Monthly Archives: August 2012
By Virginia White, RYT/MA
This is my second week to guest blog, and I had several people ask about last week’s blog. They asked “why” a person with OP would want to avoid the flexing forward and rounding of the upper back in a forward bend. This is my interpretation of studies on this topic: if the spinal vertebrae are thin from OP, a rounded upper back in a standing forward bend may result in compression of the anterior spine and pain afterwards. A rounded upper back during a seated forward bend may also cause the same compression and pain afterwards. Try it – avoid rounding the upper back in a forward bend for a couple of days and ask yourself this question, “Does my spine feel better?” If you decide it does, then I have accomplished what I wanted – to provide information you may use in your own yoga practice.
If a person with OP does adopt this modification, he or she will still need forward flexion to rest the spine in the opposite direction. A very enjoyable position is to lie on your side, on a bed or couch, or on your mat on the floor. Lie in a fetal position, with a rounded upper back, with a pillow or an arm under your head – do this for 1-3 minutes. This can be done anytime during a yoga practice to rest the spine, such as after cobra.
Another position that provides rest and relief is to stay where you stop your forward bend. Picture a person who has stopped about half way. In this position, as in all forward bends, the abs contract as you bend forward, knees are kept soft, hips are back a bit, and the back is flat. Place your hands on your thighs and stay for 2 or 3 breaths. While breathing look at the floor, let your vision blur, and consciously soften the eyes. Many people experience a softening and relaxed feeling in the spine with the visual softening. Enjoy life and enjoy yoga!
I am happy that Joanne asked me to guest blog because I just returned from teacher training about “How to Teach Yoga for Seniors”, and I have much to share. I want to begin with the topic most relevant to me – yoga for those with osteoporosis (OP). At age 67, I thought this OP diagnosis had not affected my yoga practice, but my new training has informed me about a safer way to do standing forward bends. With OP one wants to avoid flexing the back or rounding it as many of us do at the end of a full standing forward bend. Instead, a person with OP will avoid undue pressure on the front of the spine, by keeping the back flat and stopping the forward bend movement before the back flexes and rounds forward. For me that means stopping about half way down and even with my knees. There are three other elements to include as you begin: 1) find the hip crease with your hand and bend forward from there, not from the waist 2) bend the knees 3) move the buttocks out behind you, as though you are about to sit in a chair. Go into the forward bend only as far as you can keep a flat back. Next week I will explain how to “feel” that wonderful relaxed spine that occurs when one is hanging downward with arms loosely hanging – but instead, in a half-down forward bend.
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Think about it … what would life be like if we couldn’t twist? If we wanted to look to the left or right, we’d have to turn our entire body instead of just our head. We wouldn’t be able to twist around from the front seat of our cars to get something in the back. The way we walk and move would look very different. We’d look more like robots.
An ability to twist makes daily activities more efficient and enjoyable. And, in yoga, twisting adds interest and depth to our practice. It allows us to rotate our spines and, in fact, spinal rotation is the primary purpose of twists. Twisting helps keep the spine strong and flexible and the “wringing” motion removes toxins from the body and improves circulation.
Twisting can be risky for the low back and sacrum so Viniyoga teaches the importance of warming up the spine and shoulders and stabilizing the hips before moving to twisting postures. For example, a practice would begin with gentle forward and/or back bends never twists.
In Viniyoga, we move into a twist on exhale and come out of it on inhale. The exhale begins in the lower abs and the key to twisting is to control the spinal rotation from the abs. In other words, don’t initiate the twist through force of leverage from the shoulders and arms and/or pelvis and legs. You can use them as leverage secondarily to intensify the twist but not to generate it.
In addition to controlling spinal rotation, contracting the abs during exhale, protects the low back and sacrum.
Common types of twisting postures are standing, supine and seated. They are a nice addition to any practice, complementing the more symmetrical movements of flexion and extension.
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