There's a part of your brain that is specifically assigned to body awareness. It's called the homunculus and it holds a map to every part of your body. The trick is that one third of your homunculus is assigned to the hands, another third is assigned to the face, and the last third is assigned to your body! If you think about how many parts of your body there are relative to your hands and face, you'll see that this is not a lot of mapping in comparison.
So what does all this science mumbo jumbo mean? It means that our brain gets VERY easily confused or even forgetful about certain body parts if we don't regularly bring our attention to them. An example is our feet. First of all, our feet are furthest away from our brain. Second, we don't typically think of our feet often (unless you wear uncomfortable shoes a lot). When was the last time you thought of your big toe mound? Do you even know what your big toe mound is? So what ends up happening as we age is we get more and more disconnected to our feet and our balance gets thrown off!
The good news is, like most aspects of the brain thankfully, we can rebuild our homunculus's mapping to our feet in a fairly simple way - by regularly practicing balancing poses, or even just taking a few moments throughout the day to notice how your feet feel, or by intentionally scraping them on the floor a little! Just taking a little time to RECONNECT.
Turns out answers to physical issues that we think are impossible or helpless actually are a lot more simple and accessible than we realize... If you would like to know some balancing poses you can try out, feel free to contact me!
Ohhh, those tight shoulders, aching hip, sore back.... You've tried everything - massage, heat packs, baths, more massage. But those darn muscles just won't loosen up no matter what you do. Are we forever doomed to live with this constant discomfort? Luckily the answer is NO!
The answer to loosening up your overly tight muscles is a bit counter-intuitive.... you think that these muscles are too strong and that's why we need to try and relax them. But actually, overly tight muscles are usually WEAK. Strong muscles have an easier time relaxing than weak muscles. Surprise!
The analogy I like to think of is when we feel anxious, we hold our breaths, clench randomly, and just get uptight in general. However, when we feel confident and grounded, we tend to breathe, relax, and open up. Similarly, when a particular muscle feels strong and confident in it's ability to function, that muscle will feel safe to open and release. On the other hand, if that muscle instead feels insecure about its functionality, it gets super tight. Trying to release this muscle then becomes quite a struggle.
So what can you do? Strengthen that muscle! For example, if your right hip constantly aches, a great exercise to do is clamshells (https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/the-clamshell-exercise#classic-clamshell). If your hamstrings are tight, try a sliding bridge exercise. You should notice a difference fairly quickly if you are able to target the muscle appropriately (which is not always easy unfortunately).
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me!
Yes, that wondrous but also annoying joint - the knee. It's so useful for moving your legs around but at the same time it's so darn sensitive, especially when you're on the stairs. So what's the problem? Is it because you're getting older and your cartilage has worn out? Is knee pain something you just have to deal with for the rest of your life?
Thankfully, for many people, the answer to knee pain is pretty simple. Stretch! Many of us abuse our bodies, not by overuse, but actually by sitting around all day without rest. Isn't it crazy that you actually should take breaks from sitting? Who knew?! When you sit all day in a chair, your hip flexors and hamstrings tighten up and actually start to shorten. As your hamstrings get shorter, undue pressure is placed on hamstring tendons that attach to the inside of your knee. These 3 tendons are attachments from your sartorius, semitendinosus, and gracilis muscles. Constant pressure causes inflammation of these tendons and results in something called pes anserinus. You'll know you have pes anserinus if you palpate (press) the inner knee and inner thigh area and it's super sensitive, maybe so sensitive that even a light touch will make you jump!
Minor Pes Anserinus can be resolved easily by rolling out or stretching the hamstring and other muscles surrounding the knee, like the quads and calves. One of my student's knee pain went away after just one hour of lengthening and intelligently mobilizing the legs! (I know, I was surprised too)
One of my favorite hamstring stretches is supta padangusthasana (reclined hand to big toe pose). If you just want a picture of how this looks, as well as an awesome explanation, see this article by Yoga Journal. Otherwise, just lie down, grab a towel or strap or belt, wrap it around your foot and gently bring your leg toward your face. the opposite leg can be straight on the ground. This pose isn't about how close you get your leg to your face (even though our ego might feel better), it's about getting an accurate hamstring stretch. I also like to keep my raised foot flexed to stretch the calf. I'm all about more efficient stretching! If you want to try adding active stretching, then attempt to pull the strap toward you as you resist the motion with your raised leg. This engages your hamstring muscle which, strangely enough, also tells the brain that it's safe to open up a little more.
Another stretch I love is Janu Sirsasana, head to knee forward bend.
There are some other muscles in the lower body that can also contribute to knee pain, but that's an article for the future. Stay tuned!
It's been a long day at work and you find your shoulders aching yet again. Strange, you've gotten massage after massage but your shoulders just seem to tighten up again a few hours later. Maybe you just give up and accept the daily ache.
There's good news! You can easily provide relief to your upper trapezius muscles! Not by massaging your shoulders, as you might initially think, but rather, by loosening up your pectoral muscles. It may seem odd, but the pecs are the number one bully to your tight upper traps. In our modern technology based society, we are constantly hunched over the phone and the keyboard, which leads to... you guessed it, tight chest muscles. As your pecs shorten with the daily hunching, they pull your shoulders forward, causing a rounding, kyphotic posture, i.e., mini hunchback. This hunchback posture shortens your trapezius and neck muscles which makes them chronically tight and weak at the same time. It also increases the risk of shoulder injuries. Most masseuses stay away from massaging chest muscles, for obvious reasons, which is why your shoulders tighten up again after a massage, however delicious it might have been.
So how do you open up your pec muscles? Thankfully, there are a few methods. My personal favorite (although the most "painful") is to roll out the pecs with tennis balls or lacrosse balls. The easiest way to do this is against a wall -- place the ball between the wall and your pec muscles (general position is right under your collarbone, close to your shoulder joint, but NOT on the joint), then press into the ball and swim your arm up and down in a snow angel motion.
Stretching also helps, but may not provide as much instant relief. Here's a link to a some effective stretches: http://www.livestrong.com/article/136325-stretches-pectoral-muscles/
As for prevention, the best thing to do is reverse the hunching at least once an hour, by standing up and stretching or just moving your shoulders around and back, maybe even adding some standing twists. Also, YOGA is awesome for opening up the chest (I'm biased of course).
Say hello to your new relaxed shoulders!
Nine months ago, I injured my back and hamstring; both have been hurting ever since. Initially, I just optimistically figured they would self-heal, but as each month crawled by and the pain lingered, I started obsessing and wallowing in negative thoughts, constantly fretting about how to heal. My usual sunny thoughts got trapped in a prison cell of melancholy reflections.
Take a moment to consider your daily and hourly reflections. If you're like me, then they are probably circular, critical, checklist-y types of thoughts. Don't worry, that's totally normal. As humans, we're essentially born to think this way - it's called the Default Mode Network of your brain. You might theorize this type of thinking was necessary for survival in a tougher world. Fast forward to present day, where a large part of the population doesn't need to fear for safety every second, and this default thinking mode can become destructive for some of us.
Good news!!! You don't have to be trapped in default mode day in and out. Instead, you can train your mind to work in Present Centered Default Mode Network, which is actually where your creative, insightful, and happy thoughts live. All you need is a little meditation, what I like to call the modern day magic pill. (Some people might call me crazy for thinking that, but there's a lot of scientific evidence out there on the benefits of meditation and the negative effects of stressful, unhappy living.)
All these months with an injured back, I've been confused about why my meditations haven't been as peaceful as usual. Then yesterday, while stretching my back, rather than tensing up in anticipation of that trusty twinge of discomfort, I randomly chose to just relax. Allowing my Self to release my mind's stealthy grip on my body was the key to smashing apart the prison walls.
Maybe you can try a little meditation today! Even just 5 minutes a day of surrendering our brain's incessant craving for control can change our daily being. Find your freedom.... Namaste.
To read more about Default Mode Network and Present Centered Default Mode Network, see Richard Miller's article:
You might have wondered why yoga teachers love to incorporate twists into class. There is a purpose behind those pretzel-y poses... Some yogis believe that twists are a cure-all. I can't say there is scientific proof of that, but I can say that twists are great for improving the health of your organs (and for regular bathroom trips)!
Breakdown of how it works: When you twist your torso, your organs get compressed (like a mini-massage). After releasing the twist, fresh blood rushes into those organs, which improves function of your vital body parts. This is why you might have heard that twists are "detoxifying." As vampires know, fresh blood is great for the body! A noticeable side effect of twists for many of us will be increased bowel movements.
Some tips on getting the full benefits of twisting, if you plan to add them to your daily routine (why not?)
1. Always twist your torso to the right first (i.e. lower body will be on the left side of your torso), then twist your torso to the left. This is important because the ascending colon is on your right side and the descending colon lies on the left side. Twisting right to left allows food/waste to move along in the proper direction. If you twist your torso to the left first, you might move waste the wrong way and cause constipation instead!
2. Keep the twist in your upper spine. Twisting from your lumbar (lower spine) may cause injury. There's no need to over-twist your spine to get the full benefits. Gentle twists will also stimulate your organs.
3. Twist on the exhale. It's just more natural to compress your torso when the air has left your lungs rather than twisting when your lungs are full.
4. Continue to re-lengthen the spine on your inhales before twisting on your exhales.
5. Avoid twists when you're pregnant (open twists are okay though - you mostly want to avoid squishing the baby).
Yup, that's right. Contrary to popular belief, having flat feet is not a "condition" that you're stuck with for the rest of your life. Those pancake tootsies are actually the result of weak feet (not sure if that makes anyone feel better). The good news is that with just a little work, you can lift those arches up in a fairly short amount of time.
Why would a yoga teacher care about raising people's arches? Let's just say that misalignment in the feet can lead to discomfort in your knees and hips, which could further lead to aches in your back, neck, and you get the point. Basically, it can screw up your entire body balance - eek!
So how do we strengthen feet? Check out this site dedicated to curing flat feet for an in depth discussion: https://www.fixflatfeet.com/
Here are some of the sample recommended exercises:
1. Calf stretches (pedaling the feet in down dog is great for this)
2. Heel lifts: Raise the heels up high to stand on your tip-toes and then lower them again, repeat about 15-30 times. Focus on pressing that big toe into the ground as the heels lift up
3. Big-toe, little toe lifts: Alternate lifting the big toe and then all four little toes. Hold each lift 3-5 seconds and repeat 10 times for each foot.
Also, one of my personal favorite exercises is standing on a lacrosse or yoga tune-up ball. Place the ball under the arch and stand there with the heel steady on the ground for one minute. Repeat with the ball under the pinky toe mound and then the big toe mound (one minute each and remember to stabilize the heel on the floor in all positions).
Enjoy your beautiful new foundation!