What a Pain in the Neck!

Neck pain and stiffness are common in our society. Sadly, not even old yogis like me are exempt from this persistent malady. The neck is really an amazing body part. This short structure connects the torso to the head and holds the weight of the world. Ok, really it just holds up our world, aka the head, which weighs roughly the same as a bowling ball. It also houses nerves that control the neck, eyes, diaphragm, arms, and hands. This means that tension in the neck can lead to headaches, sinus problems, vision problems, fatigue, and numbness in arms, hands, and fingers. Yes, the neck has really got our backs, and yet we fail to attend to its needs.

So how do things go so terribly, terribly wrong with the neck? Much of the tension we feel is due to our lifestyles. Our body is designed for the parts of the spine to stack in perfect alignment. Our ideal alignment features the ears over the shoulders, shoulders over the hips, and hips over ankles. When we sit in front of our computers or watch TV this is not happening. Often, we lean forward towards the computer, then maybe tilt our heads upward and/or forward to see the monitor. Of course, our posture does not improve when we relax on the couch to binge watch our favorite shows. Then we might slump in our seats, or lay out on the couch with our necks in an uncomfortable and unnatural position. Sometimes even “a good night’s sleep” is not so good for our necks.

If you’re experiencing problems that may stem from neck tension, it’s time to take action. A trip to the doctor may rule out any serious problems. If that’s the case, you can try the following ideas to help reduce any pain, tension, headaches, etc. For more tips on spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter here.

First, try changing your pillow. If you start the day with a headache or neck pain, the solution may be as simple as buying a new pillow. Look for one that offers support, but has enough give to avoid placing the neck at an angle. If a pillow is too firm , it puts the neck in misalignment…..too soft and it does not offer support.

Next, consider your posture as you go about your day. Ask yourself, “Where are my ears?” If the answer is, “My ears are in front of my shoulders,” then it’s time to realign. See my post Don’t Wear Your Shoulders As Earrings for more tips on posture. Now incorporate movement and neck stretches into your day. Try the following:

  • Start with your gaze forward, then move your head to the right. Pause briefly, then come back to center. Do this 10 times on the right, then repeat on the left.
  • Next, look to the right again, and as you exhale allow the chin to come down in a half circle to the chest. Inhale, as you continue this half circle bringing head to gaze to the left. Exhale and repeat towards the right. Do this 10 times. You can also do full neck circles if you do not feel discomfort or pain with them. Many yoga classes are helpful for releasing tension as well. To sign up for my “Unwind the Spine” class on Fridays at 4:30 MT, click here.
  • Now work on scapular movement. With your arms by your sides (elbows bent), or in your lap, squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold for a breath and release. Repeat 10 times.
  • To stretch your neck, sit up tall on a chair and place your right hand behind your low back, near the sacrum. Let the left ear drop towards the left shoulder. Hold and breathe for 5-6 breaths. Repeat 2-3 times, then switch sides.
  • To strengthen the deep muscles in the neck, lie on your back and gently press the back of your neck down to the surface beneath you. Your chin will slightly tuck. Hold for a breath, release and repeat 10-20 times.

Being mindful about taking care of your neck can go a long way towards releasing tension and alleviating pain. For more ideas on neck stretches or for Functional Yoga Coaching or classes feel free to contact me.

For a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Hatha Yoga (Sundays 5-6 pm MT), Yoga 1 (Mondays, 5:30 pm MT) and Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT).

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here. For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Don’t Worry…I’ve Got Your Back!

Herniated, also called bulging, discs affect a large portion of the population. Symptoms of a disc herniation include low back pain, leg pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s worth a trip to the doctor for a diagnosis. For those who are diagnosed with a herniated disc there are exercises that may help.

So what is a herniated disc anyway? Discs are located between each of the bones (vertebrae) of the spine. They are filled with a gel-like substance which makes them flexible and adaptable. Their job is to cushion the bones, absorb pressure, protect the nerves, and to avoid shearing of bone against bone.

Think of the disc like a water balloon. If you place the balloon between your hands and exert equal pressure on it, it feels stable and supportive. However, if you squish one side of the balloon, then the opposite side becomes tense and tight. A herniated disc is like that squished water balloon. Instead of being supportive it exerts pressure on nerves, thus causing pain.

So what should you do, and not do, if you have a herniated disc? Since my expertise is yoga mixed with physical therapy, I will explore how yoga affects this condition. Yoga can offer many benefits for a herniated disc. However, it is important to note that some yoga postures can exacerbate low back problems, and should be avoided, or approached with caution. One should avoid forward folds that round the spine. These put additional pressure on the discs. Intense backbends should also be avoided, as should deep twists and many inversions.

Now let’s explore the benefits of a carefully structured yoga sequence for low back pain and disc herniations. These benefits include: reduction of pressure on the discs, improved blood circulation, improved range of motion, decrease in muscular tension, increase in core strength, improved posture, stress relief and relaxation. Whew! That’s a lot of benefits! A few yoga postures that can help ease the disc matter back into place and relieve pressure include:

Bhuganjasana (Cobra Pose)
Sphinx Pose
Ado Mukha Svavasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Cat/Cow Asana
Salabasana (Locust Pose)
Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

For a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Hatha Yoga (Sundays 5-6 pm MT), Yoga 1 (Mondays, 5:30 pm MT) and Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT).

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here. For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Yoga for the Sacroiliac Joint

In the last post, I talked about Piriformis Syndrome (click here if you missed it) which causes pain in the buttock and often down the leg via the route of the sciatic nerve. There’s another condition called Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction, SIJD for short, that can cause terrible pain. SIJD is sometimes confused with Piriformis Syndrome or Sciatica. They are all, quite literally, a pain in the butt.

The sacroiliac joint (SIJ) is the area where two bones, the sacrum and ilium, meet. The sacrum is the triangular bony area located just below the lumbar vertebrae, and in between the hip bones. The ilium are the two flat hip bones that, when looking at them from the front, are shaped like ears. The union between these two bones fit together much like a jig-saw puzzle. There are many depressions, bumps and ridges that join perfectly together. The SIJ is not bonded together, so some movement happens. However, there really is only a tiny amount of motion available at this joint. The SIJ depends on the surrounding ligaments to hold it in perfect alignment.

Unfortunately, sometimes the joint does become misaligned, and the ligaments, which are used to holding the joint IN alignment, now hold the joint OUT of alignment. Common causes are trauma, pregnancy and arthritis. SIJD pain is located in the area of the joint, and can switch from one side to the other. Those who suffer from SIJD may experience increased pain when rising up from a chair or bending forward. Sadly, since the joint surfaces fit together in an exact pattern, like a puzzle, it can be hard to resolve this pain.

If you believe that you may be suffering from SIJD, go to your doctor, PT or chiropractor. They may be able to adjust the joint to help relieve the pain. There are also some yoga postures that can help bring relief, and in some cases help work the joint back into alignment. These postures work by easing the the tightness of the ligaments and creating some space for the joint to move back where it needs to be. They also improve body awareness and posture. Try the following yoga postures to help with SIJD:

Janu sirsasana (Single leg forward fold)
Marichyasana (Sage Twist)
Anantasana (Side Reclining Lift)
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Garudhasna (Eagle Pose)

Note that many of the above asanas are twists. To avoid injury in these postures, it’s important ease into the twist. Move your pelvis slowly as you twist. Take care to not use your arms for more torque to crank yourself into a deeper twist.

For a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Hatha Yoga (Sundays 5-6 pm MT), Yoga 1 (Mondays, 5:30 pm MT) and Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT).

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here. For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

How to Heal your Heinie

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A very common problem is excruciating pain in the backside that shoots down the leg. Most of us have heard the term “Sciatica” to describe severe pain in the buttocks, back of leg, and feet. But what is it, and what can be done to help those who suffer from sciatic pain?

Sciatica happens when the sciatic nerve gets compressed. The sciatic nerve is a bundle of nerves that pass through the space between the Ischial Tuberosities (referred to in yoga as the “sits’ bones) and a knobby bump at the top of the Femur (thigh bone). It is roughly the thickness of an index finger, so that’s quite a large bundle of nerves! The piriformis muscle (see my newsletter for a more on this muscle) also passes through this area.

There are a few ways that the sciatic nerve might become compressed, thus leading to pain. First, the piriformis muscle may become tight and start to spasm. This is known as Piriformis Syndrome. Although there are a few causes for Piriformis Syndrome, it is quite common for it to evolve from long periods of sitting. Another cause of sciatic pain is a herniated (bulging) disc in the low back. Herniated discs often cause back pain, but if the sciatic nerve is being compressed, the pain can be felt in the buttocks, and also shoot down the legs, instead of in the low back where the disc is.

So, what can be done to help relieve sciatic pain? First, the extreme pain that comes with sciatic conditions, definitely merits a trip to your doctor to find out the cause of the pain. Treatment depends on whether the cause is Piriformis Syndrome, a herniated disc, or some other cause. Gentle stretching of the piriformis muscle is effective in helping with pain due to tightness and spasm of the piriformis muscle. Stretches should be held for 15 seconds to start, then progress to a 60 second hold. Examples of piriformis stretches are the “Figure 4” stretch or Pigeon Pose. Additionally, twisting postures may help with Piriformis Syndrome by realigning any imbalances in the hips. Examples are Prvta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) and Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist).

For a herniation, it’s helpful to practice gentle back bends. This can assist in easing the disc matter back into the disc, thus relieving pressure on the nerves. Examples include Salabasana (Locust Pose) and Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose). If you’re unsure of the cause of your sciatic pain, you should practice extreme caution with twists, as they can exacerbate a herniation.

For more information on spinal health through yoga and physical therapy, check out my newsletter, join me for a class, or contact me for a private online Functional Yoga session.

Unwind or Unravel?

Getting the most from your twists

I teach a class every Friday called “Unwind the Spine.” It’s designed to allow people to let go of their week, de-stress and help their spine feel more supple. I often include twisting postures in this class. Twists have a lot of benefits. When approached correctly, they allow us to release tension, increase range of motion, and relieve pain. However, twisting without proper support of the spine, can lead to unwanted effects. So how do you get the most out of your twist and avoid discomfort or injury? You can do this by considering the following factors: Range of Motion, Spinal Alignment, Base of Support.

  • First, consider your range of motion. Range of motion is increased with movement and stretching before your twists. Try doing a little stretching of spine and hip muscles every day. Hold the stretches for 5-6 breaths to allow the muscles to lengthen and release. Also, keep in mind that “motion is lotion” so go for a daily walk, swim or bike ride to get those joints moving.
  • Next, align the spine. In seated or standing postures you should feel as if each vertebrae is stacked on top of the other. Extend the spine on an inhale. Exhale and allow the hips to relax. Ears should be over shoulders and shoulder blades rest down the back. This can help to avoid over-arching the low back or creating neck tension as the shoulders hunch up towards the ears.
  • Now, check to see if you feel grounded and stable. Feel the parts of your body that are in contact with the earth. This is your base of support. If you’re standing, try to bring equal weight into each foot. You may need to adjust your stance once in the yoga pose to achieve this. If you’re seated, allow both sitting bones to be in contact with the earth. If one lifting up as you twist away from that side, try twisting a little less and see if you can re-establish that base.

In addition to these three factors try to avoid over-twisting or cranking your torso around to twist more. Often less is more, and more is just too much. For more tips on spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter or contact me for a class or therapeutic exercise coaching session.

What Kind of Kindness do you Practice?

We’ve all heard the phrase “Charity starts at home.” Try substituting the word kindness for the word charity. As we approach Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, and a brand new year, it’s a great time to focus inward…with caring, kindness and self-love, then to project that outward.

There’s a meditation practice called Metta. Metta means Loving-Kindness. We practice it towards ourselves first, then our family, friends, acquaintances, those we have disagreements with (even those we are not acquainted with), and finally to all beings. Its a powerful, yet simple practice.

To get a little Metta into your life, you simply need to find a quiet place to be still for a few moments. Then, repeat these phrases to yourself.

May I Be Happy
May I Be Healthy
May I Be Safe From Harm
May I Live With Ease & Well-being
May I Be Free From Suffering*

*Repeat this sequence substituting others for yourself each time (think of a specific family member, friend, co-worker, or someone with a difference of opinion from yourself) Keep in mind that public figures also deserve Metta. At each repetition input the word(s) “You” or “All Beings” instead of “I”

Metta is a lovely practice because it starts inside each of us as we wish well for ourselves, then evolves until we expand all that good energy to all earthly beings. This Thanksgiving I’ll be offering a donation based yoga class of Kindness & Gratitude. Donations benefit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. I’d love it if you’d join me! You can sign up with this link.  https://tinyurl.com/y67bv4wt 

I wish you, and all beings, to be happy, healthy, safe, and live in peace!

Lessons Learned from Monkey Pose

What’s life without a little challenge? Of course I realize that life is throwing challenges at us left and right lately, but instead of just playing defense and fighting life’s challenges as they come up, I decided to challenge myself by working towards the goal of achieving the posture Hanumanasana, aka “the splits.” This posture is steeped in symbolism since it’s named after Hanuman who epitomizes strength, courage, perseverance, and release of ego. Hanuman is a fascinating character and I encourage you to read more about him.

As I start my journey to this goal, the PTA/yoga teacher in me considers the anatomical breakdown of this posture. Instagram and the web are full of beautiful people looking serene in this pose. But there is much complexity to this pose in an anatomical sense. I could easily teach a total yoga class just on Hanumanasana alone. It is not just about stretching the hamstrings and “being flexible”. The muscles are a balance between stretching and contracting/activating.

Much of this pose is about balance. The torso is balanced over the pelvis, and there’s also a balance between stretching and activating the muscles. Many of the muscles of the legs come into a stretch, but then they continue actively contracting (eccentrically) for stabilization.

The front leg is flexed at the hip while the back of the thigh (Hamstring Muscles) stretch. After those muscles elongate, they contract at that elongated position. This is called an eccentric contraction. To help stabilize the posture, the calf muscles are also contracting.

The back leg is extended from the hip. Here, the front of the thigh (Psoas Major and Rectus Femoris muscles) experience a deep stretch. Before sending the leg all the way backwards, I recommend regular stretching of these muscles. They are usually pretty tight from all the sitting we do in day to day life. If theses muscles are too tight it’s difficult to balance the torso over the pelvis. Additionally, if you have tight hamstring muscles it is often due to the hamstrings compensating for tight hip flexors. So stretching the front hip and thigh muscles would serve you well. See my latest newsletter for some tips on how to do this.

In addition to the legs, the spine is a large part of this posture as well. The spinal extensors are at work here to lift and hold the spine over the pelvis, especially with the arms extended. All the muscles on the front of the torso elongate, then eccentrically contract as we lift the arms skyward.

Yes indeed, there’s a lot going on in Hanumanasana. I have my work cut out for for me as I attempt to embrace this posture in a safe, supportive way. I invite you to follow my progress (and help inspire me to persevere) as I post I post on Instagram and Facebook. @yogalorie.com #yogalorie

Yoga, The Immune System & Pandemics

With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting us, one can’t help but wonder what we can do individually to keep ourselves healthy and safe. Is handwashing, social distancing and mask wearing enough? What can we do to adopt a healthy (or healthier) lifestyle to boost our immune systems? Certainly, eating a good healthy diet and getting plenty of sleep would be a good start. But this can be challenging with the stress and anxiety that we’re all under currently.

So of course, my curiosity was peaked when I ran across an article that theorized the benefits of yoga practice as a preventative measure for the Corona Virus (Nagarathna et al 2020). Although information about the virus is still emerging, the article brought up some good points. The authors cite studies that have shown that practicing yoga has helped reduce symptoms in Asthma, Diabetes, Heart Disease, TB, and HIV. Part of the reason for this is because yoga incorporates breath with movement. This has been found to be beneficial to neurological, respiratory and psychological health. Additionally the authors inform us that yoga has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, which helps with inflammatory disease.

Most interesting (to me anyway) is that the authors inform us that studies indicate that yoga increases the production of blood lymphocytes and Natural Killer (NK) Cells. These are both immune cells that help the body fight off infection.

Although it is unclear and unknown whether yoga (as an additional measure to mask wearing and social distancing) can strengthen the immune system enough to prevent communicable diseases such as COVID-19, I find this information encouraging. If nothing else, a regular yoga practice will reduce stress and help the body and the mind feel better. For more yoga insights, subscribe to my newsletter.

Nagarathna, R., Nagendra, H. R., & Majumdar, V. (2020). A Perspective on Yoga as a Preventive Strategy for Coronavirus Disease 2019. International journal of yoga13(2), 89–98. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_22_20.

Svavasana is the Autumn for the Soul

I love this time of year! It’s filled with beauty and comfort. The trees display their many colors, and it’s great to snuggle up with a cup of hot tea, cocoa or red wine as the evenings grow cooler. This time of year the bounty of the harvest (whether it’s delicious apples and vibrant pumpkins grown at local farms, or homegrown tomatoes & zucchini) is celebrated and enjoyed. The plants (and their growers) have put forth hard work to bring us sustenance for the body and the spirit. This is a time that plants begin their dormancy in preparation for a rebirth and regeneration in the spring.

In yogic terms I liken Svavasana, pronounced Sha-VAH-suh-nuh, to the season of Autumn because it gives us an opportunity to regenerate our minds and bodies. It is typically done at the end of a yoga class, but it can certainly be done at the start of class or even on it’s own during the day. Svavasana, also known as Corpse Pose is traditionally done lying on one’s back with the feet a little wider than hip distance apart, and the arms resting at the sides of the body with palms facing up. The goal of Svavasana is to achieve deep relaxation for the body and the mind.

Quieting the mind and relaxing the muscles go hand in hand. Muscles are controlled by the neurons, nerves that send messages from the brain to all areas of the body. When the neurons send lots of signals to a muscle, the muscle contracts and tightens. This leads to body movement and muscle strengthening. When the neurons are quiet, muscles can begin to relax. Yoga practice is a wonderful place to increase and decrease this neuron activity. Initially the mind focuses on moving the body with conscious breathwork. Neuron activity increases and muscles contract. As class comes to a close, the body slows down then comes to rest in Svavasana. Now the neurons become quiet and the muscles begin to release into relaxation. This release is important for regeneration. Just like the plants of the harvest, we work our bodies in yoga class and now settle into our Autumn rest.

Many have found that they are more able to face tough daily challenges after yoga class. This is the regeneration (think springtime with flowers springing from the earth) that we receive after the Autumn of our Svavasana. For more tips on Svavasana and spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter, or join me for a class or private instruction.

Just Breathe…

Breath is a vital component to yoga classes. Yoga instructors (myself included) guide students in breath exercises (pranayama) and instruct when to inhale or exhale with movement. Why is the breath such an important part of yoga, and how does it help with overall health?

First let’s understand what happens when we breathe. Simply put, as we inhale we bring oxygenated air into the lungs. Oxygen then goes through the blood via red blood cells to all areas of the body. The oxygen then converts glucose to energy, thus supporting physical activity and keeping tissues healthy. Carbon dioxide, which is the waste product in de-oxygenated blood, then leaves the body through the exhale.

Increasing the oxygenation in the body helps increase energy to the muscles and decrease pain, it also decreases the chance of injury. Exercise and movement increase red blood cells (remember they carry the oxygen throughout the body). To increase oxygen going to the muscles, one needs to engage in aerobic activities, such as dancing, running, or cycling.

Yoga does not get the heart pumping like these activities, but it still can give you great benefit in this process because it strengthens the capacity of the lungs by toning core muscles and the muscles that help with respiration.

So get up and do the aerobic exercise that speaks to you…..run, dance, hike or whatever. But first, try toning the respiratory muscles in yoga class or with these practices:

  • Table Breath
    • Come to all fours in Table Pose with knees under hips and wrists under shoulders
    • Curve the spine up (like a Halloween cat)
    • Take a deep breath in to the torso, feeling the breath expand the ribcage and shoulder blades
    • Hole for a count or 5-10. Repeat 3-5 times.
  • Prone Diaphragmatic Toning
    • Lay on your belly and rest your head on folded hands
    • Take a breath into the ribspace
    • Hold for a count of 5-10. Repeat 3-5 times.

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