Let’s Talk Poses: Part Two – Uddiyana Bandha

People often ask me how to engage their core and make their backs strong and healthy.  I guess it sort of comes with the territory as a chiropractor and a yoga therapist.  Many yogis often just opt for the rote response.

“Uddiyana bandha.”

Well, I’m not many yogis.  So let’s have a good old fashioned anatomy satsang and talk about the back and uddiyana bandha to dispel some myths and share some truths.  This is a tricky topic and I know I’m gonna ruffle some feathers with this one, but that’s okay with me.  I kinda like doing that to be honest!  LOL.

Belly Lock

Uddiyana bandha

Uddiyana bandha, a.k.a. the belly lock, is traditionally an energetic practice to “create an upward lifting flow of prana.”  It is has been taught in Yoga throughout the ages and can be found in texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita, which states that it is “the lion to the elephant of death.”  Pretty powerful stuff!  From an energetic perspective, it is a given fact that there are many relevant ways that uddiyana techniques are helpful for the practitioner in how he/she works with the nadis and energy centers.

Yet, many people today in yoga and fitness use uddiyana bandha as a way to engage the core.  They hallow the stomach and bring it in and up in an effort to stabilize the back.   Why?  Because a teacher taught it to someone whose teacher taught it to them whose teacher taught it to them, back to time immoreal.  And since the stomach muscles are actually doing something for a change it must be supporting the back, right?

Not so fast yogis!!!

The current research in the world of evidence-based sports medicine and rehabilitative therapy does not support people engaging the core through uddiyana bandha.   It has now been repeatedly shown that the abdominal hallowing procedure, a.k.a. uddiyana bandha, was the most ineffective stabilization maneuver for control of spine motion and stability [when compared with abdominal bracing and a natural spine strategy] (Lederman, 2009).  In addition, it has been reported that “the instability of the hallowing position reduces the potential energy of the spinal column causing it to fail at lower applied loads” (McGill, 2009) and “there seems to be no mechanical rationale for using an abdominal hallowing…to enhance stability” (Grenier, 2007).

Why then, do so many in yoga and fitness teach and learn it this way?  Should we dare to change it?

When approaching paradigm shifting ideas like this, I take heed of the wise words of famous European Professor, Karel Lewit, M.D., D.Sc. who once said, “I am always aware of how many things which I taught in my long past have since been proved wrong.  The most important attitude is therefore to be constantly aware that what you are doing and teaching now you will have to modify and correct in view of new facts.  Thus, you must keep an open mind for new knowledge, even if it sometimes shows that what you believed and taught before was wrong.”

Dr. Lewit’s wisdom and inspiration in remaining ever-humble has often led me to take my own studies deeper.   Doing this brings forth even more new ideas and new ways of evolving myself and my teachings.

In light of the newest information and research, I now teach my clients and patients a procedure known as abdominal bracing to engage the entire core musculature, not uddiyana bandha.  I think they have been a lot safer because of it.  This combined with a sternal crunching maneuver that specially activates the upper abdominals and adds dynamic core muscle support to the back and can be quite a powerful combination in adding support for the spine.  When people ask me how to engage the core for back or spinal pain, this is often what I teach them.  For most, it will keep them stronger, more functionally coordinated and healthier long term.

So, the next time you teach or practice uddiyana bandha in a warrior 2 or add it into your warrior 3 or tell your students to do it to stabilize their back in a crescent pose…ask yourself the question of how it really feels in your body, back and spine.  The practice always begs that we do that as a sign that we are listening to ourselves, progressing our sadhana and growing beyond our patterns.

Check back to this blog in a little while to learn the abdominal bracing and sternal crunching techniques.  I look forward to sharing them with you.  O;-)  They may just change your entire practice!  They totally did for me!

References

Grenier, S. M. (2007). Quantification of Lumbar Stability by Using 2 Different Abdominal Activation Strategies. Archives of Physical Medical Rehabilitation , 54-62.

Lederman, E. (2009). The Myth of Core Stability. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies , 84-98.

McGill, S. P. (2009). Exercises for Spine Stabilization: Motion/Motor Patterns, Stability Progressions and Clinical Technique. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 118-126.

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Let’s Talk Poses: Part One – Chaturanga Dandasana

Why are we so in love with downward dog?   Why do we do vinyasas in some yoga classes 20, 30, even 40 times?  What’s the difference of standing with your feet together or hip distance apart?  Have you ever asked yourself questions like these before?

Those who know me can attest that I’m not really a fan of “rules” and that I often like to push the envelope a bit.  Call me crazy.  Funny enough, some actually do!  Yet, many times I find that by simply asking the obvious it has the potential to reveal very profound answers.  Personally, I believe the way that goodness evolves into greatness is through listening, asking and understanding at a deeper level.

So after listening to countless patients coming into see me for care complaining of issues that are directly and/or indirectly related to their yoga practice, I decided to create a list of a few poses that I believe need to be reframed or just done away with entirely due to their potential long term chronic harm from overuse, poor mechanics and/or being inefficient.  My goal in addressing these is lofty but practical.  Let’s keep people safer in yoga by observing Patanjali’s wisdom in the Yoga Sutras: Heyam dukham anagatam (Prevent the danger before it arises).

With that in mind, how about we start with a fan favorite…

Chaturanga Dandasana

Chataranga Dandasana

Need I say more? Probably the most stressful non-inversion position in all of hatha yoga due to the compromised tandem position of the shoulders and elbows.  Very few practitioners maintain the core strength and proper mechanics that is required to maintain safe form in a low sustained push-up.  Often, the shoulders dive too far in, the elbows lift or go too far back, the thoracic spine goes into hyperkypohosis/rounding and it strains the wrists contributing to the silent development of repetitive stress injuries like upper cross syndrome and carpal tunnel.  On the contrary, what also happens regularly in yogis, especially females, is that the chest collapses due to a lack of serratus anterior and/or pectoral muscle strength, the low back or neck goes into hyperlordosis, the core disengages and the neck and the shoulders get excessively strained.  Sound familiar?

Have you ever felt uncomfortable or a little pain in chaturanga or have had clients complaining about it?

The best form and instruction I’ve found on the internet is from Sadie Nardini, who demonstrates pretty solid mechanics, joint centration (where a joint maintains integrity by being stacked in another joint) and well-distributed, advantageous musculoskeletal angles.  While most people do not have the strength or, more importantly, the local muscle control to stabilize their bodies and perform this in the proper way, they often force themselves outside of their body’s limits and their form suffers.  Just look around the yoga room the next time the class goes into chaturangas and you’ll see it everywhere!  This becomes a feeding ground for poor mechanics and the development of dysfunctional postural patterns.  Plus, the repetitive nature of this pose causes the later chaturangas in a class to be even more dangerous and detrimental to the yoga practitioner than the beginning ones as fatigues sets in.  It perpetuates muscle patterning that leads to stress, cervical spine pain, headaches, scapular pain and overall discomfort in the mid-back, neck and shoulders.

In my opinion, the most sensible solution is for Yoga teachers and practitioners to start a revolution.  That’s where all great ideas come from!  People saying, “enough is enough.”

Try this on for size.  Let’s embrace proneasana as a community.  Lying down directly on the stomach.  It can be done relaxed or, to intensify it, perform it a la chaturanga except lower all the way to the floor maintaining core and leg support, a slow speed, good joint angles and a focus on controlled lowering and good form to make it a very strong eccentric deceleration exercise for the pecs and core.  This can ultimately be just as challenging as chaturanga and is a whole lot safer for probably 90 – 95% of people.

Heck, skip chaturanga altogether and be a yoga rogue!  I did that a few years ago and I can’t tell you how happy I am and how much healthier I believe my students are for it!  Recently, I even started “pushing the limits” and passing on the majority of vinyasas, too.  When teaching therapeutic flow, I commonly just release standing poses straight to downward dog like some of the more classical forms of physical-based Yoga.  Why do we do vinyasas in the first place?  To sweat?  And yoga’s about sweating, riiight?  Or, is it because the first Ashtangis came back from Mysore in the early 70s and said, “that’s how they do it in India.”  And everyone followed suit.

Well, it’s time for a change!

Don’t be afraid to try something new y’all…it’s very refreshing to do what feels good in yoga!

In future blog posts, I will discuss topics like warrior 1 Vs. crescent, how to do sternal crunching and abdominal bracing techniques for the back and core, yoga for common hip/glute dysfunctions, balancing and yoga, how to use props to mobilize the midback and neck, the mysteries of downward dog, foot placement in standing poses, an article on “yoga, kirtan and hip hop music,” plus a continuing series called Let’s Talk Poses.  It’s all pretty much written so please keep checking back in to look for new updates.

Some good content is coming up y’all!  Spread the word to your friends.

Let’s start a yoga revolution!

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How Yogis Made Chair Pose Dangerous

Utkatasana, a.k.a. chair pose, is one of the most standard postures in the Yoga room.  If you practice Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, or any kind of Power Yoga derivative, chances are you’re doing chair 5-10 times a class, if not more.  It is basically a modified squat and is one of those poses (like downward dog) that appears to be quite basic at first, but once you investigate it, the pose’s more advanced qualities become obvious and apparent.

Yoga Master B.K.S. Iyengar says in his famous Yoga bible, Light on Yoga, that Utkatasana develops the leg muscles evenly, strengthens the ankles and helps remove deformities in the legs.  Unfortunately, what I commonly see from other teachers and students of Yoga is a propagation of the classical form that can actually cause many injuries – whereas the application of a bit of modern sports medicine ingenuity might actually keep people a whole lot safer.  Ask yourself this question:

Why is it that in all other standing poses teachers stress stacking a joint on top of another joint (one of the fundamental biomechanical principles of stability), but in a chair pose all that gets thrown out the window?

The truth is this.  Women outnumber men in Yoga classes 72% to 28% according to Yoga Journal’s most recent demographic studies.  What’s more, numerous scientific studies have shown that women are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to have an injury of the ACL, otherwise known as the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee.  This ligament is sheared or damaged when your knee extends past your ankle, which is why many teachers tell you not to go past that point in Warrior 2’s and Side Angle poses.

So then why do most teachers teach chair pose with the knees diving waaaaay past the ankles adding to this deleterious effect on the ACL, especially for women?  Moreover, having the knees go so far forward further adds to the Western exercise world’s cosmetic fascination of making people more dominant in their quadriceps [in reference to their hamstrings] when all the research in the scientific and physical rehabilitation worlds says that we should be making people less quad dominant and more in touch with their glutes and hamstrings because they sit too much.

Still not convinced?  Try this…

If you do chair pose let’s say only 5 times a class, 4 classes per week then that’s over 1,000 chair poses you will do in 2011.  That’s a lot of chairs!  (Repetitive stress injury anyone?!?!?)

To help keep you and/or your clients safer, here’s how you can modify utkatasana:

1) Shift the weight into the heels and begin bringing to knees back behind the toes.  This will activate the posterior chain of muscles (i.e. the glutes and hamstrings) and cause them to take up more of the responsibility in this pose.  In talking with Dr. Craig Liebenson, team Chiropractor for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, he feels that about 50% of people with perfect form will actually be able to feel their glutes/hams working in a squat position like chair pose and 50% of the population will still feel only their quads because their neuromusculobiomechanical relationship is that compromised.  Just keep this in mind next time when doing/teaching chair and the fact that most people across the board won’t be able to get their knees directly over their ankles.  They will actually be about mid-foot and that would still be a MAJOR improvement!

2) Shift the hips back and stick out the butt more.  This will further load the posterior chain and will help encourage the knees to come back even more.  It’s an old adage that the knee is slave to the hip and that can be used here to benefit the body if that connection is better understood.

3) Keep the lumbar spine and pelvis neutral while engaging your core to support your low back.  That’s the first place that the stress of the pose will want to go as you shift your knees and hips back.  Do not do an anterior pelvic tilt…that will lead you down a slippery slope.  Apply a sternal crunch, brace the abdomen, lateralize the breathing and, as many Yogis in L.A. like to say, bring the front ribs toward the back ribs.

4) Loosen up the hips using other poses to make them more flexible.  An article that I pass out to the Yoga Therapy RX students at Loyola Marymount University when I teach their sections of hip and knee pathology is this one from the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy:

http://www.jospt.org/issues/articleID.2396,type.1/article_detail.asp

Among other great nuggets of wisdom, what the article details is that the body’s knee position and trunk flexion are intricately linked.  As your knees dive forward you are able to straighten up your torso more, a.k.a the classical Yoga chair position, and as your knees move back your torso will flex or bend forward a bit more.  This will feel strange at first, but the latter actually decreases quadriceps loading by almost 30% and will also decrease knee valgosity (where the knees fall toward one another at the centerline of the body) by more than 50%, which helps protect the MCL, the medial collateral ligament of the knee, too.  All good things!  Furthermore, loosening up the hips and making them more flexible will decrease the potential strain in attempting to try to lift up the torso because you will naturally want to try to straighten up to work the pose.  Hopefully, this additionally highlights why point #3 above dealing with the core is so important in protecting your back.  O;-)  Got it!

As the late great Pattabhi Jois famously said, “Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice.”  So rather than taking my word for it, go try some of these modifications now and see for yourself in your own body.

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Time for a New Look in your Home?

Whether you just moved to L.A., are going through a break-up, or simply want some new energy, buying new furniture can be both fun and overwhelming.  Here in Los Angeles, there are hundreds of furniture stores…so where does a yogi begin if he/she wants something unique and not mass produced?

The places listed below are a few of the locals’ best in L.A.  Definitely worth a field trip!  You will find top quality, artistic Indian pieces and you won’t get hit with a matching high Westside price tag.

1) SANSKRITI

Located off Sherman Way on the valley side of North Hollywood, this store is one of my favorites.  The owner, Viresh, is from just outside New Delhi and gives you the space to comfortably graze through his huge room of Indian treasures.  The range of products is perhaps the most intriguing feature about Sanskriti as you will find everything from ornate golden tables to antique carved dressers to nightstands with Hindu Gods and Goddesses painted on them.  His prices are the most fair in the city and you may even see his toddler son, Vijay, running around pulling the price tags off the pieces, which Viresh tells me is one of his son’s most favorite activities — much to his father’s dismay.  LOL.  www.sanskriticollections.com

2) SWEET SMILING HOME

If you didn’t know it was there you’d never know it was there!  Sweet smiling home is in the downtown arts district near where I-5 and I-10 meet.  It’s an enormous incognito warehouse that has Indian, Moroccan, Chinese and Indonesian pieces all in the same place.  Some stuff is more contemporary, some more classic…all of it is a real treat for those who delight in furniture from the eastern part of the world.  If you like the weathered, distressed Indian look, they have one of the top collections in all of Los Angeles.  Along with gorgeous beds and hip desks that would jazz up any room, they also have many dramatic items like human sized statues and a $20,000 gong.  Make sure to bring a sweater, too, if you go in the winter because it can be a little chilly.  O;-)  www.sweetsmilinghome.com

3) COTTAGE ART

Way out in Little India in Artesia, Cottage Art has a traditional bazaaresque feel.  Walking up to the store, you will encounter sari-laden fabric shops and sweet and spice restaurants adorning your path in every direction.  That’s why they call it Little India after all.  Once inside the store, head toward the back where there’s a secret room with a nice selection of Indian furniture.  While their choices aren’t as broad as the first two places, they are special all the same.  Plus, they have a fabulous array of Indian pillows in the front of the store along with little seen statues of Brahma and Hanuman.

No active website.  The address is 18619 South Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia.

4) TARA HOME

The closest in proximity to the yogi congregations on the Westside, Tara Home is easy to access off the La Cienega and Washington exit from I-10.  It’s right next door to Out of Asia (another amazing store to check out) where the Kali Klub held an event way back with DJ Cheb i Shabbah.  While the prices here are around double some of the others already mentioned, the furniture definitely has an air of quality that comes with that extra $$$.  Their pieces are more polished, more statement-oriented and definitely more like the Indian version of Pottery Barn.  It’s a store known by many of the locals that used to be located off Melrose and still has lots of great goodies that will bring beautiful new energy into your home…and make your bank account ponder the concept of emptiness.  www.tara-home.com

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Sri Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda Ki Jay!

At an honoring celebration fit for royalty, over 5000 Yogananda devotees from across the world gathered on Sunday in Pasadena to offer their final blessings to current Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) President, Sri Daya Mata.  Born Faye Wright to prominent Mormon parents in Salt Lake City, Daya Mata met Paramahansa Yogananda in 1931 while the great swami and writer of Autobiography of a Yogi was touring the United States doing lectures.

“As I stood at the back of the crowded auditorium,” said Daya Mata, “I became transfixed, unaware of anything around me except the speaker and his words.  My whole being was absorbed in the wisdom and divine love that were pouring into my soul and flooding my heart and mind.  I could only think, ‘This man loves God as I have always longed to love Him.  He knows God. Him I will follow.’“

SRF President

Regarded as one of the most inspiring yogis to ever come to America from India, Yogananda founded SRF and initiated thousands of people into the ancient technique of Kriya Yoga including famous botanist Luther Burbank, Ananda founder Swami Kriyananda and even Mahatma Ghandi.  His lessons on Kriya Yoga, Meditation and Spiritual Living are still offered by SRF through the mail and services led by his monks and devotees can be found on Sunday mornings all over the world.

An amazing orator, eloquent writer and uber-advanced God-realized yogi, Yogananda left his body in 1952 after taking maha samadhi at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  Following the 5-year tenure of Rajarsi Janakananda (SRF’s first President), Daya Mata took over and served for 55 years as President of SRF.

Yogananda’s mission in coming to the West was to unite the spiritual faiths under the same banner of Truth through love and the cultivation of peace.  Sri Daya Mata’s life served this mission and she emulated the beautiful selfless example of the ancient Guru-disciple relationship.  My own mother, a 35 year member of SRF, said to me recently about Sri Daya Mata, “She could’ve made it more about her, but what she was, was the perfect disciple.  Inspiring, humble and a follower of the teachings.  It wasn’t about her or about her interpretation of Yogananda’s teachings…it was all about her Guru.”

On the December day of this sacred gathering that would pay respect to Daya Mata’s life of service after her passing at the age of 94, the temperatures inexplicably rose to over 90 degrees in some parts of L.A. and it will go down as one of the warmest days winter days on record for Southern California.  Much like Yogananda’s body staying in perfect condition for 3 full weeks after his passing, this day showed something a bit special…like Nature was happy and was celebrating her life, too.  Love was literally in the air!

As Yogananda said to Daya Mata just before his passing, “When I am gone, only love can take my place.  Be so drunk with the love of God night and day that you won’t know anything but God; and give that love to all.”

Om Sri Sri Sri Daya Mata Ki Jay!

Jai Ma!!!

Self Realization Fellowship

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Fashion Vs. Function

I like to think that high heels were created by a man who was so in love with his lady that he conceived of a way to make her walk slower so he could appreciate her beauty longer.  Unfortunately, that’s probably not the case.  Many people believe high heels had to be created by a woman because they help women look taller and feel slimmer and often give them a feeling of confidence and grace.

A common unspoken side effect of high heels, however, is the discomfort that comes with them.  Many women find that at the end of a long day or night of wearing heels their low back, neck, hips, knees and ankles hurt more than if they had been at boot camp for a week.  But, as they say, the price of fashion always comes with fine print.

So, what can be done to solve this fashionista conundrum other than simply ditching the heels entirely?

1) Try to shorten the duration that you’re wearing your heels.  Do you need them all day or can you wear something else until that big meeting or huge first date where you need to dress to impress?

2) Take a micro break behind your desk at work or in the bathroom and stretch the bottoms of your feet to soothe your ankles or relax your back by bringing one knee to your chest at a time and holding for a few breaths.  Good old fashioned yoga on a toilet seat…the last proverbial untapped market in Yoga.  LOL.

3) Don’t wear heels every day.  A study released in July 2010 from the University of Vienna’s Centre of Sport Sciences found that wearing 2 inch heels or higher for 5 days a week shrinks a woman’s calf muscle by over 13% and increases the thickness of her Achilles tendons by almost double that.  Think about that for a second: smaller calves AND fatter, thicker ankles.  Not good.

4) Heed the advice of Team Manolo Blahnik on Corporette.com who state that 3” is the highest heel a woman can comfortably walk on.  So be bold and go with shorter heels, which is still super sexy to us dudes and your body will thank us both in the long run!  The shorter heel will allow your pelvis to feel more stable and it will decrease the overarching of your lower spine that causes extra compression in the low back joints and knots in the low back muscles.

5) Consider trying some of the latest technologically advanced heels designed to take the stress loads off your body like the fashionable Women’s YOU by Crocs, the ultra hip 925 technology line by Kenneth Cole, the Michael Jordan-esque Cole Haan Airs and the heels made by Taryn Rose, whose brand was actually co-designed by a podiatrist!

While this list may not get you into Jimmy Choo’s or Colleen Cordero’s anytime soon, they’ll keep your feet much happier and your shoe-related healthcare costs to a minimum.  Lucky for you, you’ll now have extra $$$ for a monthly foot massage or some other stop on the ultra pampered route.  O;-)  Enjoy!

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Get a Hand-le on Stress

Mr. Miyagi, one of the world’s most famous martial artists, shared a mystical Reiki-like healing technique with his student Daniel Laruso in the 1984 cult classic, The Karate Kid.  Miyagi was not the first hands on healer and he definitely won’t be the last.  People have been practicing hands on healing techniques for thousands of years by placing their hands over specific body parts to increase the flow of energy, life force and Qi.  It’s so simple, so calming, so profoundly soothing…and a great way to deal with stress!

Dating back to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, Indian Vedic holy books and the writings of many respected Judeo-Christian mystics, using the hands as a tool for healing is still  common today in health professions like Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Cranio Sacral and Massage Therapy.  Self-practice hands on healing techniques also pop up from time to time in Yoga classes.

Here’s how a common one goes down in the Yoga room…

After polishing off a stimulating practice, the class mellows a bit and the instructor has the Yoga students prepare for relaxation.  The class is led to vigorously rub their hands together and place them firmly over the eyes.  (Try it for yourself right now – but make sure to remove your hands after and keep reading.)

Oculo Cardiac Reflex

Chances are you feel a little more relaxed after you did that, right?  Well, here’s why.

There is a natural phenomena in our bodies called the oculocardiac reflex (OCR).  This organic reflex decreases the stress placed on our hearts.  Like the poems say, our eyes are the windows to our hearts…and this is quite literally the case with the OCR as the eyes and heart work together to bring the body into better balance.  Physically, you stimulate the OCR by placing light pressure with your hands over your eyeballs and on the muscles around the eyes.  This affects the cranial nerves and creates chemical changes in the body that naturally lower a person’s heart rate on average by 8 – 12 beats per minute.  Talk about instant relaxation!  Beat that Phizer!!!

Additionally, according to the Journal of the American Association of Integrative Medicine, “repeated use [of the oculocardiac reflex] is conducive to longevity.”  Longevity, otherwise known as the cumulative result of repeated healthy actions substituted for unhealthy ones, is the key ingredient in decreasing our overall stress levels and increasing our happiness levels.

Live longer and feel better?  Sign me up.  O:-)  And talk about bang for your buck!

Perform the hands-on OCR a few times mixed in with some deep breaths “in through your nose and out through your mouth” and you’re likely to feel a whole lot less stressed out in just under a minute.  Who needs coffee breaks anymore when you’ve got Yoga breaks instead?!?

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