Jumping in Feet First

In yoga (and in balance in general) our foundation is our feet. If there’s alignment issues in a standing yoga posture, we look at the feet and work our way up. Even slight changes in foot position can improve your yoga practice. When our feet are faced with an injury, even a slight one, it can affect our balance and movement patterns. The foot is an amazing structure that’s designed to help propel us forward while keeping the body above balanced and strong. Like the foundation of a house, feet are designed to withstand weight, activity and movement. They are flexible enough to do so while navigating uneven ground, surfaces that change, and challenging footwear. Sadly, Imbalances in the feet can lead to issues such as ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, neuropathies, etc.

To understand a little more about this important body part, let’s delve deeper into the feet. But before jumping in feet first, we must keep in mind that the calves and knees are important to foot health as well. Try to keep the muscles above and below the knees (thighs, calves, and shins) strong and flexible with regular exercise and stretches.

The feet themselves are made up of LOTS of bones, muscles, and other structures. The bones of the foot include the two lower leg bones (tibia and fibula), which connect to a bone called the talus to form the ankle joint. The talus sits on top of the calcaneus, or heel bone. It also connects with the bones that form the shape of the foot. The mid-foot is made up of the tarsal/metatarsal bones. Then the phalanges form our toes.

Bones provide structure to the foot, then arches (two that go from front to back and one side to side) act like shock absorbers as we walk, run, skip, dance, etc. There are lots of muscles. Some of them start in the leg and go into the foot allowing for motion at the ankle. Within the foot lay the intrinsic muscles. These are 4 layers of muscles that help with all the small movements necessary to navigate the earth. On top of all the muscles is fascia (a sheet of connective tissue covering and surrounding the muscles). There are so many structures in these feet of ours, it’s easy to see how problems can occur. So make sure to take care of your feet so that they can take care of you.

To enhance foot health, try:

  • Wearing Supportive Shoes
  • Rolling a golf or lacrosse ball under foot to help with tightness (i.e. plantar fasciitis)
  • Stretch the Calf and Hamstring Muscles
  • Strengthen the Hip Muscles (This will help with balance and therefore also support the feet)

You can also try these yoga postures to help stretch and strengthen the foot:

  • Adho Mukha Svavasana (Downward Facing Dog)
  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
  • Prasarita Podottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Fold)
  • Plank
  • Janu Sirsasana (One-Legged Forward Fold)
  • Prvta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved One-Legged Forward Fold)

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

Yoga for YOU!

When I tell people I practice (and teach) yoga, I often hear someone tell me that they tried yoga once but quit because “I’m just not flexible.” I truly believe that yoga is for everyone. Yoga meets you where you are. Many people think that yoga is off the table for them because they can’t bend into the same shapes they see the instructor or other students achieve. Others come to yoga class and tough it out….trying to make their body go beyond its limits to get to what they believe yoga should look like. I’ve even had clients who have injured themselves in yoga classes by exceeding their body’s limits. This belief that we need to achieve a certain look, or go further into a posture is, in my opinion, simply not yoga. Yoga is not about looks, or doing what everyone else is doing. There is no way to be the “cool kid” in a yoga class. We are all cool, because we are all doing yoga.

Yoga is a strictly personal endeavor. True, the instructor guides us through a postures and gives cues to help with alignment and prevent injury. However, how your body and mind interact with a yoga posture is entirely individual. The best gauge of how successful yoga class is lies in how it makes you feel. Even when a posture is challenging, you should be able to feel stable and supported in it. Sometimes this requires realigning the feet or other body parts. Engaging the core muscles also helps with stability. Whatever posture you’re in, you should be able to find ease in your pose and breathe consciously and comfortably.

If you’ve taken yoga in the past and felt inflexible or uncomfortable, I encourage you to try again with an open mind. Try a virtual class at home, or step into a yoga studio, gym or rec center. Remember to make the class truly your own and approach the yoga postures the way your  body would want you to.

Whether you’re a new yoga student, or someone who’s been practicing for many years, ask yourself the following questions next time you take a yoga class.

“How does this make me feel?” and  “Can I find ease in this posture?”

If  you’re feeling discomfort or pain, The the next question should be, “What can be adjusted to alleviate the tension?” If you’re at an in person class, don’t be shy…ask the instructor for a variation. If you’re practicing with an online class or video, start by adjusting the feet (in a standing posture) and see what stance feels the best.

“What is my breath doing?” Breath tells us a lot. When we are stressed or anxious, our breath is rapid and our heartbeat is fast. When we are in pain, we may unconsciously hold our breath. Sometimes finding ease in a pose can be achieved by altering the breath. Breathing slowly lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. It helps the body release muscle tension that may be causing tension or interfering in relaxing into a yoga posture.

Listen to your body, but also listen to your heart and your mind. This can be the difference between an enjoyable experience (not just in yoga, but in general), and one of discomfort or pain.

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

Walking The Labyrinth

Recently I made a small rock labyrinth in my backyard. Many people think of a labyrinth as a circular maze. However, a maze is like a puzzle that you have to solve. In a maze, you run into obstacles and have to turn around, or perhaps even start over. It can be quite frustrating. In contrast, a labyrinth has one clear path to the center. If you follow the path…..you find the center. This makes a labyrinth perfect for a walking meditation.

My labyrinth is made up of stones that sometimes get knocked aside (I suspect my dog has something to do with this), so sometimes while walking I place the stones back where they belong. Some days I walk to the center and directly back out, and other days I sit in meditation when I reach the center. Walking a labyrinth is about the journey, not the destination. You can walk quickly, slowly, pause during your walk, replace stones, coax your dog out of the path, etc. The only real rule is that you follow the path. How you follow it, is up to you.

When you walk a labyrinth it initially looks like you’re going straight to the center, then the path turns and takes you to the outer edges of the labyrinth. It turns again and you are on your way to the center again. It’s a lot like our path in life. Sometimes you’re heading towards what you feel is central and meaningful, then your path takes you another way. Then the path turns again towards the center. This is can be compared to the twists and turns we have in life. We may be headed somewhere, only to have to go in a different direction. Another turn or two brings us back to our purpose, our center.

Overall, adding the labyrinth as an option for meditation has been a wonderful way for me to start the day invigorated, or end the day with a sense of serenity. I highly recommend taking a little time to yourself outdoors focusing on breath, even if you only have a few minutes. This pause in your day may bring you to your center, or just allow you to follow your path in the direction you need to be.

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

What to Do When You Overdo…

(aka Don’t let DOMS dominate you)

We’ve all been there; sore achy muscles the day after a workout or physical labor. Walking funny, due to overused muscles after “leg day” at the gym, is often worn like a badge of honor. You know you really killed it at the gym if you’re in pain afterwards….right?

I must confess that I’ve never been one who loves working out. I consider it a necessary part of life to keep my heart healthy. I delight in practicing yoga, meditation, and core strengthening every morning. I go to the gym for a little more strengthening, and to really get my heart pumping. Although I’ve had a few muscles that let me know they worked hard, I have yet to be walking funny, or screaming in pain as I sit in a chair after my workouts. As I hear the laments of others post-workout, I sometimes ask myself…..”Am I doing this right?” and “Why doesn’t it hurt more?” But seriously….is muscle soreness and extreme stiffness/pain necessary for muscles to gain strength?

While it is common for muscles to feel sore a day or two after a new exercise program, if there’s extreme pain or loss of function a day or two afterwards, then that’s NOT okay. There’s a name for this phenomenon…..Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short. DOMS happens when tissues break down as a result of being overstretched, creating small tears in the muscle fibers. Since this is actually an injury to the muscle, that muscle then needs to recover before any gains in strengthening can be made. You have to start over and progress gradually to achieve your goals. So how can one find relief when DOMS occurs.?

Here are some ways to avoid DOMS during a workout

  • Warm up before resistance training
  • Have consistency in your workouts
  • Don’t try to push through the pain (your body is telling you to back off)
  • Be conscious of your form while exercising.
  • Avoid intense stretches
  • Stay hydrated
  • Consider using compression garments during your workout

If you do “overdo” it, here are some ideas to find relief from DOMS

  • Rest. Give the muscles time to recover.
  • Gentle massage can help (avoid deep massages, though)
  • Use a Foam Roller or self massage with a towel roll
  • Compression Garments
  • Light exercise with gentle movements
  • Hot packs or warm baths can help

As I said earlier, I’ve engaged in negative self talk, when witnessing others pain after workouts. Was my workout effective….even without the pain? True, I will never be a gym worshiper, but I’m confident that I can do what’s good for my heart , avoid injury, AND make gains in strengthening and endurance. So I’m changing the question to myself to, “What am I doing right?”

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.

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