Saturday, October 26, 2013

What's your stiffness to flexibility ratio?

There’s a simple fact of physics which applies to the human body: motion occurs where motion is available.  Ignoring this fact gets people into trouble in all walks of life from couch potatoes to elite athletes.  Relative stiffness and flexibility are especially important in yoga where we are looking for a balance between the two.  This concept was very simply and effectively explained to me by Shirley Sahrmann, one of the greats in the world of Physical Therapy.  She took two metal springs.  One was less stiff (a smaller spring to make it obvious) and the other was more stiff (a larger spring).  She linked the 2 springs together in series (end to end) and pulls on both ends.  Which spring deformed a greater distance?  Well it was the less stiff spring, of course!  Because it took less force to deform or stretch the less stiff spring, that is the one that moved first and most.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Key to Preventing Yoga Injuries? Better Professional Standards.

Do you ask permission before you give a "hands-on" assist?
by Kellie Adkins, MSc, E-RYT-500

Preventing yoga injury is of crucial importance and as yoga instructors, it is our responsibility to create a safe environment in which the practice of yoga takes place. However, the profession of yoga instruction is largely a group of independent specialists with few overarching professional practices or procedures for efficacious instruction. While this charming blend of stylistic innovation, lineage-based teaching, and psycho-spiritual-physical practices together give yoga such a broad therapeutic range, it is also the yoga industry’s Achilles heel.

Our job as yoga instructors is further complicated by the variation in how independent studios, gyms, health clubs, and healing centers are operated and whether or not we teach jam-packed group classes, small group, mixed level, or private classes. Where and how the class is marketed {i.e., a power yoga class v. a gentle class}, students’ ignorance about what postures they are healthy enough for and capable to perform, teachers’ ignorance about contraindications, and the lack of regularity between teaching venues {studios, gyms, health clubs} about how to collect health information on students and how to disseminate that information to instructors all create a perfect storm for yoga-based injuries.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Investigating the Benefits & Risks of Headstand: Part 3

Part 3 of a three part series on headstand

by Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD, RYT500

In part one of this series, we investigated the historical importance of headstand in yoga. In part two we examined the benefits of practicing headstand. In this final article of the series, we’re going to look at the potential downside to turning upside-down on your head.

1)  Degenerative damage to the cervical spine

Too much pressure on the small disks and facet joints of the cervical vertebrae may lead to wear and tear over time. Degenerative disk disease and facet joint arthritis may ensue, leading to chronic neck pain. There is no quality evidence that speaks to this. We do know that hips and knees are damaged by too much weight and that taking pounds of pressure off of them lessens pain and helps to prevent progression. It seems like common sense then, that turning upside-down and putting the body’s weight on other joints (smaller ones not designed for such a load) will also cause cartilage degeneration and arthritis.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Investigating the Benefits & Risks of Headstand: Part 2

Part 2 of a three part series on headstand.

by Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD, RYT500

In part one of this series, we investigated the historical importance of the headstand in yoga and learned that it is not mentioned in the classic triad of traditional yoga texts from centuries past. Although the texts describe various asanas and note when they are useful for the treatment of certain medical conditions, there’s no indication that yogis were doing sirsasana back then – or that it’s helpful for any particular condition.

Yet, if you read the various websites out there, just about everything is considered curable by sirsasana. I’ve searched the medical literature and the oldest reliable yoga works I can find in English, and I can’t figure out where they get some of that stuff.

If I had to guess, I would say that much of it originated with a favorite guru of mine, Swami Sivananda. He was a medical doctor, a prolific writer, and by many accounts, a great yogi and healer. He was ahead of his time – but a little behind ours. He died in the early 1960′s, before I was born, and medical science has advanced quite a bit since then.

So, let’s take a fresh look at some of the claims and see what health effects sirsasana may bring.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Investigating the Benefits & Risks of Headstand: Part 1

Part I of a three part series on headstand.  

by Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD, RYT500

A new student arrives to class. After a brief exchange of names, a conversation begins:

Teacher: Do you have any injuries or issues?

Student: No injuries, but, just to let you know, I don’t do the headstand.

Teacher:  Why not?

Student: I’m not comfortable with it, and I don’t think it’s important.

Teacher: Well, it IS important. You’re just not there yet.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Are You Practicing the Right Kind of Yoga for Your High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is extremely common in older adults.
Many doctors now recommend yoga to treat stress-induced high blood pressure. That's great, right? Yes and no. Yoga is a great way to calm the body and mind, but not all styles are created equal, and neither are all poses. Consider that few doctors understand the range of yoga styles on offer today, that the yoga community provides contradictory guidance on the relationship between yoga and high blood pressure and that high blood pressure is the leading risk indicator for stroke and heart disease, and it becomes clear that it's wise to proceed with caution. If you (or one of your students) have high blood pressure, read on to learn what you need to consider before reaching up into that first sun salutation.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Perspective - Safe Yoga for a Lifelong Practice

by Liz Lyons, RYT200

We are repeatedly told in asana practice (the physical practice of yoga) to “honor our bodies.” Because every body is different, preventing yoga injury means different things to different people at different stages. I have been practicing hot vinyasa yoga regularly for 15 years and hope to practice asana for the rest of my life. I turned 50 this year and, because of yoga, feel strong and healthy. Yet, some days my shoulders hurt. And my left knee, well, it’s just not exactly right. My lower back…kind of achy most mornings. A friend with whom I have practiced for many years wakes up every day with a painful hip. Yoga injuries? Maybe. I have come to believe that 15 years of a regular rigorous physical practice has taken a toll on my body, just as any long-term rigorous physical activity would.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, can I still do Yoga?

By Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD, RYT500

Sometimes our community members and website visitors write to us with specific questions about their medical condition and their yoga practice. We'll work to answer these questions on the blog as they come in.

"I have a condition not covered by the Index and need guidance. I have RA and it has destroyed my shoulder joints. I would love to do yoga again, but not sure what poses I can do that does not require use of arms. I can raise them no higher than chest level and have no strength for support. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated."

Yoga is wonderful therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), so taking up Yoga again is a great idea. At least three studies exist in the medical literature looking specifically at the effects of Yoga for RA. A small pilot trial at the University of California at Los Angeles revealed reduced pain, improved functional ability, and better mental health in RA patients after a few weeks of practice. The two other studies revealed similar results. No studies on record offer a dissenting view.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

5 Things You Must Do When Practicing Yoga with a Medical Condition

In 2012, we learned that it is, in fact, possible to be injured during yoga (asana) practice. We also learned the easy ways to avoid injury: don’t compete, be mindful, and listen to your body topped most lists. But what if you already have an injury or medical condition, and want to practice yoga? Is yoga still safe?

The answer is yes. You can still practice yoga even if you have a pre-existing medical condition, ailment or injury; you just might not be able to do every pose. Simply modifying a pose can often accommodate a yoga contraindication. But some more serious medical conditions – like stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease and glaucoma - require you to avoid certain poses to ensure a safe practice. Whether you’re a yoga pro recovering from a car accident or a total newbie with a history of high blood pressure, these five essential tips will help you work around your ailment and maintain or begin a safer yoga practice.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Can Yoga Cause Hernias? Probably.

A few types of hernias
Do you remember to (or are you able to) breathe in every pose? Especially the poses that engage your core to lift your body weight? If not, you’re straining, and creating pressure in your body. If you have any weak spots in the tissues of your abdominal cavity, then you could end up with a hernia. Here’s what you need to know to make sure that doesn’t happen, or to work around a hernia you might already know you have.

 1) What is a hernia and how do you get one? 

A hernia occurs when the outer tissue of an organ, or the organ itself, pushes through an opening or weak area in the muscle and tissue of the abdominal wall. Hernias can affect various parts of the body, but most occur in the abdominal area. Some can be painful and are often visible as a lump that forms where the protrusion occurs.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Lock Your Knees!" - What NOT to do During Your Yoga Class

“Lock your knees!” was the firm directive from my Yoga teacher. I’d decided to attend class in a new style, to try something different from the smorgasbord of modern brands. I enjoy keeping an open mind, knowing that various styles can do the same asanas in just a little different way. There’s usually no real “right” or “wrong.” What works for some body types and Yoga traditions doesn't work for others.

Staying open to the newness and variety of modern Yoga can invigorate a practice that may feel stale, but it’s important to retain awareness of proper biomechanical technique within each exploration – even if that means not following the advice of a new teacher.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

3 Things You Must Do to Keep Your Knees Safe in Yoga

Here's two important things to consider: 1) The knees are engaged by a majority of yoga asanas and 2) knee injuries and pain are one of the most common joint issues reported by patients to their doctors. What does that mean for your yoga practice? Simple, you should educate yourself about knee safety. Here's a few tips for protecting your knees or working around an existing injury.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Avoiding Injury in Yoga Forward Bends: the YogAlign Method

YogAlign Standing Forward Bend
My work with YogAlign clients who present chronic pain is showing that the global body positions we engage to perform a majority of yoga asanas goes against the structural tension balance (bio-tensegrity) and shock absorbing forces needed to maintain the structure and natural alignment design of our human body. With the injuries and repetitive strains that are commonplace in the yoga world today, it is imperative that we reconsider and shift some of the basic biomechanics in yoga poses to serve posture, not poses. My work has shown that if a pose does not serve how we move and use our body in real life or accommodate deep rib cage (diaphragmatic) breathing, then it can and will contribute to long term strains and possible joint damage that are leading to hip and knee joint replacements in famous yoga teachers and long term practitioners.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Got Acid Reflux? Here's 3 Tips to Keep Your Yoga Practice Comfortable

Yoga causes heartburn? Must be all of those heart-opening asanas, right? Unfortunately, no, it might actually be causing you or your students heartburn if you come to class with pre-existing acid reflux. Here's what you need to know to work around it and ensure a comfortable practice.

What is it? 

Acid reflux occurs when the muscle that prevents stomach contents from re-entering the esophagus is weak or fails to close tightly enough. Stomach acid and contents can leak up into the esophagus and cause a burning sensation in the chest (commonly known as heartburn), nausea and the feeling that something is stuck in the throat. If left untreated, it can cause damage to the esophagus.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Osteoporosis and Forward Bends: New Research Suggests Need for Caution

By: Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD, RYT500

There’s a doc at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota who studies how movement affects bones. She wants to heal weakened bones naturally with exercise instead of drugs. Cool, right?
Dr. Sinaki promotes weight-bearing movements of the body. Working against gravity induces bones to thicken and become stronger. She also emphasizes exercises that extend the back (back bends) to build bone strength in the spine. These exercises are most helpful for those who suffer from osteoporosis, a disorder of gradually thinning bones that leads to an increased risk of painful fractures.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

3 Essential Tips for Protecting Your Wrists in Yoga

Wrist pain and weakness is something I experienced frequently in the beginning of my yoga practice. Supporting your body weight on one arm in side plank or taking flight in crow requires one to develop substantial strength and flexibility in the complex joint of the wrist. Maybe you've already felt the aching, or even a little pop? Read on for tips for preventing injury to your wrists or working around an injury you already have.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

From Yoga Injury to Yoga Evolution: the Creation of YogAlign

Downward Dog - YogAlign style
Yoga injuries have been on my mind for two decades, ever since I suffered a painful knee injury in a bound half lotus standing forward bend. My name is Michaelle Edwards, and I have been a student of yoga for forty years and a yoga teacher, posture educator and body worker for over twenty-five years. I was fortunate to study with Swami Satchidananda in 1972 and I have also studied the Iyengar and Ashtanga traditions in depth.

I play hard in the ocean in Kauai, surfing, wind surfing, swimming and sailing, and I decided in 1988 to learn Ashtanga yoga, to go beyond the Iyengar inspired practice I had cultivated for years. I was entranced by the challenge and convinced that this practice would take me to Samadhi. Boy, was I wrong. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Protecting Your Neck During Yoga Practice

When we practice Yoga, it’s important to use proper technique to avoid self-injury. In particular, it’s imperative to protect the neck. 

Any Yoga pose in which you bend the neck backwards into extension can produce pain and injury if care is not taken. Bhujangasana (cobra), one of my favorite poses, is an example. Some Yoga styles throw the head back to an extreme. That’s not wise. A gentle look up to the ceiling is good – looking at the wall behind you is not so good. Be sure to maximally extend your upper back before you extend the neck. Maintain a little muscle tension in the front of the neck if you can. These things will help to spread the arching movement evenly over the spinal segments involved and will lessen the likelihood of compressing nerves.