Thursday, March 10, 2011

Yoga For Back Pain

One of the biggest complaints I hear from my clients is that they have back pain. It is a major reason many people turn to yoga. Back pain can have any number of causes-weak muscles, tight muscles, an alignment problem, an injury. Often tightness or weakness in the neck or legs will manifest as pain in the lower back. The following videos were designed to address some of the more common causes of back pain. If your back pain is due to a new or old injury, DO NOT DO THIS SEQUENCE. The sequence is designed for the otherwise healthy person who feels moderate pain in the lower back. I take you through some basic core strengtheners, then finish with hip stretches ands twists. The idea is to bring the spine into alignment and keep it healthy and flexible. As always, because of time constraints I hold some of the poses for a very brief period, so if you'd like to hold the poses for longer please feel free to do so. If you have any questions about the poses or sequence, leave a comment here and I will try to address it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How-To: Cow Face Pose Edition

Gomukhasana, or Cow-Face Pose, is an excellent stretch for both the shoulders and hips, but it is a bit advanced. Before attempting it you should have at least some flexibility in the shoulders so you don't tear anything. I usually have my students warm up with a few shoulder rolls before attempting gomukhasana. These shoulder rolls are useful especially when coming out of the pose, when you should gently roll the tops of the shoulders upon releasing the hands. Beginners may want to attempt half of the pose at a time. That is, try working with the arms while seated cross-legged (sukhasana) or in a chair, then try getting the leg position correct while keeping the arms in prayer pose (the anjali mudra). Remember to keep the breath steady and focused, and be patient with your body.

To come into gomukhasana, begin seated with outstretched legs (dandasana). Bend the right knee, placing the foot on the floor. Bend the left knee and tuck it under the right leg on the floor. The knee should be directly in front of you with the left foot facing behind you. If you cannot bring the leg to this position, work on the hips little by little, and consider supplementing your practice with a variety of hip openers. Fold the right leg onto the left so the knees are stacked and both feet are facing the wall behind you. Keep both sitting bones connected to the floor the entire time. The pelvis should be neutral and grounded, with the spine lifting up from the hips. If you cannot get both sitting bones on the floor, spread the knees a bit, and again, consider adding more hip openers to your practice.

Once the legs are set up you can move up to the arms. A strap is a very useful prop here. If you don't have a strap a necktie or t-shirt can suffice. Lift the left arm straight above your head, perpendicular to the floor (holding the strap if you are using one) and bend at the elbow. Bend the right elbow behind you (see the above figures) with the palm facing away from the back. The elbow should be facing the floor, but if it does not completely face the floor, do not force the stretch. Work from where you are and let the muscles open up in their own time. Grab the strap with the right hand, then walk the hands toward each other up the strap. In the full variation of this posture, the hands clasp each other. If you are not there yet, work the hands closer and closer each time you perform this pose. If you don't have a strap or prop, face both palms toward the body and "crawl" the fingers up the back, trying to get the hands closer to each other each time. Close your eyes and notice the sensations in the back and shoulders. Hold this pose for 8-10 breaths, then switch sides.

Gomukhasana is a wonderful pose for stretching out the upper and lower body and leaves you feeling exhilarated and accomplished. Namaste.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vinyasa Flow

Welcome back! Apologies for the long delay between posts. Apologies also for the quality of the embedded video.

Today I wanted to give a brief intro to vinyasa, or flow yoga. In a typical vinyasa class, hatha yoga poses are linked together with a set series of poses. This is usually plank-chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed staff pose)-upward facing dog-downward facing dog. The whole sequence is often verbally abbreviated "chaturanga." Chaturanga, however, is an advanced pose that requires a good deal of upper-body strength. If you wish to incorporate vinyasa flow into your practice but don't have the arm strength required to perform chaturanga, I have included two alternative vinyasa sequences that can be done in place of chaturanga in any vinyasa class. One uses cobra pose, which is the perfect pose to strengthen the muscles of the upper back and arms to build up to chaturanga. The next variation uses knees-chest-chin pose, or ashtanga namaskara. My form is not perfect in the video, so please check out's excellent description of the pose here.

Vinyasa flow is based on the Sun Salutation. If you have a home practice and want to make it more physically challenging, I recommend adding some Sun Salutations. Begin with a warmup on the floor, move on to some variations of the Sun Salutation, then perform your other poses. Once you are comfortable with the Sun Salutations you can add more vinyasa to your practice. I like to use the sequences in the video to connect between standing poses (and to flow into poses like pigeon.), usually holding a pose for 6-10 breaths, then spending 1/2 to 1 breath on each pose in the flow sequence. Enjoy the video, and stay tuned for more updates and yoga insights.