It’s fun, challenging and requires a whole new level of balance and stability. It also works virtually every muscle group of the body. I love to long distance paddle and I love to SUP surf but I especially love to do yoga on a SUP board. Feeling savasana while floating is amazing.

For me, one of the best benefits of SUP is how it has changed my balance. It enhanced and improved my overall stability and core strength so quickly I could hardly believe it.  Another great benefit of SUP training is that you are able to be outside, on the water in a beautiful environment.  But what happens when it’s too cold outside, or you just can’t get out to the water that day? What about those people whom want to do yoga on a SUP but just aren’t ready yet, or don’t live in an area where there is water for paddling? What about people whom want the benefits of SUP yoga but may have a fear of the water or ocean?

I was lucky enough to see the Indo Yoga Board a few years ago at a large paddle festival in Dana Point, CA. I walked by the Indo Board booth with a curious eye.  What was this thing?  I knew about the original Indo Board Balance Trainers because we’d been carrying those in our surf shop for years (Olympus Board Shop in Torrance, CA). I’d been on and Indo Board Balance Trainer a few times but never really took it too seriously.  At that time I had only been teaching SUP Yoga for about nine months and I thought maybe this Indo Yoga Board would help advance my skills and help me to be a better yogi and teacher, on and off the water.

I came to find out a little about the background of the Indo Board company when I met the Founder, Hunter Joslin. ‪Hunter, a lifelong surfer and board sport enthusiast, invented the Indo Yoga Board‪. He developed the first Indo Board Balance Trainer in 1975 but did not start the Indo Board Company until 1998.  The Indo Yoga Board is the eighth balance training product he has developed and it was introduced about two years ago. The Indo Yoga Board is made of high-quality birch plywood, is basically the size and shape of a small surfboard and features four rockers on the bottom of the board which provide instability. You can also add inflatable discs under the board to increase the instability. It is a very simple, yet effective design.

The Indo Yoga board simulates the feeling I get on my SUP board in so many ways and helps me immensely as a teacher. Now when I work with new students that are interested in learning SUP Yoga, I start them off just with the basic Indo Yoga Board so they are subtly moving on just the four rockers.  When one steps onto the Indo Yoga Board for the first time they immediately feel the movement. You start to engage muscle groups you didn’t even realize you had from your feet all the way to your neck.  Just like when we paddle, the feet are working hard to stabilize the body. Once the feet start to engage the entire kinetic chain really starts to fire and your core has to engage continually to stabilize and react to what your body is trying to do.

SUP Yoga and performing yoga on the Indo Yoga Board forces you to slow our yoga practice down. Each student has to really focus to get the placement of the feet and hands correct so you don’t lose your balance and end up stepping off the Indo Yoga Board (or falling in the water if you are doing SUP Yoga on a paddle board).  Just moving from Mountain Pose (standing) to Downward Facing Dog can be challenging.  The Indo Yoga Board also takes yoga (or any form of workout such as Pilates, etc.) to a different level by engaging all the tiny muscle groups in the body. My students start sweating quicker and they breathe much differently as the result of compensating for the instability of the board.

Using the Indo Yoga Board challenges the mind and the body just like the SUP Yoga does. It’s a fun and safe way to get the same benefits of SUP Yoga without having to have an expensive SUP board, live near the water and have perfect weather.  Most of all the Indo Yoga Board really helps take your yoga practice back to basics.  When I first did Downward Facing Dog on my SUP board, I was shocked at how different it felt from the yoga I had been practicing on solid ground for so many years. The same thing happened when I first tried the Indo Yoga Board.  It’s a different feeling and challenge when you are unstable and have to compensate for the subtle rocking that the Indo Yoga Board provides.

Finally, I can’t tell you how cool it had been to watch my students increase their balance techniques while using the Indo Yoga Boards. I’m get very excited when a student smiles after completing a class and feeling a whole new level of balance and muscle activation.  Since practicing on the Indo Yoga Board my balance has consistently improved and the muscle groups that support my balance have gotten much stronger.  Most of all the Ind Yoga Board has increased the fun factor in my yoga and helped me become a better SUP Yoga Instructor. I love practicing on the Indo Yoga Boards as it turns any spot into my own personal floating yoga studio.

To find out more go to www.indoboard.com/yoga

Namaste,

Michelle Gierst

Michelle attended Northern Arizona University and is certified through The Pilates Sports Center in Encino, Yoga Certified  thru Yoga Mittra and Stand Up Paddle certified thru H2Yo in Florida. Michelle is also Zumba and TRX certified.

Michelle Gierst began her fitness path by volunteering and training with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Team in Training, while planning to compete in her first Marathon in Honolulu, Hawaii. After successfully completing three full marathons and seven ½ marathons, Michelle felt she needed to find a new and innovative way to strengthen her legs and knees during her racing endeavors.

Michelle discovered Pilates as a method of training and immediately fell in love with the sport. This passion led her to a certification as an instructor, as she decided that she wanted to begin a path of training others about the benefits of Pilates.

Michelle continues her love for an active lifestyle through paddling, racing, snowboarding, surfing, hiking and yoga…….. But Pilates & Yoga are always first on her list!

YOGA USED TO TREAT THOSE SUFFERING FROM PTSD

By Beth Shaw

The homecoming of military servicemen and women once thought to be so sweet is now fraught with anxiety, stress and broken relationships. We are witnessing an unprecedented time in our Armed Forces where deaths by suicide outweigh deaths incurred in combat. This is something that cannot be ignored.

One of the common conditions of veterans is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is the name given to the severe condition that develops after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events. Symptoms common to this condition are recurring flashbacks, avoiding thoughts or people associated with the traumatic event, or numbing of memories of the event, and high levels of anxiety. On a body level, headaches, muscle tension and pain, chest pain, fatigue, upset stomach, and sleep problems are experienced. Psychologically, nightmares, restlessness, anxiety, lack of motivation or focus, irritability or anger and depression are common to this condition. Manifestations behaviorally are tendency to over or under eat, abuse of drugs and alcohol and social withdrawal.

Luckily we are in the midst of a yoga renaissance in the United States, and the evolution of yoga is increasing focus on not what we do in our yoga practice but how we do it. Physicians are opening up to the idea of using yoga practice more and more in their prescribed treatments, and it couldn’t come at a better time for our Veterans and their families.  This deeper, scientific understanding of exactly how yoga can affect our neurological and neurochemical pathways in the body has allowed yogi’s to truly help those suffering from PTSD as well as anyone with unresolved physical or emotional traumas.

This advancement of understanding of what makes yoga efficacious includes: slower mindful movement to awaken the emotional or limbic center of the mind; ujayi breath focus to stimulate the vagus nerve; and a physical focus on psoas and grounding postures to help release the allostatic load of traumas stored in the body. This combination creates the opportunity for organic healing through yoga therapy and provides a new path forward for those suffering from not only PTSD but mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

PTSD as the result of being at war for these many years seems to be a particularly toxic form of trauma for our troops. The Department of Veterans Affairs released a report in 2012 showing that since 9/11, nearly 30 percent of the 834,463 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans (roughly 247,243) treated at V.A. hospitals and clinics have been diagnosed with PTSD. This shows the profound impact multiple deployments have had on American service men and women since 9/11. Troops who’ve been deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan are more than three times as likely as soldiers with no previous deployments to screen positive for PTSD and major depression, according to a 2010 study published by the American Journal for Public Health. Vietnam Veterans are increasingly coming into the VA system as well with experts in the VA estimating that about 30% of Vietnam Veterans also have PTSD.

And we can’t forget that the families of those with PTSD are also suffering and in dire need of help that is often not available for them. The VA system has an enormous backlog that averages roughly 18 months to be seen by a medical professional and more often than not the result is a bag of prescription pills.

Of course it is not only the military who suffers as many traumatic events in life can result in PTSD. About 6 of every 10 (or 60%) of men and 5 of every 10 (or 50%) of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury. Going through a trauma does not mean you’ll get PTSD, though. Even though over half of us go through some type of trauma, a much smaller percent develop PTSD. About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

Yoga, meditation and other somatic treatment modalities have been shown to help PTSD and chronic stress better than cognitive therapy alone.  This bottoms-up approach to healing helps release physical and neurologically held tension in the body and teaches practitioners how to tolerate sensations in the body. Additionally, this body-focused approach increases somatic self-awareness, self-efficacy and self-regulation which are strong indicators of mental health.

Chronic stress and trauma result in physical changes in various structures of the brain resulting in a change of hormone and neurotransmitter secretion which in turn affects the nervous system response.  Research has shown that mindful practices such as yoga and meditation are successful at reversing some of the physical effects of chronic stress and trauma that can help reset our nervous system.  Yoga has been shown to increase the neurotransmitter GABA, which makes us feel happy, more than other types of exercise. High GABA levels are correlated with a healthy autonomic nervous system.

A mindful yoga practice leads to a healthy balanced body and mind. Over time yoga decreases emotional reactivity as we learn to embrace life more fully. Yoga practice helps us reframe situations so that we find more meaning even from difficulties and challenges. Essentially, yoga helps us to reclaim lost power, which is very important in healing trauma. Yoga teaches us that while we cannot control external events, we can control our reaction. Yoga gives us the tools to activate the innate healer within all of us.

With repeated practice and guidance, a yoga practice can bring long term relief and a fresh perspective on life for PTSD sufferers.  The military has recognized this, and even started offering yoga classes for soldiers on active duty.

IMPROVING FLEXIBILITY FOR THOSE OF US THAT DON’T DO YOGA

By Dr. Evan Osar

Yoga is one of the oldest forms of what we currently refer to as exercise. Performed in its purest form, yoga can promote relaxation by decreasing over-activity of the sympathetic (fight or flight) while promoting the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system, enhance overall well-being by connecting better to one’s body, and improving physical components such as posture and flexibility. But do we need to do encourage our clients to do yoga? What if your client doesn’t like yoga and/or you are not a yoga instructor yourself? Are you letting your clients down by not encouraging them to do yoga? Are you any less effective as a fitness professional because you don’t do yoga? In this article I will demonstrate why you don’t need to do yoga if you understand and become disciplined at implementing the essential principles of movement.

It is important to note, I am a big fan of yoga. That is, I am a big fan of yoga in its purest form, not what yoga has largely turned out to be in our modern fitness environment. Since its early history (dating back as early as the 3rd millennium BC), yoga incorporated physical, mental, and spiritual elements to help one attain a greater state of being, a greater connection to one’s true self, and even a more direct communication with God. In this pure form, yoga may be one of the best activities to improve one’s overall mind, body, and spirit.

What are the components that make yoga so effective at creating positive changes in posture and movement? While it is often attributed to stretching – hence the reason so many individuals experiencing chronic myofascial tightness are encouraged to do yoga – I believe that improvements in flexibility is actually an indirect rather than a direct result of yoga. Observing the basis of its’ fundamental roots, yoga can really be boiled down into three components: alignment, breathing, and control.

Alignment is the ability to line up the bones to place the joints in the most optimal position for loading. Achieving optimal alignment helps to activate the functional myofascial synergists required to stabilize the body while decreasing the need to over-activate other muscles to help compensate for the lack of proper alignment.

Breathing is the body’s most efficient manner for developing stability. Three-dimensional breathing develops the ability to regulate and control intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). IAP is the body’s best strategy for stabilization as it enables us to be long and suspended rather than having to rely on over-compression and gripping for stability. As noted above, breathing is also essential to balance out over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system which is often an additional cause of myofascial tightness. Improving parasympathetic nervous function can help release chronic myofascial tension and stress.

In addition to the ability to align the body, breathe for internal pressure regulation, yoga also helps develop control over posture and movement. Yoga helps develop or stopre-establish the control of our alignment through both static and dynamic movement. As the right muscles are activated and the body is stabilized through the regulation of IAP, efficient control into and out of a variety of positions improves the ability to proprioceptively sense and make the necessary adjustments so that posture and movement become more fluid and coordinated. In other words, posture and movement become more efficient. 

It is important to note that these principles are not unique to yoga. Every mammal, regardless of whether they ambulate on four legs or two, must respect the principles of alignment, breathing, and control. Therefor the principles are not unique to yoga rather, they are essential to surviving as well as thriving in our world. Another way of looking at this concept is that in order to help our clients develop and maintain proper posture and movement, our exercise programs must respect and incorporate the principles or we are really just setting our clients up for injury.

Even before I had truly understood how our nervous functions, we had been having great success by helping our patients and clients relieve chronic tightness by teaching them how to better align, breathe, and control their body. These three components – alignment, breathing, and control – would eventually form the foundation of the Integrative Movement System™ that we used to help our clients improve their posture and movement. We found that when our patients and clients developed better alignment, breathing, and control, they experienced greater range of motion and less tightness. We also noted that they had to foam roll and stretch less because they were respecting what the nervous system is continually striving to achieve – efficiency. When the nervous system senses and is able to maintain efficient posture and movement, it will not need to compensate by gripping (over-activating a muscle or muscles) in order to compensate for the lack of optimal stability.

Why do our clients get tight? Because there is non-optimal alignment, and/or non-optimal breathing patterns, and/or there is non-optimal control somewhere within the body. This is the exact reason individuals experience tightness after exercising. Somewhere during their exercise patterns, they lost their alignment, ability to breathe, and/or their control. The nervous system has to compensate and turns to the best strategy it knows – gripping or over-contracting muscles – in order to restrict movement. Then these individuals are instructed to stretch out their ‘tight’ muscles which in actuality, are the regions where they were just compensating for their non-optimal alignment, breathing, and/or control.

Most of our clients, as well as most of society, is ‘tight’ or have lost range of motion because they are in a habitual state of compensation. Stretching alone does not adequately address the underlying cause of tightness. Performing undisciplined stretching or yoga – stretching beyond an individual’s ability to align and control, doing boot camp style yoga, lifting weights while doing yoga – without the focus on the fundamental principles of alignment, breathe, and control will not achieve the desired result and will often set the individual up for greater compensation and risk of injury.

This is exactly why we focus so much on developing the fundamental principles of alignment, breathing, and control in our clients and patients. These are the principles that guide and direct efficient posture and movement. When we help our clients align, develop three-dimensions breathing, and control of their body during exercise, we can help achieve more optimal and non-compensated movement. When you utilize the principles there is not the need to have to rely on stretching because the nervous system will develop the right muscle activation sequencing and patterning to promote unrestricted movement without the need to tighten myofascial structures to compensate for the lack of stability. In other words, we are helping our clients achieve greater efficiency.

And here’s the best news: when you pay strict adherence to the principles with your clients, you are able to help your client develop optimal strategies for exercise as well as for their daily life and without having to do yoga. That’s how you become the expert your clients need, want, and will refer other to. 

Bootcamp Boogie with Petra Kolber

Petra puts her energetic stamp on this DVD. Each segment has an athletic component to it with a cool down following. You can choose different segments, including a cool down that has both stretching and yoga moves included. Petra is a consummate professional and everyone (professionals and enthusiasts) can learn something from her!

Learn more at www.petrakolber.com

It’s Okay to Say “Namaste” by Jill Miller


The first time I took a live yoga class, at age 12 or 13, I remember hearing some strange, prayer-like, exotic word come out of my teacher’s mouth. Everyone echoed it back, and it made me uncomfortable. It didn’t stop me from going back, but I did kind of feel “left out,” as I didn’t know what they were saying, what it meant, or if it was the name of a god or other deity. Frankly, it sounded kind of religious, and I was definitely not into god-stuff at that point in my ’tweendom.’

When my teacher told me what Namaste meant (“I bow to the god within you”) and how to pronounce it (Nah- Mah-Stay), it didn’t necessarily make the phrase any easier for me to embrace. But the social pressure of “call and response” soon won me over. I attended very small classes in Santa Fe, and any non-compliant Namaste’ers would be very obvious to the teacher and other students. At first it barely rolled out of my lips, a garbled rumble of vowels with slight hiss in the middle. I had no way of knowing that a decade later, I would be the one at the front of the room offering the same salutation to my classes.

Can Yoga Help You Catch Some ZZZ’s? by Jill Miller

Perhaps you’ve heard the claims from your neighbor, “yoga cured my insomnia.” Or maybe your co-worker boasts, “I practice three times a week and my back pain is gone.” It’s possible that your 11-year-old daughter squeals with delight because she can now touch her toes and no longer gets “homework headaches.”

With 16 million Americans practicing yoga, the anecdotal evidence is exponentially favorable to the curative benefits of yoga. But skeptical and scientific minds still want to know, is yoga really a remedy?

I began practicing yoga at age 11, and can say from my personal experience that I rarely get sick, I’ve never broken a bone and I sleep like a baby 97 percent of the time. In a purely unscientific poll of myself, yoga has been and continues to be a remedy for my aches and pains and a preventative from getting them in the first place!

I also have hundreds of stories I could share with you from students who work with me in my specialized yoga therapy format, Yoga Tune Up®. A range of students from 17-77 come to me with chronic conditions like MS, scoliosis, breast and chest surgeries, metal implants in their tissues, migraines, car accidents, obesity and more.

The good news is that there are studies that confirm the benefits of yoga for many health conditions. We can rejoice that yoga’s curative powers are not just a myth! Yoga helps and it heals.

Let’s take a closer look this week at insomnia: Your neighbor’s insomnia

Insomnia is a plague. When we cannot sleep well, our stress levels skyrocket and this can lead to accidents, greater fatigue and weight gain. When your neighbor tosses and turns all night, her mind is not letting her body enter into the healing phases of deep sleep.

Perhaps your neighbor tried out a Yin Yoga class at the local YWCA. Her class promised to help reduce stress and enhance her ability to sleep.

So how did it work its magic? Yoga enhances a body’s ability to sleep by consistently inducing the relaxation response in the body’s tissues. Yin Yoga especially promotes a very relaxing environment by holding static or still stretches for long periods of time (two to 20 minutes), with the body often supported by bolsters, blankets and other props. These stretches are done with the help of gravity’s pull on the body. She is instructed to breathe deeply and rhythmically. The result is that the long-held stretches, combined with the breathing, turn her “fight or flight” response off and her “rest and digest” response on. Ultimately, this resets the resting tone in her muscles and her mind is reconditioned to be more mellow.

[reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]

Interview with Rob Glick

“My biggest challenge is to find simple solutions to help fitness professionals be great at their job and find balance in my own life so that I truly practice what I preach.”

You’ve been a superstar veteran of the fitness industry for a long time – what got you started in fitness?

I was in college working on an aviation degree to become a pilot and I started going to aerobics classes with a friend. I was definitely not very good when I started, but I really wanted to be so I began going as often as I could and taking classes all over town. Pretty soon I was asked to teach, changed my degree to Exercise Science and the rest is history.

What do you see as the three biggest trends in fitness?

I see our industry moving in three directions:

• Athletic-based classes (either using body weight or specialty equipment such as TRX, VIPR, BOSU, Undulating Ropes, etc)

• Fun, easy to follow dance-based classes

• Mind/Body fusion classes

When did you begin practicing Yoga and how has that changed your life?

I started going to Bryan Kest’s class when I taught at Voight Fitness and Dance Center about 15 years ago. I loved it, but the commute was challenging so I only made it there occasionally. I stopped practicing for a bit when I moved to Orange County until I found an Ashtanga Teacher named Diana Christinson who reinspired me and I have been addicted ever since. I practice whenever time permits, studying with anyone I can: I’m basically a Yoga Junkie. I teach Yoga as well as other formats at Equinox in Newport Beach and Renaissance in Aliso Viejo. Yoga has had a profound effect on my life! It has helped me become more centered, thoughtful, and harmonious and on a purely physical level stronger, with increased mobility.

How has it changed your teaching styles?

One of the things that helped me the most when I crossed over to teaching Yoga was to trust the practice. My job is to assist the students but let the Yoga take the lead. When I teach choreography, indoor cycling classes, or conditioning classes, it is so important to cue, teach, demonstrate, motivate, create, entertain and educate – you are always so busy. When guiding students through their practice, those things are still important but they take a back seat to the Yoga. Another big shift for me was to truly come from a place of service when leading a class.

How do you keep things fresh and new?

I take classes and workshops! The most important thing to remember is to always be a student. I take classes every opportunity I get…that keeps me inspired.

You are responsible for so much new programming for so many disciplines, how are you so prolific?

I truly believe that extraordinary teaching skills can be applied to any format. The inspiration of the group dynamic doesn’t change when the format does. That consistency helps me when trying to figure out how to apply those guidelines to a new program or class design. My goal and greatest challenge is to develop simple, easy-to-follow systems that, when applied, can allow the creativity and personality of each teacher to come through with relative ease regardless of the format, equipment or program. It has helped me become more centered, thoughtful, and harmonious and on a purely physical level stronger, with increased mobility.

How has it changed your teaching styles?

One of the things that helped me the most when I crossed over to teaching Yoga was to trust the practice. My job is to assist the students but let the Yoga take the lead. When I teach choreography, indoor cycling classes, or conditioning classes, it is so important to cue, teach, demonstrate, motivate, create, entertain and educate – you are always so busy. When guiding students through their practice, those things are still important but they take a back seat to the Yoga. Another big shift for me was to truly come from a place of service when leading a class.

How do you keep things fresh and new?

I take classes and workshops! The most important thing to remember is to always be a student. I take classes every opportunity I get…that keeps me inspired.

You are responsible for so much new programming for so many disciplines, how are you so prolific?

I truly believe that extraordinary teaching skills can be applied to any format. The inspiration of the group dynamic doesn’t change when the format does. That consistency helps me when trying to figure out how to apply those guidelines to a new program or class design. My goal and greatest challenge is to develop simple, easy-to-follow systems that, when applied, can allow the creativity and personality of each teacher to come through with relative ease regardless of the format, equipment or program.

Who inspires you?

There are so many and I really mean that. I am awe inspired by the amazing talent in our industry on so many levels and in so many categories. If you want names, which I am sure you do, here are a few: Jay Blahnik, Len Kravitz, Jonny Kest, Joan Altinsen, Diana Christinson, Gary Grey, Shannon Fable, and Kimberly Spreen. These, of course, only scrape the surface. On a personal note, I’d like to also mention my daughters, Dani and Jordan. They inspire me every day!

What inspires you?

Creativity! I admire simple; yet, brilliant ideas such as the BOSU Balance Trainer and GRAVITY or when I take a class and the teacher so eloquently describes exactly what they want you to do.

What do you think our Industry needs to change?

We need to keep our focus on the individual experience. This is a high touch industry that’s all about service and inspiration. We also have to figure out how to get more people involved in a healthy lifestyle. Work locally and think globally.

How do you see our industry moving forward in the future?

By building more bridges between fitness and other professions such as doctors, physical therapists, therapists, etc. so we can improve the quality of life for as many people as possible. I also see health clubs in the future having less equipment and more open functional training space.

What are your biggest challenges in fitness?

My biggest challenge is to find simple solutions to help fitness professionals be great at their job and find balance in my own life so that I truly practice what I preach.

What are the three best experiences you ever had presenting?

Last year, it was really exciting presenting in Johnny Kest’s Midwest Yoga Conference with Kimberly Spreen. To be asked to present in a pure Yoga conference was incredibly exciting and really made us feel as if we had crossed over, which I think is challenging when people have a tendency to type cast you. If I can put these two into one; Rimini and Fitness Brazil because the classes are huge and the energy is through the roof, it is a movement teachers dream come true. Lastly, (I know that this is going to sound like a huge suck up) the first time I was asked to present at ECA New York! Being from LA but loving NY you always want to come to ECA New York and feel successful with the east coast crowd and then to win Best Male Presenter of the Year in 2005 chosen by the attendees really brought it all together for me.

What are the down sides that most people don’t see about presenting and traveling?

It’s challenging to have friendships when you’re always on the road. On the same note it’s also challenging to build a business at home when you’re always gone.

What are your three greatest achievements in life?

How many people I’ve been able to touch through my career, every time you get that email that lets you know you really made a difference and my daughters.

What do you do personally to stay in shape?

Yoga, GRAVITY, Cardio and whenever possible, though not very often, I surf

When Yoga Hurts Instead of Heals

Reposted with permission from GaiamLife’s blog via Jill Miller.
Pain, numbness, tingling? Do any of these describe the feelings you have when you come out of an asana? Please heed these warnings! Not all yoga poses are safe for all people. Just follow expert yoga teacher Patricia Sullivan’s story in the October 2010 issue of Yoga Journal. She painfully details a journey of denial in which her headstand caused (yes, caused) crippling nerve pain that eventually culminated in her falling asleep at the wheel and driving off the road into a lagoon.

At last Patricia had a doctor examine her and they found “extensive damage, including a reversed cervical curve, disk degeneration, and bony deposits that were partially blocking nerve outlets.” By her own admission, “my longing to excel both in my asana practice and as an asana teacher had led me to ignore my body’s signals and cries for relief.”

Asana addictions

Patricia had to relearn how to use her entire body and come to terms with her mind, heart and ego. The benefits of headstand were so powerful that they seemed to outweigh the daily pain she suffered. Like an addict “jonesing” for a hit of headstand, she could not see past the benefits to the negatives it wrought on her body. But until she literally “bottomed out” in the lagoon, she was unwilling to give up her “monkey.”

She is definitely not alone in this journey; I have been “addicted” to poses that damaged my body. A love of “drop backs” into the wheel pose from standing upright destabilized one of my spinal vertebrae six years ago. I happily NEVER do them anymore. Before I destabilized my back, I could not imagine practicing without finishing up with my coveted “drop backs.” How ironic that the “drop backs” caused my back to drop!

In surveying my last Yoga Tune Up® teacher trainees, several raised their hands when I asked the question, Has yoga hurt you? Two of them admitted that constant ringing in their ears has been caused by excessive time spent in shoulderstand and plow poses. They rationalized the EXACT same way as Patricia … the “benefits” outweighed the “negative effects.” Another admits that despite constant sciatic pain, he cannot give up doing long held forward bends.
What are we doing to ourselves if yoga hurts?

With yoga’s enormous popularity, injuries are occurring more than ever. If we hope to enjoy a pain-free lifelong practice, then we must take some precautions. All teachers and practitioners must educate themselves about what the poses are doing physically to a body. So many “traditional” poses cause extreme joint torque, shearing and weakening of soft tissues, and their effects need to be understood through a biomechanical lens. As yoga teachers, we need to responsibly analyze the positional peculiarities on a student-by-student basis and be truthful with our students if we feel a pose is inappropriate for them. As students, we need to listen to our body’s signals and not push past a point that continues to give us unresolved pain. We need to take an honest look at the poses that still cause pain while we are in them, and reach out to professionals who can help us to understand what we are actually doing to ourselves.

There are multiple Yoga Therapy schools (including my own, Yoga Tune Up®) that have been gaining in popularity over the past two decades. These schools of conscious movement vary in the types of practices they offer — some are more meditative in focus, others more biomechanically based, but all offer a home for practitioners to build new approaches towards practicing yoga. The International Association of Yoga Therapists is an organization that exists to help create a greater discourse about the therapeutic applications of yoga in the world.

What to do if yoga hurts:

1) Admit you are in pain

2) Seek out a healthcare professional; get the x-rays or MRI if needed!

3) Follow the healthcare professional’s protocol

4) Seek out a qualified Yoga Therapist

5) Listen carefully to your body as you build a new practice, and refrain from doing any pose that your body is not prepared for.

Patricia has completely revamped her approach to headstand. Yes she does still practice headstand, but she has created multiple variations where her head never touches the ground. BRAVO!

I practice loads of creative core work called Core Integration to keep my spine happy and strong.

And my students (now licensed YTU Teachers) have discontinued their shoulderstand practice and have fallen in love with a safe alternative, Veeparita Korani Mudra.

What will you do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yogic Under-Armor: Uddiyana Bandha in 3 Easy Steps

Reposted with permission from Jill Miller’s Yoga Tune Up Blog

1. Begin in Ardha Savasana (half-corpse pose) with both feet planted on the floor about 18 inches away from the buttocks. Raise the arms overhead as you slowly inhale pulling the spine off the floor, bone by bone. The inhale ends when the hips are lifted as high as possible and the back of the arms contact the floor.

2. Remain here during an explosive rapid exhalation, keep the lungs vacant of any breath whatsoever, and release any abdominal tension. Leave the arms resting overhead on the ground, and slowly lower the spine back down into Ardha Savasana, allowing the plunger-like suction to form at the base of the lungs as the diaphragm is drawn towards its vacuum. Uddihyana Bandha forms quite naturally without any strain.

3. Once the pelvis touches down, the arms quickly reset themselves to Step #1, and a new cycle of inhalation begins.

For more “under-armor” explorations, check out my classic Core Integration video. Or come to any of my Yoga Tune Up® Core workshops and I’ll help in person!

How to Get Really, REALLY Strong Abs: Develop Yogic Under-Armor

(Reprinted with permission from GaiamLife’s original post via Jill Miller)

Abs are a hot topic. Always. Core strengthening videos and equipment are the number one biggest-selling item in the fitness category year after year. They run the gamut, from core-based exercise genres like Pilates to midnight infomercial Ab-based brands.

The insatiable market for our “navel gazing” has spurred new science and research about the muscles of the core/spine, and much of the new findings steer us away from the six-pack and towards a more holistic view of the core. Core-conscious pioneers like Dr. Stuart McGill and his “abdominal bracing” methods have helped to evolve core conscientiousness to the next level. His powerful studies suggest we need to involve more trunk muscles to strengthen the core and protect our spines.

Core controversy

Yet still, there seems to be a missing link in all this core commotion. One of the deepest under-armor muscles of the core is often left out of the conversation: the diaphragm. Yogic practices revere this muscle because of its governance over our breath. Let’s take a look at what else it can do, starting with a controversy that my abdominal diaphragm created over at Yoga Journal:

More than a decade ago, I was featured in a Yoga Journal Magazine article entitled “Forget 6-Pack Abs.” The article introduced the concept that abdominals need to be flexible in order to be strong and that the breathing muscles, especially the abdominal diaphragm, were a major part of core stability and mobility. Author Fernando Pages Ruiz mentioned the seldom-pictured yogic abdominal arts of Uddihyana Bandha(diaphragm stretch) and Nauli Kriya (lateral abdominal churning). Happily for me, my diaphragm and abdomen absolutely loved practicing these internal abdominal moves and I landed my first modeling gig!

The images were so startling and bizarre that one reader wrote a letter to the editor the following month claiming that the magazine must have digitally altered my core, as the images seemed “strikingly unrealistic.” The magazine made a statement that the images were not digitally enhanced, and my gracious teacher at the time, Ana Forrest (who dazzles with her internal abdominal abilities), also wrote in to “defend” the authenticity of my abdominals.

Core confusion

When viewing Nauli or Uddihyana Bandha for the first time, the mind is totally confused by the seeming “disappearance” of the “normal appearance” of the core. Typically we see the shape of the outside of the body, and these under armor practices illuminate the feelings, motions and activations of the inside. They require the ability to control the abdominal diaphragm not only as a breathing muscle, but also as a structural muscle of the body. No easy feat!

Mobilizing and awakening the abdominal diaphragm is vital because it is so central to the whole body. The majority of the dome-shaped muscle attaches to the lower six ribs like a giant internal parachute. Its bottom strands attach to the front of the low-back spine and the psoas and quadratus lumborum muscles (spinal stabilizers). The top of the diaphragm is literally a seat for the sack of connective tissue around the heart.

Breathing affects the shape and tone of the core because the diaphragm is directly adhered to many abdominal muscles and its organs. When breathing in deeply, the diaphragm contracts and the abdominal muscles and visceral contents balloon out. When breathing out, the diaphragm relaxes and stretches back up toward the lungs, and the gut balloon deflates. Typically we are unaware of this process, as breath is an automatic function in the body. But we also have the ability to consciously control the breath and to create breathing patterns that impact the nervous system and the structural health of the under-armor — this innermost abdominal layer.

Core commitment

Carefully crafted diaphragm work is not nearly as well known as other core-centric models. But when skillfully applied to work along with the abdominal and spinal muscles that Dr. McGill and others champion, the core is phenomenally integrated. These yogic practices help us to find the internal connections between the diaphragm and all of the muscles of the core, an important consideration when trying to rehabilitate the spine. Develop the stretch, strength and continuities of the diaphragm to its full potential and your core will be more powerful than ever!

Go on an archaeological dig beyond the 6-pack to find and locate your own under-armor and innermost abdominal diaphragm. Feel for yourself how much more interconnected you become to your own core.