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Yoga poses and how it Works Part 1

Yoga poses and how it Works


Quadratus Lumborum


Part One

Though you may never have heard the name of this powerful group of muscles, they are crucial in that they attach the pelvis to the spine by way of the ribs, and serve us by helping us bend our trunks from side to side. They also stabilize the lower back. When you’re sitting at your computer, for instance, these muscles are working hard to keep your back steady and to keep your pelvis and spine in the correct alignment. However, they tend to go into spasm under certain conditions. Extreme bending or twisting or sitting for too long can push these hard workers over the edge, make them clench and cause severe pain. Here are some suggested antidotes.

Adho Mukha Virasana(Child Pose)

Benefits and How It Works: Restful: stretches the quadratus lumborum muscles, countering spasm, stiffness or tightness. Increases your awareness of the muscles themselves, helping you gain control over them and encouraging them to relax.
Contraindications: Severe kyphosis, osteoporosis (use pillows under the chest in each of these cases), severely osteoarthritic knees (sit on blocks or pillows).

The Pose: Kneel and sit back on your haunches, placing a pillow over your calves or a block between your shins if necessary. Straighten your spine—get as tall as possible while making sure you are securely on your “sit-bones.” Slide your palms forward against the floor until your torso reaches your thighs. Draw your shoulderblades back, together and downward toward your waist. Let your palms slide further beyond your head. Rest your head on the floor or on a block.

Adho Mukha Virasana(Child Pose)
Adho Mukha Virasana(Child Pose)


Ardha Baddha Padma Janusirsasana(Half Lotus Head to Knee Pose)

Benefits and How It Works: Smoothly and naturally divides and conquers the hamstring tightness and quadriceps tightness that often accompanies quadratus lumborum spasm. The pressure of the lotus foot on the abdomen, and the forward pull of the arms and abdominal muscles create agonist–­antagonist reflexes that will calm and stretch the very tough quadratus lumborum muscles. (An easy example of agonist–antagonist reflex is in the arm: when the biceps bends the elbow, the triceps, which straightens the elbow, simultaneously relaxes. This reflex applies to each pair of muscles with opposite function: contraction of one causes its antagonist to loosen.)

Ardha Baddha Padma Janusirsasana(Half Lotus Head to Knee Pose)
Ardha Baddha Padma Janusirsasana(Half Lotus Head to Knee Pose)


Contraindications: Osteoporosis, colostomy or recent abdominal surgery, concurrent herniated disc, severe knee or hip arthritis or replacement, sprained ankle, late pregnancy.

Helpful Hints: The straighter the leg and the higher the lotus foot, the better. It is better to go forward less far with a straight leg than to bend it, even if it means not appearing to stretch as much. If the leg is truly straight, inhibitory reflexes are activated that relax the hamstrings after 30–60 seconds.

The Pose: Sit with your right leg stretched straight out before you. Inhale, then exhale as you bend your left knee and place your left heel high against your right lower abdomen. Keeping your back straight, bring your torso forward. Hold your right foot, or clasp your left wrist with your right hand beyond it. Coax your chest forward, not down. Exhale and relax your elbows.

LESS CHALLENGING VARIATION:

Loop a belt around the sole of your foot. Remember to keep your back straight. Creep your hands forward along the belt until your elbows are straight. Aim the navel toward the inner front of the right thigh, rather than aiming your head toward your knee.


Parighasana(Gate Pose)

Benefits and How It Works: This asana stretches the lateral fibers of the quadratus lumborum quite vigorously, and gives a gentler but more powerful stretch to muscle fibers closer to the midline, including the paraspinal muscles. It also works to lengthen the latissimus dorsi. This pose not only focuses on stretching one of these powerful, paired muscles at a time, it also varies the leverage on the outside fibers versus those located more centrally.

Parighasana(Gate Pose)
Parighasana(Gate Pose)


Contraindications:Prepatellar bursitis, vertebral compression fracture, severe facet arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis. Reduce intensity during pregnancy.

The Pose: Kneel with your knees together, pelvis tipped neither forward nor back. Lift your arms out horizontally. Take a few calm breaths. Straighten the right leg out to the side, heel on the floor and foot pointed upward. Align the right heel with the left knee. Slide the right hand, palm upward, out along the leg toward the ankle. Rest your head on your right arm. Raise your left arm overhead and press the back of your left hand into your right palm, or come as close to it as you possibly can. Except for the left shin and foot, your whole body should be in one plane. If your back arches, tuck your pelvis under. Repeat, switching sides.


LESS CHALLENGING VARIATIONS:

1.After kneeling, make a right angle with the right knee out to the side or proceed with straight right leg. Rest your right forearm, palm upward, on your thigh. Incline to the right as much as is comfortable, raising the left arm, palm up, overhead and to the right.

2.Kneel, with a chair facing your right side. Extend your right leg under the chair as you inhale. Exhale and grasp the chair back with your right hand, bracing your right forearm or elbow against the chair seat. Arch your left side, led by your left arm and hand to the right, palm facing upward. Breathe quietly for 20 seconds or so, then return to the central kneeling position, reposition the chair to face your left leg, and repeat the pose.


Part Two

Tight Hamstrings

ANOTHER COMMON CAUSE of low back pain is stiff, shortened muscles in the backs of the thighs. The hamstrings stretch from the bottom of your buttocks to below your knees. Their job is to extend the hip joints and flex the knees. If they’re tight, they limit your ability to swing your legs forward when you walk, prompting you to inch your pubic bones forward, tilt your pelvis back, and slouch.

Tight Hamstrings
Tight Hamstrings


Some of us inherit short hamstrings from our parents and are generally less flexible than other people. Or, bones may grow faster than muscles during the growth spurt that takes place around puberty, resulting in tight hamstrings that can be worked with but will always remain difficult. Even for those of us blessed with loose muscles, the culture can have a negative effect. Our desk habits and even our athletics favor contracting those muscles rather than stretching them. Sitting too much at a desk or in front of the TV allows the hamstrings to languish, stiffen and shorten, while many sports excite the muscle fibers, which then contract. That sitting, then immediately after being sedentary moving vigorously, can be a double whammy, straining already shortened muscles, prompting you to baby them, which tends to allow them to shorten and stiffen still further. A great many people, both those who are athletic and those who aren’t, have shortened muscles in the backs of their thighs, making it difficult or impossible to bend over far enough to touch their toes.

The connection between shortened muscles in the backs of your thighs and low back pain may seem tenuous. But because of their effect on posture, tight hamstrings are one of the primary causes of aching backs. The pulling on the lower back muscles can also make joints slip out of kilter. Low back pain that results from tight hamstrings doesn’t involve neurological symptoms—­no numbness or tingling (unless a disc becomes herniated). But if bending forward hurts the backs of your thighs, you are more vulnerable to back pain than if you can touch easily your toes without bending your knees. Regular yogic stretching will help with posture and with comfort, and will reduce the potential for back pain.


Dandasana (Staff Pose)

Benefits and How It Works: A number of people are so fearful of stretching their tight hamstrings it almost qualifies as a phobia. By assuming a familiar position everyone has assumed many times, this pose helps those who dread stretching to begin the process without fear.

Dandasana (Staff Pose)
Dandasana (Staff Pose)


Contraindications: Sprained hamstrings, ischial bursitis.

The Pose: Sit on a blanket or mat. Stretch your legs out in front of you, with your spine straight. Press your palms down on the floor, fingers pointing straight ahead, parallel to your legs and to each other. Even if you are facing a wall, look out to the horizon as you take a full, easy breath.

LESS CHALLENGING VARIATIONS:

1.If your hamstrings or other muscles crossing the knees and hips are too tight, the easiest way to start the pose is to incline your torso back and use your arms as support behind you. Point your toes. Then little by little come up toward vertical. Other postures in this chapter, such as Janusirsasana and Supta Padangusthasana I, below, should speed the process.

2.This is the easiest variation. Lie on the floor and walk your feet up a wall, straightening your knees with each step. Start far from the wall, walking up a reasonable amount and then sliding your heel up further to straighten your knee. When this is fairly easy and not very painful, move in a little closer to the wall. Another, similar variation is to lie to the left side of a doorway and stretch your right leg straight out on the floor. Then place your left foot on the wall just beside the doorway and gradually move it upward. After you can straighten the left leg, move further into the doorway and do it again. Then move to the right side of the doorway and repeat the procedure.


Trikonasana(Triangle Pose)

Benefits and How It Works:A gentle and self-regulating way to stretch the hamstrings without injuring them. The reason it’s self-regulating is that if you go down too far you start to lose your balance.

 Trikonasana(Triangle Pose)

Trikonasana(Triangle Pose)


Contraindications: Severe plantar fasciitis, severe rotator cuff syndrome.

The Pose: Stand with your feet three feet apart. Turn the right foot out 90 degrees, the left foot inward 30 degrees. Stretch your arms out horizontally, and inhale. Exhale and incline the entire torso to the right, touching the floor beside your right foot. Don’t allow your chest to turn toward the floor. Lower your right ribs to maintain a straight torso. Do not curve the torso, which will cause the left ribs to bulge out and upward. Place your hand on a block or on your shin if you are unable to reach the floor. Repeat, switching sides.

LESS CHALLENGING VARIATIONS:

1.Do the pose with your back against a wall.
2.Place a chair with seat facing the side you bend to. Rest your hand on the chair.

Janusirsasana(Head to Knee Pose)

Benefits and How It Works: Stretches the hamstrings, one leg at a time.

Contraindications: Osteoporosis, herniated disc. The temptations to hunch the back are so great that if improperly done, this pose is a formula for compression fracture and acute herniated disc.

Helpful Hints: It is better to go forward less far with a straight leg than to bend it, even if it feels as if it is not stretching as much. If the leg is truly straight, inhibitory reflexes are activated that relax the hamstrings after 30–60 seconds, enabling greater stretch and initiating greater control.

The Pose: Sit with right leg stretched straight out before you. Bend your left knee and place your left heel high against your right inner thigh. Keeping your back straight, bring your torso forward as you exhale. Hold your right foot, clasping your left wrist with your right hand. Coax your chest forward, not down. Relax your elbows. Take slow, even breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Janusirsasana(Head to Knee Pose)
Janusirsasana(Head to Knee Pose)



LESS CHALLENGING VARIATION:

Loop a belt around the sole of your foot. Remember to keep the back straight. Creep your hands forward along the belt until your elbows are straight. Aim the navel toward the front of the right thigh, rather than aiming your head toward your knee. Then relax your elbows. Let your elbows pull you down.

Supta Padangusthasana I(Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose I)

Benefits and How It Works: If there ever were a pose guaranteed to stretch the hamstrings, this is it. Pursue it vigorously, even passionately, but never too intensely. My experience with new practitioners is that it enlivens them; their faces become more integrated, more mobile, and appear more relaxed after Supta Padangusthasana I. The pose combines a number of effective mechanisms; it divides and conquers. By employing both arms to stretch one leg at a time, you can focus your efforts on a single set of hamstrings. Also, by lying on your back (supta is Sanskrit for supine) you protect delicate but stubborn structures from the minor to midsized forces that you may be tempted to apply to your tight muscles. It is safe in cases of osteoporosis, herniated disc and spinal stenosis. Third, the pose allows you to flex your quadriceps, which will have that agonist–antagonist reflex effect of relaxing your hamstrings. Last, you can bend the opposite knee, tilting the pelvis upward and giving you a better angle for stretching the straight leg. This won’t help you make your hamstrings any longer, but will act as a safety valve to modulate how much of your effort goes into stretching.

Supta Padangusthasana I(Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose I)
Supta Padangusthasana I(Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose I)

Contraindications: Hamstring tear, severe congestive heart failure, late pregnancy (in which case it can be attempted, less forcibly, lying on either side), extreme hip arthritis.

Helpful Hints: One of the reasons there are proportionately more injuries in men than women is that we males pit our greater strength against our lesser range of motion. I advise everyone to focus on relaxing the hamstrings rather than overpowering their resistance. When they resist, stretching them will hurt, causing them to resist more. If you concentrate on letting them go, they will stretch much more and hurt much less. Flexing the quadriceps is the key.

The Pose: Lie supine. Stretch out from the top of your head to your heels. Raise your right leg, grasping the ankle or foot with both hands. Exhale as you gradually lower your now straightened leg toward your torso, keeping both knees straight by contracting the quadriceps. Classically, the left leg stays horizontal as the right leg descends. When possible, adjust your hands’ grip upward to straighten your elbows. Then the pulling downward will be done by the larger muscles of the shoulder and upper back. Breathe slowly and fully. Stay at least 30 seconds, then change sides and repeat.

LESS CHALLENGING VARIATION:
A belt slung around the mid-foot is helpful at first. When using a belt, be sure to grip it high enough to bring the shoulders into play. Bending the opposite leg helps raise the straight leg high enough to get a better angle for the stretch.