Wednesday, March 2, 2016

SI-joint dysfunction may be exacerbated by some yoga poses

As a teacher of yoga therapy i should have known better...a large, mixed-level class taught by a young, very flexible Indian man in a local gym is not something i would recommend to any of the menopausal women i teach. But after practicing alone, and within my comfort zone for a long time, i accepted the free pass and decided to give it a try. Huge mistake. This free class resulted in a back injury that left me unable to teach and practice for 3 weeks!

Yes, i know, i should have listened to my body and put into practice what i tell my students, 'always work within the limits of your body, because everyone is different, your goal is feeling better, not joining the circus'.

But i forgot to leave my ego out of the door before rolling out my yoga mat. Besides, the teacher's 'military drill' style of instruction didn't leave much room for reflecting on and questioning his orders.

The sequence of poses was very odd, it overworked certain muscles and privileged asymmetrical poses. It just seemed to reflect a desire to show off the teacher's flexibility rather than cater for the different levels of ability and experience that one expects in a multi-level class. If he had set different intentions, they were totally lost on me.

The majority of people in the class couldn't safely perform most of the poses he had selected, but that didn't deter him. Instead he focused on those he deemed flexible enough to go deeper into those poses, and pushed us far beyond our comfort zone.

My injury happened because the sequence was ill-thought out and included an excessive number of revolved poses which we were asked to hold for a long time. Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana) was followed by Revolved Side Angle Pose (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana) but the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back was Archer Pose (Akarna Dhanurasana) as i sat there holding my foot close to the side of my head the teacher stood behind me and prompted me 'pull your leg closer to your ear'. At that point I heard a snapping sound. That was my SI-joint. The pain became unbearable. I recoiled in Child Pose and stayed there till the end of the session. Then i could hardly walk back to the changing room. For the next 10 days i couldn't walk without a stick, let alone teach or practice yoga. It took me 3 weeks to recover.

Archer Pose might be one of the oldest classical yoga poses but is contraindicated for people who suffer from lower back pain and SI-joint dysfunction (a large part of the population!) and is one of the poses i never practiced because the risks outweigh the benefits, especially for women. Now i have definitely consigned this pose to the scrap heap.

It’s very important for yoga instructors to know the joints normal range of motion. It’s unnecessary, and many times unhealthy, to go over normal joints range of motion at any circumstances. Encouraging students to push their limit is unwise and in my opinion contrary to the spirit of yoga, which is not a competition.

There is no health benefit in having a hyperflexible body or being able to twist yourself into a pretzel or able to do splits. In fact, pushing your body into extreme stretches can cause injuries.

Women are more susceptible to sacroiliac trouble than men for several reasons. For starters, the width and structure of the female pelvis makes the SI joint less stable in women. Next, women (on average) have more flexible ligaments than men. By now we have enough evidence that many yoga postures do contribute to sacroiliac problems. Especially when the top of the sacrum tilts too far forward on one side of the body relative to the ilium. This may happen, for example, in asymmetrical forward bends, side bends, revolved poses.

Anybody suffering from Si-joint dysfunction should be extremely cautious and focus on strengthening core muscles rather than increasing flexibility in this part of the body.

PS: The Sacroiliac joint (SI-joint) is located between the ilium and sacrum (sacral vertebrae).

This joint does not move very much but it is critical to transferring the load of the upper body to the lower body and provides shock absorption for the spine.

SI-joint dysfunction is a common source of back pain.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

No more slouching. Low Cobra for a healthy spine

When actors are asked to play an older character the first thing they do is they start walking unsteadily, with their back hunched. In most people's mind old age and a hunched back go hand in hand.

Even in their 70s and 80s yoga practitioners don't fit this picture. If they look younger than their age, and they often do, it's also because their backs remain straight and supple. A good posture does indeed make you look younger.

Women who have started yoga when they entered the menopause often struggle with back bends, especially those who spent years sitting at their desk and paid little attention to correct posture.

Being over ambitious with your backbends can backfire and lead to lower back pain due to the compression of vertebrae.

That's why it's so important for a teacher to observe a student's posture and only select poses that are beneficial to her. Even a Cobra pose, which is regarded as a pose suitable for beginners, can pose certain risks.

A Low Cobra variation brings all the benefits of a backbend, without the risks.

The therapeutic benefits of backbends are well known: they are energizing, can help alleviate depression and over time they can even straighten out an unflattering slouch.

To reap the benefits of backbends, one doesn’t have to create the deepest arch. A smooth, even arc of the spine is preferable to a deep arc in the lower back. Rather than searching for intensity, here we have to search for evenness.

When Low Cobra is done correctly, the navel should touch the floor, your legs provide the power and support for your spine to gracefully extend, and your pelvis and belly act together to decompress and support your lower back, thus avoiding the tendency to overarch.

Your shoulders should be drawn away from your ears, your neck should feel long, so jutting your chin forward must definitely be avoided.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

menopausal women have a very powerful bullshit radar

I have recently come across this article and am happy to share it with you.

Social media have encouraged narcissism to reach mass pathological levels and, the article suggests, are driving the definition of “yoga” more and more towards fancy postures. What i'd call 'yoga porn'.

Teachers playing to the social media audience and posting themselves in the most difficult “asana” in exotic locations, wearing skimpy top-of-the-brand yoga gear often make yoga students feel inadequate and oh so far away from ever attaining the picture perfect pose.

Flaunting contributes to the thinking that advanced poses equal advanced practice, which is clearly not the case. If anything is shows that the selfie addict hasn't learned to keep her/his ego in check. Focusing on asana, one limb of yoga, to the detriment of the other 7, can hardly be considered an advanced yoga practice.

What do you think? What is your idea of a good yoga teacher?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to manage hot flashes


chandra bhedi pranayama

  • Sit on your favourite seating position Asana in a well ventilated room free from any distractions. Keep the waist, back, neck and spine erect. 
  • Keep the breathing exercise easy, do not tax your body. 
  • Close the right nostril with the thumb of your right hand. 
  • Inhale slowly through the left nostril and fill up your lungs to maximum capacity. Hold your breath for a few seconds, just as long as it is comfortable to do so.
  • Exhale slowly through the right nostril.
  • Keep the ratio of time taken for inhalation, retention of breath and exhalation as (1:4:2). 
  • Beginners should not hold the breath, but should keep the ratio of inhalation-exhalation as (1:2).
  • Then repeat by closing the left  nostril. It should be pressed with the ring finger of your right hand. Keep the other hand on your knee.

  • If we call this one set. Repeat five sets and gradually increase to ten sets.


  • Reduces body heat.
  • Encourages relaxation and sleep.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Distraction and injuries

Yesterday i visited a newly opened, upmarket fitness centre in Hong Kong.
They had offered me a free pass for a week, so i was eager to find out what i had been missing in all these years of home practice and outdoor activities.

I also wanted to know if this kind of fitness centre was suitable for menopausal women, as i often get asked by students which gym i would recommend for cardio and weight training. 
Many of them are under the impression that yoga is not enough to satisfy all their fitness needs, that yoga alone will not lead to weight loss or muscle toning.

Yes, i insist that a balanced, vegetarian diet, small portions and avoidance of sugar is more effective than cardio in shedding unwanted kilos. Yes, i stress that a personalised sequence of  strong yoga poses helps toning muscles without the mind-numbing effect of weight training. But i still get the occasional question 'which gym would you recommend?'

As Hong Kong gyms are notoriously mobbed at lunch time and in the evening, i decided to go in the morning.  A loud, pounding music that i could have tolerated at 1 am in a club 10 years ago was the first annoying surprise.  I managed to stretch and warm up but doing it at home while listening to the chirping of birds would have been far more pleasant.  

10 minutes later i decided to try out the intimidatingly high-tech treadmill. One could watch dozens of tv channels, tv series, films, surf the net, listen to the radio...the toy was designed to  distract one from the main activity, running. One is bombarded with external stimuli all day long, certainly running would be a welcome chance to be alone, examine our thoughts, No, apparently nobody wants to think. Constant distraction is preferable. I ran for 20 minutes, looking at the uninspiring curtain wall outside the window. Again, jogging in the forest, or along the waterfront would have been far more pleasant

Then i moved to the weight training area, where men dominated the scene. My menopausal self felt completely out of place here. One could almost feel testosterone in the air:  grunting, sweaty men who either checked their smartphones between  reps or the few girls who walked past them.
I gave up even before trying and moved to an area normally reserved for spin classes. The bikes had been temporarily moved against the wall, so i though i could have that space to myself and do some yoga. After a couple of poses i heard a loud sound and the semi darkness of the room was broken by a projection on all walls: i was in the middle of a 3-D immersive theater. A trainer walked in and explained to me that the spin class would start in a few minutes. Again, a pretty boring activity that needed to be rescued by violent sensory stimulation to make any sense. I am an avid cyclist, but stationary bikes never appealed to me. Bikes are my favourite means of transportation, i explore cities and the countryside on the saddle of my bike, the last thing on my mind is pushing on pedals without getting anywhere.

I left the room and headed straight to the sauna. There, at last, i found some peace.

This experience left a bitter after taste. I don't think i will go back and most certainly will not recommend this chain of fitness centres to my students.

If the body is our temple, why do we need to be taken out of it when we exercise?

Maybe i am terribly old-fashioned, but i want to focus on my body, observe its alignment, my breathing, my heart rate. I want to be present and mindful when i exercise.

One can only imagine how many injuries occur when people are distracted. 

Mind-less exercise is just that, mindless.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

yogic meditation helps you dispel the clouds that obscure the sun in your mind

During the menopause tremendous new understandings are asserting themselves in our lives with such force that they seem to upset all our past ways of thinking. However, this is only a problem of perspective. At this time we are in the middle of these changes and cannot see the relationship between our new consciousness and our old.

This is a period of tremendous psychological insights and change, but not much stability, alas. Therefore we should keep our life circumstances fluid enough that we can make changes as necessary. This is not a time to try and build. At this stage, we are better off as observers.

It is perfectly natural to experience confusion, doubt and uncertainty. One should wait for the situation to settle down, trying to minimize the elements of her life that require her to make long-range commitments, because our changing consciousness will make it difficult to continue such a commitment. If old goals lose their meaning, that is what must be. eventually new goals will enter our life that will better fit our new state of mind.

This revolution in ideas and consciousness is a fundamental part of our life, and it must be allowed to pursue its own course.

How can yogic meditation help?

Meditation is first just observation. So what happens when we observe? In observation, the mind shifts from thinking to awareness. When thinking is predominant, attention is absorbed internally within a stream of thoughts. Thought is a limited, material construct, a representation of reality. In awareness, attention is open, at one with a changing, unfixed reality. Observation is a relaxed alertness that requires no effort.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, not knowing what is next and not concerned with what was or what may be next, a new mind is operating that is not connected with the conditioned past and yet perceives and understands the whole mechanism of conditioning. It is the unmasking of the self that is nothing but masks—images, memories of past experiences, fears, hopes, and the ceaseless demand to be something or become somebody. This new mind that is no-mind is free of duality—there is no doer in it and nothing to be done.

Monday, November 24, 2014