Love is an action, never simply a feeling.
Greetings! As we move out of what was a very hard January for many people in Astoria, we want to celebrate the care and commitment of each and every one of you as you continue your yoga practice with us here at Watershed Wellness. Our January focus explored kindness and compassion, especially directed toward the self.
Yoga is more than just moving your body into different shapes.
The practice of yoga involves lifestyle and behavior guidelines, breathwork, meditation and what most of us are familiar with: movement practices. This month we’ll be focusing on one of the behavioral guidelines. We are beginning an exploration of the yamas and niyamas of yoga, starting with the principle of Ahimsa: non-violence.
A brief explanation of the yamas and niyamas
Yoga practitioners have always been human beings struggling and working towards being the best people that they can be. Yoga is a 5000-year-old practice that calms your mind and body and brings you peace and happiness. Early practitioners of yoga developed a list of principles to help guide them in this process. These guidelines have helped practitioners of yoga focus on leading lives that are morally and ethically correct. The list of guidelines includes the yamas and the niyamas.
The word yama in Sanskrit means “moral discipline” and niyama means “moral observance.
The 5 yamas (disciplines) are:
- Ahimsa — non-harming
- Satya — refraining from dishonesty
- Asteya — non-stealing
- Brahmacharya — wise use of sexual energy
- Aparigraha — non-possessiveness
The 5 niyamas (observances) are:
- Saucha — purity
- Santosha — contentment
- Tapas — self-discipline
- Svadhyaya — self-study
- Ishvara pranidhana — surrender to a higher source
In February, we are focusing on the first yama, ahimsa.
The yamas build upon one another with ahimsa acting as the building block for understanding all the other yamas.
Ahimsa means “avoidance of violence”.This is often interpreted as the act of not harming other beings (for example, many practitioners of yoga take this to mean that they should practice vegetarianism as an act of not harming animals).
Ahimsa can also be an act of practicing love and kindness toward ourselves and others.
This principle requires us to act from a place of love toward other beings, including ourselves. This includes non-harmful thoughts and actions. It means eradicating judgmental thoughts and negativity that can become all pervasive. It means responding to challenges that come our way with a sense of openness and love rather than shutting down and closing ourselves off from the world. It means extending the principle of charity to others when dealing with hard situations – assuming the best intentions of each other; assuming that we’re all coming from a place of love and kindness rather than from a place of harming each other.
For one day, try this: try tracking your thought processes throughout the day, and noting every time you have a negative or judgmental thought either about yourself or someone else.
Once you notice these thoughts, it’s astounding how much negativity and judgment knocks around in our thoughts every day. How can you turn these thoughts about yourself and others around to thoughts of love and kindness? When you hear that voice of negativity or judgment, replace it with something kind.
How does ahimsa show up on the yoga mat?
Ahimsa shows up when you don’t compare yourself to others in the room. It shows up when you don’t criticize your body or your practice, but rather allow yourself to be in whatever iteration of your self you are bringing to the mat that day. It shows up when you allow space for community and acceptance of everyone in the room.
UPDATE: While it seems the shutdown is over for now, we all know the impacts of stress go far beyond the ending of any given stressful event. So we are extending this offer through the end of February. 👍🏼🇺🇸❤️
Astoria is a Coast Guard city.
Further, Oregon and Washington are home to many federal workers in the sciences, in the park system and in many other important areas of American life. All of these people and their families are being impacted by the unprecedented government shutdown battle currently playing out in Washington D.C.
The shutdown is ugly, and absolutely unneeded. Fortunately, there is some beauty emerging, particularly in our community, that is helping things be a little easier on those impacted by furlough.
- A popup food bank was organized by the community and helped more than 1300 people
- Several local businesses, including Buoy Beer are organizing dinners & giving discounts to those impacted
- Individuals all over the city are contributing to GoFundMe and other donation projects
There's so much more we're missing in this brief blog post – but the outpouring of support is truly inspiring.
We want to do our part to help.
Until the shutdown ends, we are offering free classes at our movement studio to all federal employees impacted by the shutdown. Stress is one of the hidden impacts of loss of income security, and while yoga isn't going to put food on the table or help you with childcare, hopefully it provides some respite in a world that seems bent on putting burdens on those who can least afford them. All you have to do is show up.
For all of our existing WW movement studio regulars…
It's possible that class sizes will be a little big during this time, and we might end up reaching capacity during the more popular classes. We'll accommodate everyone we safely can, and ask your patience as we try to help your neighbors and friends have some time for reflection, movement and connection.
Please share with anyone you think might benefit, and thank you.
Welcome to the new year!
Like millions of other Americans, you’ve probably been thinking about changes you would like to make in your life in the new year. This time of the year inspires us to reflect on our lives. On what we’d like to change, what we can do better, what we want this year to be all about. We resolve to do better, be better, live better.
When used as an action, resolve means to decide firmly on a course of action. We might resolve to eat better, move more, or have better relationships with those you love. But what happens when life gets in the way of this resolve? When we don’t have time to make a healthy meal, to attend a class, or tend to those that we love most? The beginning of the year can be a great time of reflection and plotting a course of action, but we are often setting ourselves up for hard times and big feelings when our lives don’t support our resolutions.
Every year, it seems, it’s the same story. We start out strong with our resolutions of change in the new year and then things slip a little. Our resolutions fade into the background of our very busy lives and habit takes over. It’s easy, when this happens, to be hard on yourself. Why can’t you maintain what seems like a simple change?
What if, instead of resolving to be something or someone different, we instead could love ourselves as we are: as imperfect human beings trying to live the best lives we can in this complicated world?
By showing compassion to ourselves, we can move forward with a change not from a place of shame or lack, but rather from a strong foothold of already being a good enough person who is thoughtfully engaged in the process of self exploration. A person engaged in being the best person they can be while knowing there will be mistakes made and lessons learned. A person who understands that these mistakes and lessons are all part of being better humans.
Perhaps, in the new year, hard headed resolve can be replaced with a sense of self-compassion as we bumble through this beautiful life.
A life where we do the work of continually showing up and being in the company of others working through the same struggles. A life where we seek good company in a non-judgmental environment that can help foster compassion not only for ourselves, but for everyone.
One of the benefits of yoga is that it provides the space to understand ourselves more deeply, outside and in. The act of coming to class with a clear intention of compassion for yourself as you walk through this hard and beautiful life can be revolutionary. Throughout our January yoga classes, we'll be exploring poses and themes that inspire compassion, that allow for self reflection and help us dive a little further into our best selves. There is something really powerful about practicing this sort of self-compassion with other like-minded individuals in good community. We hope you'll join us as we move forward into this new year.
Happy December! Welcome to the darkest time of the year if you're with us in the Northern Hemisphere. December brings with it many celebrations, opportunities for light within the darkness, and (hopefully!) time for reflection and quiet. To celebrate the deep dark things in life our monthly focus at Watershed Wellness will be on the core: finding strength and stability from within to support on the outside.
When you think about core, you might imagine someone with six pack abs. Many commonly think only of the superficial abdominal muscles as being the whole of the core. A broader, more realistic definition of the core would include discussion of up to 40 different muscles. Your abdominals certainly play a role in core stability, but the deeper muscles provide a stability that is essential.
The core muscles are the structures of the body that tie everything together in movement.
They help you sit up straight without pain. They help mitigate lower back pain. They help you find better balance in your body.
The muscles that stabilize your core include:
- abdominal muscles: rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, and the transverse abdominus
- the muscles that help to stabilize your shoulder blades
- pelvic floor muscles
- the muscles that support your spine
- the diaphragm
- your back muscles
Functions of the core include:
- stabilizing the legs and hips
- supporting the lower spine from the front of the body
- surrounding and shaping the abdomen
- stabilizing the chest with breath
- balancing and stabilizing your neck and head
When your core muscles aren’t working properly the function of the core (stabilizing) is transferred to other parts of the body. This can create less elegance and grace in movement and function, and more strain to the joints that can, over time, lead to injury and degeneration.
It is also worth mentioning that the word “core” can elicit mixed feelings for many people.
It’s an area that many of us want to ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist because we think it’s too big, too weak, or flawed in some way. It’s also one of the most vulnerable spots of the body, housing the abdominal organs. It is our hope that by having an added understanding of what this area of our bodies is comprised of, and how it functions for us, we can have a better relationship with it.
Throughout December we’ll be focusing on these deeper muscles intending to create strength and warmth from within.
We’ll work with poses that are as simple as cat/cow to as complex as handstand and arm balances. Bringing awareness to these often sleepy areas of the body you’ll leave December feeling more stable, graceful, warm and supported from the inside out.
Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? Mary Oliver
Inhale. Exhale. These actions are instructed many times during a yoga class. Inhale your arms up and overhead, exhale and fold forward. Inhale lift your heart, exhale allow your hips to sink toward the floor. The inherent nature of the inhale is to lift, to rise, to expand, while the exhale allows for drawing in, deepening, and release.
For the month of November, we will be exploring how the breath changes our practice. We’ll be looking at why the breath is important in a yoga practice, the anatomy of the breathing body, Pranayama, and how the shape of the body can change the shape of the breath.
Why does the breath even matter in a yoga practice?
Why do we link the inhale and exhale to certain movements? Breathing usually operates at the edge of our awareness. On average, we take about 16 breaths per minute. This correlates to 960 breaths per hour, 23,040 breaths a day. How many of those breaths are conscious breaths? Probably not many. Yoga offers the opportunity to create attention and intention around the breath. In fact, there is opportunity in yogic breathing to control the breath in various ways. Similar to a seated meditation practice, tuning into the breath can provide something to focus on during your movement practice.
In every yoga practice, breathing is closely attended to. Vinyasa yoga, specifically, links movement with breath. The word vinyasa means “to place in a special way”. A vinyasa specific class focuses on linking movement with the breath. Attuning to the breath can not only be a great link between poses and a focal point but also a way to warm the body to prepare for movement. Looking at the anatomy of the breath can help to illuminate how the breath can affect movement.
Anatomy of the Breath
The main goal in breathing is to move oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the body. Every time you take a breath, air is pulled backward into the nose past the hard and soft palates. It then makes a 90-degree turn into the pharynx, a funnel-shaped region. From the pharynx, the breath moves into the larynx (where the vocal cords are housed). After the larynx, the breath passes through the trachea, the right and left bronchi and then into the two lungs. The lungs divide into smaller and smaller segments (bronchopulmonary segments, secondary bronchi, tertiary bronchi, bronchioles, collectively called the bronchial tree, and eventually into the tiny alveoli) and your breath is processed and assimilated into your body.
Your lungs are mostly comprised of air: 50% after full exhalation, and 80% with a full inhalation.
This inhalation and exhalation changes the shape of your thoracic and abdominal cavities. The thoracic cavity houses the heart and lungs, and the abdominal cavity contains the stomach, liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, small and large intestines, kidneys, reproductive organs, and bladder. These two cavities are separated by a muscle called the diaphragm.
There are a few muscles in the body that enable a full and deep inhale, and the diaphragm is at the top of that list. This muscle creates the barrier between the thoracic and the abdominal cavities. The upper fibers attach to the circumference of the lower rib cage. The diaphragm attaches to the front of the lumbar vertebra L1, L2, and L3 (this is a simplified explanation of both the upper and lower attachments).
The diaphragm muscle is capable of creating a three dimensional shape change in the thoracic cavity. The shape of the diaphragm can be likened to a parachute or jellyfish. With a deep breath in, the lungs push the diaphragm down and make the belly push out. With a deep exhalation, the lungs deflate, the diaphragm returns to its domelike shape, and the pressure on the abdominal cavity from the inhalation is released.
Try this, take a deep breath and notice how the shape of your rib cage changes.
Notice how your belly changes. The inhalation will change the volume of the thoracic cavity in three directions: top to bottom, side to side and front to back. Your ribs are designed to expand and contract with the inhale and the exhale. The lungs take up more room in your body as you increase the volume in the thoracic cavity, therefore pushing your belly out. You can also use the musculature of your belly (your abdominals) to create some control in this area. By doing so you can force the air more into the rib cage, allowing the ribs to lift and expand.
A quick note here of a few relevant accessory breathing muscles (the other muscles that participate in breathing). These muscles are:
- Internal and external intercostals
- internal and external obliques
- Transverse abdominis
- Pectoralis minor
- Serratus Posterior
Pranayama is loosely defined as the conscious awareness of the breath. Prana = life force, and ayama = extension. There are many different types of breathwork that can be practiced in a yoga class. We’ll bring up just a few that are great for those just beginning these practices. It is noted in most of the texts that discuss pranayama that these practices should be done with attention and that controlling the breath can have profound impacts on your body.
This is the most basic of the breathing techniques and is accessible to all practitioners. Ujjayi pranayama involves breathing through the nose with a very slight narrowing at the epiglottis. This breath produces a gentle wavelike, or whisper sound, originating from the constriction at the back of the throat. To find this constriction, imagine that you are sucking air as if through a straw at the back of your throat. Ujjayi breathing is said to warm the breath as it flows through the nose, thus warming the body.
Equal breath. Sama means same, and vritti means fluctuations of the mind. The hope of sama vritti pranayama is to calm the fluctuations of the mind. This breath pattern is practiced by making the inhale and exhale equal in length.
Alternate nostril breathing. This is practiced by closing the right nostril with your thumb, exhaling and inhaling once through the left nostril and then closing the left nostril with the ring finger, exhaling and inhaling once through the right nostril. You then move back to closing the right nostril with the thumb and start the cycle over. This practice can center the attention and calm the mind. It also helps to balance the nervous system.
There are many different types of pranayama, and various forms will be practiced throughout the month of November at the studio. Please note that if any of these practices cause anxiety, it’s always ok to come back to your normal breathing pattern and just focus on the inhale and exhale.
“Breathing has the dual nature of being both voluntary and autonomic, which is why the breath illuminates the eternal inquiry about what we can control or change and what we cannot.” Leslie Kaminoff in Yoga Anatomy
Breath in action
The shape of the breath can change with the shape of your body. By understanding the anatomy, as discussed above, we can start to look at how moving into certain yoga postures can change where our breath fills our body. For example, if we inhale and come into a backbend, our spine naturally extends and the breath in can help to support the heart opening and chest breathing that in inherent in backbends. The accessory breathing muscles of the back kick in as we breathe deeply to support the shape. The breath is forced into the upper chest region. Try this in a cobra shape. The feedback of the floor in this belly down backbend will help you see how the breath gets filtered more into the chest.
In twists, something similar happens. We constrict both the thoracic and abdominal cavities as we revolve around our spines. You might notice that you can lengthen more into your twist with the inhale, and then as you empty your lungs find a deeper twist with the exhale. You might also find that you have more constriction in either your belly or your chest, depending on the twist.
Regardless of what your practice looks like, paying close attention to the breath can deepen and sweeten any yoga asana practice.
The breath can be the doorway into a deeper experience of your body and your internal spaces. The breath can help to identify and release the tensions of the body and help to attain equilibrium. Keeping the lungs open can be an especially hard thing to do this time of year as we start to get our winter colds. We'll be exploring these concepts from different angles, including Chinese medicine, in upcoming articles.
If you’re interested in learning more about the breath and pranayama in meditation and movement, I encourage you to come to any class in November to explore these practices in your own body.
If you’d like further reading on the breath, I utilized the following texts in this article:
- Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
- Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by H. David Coulter
With the return of Fall and the recent Autumnal Equinox, the change of the seasons and the harvest time invite us to think about what is and is not working for us. It’s time to reap what we’ve sown over the summer months. For me, after the busy-ness of the summer the change of the seasons is like a fresh breath of cool air.
Autumn is a time to reassess and come into greater balance with yourself and the external world.
Summer always feels so frantic, and with the returning of the fall-time routines (back to school, less travel) we can view this as an invitation to come into balance.
Throughout our day we’re given the opportunity to find physical balance many, many times. Every time we take a step we’re suspended in a short moment of balance before our foot comes back into contact with the ground. In yoga, we’re given many moments to find balance in poses like tree pose or warrior 3. These poses ask for our complete focus and attention as we try to maintain our connection with the earth on one foot.
A balancing pose isn’t a destination that one can find, but rather a constant recalibration process as we try to find a sense of stability. Our muscles work hard to find harmony in the pose. Our focus and attention become attuned to maintaining an upright position. It’s easy to become frustrated if we fall out of our balancing posture, especially if everyone else seems to be effortlessly maintaining the pose.
In these poses, there is an opportunity to play with your own boundaries around feeling safe even when things are wobbly. With practice, you can maintain a sense of steadiness through the constant calibration and feedback from your body. The wobbles become smaller and your body adjusts to them more readily.
Let’s take a moment to look at the physical mechanisms of balancing
Good balance depends on coordination between your eyes (visual system), your muscles, tendons and joints (proprioceptive input), and the organs of the inner ear (vestibular system) to tell you where you are in space.
Proprioception is the ability to know where you are in space. Taken from the Latin proprius, meaning “one’s self” and capio, “to take or grasp”, proprioception is the sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body.
Maintaining balance becomes much more challenging when we close our eyes and take away our visual input. The added challenge of adding closed eyes to a balancing posture takes away one of our methods of input (visual system) and becomes an opportunity for us to further hone our awareness of where our bodies are in space. This added challenge increases our proprioceptive awareness.
This knowledge of where your body is in space can be a game changer in real-life situations such as walking on a slippery or uneven surface. With practice, we learn to trust our bodies and our balancing capabilities and become more resilient over time.
With an intentional movement practice, there is always an opportunity to take what you learn about your body and your self on the mat to your life outside the yoga studio. Learning to understand the constant changeability and recalibration of your body by practicing balance can help you understand your own resilience as things in life shift. Balancing in class can help you understand how you can work toward harmony in other parts of your life.
Benefits of balance poses:
- Improves strength
- Improves focus
- Improves proprioception
- Helps you to get out of your head and more into your body
Balancing in yoga can look like many different things. For example:
- Standing poses balancing on one foot such as Tree pose or Warrior 3
- Maintaining a solid center while transitioning from one pose to another
- Balancing on your hands in handstand or crow pose
- Finding balance through the spine and heart in backbends
- Focusing on finding an equal length inhale and exhale
- Closing your eyes in horse pose and finding a sense of stability and grounding.
We’re looking forward to exploring all things balance related in our October classes. Check out our schedule of classes at our Astoria yoga studio. Here are a few of our favorite poses that incorporate balance:
At the beginning of a yoga class, sometimes I’ll posit the question: Anyone have anything that they want to work on today? Invariably someone will say: SHOULDERS!
What I understand this to mean, in most people’s bodies, is that area between the shoulder blades that often gets mucked up and crunchy, as well as the junction between the upper back and the neck. These two areas, the upper thoracic area and the upper trapezius area, are two common places that most people I know hold some tension. It’s also a common pain area for folks coming in for massage therapy.
In my massage practice, my clients often ask if everyone has tension in this area, or if theirs happens to be particularly bad. In general, most everyone I’ve massaged has some level of tension here.
Let’s look at the anatomy of the shoulder:
The shoulder is made up of three bones:
- Clavicle (collarbone)
- Humerus (upper arm bone)
- Scapula (shoulder blade)
The shoulder blade, collarbone and arm are all part of the appendicular skeleton which rests on the axial skeleton. The clavicle provides a fairly stable strut, while the humerus maintains the widest variation of movement possibility. The scapula helps to keep the peace between the two structures by providing extra stability for the clavicle and support by way of the glenoid socket (where the upper arm bone and the scapula meet) in order to manage the shifting of the humerus. This whole structure helps to provide some stability in movement of the arm on the torso (the axial skeleton).
The shoulder is a complex ball and socket joint that moves in a variety of planes. The muscles of the shoulder and arm are amazingly diverse – they span across the width of the back attaching the scapula to the rib cage, neck, head and arms.
The primary movements of the shoulder joint and scapula are:
Shoulder (glenohumeral joint)
- Abduction (bringing your arm away from you)
- Adduction (brining your arm toward you
- Horizontal Abduction
- Horizontal Adduction
- External Rotation
- Internal Rotation
Scapula (shoulder blade)
- Retraction (shoulder blades towardone another)
- Protraction (shoulder blades away from one another)
- Upward rotation
- Downward rotation
There are 17 muscles that articulate with the shoulder blade
- Serratus Anterior
- Teres Major
- Teres Minor
- Triceps Brachii long head
- Biceps Brachii
- Rhomboid Major
- Rhomboid Minor
- Omohyoid inferior belly
- Lattisimus Dorsi
- Levator Scapula
- Pectoralis Minor
An imbalance in any of these structures can cause pain and decreased mobility in your shoulder and scapula mobility.
The shoulder blade wants to be in a balanced position, but when one muscle or group of muscles gets chronically shortened or lengthened, the placement of the shoulder blade on your body can be impacted.
In a yoga class, having integrated shoulders is an essential part of your practice. What do we mean by integrated shoulders?
- Shoulders that have strength, flexibility and MOBILITY that allow you to do the poses that you want when you want.
- Shoulders that are well balanced both muscularly and structurally.
- Shoulders that support you with integrity while putting weight on your hands.
- Shoulders that work well for you in your daily activities, such as reaching for things over your head, or supporting yourself while mopping the floor on your hands and knees (does anyone else do this?!).
Let's look at a few yoga poses that integrate the shoulders. You can see in the images below that poses such as backbends, arm balances and poses that have arms overhead can all incorporate some good honest shoulder awareness.
Interested in feeling better in your shoulders as well as learning more about the anatomy and function of the shoulders? Come to any class during September for some shoulder love.
See you on the mat soon!
This August our monthly focus at the Watershed Wellness Yoga Studio will be getting our hearts over our heads in inversions. Inversions can be polarizing poses in yoga classes, often inspiring feelings of fear or anxiety, or perhaps feelings of joy and accomplishment. Regardless of how you feel about inversions, they can be a beneficial and fun part of any yoga practice.
What are inversions?
Any pose where we put the hips above the heart and the heart above the head is an inversion. These are poses where we go upside down and literally invert our world. Once upside down, even the simplest of movements can be confusing as we experience a different, and perhaps unfamiliar, relationship to gravity. With practice, even the most challenging inversions can become poses that you enjoy doing, and that provide a sense of peace and calm to the nervous system.
Why practice inversions?
There are many reasons out there for why inversions should be part of your yoga practice. We’ve come across claims that inversions can help increase blood flow to the brain, reverse your circulation, and lower your blood pressure. While these claims sound like awesome benefits to an inversion practice, we’re not completely convinced that physiologically these benefits happen in the body by inverting.
Here’s what we DO know about inversions:
-they change your perspective
-they can be great for proprioception (knowing where your body is in space)
-they can build strength throughout the body (core, legs, shoulders, arms, you name it)
-they can build balance
-they can be profoundly uplifting and fun
-they can be profoundly calming and relaxing
Getting your heart above your head can happen in a variety of yoga poses:
Does the idea of going upside down terrify you? Not to worry! There are many inversions that are gentle enough for anyone to practice. When approached in a thoughtful and intentional way, practitioners who are ready to move on can safely explore poses like headstand, forearm stand and handstand.
All of these poses reap the benefits of having the head below the heart, while fostering different emotional states ranging from uplifting to calming. Interested in knowing more? Come to any class during the month of August for some inversion exploration.
Watershed Wellness is offering a special workshop just for inversions in late August. This workshop will be taught by Jamie Savva and will include:
- fundamentals for the classic inversions: handstand, headstand, & forearm stand
- strength training
- partner work
Details on time and registration coming soon.
Not sure what class is for you? Take a look at what classes we offer.
New to yoga? Start here.
Want to read more about our previous monthly areas of focus?
Questions? Reach out!
Our July focus at the Watershed Wellness Yoga Studio is a deep dive into the structures of the hips and adjacent musculature that help keep us upright and mobile. Our Summer Yoga Special makes all of our classes budget friendly, and can be a great way to spend some focused time on a specific body part. Nervous about trying out a class at Watershed Wellness? Here's a quick article that will answer your common questions about what to expect at our studio.
Are you one of the millions of Americans who live with lower back pain? One of the primary reasons that students come to yoga at Watershed Wellness is to help with back pain relief. Our students experience this pain in a variety of ways:
- Achy in the muscles of the hip or lower back
- A sharp pain in a joint around the hip, either at the very base of their back, the front of their hip or deep in the inner thigh
- Shooting pain that has an electric or numbing quality in the hip or down the leg.
This pain, regardless of its quality, can inhibit mobility and limit our daily activity. I’ve found that movement helps. In fact, there's been compelling research done that shows that movement is more helpful for lower back pain than rest. It’s when we stop moving that things settle in and get worse.
Additionally, if we continue to move and find the mobility in our musculature and joints, focusing on strengthening some very key muscles can help to provide support to the Sacro-Iliac (SI) joint, which is often compromised in cases of lower back pain.
In an effort to further understand our own bodies and how they work, it’s a worthwhile effort to have an understanding of the anatomy and kinesiology of this complicated part of the body.
Let’s take a look at the anatomy first.
The pelvis is comprised of three bones: two Ilium (pelvic bones) and your Sacrum.
The Sacrum is a continuation of your spinal vertebrae and is made up of 5 fused vertebrae. It's connected to the coccyx, your tailbone. At the base of the pelvic bone, the Ilium, is the Ischial tuberosity, or sits bone. This is the bony prominence that we are meant to sit up on.
If you're sitting in a chair reading this, find your sitting bones by rocking back and forth and paying attention to the bony parts that you can feel at the bottom of your pelvis. These are your sitting bones. They are important to point out, as these are made to support our pelvis, but when we sit we often tuck our pelvis under and round through the lower back.
This causes us to sit on our tailbone, which isn't meant to support our body weight.
At the lower front of the pelvis is the articulation between the head of the femur and the hip socket (acetabulum) that creates the hip joint. This ball and socket joint joins the pelvis and the thighs and supports the weight of the body while allowing for mobility. The outer edge of the acetabulum is lined with a strong ring of cartilage called the labrum. The capsule is reinforced by four ligaments that wind around the head of the femur.
These ligaments twist and untwist as we move our upper leg bone to create mobility and stability of the hip joint.
At the top of the hip in the articulation between the sacrum and the ilium (hip bone) lies the Sacro-Iliac joint. This is a long skinny joint that is well supported by ligaments and musculature. This joint transfers weight between your upper body and legs and has about 2-4 mm of movement in any direction. This area is often a common problem area for back pain. When people tell me that they “threw their back out” it's usually this joint that they are talking about.
The hips are also supported by about 30 muscles that give lend support in movement and stability. There is much here to work with in nearly every family of yoga postures: lunges, forward folds, balance poses, backbends, and even inversions. Balance in the strength and mobility through all movements available at the hip joint allow for health and safe movement through this area.
The hip joint is capable of several types of movement:
- flexion of the hip
- extension of the hip
- abduction of the hip (moving the leg away from center)
- adduction of the hip (moving the leg toward center)
- internal rotation of the hip
- external rotation of the hip
Our July classes will do a deep dive into all of the hip movements with an eye toward maintaining strength and flexibility. Let’s look at a few poses that highlight this area:
*note: the poses shown all exist in the sagittal plane, but there are many more poses that affect the hips that expand into the coronal plane such as Warrior II and Triangle Pose. All actions of the hips described above will be explored in our July classes.
If you still aren't sure if a class at Watershed Wellness is for you, please reach out with any questions. We look forward to seeing you on the mat!
With the return of the sun and to celebrate Summer Solstice, our June focus at the Watershed Wellness yoga studio will be the Sun Salutation.
Surya Namaskar, or the Sun Salute, is a classic yoga sequence that is practiced in many classes. There is some dispute as to when it was developed – some say that it’s as old as 2500 years and others say that was originally developed in the 1930s.
Regardless of when it was developed, the intention remains the same: to honor the life giving nature of the sun. The ancient yogis thought that the sun was a representation of our own inner sun: our heart.
Sun Salutations help to lengthen and strengthen pretty much every part of the body. The only thing missing in a Sun Salute is a twist, and that can easily be added into the sequence. The Sun Salute can serve as a great warmup for more difficult yoga postures, and, if performed quickly, be a cardiovascular charge.
The yoga asanas (postures) are performed with the breath, and are a great way to wake up the entire body, warm up the muscles and joints, and stimulate the circulatory and nervous systems. Sun Salutes, and their many variations, are available to most every yoga student.
There are many different ways to perform a Sun Salutation. In general, most Sun Salutations have the following properties:
- Linking the breath with movement in the body
- Warming up the entire body and preparing for other yoga postures
- Spinal extension, flexion and integrity of the supporting musculature
- Stretching through the back of the body in forward folds and hamstring openers
- Opening through the heart in lunges
- Finding mobility through the shoulders and hips
- Balancing while moving through transition
- Finding the connections between the Superficial Front Line, the Superficial Back Line and the Lateral Line and moving fluidly between these connective tissue lines.
If you’ve been going to yoga for any length of time, chances are you’re familiar with some or all of the poses in a Sun Salutation. The poses included are:
- Upward Salute (Urdva Hastasana)
- Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
- Half Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana)
- Low lunge, knee down (Anjaneyasana)
- Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Plank Pose to belly or low plank (Phalakasana to Chataruanga)
- Cobra or Up Dog (Bhujangasana or Urdva Mukha Svanasana)
- Downward Facing Dog
- Low lunge, knee down side 2
- Forward Fold
- Half Forward Fold
- Upward Salute.
On Summer Solstice, it’s traditional to do 108 sun salutations. Why 108? Here’s a great article that explains the significance of the number 108 from many different traditions.
We’ll be working all month with variations of the Sun Salute.
These sequences can be practiced anywhere, and can be a foundational part of your home yoga practice. We’ll work with connecting breath and movement, and strengthening through transition, while adding in lots of fun along the way. In a place that is raining for much of the year, a celebration of the return of the light in June seems fitting, and we hope you’ll join us for this heart warming practice.
Interested in seeing what a Sun Salutation looks like, or including it in your home practice?
Here's a video – if you'd like to share it with others, please feel free to check out our YouTube channel & share from there!