“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein



Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sitting Up Straight and Expanding the Chest Forward in Sukhasana

Slumping the back and collapsing the chest is a common occurrence in Sukhasana, especially in those who are new to yoga. Factors that can contribute to this posture include fatigue, defeated mental state, and tight muscle groups. Many yoga poses are designed to counteract these factors, Sukhasana being one of them. Sitting up in Easy Cross-Legged Pose aids to bring the spinal column into alignment, so that the vertebral bodies and their discs support the torso; expanding the chest forward enhances breathing. With practice this can lead to a comfortable, easy position that is reflected on the central nervous system—an example of the mind/body connection in yoga.

seated poseseated pose

Here’s the Cue . . .

Place the hands with the palms facing down on the knees in Chin Mudra. Then, while holding onto the knees, attempt to draw the hands back towards the torso. This engages the latissimus dorsi. The hands are constrained, so the force of contracting the latissimus is transmitted to its origin along the midline of the back. The result is what is known in kinesiology as a “closed chain” movement, whereby the origin of the muscle moves (instead of the insertion). Activating the lats in this manner lifts the spine and expands the chest forward. If you tend to hyperextend the lumbar, then engage the abdominals to counteract this. Note the effect.



Slumping tilts the pelvis backwards into retroversion, so that one is sitting on the back part of the ischial tuberosities (the sitting bones). A portion of the latissimus dorsi originates from the back of the iliac crest, so that activating this muscle also tilts the pelvis forward, bringing the sitting bones more upright.

latissimus dorsi - tadasana
Lats in Tadasana

This technique is portable to other poses. In Tadasana, for example, simply fix the palms against the sides of the hips and attempt to drag them backwards. Note how the chest expands forward and the back straightens. See this concept in action for Sukhasana in the video above.

Here’s the Anatomy and Biomechanics. . .

The latissimus dorsi originates from the spinous processes of thoracic vertebrae 6—12, lumbar vertebrae 1—5 (via the thoracolumbar fascia), ribs 9—12, the supraspinous ligament, and the posterior third of the ilium. It inserts onto the intertubercular groove on the humerus and the deep fascia of the arm. The latissimus dorsi extends, adducts, and internally rotates the shoulder (open chain movement). It extends the spine and lifts and tilts the pelvis forward (closed chain movement) and is also an accessory muscle of respiration.

An excerpt from "Yoga Mat Companion 2 - Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends".

An excerpt from "Yoga Mat Companion 2 - Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends".


Want to learn more anatomy and biomechanics to improve your yoga? Click here to page through all of our books. Thanks for stopping by. Check back for our next post when we’ll give a finishing touch for Dog Pose.

All the Best,

Ray Long, MD

Monday, July 18, 2011

Antagonist/Synergist Combinations in Yoga

In this post we explore the relationship between the tensor fascia lata (TFL) and the gluteus maximus. In addition I add a cue for engaging the adductor magnus as a synergist of the gluteus maximus. Knowledge of these relationships can be used to refine and stabilize postures with a lunge component, such as Warrior II.

The "Deltoid" of the Hip . . .

You might think of the TFL as akin to the anterior deltoid of the shoulder in that it flexes and internally rotates the joint. The gluteus maximus is similar to the posterior deltoid in that it extends and externally rotates the articulation. Both muscles can abduct the hip. They are thus antagonists for flexion/extension and rotation and synergists for abduction.

gluteals and tensor fascia lata - "the deltoid of the hip"
The deltoid of the shoulder and the "deltoid" of the hip.
Click image for larger view.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Balancing Freedom and Restraint in Yoga

The work of legendary furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames has been described as a balance of freedom and restraint.  Mr. Eames was once asked: “Have you ever been forced to accept compromises?” He responded: “I don’t remember ever being forced to accept compromises, but I have willingly accepted constraints.”

Practicing yoga also involves working within constraints--those of the general form of the human body and also our personal limitations. Yoga balances freedom and restraint.

Knowledge of the body shows us where to expand and where to restrict movement. It also allows us to design a practice to fit our individual needs. That’s why working with a modified version of a particular pose is not a compromise—it’s accepting constraints. I don’t abandon a beneficial asana simply because it’s difficult. Rather, I use awareness of my limitations as a guide for determining how to work in the pose.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Using the TFL to Refine Utthita Parsvakonasana

Many of the standing poses have a lunge component; that is, the forward hip and knee flex while the back hip and knee extend. It is not unusual in these types of asanas for the forward knee to drift inward, with the pelvis moving in the opposite direction. An example of this is Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Lateral Angle Pose).

Positioning the knee over the ankle aligns the leg bones, especially the femur and tibia. This brings the anatomic and mechanical axes closer together, so that support in the pose is derived more from the strength of the bones than from muscular effort. Additionally, allowing the knee to drift inward can place stress on the lateral compartment of the joint. Adjusting the position of the femur and the tibia aids to distribute the joint reaction forces over a greater surface area.

tensor fascia lata
Click for larger image.
Here’s the Anatomy . . .