In my last article, I wrote about how traumatic experiences can store themselves in your psoas and contribute to back pain. My self-care routine now combines varied movement – from Pilates, Yoga, and Yoga Tune Up® to cycling, swimming and even running short distances. When there’s pain, which sometimes there is, I tell myself, “It’s just pain”, and do something simple. Even if it doesn’t seem like much – from Apanasana at the wall and leg stretches to lying down on my Coregeous ball and just breathing, every little bit helps. And when there is no pain, I make sure to give myself the full program!
Here are a few essential exercises to strengthen and stretch your entire core, from diaphragm and abdominals to obliques and your QL. Because a Yoga Tune Up® corrective program wouldn’t be complete without some therapy ball love, you can also enjoy the below sequence that will give your lower back a new lease on life. Remember that in addition to adding varied movement to your fitness routine, keep getting Coregeous – the benefits far outweigh the initial discomforts of this powerful purple ball!
The first time I lied down on a Coregeous ball was nine months ago at the Hips Immersion. I hated it. This purple ball of fire made sick, it made me cry and it pissed me off. In fact, throughout the day, these visceral sensations became so overwhelming I left the training early. I went back to my hotel room, straight to bed with a fever and slept like a log for 12 hours. I can’t even remember the last time I slept that long (I have a four-year old!). The next day, I was fine beyond my massive apprehension about sticking the ball in my abdomen once more, however, this time it felt much better, albeit uncomfortable.
But let me rewind…
I fell out of a bus when I was 16. I wish I had a sexier story to tell as to why I had my first spine surgery, but that’s it. Post-discectomy on the right side of L4/L5 and I simply went on with my life, as teenagers do. I stored away the nagging feeling that kept resurging here and there that maybe that surgery wasn’t necessary, maybe there were other ways – you don’t know what you don’t know… Fast-forward to my 30th birthday, with a dropped foot in tow, I underwent my second spine surgery, also on L4/L5 but on the left side this time. I like to think I evened things out!
Living with chronic back pain – and I imagine chronic pain period – is like living with another person. It makes you, and the people around you, miserable. It governs your life and stops you in your tracks, literally. You’re ready to do anything to make it stop – you could have told me to stand on my head and I would have done it if I thought it would get me out of pain! Read the rest of this blog post »
On Wednesday, we discovered that the “Cinderella” of our hip flexors, the bi-articular sartorius, could be an over-looked cause of muscular pain at the anterior hip and medial knee.
Over and above an acute injury to the muscle, we should also consider how our postural and alignment habits contribute to sartorius-related pain and dysfunction.
Data from national surveys indicates that adult Americans spend 55% of their day in sedentary pursuits. This translates into more than 7 hours a day sitting for many of us, an activity (or lack thereof!) that has been linked to a 49% increase of death from all causes and a whopping 147% increase in the risk of having a cardiovascular event. As well as clearly having an effect at the metabolic level, sitting for seven or more hours a day certainly has an impact at the muscular level. Chair-sitting places the hips in 90 degrees of flexion, and spending a lot of our day in this position may shorten the muscles that connect the thigh to the trunk (psoas), the thigh to the pelvis (iliacus), and the sartorius as it works in the background to assist hip flexion. Considering that most of us also have the tendency to cross one leg over the other whilst sitting and we start to see side-to-side imbalances in sartorius muscle length.
Combine the lack of proper hip extension caused by shortened hip flexors with the inherent weakness in the muscles of the foot caused by poor footwear choices and a lack of ‘bare’ foot time, and even the time we spend out of sitting− standing, walking, and running− can lead to less than optimal loading patterns on certain joints and result in overuse injuries and pain.
If you are reading this, and feeling quite pleased with yourself as someone who has given up their chair and adopted a cross-legged position on the floor, then well-done for changing position, but consider again the actions of our forgotten hip flexor sartorius, that not only flexes the hip (and knee) but also laterally rotates and abducts the hip. Yes, that would be you, sitting with your legs crossed.
So to all your favourite hip flexor stretches, why not add ones that combine extension with adduction and internal rotation to specifically target the sartorius? To work on rehabilitating and strengthening a weak sartorius Half Happy Baby Mini Vini(as shown in the video below), will take your hip and knee through all the directions of movement required to correctly exercise your tailor’s muscle again.
 Matthews CE, Chen KY, Freedson PS, et al. Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors in the United States, 2003-2004. Am J Epidemiol 2008; 167:875-81.
 Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA, et al. Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia (2012) 55:2895–2905
While it may sound like an astrological star sign, the sartorius actually the longest muscle in your body, stretching from the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) to the medial knee. Named from the Latin sartor ‘tailor’, (commonly thought to have attained this name in reference to the activation of the muscle when sitting in the cross-legged position once adopted by tailors). It also is a bi-articular muscle, meaning it operates on two joints, the hip and the knee.
Like Cinderella, the sartorius is often overshadowed by its more famous “step-sisters” − the psoas and iliacus − as a cause of anterior hip pain. Yet an overly tight sartorius can cause acute discomfort at the front of the pelvis. Like the iliopsoas, it can also adaptively shorten due to sitting, which results in chronic dysfunction. This dysfunction can have concomitant far-reaching effects throughout the body. For example, considering the downward pull of the sartorius on the ASIS, chronic tightness in this muscle has the potential to cause stress and impingement in the lumbar spine.
At the hip, the sartorius acts in synergy with the iliopsoas for hip flexion and aids the lateral rotators (gluteus maximus, obturators internus and externus, gemelli superior and inferior, quadratus femoris and piriformis) to create hip external rotation. Along with the tensor fascia latae, gluteus maximus and gluteus medius, sartorius abducts the hip. At the tibiofemoral joint, the sartorius is a synergist in knee flexion (working with the prime movers – biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus) and involved in medial rotation of the flexed knee. The next time you look at the sole of your shoe to see if you have stepped in gum, give a shout out to your sartorius (and it’s back up band), which is orchestrating all these directions of movement simultaneously!
Because it crosses at the knee, the sartorius can also be a cause of medial knee pain. Joining with the tendons of gracilis and semitendinosus to form the pes anserinus (PA) tendon, tightnessdysfunctional movement patterns and over use of any of these muscles can result in inflammation at the PA tendon, and sometimes its under-lying bursae. This inflammation may be experienced as pain or hypersensitivity on the inside of the knee.
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert begins with a chapter on courage. Twyla Tharp mentions fear by page fifteen in The Creative Habit and Julia Cameron tackles fear in “Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety” in her practical guide for creatives, The Artist’s Way. Fear stifles creativity and each of these authors offer tools and techniques to overcome, befriend and manage fear. Gilbert writes that “creative living is a path for the brave… and we all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun. This is common knowledge; sometimes we just don’t know what to do about it” (p.13). She guides readers to make space for fear by acknowledging its relationship to creativity – new ideas may then work their way into awareness and allow curiosity to be one’s shepherd toward new creative adventures. With her prescribed approach, she believes that “sometimes, rarely but magnificently, there comes a day when you’re open enough and relaxed enough to actually receive something. Your defenses might slacken and your anxieties might ease, and then the magic can slip through” (p.36).
Because our nervous system is governed by both the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses, we “must employ a sort of trickery in order to create optimal conditions … to manipulate your excitable self into states of sedation”(The Roll Model, p. 363). Using these states of sedation prompted through self-massage, we can allow the magic that Gilbert identifies to skirt around our fear. When we are relaxed, fear can no longer exact its hold on our creativity. Read the rest of this blog post »
After reading and loving Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, I’m convinced there is a deep connection between freedom in our physical center and our freedom to create. Now, you might already be hovering your hand over your mouse to click onto the next article, thinking, “I’m not much for creativity – I don’t paint, sculpt or sing”. Hang on! As Gilbert illustrates in her book, along with other well-known champions of creativity, we are ALL creative. We ALL have a singular voice that, if left silenced, will be lost from the world never to be replaced. Gilbert refers to this uniqueness as “hidden treasure” that is buried within each of us and I believe that Yoga Tune Up® provides a particularly useful tool of abdominal self-massage to help excavate our own individual gems of creativity.
One of the most common and powerful blocks to creativity and innovation in all fields, from science and education to the arts, is fear. We get so tangled up in the fears of how our work may be perceived that we lose the connection to the source of the creation. Fear, unchecked, silences our creative voice. Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit says, “No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep free-floating fears from paralyzing you before you’ve begun” (p.22). The ones who learn to work in company with the fear are those who produce new ideas, artwork and concepts to release into the world. It takes courage and courage comes from your core. Read the rest of this blog post »
In my last article, we learned about big toe extension and the one and only muscle that does this, the extensor hallucis longus (the EHL). We learned how a limited range of motion of the EHL can, over time, have disastrous consequences. We learned that Tom Myers coined the phrase, “Low Velocity, High Impact” which I smartly used to describe these disastrous consequences. We learned that Hallux is a fancy word for the big toe.
So pour your wine, settle in, gird your loins and as the French say, “Courage, mes amis.”
I ended Part One on a bit of a cliffhanger. If you recall, I described an apocalyptic full-body collapse that stemmed from limited big toe extension. We had gotten through a gruesome if not theatrical “high impact” description of total body collapse. We continue now with this concept of “low velocity.”
As for the “low velocity,” let’s do the math. Considering that we take anywhere from two thousand to ten thousand steps a day, if those steps are taken with less than optimal big toe extension, the body will initiate a chain-reaction of somatic events that happen at a snail’s pace. You may not even notice as your body adjusts and does what it can to maintain postural homeostasis while incurring the least amount of resistance as possible. This is what our body does when we aren’t mindful, or as we in the Yoga Tune Up® community like to say, “embodied.” Our body is always on the hunt for the path of least resistance, much to the detriment of our entire living system.
“But, Chadd,” you may ask, “how can I get more…uh..bodied with regards to my big toe?” “The answer is simple, old chum. It’s three words and a registration symbol: Yoga Tune Up®
The following YTU mini-sequence will restore a more optimal range of motion of the EHL through strengthening, lengthening and toning of the extensor hallucis longus using both active and passive stretching techniques. These are terrific as both preventative and therapeutic measures, as well as keeping the big toe joint lubricated and flush with plenty of blood. Finally, these exercises will make you realize that your big toe exists! And this is the first step towards embodied awareness of our vessel of consciousness we like to call, “Me.” And I don’t think it’s too far-flung a thought to suggest that big toe extension is a – if not the – key ingredient to the massive recipe that is our everyday functional movement. Read the rest of this blog post »
Imagine not being able to lift your big toe. No. Don’t imagine. Stand up right now – we’re going experiential – and attempt to walk across the room without allowing your big toe to lift at all. It kind of sucks not being able to take your big piggy to the market, doesn’t it? On paper, toe extension (the act of lifting your big toe towards your shin) doesn’t seem like a big deal. I mean, it’s only one movement in one direction for about, give or take, sixty degrees. And it’s only one toe. You’ve got four others (and a whole other foot to boot) right?
How often do you really consider the role of your big toe in daily living? Probably more often than you think of the one muscle that is responsible for lifting the big toe to your nose: the extensor hallucis longus. We’ll just short-cut the Latin to EHL for ease of reading.
Here’s an interesting fact about the EHL; it helps us climb stairs. The EHL’s primary job is lifting the big toe but it also assists in dorsiflexing the ankle (pulling the top of your foot towards your shin). You can still dorsiflex the ankle without the EHL, but if you lose big toe extension you’d be hitting the upcoming step with the front of your foot more often than not. That little lifting of the toe (even when ensheathed by the likes of Jimmy Choo) helps us clear the next step. Try this little exercise and notice how much the EHL contributes to movement at the ankle. Relax your big toe. Now without allowing the big toe to lift up pull your whole foot towards your shin as much as you can. Hold there. Good. Now pull your big toe to the shin. Did you feel that? Try it again. That’s quite a bit of movement! Read the rest of this blog post »
In my last article, I wrote about the importance of being economical with your posture movement at all times. As teachers, our bodies are our paychecks and we should move mindfully at all times. Should you be compelled to make hands on adjustments in class, here are three Yoga Tune Up® based yoganomic components to cultivate your teaching as a means of amplifying your message and practicing sustainability:
Be efficient and conserve your energy by using your feet for adjustments.
“Be efficient and conserve your energy”
During hands on adjustments, speak your adjustment so the rest of the class can benefit. In Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 Training, we learn how to adjust postures with the feet! If applicable, avoid bending over by using your feet to make adjustments. With some practice, it’s just as effective and could be a back saver.
“Maintain your spine’s integrity”
No matter what your position during an adjustment, imbue stability with a Yoga Tune Up® technique, Tubular Core. If you don’t know about tubular core, you need to! It’s a way to internally “bubble-wrap” your torso, protecting the spine by keeping your core engaged from every possible angle. Think of pulling your lower ribs in and bracing while you breathe into your rib cage. Not only will this protect your spine, it will also project a non-verbal sense of stability to your clients. Read the rest of this blog post »