3 unexpected benefits of practicing yoga

3 unexpected benefits of practicing yoga

I stumbled upon the following question while browsing quora.com (which also happens to be my new favorite pass time). 

“I’ve been trying to implement yoga and meditation in my life for a while but somehow it doesn’t work as I expect it to. Do I need someone to teach me or does it take time to see significant results?”

This query reminds me of how, at first, my yoga practice didn’t quite live up to my expectations either. I had my own preconceptions of what the yoga should be like and what I wanted to get out of it.

But the cool thing about yoga is that it doesn’t give you what you want. And yes, having a teacher really makes a difference.

Here are three examples of the recent and unexpected “results” I attribute to yoga. 

ONE. I flew over the front of my bicycle recently in a minor accident that left me unscathed. I slammed on the brakes suddenly, and my bike stopped but I didn’t. Had it not been for yoga, I am certain that some bone or ligament would have just snapped or popped when I hit the ground. But thanks to yoga, my connective tissues is pliable and the flexibility I’ve gained from yoga helped my body absorb the impact of the fall without anything breaking.

TWO. In December I took a month long break from my yoga practice. I haven’t taken this long a break in a while and was quickly reminded of why I love yoga so much. By the end of the month I felt really wishy washy, undecided and unsure of myself. Having a consistent yoga practice gives me a sense of groundedness that is not natural to me. I may not be aware of  it every day, but when it’s gone I miss it!

THREE. I enjoy being a morning person. This hasn’t always been the case. Until recently, the sound of the alarm in the morning triggered a terrible argument inside my head. One voice would say “You have to go do yoga!” and another rebuttled “I don’t want to!” Lately, however I enjoy the morning practice more than ever. The practice clears my head and warms my body. Afterwards I feel renewed.

Have you had similar experiences with yoga in your life? I’d love to hear what gifts yoga has surprised you with. Please share below. I look forward to reading your thoughts!

How to keep your spine healthy

luke

The spine is designed to perform the following 4 movements: flexion, extension, axial rotation and side-bending. If you want to keep your back happy, try to perform these 4 movements daily. There’s no need to be a specialist in anatomy to enjoy a healthy and flexible spine.

Here are some recommendations to help you move intelligently:

  • When you flex your spine avoid compressing your low back. If you’re not very flexible, bend your knees slightly and try to keep your waist long and shoulders down. 
  • In spinal extensions, focus on your upper thoracic region. The challenge of back-bends is opening the chest and shoulders instead of hyperextending the low back. If you breathe deep into your lungs, your breath will help lift the ribcage and open the chest. 
  • When performing twists we want to rotate the vertebrae on their central axis. We can aid this action by keeping our hips level and squared to the front. This way we can focus the twist in the thoracic region of the spine. 
  • Side-bending is an easy movement, which I find particularly delightful. It involves stretching out first one side of the trunk and then the other. Take care not to rotate your shoulder girdle or your hips. Ground though your feet an legs to get the full benefit of this action. 

In my last online anatomy course, my students and I used drawings to design some easy sequences that move the spine in all 4 directions. I’ve included 2 images below, hoping these sequences inspire your yoga practice or stretching routine.

Sequence designed by Jaume Leguía Gaspar

Sequence designed by Jaume Leguía Gaspar

 

Sequence designed by Claudia Menenses Meza

Sequence designed by Claudia Menenses Meza

‘The map is not the territory’, my thoughts on anatomy and yoga

Sometimes, the challenge of teaching anatomy to yoga teachers is conveying the idea that, despite sharing the same anatomical blueprint, each person’s body is unique. The anatomical map offers us detailed portrayal of the human structure, however it is still only an approximate representation of the actual body we inhabit. Each person is a  perfect specimen of human anatomy as can be attested just by observing the people out on the street: some people are taller, others shorter, some have inherited a robust constitution while others seem more delicate.

If we understand that the study of anatomy encompasses all of these individual differences between human beings, then we can use our anatomical atlas to study each individual student with discernment and curiosity. To do this we must patiently compare the ‘map’ to the ‘territory’ so as to become familiar with the actual bodies of the people we work with. This is how I apply my understanding of anatomy in the context of yoga.

One way to put the theory into practice is to locate certain bony reference points that will help us evaluate our students’ yoga poses.

For example, the sacrum is a reference point that comes in handy.  This bone is shaped like an upside down triangle. It articulates with the iliac bones to the sides and with the coccyx below. The pelvis is formed by the union of sacrum, iliac bones and coccyx.  If we can locate the sacrum, then we can evaluate the position of the pelvis in relation to the spine and legs.

Following the same example, in the forward flexion called pashimottanasana, we want to position the top the sacrum perpendicular or in front of the coccyx. This will establish hip flexion and will simultaneously challenge the elasticity of the hamstring muscles, which if shortened drag the pelvis backwards.

If, on the other hand, the top edge of the sacrum is positioned behind the coccyx, the pelvis will be in a less-than-favorable position for the lumbar spine. We want to position the pelvis in such a way that it helps to establish hip flexion and stretch out the hamstrings.

bad pashimottanasana

With this example I hope to illustrate how we can apply anatomy to yoga in a way that is helpful to our students. In the current case example, we could suggest our student bend his knees so as to work his shortened hamstrings. In this way we are adapting the yoga practice to the student instead of imposing on him a posture that his body may not be ready for.

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