Tag Archives: Posture Tips

Posture Clinic: Why back-bending is good for your spine.

“If you have a good spine, the gods will chase you. Nobody has psychological or emotional problems, everyone has a bad spine.” Bikram Choudhury

Ashley Hooper and Elisa Matthews back-bending photo: Bikram Yoga College of India

by Barbora Simek

Understanding why and how back-bending is beneficial for the spine is a challenge for many yoga students. For many, back-bending is an emotionally charged, challenging and often uncomfortable part of practice. However despite its discomforts back-bending can be one of the most therapeutic parts of a yoga practice.

Think of all the time you spend bending forward in a day, from enjoying a coffee with a newspaper, to driving, to typing at a computer, cleaning or lounging with a friend. The reality is, we spend most of our day in an unsupported forward bend.

Internally, forward bending causes the front of vertebrae move closer together, forcing the inter-vertebral disks and spinal nerves back. Prolonged poor posture can:

  • cause or aggravate back and neck pain
  • constrict blood-flow and put pressure on vital organs and glands preventing them from functioning properly
  • has been shown to have negative effects on self-esteem and mood in studies

Ironically, when most people experience back pain or discomfort their first reaction is to bend forward, not knowing it is the cause of their discomfort. In reality back-bending is what is needed to counter-act the impact of continuous forward bending. This impulse is not easy to unlearn.

First it is important to recognize that back-bending is a natural range of motion for the spine. “Think of monkeys or children climbing in a tree who reach backward for a branch, the spine bends backward,” says Jeff Weisman a Toronto based Bikram Yoga teacher and Hellerworker.

As you bend backwards you compress the posterior part of your spinal column, pushing your disks away from the spinal nerves and decompress the front of the vertebrae. This effectively counteracts the damage of hours spent forward bending.

Those concerned and intimidated by back-bending should rest assured that the controlled environment and proper progression of the Bikram Yoga series allows for back-bends to be preformed safely. For those with limitations and injuries, remember to speak to your instructor, move slowly and listen to your body.

Physical Benefits

  • Stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and prepares the body for action.
  • Helps counteract damage of bad posture.
  • Relieves back pain, bronchial distress, scoliotic deformities, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder.
  • Realigns the spine.
  • Promotes proper kidney function.
  • Helps with digestive function, eliminating constipation and flatulence.

Energetic Benefits

  • Stimulates all the chackras, primarily creating opening in the fourth (heart) chackra.

Emotional Benefits

  • Helps to break through insecurity and fear.
  • Relieves stress and tedium.
  • Opening the lower back helps to free you from insecurity and taking yourself too seriously.
  • Helps to build confidence and self-esteem in children.

Tips from the Pros

Allow your exhale to lower you into your maximum depth, allow your inhale to lift you up and forward. Reverse this pattern on purpose by pulling backward more vigorously into the posture during the inhalation (taking you more fulling into the posture) and then relaxing and easing off the posture during the exhale (thereby reducing tension).- Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, Dr. H. David Coulter

“Lift your breastbone up as you go down into it, instead of jamming only the lower waistband spine.
You HAVE to have your elbows pressing IN, not bowing out before you go down.

Also, LIFT the front of the neck and shoulders and armpits before you drop down.

Then you lift UP, OUT and OVER your waistband spine so you do not get that crimping feeling.” – Mary Jarvis for All Back-bending Heals the Spine

Do not contract the gluteal muscles until you reach your maximum expression then tighten – Rajishree Choudhury (for more read this article)

The standing back-bend is regulated by locked knees – Craig Villani

Drop the head back as far as it goes. The head and arms do not need to stay together. – Bikram Choudhury

Tips for teachers

Beginners are always afraid of back-bending. Make sure to stress that the hips, stomach, legs everything must come forward. – Bikram Choudhury

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Posture Clinic : Full Locust Pose

by Barbora Simek

Full Locust Pose

Poorna Shalabhasana

Ashley Hooper in Full Locust Pose image: Bikram Yoga College of India


“This is the hardest posture to improve. No matter who you are if you just struggle, you will get 110% benefit.” Bikram Choudhury

Anatomical Focus

Strengthens/ Firms:

Lower and Upper Back

Muscles of the upper arm (deltoids, triceps)

Abdominal Muscles

Bottocks

Muscles of the upper thigh (hamstrings)

Calf Muscles

Stimulates:

Liver

Spleen

Benefits: Continue reading

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Posture Clinic – Standing Bow Part II, tips from Craig

Notes from Craig

The dynamics of the pose are kicking and stretching – forget holding.

The kick and the stretch create the balance of the posture

Direct your fingers to stretch forward so that there is not stopping, liberating any tension in the shoulders.

Make sure the energy of the stretching does not stop in the wrists

The chest must come down to create the stimulation of the circulatory system.

You MUST kick -when you hold back in the posture you create tension rather than stretching, you are preventing the full benefits of the posture

Always grab at the ankle, as this is the center of the force for your kick.

Do not think of your hips, when you shift focus to the hips you lose the rest of the posture, the hips are an extension of the  form.

For advanced students

  • Try to keep the axis of your face perpendicular to the floor.
  • do not anticipate the positioning of your hand, always grab at the ankle
  • flexible people often forget to contract the thigh and allow the knee to come unlocked, make sure to keep it locked.

If you do not bring your body down all the way and the weight remains in the heel, you are grinding your femur bone into the hip joint.

If you fall diagonally in the posture it is diagnostic, and is telling you that your legs are out of alignment.

Check out some more great tips here from New York Hatha Yoga Champion, Kyoko Katsura.

Tips for Teachers

If students are keeping their weight in their heel in the pose, and are resistant to bring it forward, approach and explain to them after class – Craig

It is important to make beginners bring the body down first, because otherwise they never would. For regular and advanced students you can instruct them to focus on the kick first to create a trajectory and achieve a fuller posture – Craig

Source: Fall 2005 Teacher Training Lectures

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Posture Clinic: Standing Head to Knee Pose

One of the most dynamic and challenging postures in the Bikram Yoga series, here is OMB’s breakdown of standing head-to-knee.

Standing Head to Knee Pose

Dandayamana Janushirasana

Huiping Mo, Bishnu Ghosh Cup Champion demonstrates standing head-to-knee pose. photo: Bikram Yoga College of India

Anatomy:

Contraction of :

Compression of:

Extension of:

The proximity of the heart to the floor, puts pressure on the muscle, exercising the heart through elevating the heart rate.

Continue reading

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Posture Clinic: Half Moon

by Barbora Simek

If the challenge of half-moon has ever left you asking ‘why the hell did am I putting myself through this?’ then OMB has your answers.

Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana)

The goal of half-moon is to create lateral flexion (side bending) of the spine in a continuous arc that extends from the heels to the fingertips.

Benefits

  • Trims fat all over the body: thighs, hips, waist, buttocks, arms and abdomen.
  • Improves and strengthens every muscle in the central part of the body, especially the back and abdomen.
  • Increases flexibility of the spine
  • Helps pigeon chest
  • Helps release tension in the respiratory system
  • Corrects bad posture
  • Promotes proper kidney function
  • Helps cure enlargement of the liver and the spleen
  • Helps cure dyspepsia and constipation
  • Helps to alleviate lower back pain, bronchial distress, scoliotic deformities, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder
  • Realigns spine
  • Stretches the lymph glands and is good for lymphoma
  • Good for children to build will power and self-esteem

Energetic Benefits

Proper alignment of half-moon exercises and opens many of the chackras.

  • Aligning your hips opens the 1 (root), 2 (sexual) and 3rd (solar plexus) chackras. This breaks through issues of power, intimacy, sexuality, creativity and self-image.
  • Opening of the shoulders activates the 3 (solar plexus), 4th (heart) and 5th (throat) chackras. releasing of the shoulder area helps to balance the difference you feel between your inner and outer self : how you see yourself, and how you feel the world sees you
  • allows you to break free from taking yourself too seriously

Class Notes from the Pros

From Rajishree

  • You MUST use the hips. If you feel pain in the ribs or scapula, you are using your upper spine too much and not enough of your hips.

From Craig

According to Craig, the two biggest mistakes in Half-Moon are holding the body up to avoid the pain of stretching and flopping down using only flexibility. Here are his tips to avoid these mistakes and improve your pose:

  • Stretch up first as much as possible to open up the intervertebral disks [soft tissue between your vertebra]
  • Your hips should initiate the movement because they are both your centre of gravity and prana [energetic center]
  • Exhale as you stretch, gravity will help you. This applies to all poses that use gravity.
  • Think ‘stretch’ instead of ‘come down’ so that the static arc of the posture will hold you up
  • If you feel pain in your lower back, you have failed to stretch
  • Instead of focusing on bringing the palms together, focus on stretching and lengthening which will automatically force the elbows to straighten and the palms to touch

Tips for Teachers

  • Hold the first set at least 30 seconds, 1 minute is better. If the room is not hot enough, hold it approximately 1 minute – Craig
  • Pay close attention to the order of the dialogue. “The dialogue is a set of variables executed in a sequence, each one must exist in order to allow the next to happen.” – Craig
  • Say the dialogue once, make the students see themselves and repeat, repeat, repeat until they understand the pose – Bikram
  • The first dialogue of half-moon is important because it establishes your authority in the class, and sets the stage for the students to surrender to  the instructions. If you can make a beginner understand half-moon by second set, you can make them surrender. – Bikram
  • Half-Moon is a very diagnostic posture, use your knowledge of the form to diagnose and anatomical inconsistencies affecting your students – Craig

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