A Tour of the Core

As a society we are core obsessed. If a workout has the word “core” in it, it’s supposed to be good for us.  Apparently we should seek out such workouts because if “core” is involved we will become stronger, healthier and more attractive. I must admit that when I first hear the word core uttered, it was  shrouded in mystery and sounded difficult, perhaps even threatening. So what’s the big deal about core workouts? What’s all this hype about, and does it have to be difficult to be a good workout? Let’s unveil some of the mystery behind the core musculature.

For our purposes we’ll talk about two types of muscles; postural muscles and phasic muscles. Postural muscles help you maintain posture and keep you upright against the force of gravity. They support your frame and help with endurance, balance, and strength. Postural muscles are also called core muscles. They are deep within the body (at the core).

Phasic muscles allow you to move quickly and efficiently. They are the “doers.” To pick up a cup, kick a ball or stand up from a chair, phasic muscles are the first to volunteer for the task. The phasic muscles help you perform a task, but the postural muscles help you to maintain it. Sometimes the phasic muscles will try to do the job of the postural muscles. Unfortunately, since they are not built for endurance they often wear themselves out and get hurt. This is why it’s so important to strengthen the core muscles. Injuries often arise because phasic muscles are not strong enough to repeatedly perform a task that requires the support of core/postural muscles. The core muscles really “have the back” of the phasic muscles. If the phasic muscles are not quite strong enough (and this happens even with body builders) the core muscles step in to help out. So the core muscles must pitch in to help, or havoc ensues.

The core workouts that we hear about often focus on the deep abdominal muscles, which are important muscles to support our backs. However, postural muscles also include muscles in the neck, chest, hips and legs. Therefore, it’s important to try to strengthen the full range of core muscles in the body.  Several common yoga postures can help strengthen the core muscles, particularly if you hold them for 30 seconds or so. Here are a few examples.

  • Vasisthasana (Side Plank) engages the obliques, quadratus lumborum (the “hip hiker” muscle in the low back/hip area), and spinal extensors as they work against gravity to maintain the pose.
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) is a good supportive pose that works many of the hip and leg muscles as they hold the spine up.
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose) is a vigorous and powerful pose known for increasing strength in the quads and gluteus muscles. It also works the spinal extensor muscles as you reach your arms overhead.
  • Vrksasana (Tree Pose) like many balance poses, standing on one leg can work the hip, leg and deep abdominal muscles. Try to keep the hip of the standing leg from drooping as it’s important to keep the quadratus lumborum muscle strong to reduce injury to the back.

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 join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

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

 

Samskaras and Pain

Pain is an interesting word. We all know that pain means we hurt. Sometimes the reason we hurt is obvious….an injury for example. Other times the source of pain is not apparent. But how does pain develop? Pain can occur when there’s tissue damage….i.e. a broken limb. It is also true that pain can be severe even when there is no tissue damage. Pain is the brain’s response to trauma. This response can take place even if the area has healed.

Physiologically this works through neural pathways. The brain receive a signal from muscles and other organs. If the message is that there may be danger (think touching a hot surface) the brain sends it’s own painful signal via the nerves to pull away quick. All this happens in seconds. This is an important response that is designed to protect the body from injury.

This response can become a habitual one that occurs even when the danger passes. So the brain interprets a signal that previously was associated with danger, and it sends a signal of pain to protect from tissue damage. It seems a little screwed up, right? However, if the brain did not respond to touching a hot surface with pain, you may leave your hand on a hot surface and suffer 3rd degree burns. The problem occurs when the brain gets into the habit of sending pain signals when there is no danger to the body.

There is a yogic term for these habitual patterns. It is a samskara…a  learned response or pattern of behavior. Samskara can refer to emotional, social or physical behavior. The physical aspect of a samskara is the learned response of the nervous system to some sort of action or stimulus. Sometimes this happens quickly. A good example is practicing a balance pose. The first side often feels more shaky than the second side. Sometimes there’s a physical reason for this, such as strength differences between the two lower limbs. However, it is often a samskara. The brain and nervous system has already learned what to do from practicing the posture on the first side. Therefore side number 2 seems easier.

Samskaras can also contribute to chronic pain. The neural pathway signals for pain to occur in response to danger. Sometimes something occurs that has indicated danger in the past. Even though there is no current danger (i.e. no tissue damage) the brain still signals the nerves to respond with pain. This can  become a vicious circle because pain can increase stress which can make nerves more sensitive and thus more susceptible to pain.

It’s important to note that there is no one size fits all approach to reprogramming your samskaras or your pain. The first step should always be to visit your doctor, physical therapist or other healthcare practitioner. In addition to medical care it is useful to reduce stress levels and shift your focus away from the pain. Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices can help to resolve painful samskaras.

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 join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

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

Magical Breath

What do you always carry with you that has the power to alleviate pain, release stress and promote a healthy heart? It may seem like the answer is a magical amulet or potion, but the answer is our breath. It can do these things and so much more. However, many of us do not use the simple tool of Pranayama (Breathing Techniques) to help us improve our health.

Being able to control our breath is important. With each inhale we bring oxygenated air into the lungs. Oxygenated red blood cells travel through the blood  to all areas of the body. The oxygen then converts glucose to energy, thus supporting physical activity and keeping tissues healthy. As this is occurring, the de-oxygenated blood cells become the waste product of carbon dioxide and exit the body through the exhale. So much is happening at once from one simple breath, it’s really quite miraculous!

The pace and rhythm of the breath is a good gauge of where our mind and body is at. Shallow, quick breaths may occur after running a distance, or indicate an anxious mind. Practicing Pranyama is a wonderful way to establish inner focus and slow the heart rate. Additionally, it  can reduce stress or anxiety, and help manage pain.

Pranayama is absolutely something you can do at home (or anywhere) on your own. Try starting with these simple techniques and let the magic of the breath help you with your wellness goals.

5 Second Breath:

  • Take a slow breath in through the nose for 5 seconds
  • Exhale to another count of 5 seconds
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Double the Exhale:

  • Inhale to a count of 4
  • Exhale slowly and smoothly to a count of 8
  • you can do this with any count, as long as the exhale is double the length of the inhale
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Inhale/Exhale Count:

  • Breath normally, but count each inhale until you reach a count of 10
  • After you get to 10 inhales, repeat by counting 10 exhales
  • This is great for calming the mind

I love to use the exhale to allow the body to relax. Lately I’ve been closing my yoga classes with two inhale/exhales through the nose, encouraging relaxation and release on each exhale.

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 join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

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

Give Me A Hand

Recently I was diagnosed with mild osteoarthritis in my hands. Even though this is only a mild form of arthritis, my hands bother me on and off  throughout the day. I sympathize with those that have more severe forms of this disease. If you read my previous post “Wrist Watch”, you know that this is not the first time my hands have bothered me. I had carpal tunnel surgery two years ago which led me to modify my yoga practice. At that time I modified to reduce pressure on my wrists in postures such as downward dog and plank. Now, I must consider how yoga and lifestyle changes can benefit this condition and bring relief to joint stiffness and inflammation.

For me, it’s just about my hands (at least for now). For many people arthritis affects other joints, commonly the knees, hips or spine. Research has shown that yoga has benefits for many forms of arthritis. Stretches and motion can increase flexibility,  strengthening the muscles helps them to support the joints, and balance postures help reduce the risk of falls. Another benefit is stress relief. Often, the pain and reduced function that comes with arthritis causes emotional stress. Stress has been shown to exacerbate symptoms of many diseases. This becomes a vicious circle. The mind-body practice of yoga and breathwork helps reduce stress, which in turn can help manage pain.

As I look at postures and practices that help with arthritis, I’m very encouraged. There are many postures that help, and most postures can be modified to be accessible for those with arthritis. Sometimes just a slight variation or correction in alignment is all that is needed to make a pose more comfortable. In fact, yoga can help with so many  of the symptoms of arthritis that I cannot cover them all in one article. Arthritis of the fingers, hands and wrists is one of the most common areas that arthritis appears. So today I focus on yoga and movement to help with arthritis of the hands and wrists. See below for some ideas for movements and yoga asana to help improve some of these symptoms.

Standing Prayer Sequence

  • Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and bring hands to prayer position with palms together at heart. Bring shoulder blades down the back. Press hands together while elbows come out to the sides
  • Next, separate the palms, but keep the fingertips pressed together as the fingers curve
  • Bring the palms back together in prayer position and while pressing palms together raise hands overhead
  • Open arms to cactus position, then bring arms down to the sides.
  • Repeat 5-10 Times.

Wall Stretch

  • Stand about 18 inches away from a wall, with the wall on your right side
  • Bring your right hand to the wall at shoulder height, your index finger should point straight up and the whole palm should be against the wall.
  • Take a few slow breaths here
  • Now bring shoulder blades down the back
  • Keeping hand against wall with gentle pressure, slowly walk feet so that the body faces away from the wall
  • Once you feel a good stretch in the shoulder and upper chest, stop and pause
  • Hold and breath for 5-6 breaths
  • Take the hand off the wall, but keep it in the same position for a count of 5-10
  • Rep[eat with other arm

Finger Spread

  • Seated in a chair, place your palm face down on a table or desk
  • Start with the fingers together
  • Keeping the palm on the table spread the fingers wide
  • Hold for a count of 5, then bring the fingers back together
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Finger Curls

  • Start with your palm open and fingers together
  • Slowly curl the top part of the fingers
  • Continue to curl the fingers down until you make a fist
  • Slowly open the fingers and extend the fingers until you feel a stretch
  • Repeat 5-10 times

Stay tuned for more on this topic in the future! 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 join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

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

Core Need Not Be A Chore

I still remember the first time I heard the word “core” in a yoga class. It was long before I was a PTA or a yoga teacher. I was on a yoga retreat with a co-worker. She was an avid runner in fantastic shape. I had just started practicing yoga consistently. The yoga instructor asked what we wanted to work on. I was thinking of serenity and a mind-body connection….and of course some lovely stretches. Then my friend answered with the word “CORE” in a very serious tone. I thought to myself, “I don’t know what that core thing is, but it sounds scary and difficult.” Just as I was thinking that I was in over my head, the instructor mentioned there was another class that would suit her goals better. I breathed a sigh of relief and declined to go with her when she invited me.

Fast forward a few years and I’m a huge fan of the “C” word. Core muscles lie deep within the body and are also referred to as postural or tonic muscles. They are built for support and endurance. Stretching and strengthening core muscles help them to support the spine and other parts of the body. That’s right….I said “other parts.” Core muscles are not limited to abdominal muscles, they are also present in the hips, legs, chest and shoulders.

Even though core exercises brings about images of a million sit ups and planks, it’s important to note that to keep our core muscles in top form we should strive for flexibility and strength. Core muscles work against gravity to keep us upright during walking or sitting, and help with other functional daily activities. This means that they often get tight and shortened which can cause them to inhibit other movements. For example when one tries, but is unable, to do an abdominal crunch the cause may be weakness in abdominals OR tightness in the extensor muscles of the spine. If the spine is unable to flex because of tightness in the back it inhibits the abdominal crunch. Therefore, for healthy core muscles we should incorporate both stretching and strengthening into our repertoire. Yoga is an ideal way to do this.

Here are some yoga postures that can help some of your postural muscles (and all the others) become healthier and happier.

  • Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
  • Balasana (Child’s Pose)
  • Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head to Knee Pose)
  • Vasisthasana (Side Plank)
  • Uttita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
  • Anantasana (Side Reclining Leg Lift)
  • Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)

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 join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

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

Winding Down

For the first time in over a year, I’m not teaching my “Unwind the Spine” class on a Friday night. I have mixed emotions about this. First, I welcome the opportunity to spend more time with my family. I’m looking forward to pouring my energy into creating a delicious Friday night Shabbat meal for family and close friends. However, I’ll miss spending time with my family of yogis as we welcome the weekend, and let go of tension from the week.

“Unwind the Spine” was a lovely class that started just before the pandemic forced us all to rethink where and how we do yoga. When I first started this class I was excited to use foam rollers and other props that were available at Refresh Studios. Since foam rollers, blocks, bolsters and the like are not always available to students in their homes, I had to shift my teaching style to find household items to use as props. The homemade towel roll bolster was born! I found that simply folding a bath towel in four and rolling it from the short end can work wonders to unravel tight areas of the spine. One day I’ll teach “Unwind the Spine” again. Until then, roll up your towel and try these tips to loosen up some of your tightest areas:

  • To relieve upper back tension:
    • Place the towel roll horizontally on your yoga mat and lie down with the roll across your shoulder blades
    • Bring your arms out to a Cactus/Goal Post position
    • Take 10 (ish) slow breaths in and out through the nose. Try to release and relax with each exhale
    • Next, on the inhale bring your arms (with elbows bent) toward each other
    • As you exhale lower the arms (still with elbows bent) to or toward the floor
    • Repeat this sequence 5-10 times
  • To release lower back/hip tension:
    • Place the towel horizontally on your yoga mat and lie down with the roll under the small of your back
    • Make sure your tushie is supported and touching the floor
    • Bring the legs a little wider than hip distance apart and let the toes point inward toward each other
    • Take 10 (ish) slow breaths in and out through the nose. Try to release and relax with each exhale
    • Now bend the knees and place feet flat on floor, lift the hips and move the roll downward so it is under the hip bones
    • As you exhale lower both knees toward the right until the left hip raises slightly off the towel roll
    • Inhale knees to center, then exhale both knees to the left
    • Repeat this sequence 5-10 times
  • Alter the position above by lifting hips and moving the towel roll to the right. Now only the right hip will be on the towel, while the left hip comes to the floor.
    • Lift the right foot off the floor with the knee bent
    • Keeping the knee bent, make slow circles with the right leg
    • You can leave the left knee bent with foot on floor, or extend it and let the leg rest on the floor (extending the leg will intensify the massage)
    • After you’ve made 5-10 circles on the right, repeat on left side.

One day, I hope to bring “Unwind the Spine” back. Until then, try the above towel tricks or join me for 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

Snow…My Aching Back!

Denver got a big dump of snow this past weekend……2 feet at my house! As a life-long Coloradoan I know that if I want to eventually get out of my driveway, I have to shovel several times before the snowfall ends. NOW I’m even careful and conscientious about HOW I shovel. Shoveling snow always reminds me of my last semester of PTA school. PT and PTA students hear over and over about body mechanics and how NOT to hurt yourself while working with patients. We’re even graded on it! On winter break before my last semester of PTA school I managed to strain a muscle in my back. Mostly I did this by transferring my Dad (who was sick and deconditioned from a long hospital stay) by myself. Then a week later I shoveled the snow in my driveway at breakneck speed ( and bad body mechanics). This sealed the deal….the back pain was excruciating! The PTA Department Head clucked at me when I told her why I had to postpone updating my CPR certification, because after all……I should have known better. P.S. Physical Therapy folks ALWAYS want to know how you injured yourself. It’s so tempting to make up a zany story to tell them.

This experience has brought me a few pearls of wisdom. First, don’t beat yourself up for doing something that you could have done better or differently. In the moment, you did the best you could. Second, shovel snow with mindfulness. Some things to remember are: Don’t rush through it. Be conscious of your movements. Don’t twist your spine as you toss snow to the side. Bend at the knees (don’t hunch the back). As you bend the knees and get snow on the shovel, brace the shovel against your leg and use it as a lever to lift. Take breaks. A great snow shoveling break is to look up at the tree branches covered in snow. After all, why not enjoy the beauty of the snow? Ask for help if it’s available. Rest after you shovel, then do a few stretches. If you want to try 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 want a quick practice to do on your own, a great yoga sequence for your back is:

  1. Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)
  2. Figure 4 (Piriformis) Stretch
  3. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
  4. Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
  5. Cat/Cow
  6. Balasana (Child Pose)
  7. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pidgeon)
  8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)
  9. Malasana (Squat) or Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby)

Try to hold each of these postures (except Cat/Cow) for at least 6 breaths. This gives the muscles time to release.

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

No Pain…No Strains

“Degenerative Disc Disease”…..those words uttered from your doctor’s mouth can make you feel downright ancient. The simple truth is that as we get older, some wear and tear is going to happen. But seriously….do they have to tell us we’re “degenerating?” Are we degenerating? What does this term “Degenerative Disc Disease” (DDD, for short) mean?

First, let’s take a look at the spine. It’s made up of a bunch of vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebrae are the intervertebral discs. The discs are squishy structures that are made up mainly of water and collagen. Their job is to help stabilize. cushion, absorb pressure, increase flexibility, and protect the nerves. That’s a lot of work these little squishy wonders do! Unfortunately, over time, the discs show signs of wear and tear. They lose moisture and squishiness and are less effective. Often an individual can have this degeneration without any pain or other symptoms. DDD happens when this normal process of degeneration causes pain or disfunction. For some, the pain can be constant and unrelenting. For others, it is intermittent. DDD most often occurs in the low back or in the neck. In this post, we’ll focus on the low back.

One of the best ways to help alleviate low back pain from DDD (and other conditions) is to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles. Many yoga and fitness classes focus on strengthening these core muscles. Doing so increases support for the low back. Other great activities to practice are walking, swimming, and stretching. Stretching and movement increase blood flow to the disc, and thus facilitates the healing process. Physical therapy, regular yoga practice, and Functional Yoga Coaching can help as well. A sampling of yoga postures that work well to decrease the pain and discomfort associated with DDD are:

  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose)
  • Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
  • Parsva Balasana (Bird dog pose)
  • Jathara Parivatanasana (Supine Twist Pose)
  • Phalakasana (Plank Pose)
  • Setu Banha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
  • Cat/Cow
  • All stretches for the legs and hips

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