8 yoga poses to help alleviate lower back pain
The prop wall in a yoga studio can often be overwhelming and intimidating. There are straps, blankets, blocks, bolsters and…sand bags. These 10 lb bags are often neglected in class but can be versatile and heighten the effects of a pose. In addition to being soothing, they can be used to add a little extra weight to encourage a deeper opening in certain poses and help you let go of resistance. Before I explain how to use them, I wanted to touch on why they are soothing in certain poses.
In hospitals and psychiatric care, weighted blankets are used to provide input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body. Deep pressure touch stimulation (DPTS) has been found to have beneficial effects in a variety of clinical settings (Barnard and Brazelton 1990, Gunzenhauser 1990). Deep pressure touch helps the body relax by mimicking a firm hug or swaddling. The weight helps us feel secure and grounded. In fact, DPTS helps encourage the production of Serotonin, a hormone that induces a more peaceful and happier state of mind. Weighted blankets have been popular in treating ADHD, autism, insomnia, anxiety, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Below are a few ways to use sandbags:
- In seated bound angle pose (badha konasana), bring the soles of your feet together and place sandbags on your knees to help open the inner thigh and inner hip muscles without resistance.
- Increase lung capacity and soothe breathing problems during pranayama or savasana by placing a sandbag on your abdomen while lying on your back.
- Place a sandbag on the bottom of your feet in legs up the wall (viparita karani) to stabilize your legs and provide extra support and weight.
- Soothe your psyche, back ad hips by placing a bag on your lower back during child’s pose (balasana).
- Place a sandbag on your thighs near your waist in seated staff pose (dandasana) to help you root down as you lengthen the spine.
- Quiet the mind and the brain in Savasana by placing a sandbag on your forehead as well as a block at its highest height behind your head.
Next time you are in class-go and grab one. Feel the difference.
At birth we are born with a primary curve spine shaped in a C that lacks the cervical and lumbar curve. As we begin lifting our head and gaining strength in our neck muscles our cervical spine develops into the arch we have today. Our lumbar curve follows shortly after. Recently, I have been seeing more and more cervical spines that have been flattened due to poor posture, and possibly too much time in-front of a computer. This can result in a Flat Back, Sway Back and Kephotic/Lordotic have a degree of excessive forward curve of the upper back that results in the "dead weight" of the head being perched out over the chest instead of on top of the shoulders, squarely supported by the spinal column. In this forward position, the head's center of gravity lies ahead of the neck's base of support — the top of the thoracic spine. This is like holding an 8 to 10 pound bowling ball several inches out in front of you, instead of holding it close to your body. Ouch! But have no fear-below are a few yoga postures that can help to strengthen the muscles around the neck, lengthen the pectoral muscles and strengthen your mid and upper back. Make sure that while you do them that you pull your shoulders away from your ears as well as tilt your chin down slightly rather than stick it out.
This is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she finally comes to the edge of a cliff she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds onto the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth and enjoys it thoroughly. Pema Chodron’s, “The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness,”
Chodron explains that “this is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life. “
For those who have found the "lazy days of summer" eluding them and feel more rundown then usual you may be experiencing adrenal fatigue. Adrenal Fatigue happens when your adrenal glands cannot adequately meet the demands of stress. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and mobilize your body's responses to every kind of stress (whether it's physical, emotional, or psychological) through releasing two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. They regulate energy production and storage, immune function, heart rate, muscle tone, and other processes that enable you to cope with stress.
The most common symptom of adrenal fatigue is exhaustion that is not relieved by sleep. You may look and act relatively normal with no obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of tiredness or "gray" feelings. Often having to use coffee and other stimulants to get going in the morning and throughout the day. Other common symptoms are:
- You feel tired for no reason
- You have trouble getting up in the morning
- You fel rundown or overwhelmed
- You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness
- You crave salty and sweet snacks
- You feel more energetic and awake after 6pm
Our feet are pretty amazing. They account for 25% of the bones in our body and have over 250,000 sweat glands. They take us where we need to go and give us mobility and freedom of movement. The feet are among the first indicators of disease. For instance, ailments like nerve and circulatory disorders as well as diabetes and arthritis tend to show the first symptoms at the feet. They may become numb or have a tingling sensation. Only a very small percentage of people are born with foot problems but in their lifetime millions are affected by foot problems. The reason for this is wear and tear as well as unhealthy habits and poor foot care. Yoga poses increase muscle tone and stretch foot muscles and connective tissue. Creating and maintaining muscle tone in the feet will improve overall foot health. Bringing flexibility and strength to the feet, toes and ankles can lead to overall better health and alignment for the body. Any pose that strengthens the lower leg muscles and feet will help improve foot problems as well as increase circulation, reduce leg cramping, help reduce swollen ankles, and create stability in the body. Listed below are a number of specific yoga poses that benefit the feet.
Virasana stretches the top of the foot and ankle while toning the sole of the foot. This pose is very therapeutic for flat feet as strengthening the muscles in the feet helps recreate the arches. Virasana also, over time, reconstructs the alignment of the tarsal bones by having pressure on the tops of the feet and allowing the toes to spread.
Vajrasana has many of the same benefits of Virasana as it helps to recreate or maintain healthy arches, increase flexibility in the ankle as well as reconstruct the alignment of the tarsal bones.
Baddha Konasana-Cobbler Pose
Baddha Konasana is a great pose for feet. While in Baddha Konasana pressing the four corners of the feet together and drawing the toes away from each other strengthens the foot muscles and activates the arches.
Squat with Toe Stretch (knees on floor)
Kneeling with the toes tucked under is a great way to stretch the bottom of the feet. This can be a very intense stretch for beginners as it breaks up tension in the sole of the foot.
Squat (knees up, heels on floor)
Squatting with the knees up strengthens the muscles of the feet, toes and lower legs which help the overall health of the feet.
Adho Mukha Svanasana-Downward Facing Dog
Adho Mukha Svanasana is another great pose for the feet. The feet muscles are working as your arches lift, while stretching the soles of the feet. By lengthening the plantar muscles and fascia the downward extension of the heel to the floor will develop with time.
All Standing Poses-especially Tadasana,-Mountain Pose
It is important to pay attention to the foot alignment and muscle tone in all yoga poses, especially during standing poses when the feet are not only the foundation of the pose, but also the connection to the earth grounding us energetically. Standing poses emphasize establishing a firm base of support through the legs so the spine can be relaxed, light, and free. To create proper foot alignment, evenly distribute your weight between the big toe mound, the baby toe mound, the inner heel and the outer heel. Allow the toes to spread forming a firm foundation and complete support system for your body to maintain health as well as create good posture and a firm foundation for all yoga poses.
Viparita Karani-Legs up the wall
Legs up the wall will restore energy and oxygen to the legs and feet as it allows blood and lymph fluid that has pooled in the feet and ankles throughout the day to flow back into the body.
Other exercises for the feet
Listed below are a few other exercises for the feet to help wake up the feet, allow them to come alive and become more responsive to the more challenging yoga poses involving foot action. These are also a gentle way to work through some of the years of tension held in the feet.
Toe strengtheners can increase flexibility, muscle tone and control of the toes. From standing, drawing the big toe up and pressing the four little toes down. Draw the four little toes up while pressing the big toe down. Draw the big toe and baby toe up as you press the three middle toes down. Draw the three middle toes up while pressing the big toe and baby toe down. Singling out each toe to act as individual entities can be extremely challenging and frustrating.
Point and Flex Foot
From Dandasana, point the toes away from the body and flex the foot by drawing the toes towards the body. This creates mobility in the ankle as well as strengthening the muscles of the feet and ankle.
Slowly take the ankle in circles in both directions clockwise and counter-clockwise. This can be done from sitting in a chair, seated on the floor or standing. This action stretches and strengthens the foot and ankle muscles while maintaining mobility in the ankle and foot joints.
Interlace Fingers between Toes
From a seated position, interlace your fingers between your toes. This stretches the muscles of the toes and allows them to spread. This action can be very challenging for some people due to confining shoes.
Tennis ball roll
Roll the entire sole of the foot on a tennis ball. This helps to warm up the feet as well as breaking up any tension being held in the feet. This exercise also accesses many important pressure points on the sole of the foot. The gentle pressure on the muscles and connective tissue can relieve tension and regain fluidity.
Picking up marbles with your toes
By using your toes to pick up marbles not only strengthens the foot muscles but also promotes the use of using toes as individual entities as opposed to a group.
Give your feet the love and attention they deserve, your whole body will thank you.
Gabriel Halpern is also coming to NYC July 25th and 26th for a workshop called: Sharpening The Edge of Your Practice and THE NECK: Bridging the Gap Between the Chest & the Brain. Both look amazing and should not be missed. Gabrile has been practicing since the 1970's and trained at the Iyengar Institute in San Francisco and Pune, India. He is the founder and director of the Yoga Circle in Chicago, IL since 1985.
You can find more information on his website: http://www.yogacircle.com/gabriel.html
NYC summers always leaves a flight of yoga teachers leaving the Big Apple for various retreats and adventures; allowing for amazing visiting instructors to come share their expertise with us-and summer 2013 is no different. Kevin Gardiner, a New Yorker who moved to Budapest in 2006, has been teaching yoga since 1982 and has learned from the Guruji himself- B.K.S. Iyengar. I took his workshop for the first time this past weekend and was blown away. He is so clear and concise with these complex instructions while being energetically in touch with each student. At one point he had me in adho mukha svanasana (down dog) and was discussing bringing spaciousness to a pose and as he spoke his instructions I felt this expansion and space in my shoulders and pelvis that I have never felt before. It was a fascinating way to look at a yoga posture. Through his “offbeat” humor he brings laughter into the practice with insightful thoughts passed down to him from B.K.S Iyengar. He even pointed out how “yoga is about coming to terms with disappointment." I am still thinking about that one.
Check out his schedule below for his workshop and class dates and times while in NYC: http://kevingardiner.wordpress.com/workshops-2/