Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yoga Poses for Chronic Back Pain

yoga poses for chronic back pain
By Faye Martins 
The American Chiropractic Association states that 80% of people will experience a back problem in the course of their lives. Studies suggest that about 31 million Americans suffer from lower back pain, and it is the most common disability for people worldwide. Chronic back pain can impact a person’s quality of life, but a strong asana practice can relieve some of these symptoms.

Things to Remember

Age, occupation, prior injury, and spinal disease can affect a person’s pain level and mobility. Yogic methods can work for students in every situation, but some asanas may not be suitable for some conditions. Students must consult with physicians about injuries to determine what is safe. Yoga teachers are not doctors, but we can adapt our instruction to fit within medical recommendations.

Almost any asana can be beneficial for spinal health. Some of the most common postures in class are excellent ways to decrease chronic back pain and increase spinal mobility. For all of the postures that follow, using props such as blocks, blankets, and bolsters, or adding the support of a wall can increase their restorative properties.

Mountain Pose

To the outsider, mountain pose looks easy, but a carefully executed tadasana can be challenging. Mountain pose improves posture, which is a great starting point for eliminating chronic back pain. Many people go through their entire day with poor posture, and over time the spine changes shape to accommodate chronic slouching and hunching. Mountain pose also provides relief for sciatica. 

Cat Pose/ Cow Pose

Starting a warm up with a few rounds of cat-cow sets students up for success. Many people sit with their spine in a fixed position for several hours, whether they are in a car or at a desk. Cat-cow breaks up the monotony and awakens the spine with gentle flexion. 

Downward Facing Dog

As one of the mainstays of the asana practice, downward dog can be excellent for chronic back pain. This asana puts students in a position that is the opposite of sitting. In this gentle inversion, spinal muscles get a gentle stretch, and by encouraging axial extension, the cervical spine also benefits.

Extended Side Angle

In addition to creating a nice lateral stretch along the side-body, extended side angle can relieve lower back pain and sciatica. It is essential to avoid collapsing into this shape in order to receive the full benefit.

Eagle Pose

Garudasana provides a challenge while also promoting spinal health. The position of the arms provides a stretch through the thoracic spine and shoulders, while wrapped legs relieve tension in the lower back. 

Staff Pose

Dandasana is another asana which appears to be simple, but practitioners will notice the challenge that comes with maintaining a straight line from the crown of the head to the tailbone. This is an excellent pose for strengthening back muscles and improving posture.

Half Lord of the Fishes

Not only is ardha matsyendrasana great for your posture, but it can also relieve backaches. The effectiveness of this position relates directly to a practitioner’s ability to deepen the pose through the breath rather than force. This asana encourages axial rotation of the entire spine.

Supine Twist

In terms of relieving back pain, the supine twist is a tour de force. The twisting action releases tension in the lower back, and it offers a stretch across the length of the spine. 

Chronic back pain affects many of us, but yogic practices can promote spinal health and alleviate pain. Students who practice these postures regularly will notice a difference on the mat and in everyday life. 

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Yoga Teachers and Entrepreneur Too!s

Entrepreneur Too!s
By Kathryn Boland

Do you notice how the shifting nature of yoga practice in the West is opening up opportunities for new health/wellness enterprises? Have you dreamt up such an enterprise that brings together yogic practice/other wellness practice and your unique passions and interests? Perhaps you’re unsure of how to get started? I’ll detail the building and operations of a unique health/wellness business that demonstrates a true actualization of passion, and through that true seva (selfless service).
Angela Gentile (Boston, MA) had had it. She’d been teaching high school for eleven years, and she needed a change. She decided to bring to life her graduate school thesis - TEACH Fitness, a fitness and wellness program specifically for teachers, offering classes right in different school locations. She describes the program as “community fitness and workout experience, allowing participants to take risks in a safe and supportive environment for their own growth and greatness!” She was (and is) a skilled Bootcamp teacher and Personal Trainer. She took the leap to leave the security of her educator position, and set off to build her enterprise.

She recounts this process as follows, which sheds light on the powerful effects of following one’s own passion and intuition. “I was feeling so overwhelmed”, she shares, “and could not look at anymore student data or my head was going to explode! So, I needed a way to get myself balanced, centered and outside, moving as much as I could, which lead to the idea of running a wellness program at my school. Once we were finished with the grad research, my colleagues wanted the program to continue, so I was like…I may be onto something!”

Yes, she was. But, at the same time, the challenges have been numerous. School higher-ups can be vague, unresponsive, and return necessary paperwork months after promised. At some locations, she’s not certain where to store equipment for her classes, or if the room typically used will be unlocked. Particularly in settings like an all-boys’ school with a majority male staff, she is not given the respect she deserves as a woman building her own business. Exceedingly mixed levels and lack of clarity on what students are truly looking for from classes are common.
Angela did, however, grow her enterprise to the point where she could hire a second teacher - yours truly. I’ve seen her passion for offering students not only a workout, but an experience of working towards greater wellness and time for themselves (as teachers and working parents, as Angela has articulated, for many of them this is the only time in their days that they’re not looking after a child!).

Something tells me she wouldn’t access that authentic passion if she had never left her high school position. And the teacher-students, judging by their smiles and gracious words, truly value the classes. That outcome most likely wouldn’t have come to be if Angela had never taken the risk she did. As they are guardians and growth agents of our next generation, teachers’ wellness truly matters for our communities and for our world at large.

Angela describes how “the health benefits of regular exercise are endless and can lower the amount of sick time and also increase alertness and productivity at work. But most importantly, teachers are modeling behavior for positive self care, practicing self worth and setting an example for a healthy lifestyle for their students.” She’s not the only one recognizing these benefits. Her enterprise is steadily growing, with further school contracts and hires in the works.

It’s similar, in different ways, for populations you might be passionate about serving. My first suggestion would be to start from a knowledgeable place. Angela knew about teachers’ lives, needs, and desires, as well as the workings of schools. If you might not be in such a position, do research and/or obtain consulting. It’s invaluable knowledge that will help you frame, launch, maintain, and grow your fitness/wellness business, as well as adjust to problems as they arise (and, per Murphy’s Law, they inevitably will).

Next, make your terms clear. The more you make known what you need - firmly, yet politely and diplomatically - the more professional credibility you will acquire. That’ll help propel your fledgling enterprise. It also helps ensure that you don’t get taken advantage of (and that often happens not out of ill will, but out of lacking awareness for what you do truly need). For instance, Angela has made clear that students need to be on time and ready for class at class start time, or they’ll get shorter classes.

She has always stopped at the designated end time, even if students were late or casually dilly-dallied around starting (such as in being chatty, et cetera). This choice has sent the clear message that she wouldn’t allow for her having to wait around before classes, time that she isn’t paid for and might be cutting into paid responsibilities she has after these classes. Remember also that actions speak louder than words. Policies are just words on paper (or, with even less sway, out of our mouths) if they’re not enforced. But, to maintain good will, do make sure a policy has been clearly expressed - and understood - before enforcing it.

That funnels into a last recommendation, to not only allow for open lines of communication, but to actively create them. Angela has always been very clear, helpful, and inspiring with her feedback for me. In several ways, this has helped me to better serve the students at each site - different from each other, and diverse within those separate groups. She also sent a survey to all registered teacher-students, which revealed clear trends about their ongoing desires and needs. We talked over how to best implement the survey feedback over a pleasant lunch.

Time will tell if our proposed adjustments will be effective, but we’ve made our best effort. We’ve set in place steps to best serve our clientele. Preparing with know-how, making terms clear, and transparency are a few of the many necessary ingredients for creating and growing a successful fitness/wellness enterprise. And some things one can only learn by trial and error, the hard way.

But few things - dare I say nothing - are more fulfilling, as well as wellness-inducing, as offering a unique and needed service while having control over your own workdays. In Angela’s words, “1. Assess your life: make a list of 5 things you want to do everyday. If you are NOT doing those 5 things then you have to make a change! 2. Just jump.” Shanti, shanti, shanti in your courageous endeavors, dear readers.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Yoga Exercises for Preventing Back Pain 

preventing back pain
By Faye Martins

The human back is a miraculous assembly of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves. Backs should be both incredibly strong and supremely flexible at the same time. The back supports the whole body from the neck, through the upper back into the lower and then to the bottom of the spine. We use it for every single movement we make. If your back is hurting nothing seems to go right. Your back is the entire support system for your body and keeping it strong and supple is important for your overall wellbeing.

“You’re only as young as your spine is flexible,” this quote was said repeatedly by Richard Hittleman in his 1970s PBS television series, “Yoga For Health.” He was one of the first people to bring the ancient science of yogic methodology into living rooms across the United States. Now, 50 years later, yoga has mushroomed into a movement of health and spirituality practiced by millions of people at all levels of adeptness. Yoga is one methodology that focuses attention on the back. There are many postures or asanas that strengthen it and keep it supple. Once you know the basic movements yoga is a gentle way to wake up in the morning, stretch after sitting or to wind down after a hectic day. 

The entire body benefits from these traditional yogic asanas. From the head to the feet, there is a beneficial posture. Yoga is inclusive, benefiting the whole body. But sometimes our backs need special attention. Here are some classic yogic exercises that can strengthen, stretch and tone your back to prevent pain and to ensure you can move and play at will.

Cat/Cow pose – This exercise is done on the hands and knees. The stretching and curving in this asana helps slowly and surely to work out the kinks in your back.

Downward Facing Dog – Getting into this triangular pose is a great stress reliever. Holding this position helps your back relax and let go of tightness. This inverted posture allows blood to flow into the head while at the same time it stretches the back muscles.

Cobra/Locust/Bow – These three complementary movements are centered on strengthening the back. You alternately tense and rest the muscles and ligaments that support the spine. This is an advanced posture so go easy and rest in between. The Cobra/Locust/Bow is yoga at its finest.

Head to Knee Forward Bend (Also known as alternate Leg Stretches) - This is a wonderful asana that may take you years to master, but every time you do it your back will benefit.

Spinal Twist – this was the exercise Richard Hittleman suggested most often to bolster the back. He unfailingly emphasized the importance of a supple spine.

There are many more yogic asanas that can help tone, strengthen and stretch out the important bones and muscles of our back. Attending a yoga class is a great way to learn this valuable tool to back health. Regular yoga classes can teach you the proper way to do the postures and connect you with other people who are interested in not only the physical but also the emotional and spiritual components of this five thousand year old practice. Once you learn the postures you can practice at home so that you are helping yourself stay young and fit every day.

Our modern lives are busy and filled with much sitting around and lots of stressors. Our bodies and especially our backs take that inactivity and stress and do their best to keep us going. The wise and ancient practice of yoga can help keep our backs limber and our spirit strong.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Conflicting Yoga Teacher Instructions - “But Another Instructor Told Me…”

valued guidance
By Kathryn Boland

Have you ever had an instructor give you guidance that conflicts with what another has told you? Have you ever had a student tell you that you’re doing that, or learned something in your continuing education that contradicts what you’ve previously learned? A strength of the yoga world is our multiple perspectives and styles of practice.

Less advantageous is the blatant misinformation that some teachers put forth, most often because they were not taught the facts. With no ill-will, they pass on non-truths to the next generation of practitioners. This diversity of thought and poor teacher training combines to have some teachers telling students one thing, and them hearing contradictory information from other teachers. How does one know which teacher’s guidance to follow? Aspects such as cultural respect for teachers, class dynamics, and unique medical conditions complicate the situation. 
This issue surfaced for me most recently with a teacher correcting my weight-bearing hand placement (used in Down Dog, but also in Tabletop, Plank, and numerous more advanced arm balances). I had adjusted to this placement after a workshop in which a teacher advised me to do so because of the anatomy of my shoulder girdle and arms. I trusted the in-depth conclusion, and subsequent change, that we then made.

I also trusted and valued the guidance of the latter teacher. And I didn’t want to offer an in-depth explanation in the midst of class, nor not do what she was asking without giving that explanation. I made the change, and it didn’t feel right for my body. For a second I thought “Well, I can just practice this way when I’m in her class….” But a wiser part of me asked “But what’s right for your practice?” I then switched back to the hand placement that she had corrected. I spoke with her on the matter after class, and her response was curiosity - a slightly scrunched face, raised eyebrows and a “Hmmm….”. She was learning something.
A second instance illustrates this type of situation. Several instructors would often give an instruction for a certain stance in the legs in Warrior I Pose. I also received this instruction personally, and rather assuredly, one class. Both these things together, I took this instruction mainly as a universal given (which, when thinking deeper along with my knowledge and experience as an instructor, only exist in a few select places).
Then another instructor, one class, told me that “you don’t need to do that…so don’t”. In a different class, another instructor told me that I can practice Standing Forward Fold with straight legs. Though I might a make certain argument against that point, I appreciated her attempt to explain why this was so for me - because my “low back is flat as [I] fold forward.” The prior instructor, with the instruction on Warrior I, did not offer any such explanation. I feel much more assured, as a practitioner, in going forward with the instruction with which I received some explanatory context.

I suspect that many students face similar dilemmas. I’ve heard differing views from separate instructors on more instances than these, and something tells me that I can’t be the only one. I also have vague recollections of fellow yogis saying things like “Well this teacher told me this, but then another told me that, so I’m confused….”. I myself have had more experienced instructors correct misconceptions with which I was teaching. I therefore likely confused some students - again, not out of ill-will, but because of lack of experience and understanding.

Yoga practice is so multifaceted, we can’t be faulted for not getting it all perfectly understood right out of 200-hour teacher training. It’s a lifelong journey of growth and discovery. But, to avoid confusing students further, we must be open to learning new facts and accepting that we could have been mistaken. We must be diligent about continuing education, studying under great teachers, and maintaining our own practices. We owe it to ourselves, and to our students who trust us with their minds, bodies, and spirits. Shanti, dear readers.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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