muscles

The Abdominal Wall and Attraction to Potential Partners

Have you ever been at the gym doing crunches and planks with your buddies and had no idea what you were doing? When you start talking about what you are working out, you are discussing abs, or abdominal exercises. Most often what we are talking about when working out or exercising is the rectus abdominis muscle via crunches and leg ups or even planking. This muscle becomes more visible as body fat percentage lowers and is sought after each New Year by men everywhere, only to remain illusive due to its dietary requirements (it has more to do with body fat with muscular strength). You may think this is the sole perpose for a man’s existence, but it is not.

The abdominal region is far more complex than one muscle. The abdomen, or lower thorax contains severals layers of muscular tissue that interweave to hold your organs in place and keep your spine upright so you can walk. These muscle tissues interweave to form the necessary support for an upright spinal column. I’ll talk more about the “6-pack” rectus abdominis muscle in a moment.

Obliques, Ribs, and Organs

abdominal 2 (GRAY)

The ribs are an often forgotten power center for posture within the body. They contain several muscular connections to bones and tissue around them. They do this to take tension from the spine by using accessory muscles. There is a massive connection between the accessory muscles and the diaphragm. These acessory muscles help us to breathe.

The Three Forgotten Abdominal Muscles

They are the internal and external obliques, which means diagonal and the transverse abdominis These muscles are responsible for the wall of muscle tissue underneath the rectus abdominis. These are all abdominal muscles. Together they muscles support the lower back and the organs of the thorax (chest cavity).

The Pyramidalis muscle, Linea Alba, and Hip Flexors (more forgotten abdominal muscles)

The pyramidalis is another abdominal muscle connects to the pelvis in two places (this is the V at the bottom of the rectus abdominis. It inserts into the linea alba via a pointed connection halfway between the belly button and the pubic bone. The linea alba is the fibrous muscle that runs up the center of the abdomen. It inserts into the diploid process at the bottom of the sternum. The linea alba is compose mostly of white collagen connective tissue. Linea Alba means “white line” in Latin.

The hips flexors and perineum are two more important muscle groups. The muscles create support for the back in concert with the abdominals. The hip flexors, in particular, have a huge amount of interaction with the spine. The hip bones connect the abdominals and the ribs .

Female Type Pelvis
Male Type Pelvis

Back onto the ‘6 Pack Abdominal Muscles”

The rectus abdominis is the top layer of muscle tissue visible and is the most common sought after muscle for looks. It is thought to provide an indication of health for prospective mates, but I wasn’t able to find any evidence for this assertion.

There is a surprisingly giant gap in the research when it comes to research about the attraction of the opposite sex. Statistically speaking, men value physical attractiveness more than women and women value similarities more than physical attraction. If you are overweight, you are more likely to be attracted to overweight members of the opposite sex.

One final, very interesting finding is that men are more attracted to novelty, and women to familiarity (read the article).

More and more evidence is arising that attraction is genetic. First, Behavior does not create homosexuality. It occurs natually and is genetic. Second, in our courtship of partners, we seek similar genetics to our own. Add social influences that help to determine what we find attractive, including fashion, perceptions of success, etc on top of these biological factors. Dive into the research. See for yourself.

Conclusion: Advice for Stretching the Spine

You can see how connected the muscles of the abdomen are with the hip flexors, ribs, spine, and diaphragm and how all of these muscles work together to create posture. All of these muscles are responsible for the health of the spine and in many ways the organ tissue in the thorax (stomach, kidneys, etc). Make sure you stretch your legs and hips to really get your spine mobile and strong!

I’ll do a separate article on the hip flexors next week. And visit again soon! You can subscribe to get an email update every time I publish an article.

References:

  1. Sex Differences in Attraction to Familiar and Unfamiliar Opposite-Sex Faces: Men Prefer Novelty and Women Prefer Familiarity (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-013-0120-2)
  2. On the Fashionable Sexiness in Aesthetics (https://www.ijac.org.uk/images/frontImages/gallery/Vol._3_No._4/2.pdf)

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grays_shoulder_anterior

Human Shoulder Anatomy and Physiology

There are 3 bones in the human shoulder, or glenohumeral joint; the humerus, the clavicle, and the scapula. These bones are stabilized by 15+ muscles, depending on how you count them. These muscles function to stabilize the joint. This is what allows you to type, swing, and grasp with utter precision. Homo sapiens shoulder is precisely mobile, but lacks the stability and strength of our great ape cousins.

Gray's Shoulder Joint Depiction
Gray’s Anatomy

The muscles and bones of the shoulder joint work very closely together. They are very often depicted together in anatomy books because of how they functional in unison. The human shoulder joint is nothing short of incredible as a feat of natural evolution. It is a major evolutionary advantage over our primate cousins. Human beings the ability to climb, sprint, and perhaps most incredibly to throw objects accurately over large distances in conjunction with the excellent eye-sight of homo-sapiens sapiens because of our shoulders. And we can still climb, but must use our legs dominantly.

The Clavicle and Scapula are both considered to be part of the shoulder girdle, the structure that supports the appendages of the upper body. The shoulder provides stability for the neck, or upper third of the spine.

Bones of the Shoulder

Humerus

Scapula – wing bone, or blade bone connects the humerus and clavicle and lies on the back of the rib cage. The name derives from early Roman times when it was thought that the bone resembled a trowel or small shovel.

Humerus – the humerus is a long bone of the shoulder joint, connecting the shoulder girdle to the forearm.

Clavicle – also known as the ‘collarbone’, it is the first bone to ossify in an embryo, and connects the sternum to the scapula. It rotates upon its axis like a key when the shoulder is abducted. It is also the most commonly fractured bone.

Tendons and Ligaments of the Shoulder and Armpit

Gray's Shoulder Tendons

The Glenoid cavity is a shallow depression in the scapula, that connects to the head of the humerus and allows for the arm-bone’s articulation, forms the basis for the ball and socket joint and is held in place by the head of the biceps tendon. The rotator cuff also reinforces this joint with the supraspinatus tendon.

The Rotator Cuff consists of four primary tendons: the supraspinatus muscle, the infraspinatus muscle, the teres minor, and the subscapularis muscle. The tendons of these fours muscles merge to form the rotator cuff tendon.

The Coracoacromial ligament connects the coracoid process (the hook like structure on the shoulder blade) and the acromion (the highest profusion of the shoulder blade). This ligaments helps to shield the head of the humerus.

Gray's Rotator Cuff Ligaments

The AC Joint, or Acromioclavicular joint is the joint at the top of the shoulder that connects the acromion to the the collar-bones. There are several acromioclavicular ligaments as you can see in the image on the right and they are organized to provide added stability to the joint and to house the bursa and synovial fluid that allows the joint to articulate easily.

The conoid ligament connects the clavicle and the coracoid process further stabilizing the collar bone to the shoulder blade.

The caracohumeral ligament connects the coracoid process to the humerus.

Together, these ligaments stabilize and support the shoulder joint, allowing for the extreme mobility that we humans enjoy. However, the large amount of smaller ligaments and tendons sacrifice a certain amount of stability for this increased mobility and range of motion.

Shoulder Muscles

  1. Deltoid – responsible for lifting the arm and giving the shoulder its range of motion. Often this muscle is separated into 3 sub-muscles, anterior, lateral, and posterior as they are able to innervate separately.
  2. Teres Major – A small muscle that runs along the lateral border of the scapula and connect to the humerus.
  3. Teres Minor – extends laterally and obliquely from the head of the humerus to the scapula, underneath the Teres Major. This rotator cuff muscles rotates the head of the humerus and stabilized it as it moves in space.
  4. Supraspinatus – connects the scapula to the humerus and abducts the shoulder and arm.
  5. Infraspinatus – connects from the medial side of the scapula to the humerus to aid in stabilizing the shoulder. A thick layer of muscle on the outside of the shoulder blade and is the main external rotator of the shoulder.
  6. Subscapularis – Directly opposes the infraspinatus muscle on the interior of the shoulder blade. It rotates the humerus medially and adducts it, preventing the displacement of the humerus during motion.
  7. Serratus Anterior – originates on ribs one through eight and connects to the medial interior edge of the scapula. The serratus anterior muscles work in conjunction with the latissimus dorsi to lift the shoulder blades and pull them forward and are one of the primary core support structures for the shoulder. Shoulder injuries often occur in yoga because this muscle is not fully contracted, especially in Chaturanga.
  8. Subclavicus – A small muscles that lies between the clavicle and the first rib that draws the shoulders down and forward.
  9. Pectoralis Minor – a thin and flat muscle in the upper torso that lies underneath the pectorals major and originates in the second, third, and fourth ribs. (sometimes the 5th rib instead of the 4th). This is the primary chest muscle that assists in lifting the shoulders.
  10. Sternocleidomastoid – the primary visible neck muscle that rotates and turns the head and neck. It inserts at the sternum and clavicle and travels up to the mastoid at the temporal lobe of the skull.
  11. Levator Scapulae – the main function of this muscle is to lift the scapula, originates in the neck C1-C4 and travels down to the medial border of the scapula. Works in a state of near unison with the serratus anterior muscles.
  12. Rhomboid Major – connects the shoulder blade to T2-T5 of the mid spine. It is slightly deeper than the trapezius and slightly inferior to the rhomboid minor. Together with the serratus anterior and pectorals minor, it connects the shoulder blades to the rib cage.
  13. Rhomboid Minor – Also connects scapula to the spinal vertebrae, but superior (higher) than the rhomboid major and slightly smaller. Connects C7 and T1 to the shoulder blades. Oftentimes this muscle is completely fused with the Rhomboid major.
  14. Trapezius – a large paired surface muscle in the shape of a diamond, connecting the occipital lobe to the shoulder blades and travels down to the lower thoracic vertebrae. It helps to move the scapula and the arm. Because it connects both the spine and the shoulder blades, this muscle can be one of the primary causes of neck tension in the body.
  15. Latissimus Dorsi – a large flat muscle one the back that originates in the mid and lower back and travels all the way up to the head of the humerus. Is it the largest muscle in the upper body and is implicated for cardiac support and is also an accessory breathing muscle. Tightness in this muscle has been shown to be a primary contributor to back pain.
Gray's Brachial Plexus

Nerves of the Shoulder Joint

The Brachial Plexus is a network of nerve tissue that supplies the arm and shoulder with innervation. Branches of the plexus, in particular from C5-C6, supply the majority of the muscles of the shoulder. The plexus continues down the arm to form the radial, ulnar, and median nerves of the arm.

Blood Vessels of the Shoulder

The blood Vessels of the shoulder function very similarly to the nerves (often in the body, nerves and blood vessels run in parallel to make the innervation of the muscle tissue more accessible to the nervous system. The Auxiliary artery becomes the brachial artery at the upper arm and continues down the arm to become the radial and ulnar arteries. Most of the blood vessels of the shoulder branch off the auxiliary artery.

Rotation in the Shoulder

BursaShoulder bursitis is a common cause of shoulder pain and occurs when the rotator cuff tendons are impinged, or unable to articulate properly. The shoulder bursa is extremely important as it creates smooth range of motion for the arm and shoulder to travel.

Rotator Cuff – the rotator cuff tears are another common cause of shoulder pain, usually cause by a tear in the supraspinatus muscle.

Range of Motion – As I discussed earlier, the shoulder’s range of motion is largely allowed for by the tremendous amount of ligaments, tendons, and muscles that work together to mobilize the arm. This comes at the sacrifice of stability. The stability of the shoulder comes from the muscle tissue, which can limit the range of motion in the shoulder, which may be healthy for the skeleton, especially under large amount of duress. It is easy to see this limited range of motion in body builders, whose muscles have gotten large enough to impede the motion of the shoulder. An appropriate balance between stability and flexibility is what we are looking for in yoga (or at least I am looking for this balance) so that the joint can have maximum longevity.

All Referencing from Wikipedia.org

Images

Gray’s Book of Anatomy

Encyclopedia Britannica

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Mula Bandha | मूल बंध (Bandhas part 1/4)

The Mula Bandha and the Perineal Muscles

Sanskrit for “MULA” – मूल

Bulbospongiosus_Female

In Sanskrit, Mula means “root”, foundation, origin, source, and beginning. Bandha means energy lock, bond, hold, or harness. Mula bandha is the root of the body, the excretion point and the bottom of the spine. This is the same as the perineal muscle group and terminates between the coccyx and tailbone.

Strengthening the perineal muscles has a variety of effects, including greater control over sexual organs through strengthening the area between your sphincter and your sex organ. It is also healthy for digestion and excretion, two very important functions within the body.

Mula Bandha assists the body in breathing, most specifically with exhaling.

The pubococcygeus muscle is the primary agonist muscle to the perineal, and activates as a part of the levator ani muscle group. This is the muscle connects to the base of the spinal cord to contain energy within the spinal cord.

Bulbospongiosus muscle is a superficial muscle of the perineum, in both males and females covering the bulb of the sex organ, or vaginal wall and penis shaft. Then it connects to the front of the anus in two symmetrical parts. This is said to be the orgasm muscle, contributing to erection, ejaculation, and closes the vagina during intercourse. It is extremely important to the functioning of the sex organs and the muscles of excretion.

How to Activate Mula Bandha

Mula bandha is the primary bandha in yoga, it is said to seal energy into the spinal cord. Iyengar said that while one is working with the mula bandha, they are focused on the root of existence and creation. Ideally, you can practice this after an inhale, while you retain your breath. Squeeze your sex organs up and in while holding your breath for a few moments, then release. A 5 count can work well to start, then start working between exhale and inhale, when the breath has left the body completely, then engage the bottom of your diaphragm as the exhale completes, or essentially squeeze the exhale out. This is your Mula Bandha.

Perineal muscle activation is one of the most important and beneficial parts of a yoga practice, particularly involving inversions. Contraction of these floor muscles allow the abdomen to move in space without too much consequence, especially handstand will force it to strengthen in ways that the muscle would not normally need to.

Practice activating, then resting the mula bandha in breathing exercises with Kumbhaka (space between breaths) and during poses like warrior 2, standing splits. Find some time to experiment and strengthen the muscle during your practice.

The mula bandha is the Muladhara shakra of tantric traditions. I am not a big fan of the tantric traditions to I mostly ignore the chakras.

The Other Bandha’s interlockings, or muscle groups

Part 2: The Uddyiana Bandha

Part 3: Jalandhara Bandha

Part 4: Jihva Bandha

References for the Mula Bandha

  1. Wikipedia – Perineum
  2. Yoga International – Root Lock
  3. Ekhart Yoga – Mula Bandha

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"Human-Hands-Front-Back" by Evan-Amos - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Human-Hands-Front-Back.jpg#/media/File:Human-Hands-Front-Back.jpg

Hand Anatomy, Physiology, and Use

The Usefulness of Man’s Hand

The hand is one of the most intricate and useful mechanisms of the entire human body; it is a prehensile (appendage for grasping) that humans share with chimpanzees, lemurs, and monkeys; even Koalas have opposable thumbs that are very similar to the thumbprints of the hands of humans. We humans absolutely have the ability to “think” with our hands; when we consider their connection to the brain we find the hand contributes to our thoughts and feelings. Fingers contain some of the most dense nerve endings on the entire body. The hand is greatest source for tactile feedback on the body and has the greatest impact on the sense of “touch”.

The hand has an intricate connection with the eyes and brain partially because they have the greatest mobility of any part of the human body. Each hand is paired with a dominant opposite side of the brain in the same fashion as the eyes. This “crisscrossing” of neuronal passageways occurs throughout the nervous system. The primary motor cortex is responsible for movement in the hands and body and executes movements in concert with the rest of the motor cortex.

There are 27 bones in the hand. 14 of which are in the fingers. There are 24 muscles groups innervated by various motor and sensory pathways that comprise 3 nerves: the radial, ulnar, and median nerves. These cascade to form 2500 nerve receptors per square centimeter on the surface of each hand.

Bones of the Human Hand

Lets start by looking at the bones. Each finger has three sections of bone: distal (fingertip), middle, and proximal; the thumb has two, theHand Bones middle bone is simply missing in between the top and bottom bones. The proximal bones connect to five metacarpals which connect to the eight carpal bones of the wrist. The fingers have 14 bones, the wrist has 13. The wrist has significantly more ligaments and less sensory nerves and mobility that the fingers. The bones of the hand_bones_detailed wrist are known as the carpal/carpus bones(from the Greek καρπὁς, “carp” means to pluck; an action the wrist performs) and there are eight of them (in order of ossification, or bone tissue growth): Capitate, Hamate, Triquetrum, Lunate, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Scaphoid, and Pisiform. Sometimes the radius and ulna bones are considered a part of the hand because of the role they play in the articulation of the wrist. There are also a large number of sesamoid bones in the hands (named after sesame seeds because they are so small). They are usually found near the thumb and are often formed in response to strain; they act like a pulley system for muscles and ligaments to slide over and spread muscular forces.

Ligaments and Tendons of the Hand and Wrist

In the hand, there are 18 ligaments that are separated into four groups:

  1. The ligaments of the wrist proper which unite the ulna and radius with the carpus: the ulnar and radial collateral ligaments; the palmar and dorsal radiocarpal ligaments; and the palmar ulnocarpal ligament.
  2. The ligaments of the intercarpal articulations which unite the "Braus 1921 201" by Braus, Hermann - Anatomie des Menschen: ein Lehrbuch für Studierende und Ärzte. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Braus_1921_201.png#/media/File:Braus_1921_201.pngcarpal bones with one another: the radiate carpal ligament; the dorsal, palmar, and interosseous intercarpal ligaments; and the pisohamate ligament. (Shown in red in the figure.)
  3. The ligaments of the carpometacarpal articulations which unite the carpal bones with the metacarpal bones: the pisometacarpal ligament and the palmar and dorsal carpometacarpal ligaments. (Shown in green in the figure.)
  4. The ligaments of the intermetacarpal articulations which unite the metacarpal bones: the dorsal, interosseous, and palmar metacarpal ligaments. (Shown in yellow in the figure.)

In the image below, Hand_ligaments you can see how the blood vessels travel between the fingers next to the nerves and the padding of the hand on top of the ligaments used to keep the wrist bones compact as they rotate and move through space. The Ulnar nerve is on the left, near your pinky, and Grays_arm_nervesthe radial nerve is closer to your thumb and is almost entirely dedicated to its innervation and sensitivity. The median nerve is in the middle and acts as what is probably the primary sensory nerve. This nerve innervates your pointer finger and middle finger, which are your primary fingers for tactile sensing. There is a depiction from Gray’s anatomy on the right that shows how the three nerves flow through the arm down to the fingers.

The Hand’s Muscles Groups

I could probably write an article on each of the finger muscles exclusively. Bear with me as we go through these muscles groups. The muscles of the hand are some of the most sensitive and finely tuned muscles in the body. They are normally separated into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic muscles have their muscle belly (the majority of muscles fibers) on the forearm.

The intrinsic muscle groups are the thenar (thumb: Abductor pollicis brevis abductsFlexor pollicis brevisOpponens pollicis) and hypothenar (little finger) muscles; the interossei muscles originatingHand_muscles2 between the metacarpal bones; and the lumbrical muscles arising from the deep flexor digitorum profundus muscles (and are special because they have no bony origin) to insert on the dorsal extensor hood mechanism.

The fingers have two long flexors located on the underside of the forearm. The deep flexor attached to the distal phalanx (farthest) and the superficial flexor attaches to the middle phalanx. These are what allows your fingers to bend. The thumb also has two flexors, one long and one short and these work together with the thenar muscles to allow the thumb to grasp. The thumb is quite a complex mechanism in and of itself; kinda makes me want to write an article on it.

The extensors on the top of the forearm arrange in an even more complex way. The tendons unite with the lumbrical and interrossus muscles to form the extensorhood mechanism. The extensors straighten the digits. The thumb has two extensors on the forearm which form the anatomical snuff-box, or the triad at the base of your thumb. The pointer finger and little finger both have an extra extensor for pointing.

The Skin of the Hand

The skin of the hairless side of the hand (palm) is very thick and can be bent easily while maintaining connection with the muscles and bones of the hand. Palm skin is usually lighter because of inhibited melanin (skin pigment) production and therefore don’t tan. Fingerprints, or the papillary ridges exist to increase friction when the hand is grasping an object. The skin of the top of the hand is soft and pliable to allow the fingers to recoil quickly.

Conclusion

The hand is complicated, especially in terms of muscular innervation, but we are still learning enormous amounts about how they have evolved into their current state. Comparative physiology is very useful for this and we are constantly exploring more about ourselves through animals and our genetic ancestors. If you have any requests for articles, or interesting additions to this one, please ask. Feel free to add anything that I have missed, or to ask any questions in the comments.

sources (besides Wikipedia):
1. http://www.oandplibrary.org/al/pdf/1955_02_022.pdf (Craig L. Taylor PHD & Robert J Schwartz, MD)
2. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/conditions/ailments-of-the-big-toe/Pages/Sesamoiditis.aspx
3. https://ispub.com/IJFS/1/2/9047#sthash.lchtoImt.dpbs

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hip_musculature_spinal_support

Anatomy of the Lower Back

(Part 1 of 2: Muscular Skeletal System)

If you have practiced yoga lately, chances are that you sat on the floor for a little while. This is a very healthy activity that every human should probably practice regularly for the strength of the pelvic floor muscles, and to allow the inner thighs and hips to relax. You can always work your way into it with blocks, props, cushions, pillows; you can do it while watching TV. It is good for releasing the muscles in the lower spine which have a strong connection with the hips, pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, lower back, and lower organs, including the sex organs and excretion organs; it’s good for all that important stuff.

In this article, I will speak specifically about the lower back and the anatomical features that you will want to be aware of as you practice yoga. If you have any of the following symptoms, you may want to begin a restorative yoga practice to assist in the alleviation of your pain, as well as begin to sit on the floor regularly. If it is too painful to start, contact a specialist or something like that, here are some symptoms of dysfunction:

  • Pain and stiffness in the back.
  • Pain in the buttocks and the legs, often in the back of the thigh.
  • Pain that worsens when bending, stretching, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Sciatic Nerve pain (pain in the hips, or back of your legs that shoots down the leg)

The lower back is really composed of three areas of the body: the lower spine, the hips and tailbone, and the abdomen. Since the spine is encircled by musculature, the abdomen, spinal muscles, and hips are all integral aspect of maintaining a healthy lower spine and therefore lower back.

Here is a depiction of the skeletal frame with the lower back in red: lumbar_region from wikipedia

You can see the there is a lot of big bone support at the base of the spine you will know from your own body that your hips provide the support for the lower spine. The ribs and upper legs have a tremendous amount of connection with the lumbar region of the spine and are the primary support structures in providing space for the lower back and lowest organs. Here is a very detailed depictions of the inner hips muscles and lower spine: hip_musculature_spinal_support

This is a depiction of the primarily of the psoas muscles and illiacus muscles. The psoas is a primary muscle group that moves the trunk Gray's Quadratus Lombrumand is greatly affected by sitting habits. It lines the font of the spine and inserts separately into each vertebral process up to the T12 in most people. The illacus muscles line the insides of the hips and connect with the psoas at the insertion point of the lesser trochanter of the femur. Both the psoas and the QL run along the lumbar spine to the trunk, the QL going posterior to the spine and the psoas anterior to the spine, bone are connected to the transverse spinal processes. The muscles work together to move the trunk, along with the muscles of the abdomen. The psoas and the QL muscles are the primary muscles of the lower back, so we’ll come back to them.

There are a few more groups of muscles to pay attention to, but other primary muscle group to consider when talking about the lower back is the abdominals. Your abdominals provide frontal support for the spine, but in addition to the abdomen and primary lower back muscles of the Psoas and Quadratus Lumborum, the diaphragm, obliques, serratus muscles, pyramidalis muscles, levatores costarum, subcostal muscles, transverse thoracis muscles, and intercostal muscles play roles in the alignment of the lower spine. The final, possibly most under looked muscle is the latimus dorsi, which runs all the way along the back of the spine up to the shoulders. We can go over most of them as accessory breathing muscles, which is an action largely affected by the lower spine. It sounds like a lot of muscles because there are lots of muscles that are connected to your lower back. Let’s break it into pieces to see how it works.

Lets start at the top and work out way down the body, so lets start with the shoulders. The serratus muscles, obliques, levatores costarum, costal muscles and subcostal muscles all play a role in spinal alignment at the shoulder level. The subcostal muscles are the subcostal_muscles_ depictioninnermost, being inside of the rib cage, and surrounds the diaphragm along the ribs. The intercostal muscles are just superior, or further outside than the subcostal muscles. The levatores costarum run along the back of the spine on the outside of the rib cage, "Levatores costarum" by Uwe Gille - modified from Image:Gray389.png. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Levatores_costarum.png#/media/File:Levatores_costarum.pngproviding even more support for the spine, which you can see act in opposition to the interlacing rib muscles. Notice the spinal erectors and spinalis muscle groups. You can also see how the muscles interweave with the spine and ribs, making breathing a full body movement. This is why forward folds are so effective at releasing the muscles the support the spine, so that they can stretch and relieve tension. This part of the reason why breathing in yoga can help to align the spine, and why spinal alignment and breathing have a close relationship. The obliques are a portion of the abdomen that you can read more about here. The serratus anterior is the another muscle to consider, which is also known as the punching muscle, as it pulls the shoulder blades forward. This is an extremely strong and useful muscle in yoga that supports you in handstands, forearm stands, and headstands in specific variations with proper alignments. and keeps the shoulders aligned, which then keeps the spine aligned. Like links on a chain. The final muscles to look at is theLatissimus_dorsi latimus dorsi, a muscle that runs from the lower back to the outside of the shoulder blades. The muscle connects the arms to the lower back, so can be really important for golfing, blowing, javelin throwing, or boxing. Anything where you are using your hips to power the upper body. These muscles can be easily overlooked in sun salutations, especially downward dog, which can allow the spine to hyperextend. This muscle is also more active in the elbow close push up, allowing the serratus anterior and lats to move the spine up from chaturanga into downward dog. Hollowing your armpits in plank/chaturanga/down-dog will likely activate and strengthen your lats, but its good to have a second pair of eyes on your alignment, so if you have questions find a local studio or teacher and ask them about your down dog. I’m sure they will be thrilled to answer your questions.

The last muscles to consider are the diaphragm, the obliques, the

Diaphragm
Diaphragm

pyramidalis muscles, and the transverse abdominus. The final piece of the puzzle is the rectus abdominus, which acts in direct opposition to the Psoas and QL muscles. The pyramidalis muscles are tiny triangles below the lowest layer of the rectus abdominus, and they form muscles just above the genitals. The diaphragm forms the inner musculature needed to move the ribs as the lungs expand.

abdomen image from http://www.usra.ca/The obliques line the outsides of the torso at the bottom of the rib cage, and all four layers of abdominals meet at the linea alba and run down to the pyramidalis muscles. You can see the lowest layer of the abdominals, the transverse abdominus, which acts as a kind of weight belt to support the lower spine when heavy lifting with the back, or squatting. It works with the psoas and QL to keep the trunk stable. The rectus abdominus acts in opposition to the QL and psoas, which forms a kind of push-pull system for you to lean forward and back, to squat, and to jump. Think of them as working against each other, but really they work in unison to support your spine. A great way to feel all of these muscles is to do burpees and/or sun salutations.

That wraps up the muscular and skeletal portions of the anatomy of the lower back. Please check back in about a week for the second section where I discuss nerves, organs, blood vessels, and fluid distribution, and if you are looking for something a bit more entertaining, you can check out the WANDERER series, I am working on part 13 right now and should have it out in a few days. Thanks for reading, would love to hear any questions or feedback

 

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leg_lateral_musculature

Keeping Knees safe in Hip Openers

Over the past few months, I have been working diligently toward lotus pose. This has led me to some very stark realizations about how the knees need to be protected while opening the hips, at least for those of us with tight hips. This is an anatomy article geared at learning how to appropriately safely stretch with the ligaments of the knees, and how the opening of your hips is largely affected by your feet.

anterior_leg
anterior_leg

We can start with an overview of the anatomy of the outside of the leg. Lets start at the bottom and work our way up.

lateral_ankle_anatomy
lateral_ankle_anatomy

There are a few major tendons in the ankle that need to be protected while opening the hip. If these tendons are not flexed during the stretching of the hips, stress will accumulate in the lateral portion of the knee, specifically in the lateral meniscus and the lateral collateral ligament.

Now we know the basic ligaments of the ankle and the outside of the knee that are being affected. Now let’s talk about the fibula, one of the most slender bones in the body.

lateral_ankle_ligaments
lateral_ankle_ligaments

There is a tremendous amount of connective ligamentation on the outsides of the ankles, especially back towards the calcaneus where there are three ligaments to stabilize the ankle on the heel. The heel is a crucial point of stress when the hip is being opened and right on the lateral portion, or outside of the heel is where the most important flexion lies for the opening of the hips. This activation, which should continue up through the plantar and dorsal ligaments to the pinky toe of the foot. This will keep the ankle safe and properly aligned to allow the hip to open while the knee opens laterally.

Once the fibula is aligned properly, the outer knee ligaments and inner cushions can do their job and keep the interior knee ligaments from over stretching. You can see a great view of the knee’s mixture of interior and exterior ligamentation, which in reality overlap and interweave.

http://classroom.sdmesa.edu/eschmid/F07.11.L.150.jpg
knee ligamentation

The fibular collateral ligament is the most important ligament on the outside of the knee and is a thin sheath. This is the ligament that you really want to keep safe and relaxed while stretching the hip, which will ensure that the meniscus is not over-stressed. If it is, the ACL and PCL, the interior crossing ligaments of the knee could be overextended. Also keep in mind the moving the stretch further back into the hip will take time, so be patient with your bodies process. After all, yoga is all process, there is no completed pose or perfect posture. There are always possible improvements, different variations, alternate alignments.

Let’s move up into the thigh, and where you should be feeling the stretch. The IT band is a completely necessary activation, but it is really controlled by the flexion of the outer portion of the foot.

posterior_leg
posterior_leg

 

You can see here the muscles that should be receiving the stretch while the hips are externally rotated. The gluteus minimus, piriformis, gemellus muscles, obturator muscles, adductors, and quadratus femoris muscles. The medial gluteus also twists and stretches fairly significantly. There are also a lot of muscles at the front of the thighs that are receiving significant stress from the hip opening postures.

The Satorius muscle, Vastus Lateralis, and Tensor Fascia Latae stabilize the outsides of the knee. The pectineus and adductor longus muscles, adductor magnus, and gracilis muscles.

anterior_thigh_muscles
anterior_thigh_muscles

Armed with this information, you can now see how the foot and ankle have intricate connections all the way up the leg. Keeping the knee stable while opening the hip will allow you to practice more often, with less stress on our knees, something that I think we could all use a little bit less of. In addition, this article should allow you to know how the muscles that open your hip are stretched during external rotation. Any questions are greatly appreciated.

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"Illu01 head neck" by Arcadian - http://training.seer.cancer.gov/head-neck/anatomy/overview.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illu01_head_neck.jpg#/media/File:Illu01_head_neck.jpg

Jihva Bandha | जिह्वाबन्ध (Bandhas part 4/4)

The Fourth Bandha

The Jihva bandha is an interlock of energy used in yoga to perform certain postures and asana. This is one of the most useful tools in yoga, believe it or not. It creates more space in the back of the nasal cavity allowing for greater circulation through the lungs. The Jihva or Jiva Bandha is the interlock of the tongue to the root of the top front teeth. It causes an upward pull on the back of the tongue and lift on the top of the tongue and tissue attaching it to the mouth. It is possible to take this bandha while fully engaging ujjayi pranayama for tremendous effect. Because you are breathing through your nasal cavity, you can spend an entire practice with the interlock activated, though it might take a bit of time for your system to adapt to the mental focus involved.

Why to perform the Jihva Bandha

This exercises the tongue, a muscles that is very active and useful in human lives and the lives of most mammals. The bandha can be taken with the mouth closed or open, you should try both, to see how it feels, but keeping your mouth closed is a bit easier during the asana practice. This bandha is in no way necessary for practice, but it can intensity concentration at the peaks of meditation, or at the peak of a pose. Similar to the final alignment of drishti in a posture, the Jiva bandha is a final detail that can easily be overlooked, but adds immense relaxation and stillness to the final breaths of any posture.

This leads me into the final concept of the bandhas: focus. The reason that interlocking energy is so important in yoga is that it allows for immense focus, energy cycles more efficiently and pathways open to create increased control, concentration, focus, and ultimately room to breath. Each bandha is a piece of a larger puzzle and are tools to the freedom that a true Samadhi creates. By making each breath, nervous pulsation, and heartbeat as efficient as possible, you allow for the greatest efficiency and focus simultaneous.

Cascading interlocks in the spine

The bandhas are building blocks, one builds on the others and all three are like instruments that can be used during asana and meditation to take greater control of the spine through accessory muscles, and therefore respiration. Use them during breathing exercises, asana, and even while you are doing everyday things. Mula bandha can be great for your lower back while you’re driving! Take advantage of your own anatomy and make your practice easier and more efficient by employing these powerful tools and methods. Let me know if you have any questions!

 

 

 

 

Jihva Bandha | जिह्वाबन्ध (Bandhas part 4/4) Read More »

Ashtanga Yoga Founder Krishnamacharya

Uddiyana Bandha | उड्डियान बंध (Bandhas part 2/4)

Uddiyana Bandha is the second yogic muscular lock that occurs at the bottom of the rib cage. Uddyiana bandha is popularized, but largely misunderstood, I believe. Uddiyana means upward flying and bandha means energy seal, so this interlock moves energy up the spine. This opposed the mula bandha (root) lock descending down to the base of the spine. The Uddiyana bandha is important for inversion work, floating into handstand, jump backs from crow, etc. Think of anything where you are moving the trunk large distances as requiring the bandha lock. This is why lots of movements occur at the end of an exhale, because your abdominals are compressed towards your spine making for spinal stability during movement.

Uddiyana bandha is not a hollowing of the stomach! For some reason, people think that caving your stomach in supports your spine, but this is not true. Uddiyana bandha is far more of an engagement of the abdomen through breathe. Uddiyana bandha can be practiced in a wide variety of positions and the only time the stomach should be caved is after an exhale while doing prana-yama. Otherwise, Uddiyana bandha is simply the upward abdominal engagement of the obliques.

Most people will refer to the abdominal lock by hollowing the stomach in breathing exercises, but in truth, the muscular lock is a complex anatomical binding that allows for inversion and stabilized trunk movement in space.

The term Uddiyana bandha refers to the following muscles: the illiopsoas (hip flexor, walking muscle), the obliques, and the diaphragm. Together, these muscles are what allows you to walk, run, and move in space. This is why you will find so much yoga focusing on the psoas: think crescent lunge, low lunge, backbends, and hamsting lengthening in pyramid or ardha hanumanasana. a lot of yoga is geared towards making the psoas more malleable and flexible so that the body has more freedom for movement.

Patthabi Jois knew the importance of the bandhas, which is why the ashtanga system makes such heavy use of them. These interlocks can be attended to in each pose to allow for alignment, energetically and physically, of the spine. But to be honest, I’m fairly disappointed at the lacking of knowledge in this area. The uddiyana bandha is one of the more important muscle groups in the body and will take your practice to the next level will mindful work. Yes, even if you are already jumping into handstands.

This concludes part 2 of the bandha series. Check back soon for the Jalandhara bandha, part 3!

If you haven’t gotten a chance, check out part 1 here

Uddiyana Bandha | उड्डियान बंध (Bandhas part 2/4) Read More »

rectus_abdominis

The Anatomy of the Abdomen (part 4/4: Rectus Abdominis)

The Rectus Abdominis is a paired vertical muscle that runs from the xiphoid process at the bottom of the sternum, across the top of the 5th and 7th ribs and down to the pubic symphysis, pubic crest, and pubic tubercle below the hip-line. The two muscles are separated by the linea alba running down their center, which is a connective band for the muscles. The rectus sheath holds the muscle; it is also the insertion point for the lateral abdominal muscles. The tendinous intersections cross the muscle, separating it into eight distinct squares, or bellies, the top 6 of which form the “six pack”.

The rectus abdominis is used to flex the lumbar spine, the lowest 5 vertebrae of the spine. It is also a very useful muscle for breathing; it is used during childbirth, defecation, and forceful exhales. The muscles flex in pairs, which allows for efficient recruitment when forward folding, or putting legs over your head in plow. The muscles aid in lifting the trunk and are the muscles activate in traditional crunches. Usually the first tendinous intersections cross just above the belly button and the second line crosses between the sternum and first tendinous intersections. They belly button is known as the umbilicus in anatomy nomenclature.

There is some misinformation about the rectus abdominis muscle that really should be cleared up. The first, is that working on the muscle is not what gives people definition in the six tendinous intersections called a “6 pack”. Levels of body fat are a more accurate determinant for whether a person’s abdominal region will be well-defined, or not. Usually, this starts around the 15% and lower for men, though there are always outliers and special cases. However, once you are at that level of body fat, the amount of exercise and abdominal activity present in your daily life will affect the definition of the abdominal muscles. Another myth is that regular crunches are ineffective. Regular crunches are some of the most effective activity for activating the rectus abdominis muscle alone, if they are done properly with exhalations to peak and a vertical lift of the chest rather than leaning towards the knees. In other words, the efficacy of crunches are determined by proper alignment.

I find that bicycle crunches done slowly are still the most effective abdominal workout for me. 5 minutes and I am toasted. Slow down when doing the exercises, use your breath to move your body mindfully and in unison. Some great stretches for the rectus abdominis muscle are upward facing dog, cobra, downward facing bow, and wheel.

What are your favorite ways to stretch and strengthen your abdominal muscles?

 

The Anatomy of the Abdomen (part 4/4: Rectus Abdominis) Read More »

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