written by Nicole Lebreux
yoga teacher and thailand retreat co-host
Sample itinerary for a day:
Awake to the hustle and bustle of the streets below in one of the busiest cities in southeast Asia, dappled sunlight moving through your room in a hideaway Thai owned guesthouse.
Morning gathering, meditation, and vegetarian breakfast on the hotel’s rooftop terrace overlooking the Chao Phraya River.
*Hopefully at this point you have already read the first part of my Biomechanics of Back Pain article. If not, i suggest you go back and read it (or re-read it) before moving forward with Part II.
Achy back? Chronic tension? Lower back fatigue at the end of a long day? Each day we are reading more and more studies revealing the healing power of the ancient practice. While so many other fitness trends have come and gone, yoga has truly stood the test of time hovering between 5,000-10.000 years old. Although yoga may not be a good idea if you have severe pain, those with occasional soreness, chronic aches or those on the road to recovery may greatly benefit from certain postures that can help lengthen your spine, stretch and strengthen your muscles, and help return your back to its proper alignment.
But is yoga enough?
Let me start by saying I absolutely love yoga. As a practitioner, teacher, and devotee, I can personally attest to the numerous health, fitness, and spiritual benefits of a regular practice. With its impact on flexibility, core strength, balance, posture, comfort and mindfulness in the body and mind, yoga is arguably the best single activity for over-all wellness. However, as much as I hate to say anything bad about my beloved yoga practice, in my opinion- asana simply isn't enough (GASP!). There are very real limitations with yoga as a singular fitness source. This was something I learned personally.
Long-term yoga practice as a sole fitness activity tends to lead to muscular and functional imbalances. We see this particularly in the posterior chain (back body) versus the anterior chain (front body). Yoga is heavy on our pushing muscles and so very light on the pullers. All those chaturangas and down-dogs really add up. To this day, I am still working to match my upper back strength to my chest. I couldn't understand why my now flexible upper back (thanks yoga) would cramp up when I twisted or even sat in a chair. Flexibility is only one piece of the equation. Weakness in my upper back and over-trained muscles in my chest were causing my shoulders to slope forward and an exaggerated kyphotic curve aka hunched upper back.
Aside from simple front and back body imbalances, I also saw tissue fiber imbalances. This limitation of yoga has to do with the nature and relation to muscle fiber types. Every single muscle of the body is made up of two types of muscle fiber: slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Some people have more slow-twitch than others, but what we commonly don’t realize is that fast-twitch fiber still makes up at least 55% of our muscle mass and for some of us as much as 65%. Why is this so important? Well, fast-twitch fibers are only activated in two situations: during maximal lifts or explosive motion. That means that if you are exercising slowly or with bodyweight exclusive exercises (yoga), even if you are using every single muscle of your body, you are only really activating about 35-45% of your muscle. That's one hell of an imbalance. The connection with yoga should be obvious: even the most vigorous forms never come close maximal speed or load. Even though I was working up a next level sweat, utilizing muscles I had once never known existed, it wasn't enough to hit my high-twitchers, the hamstrings, glute max & calves.
Stretch & Strengthen
This post is broken up into two sections; Strengthening and Stretching. You will notice it is heavily weighted on the strengthening side (pun intended, ha). The reasoning being that although tight hips or hamstrings can create tightness in the low back, I believe weakness, imbalance and instability are a far larger instigators in the human back pain crisis.
As I said in the previous article, the most important aspect to understand about how muscles function to produce a joint movement is synergy. Synergy means that two or more things work together to produce a result that is greater than any of those things could do alone. Even the simplest joint movement requires strong and stable muscles working together in this cooperative fashion. When one muscle is weak, it will feel immobile, inflexible and the others must work harder to pick up the slack. Your tight muscle may be trying to inform you of a weakness. When we feel stiff or strained, instead of asking "what can I stretch?" try also asking "what can I strengthen?".
As I said in Part I, back pain by it's very nature is enigmatic and illusively difficult for target maintenance. In this article, I've put together my personal favorite asanas, exercises and stretches that helped alleviate my back pain. I believe these exercises can help target some of our most common imbalances, weaknesses and instabilities.
*Disclaimer: I am not your doctor, your physician, your physical therapist or your mother. Nothing I say should be regarded as absolute truth or gospel. These are simply the tricks and regiments that have worked for me via my own trials, errors and research. Any new workout routine should be approved by your health care practitioner first! Good luck.
by abbe ciulla
Introduction: Back Pain on the Rise
To say "back pain is common" is an understatement. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and one of the leading contributors to missed work days (second only to the common cold). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 84 percent of adults will experience back pain or injury at some point in their lifetimes. For some, it will be temporary and mild to moderate. For others, it will be something that we are mindful of through the rest of our adult lives.
With such prevalent statistics, you would think back injury discussion would be commonplace in the practice space. Ah, no. In fact, in all my years of attending classes- only one, yes one, teacher asked me if I had a history of back injuries or current back pain, which I did. And it was at the Back Pain and Scoliosis Center in NY.
Don't Ask. Don't Tell.
So, why aren't we talking about back pain and injury in the classroom?
As I said before, in my years of attending fitness or yoga classes, the subject was rarely brought up by either myself or the instructor. It was like this unspoken agreement- You're not going to ask me about my back pain, and I'm not going to tell you about my back pain and we can just pretend everything is hunky dory.
Being a student with a back injury, it can be hard to speak up. We don't want to stand out or be labeled as the injured student. Students, transparency is key when it comes to injury prevention and maintenance. Teachers, talking about back pain is scary, I get that. We often we just feel that back pain is too complex a situation. We don't want to put our students at risk, we don't want to mislead them.
But here's the bottom line- students are showing up to your classes with injuries. They are coming to your class with real pain. They are looking to you for care.
We need to start learning how to have a honest and intelligent conversations about back pain, and then how to modify and variate our movements to accommodate pain or injury.
Understanding how to apply the yamas and niyamas to our daily lives can seem overwhelming. They require a commitment to personal transformation, and like any personal transformation, it is hard to know exactly where to begin. Since so many of us start cultivating our yoga practice solely with asana, learning to apply the yamas and niyamas to our asana practice first can help us learn how to integrate them into life beyond the classroom. So many of the lessons that we discover on our mats mimic the trials we face off the mat. If we choose to live the whole of yoga, the first two steps on the ladder of the eightfold path are the yamas and niyamas. These ethical and spiritual observances help us develop the more profound qualities of our humanity.
The name of the first limb of the eighfold path, yama, contains five restraints that we practice to align our efforts with our moral compass. In this sense, self-restraint can be a positive force in our lives, the necessary self-discipline that allows us to head toward the fulfillment and our life purpose. The five yamas--non-violence, honesty, non-stealing, non-promiscuity, and self-reliance—serve as a guide on how we handle our actions toward the world around us.
About a year ago I came to terms with the fact that I had been avoiding core training in my classes. Falling victim to my monkey mind; worrying that it's boring, unpleasant or less glamorous than flow. But this was a disservice to the students. Core work is an integral part of having a balanced practice and our overall health. And the truth is, people like to be challenged.
Core work trains the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to perform harmoniously. This leads to better balance and stability, whether it be in your planks, handstands, squats or most importantly- transitions. Balanced core strength will also aid in alleviating not only back pain, but neck pain and knee pain as well.
written by Abbe Ciulla @mighty yogini
first, the benefits
In an effort to simply trim my waistline before hosting a yoga retreat in Mexico, I decided to take the 30 Day Sugar Free challenge. The benefits were so much more than firming up a few jiggles, which is why I ultimately decided to make this change a life long commitment.
Here were the big changes I noticed within four weeks:
How to Implement a Sugar Free Diet in 5 Steps
an in-depth look at puppy press handstand
Introducing Tom Myers
A love letter from Abbe
Yoga teacher, weight lifter, coffee addict, plant enthusiast