Your Spine & Backbends

A healthy spine is the key to a vibrant life. Yogis, Osteopaths, Chiropractors, and many doctors agree that you are as young as your spine is flexible. Unfortunately, back pain has become an epidemic in our culture. This is mainly due to poor posture, weak back musculature, and limited movement in the spine.

The spine has a few critical functions. First, it is your central column of support. It stabilizes your body and holds you up against gravity. Building strength in the muscles that sleeve your spine is important to support good posture, keep you powerful during life’s activities, and prevent injury.

Your spine also houses your spinal cord. Think of it this way – your brain is not just in your head. You have so much brain that it flows all the way down your spine. Nerve endings exit from every one of your spinal bones called vertebras. This system, called your central nervous system, is the highway that carries information to every cell, muscle fiber, and organ in your body. A fluid spine is key for a clear road of communication throughout your body – an open pathway for oxygen and nutrients to flow.

But these days, many people’s spines are rigid, posture is rounded forward, and core is weak. I have good news for you – backbends are one of the antidotes! When you have back pain, it seems counterintuitive to do a backbend. But in reality, it is backbends that will help you strengthen your back muscles, improve the mobility of the bones of your spine, and promote the health of the discs that lie between each spinal vertebra. It is the opposite of the way you spend most of your day. Of course, like anything else, backbends need to be done correctly to be beneficial.

Let’s take a look at your spine. You may notice that you have the most mobility in your lower back (lumbar spine) and your neck (cervical spine). Interestingly enough these are the places you may commonly experience pain. Pain is often a symptom of lack of stability.

Your lumbar spine is meant to be stable and 
carry the load of your body as you move through the world. In general we move too much in the lower back simply because we have more access to it. It doesn’t have all those ribs attached to it! The lumbar spine relies on support from deeper postural core muscles like transverse abdominis and multifidus to create stability. These crucial postural muscles tend to be weak.

Your middle back, called the thoracic spine, is meant to move in many directions: forward, backwards, laterally, and it rotates. Unfortunately it is often locked down and doesn’t move enough. A rounded upper back and forward head position is common because life happens in front of you: sitting in front of a computer, behind the wheel, cooking, caring for children, you name it, most things in life are a culprit.

BENEFITS OF BACKBENDS:

  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens back muscles
  • Opens chest and shoulders
  • Stretches respiratory diaphragm
  • Helps you breathe better
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Counters depression
  • Clears mind and opens heart
  • Boosts energy
  • Alleviates fear
  • Aids in overcoming emotional challenges

Please consider joining me for my next workshop, Build A Healthy and Strong Backbend.

Backbends are empowering! All backbends are rooted in Bhujangasana, Cobra Pose. Learning to skillfully perform a deeper cobra, with strength and support first, is the key to bending evenly and feeling better in your backbends. This is where the fancier poses begin.

If you are intimidated by backbends, this will be a great opportunity for you to focus on your spine and improve your posture. It’s more about YOU and less about any of the poses! If you already backbend with ease, this workshop will help you refine your backbends. You will learn to stabilize your spine where you move too much, and mobilize the places where you don’t move enough.

For everyone, this will help you create a sustainable practice to last throughout your lifetime. And who knows, once you learn the basics, you may just get into that advanced backbend you have been struggling with. 

 

 

 

 

 

Get To Know Your Diaphragm

Modern life seems to move more quickly than our biology can handle. Between media, traffic, and the pressures of work and life responsibilities, most of us spend a lot of time in ‘fight or flight’ stress response. This activates your sympathetic nervous system which dumps adrenaline into your blood stream. The result inhibits cortisol production, weakens the immune system, and sets the body up for dis-ease. Argh, I am getting stressed out just thinking about it!

Take a deep breath into your belly… exhale… ahhh, that’s better! Belly breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is sedating and calming. It releases growth hormone to repair injured tissue, regulates cortisol, and brings the body back to a balanced and soothed state.

Breathing is an unconscious process. Many of us breathe in a stress response pattern that eliminates the belly and diaphragm. This shallow breathing pattern which recruits the chest and upper shoulder muscles: (pectoralis minor, upper trapezius, levator scapulae, sternocleidomastoid, scalene, and subclavicular) keeps us in a panic. Belly breathing can reduce stress, induce sleep, and help create a new normal for the body.

Courtesy of bandhayoga.com

Courtesy of bandhayoga.com

Get To Know Your Diaphragm
Your respiratory diaphragm is a central and essential to healthy breathing.  The diaphragm is located in the bottom of the rib cage separates and the abdominal and chest cavities. It is a dome shaped muscle that flattens toward the abdomen when you inhale and expands back up toward your heart when you exhale.

When your diaphragm is tight and restricted it can limit a healthy breathing pattern. Like other muscles in your body the diaphragm benefits from being strengthened and stretched. Also, it’s intimately connected to your psoas muscle so it can even be part of the culprit of lower back pain. By releasing your diaphragm your can align your rib cage over your pelvis and soften the pull of the deep hip flexors and tight abdominal organs and muscles. You may even free your lower back!

The benefits of a healthy diaphragm are numerous. A more easeful breathing pattern brings nourishment to your whole body, increases your energy, and regulates your stress hormones.

Try This Breathing ExerciseFullSizeRender
Lay on your back with your sacrum flat on the floor and a small natural curve in your lower back. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Let’s call this Ardha Savasana.

Place a soft, pliable weight such as a bag of rice or a sand bag over your belly button. As you inhale into your belly meet the weight. As you exhale let the weight drop into you. Your diaphragm has to work harder to move toward your abdomen because of the weight. When you exhale the weight helps it to release and restore.

Breathe here for about 5 minutes then remove the weight and rest another 2 minutes. Notice the effects.

Note
You may need to start with less weight. A yoga prop sandbag is 10 pounds. You can find a bag of rice that weighs 2 pounds. If you experience pain or discomfort remove the weight.

Let me know about your experience in the comments below.

 

Happy Feet

Many of the discomforts in our body begin with our feet. As you walk, your foot, which could be thought of as a sense organ, finds the ground and sends messages to the rest of the body how to support your movement. This function is limited because we put our feet in shoes and walk along paved streets when our bodies were built to run barefoot on the earth.

Whether or not you have foot pain, fallen arches, bunions, toes that don’t spread, or you wear high heel shoes, this one simple exercise will help you open and increase blood flow in your foot, loosen tight calves and hamstrings, and allow your foot to ground more completely. 

What To Do:
1. Get yourself a “pinky ball.”
2. Step down on it with your heel, slowly move the ball 1/4 inch at a time toward your toes. Stay 30 seconds in each spot.
3. You can regulate how much weight you put down on it. Work it in to the intense spots over time.
4. Make your way from your heel to your toes and back massaging the bottom of your foot and stretching it over the ball like bird perched on a branch.
5. Massage the second foot.

Not only will this open up your feet, but since the body is one interconnected web of facia it may begin to open the back of your legs, spine, and even your neck.  And, since in reflexology the foot is a microcosm for the whole body, rolling your foot can help to bring greater balance to your health and well-being.

If this is painful I encourage you to stick with it. After about a week of daily foot massage it won’t be so intense and you will feel the difference. Please let me know how it goes for you in the comments below. For more foot and leg relief check out this post

Pinky-ballfoot-massage

Wrist Relief

Nothing upsets me more than seeing and hearing negative posts about yoga in the media. It is frustrating to me because pain and injury in yoga can completely be avoided if you know what you are doing. That said, you need to go to take the time to learn about your body and choose teachers who educate you about how to do the postures and take care of yourself.

As a yogi it is up to you to take responsibility for your body and your practice. Together let’s keep yoga’s reputation intact.

Wrist pain is one of the common complaints in yoga classes.  Here’s how you can avoid it.

Photo by: yogabycandace.com

1. Place the foundation of your hands clearly and stay rooted through the finger prints, the knuckles – especially the index knuckle, and keep a lift in the center of the palm. Avoid collapsing into the heels of your hands.

2. Practice working your fingers more by clawing the floor and strengthen your forearm muscles.  By learning to lift and engage from the arch of  your palm all the way up your arms and into your upper back you will build strength and create a lift and buoyancy away from the pull of gravity.

3. Make sure your mat is not to soft or cushiony. If you are practicing on carpet get yourself a wooden board or a bamboo mat to place under your yoga mat for firmer support.

4. If you have an injury, let the tissue heal first. Build strength gradually without trying to bear all of your weight. Add weight slowly over time. In the meantime modify by using a slight lift under the heels of your hands, on your forearms, and stay away from bending your wrists to 90°.

Check out my FREE VIDEO, Yoga Anywhere! Relief For Your Wrists