“. . . 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



Friday, December 19, 2014

Connect Your Feet to Your Shoulders in Side Forearm Plank Pose

We recently covered the some key poses to strengthen your core, along with biomechanical cues to refine your work in Forearm Plank pose and Bird Dog pose. Side Forearm Plank is another awesome pose to strengthen your core while protecting your wrists. You do this one by placing your forearm on the mat and attempting to drag it towards your feet, while engaging the core muscles on your sides to stabilize the lumbar pelvic complex. Keep your supporting arm (the humerus bone) straight up and down (at a right angle to the floor). This way the passive strength of the bone aids to support your body weight. Click here for more on this concept in Vasisthasana.

Figure 1: Side Forearm Plank Preparatory Pose

Begin by stabilizing the shoulders. Do this by attempting to externally rotate your forearm on the mat. At the same time, attempt to internally rotate your forearm on the mat as well. It’s a bit like a windshield wiper that’s fixed in place. This cue “co-activates” the infraspinatus and teres minor (external rotation) and the subscapularis (internal rotation) muscles of your rotator cuff. Feel how this stabilizes your shoulder. Folks that are new to this pose can use the preparatory version to work with this cue. Figure 1 shows the prep pose and Figure 2 illustrates the action of the forearms.

Figure 2: This illustrates the cue for co-activating the external and internal shoulder rotators (the infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis of the rotator cuff).

Next, press the edge of your lower side foot into the mat and gently draw it upwards toward the shin to “evert” your foot. These cues activate a series of muscles—including the “lateral subsystem”--to connect your shoulders and legs to your core. Figure 3 shows the cue for attempting to drag the forearm and the feet towards each other (while engaging the side abs).

Now let’s check out the myofascial connections in side forearm plank. When you press the side of your foot into the mat, you activate the peroneus muscles as well as the abductor muscles up at your hip (the TFL and gluteus medius). These muscles have a fascial connection to your abs, specifically the external oblique (which attaches to the rim of the pelvis). The external oblique connects to your shoulders via the serratus anterior muscle. The serratus anterior is a scapular stabilizer that works in concert with the rotator cuff. So the whole operation helps to integrate your feet, legs, pelvis and lumbar--all the way up to the shoulders.

Figure 3: This illustrates the cue of everting the lower foot and dragging the elbow towards it. It also shows the deep longitudinal subsystem.

So let’s talk about the deep longitudinal subsystem…

Your deep longitudinal subsystem is made up of the peroneus longus muscle (on the outside of your lower leg), the biceps femoris of your hamstrings and your sacrotuberous ligament (up in the pelvis), the thoracolumbar fascia and the erector spinae muscles (in your back). The biceps femoris creates a link between the lower extremities and the trunk via the sacrotuberous ligament. This ligament helps to transmit force across your sacrum, and, via the thoracolumbar fascia on up the trunk to your deep back muscles. Check Figure 3 for a color coded illustration of this connection. Click here to see this connection in the lower legs in Reverse Pigeon Pose.

This subsystem is part of the global movement system and is thought to be important in force transmission between your trunk and the ground—as in walking. We’ll have more posts on the other subsystems and how to work with them in yoga soon. Click here to see how the abductor muscles of the hip work in your poses. Click here to learn more about the thoracolumbar fascia and its importance in yoga.

Figure 4 shows the myofascial connection between the external oblique muscle (of the abs) and the serratus anterior of the shoulder girdle.


Figure 4: This illustrates the myofascial connection between the external oblique muscle of the abdomen and the serratus anterior of the shoulder girdle.

Thanks for checking in! Click here to browse through our books by clicking the links on the right. These books have lots of practical cues with key info on anatomic sequencing to integrate into your practice!


Namaste’


Ray Long, MD

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Gluteus Medius Muscle in Yoga

Thanks to everyone for your input on Facebook for the “Muscle of the Week”, the gluteus medius. In this blog post we go over the essential anatomy of this muscle and illustrate its action in several yoga poses.

Here’s the anatomy…

The gluteus medius originates on the outer surface of the ilium bone and runs to the greater trochanter of the femur. This muscle acts to stabilize the pelvis when standing on one leg and during walking. The gluteus medius is also a primary abductor of the hip. Its anterior fibers act to synergize flexing and internally rotating the flexed hip; its more posterior fibers synergize extending and externally rotating the extended hip. The gluteus medius is innervated by the superior gluteal nerve, which is formed from nerve roots L4, L5 and S1. Figure 1 illustrates this muscle. 

Figure 1: The gluteus medius muscle with its innervation from the superior gluteal nerve. The gluteus maximus, with the inferior gluteal nerve is shown as a see-through.

Tree pose and other one-legged standing poses help to strengthen the gluteus medius, which is essential for stabilizing the pelvis of the standing leg (figure 2). Click here to read more about the function of the gluteus medius in one-legged asanas in our blog post, “Anatomic Sequencing in Yoga”. Click here to read about the connections of the gluteus medius during gait.

Figure 2: The gluteus medius stabilizing the pelvis in Tree Pose.

Figure 3 illustrates the gluteus medius contracting to help lift the leg in Ardha chandrasana (Half Moon Pose).

Figure 3: The gluteus medius stabilizing the lifted leg in Half Moon Pose.

Engaging the gluteus medius in Downward Dog pose can be used to synergize hip flexion. This muscle also helps to internally rotate the hips, thereby bringing the kneecaps to face forward. The cue for engaging the gluteus medius in Downward Dog Pose is to press the feet into the mat and then attempt to drag them apart. The feet remain constrained on the mat and do not move. However, the abductor muscles, including the gluteus medius, minimus and TFL, engage to refine flexion and rotation of the hips. Click here to read about this in our blog post, “How to Use Nutation to Refine Uttanasana.” Figure 4 illustrates how to work with the gluteus medius and minimus to refine Downward Dog Pose.

Figure 4: Engaging the gluteus medius and minims in Downward Dog Pose.

Figure 5 illustrates the gluteus medius synergizing hip extension in Purvottanasana.

Figure 5: Engaging the gluteus medius to synergize hip extension in Purvottanasana.

Finally, figure 6 illustrates stretching the gluteus medius in Garudasana.

Figure 6: Stretching the gluteus medius in Garudasana.

Many thanks for all of your feedback on stretching the gluteus medius in last weeks “Muscle of the Week” on Facebook. Check back soon for the next one…

Feel free to browse through The Key Muscles of Yoga and Key Poses of Yoga by clicking here.The Yoga Mat Companion Series gives you step-by-step anatomic sequencing for all of the major asanas, with a variety preparatory poses as well. Use these books to design your classes and optimize your practice. We’re also pleased to announce that all of our books are now available in digital format for Kindle, iPad and other digital devices. Click here to learn more…

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Rectus Femoris Muscle in Yoga

In this blog post we examine the rectus femoris muscle and its relation to yoga poses, beginning with an overview of the muscle and how it stretches. We conclude with some interesting synergy that can occur between the rectus femoris and the gluteus maximus in poses where both the hip and knee are extending, such as Warrior I.

Here’s the anatomy…

The rectus femoris is one of the four heads of the quadriceps muscle. It runs from the anterior inferior iliac spine to the quadriceps tendon, which attaches to the patella or knee cap. The patella then attaches to the tibial tubercle via the patellar tendon. The rectus femoris thus crosses both the hip and the knee, making it a bi-articular muscle. Note that the other three heads of the quadriceps muscle only cross the knee joint and are mono-articular (figure 1).

Figure 1: The rectus femoris muscle with its origin and insertion.

The rectus femoris combines with the rest of the quadriceps to extend the knee joint. It also acts as a synergist of hip flexion and has increased activity with abduction and external rotation of the hip joint. Figure 2 illustrates this in Supta padangustasana (performed with the leg abducted). Click here to learn more about the relationship between the quadriceps and the pelvis in our blog post, “Preventative Strategies for Lower Back Strains in Yoga.”

Figure 2: The rectus femoris contracting to flex the hip and extend the knee in Supta padangustasana.

Stretching the rectus femoris is best accomplished in poses that combine hip extension and knee flexion. Poses like Virasana (with the hips flexing) are good for stretching the other heads of the quadriceps, however, a reclining variation is necessary to lengthen the rectus femoris. Figure 3 illustrates two poses that stretch this muscle.

Figure 3: Stretching the rectus femoris by extending the hip and flexing the knee.

Finally, figure 4 illustrates the “antagonist/synergist” relationship between the rectus femoris and the gluteus maximus in poses like Warrior I. The gluteus maximus is a hip extensor and, thus, an antagonist of the rectus femoris for this action. If the foot is fixed on the mat, contracting the gluteus maximus tilts the pelvis as shown (closed chain action). Tilting the pelvis back and down creates a pull on the rectus femoris, which is transmitted to the knee joint, leading to more efficient knee extension. In this manner, the gluteus maximus is an indirect synergist of knee extension.

Figure 4: The antagonist/synergist relationship of the gluteus maximus to the rectus femoris. 

Many thanks for all of your feedback on stretching the rectus femoris in last weeks “Muscle of the Week” on Facebook. Check in tomorrow for the next one…

Feel free to browse through The Key Muscles of Yoga and Key Poses of Yoga by clicking here.The Yoga Mat Companion Series gives you step-by-step anatomic sequencing for all of the major asanas, with a variety preparatory poses as well. Use these books to design your classes and optimize your practice. We’re also pleased to announce that all of our books are now available in digital format for Kindle and other devices. Click here to learn more…
Click here to browse through all of our books.

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

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Gastrocnemius/Soleus Complex in Yoga

Big Thanks to everyone for your comments on Facebook for our “Muscle of the Week: The Soleus.” In this blog post we take a look at this muscle, its connection to the gastrocnemius and its relationship to practicing yoga.

Here's the anatomy…

The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles form the triceps surae or gastrocnemius/soleus complex. The soleus muscle originates from the head and neck of the fibula bone and, via a tendinous arch, the soleal line at the back of the tibia bone. The gastrocnemius has two heads; one originates from the medial epicondyle of the femur and the other from the lateral epicondyle. The soleus and gastrocnemius attach to the calcaneus (heel bone) via the Achilles tendon (figure 1).

Figure 1: The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

Both muscles act to flex the ankle and invert the subtalar joint. The gastrocnemius, because it crosses the knee, also acts as a knee flexor. Since the two muscles act to plantarflex the ankle, dorsiflexing the ankle joint acts to stretch them. Figure 2 illustrates the relationship between these muscles in cross section.

Figure 2: The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in cross-section.

As B. W-B. pointed out in her Facebook comment on the soleus, “these muscles help to propel blood and fluids back up out of the legs for proper circulation of your legs.” This is because muscle contraction augments the flow of blood and lymphatic fluid towards the heart via a system of one-way valves within the vessels (figure 3). I discuss this concept in greater detail in a previous blog post (click here to learn more).

Figure 3: One way valves in veins.

In her Facebook comment, A. K. A. recommends placing a slight bend in the knee during dog pose to release the gastrocnemius and focus the stretch more deeply on the soleus muscle. I found this to be helpful as well.

You can also release the gastrocnemius with a series of stretches in Downward Dog pose.  Our blog post on Hanumanasana illustrates the effect of several short duration (<30 seconds) stretches on muscle length, with some links to the biomechanical literature. Finally, engaging antagonist muscles aids to lengthen muscles in a stretch through reciprocal inhibition. Figure 4 illustrates sequentially releasing the gastroc by bending the knee, using the hands to dorsiflex the ankle and then engaging the quads to straighten the knee. A similar sequence can be applied to Downward Dog. Click here for a tip on using reciprocal inhibition to aid in lowering the heels in Down Dog.

Figure 4: 1) bend the knee to release the gastroc; 2) dorsiflex the ankle to stretch the soleus; 3) contract the quadriceps to extend the knee and stretch the gastroc.

The Silfverskiöld test also illustrates the rationale for increased ankle dorsiflexion with the knee bent. We use this test in orthopedics to differentiate a tight gastrocnemius from an Achilles tendon contracture by dorsiflexing the ankle with the knee straight and then with the knee flexed.  Increased ankle dorsiflexion with the knee bent indicates that the limitation of motion at the ankle is coming from the gastrocnemius.

Finally, figure 5 illustrates the connection between the gastrocnemius/soleus complex and the plantar fascia. Click here to learn more in our blog post, “Plantar Fasciitis, Myofascial Connections and Yoga.”

Figure 5: The plantar fascia and gastroc/soleus complex.

Feel free to browse through our books, The Key Muscles of Yoga and Key Poses of Yoga by clicking here.The Yoga Mat Companion Series gives you step-by-step anatomic sequencing for all of the major asanas, with a variety preparatory poses as well. Use these books to design your classes and optimize your practice. We’re also pleased to announce that all of our books are now available in digital format for Kindle and other devices. Click here to learn more… Feel free to browse through all of our books by clicking here.

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

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Anatomic Sequencing: Revolved Half Moon Pose

This blog post continues the theme of balancing the pelvis in yoga asanas. Our last post focused on using the adductor magnus to turn the pelvis in Warrior I; this post zooms in on the hip abductors for Revolved Half Moon Pose. 

As I discussed in “Connecting to Your Feet in Yoga”, you can learn a great deal about biomechanics by examining how the body responds to pathological conditions. In that post, I looked at a variation of flat foot deformity, the ligaments and muscles involved and how to work with yoga to strengthen the arches of the feet. Here, I examine what happens with the pelvis when the hip abductors are not functioning properly. Then I illustrate how to use this knowledge to refine asanas like Revolved Triangle and Revolved Half Moon. 

Balancing the pelvis is a key factor in normal gait as well as yoga poses. Conversely, persons with weakness in the hip abductors develop what is known as a “Trendelenberg” gait, where the pelvis tilts up and shifts toward the affected side during the stance phase of walking. A variety of conditions can affect the hip abductors, including hip pain (from arthritis) and injury to the nerve supply of the gluteus medius. 

In medicine, we test the function of the hip abductors by having the patient stand on one leg in the “Trendelberg Test”. When the muscles are competent, they automatically engage to draw the pelvis level; when the muscles are weakened, the pelvis on the standing leg side lifts (while the lifted leg side sags downward). At the same time, the spine curves toward the affected hip, with the shoulder girdle tilting towards that side.  Figure 1 illustrates the Trendelenberg Test. Note how the pelvis tilts and the spine laterally flexes when the gluteus medius does not engage properly.


Figure 1: The Trendeleberg Test; Image on the left illustrates the gluteus medius engaging to stabilize the pelvis.  Image on the right illustrates pelvic tilt and lateral spine flexion with the dysfunctional gluteus medius.


The spine compensating for the tilt of the pelvis is an example of lumbar-pelvic rhythm. Click here to read more on this important subject in our blog post, “Preventative Strategies for Lower Back Strains in Yoga”. Click here to learn more about the muscles involved in one-legged standing in our blog post, “Improving Stability in One Legged Standing Poses.”

Now, let’s look at how we can apply this knowledge to help lift the back leg in Revolved Half Moon Pose…

I begin by training awareness of the abductor muscles (especially the gluteus medius) in Revolved Triangle Pose. The cue for this is to fix the forward foot on the mat and attempt to drag it to the outside, while resisting with the hand. You will note that this helps to bring the pelvis in line with the rest of the body. Figure 2 illustrates the preparatory poses for this asana and Figure 3 illustrates the cue.


Figure 2: Preparatory poses for Revolved Triangle Pose.

Figure 3: Engaging the hip abductors in Revolved Triangle Pose.


Next, I use sequential muscular engagement to lift the back leg in Revolved Half Moon Pose, beginning with the hip abductors of the standing leg. Engaging these muscles acts to lift, rotate and stabilize the pelvis on the side of the lifted leg (in a fashion similar to what we learned with the Trendelenberg Test). Then I engage the muscles that lift the leg itself, including the gluteus maximus and its synergists of hip extension (the hamstrings and adductor magnus). The gluteus maximus contracts eccentrically.

Finally, I use the quadriceps to straighten the knee. Figure 4 illustrates the preparatory poses for Revolved Half Moon Pose. Figures 5 and 6 illustrate engaging the hip abductors in the standing leg to lift the side of the pelvis for the raised leg. Figure 7 illustrates the final step--engaging the hip extensors and the quadriceps of the raised leg. Work with a chair or block to gain stability if you are new to the pose.



Figure 4: The preparatory poses for Revolved Half Moon Pose.

Figure 5: Engaging the hip abductors to lift the pelvis on the side of the raised leg.

Figure 6: Engaging the hip abductors to lift the pelvis on the side of the raised leg.

Figure 7: Engaging the hip extensors of the raised leg (gluteus maximus, hamstrings, adductor magnus) and knee extensor (quadriceps).

Note that the deep external rotators of the standing leg also facilitate stabilizing the pelvis in Revolved Half Moon Pose. Figure 8 illustrates these muscles.


Figure 8: The deep external rotators stabilizing the pelvis in Revolved Half Moon Pose.

These steps are an example of anatomic sequencing for yoga. Each muscle group is engaged in a specific order to achieve optimal form and stability. The Yoga Mat Companion Series gives you step-by-step anatomic sequencing for all of the major asanas, with a variety preparatory poses as well. Use these books to design your classes and optimize your practice. We’re pleased to announce that all of our books are now available in digital format for Kindle and other devices. Click here to learn more… Feel free to browse through all of our books by clicking here.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Refining the Pelvis in Warrior I

Yoga often happens in millimeters. This means that relatively small adjustments can produce some of the most important openings and energetic shifts. In this blog post, I describe a cue to refine the pelvis in the asana, Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), concluding with a brief discussion of the biomechanics of this adjustment.

Here’s the cue...

In Warrior I, press the back foot into the mat and attempt to drag it toward the midline (adduction). You will feel the pelvis turn forward to “square” with the front leg. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate this action, with its effect on the pelvis.


Figure 1: Press the foot into the mat and then attempt to drag it toward the midline. This engages the adductor magnus.

Here are the biomechanics of this cue...

In Warrior I, the back leg is in extension. The prime mover muscle for this action is the gluteus maximus. One of the synergists for extending the hip is the adductor magnus muscle. Attempting to drag the foot towards the midline engages this muscle in the pose. The foot remains constrained on the mat and does not actually move, however, the force of contracting the adductor magnus decreases the angle between the femur and the pelvis, as shown. The result is that the pelvis turns (instead of the foot moving). In addition, the hip extends more effectively. All of this produces a unique opening in the front of the pelvis that stretches the hip flexors, including the psoas muscle (figure 3).


Figure 2: This illustrates engaging the adductor magnus by attempting to drag the foot towards the midline. The mat constrains the foot, and the force of contraction turns the pelvis.


Figure 3: This illustrates the flexor muscles of the back hip stretching.

Use this adjustment after “setting” the feet. The technique for this is described in my previous blog post on connecting to your feet in yoga. Click here to read more. These cues can be combined with co-activation of the hip stabilizers for the front leg, as described previously for Warrior II (click here to read more). Finally, “ease into” your movements when working with cues such as this. Build muscular engagement gradually to turn the pelvis; then gradually release it as you come out of the pose.

For many more helpful cues on biomechanics and yoga, feel free to browse through "The Key Muscles and Key Poses of Yoga". Also, see the "Yoga Mat Companion" series, which gives you step-by-step guidelines for applying these cues to all categories of poses. Click here to learn more.


Namaste’

Ray and Chris (illustrator)