Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Psoas Muscles

The Pelvis is the foundation from where the practitioner begins the journey of practicing and understanding asana. An unstable pelvis is equal to an unstable spine. Also an unstable pelvis while practicing yoga can cause more damage to the body. The psoas muscles originate and attach at the lumbar region ( and insert at the femur. When tight they can pull the lumbar down, unstabilize the pelvis, and in certain cases cause disk herniations. Five to ten minutes in Constructive Rest Position is a great way to stabilize the pelvis while releasing your psoas.

To release the psoas lay on your back and begin with a soft belly breathing:  

Udiyana Bandha Pranayama:

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Pelvis

The pelvis: A keystone for yoga
By Liz Koch

The pelvis is the keystone of our physical structure and the foundation of a centered yoga practice. To feel centered and supported from within, our pelvis needs to be balanced and functioning as part of our torso without torques or twists. A balanced pelvis becomes a base of support for the spine, rib cage and head. It becomes a bowl containing and supporting the organs, nerves and viscera. A balanced pelvis frees the illiopsoas, the core muscle and increases range of motion in the hip sockets, preventing lower back and knee injuries.
The stable pelvis and the psoas muscle work in harmony-they form a partnership. The psoas muscle, a large, massive muscle, bridges the trunk to the leg. When used properly, it is a guide wire and as such, sensitively responds to the movement of the spine and the legs. When misused, the psoas muscle becomes rigid, limiting movement. Over time, misuse shortens the psoas muscle. A shortened psoas flexes and pulls on the pelvis, compressing the hip sockets and destabilizing the lower back.
As in any relationship, a dance occurs between pelvis and psoas. What often shortens the psoas is a destabilized pelvis, one that can no longer properly transfer weight from the trunk to the two legs. The psoas is then called upon to hold the trunk and leg together. Becoming a weight-supporting element, the psoas no longer can function freely as a muscle. It begins to function as a ligament and over time loses its suppleness as a muscle (i.e. begins to shorten).
In yoga asana, overextending, forcing a stretch and poor positioning can all stretch or tear pelvic ligaments, destabilizing the pelvis and shortening the psoas. Ligament damage or the overstretching of ligaments happens when they are under inappropriate tension. The pulling away of the bones one from another pulls, stretches, or tears the ligaments. Like the chicken and the egg koan, looseness in the sacrum and SI-joints calls upon the psoas to help hold the bones together. The body then further compensates by overdeveloping external muscles such as the hamstrings, gluts and adductors. This in turn pulls the bones further out of alignment and engages the psoas in holding the person together.
Proper positioning of the pelvis and releasing, toning and lengthening the psoas muscle is an integral part of stabilizing the pelvis. It is also an essential step in using the proper hip, pelvic and leg muscles, protecting the lumbar spine from compression and thus assuring the accuracy of each yoga posture. Focusing on the pelvis centers the work squarely inside the very core of your being.
To release the psoas, place yourself in the constructive rest position before you begin to practice asanas. Lie down on your back with the knees up and your feet on the floor. Arms rest below shoulder height to the sides, across the chest or on the pelvis. Place feet as wide apart as the width of the hip sockets, which are on the front of the pelvis to both sides of the pubis bone. In this position, the psoas will begin to release. No force is used to flatten the back. Just simply be in the position and focus your attention on the weight. Where is weight felt in the pelvis? Is one side heavier than the other? Do nothing but notice. As the psoas begins to release, after 5-10 minutes, the weight will begin to even out.
To tone the psoas, begin on all fours (cat pose) and explore the ability to shift weight from four points to three points. The position demands accurate placement of each bone in its socket perpendicular to the floor. Begin by releasing the psoas in the front of the right hip socket. Without shifting the pelvis, begin extending the right leg behind you, only releasing the leg to extend out. The movement begins at the hip socket-in the front of the socket-not in the dropping of the spine or the tipping of the pelvis. You can only extend the leg as far back as you can maintain a stable pelvis.
This is very exacting work. You cannot tone unless you can voluntarily release the psoas. Toning is the act of engaging the psoas properly. It is an eccentric muscle which means it never shortens. Engaging or toning the psoas means it never contracts, but falls back along the spine, always lengthening both the front and the back of the body.
For lengthening the psoas, the modified or full pigeon, when properly performed, is a psoas and iliacus stretch. Once again, positioning is crucial. Most people twist the pelvis in this pose. Rather, keep the pelvis balanced and stable, and release and stretch out from the core. Keeping the pelvis forward and stable may change the range of movement, but the stretch is deeper and you can isolate the stretch the psoas and iliacus muscle rather than pull on the pelvis. Lunges are psoas stretches.
Liz Koch is the author of The Psoas Book, a comprehensive guide to the iliopsoas muscle and its profound affect on the body/mind/ emotions. Liz was recently featured in Yoga Journal (May/June 99) and Yoga & Health (London England Oct 98).

Thursday, December 3, 2009


            The practice of mindfulness could look at the possible causes of separation, stress, illness and seek for mind/body reintegration, or somatic/cognitive/emotional healing, which can be very beneficial for trauma survivors, rather than relying totally on symptoms’ relief drugs. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote “Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves…Consider, for example: a magician who cuts his body into many parts and places each part in a different region—the hands in the south, arms in the east, legs in the north—then by some miraculous power lets forth a cry which reassembles whole every part of his body. Mindfulness…can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life (Nhat Hanh, 1987, pp. 12-13).” The Sutra of Mindfulness says: “When walking, the practitioner must be conscious that he is walking. When sitting, the practitioner must be conscious that he is sitting. When lying down…that he is lying down…The mindfulness of the positions of one’s body is not enough, however…We must be conscious of each breath, each movement, every thought and feeling, everything which has any relation to ourselves (Nhat Hanh, 1987, pp. 12-13).” “Mindfulness itself is the life of awareness: the presence of mindfulness means the presence of life, and therefore mindfulness is also the fruit (Nhat Hanh 1987, pp. 21-22). This more eastern vision advocates awareness of and control over the mind during the simplest everyday actions--practicing mindfulness is creating unity within every moment in life.

Body & Mind
            There are a variety of ways to feel body/mind healing and integration. Jung writes: “…It is the here and now, for to be really in the here and now, one must be in the body…anything experienced outside the body has the quality of being without body; so you must experience the whole thing over again.  It must come in a new way…Whatever you experience outside of the body, in a dream for instance, is not experienced unless you take it into the body.  If you have a dream and let it pass by you, nothing has happened at all, even if it is the most amazing dream; but if you look at it with the purpose of trying to understand it, and succeeds in understanding it, then you have taken it into the here and now, the body being a visible expression of the here and now…if you had not taken your body into this room, nobody would know you were here; though even if you seem to be in the body, it is by no means sure that you are, because your mind might be wandering without your realizing it.  Then whatever is going on here would not be realized; it would be like a vague dream that floats in and out, and nothing has happened (Harris, 2001, pp. 62-63).

Autogenic Relaxation

Counting backward from 10 to 1. 
Phase 1: Heaviness
-My arms and hands feel heavy.
-My legs and feet feel heavy.
-My arms and legs feel heavy.
Phase 2: Warmth
-My arms and hands feel warm.
-My legs and feet feel warm.
-My arms and legs feel warm.
Phase 3: Heart
-My heart is calm and relaxed.
-My heart beat is slow and relaxed.
Phase 4: Breathing
-My breathing is slow and relaxed.
-My breathing is calm and comfortable.
Phase 5: Solar Plexus
-My forehead is cool.
-My forehead is calm and relaxed.
-My entire body is calm and relaxed.

(From IYT Yoga Manual)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Autonomic Nervous System and Stress

Autonomic Nervous System and Stress
The natural balance of opposites in relation to stress is seen very clearly within the human nervous system. The physical reaction of stress in the body is regulated by the autonomic nervous system. This system has two divisions: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.
"A stressor can be defined as anything that throws your body out of homeostatic balance; for example, an injury, an illness, subjection to great heat or cold, or being teacher. The stress response in turn is your body's attempt to restore homeostatic balance." ( Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, p. 7, Robert Sapolsky)

The Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system is a series of nerves originating in the brain and exiting through the spine to nearly every organ, blood vessel, and sweat gland in your body. They even connect to the tiny muscles attached to hairs on your body. Goose pimples are an activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system controls arousal. When a threat or demand is perceived, chemicals are secreted into the blood stream. The main stress chemicals are adrenaline, which puts the entire body on alert, and cortisol, which helps produce the energy required for red alert status. This is done by producing a number of specific reactions in the body:
  •  Increased sympathetic nervous system activity.
  •  Increased stress chemicals.
  •  Increased heart rate.
  •  Increased blood pressure.
  •  Increased metabolic rate for increased energy, including the release of glucose from the liver.
  • Increased functioning of the endocrine portion of the pancreas related to production and control of glucose.
  •  Bronchioles dilated for more energy.
  •  Contraction of muscles, especially the large muscles of the body used for fight-or-flight like the thighs, back, and shoulders.
  •  Shunting of blood from abdomen to large muscles, resulting in reduction of digestive activity. Shunting of blood from the sexual organs.
  •  Vasodilation of arteries to working muscles.
  •  Vasoconstriction of arteries to nonworking muscles.
  • Increased alertness.
 “One of the hallmarks of the stress-response is the rapid mobilization of energy from storage sites and the inhibition of further storage. Glucose and the simplest forms of proteins and fats come pouring out of your fat cells, liver, and muscles, all to stoke whichever muscles are struggling to save your neck. If your body has mobilized all that glucose, it needs also to deliver it to the critical muscles as rapidly as possible. Heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate increase, all to transport nutrients and oxygen at greater rates." ( Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, p.11)

The Parasympathetic System
When the perceived demand is seen as having been met or the perceived threat is no longer seen as threatening, the second part of the autonomic nervous system is activated. This is the parasympathetic system which allows for energy conservation and relaxation. It has several characteristics:
  •   Reduction in heart rate, ventilation, and muscle tension.
  •   Blood flow is increased to the extremities including the hands and feet.
  •  It is characterized by diaphragmatic breathing.
  •  It is dominated by the tenth cranial or vagus nerve which is influenced by the brain stem and connects to the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems.
  • The main relaxation response chemical is acetylcholine which is released at higher levels during meditation.
  • It is necessary for sexual excitation.
The counterpart to the stress response is the relaxation response. In this response all the actions of the stress response are reversed and the natural healing abilities of the body are allowed to function optimally. Focused repetitive movement can induce the relaxation response.
A balance in the functioning of these two systems is necessary for health at the physiological and psychological levels. The sympathetic functions as the gas pedal, the parasympathetic as the brake. They function in synchrony for a wide range of functions, though they cannot dominate the system simulta­neously. In other words, you cannot be completely aroused and relaxed at the same time.

Within the next posts I will be sharing readings on the following topics:

  • Meditation
  • Autogenic Relaxation
  • Breathing Techniques

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mind Body Arts

The Practice of Mind and Body Arts

It starts with a slow centering and several minutes of gentle breathing, sometimes with the back on the mat. Apparently nothing is happening in my mind, and if I become distracted I return to my breath. Then, warm-up follows with a more energizing Vinyasa flow, Sun Salutation, a gradual deep stretching and a gentle cooling with a few moments of breathing and mindful mind-body reintegration.

Sun Salutation

The poses and sequences that comprise Sun Salutation warm up muscles and allow the practitioner to concentrate on the rhythm of movement and breath. Each movement is synchronized with an inhalation and an exhalation.
The Sun Salutation strengthens all muscular groups, and it is very effective in improving the functionality of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. It tones all the abdominal organs improving digestion and elimination. It improves spine elasticity. It also alleviates anxiety and depression.

Integrative Hatha Yoga

Integrative Hatha Yoga comprises the best of different forms of Hatha Yoga practices: Vinyasa warm-ups movements, Anusara alignments, Pranayama breathings, and different forms of core strenghening. My emphasis is in teaching the student the architecture and the emotion of asana by learning single posture alignments, holding a pose through different planes, and by performing and synchronizing the learned poses along the breath; the student will also experience a development in stamina, concentration and relaxation. Sole Luna Integrative Yoga emphases in safety, the practice of well aligned poses, along with breathing and awareness of body sensations.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why I blog

I have asked myself why I have decided to open a blog. The major reason is to share information that I have gathered about yoga, postures, stretches, nutrition and especially on topics such as 'whole foods' and vegetarian food options. The blog will not be a cult that preaches what to do or how to live but instead will only show options available. It feels like humanity is going through a similar change that happened during the European Renaissance: information that relates to education that truly sustains and promote health should be free and accessible to all people. However, the challenge of today is not finding information but having a reference point so to discern good from bad information. Therefore, in the future I would like to share with you all that I have practiced and learned about above topics.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yoga Biography

In Spring 2001 I joined, for the first time, a yoga class in Olympia, Washington. I decided to continue taking yoga classes as it improved my level of concentration and assisted my education. Since then I have maintained a steady practice as it continues to foster my personal development, health education and opens a sense of closeness with nature and my surrounding community.

In March 2004 under an independent contract sponsored by Evergreen's faculty, I attended the Integrative Yoga Teaching Training (IYT) in Tampa, Florida. From March 7 to March 20, 2004, the program followed an intensive therapeutic teacher training program. IYT, rather than approaching one single discipline, focused to the best and most safe body/mind healing methodologies following the individuals' own process. Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Vinyasa, Yoga Nidra and other disciplines were integrated as a way to facilitate healing.

On November 2004 I became a certified yoga instructor after the completion of the Integrative Yoga Therapy Teacher Training Program - 200 hour level. In addition, I have volunteered as a yoga facilitator in a variety of academic and non academic programs at the Evergreen State College and within Olympia, Washington between 2003 and 2005.

Currently I teach for Tacoma Metro Parks. I have instructed yoga in Washington State, Italy, Colombia and the Chicago area. I have taught yoga for stress management at the YMCA and also at The Evergreen State College, both located in Olympia, Washington. In Spring 2005 I was invited to Bogota, Colombia to teach a workshop in Hatha Yoga and stress management. I also instructed yoga at X-Sport Fitness in the Chicago suburbs.

I utilize an integrated form of Hatha Yoga with Vinyasa warm-ups, stress management techniques, pranayama breathing and restoring poses, all within the foundation of Hatha Yoga’s philosophy and alignments. My integrated form of Hatha Yoga teaches a variety of techniques which benefit students in a multitude of ways. The process of learning breathing techniques, poses and alignments increases strength, flexibility, and endurance in the students. Repeating and holding a well aligned pose along with the breath develops concentration and the ability to be present.

Within my vision, yoga is accessible to anyone, and promotes healing and introspection, thereby increasing self awareness and body/mind integration. From my perspective body and mind integration is accessible when the knowledge retained by the mind (i.e. reading the alignment and seeing an image of a pose) will match the ability to perform, hold and feel the pose, which will occur along with practice. The center of my teaching and practice of yoga is safety, precision in detailed instructions, along with warmth and creativity to promote and/or maintain a healthy lifestyle. Modifications are also fundamental in my teaching, as to integrate different levels of student practice.