Please find here the articles I have published in The Post, a fine, free tabloid found on the lovely Costa Blanca. The first three articles, published in the summer of 2013, describe in detail some important fundamental poses in the Viniyoga system of hatha yoga. Here, I have simply copied them inline, without the lovely photos (by my friend Pepe Zaragozí) accompanying the originals.
Apanasana:A powerfully simple pose
Hatha yoga is a very good ally in the struggle against lower back pain (LBP). LBP is one of the main reasons people visit the Doctor's office. Although in some cases surgery might be the only option, for most people a good program of spinal care and yoga would keep them pain-free and mobile. Stretching, freeing, loosening and unbinding muscles, ligaments and tendons, yoga gently eases aches and pains, realigning our bodies and calming our minds.
Apanasana is a basic yoga pose that is very easy to learn and may help reduce LBP. It is a full spinal and gluteal stretch, a contraction of the abdomen and compression of the abdominal cavity.
Most of us know that weak abdominal muscles and protruding bellies contribute significantly to lower back pain. The internal organs push out the weak abs, rocking the pelvis forward. With the pelvis tipped forward this way, the hip flexors shorten and pull on the lower back, making it curve even more and causing pain.
In the subtle anatomy of yoga, there is a dominant downward running energy and a dominant upward rising energy. Apana is the downward facing energy. It runs from the navel down to the tips of the toes. It governs elimination, reproduction and the rooting, terrestrial facets of life. Apanasana derives its names from the energy apana. It is the posture (asana) that actuates directly on the downward energy current (apana). Combining this gentle movement with the precise breathing technique of lengthening and counting the breath changes the direction of the flow of apana, sending it upwards.
When it flows upwards, apana nourishes our nervous system, giving us vitality, vigour and zest for life.
Observe carefully any limitations you might have including herniated disks or difficulty rising from the floor. If this is the case, you may wish to try practising on your bed. Do not undertake any physical activity without consulting a professional first. But also, don't worry. This is a very safe pose, reclining, head neutral, feet raised.
Use a yoga mat or folded boiled-wool blanket to cushion your back. Lying face-up on the floor, legs bent, feet flat on the floor, parallel and hip-width apart, heels near the buttocks. Extend the neck and lower the chin to make a double-chin. Keep the neck straight throughout.
Breathe in. Breathing out, lift the feet off the floor, bringing the knees to the chest. Place the palms of the hands on the knees. Breathe in. Breathing out, pull the knees gently in towards the chest. Breathing in, move the knees back and away from the chest. Breathe out and rock the knees back in. Breathe in and rock them away. Repeat. Take note: the movement is small. Don't straighten the legs on the inhale. The elbows flex and extend, but the knees mostly don't. Repeat this movement for 6-8 breaths, three times per day and you will almost certainly reduce lower back pain (LBP). Practice 6-8 breaths in apanasana three times per day, for one month. If you wish you keep a diary of your experiment, you may find it informative. I welcome any feedback on your practice. Keep it up!
Dvipada-pitam: The two-legged table.
Strength and alignment is the name of the game to avoid lower back pain (LBP). LBP is all too often cause for a doctor's visit, but can be managed without drugs or surgery.
Abdominal muscle tone is important to spine health. The rectus abdomus “six pack” at the front contains the internal organs, preventing them from pulling us forward into a permanent sagging arch. The obliques and transverse abdominals complete the famous “core muscles” that stabilize the mid-section of the human body.
Dvipada-pitam, with apanâsana, which we examined last month, represents the culmination of the work of modern yoga master Krishnamacharya. Crucially when practising yoga, we mustn't lose sight of the objective of yoga: to canalize and control the body's subtle energy, prana. These two poses help concentrate prana in the body's core, making it available for higher purposes. Whether one ascribes to this point of view is an entirely personal matter. Yoga grants its benefits to all who practice, regardless of their investment in its philosophical underpinnings.
Variants of dvipada-pitam are found most modern body toning systems, but especially in Pilates. They may use props like balls and rings to increase the intensity of the pose, but the outcome is the same.
With proper alignment, this pose engages the abdominal muscles, the muscles of the dorsal and lumbar spine, the hip flexors, the leg adductors and the feet and ankles. It is a very complete pose. There is compression of the throat and extension of the neck, as well as an inversion, as the heart raises above the brain. Thus, be careful if you suffer from glaucoma or dizziness. Please consult a professional before beginning any exercise program.
Lie on your back, arms at your sides, palms down. Bend the knees and place the feet parallel and hip-width apart on the floor. The heels are near the buttocks, but not touching. Don't pull the feet nearer – allow your natural knee and hip flexion to determine the foot placement. Stretch the neck directing the chin towards the collarbone. Relax the jaw, placing the tongue on the soft palate. Inhale, lift the buttocks, hips and back up off the floor. Exhale, lower slowly, “one vertebrae at a time”, rocking the pelvis and trying to get whole spine on the floor. Repeat six times. Variants include raising the arms behind the head on the inhale, taking breaths in the static pose, lowering the body whilst leaving the arms behind, moving one arm at a time and varying the separation of the feet. Be very aware of the feet – keep the toes on the floor! Also, if you have a very curved neck, use a prop behind the head.
Twisting and turning – what your car can tell you about your body.
The yoga of daily life is about observing ourselves in our daily actions and deciding if we are fulfilling our true capabilities.
The car, constant in modern life, can tell us many things about our body's health. We must twist to get into and out of cars. To shoulder-check, we turn the head some 80º. This might be the only time we regularly move our bodies in the “transverse” plane. Our limited daily lives tend to “move” in the forward direction only, progressively limiting our range of motion.
lf you notice that twisting and turning in the car is limited or painful, you will have to make a decision – to live with or without pain. Awareness is the first step – what you choose to do with the information is the interesting part. Do you ignore the pain? Accept it as inevitable? Take a pill? Or, care for your body?
Simple and gentle yoga exercises can help restore range of motion. Note: Breath and movement are always co-ordinated in hatha yoga. If you have any injuries, consult a professional before attempting new exercises.
Dvipada-pitam means “the two-legged table” in Sanskrit. This pose is prominent in the system of yoga I use, Viniyoga. Lying on the back, with the arms by the sides, palms down, bend the knees and place the feet on the floor , hip-width apart. Breathe in and life the hips and lower back off the floor. Breathe out and slowly lower down, rolling the pelvis. Repeat six times.
Jathara parivritti is the sanskrit name for the lying twist. There are variations in the pose which include changing the position of one or both legs, or using props, or varying the breath. Exhale to lower the legs to the floor and inhale to bring them back to centre. Go down and up, alternating left and right, 6 times on either side , breathing each time you move. In the 6th movement, stay in the pose for 6 breaths, before inhaling to come back to centre.
Apanasana completes the set. Breathing out, lift the feet off the floor, knees to chest. Separate the legs to accommodate the belly. Place palms on the knees. Inhale. Exhaling, pull the knees gently in towards the chest. Inhale, push the knees away from the chest. Exhale, and rock the knees back in. The movement is small. The elbows flex and straighten, but the knees mostly don’t. Don’t straighten the legs on the inhale. Maintain the distance between the knees. Repeat 6 times. Perform this simple sequence twice a day for a week, then take to the open roads, twisting and turning!