Monday, January 27, 2014

Yoga poses helping you get better posture

As a yoga teacher I find myself more conscientious about the way I’m sitting or standing.  
Sometimes at my day job I find myself slumping over in my chair and then it suddenly dawns on me how I’m sitting. I have been practicing poor posture for so long that I now have to practice good posture. Especially as a yoga teacher, I should lead by example and should not be sitting hunched over. So, even I have to remind myself about good posture once in a while.

Recent studies have shown yoga to improve posture, and it’s not surprising that this is true. 

In addition to increasing body awareness, yoga strengthens the core and lengthens the spine. The spine is the thing that holds up our body all day long, so it’s important to keep it in tip-top condition. Not to mention it has to support that heavy bowling ball of a head we carry around all day long!

Try these simple poses during your day to improve your posture:

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Yes, this is a yoga pose. It doesn’t feel like it at first, but it’s a very active pose.
Stand tall, feel your feet on the ground, open your chest with arms at your sides, slightly tuck your tailbone, engage your thighs, roll your shoulders back and down to lower your shoulder blades, and bring your chin back so your ears are above your shoulders. It’s all in the chin and you want to align your body from feet to head.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) This is probably one of my favorite poses because I can literally feel my spine lengthen as I fold over towards my feet. 
Just hang there, grab your elbows with your opposite hands, and breathe. After you release your arms, try looking up by opening the chest and flattening your back on an inhale. Then exhale and fold again. 

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
This is an ideal pose for strengthening the back and opening the chest. Place your hands on the mat in front of you in a sphinx position and then slowly straighten your arms into your full extension of cobra. Bring your shoulders away from your ears, while keeping your pelvis and toes on the mat. 

Hero Pose (Virasana)
This is a seated yoga pose that makes it difficult to slouch. Sit on your heels and sit up straight with the crown of your head towards the sky. If you have knee issues, this will not be your pose. If you can’t sit on your heels, get an ergonomic chair that mimics this pose or use a pillow for cushion.

Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This is also known as resting pose in yoga. Sit back on your heels and reach your arms out in front of you or bring them alongside the body towards your feet into a tiny little yoga ball.

Locust Pose (Salabhasana)   
This is another great pose for strengthening the back. Open your chest lifting your arms and legs off the mat while keeping the pelvis on the mat. If necessary, you can lift just your chest and aim your arms towards your feet. A more advanced yoga pose would be to go into bow pose, but proceed with caution until you’re ready.

Remember, just like our bad habits developed over time, our good habits take time to build back up as well.  

Try practicing these poses and see which ones resonate with you. Give yourself reminders in your calendar or on your desk to be present to your posture. In the end you will breathe, move, and feel better.

Meniscal Tears

Meniscal tears are among the most common knee injuries. Athletes, particularly those who play contact sports, are at risk for meniscal tears. However, anyone at any age can tear a meniscus. When people talk about torn cartilage in the knee, they are usually referring to a torn meniscus.

Three bones meet to form your knee joint: your thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella).
Two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage act as "shock absorbers" between your thighbone and shinbone. These are called meniscus. They are tough and rubbery to help cushion the joint and keep it stable.

Menisci tear in different ways. Tears are noted by how they look, as well as where the tear occurs in the meniscus. Common tears include longitudinal, parrot-beak, flap, bucket handle, and mixed/complex.

Sports-related meniscal tears often occur along with other knee injuries, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears.
Sudden meniscal tears often happen during sports. Players may squat and twist the knee, causing a tear. Direct contact, like a tackle, is sometimes involved.
Older people are more likely to have degenerative meniscal tears. 

Cartilage weakens and wears thin over time. Aged, worn tissue is more prone to tears. Just an awkward twist when getting up from a chair may be enough to cause a tear, if the menisci have weakened with age.

You might feel a "pop" when you tear a meniscus. Most people can still walk on their injured knee. 

Many athletes keep playing with a tear. Over 2 to 3 days, your knee will gradually become more stiff and swollen.

The most common symptoms of meniscal tear are:
  • Pain
  • Stiffness and swelling
  • Catching or locking of your knee
  • The sensation of your knee "giving way"
  • You are not able to move your knee through its full range of motion
Without treatment, a piece of meniscus may come loose and drift into the joint. This can cause your knee to slip, pop or lock.

Physical Examination and Patient History
After discussing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor or therapist will examine your knee. He or she will check for tenderness along the joint line where the meniscus sits. This often signals a tear.
One of the main tests for meniscal tears is the McMurray test. Your doctor will bend your knee, then straighten and rotate it. This puts tension on a torn meniscus. If you have a meniscal tear, this movement will cause a clicking sound. Your knee will click each time your doctor or therapist does the test.

Imaging Tests
Because other knee problems cause similar symptoms, your doctor may order imaging tests to help confirm the diagnosis.
Although X-rays do not show meniscal tears, they may show other causes of knee pain, such as osteoarthritis.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):
This study can create better images of the soft tissues of your knee joint.


How your orthopaedic surgeon treats your tear will depend on the type of tear you have, its size, and location.
The outside one-third of the meniscus has a rich blood supply. A tear in this "red" zone may heal on its own, or can often be repaired with surgery. A longitudinal tear is an example of this kind of tear.
In contrast, the inner two-thirds of the meniscus lacks a blood supply. Without nutrients from blood, tears in this "white" zone cannot heal. These complex tears are often in thin, worn cartilage. Because the pieces cannot grow back together, tears in this zone are usually surgically trimmed away.
Along with the type of tear you have, your age, activity level, and any related injuries will factor into your treatment plan.

Nonsurgical Treatment

If your tear is small and on the outer edge of the meniscus, it may not require surgical repair. As long as your symptoms do not persist and your knee is stable, nonsurgical treatment may be all you need.

The RICE protocol is effective for most sports-related injuries. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
  • Rest. Take a break from the activity that caused the injury. Your doctor may recommend that you use crutches to avoid putting weight on your leg.
  • Ice. Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Compression. To prevent additional swelling and blood loss, wear an elastic compression bandage.
  • Elevation. To reduce swelling, recline when you rest, and put your leg up higher than your heart.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen reduce pain and swelling.

Surgical Treatment:

If your symptoms persist with nonsurgical treatment, your doctor may suggest arthroscopic surgery.

Procedure. Knee arthroscopy is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures. In it, a miniature camera is inserted through a small incision. This provides a clear view of the inside of the knee. Your orthopaedic surgeon inserts miniature surgical instruments through other small incisions to trim or repair the tear.

After surgery, your doctor may put your knee in a cast or brace to keep it from moving.

Once the initial healing is complete, your doctor will prescribe rehabilitation exercises. Regular exercise to restore your knee mobility and strength is necessary.

You will start with exercises to improve your range of motion. Strengthening exercises will gradually be added to your rehabilitation plan.
For the most part, rehabilitation can be carried out at home, although your doctor may recommend physical therapy.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Learn Core Strength!

Rolling Like a Ball is a move borrowed from Pilates that helps us transition from reclining to sitting. Beyond this practical application, the move teaches lessons about momentum and control that apply to other dynamic transitions, like the kick up to Handstand, as well as to control of the body in space, whether that’s on the field, the road, or the trail. 
Include this exercise in your practice to develop the ability to right yourself in shifting situations.

Start on your back, knees hugged in. Tuck your chin toward your chest and curl your spine into a C curve. Try a few gentle rocks forward and back. If this is tough on your back from the outside, add padding under your spine. If, instead, it feels like too much pressure on a particular part of the spine, don’t work any further into this exercise. When you do roll back, go only as far as your shoulders to protect your neck.
Use a breath pattern that works for you—this could mean inhale back, exhale up, or the reverse. When you are comfortable rolling forward and back, try these steps.
1. Balance on your sitting bones
Rocking up, find a still point where you are still in a tight ball, but can pause for a breath or two balanced on the spot between your sitting bones and tailbone. You’ll have to negotiate between using enough momentum to lift you up and enough control to slow you down.
Happy baby
2. Rolling like a Happy Baby
Bend your knees and spread them to shoulder distance, then try rolling back and up to balance again. With this new distribution of weight, you’ll need to work again to find the right balance between momentum and control.
3. Rolling straddle
If your back and hamstrings allow, try straightening your legs into a V straddle, then rolling again. Keep your knees a little bent, so you aren’t too deep into a hamstring stretch, and find the balance point here.
In any of these variations, you’ll be strengthening your core, challenging your balance, and developing the ability to adapt to a change in the placement of your body in space by coming back to a still center point.

Yoga for Insomnia

One of the most common complaints that my yoga students and patients share with me is their inability to get a good night’s sleep.  Almost everyone will have an occasional bout of sleeplessness, but for some, insomnia can linger for days or weeks, or even become a chronic situation. 
How much sleep a person needs is somewhat subjective. I’m a solid 7-hour a night person. That’s what it takes for me to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. My grandmother, on the other hand, used to say she only needed 5-6 hours a night in her later years to feel her best, and she lived to 93!

The symptoms of insomnia are at minimum troublesome, and at worst, debilitating: daytime fatigue or sleepiness, irritability, depression, anxiety, tension headaches, GI symptoms, ongoing worry about sleep, trouble with mental focus and attention. Beyond inconvenience, insomnia’s effects can be much more serious: it’s  implicated in car accidents, medical and work errors, and linked to chronic diseases like high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and obesity, and even cancer.

The potential causes of insomnia vary, but at the top of the list is stress, followed by anxiety and depression. Other causes may include  prescription and over the counter medications, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, medical conditions such as chronic pain, breathing difficulties or frequent urination (just to name a few), changes in your environment or work schedule, poor sleep habits, eating too late in day and too much, and “learned” insomnia linked to excessive worry about falling asleep.

And as we age, the chances of developing insomnia go up due to the following age related changes: changes in sleep pattern; a decrease in activity levels, both social and physical; changes in health status; and increase use of medications.

Can yoga help?  Research indicates yes......We already know that the three most common reasons for insomnia—stress, anxiety, depression—are diminished greatly with regular yoga practice. 

In addition, one study found that yoga also helped with increased cognitive arousal, or when the mind wakes up and is very busy right when you try to fall asleep or wake in the middle of the night. Another study found that insomnia among menopausal women was decreased through an evening yoga practice.
When my students ask me what yoga pose is good for insomnia, I have them immediately expand their view of sleeplessness.  I do that by suggesting that addressing insomnia with yoga starts first thing in the morning and lasts all day!  

What am I talking about?  I recommend doing a more active yoga practice early in the day if your energy level permits it.  This melds more naturally with the hormones in the body that, if balanced correctly, will support a better night’s sleep.  

And if you are too tired for a vigorous asana practice, even a gentle one to get you moving a bit and loosen up the physical tension that often accompanies a poor night’s sleep, is beneficial.

From there, being mindful of what you are taking in during the day that could have negative affects on sleep is really important.  You might set the intention at the end of your morning practice to pause during the day before consuming things like food and drink, that could keep you up at night, specifically caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, and medications that are stimulating.  

I recommend trying to take at least 10-15 minutes of time out in nature during the day to reconnect to a quieter, more peaceful reality. And in the evening, an earlier dinner-time, followed an hour or so later with a gentle yoga practice is good preparation for sleep time.  Include poses you find quieting to your individual system, as well as breathing practices that are calming, like ones that gradually lengthen the exhalation part of the breath cycle, as one example.

A recorded guided visualization, body scan, or meditation, or yoga nidra can all help to shift your nervous system for arousal to calm in preparation for bed. And if you still find you are having trouble falling asleep or you awaken in the middle of the night, doing breath awareness and body scan practices in bed often will get you back to sleep faster than doing nothing at all. With yoga, done daily, may you have sweet, uninterrupted, dreams!