“. . . 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, October 3, 2013

Improving Stability in One Legged Standing Poses

Practicing yoga benefits our activities of daily living. We breathe easier, sit more comfortably and feel stable and strong when standing and walking. For this post, we’ll focus on the muscles that are active during the “mid-stance” phase of walking—which is essentially a one legged standing pose. Then we’ll develop some cues for engaging these muscles to improve stability in poses such as Tree pose and Hasta padangustasana. Improved stability in these asanas in turn enhances the beneficial effects of the practice.

Figure 1: Illustrating the phases of gait with the mid-stance phase highlighted.

The walk cycle is traditionally divided into several phases, as illustrated in figure 1. Researchers have used surface EMG’s to detect which muscles are most active during each of the various phases of walking. For example, during the mid-stance phase, the hip muscles that show a higher level of contraction include the gluteus minimus and tensor fascia lata (figure 2). The gluteus minimus helps stabilize the head of the femur (ball) in the acetabulum (socket). The tensor fascia lata acts to stabilize the pelvis and knee. These muscles engage automatically when we stand on one leg (unless there is an underlying pathological condition). We can improve their function in one legged standing poses by consciously engaging them in a variety of other asanas, including Downward dog, Uttanasana, and Upavista konasana.

Figure 2: The gluteus minimus stabilizing the head of the femur in the acetabulum and the tensor fascia lata (and gluteus medius) stabilizing the pelvis. Note that the TFL also stabilizes the knee.

Another muscle that is active during the mid-stance phase of gait is the rectus abdominis, which runs from the pubis to the front of the ribcage and xiphoid process of the sternum. This muscle aids to stabilize the lumbar spine and pelvis during this part of the walk cycle (figure 3). Consciously engaging the rectus abdominis during one legged standing poses thus helps to maintain balance. The transversus abdominis also contributes to stability through its myofascial connection to the thoraco-lumbar fascia.

Figure 3: Illustrating activation of the rectus abdominis in Tree pose.

Here’s the cue…

Begin by working with a support, such as a chair or the wall so that you can focus on integrating the muscular engagement without having to also focus on balancing (figure 4). Take Tree pose (Vrksasana) and, on your exhalation, gradually tense the abdomen; a visual cue is to draw the navel inward. Activating the abdominal muscles increases intra-abdominal pressure and tightens the thoraco-lumbar fascia, thus lifting the torso and stabilizing the lumbar spine. Working with the abdominals also amplifies the mind body connection to this region, creating a "functional focal point". 

Figure 4: Engaging the abdominals in supported Tree pose.

Cues for stabilizing the core are best worked with over a period of several practice sessions (using a support for balance). The targeted muscular engagement becomes increasingly refined and efficient with each successive session and is easier to use with the final pose.

Figure 5: Engaging the abdominals in Navasana.

Other poses that improve core strength, especially that of the abdominal muscles, include Navasana (figure 5) and Chaturanga dandasana (figure 6). Click here for a tip on co-activating the gluts and abs in this pose. For many more techniques and practical cues on integrating Western science into your practice, check out the Mat Companion Series and The Key Muscles and Key Poses of Yoga (use the “look inside” feature to page through the entire books).

Figure 6: Co-activating the gluts and rectus abdominis in Chaturanga dandasana.

If you would like to learn more about combining modern Western science with the ancient art of yoga, please join us for a week in paradise at Blue Spirit Costa Rica for our second annual intensive on anatomy, biomechanics and therapeutics for Hatha yoga. I will be teaching state of the art techniques on these subjects, including much new material relating to therapeutic applications of yoga--all with great 3-D illustrations, excellent food, beautiful facilities and expertly taught daily Hatha yoga classes. We encourage you to register soon, as this workshop is nearly full. 

Thanks for stopping by the Daily Bandha. Stay tuned for our next post when I'll present another subject on combining science and yoga.  Also, we greatly appreciate when you share us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

Namaste'

Ray and Chris


References:

1) Crommert ME, Ekblom MM, Thorstensson A. “Activation of transversus abdominis varies with postural demand in standing.” Gait Posture. 2011 Mar;33(3):473-7.

2) Winter DA: The biomechanics and motor control of human gait: normal, elderly and pathological, ed 2, Waterloo, Canada, 1991, University of Waterloo Press.

18 comments:

  1. tatehealing art centerOctober 3, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    I have all your books, they really are very detailed and very nice to have especially if you teach

    or have a good home practice a lot of knowledge and easy to understand..thanks for sharing..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Tatehealing Art Center,

      Delighted that you enjoy our books--thank you for stopping by and supporting us! Ray

      Delete
  2. The best ever guidelines, information and books I have come across and used. I cannot thank you for helping me improve my understanding and development in yoga.. Thank you.
    Swazie (as in Swayze).

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    Replies
    1. Hello Swazie,

      Many thanks for your positive thoughts on our work! Much appreciated~Ray

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    2. It even helps in being conscious of our right and wrong moves in everyday life, reducing pain induced by working on our muscles. Your illustrations are amazing too..

      Delete
  3. Hi Ray,

    Thanks once more for this clue. I've been concentrating on the perineum (mula bandha) to gain stability in tree pose, but I still can't keep balance a full breath cycle with the eyes closed. I'll focus on the rectus abdominal and the tensor fascia, next morning. One strange thing: I can keep the eyes closed almost easily on inhale but not on exhale. I've no clue if these is any physiological reason for this.

    Keep going, you're still inspiring us !
    Yann
    PS: I'd be interested to have you opinion on the usage of back benders (and their risks). I'm currently intrigued by "heart opening" mechanics. I suffered recently from a shoulder tendinitis and noticed working on heart opening helped me to avoid pain in my shoulder in downward facing dog.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Yann,

      Thanks for stopping by. Engaging the muscles of the pelvic floor likely has beneficial biomechanical effects on balance as well. The thrust of this post is stabilizing the pelvis and lumbar spine which, if unstable, makes for a lot of "wobble" in the standing poses with balancing on one leg. I recommend doing this cue with a support and with your eyes open in the beginning, mainly on exhale. Soon it becomes automatic and quite refined.
      On the back benders, it depends on the prop. I use bolsters or a block, and also sometimes use a folding chair (with my legs through it and back on the seat). In terms of risks, I think it depends on how much the device extends the lumbar. The back benders that I am familiar with were those at the Iyengar Institute in Pune; they created a gradual curve and I used them a lot with great benefits and no problems. The heart opening restoratives are among my favorite poses. I do them every day before pranayama. Let me know how it goes with your balancing poses.

      Best~Ray

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    2. I stopped by to confirm the cue really helped me reaching better balance in the tree pose. During my morning practice, I visualize the connection between the pelvis and the front of the ribcage and try to keep this distance constant. Now I'm able to stay for one or two breath cycles ! Thanks Ray !

      A collateral effect is that I breath differently during tree pose now. Contracting the rectus abdominis disallow to breath from the belly.

      Yann

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  4. This post is great. I was wondering if you know Rolfing. http://www.rolfing.org
    There are many links with yoga seen in terms of posture and anatomy. If yes it would be great if you were able to link the concepts from time to time.
    Anyway great guidelines, great posts. Thank you.
    Elisabetta

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    1. Hi Elizabetta,

      Thanks for your compliment on our work. I agree that there are many links between the concepts described in Rolfing and the beneficial effects experienced from practicing yoga. I'll take a look at the link you sent as I've been studying some of those concepts lately.

      Best~Ray

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  5. Hi Ray,
    As always thanks for this great information. I believe one's yoga practice expands when we focus on the subtleties of yoga. Many students have a tendency to disconnect during balancing poses.
    I will certainly use this information when I teach this afternoon. My specialty is working with athletes so I appreciate the Kareem reference. I look forward to working with you in Costa Rica next month. Namaste.
    Katherine

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    Replies
    1. Hi Katherine,

      I agree that the subtleties are extremely important too. That is where the practice really gets deep. Also key for getting the greatest benefits for athletes, who are already in good shape but gain an edge from the energetic balancing that occurs with yoga--one of the things that differentiates it from other exercise. Look forward to seeing you in Costa Rica and thanks for commenting!

      Best~Ray

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  6. I am enjoying the info you send me and the illustrations are amazing!! Thanks so much!
    Anna Bain, CYT 500

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Anna--Glad that you enjoy our work!.

      Ray

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  7. Thank you for sharing these wonderful techniques and tips. I pass them on to my students. There is always something new to learn. THANK YOU! ~ Ilse Mindling - Yoga For Every Age.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Ilse--thanks for sharing our work with your students! Ray

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  8. Fantastic books and information. I read and reread. My students enjoy the new information I share with them as they work toward their practice. Thank you so much.
    Laura

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Laura,

      Many thanks for your compliment on our work! Best~Ray

      Delete