What a great day for yoga on Saturday afternoon, it
was so much fun to share the Ashtanga yoga workshop on the Primary Series, or Mysore style of yoga practice with my friends in the East Wind community a little over two weeks ago. The Ashtanga yoga series workshop was difficult and taxing, but the participants were all warriors! Everyone who showed up got a great series of postures in which to practice their breath control and challenge their bodies and we got to have some fun chanting and challenging our minds and bodies.
The Second Workshop is on 3/3 in Auburn
In this Second Ashtanga Workshop, we will be practicing the first 11 postures of the Ashtanga Intermediate Series:
Kapotanasana A & B
Ashtanga Yoga Workshop #2 will also focus on advanced seated postures and modifications to help the body to find the stretch that the asana implies.
The Ashtanga Yoga Workshop will last 2 hours, but we will start to practice for longer if we all want to. Drop-backs might happen in this workshop, so get ready for some hands on backbends and handstands!
In the Second Ashtanga Yoga Workshop, we get to have some fun practicing advanced postures! Please ensure that you check your ego at the door to avoid any injuries and to optimally enjoy the difficulty of this practice 😉
Sign-Up for the Second Series Ashtanga Workshop Below:
I have included some links to the postures so you can reference them before the workshop begins. We will be doing the same chaturanga basics and flow basics at the beginning of the workshop because working on alignment is a constant in the yoga practice to maintain the integrity of the postures. Get ready for some fun!
In Sanskrit, Mula means “root”, foundation, origin, source, and beginning. Bandha means energy lock, binding together, or posture. Mula bandha is the root of the body, the excretion point and the bottom of the spine. This is 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.
Mula Bandha – The interlocking of interlockings
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
Also known as the ischiadic nerve or ischiatic nerve, the Sciatic Nerve is the largest nerve in the human body. The Sciatic Nerve runs down the leg behind the bicep femoris and powers the thigh muscles.
The nerve begins in the Sacral Plexus
as you can see from contrasting the above depictions of the nerve. Notice the outer thigh innervation and middle leg innervation from the upper nerves in the second photo. Contrast that to the inner thigh/back-leg innervation from the lower set of nerves. The sciatic nerve is a combination of the nervous tissue from L4 to S3 and continues down the leg to branch into the Tibial Nerve and the Common Peroneal Nerve at the popliteal fossa.
The Sacral Plexus and the Greater Sciatic Foramen
Here is a fantastic depiction of the sacral plexus and the nerve’s points of joining and separation through the Greater Sciatic Foramen which is covered by the piriformis. Here is a great view of the coccyx and sacral plexus which runs down the back of the leg. As the nerve travels, it is hammocked by the piriformis and then the bicep femoris before it branches. You can see a really great example of the support of the bicep femoris below
You can also see that as the nerve travels, it branches below the bicep femoris and the popliteal fossa which is also known as the knee pit. The biggest bone in the body, the femur supports and protects the sciatic nerve. We could definitely get into more detail about the branching of the nerve, but for now, let’s stick with the major components, we can get more specialized later.
Implications for your Yoga Practice
If you haven’t started finding ways the stretch the muscles surrounding and supporting the biggest nerve in your body, its time to start. Finding ways to relax and stretch the piriformis and strengthen the sciatic nerve should be one of the primary goals of your practice. A healthy sciatic nerve will be most helpful in maintaining a pain-free leg!
It is necessary to work into the layers of muscles surrounding the nerve tissue to truly release tension from it. This means that although an adjustment from a chiropractor might help in the short-term, you should be focused on re-aligning the leg muscles in your daily posture to create space for the sciatic nerve.
Your hamstrings can be the primary instigator of your back pain! Quadriceps are filthy culprits as well! Find ways to stretch your legs and your back will often carry less tension as a result. And legs stretches can allow you to stretch the back in deeper ways. There are certain points inside of your hip/sacrum connection where your back and your legs are the same thing!
This is a huge reason why downward dog feels so fantastic. You get to stretch the muscles around your biggest nerves! Downward can be one of the most sustainable yoga poses. It shouldn’t hurt! Just uncomfortable at first.
Just to take the downward dog thing further, this is also why sun salutations are such a universal stretches in yoga and so good for relaxing the nervous system. I think sun salutations might be one of the best exercises you can do for your back.
Clouds Yin Yoga Class was Instructed and Prepared by Elliot Telford and is sponsored by this website, Elliottelford.com
Recoding from Yin Yoga at East Wind in Auburn
Clouds Yin Yoga Class recoding from Friday night at East Wind yoga in Auburn is available below, please download the class take it with you wherever you want, and enjoy!
Here is the playlist from the class as well, lots of great music in there:
The accompanying playlist begins at the 25:00 minute mark. Feel free to check out the playlists from other yoga classes here as well. Prepare for a silent meditation at the beginning, you should be able to drop right into your practice!
This yoga class was pretty smooth and hits a lot of the hard to hit areas in the hips to help the body in circulating.
Clouds Yin Yoga Class Details and notes:
I created this yin yoga class to support a deep mediation on the breath. During the class, I mentioned this article on heart health. I think that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that yoga is very healthy for your heart. In modern society there is a lack of appreciation for this, as heart health is one of the biggest issues we have to face.
Life is fucking complicated out there. There are a lot of aspects of living nowadays that should NEVER have existed in the first place. Good food is expensive and bad food is subsidized and really, I think this is one of the biggest things to fix in our culture. Life for us humans is very complicated, we have to know how lots of different things work in order to operate successfully in our everyday lives. Cellphones, Cars, Computers, and all of our modern technology can be a bit insane sometimes and it catches up to us through stress an in our bodies. Thank the gods for yoga.
I find myself splitting my time between things constantly. It’s great for someone with ADD, but very difficult to focus on one thing for an extended period of time. Whether its between driving, staying connected to my body, splitting time between Auburn and Sacramento, or splitting my time between yoga, landscaping, and music, my website, landscaping writing, painting, or doing all of the other forms of art that I love to do. Recently, I found myself painting without any real reason other than the need to let go by creating something cool. But it gets tiring to be unable to focus on any one thing for an extended period of time. I try to keep a priority of yoga first, money and survival second, and music third. So far, its working out fine.
Teaching yoga is now a constant. 8 classes a week and I am getting more and more skilled at disseminating my message. I am striving to offer the best possible yoga classes to the students that attend and I think that I am doing a great job of expanding the comfort zones of the people that choose to spend time learning about yoga with me. Most people have very weird perceptions of what yoga is supposed to be.
I realize my own need to continually innovate and am actually finding the need to slow down and ground into teaching what I know. Sometimes I get distracted with the need to constantly feel like I am creating a new experience for people and I need to focus on simply creating and learning during the process.
Music is strife for me and I love every second of it. The industry is very difficult to break into. I feel that my music continues to evolve drastically, culminating in my latest release for an ill.Gates Remix Contest that you can check out below. The track is very unique, the picture links to the track. I also have about 5 other tracks that I will be releasing to my soundcloud very soon.
I find it incredible how disconnected my culture is, despite all of the different ways that we try to connect, our connections have become more superficial than ever. We drive so so much. and it’s difficult to find ways to connect with newer people, especially with the amount of judgement that people just throw out randomly at strangers. But I think that I am meeting the people that I need to meet, it is just not happening as fast as I’d like it to. Big surprise, I guess.
Ultimately, I think all of the art that I am creating right now will take time to flourish, I still feel that I need a couple more years of learning in order to get to the levels of sound design, mixing, and composition that I want to be at. I feel very confident in my yoga, but ache to return to India and practice in the room full of silent Ashtangis teaching myself the second series.
The East Wind summer challenge is where I find my time going and I look forward to the yoga classes that I get to attend rather than teach. I am always working on expanding my practice and love to spend time simply enjoying my breath work and learning about the intricacies of my body. So hopefully see you around the studio!
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:
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:
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 and 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 innermost, 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, providing 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 the 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
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.
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
Now you can download 5 of my last classes of 2014 for just $5. There is a Yin class, 2 Hybrid classes, and 2 Flow classes. Please enjoy!
stress relief postures
These classes are great for when you are traveling, I use recordings quite often in my own practice.
Once you have access to the download, just save it to where you want to store the audio file (your desktop works great). From there, you can upload it to your phone, iPod, or whatever portable device you might want to use.
Get ready to be blown away by something you have done every moment of your conscious life. Humans have two lungs and five lobes, two on the left and three on the right (the right is bigger), each of which can be from 70-100 square meters in surface area, about the same surface area as a tennis court. The lungs have 2,400 kilometers of airways and 300 to 500 million alveoli which are gas exchange points for the bloodstream. These are powerful organs of exchange with the environment, with power and functioning that should not be taken for granted.
The respiratory system is a series of organs responsible for intaking oxygen from the atmosphere and expelling carbon dioxide back into the air. This basic gas exchange between the body and the atmosphere is completely dependent upon the respiratory system and almost every vertebrate animal has one. This exchange affects every other system, as they oxygenation of blood is necessary in every organ. The nervous system also seems to draw energy from the respiratory system, and the cardiovascular system takes cues from the respiratory system (both cue off brain activity) to determine how much blood it should be pumping based on breath rate. When the sympathetic nervous system becomes active (the flight or fight mechanism), heart rate is increased, respiratory rate is increased, the sensitivity of the nervous system is heightened to allow for survival, but this comes at a cost.
Yoga focuses primarily on the respiratory system’s functioning to move the muscular-skeletal system in the opposite way. In our modern world full of non-environmental stress and high levels of adrenaline in non-life threatening situations, the sympathetic nervous system is overactive and is probably the biggest contributor to the high fatality rates from cardiovascular disease (nutrition would be the other competing contributor). The respiratory system is vital to the functioning of every mammal on the planet and is one of the most intricate and powerful tools for surviving, prospering, and thriving on planet Earth.
I honestly think the vast majority of people take breathing for granted. Most Americans are in such a rush that they don’t even notice their superpower of consciousness. We don’t learn about breathing in school, or in early sports, which is really a shame because breathing concentration allow for intense amounts of focus. Every athlete should learn breath control techniques from young ages; I can remember when I learned to run with proper form at 15 and I think that learning about breathing should happen even younger. This is what keeps us all alive, after all, and we really should learn how to keep our nervous systems functioning optimally through breathing exercises.
To really understand how intricately related the nervous system and respiratory systems are, we need to go back in time to when you were born. At birth, a babies lungs are full of fluid, but once the child is released from the birth canal, the central nervous system trigger a huge change in reaction to the environment, which then triggers the first breath, about 10 seconds later. From there, the lungs develop rapidly until at about 2, the alveoli are fully developed, then the lungs begin to grow normally until full adult muscular maturity is reached. The lungs are muscular and most mammals use their musculoskeletal systems to support their breathing, as humans do. This is why yoga can alleviate many hampering disabilities having to do with lung functioning, because strengthening the accessory muscles to the diaphragm strengthens the overall functionality of the respiratory system.
The muscles of the respiratory system are the following:
the diaphragm (primary)
the external intercostals
the internal intercostals (intercostals interlace on the inside and outside of the ribs).
As you can see, there are a tremendous amount of accessory muscles involved in breathing. I interpret this a particular way, that there is an enormous spectrum between thriving and breathing with ease and freedom contrasted to breathing for survival, or breathing only with the diaphragm and ribs, which puts extreme amounts of stress on those muscles. I think the idea of balance between the primary and accessory muscles is the right idea, and the stronger the accessory muscles, the more powerful breathing will follow. This takes time, muscles build strength in increments, and this is probably the biggest reason why yoga is so difficult for many Americans. Because we need it the most!
What kinds of breathing exercises do you practice for optimal health? What kinds of breathing exercises would you like to learn about?
Jalandhara bandha is an interlock tucking chin into chest to elongate the back of the neck. This is particularly useful in inversions like headstand and shoulder stand, which can place stress on the neck if it is not properly elongated. This interlock can also include opening the chest and sternum in many cases to allow for great lung expansion when inhaling.
The sanskrit meaning of the word is enlightening: Jala means web, or net and dhara means contracting. So the contraction of the chin towards the chest lengthens the posterior (rear) neck muscles to elongate the back of the neck and highest portion of the spine. The neck muscles truly are an interweaving web to allow for the massive amount of rotation and movement that our heads are capable of.
By tucking the chin to chest, you allow the spine to grow longer, creating more room for breath capacity (the spine is intricately linked to respiration). This is why the jalandhara bandha is used often in breathing exercises. Lengthening the rear neck muscles also creates more space for blood flow and nerve connections to the brain and skull. The arteries and veins that run along the neck muscles are extremely important; they transport oxygenated blood to the brain. This is why headstands and shoulderstands are so beneficial; they reverse this bloodflow and while the jalandhara bandha is locked allows for the nervous system to reverse it’s usually flow against gravity. The lymph system also receives enormous benefit from being inverted for an appropriate period of time.
There are also some essential organs that are compressed during the interlocks. The thyroid gland get compressed during the lock, which can create more space for functioning of the organ. The lymph system is also greatly affected by the interlock, because compressing the lymphs will also create more room for the flow of lymphatic fluid. The physical benefits of the interlock are undeniable.
You can see the muscles of the neck in more detail and how the interlock is truly a contraction of a web of muscles surrounding the Hyoid bone. We’ll talk more about the hyoid bone in the next article, part 4: Jiva bandha. You will also notice a release in the shoulders when practicing the interlock, because of the relationship between the neck and the shoulders. You can see the trapezius muscle extends all the way to the back of the skull and that lengthening this in combination with the serno-cleido-mastoideus muscle. Muscularly, the contraction is extremely important for headstands! You should not be practicing balancing on your head without this interlock! It will lead to neck pain and possible injury. Headstand, according the yoga alliance statistics, is the pose where people get injured the most often in the United States. This is probably a result of not knowing how to fully extend the neck using the jalandhara bandha interlock. If you want to start learning about the lock without a chance of injuring yourself, start in shoulderstand. Lengthen your neck as much as possible and then practice building the strength necessary for headstand in rabbit pose (sasankasana).
Here is Leslie Karminoff’s depiction of shoulderstand, this is a great way to work on the bandha. I highly recommend checking out his work at Bandha Yoga.
Compress chin to chest during meditation at the end of exhales. You can retain the lock for an inhale as well, notice the increased space on your inhale. Combine this with the uddiyana bandha and mula bandha and then notice how much space there is. This is a full lengthening of the spine through muscular contractions and muscular interlocks, which is extremely useful for creating space for breath, and life force energy.
Stay tuned for the final piece of the puzzle of the bandhas, the Jiva bandha. Used in conjunction, these interlocks will change the way you practice. Stay tuned for part 4, talk to you soon…