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

Pain Bringing You to Your Knees?

The knee has an important job. It helps us walk, and is the midway point between the hips and the ankles. The knee has the distinction of being the largest joint of the human body. It’s easy to take this simple looking joint for granted, but it is also the most complex joint in the body. The kneecap (patella) is shaped to fit precisely against the bones beneath it, like interlocking puzzle pieces. Other parts of this puzzle are structures designed to cushion and support the bones. This includes muscles, cartilage, ligaments and the menisci (cushiony shock absorbers on the inside and outside of the knee). The location of the knee joint makes it either a goodwill ambassador or bad news reporter to the rest of the body. Problems with the knees can affect feet, ankles, hips and low back. Plus, knee pain itself is no fun!

There are indeed many conditions and injuries of the knee. Today we explore  arthritis in the knee, and propose some solutions to keep our knees happy. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes stiffness, pain, swelling and lack of motion in the joints. The knee supports the upper body and withstands a lifetime of motion. Because of this, wear and tear takes its toll. The cartilage, which protects adjacent bones from rubbing against each other, starts to wear down. This process can also be accelerated from injury to the knees.

There are several things we can do to keep the knees healthy. First, alignment is essential. The knee should track over the center of the foot. (Keep this in mind in your next yoga class), When the knee goes inward toward midline it’s been found to contribute to arthritis pain and inflammation….ouch!

To help with alignment, start by making sure you have good shoes. Sometimes all it takes is good shoes with arch support to help align the knees and alleviate pressure on the joints. Also, keep in mind that the ankles, hips, SI joint, and low back all have a role to play in keeping the knees strong. Ankles and hips can get tight, so practice stretches to keep them supple. Strengthen the core abdominal muscles. This will support the low back, which will help support the knees.

Here are some yoga postures that can help your knees:

    • Utkatanasana (Chair Pose)
    • Utkatanasana hugging a yoga block between the knees
    • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
    • Adho Mukha Svanasna (Downward Dog) Look back to see it your knees are aligned
    • Setu Bandha Sarvangasna (Bridge Pose)
    • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
    • Uttitta Parsvokonasana (Lateral Angle Pose)
    • Plank
    • Supine Figure 4 Stretch
    • Supta Padangustasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)

Working on the knees involves a lot of exercises or yoga postures because so many parts of the body support the knees. Regular yoga classes can help with creating suppleness in the tight areas of the body, and also strengthening hip and core muscles. If you’d like to join me for one of my classes, check out my schedule page here. I would also be happy to work with you individually. 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.

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