I think we can all agree about one thing with regard to the shoulders in downward facing dog. None of us like to have our own or see our students shoulders stuck up in our or their ears. How do we get our shoulders out of our ears? In addition what is the effect of this on our elbows, wrists, and hands? Or is it the other way around? Do our hands, wrists and elbows have an effect on our shoulders?
This month’s newsletter article comes out of a recent trip to the Midwest. I was at a new studio with new students and hosts. This piece is actually a request from one of the hosts, Evan at Tapas Yoga Shala. The question arose; Should we squeeze or not squeeze our butt in upward facing dog? As always on the first day of practice, I mostly watch and get a sense for what I want to work on with any of the students over the course of the 5 days of mysore classes.
The foundation of our bodies and our yoga practice lies at our feet. In order to incorporate both physical and energetic foundations, we must examine our body’s center of energy, movement and balance which begins near the psoas muscle– the pair of deep muscles extending from the sides of the spine to the femur that are activated in yoga postures like forward bending (paschimottanasana), Boat pose; and lengthened in poses like Warrior I and Bow.
The basic goal of all the asana practice is finding and maintaining a comfortable padmasana (lotus pose) for meditation. There are a few key anatomical components and principles to finding this comfort. The foundation of the pose is the crossing of the legs and “sit bones” comfortably on the floor. With a firm foundation we find an upward energy and lift in the spine, which eventually becomes effortless.
In Part 1 of this article we left off looking at the deepest, most intrinsic structures that make the knee function as it does. In this part of the article we’ll continue to look at another deep structure, the meniscus and also talk about some of the soft-tissues (muscles and ligaments) that affect this joint and how it all fits into our yoga practice.
In our last article, we looked at the part of our anatomy that grounds us, literally, the feet. Making our way up the body, the next major joint we come to is the ever elusive and sometimes tricky knee. This knobby pair of joints are often an enthusiastic topic of conversation amongst yogis as it seems everyone knows somebody who’s either injured a meniscus or torn an ACL, or done “something” to it.
Those wonderful glorious feet, unfortunately, kept in containers (shoes) most of the day. Poor things have quite a responsibility in both our everyday walking/living life and particularly in our yoga practice. The foot foundation is useful in both. As a therapist, the feet are one of the first things I look at as it’s important to see what someone is standing on all day.
I was in the DC area this month and saw a student that I knew from a previous workshop. At that time Patricia had recently “pulled a hamstring”. Her major symptom was sit bone pain (sit bone = ischial tuberosity) when folding forward, secondary was that it would also hurt when sitting for long periods, especially in the car. I saw her just a couple of weeks ago and she still had the same pain.
In the last two newsletters I’ve covered both mula and uddiyana bandhas from an anatomical point of view. I feel the need to finish off these two articles with one on the breath. It seems to me that without breath, there are no bandhas. In fact, as the title says, from breath comes bandha. My logic works like this, if we’re going to try and control as well as use energy in our body, then we have to be bringing that energy in. In yoga, there is one way in which energy comes in and it is through the breath.
The bandhas (mula bandha specifically) are perhaps the most difficult aspect to grasp in the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. For me personally, I think I know what they are. But then I look back at my little life as an Ashtangi, amazingly at 11 years now, and realize, I thought I knew what they were 10 years ago. Then just 5 years ago I understand them even more differently than I do today. My experience of them has changed over the years and will continue to as I’m guessing your experience of them will.