Yoga and scoliosis


Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine which involves certain consequences for the health and posture of the person affected by it. According to Elise Browning Miller -a senior Iyengar teacher specialized in back and sports related injuries- there are 2 main types of scoliosis: structural or functional (more…)

Alignment in yoga


When I trained with Mitchell Bleier I learned that verbal cues can be broken up into two categories: form and action. When we teach we begin with giving instructions that describe the form of a pose (where you place your feet and hands, how to position the pelvis, etc..) after that we use words that evoke action. This is the most important part as the action piece is what holds the asana together.  (more…)

How do I protect my low back in yoga? (Part 1)

Today’s question comes from Mar who wants to know:

“How can I protect my back in backbends?”

While there are many factors that contribute to low back pain in yoga, the one I want to address today has to do with bad posture. I’m talking about the habit of thrusting the hips forward and turning the feet out when standing. Charlie Chaplin famously adopted -and exaggerated- this posture.

charlie chaplin posture análisisThis apparently harmless stance creates tension deep to the buttocks, possibly compressing the sacrum and low back. When carried over to yoga, this postural habit will have you pushing your hips up as high as possible in urdva dhanurasana (bridge pose) with painful consequences to your low back.  (Here’s a completely different expression, of the same postural pattern).

The anatomical perspective:

Our hip rotator muscles live deep to the “glutes” in the buttocks. This muscle group is comprised of six individual muscles that connect the back of the femur to the pelvis. Acting together, these muscles turn the leg out, a movement also called “external rotation of the femur.” When standing, tight hip rotators will also tilt the pelvis backwards, while the two actions combined (external rotation of the leg and posterior pelvic tilt) may result in sacroiliac joint compression and back pain. 

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 8.53.13 AMAllow me a little digression. Have you ever heard of the piriformis muscle? It is the most “famous” of all the hip rotators. Here’s why: it is singlehandedly responsible for a painful condition known as piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome is caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve by way of an overly tight piriformis muscle. Luckily, this painful condition can be relieved through stretching and deep tissue massage.

Now, back to posture. If we move through life with our own version of Chaplin’s gait, our posture will affect how we perform asanas (yoga poses). This is because posture is not a static “thing”, but a pre-conditioned movement pattern. Those of us who habitually thrust our hips forward and splay our feet out, seek stability by tightening our hip rotators. This habit will also affect how we move into asana. When tightening the deep buttock muscles, it will be difficult to maintain the knees “hip width apart and parallel” in yoga poses such as bridge. This clenching will also compress the sacroiliac joint and cause discomfort in the low back.

The good new is that we can retrain our posture by bringing our femurs to a more neutral position, thus freeing up our low back and avoiding unnecessary pain.

Try these easy steps:

  • Standing upright trace a horizontal line from your pubic bone to the outer edges of your hips. Here, you’ll be able to palpate the proximal portion of the femur, the greater trochanter, an easy easy to palpate  bony landmark. 
  • Now, initiating movement from your greater trochanters, move your femurs into a slight internal rotation. Visualize the movement of your leg bones, as this will help you to better execute the movement. Keep your buttocks soft and your breath relaxed.  Feel the subtle sensations in your body. Do you notice your sacrum growing wider? Does the weight distribution on your feet change?
  • After you’ve become familiar with the previous exercise, bring it into your yoga practice. Instead of pushing your hips upwards in Setu Bandha Sarvanghasana (bridge prep), focus on the position of your femurs in relation to your pelvis. Gently turn them inwards without tightening the buttocks. What do you notice now? Are your legs working harder? This is because now they’re actually supporting the weight of your body, whereas before they were pushing into your low back.

The purpose of this exercise is to help you gain awareness of your body (and your posture!) on and off the mat. Will you give it a try? 

PS: I’m teaching an anatomy and yoga workshop this Saturday -May 30th, 2015. Care to join us?

Anatomy Question:

“What is the relationship between the diaphragm, the psoas and the 12th dorsal vertebrae? Why is it important in yoga?” ~ Raquel

The psoas and diaphragm muscles are intimetely linked to one another, as one starts where the other ends. These two muscles meet on the anterior portion of the 12th dorsal vertebrae, right behind the peritoneum in the abdominal cavity.*

In this context, the 12th rib is a landmark that is easy to locate in one’s body: just draw a horizontal line from the inferior tip of your sternum (xyfoid process) all the way around to your spine. Yous should land just above your 12th dorsal vertebrae. Now that you know where that landmark is, you can also access -via your imagination- the back portion of your diaphragm, where it meets the psoas. 

Many yoga teachers use the language of anatomy to direct their student’s attention inwards (pratyahara).  If you are familiar with this language, you can follow your teacher’s instructions and place your attention wherever instructed. The attention required to do that fosters a meditative state in which you are totally present, here and now, aware of your body and listening to the sensations that arise. This is yoga!

*I made this video to help you see and understand the relationship between psoas, diaphragm and 12th dorsal vertebrae. I hope you like it.

Was this helpful? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. 

About the creative process and the “monsters” that hold us back

Liz Gilbert

In Australia, when the ocean is a mess of waves and foam they say it’s like a “washing machine.” From the shore it certainly looks that way: waves breaking in all directions and tons of foam everywhere. Sometimes, life takes you to a similar place within yourself. It shakes you up and turns you around until everything you thought to be certain is completely questionable. You try to calm yourself down and find a logical explanation to your situation. When that doesn’t work you cry, kick and scream.. still, no relief. Finally, there’s nothing left to do but surrender. This is how my last few week have been.

Yoga puts you face to face with yourself and sometimes what you discover  is hard to swallow. During the last weeks a few monsters turned up to reap havoc in my internal landscape. They are ugly and scary. They love to criticize everything and they’re never satisfied. “If only this were different it would be much better,” they say. They are actively looking for the flaw in every thing, in every circumstance and in me. We have long arguments that feel like and endless ping-pong match going on in my head. It’s exhausting. 

I found some solace two weeks ago at an event with Liz Gilbert, the author of the Eat, Pray, Love book. She was touring this side of the world with her friend (and hairstylist) who just published her own book. On the stage, they had a casual and intimate discussion about the creative process and the obstacles we encounter along the way. They talked a lot about how to confront the ugly thoughts I call “monsters.”

Liz described her “monsters” as abandoned children with grubby faces who clamor for her attention. She said that at a certain point in her life she had to come to terms with them and figure out how to deal with them. She imagines herself as their mother and makes it her responsibility to care for them. It is a metaphor for taking care of herself, for being her own mother.

She also told us that at the start of each new project she writes a sort of proclamation, a formal letter that she reads out loud in her studio. In it she invites Creativity and also Fear to join her on a new adventure. She know she cannot exclude Fear, but there’s one condition. She tells Fear: “You can have a voice and you can have a seat, but you don’t get to vote!” I thought that was brilliant.

Liz encouraged us to continue forth with our creative work and to “get it done!” She reminded us that our art “doesn’t have to be good, helpful, marketable or pleasing. It just has to be Done. Get it done!” 

 She ended with these words of wisdom:

“What differentiates a life of suffering from a life of learning is a sense of belief that life is your friend. Do the work. Repeatedly. Build a life of meaning.”

Here’s to to a life of learning. Onward!

Awesome Anatomy Resources and Links

026 FOTOS CLASSES JULY 2014Back in the day..

When I first trained as a Structural Integration practitioner at the Guild for Structural Integration I was very lucky to have an engaging anatomy teacher who brought a lot of real human bones to class! This may sounds strange, but when you’re studying human anatomy it’s a real treat.

We were encouraged touch and take in the details of each bone; we were even allowed to borrow them overnight to assist us with our homework assignments, but most of all to keep us fascinated with the human body. It worked!

During the anatomy course we even went to visit a cadaver lab where the different bodies were specifically dissected for massage therapists. For example, they showed us how the fascia on the bottom of the foot is connected to the fascia on the top of the head in one long strip!  I also remember my surprise when they showed us the piriformis muscle, it’s so small compared to the images in my books! How can this little muscle be such a big pain in the butt?

I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have this experience untill later. Back at home I had to rely strictly on books to study anatomy. I used a number of them and compared the images of one to another and then to another to try and grasp what the different muscles looked like, where they were located and how they were layered over one another.


It was quite a feat! The Trail Guide to the Body has really good and copious illustrations and nowadays even includes a DVD (which is awesome!!) that teaches you to palpate soft tissues and bony landmarks, I can’t recommend it enough. Blandine’s book explains really well how the body moves, but the images are a bit too confusing for a newbee so to get a clearer picture I would read it along side Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy which is beautifully detailed. It illustrates the body in a way that inspires awe both for the for body’s complexity as well as for Netter’s artistic abilities.  In my quest to understand anatomy better, I also used art catalogues such as this one from the reinassance wax sculpture collection of La Specola’s Museun of Natual History in Florence (photographed above).


Today you can navigate the body in 3 dimensions from your laptop with 3D humna anatomy apps!!

These apps are great for home-study as well as for creating keynote presentations. You can explore the body from all angles, isolate muscles, bones and internal organs, layer them and save screenshots of the angles you like most.  What  a  great addition to your collection of resources.

In the applied anatomy study group we’re currently exploring these  two programs: Visible Body’s Muscle Premium and 3D4Medical’s Essential Anatomy 3. The cool thing is that they both offer a free trial version! Links to those are here and here.

Muscle Premium vs. Essential Anatomy 3

When it comes to the payed versions of the muscular system,  I favor Essential Anatomy 3

Here’s why:

  • it looks good: the design is appealing, simple and nice on the eyes.
  • it’s easy to use, you don’t have to look at tutorials to figure it out!
  • it also includes other body systems: nervous, respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular, lymphatic and connective tissue 🙂 which is a definite plus, as don’t have to buy them separately.
  • my favorite feature is “isolate” where you click on a body part and then view it from all angles. Super cool!
  • It also lets you “dress” the skeleton, so to speak, by adding layers of muscles onto the skeleton.
  • It has a bookmarks menu to which you can add your own slides (though I still haven’t figured out how to delete the slides you’ve created without deleting all of them!)
Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 23.31.47

Essential Anatomy 3 screenshot of the “isolate” feature.

Cons: the main “con” (that makes me crazy!!) is that when you click on something you want to view it will automatically zoom in. I find this rather annoying, still, the pros outweigh the cons.

Muscle Premium is more detailed when it comes to the images but it’s not as easy to navigate or as user-friendly. It also doesn’t include the vascular, digestive, linfatic or respiratory systems which you have to purchase separately. It’s most interesting features include 3D movement animations which are cool and help you understand movements like inversion / eversion of the foot, if you get those confused.  It also has a detailed catalogue with views of the different regions of the body which I find useful, though it doesn’t offer a whole body view in any of these sections.

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 23.34.23

Muscle Premium: Nice detail on the muscles and nervous sytem.

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