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Bikram Yoga

Health + Wellness

Spine Strengthening Series: Locust Pose – Salabhasana

Full expression of this posture may mimic a locust at rest, however there really isn’t anything “restful” about this pose.  For yogis, this pose encourages mental focus and determination as well as upper and lower back strength and core stability.  It also helps to stretch and induce blood flow to the elbow joint, which is often repetitively strained (e.g tennis elbow, golfers elbow, carpal tunnel, tendonitis).

The pose has many of the same benefits as Cobra Pose, but is even better for relieving disc related back pain and sciatica.

Essentially a back bend, Locust Pose can serve as a blueprint for finding good alignment in other back bends such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) and Ustrasana (Camel Pose). Locust Pose strengthens the back and abdominal muscles and cultivates the mindfulness needed for a balanced back bend.

However, if you focus your attention on how high you go, you may feel strain in your lower back. Instead, you want to distribute your weight throughout your upper and middle back. Although the back muscles contract, you also want to lengthen the spine so that you feel as though you are simultaneously reaching backward through the legs.

Locust Pose – Do’s and Don’ts

The Do’s

  • Place your elbows against your abdomen, making sure they are straight (bending the elbows will only cause more strain and thus more pain)
  • Spread your fingers (only posture in the series where fingers are spread apart) so that they are pointed toward your knees
  • Keep your leg muscles contracted; “the tighter you are the lighter you are”
  • Make sure your hips square and always touching with your arms while lifting legs up
  • Try to shift your body weight to the top of your body (chest and shoulders)

The Don’ts

  • When lifting both legs, avoid separating the legs; keep them glued together
  • Forget to breathe – breathe normally in and out through your nose!

 

This pose can do no wrong! Another fabulous (back-friendly) asana that offers a great way to strengthen and stabilize the spine as well as increase flexibility of the elbow and wrist!

FEEL GOOD, BE GREAT!

Blog-4_Locust-Pose-Pic-300x221

 

Health + Wellness

The Science behind Cobra Pose: Why it helps back pain

A Case of Radiating Lower Back Pain

Back in March 2012, I first experienced lower back pain with tingling and aching in the back of my left leg and I had no clue what caused it. This sensation literally came out of no where. After many doctor’s visits and tests, it was determined that the lower back strain I experienced in November 2011 caused some nerve inflammation in my leg. My chiropractor, Dr. Aliya, suggested I couple my chiropractic treatments with weekly yoga classes.  Although hesitant at first, I started to notice that specific Yoga poses, in particular back bending and cobra pose always gave me some relief.

You may have experienced something similar to this patient if you have ever suffered from back pain, sciatica or nerve-related pain. Back bending (or extension) exercises have been found to provide relief to patients by helping ‘centralize’ or move pain away from one’s arms and legs towards the back, where it is usually better tolerated. The reasoning behind this mechanism of relief comes from a technique called the McKenzie Method or McKenzie Technique.

What is The McKenzie Method?

In the 1950s, physical therapist Robin McKenzie developed a system of assessment and treatment protocols based on observing how patient’s sitting, standing or moving positions or activities affected their pain.

McKenzie found that extension exercises helped centralize patient pain, moving it away from the extremities and towards the back. He theorized that centralizing the pain allows the source of the pain to be treated rather than the symptoms.

The McKenzie Method is a therapeutic approach that moves a patient through a series of activities and test movements to gauge the pain response.  The therapist then uses this information to develop an exercise protocol designed to ‘centralize’ the patient’s pain.

Think of it as bringing the pain back to the pain source.

Pain Centralization with Yoga

One of the centralization exercises for back pain utilized by the McKenzie method is the ‘Prone Press Up’.  Yogis call this ‘Cobra Pose’.  This pose provides relief from disc-related pain by alleviating compression of the disc on the nerve root (see last week’s post).

Named after the king cobra, said to have the strongest spine in the world, Cobra Pose is meant to resemble a snake before it strikes.  As mentioned, this pose is fantastic for your spinal health – but make sure you perform it correctly!

DOs and DON’Ts

The DOsPreview Changes

  • Squeeze your glutes tight and push your hips down into mat
  •  Use your eyes to start the movement – “where your eyes go, your body will follow”
  • Keep your heels together and lock your knees in order to lift them up from the floor

The DON’Ts

  • Avoid using all (100%) of your hand/arm strength; most of the strength comes from lower back muscles (remember it’s not a Push Up); Bikram recommends you use up to 15% of your hand/arm strength
  • Shrug your shoulders up to your ears; remember to drop your shoulders down
cobra pose

Cobra Pose performed by Bikram Choudhry (www.bikramyoga.com)

 

I continue to be amazed of the benefits of this Yoga and how it helps my patients get better and stay healthy.

Until next week…FEEL GOOD, BE GREAT!

Health + Wellness

Bikram’s Spine Strengthening Series and Back Pain

If you are a Bikram Yoga practitioner, you know what I mean when I say “Spine Strengthening Series”. However, for the non-Bikram Yogis, here’s a recap. The Spine Strengthening Series is part of Bikram’s Beginning (Hatha) Yoga Series and includes the following postures (or asanas):

1. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

2. Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

3. Full Locust Pose (Poorna-Salabhasana)

4. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

You either love them or hate them….but here’s why you need to DO them!

New research has shown that spinal extension often decreases symptoms of lower back and leg pain often caused by a herniated or bulging disc (which creates pressure on nerve roots causing pain radiating down the buttocks and legs).

These four postures all include elements of spinal extension – or back bending – by lifting the lower extremities (legs), the upper extremities (arms, shoulders), or both.

How does spinal extension help lower back pain? It may seem counter-intuitive, since we associate spinal extension negatively with “scrunching” or compressing the lower back.

But consider that when vertebral discs bulge out, they often bulge backward (posteriorly). Spinal extension wedges open the front of the disc and allows the disc fluid to resettle into its normal forward position. This helps push the disc back into its original position and can diminish the intensity or extent of lower back or leg symptoms.

These postures all help stabilize and strengthen your core abdominal and lower back muscles through the contraction of your paraspinal muscles that support either side of your spine.  This helps prevent future injuries.

Love them or hate them, the postures of the Spine Strengthening Series are one of the best things you can do to maintain a lovely, healthy back!

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll review each of these postures highlighting do’s and don’ts and their benefits….until then – FEEL GOOD, BE GREAT!

 

Health + Wellness

“First Legs Stretching…Then Lower Spine Stretching….Eventually Whole Body Stretching…”

Currently, I’m in Los Angeles, California at a 9 week intensive Bikram Yoga Teacher Training with 442 other aspiring Yogis.  The motivation behind my decision to embark on this journey came from the many health benefits I continue to witness from patients with chronic conditions who perform yoga.

Time after time, yoga has helped patients with not only musculoskeletal conditions (neck and shoulder pain, lower back pain, sciatica, postural complaints etc) but also those with high blood pressure, menopause, depression and other mental health conditions.  Although studies are still being conducted on the benefits of yoga on some of these conditions, results have been impressive enough that investigators expect yoga will soon become part of the standard treatment for a number of disorders.

For this reason, I decided that the time was right to explore and learn about the various limbs of yoga and its practice.  Particularly, I chose to study a specific form of Hatha Yoga called Bikram Yoga.  Many of you may recognize Bikram Yoga as the “Hottest of the Hot” types of Yoga.  However, Bikram Yoga is a type of Hatha yoga which incorporates a series of 26 poses called Asanas, while relying on 2 breathing techniques, referred to as Pranayama.  The postures are all performed in a heated room to 105 degrees F.  While this may seem ridiculously hot to some, there is a good reason behind this. We’ll get into this in another post (coming soon!).

First, let’s talk about just a few of the many physical benefits of Yoga.

Strengthening

Yoga helps increase strength in very specific muscles.  Holding the positions in yoga requires concentration, focus and specific contractions in many muscles of the body.  Muscle strength improves by remaining in this postures and remaining mindful of the contraction.  Many of the postures in yoga gently strengthen the muscles in the back, as well as the abdominal muscles.  Back and abdominal muscles are essential spinal muscles helping the body maintain proper upright posture and movement.  When these muscles are well conditioned, back pain can be greatly reduced or avoided.

Stretching and Relaxation

Yoga incorporates not just an element of flexibility but stretching also reduces tension in stress-carrying muscles.  Yoga requires that the individual hold gentle poses anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds. Within the pose, certain muscles flex, while others stretch, promoting relaxation and flexibility in muscles and joints.

Posture, balance and body alignment

Yoga poses are meant to train the body to be healthy and supple. Consistent practice and application will result in improved posture, and an increased sense of balance, with head, shoulders and pelvis in proper alignment. Additionally, unlike many other forms of exercise, yoga helps stretch and strengthens both sides of the body equally.  Proper body alignment and good posture also helps maintain the natural curvature of the spine – an important part of reducing or avoiding lower back pain.

There are many more benefits to yoga (both physical, mental, spiritual).  Some studies have suggested that yoga may have a positive effect on learning and memory and other researchers have been studying whether yoga can slow the aging process or improve energy levels.

At Bikram’s Teacher Training I have met a researcher studying Bikram Yoga’s effect on depression at Harvard’s Research Center at Massachusettes General  In fact, they are creating a Bikram Yoga Research Center at Harvard and hope to perform many more studies on the specific effects of this type of yoga on health.

Nevertheless, regardless of clinical trials, there is an abundance of anecdotal claims for the many benefits of yoga. Visit any yoga studio and listen to students after class. Some will even tell you that yoga can help improve marriages and relationships.

The only way to find out what yoga can do for you is to try it for yourself and see first hand the effect it has!

 More from Bikram Yoga Teacher Training Fall 2012 to come!

 

SOURCES:
International Association of Yoga Therapists: “Health Benefits of Yoga.”
American Council on Exercise: “ACE Yoga Study.”
Sarley, D. and Sarley, I. The Essentials of Yoga, The Omega Institute and Dell Publishing, 1999.
SFGate.com: “Doctors study the health benefits of yoga.”