Flying Pigeon

FLYING PIGEON

Key Actions to Balance in Flying Pigeon Pose

Flying pigeon

Flying Pigeon: Balance

Flying Pigeon is an exceptionally challenging pose for several reasons–strength, balance, flexibility for starters. Learning to balance on the hands requires tremendous strength in the flexors of the wrist, or what I call in my Handstand Training, “The Brakes”. Appropriately named because strength in the flexors of the wrist is what stops you from falling when you’re on your hands. You will hear me in the video talking about gripping the ground; this is the action that will turn on the brakes. In the Live Stream on 3-25-2020 that this video is taken from, I went over a little drill that you can try out. On all fours, grip your fingers into the ground. With one hand, challenge the opposite hand by trying to pick up the fingers off the ground. Let’s say your right hand is on the ground; the right hand tries its best to dig its fingers into the earth. The left hand tries to pick the right hand’s fingers up. Switch roles. Reading about this won’t do anything so you will have to get it in your body to really get it…did it? Great! Let’s continue. Whenever you are on your hands in your yoga practice, maintain this type of activation to build strength in your brakes over time.

Flexibility

I still remember my first flying pigeon. I was in Elena Brower’s Anusara Yoga class. My hips were super tight back then. She had some great techniques to help us open our hips, many of which I still implement into my own practice and share in my online trainings , and live streams.  In one of my recent articles on compass pose, I spoke on the topic that flexibility requires technique more than it does forcing repetitive stretches. To increase flexibility for flying pigeon, you need to target several muscle groups which I call the 4 Quadrants of the hips. All 4 quadrants (front, back, inside, backside) can be targeted within your yoga practice by activating them isometrically through the postures. If you have been practicing live or in person with me, then you are very familiar with this approach and if you haven’t felt the benefits, you will soon with repetition. To give you one example to try, get into warrior 2 and pull your feet toward each other like you are trying to bunch up the mat under your feet. This activates the inner quadrant of the back leg and the back quadrant of the front leg. Over time this will create health in these muscle groups which will directly increase your range of motion.

Strength

When learning this posture, it is very helpful to pull the back knee into the chest. This will activate the hip flexors and lower abdominals which helps in two ways. First, it helps to keep the shin on the arm if the front hip is tighter. Second, it helps keep the weight of your body forward, which is required to maintain balance in the posture.

This posture can be deceptively challenging, so go easy on yourself if you find it incredibly difficult. Try these tips and remember that strength and flexibility require technique and repetition. Enjoy!

 

UPCOMING IMMERSION

Each month you have the oportunituy to enroll in three weekly classes! You get lifetime and unlimited access to each of the classes. Once you enroll, you also have the oportunity to view all classes live as they stream. Each month has a physical focus to help you gain targeted techniques and advance your body awareness.

Be a part of the community! After enrolling, you can connect with members through our exclusive Facebook group where you can get tips directly from me, Matt Giordano. You are encouraged to share photos and videos of your practice for personalized  support.

I look forward to sharing this practice with you and helping you develop in a big way!

~Matt

 

FLYING PIGEON + SO MUCH MORE!

THIS 8 CLASS PACK INCLUDES 6 YOGA PRACTICES, AND 2 GUIDED MEDITATIONS. FLYING PIGEON AND COMPASS POSE ARE BOTH HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EXPERIENCE!

 

  • Techniques for flying pigeon pose
  • Themed: Abhyasa & Vairagya
  • Harnessing the Power of the mind
  • Strengthen: Wrist, Core, Shoulders and Glutes
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UNLOCK YOUR HIPS

UNLOCK YOUR HIPS

 OUTER HIP STRENGTH AND FLEXIBILITY FOR THE LOW BACK AND S.I. JOINT

 

THE LOW BACK AND S.I. JOINT

Low back pain or S.I. Joint instability are quite common for many people and the cause seems to be a mystery. What most people don’t realize is that pain is usually the result of weak or underdeveloped muscles resulting in the overcompensation by other muscles. In other words, the body develops patterns that are perhaps not the best when it comes to our well-being. Why does it develop patterns? All of nature adapts to the environment. As beings of nature, we do exactly the same thing – the body adapts to what we give it. If we give it a shape and hold that shape for the majority of the day then it will develop patterns of elongated muscles and shortened muscles. Some of the muscles that tend to cause problems for the low back that are often overlooked are the ABDUCTORS of the Hips. 3 of the muscles that make up the abductors are the Gluteus medius, Gluteus Minimus and T.F.L. You can see in the photo to the right (or below if you’re on mobile) that the gluteus medius attaches to each side of the pelvis and to the top of the thigh bone. 

LOW BACK PAIN

The two sides of the pelvis are actually independently mobile structures due to the sacrum that lies in the middle which has a joint on either side that is called the S.I. Joint. This joint allows the pelvis on each side to move. This is a blessing but could also be a curse if the abductor muscles are out of balance. If one side is tight and the other flexible this could cause the pelvis to tilt, potentially resulting in low back discomfort or scoliosis. This was the case for me.

Growing up, I played hockey which strengthens the abductors. Unfortunately, I favored my right leg significantly which caused an over development and shortening of the musculature on the right side resulting in scoliosis and back pain throughout high school and college until about a year into yoga when I finally learned how to unlock my hips!

S.I JOINT

Now for other people, the low back isn’t affected but the S.I. Joint is. This seems to be most common amongst women, especially those that have had children – the ligaments tend to be more lax and so the sacrum can move inside the two sides of the pelvis resulting in pain on the back of the pelvis or radiating through the lower back near the pelvis and sacrum.

THE SOLUTION

There are many muscles that surround the pelvis that can pull on either side of the ilium or sacrum which could create pain, so where do we begin? Often times it can be overwhelming and ineffective to target all the hip and back muscles every yoga practice, so it is useful to focus on one area per practice. In the video below I share with you ways of working on the Abductor group for strength and range of motion. You may find that one side is not as strong as the other – if this is the case I recommend strengthening the weaker side which will help bring the abductors into balance.

I do have a workshop called Hips: Rock and Unlock Em that I created as a way to target as many of these muscles within one practice. You could start there to get a feel for what areas of your hips are underdeveloped or out of balance.

In addition, I highly recommend the JULY IMMERSION which focuses on the Chakras. The first 5 practices of that immersion will awaken your strength, flexibility and awareness of the muscles that surround the hips.

OPEN YOUR HIPS AND HEART

The July Immersion takes you on a 12 Class Journey through the Chakras and the elements, to develop your strength, flexibility, and awareness of each energy center and the corresponding muscles. There is a heavy focus on the Hips in the Earth, & Water classes, and the Back in the Water and Air classes, balanced by Core strengthening in the Fire section.

THE STEP BY STEP APPROACH

“Dream big, start small, then connect the dots.” This quote from Dan Millman’s Wisdom of the Peaceful Warrior has been the foundation of my yoga practice from the moment I stepped on the yoga mat. It was that book that led my to yoga in the first place, and that line that became a mantra in my head from that moment on. How does it apply to the asana practice? Most people come into the yoga practice and feel something magnificent and of course they want to come back. At some point, regardless of how egoless we believe ourselves to be, we become attracted to the external postures of the yoga practice. It’s typically innocent of course, we associate a feeling with certain postures, on a subtle level we believe that when we attain them we will feel strong, powerful, fearless, light, free, at peace, worthy of love, kindness, etc. On an intellectual level, we usually know that this is not reality but we get pulled into it anyway. The beautiful thing is that we are being pulled into practice and the practice reveals what we need to learn. So I wouldn’t ridicule this process, but rather as you walk the path remind yourself that everything you wish to feel already exists within you, and rather than expecting yoga to do the practice for you, step into the feeling you crave and let that amplify your practice. This is what it means to practice with intention.  

All that being said while we are living in this body we want to take care of it and allow it to reach its highest potential which includes movement practices, stability practices, diet, hygiene, mental health, creative expression, and so on. When I say highest potential, I don’t mean an end result or destination but rather a trajectory that gets us to walk the path. The purpose of this blog is to support your physical well-being in regard to your body. Asana is the practice that cultivates our body awareness, but most of us focus on the postures instead of our body and as a result we are left with thousands of shapes and alignment cues. A shortcut to body awareness is to put your body first, and the pose second! What does that mean? There are only a few major joints to learn in the body, and each has a few movements available to it. There are muscles that surround each joint that create this movement. If you use your asana practice to become aware, proficient, or even masterful in each movement then you will no longer be perplexed when you see a new pose, you will know exactly what is needed to put your body in that shape. You will grow to understand your limitations and your abilities, becoming your own best teacher.  

THE CHROMATIC SYSTEM 

I created Chromatic Yoga based on this concept of small steps toward our potential. Each month we have a focus in our classes, a Physical Through-Line (PTL), and a Thematic Through-Line (TTL).  The PTL is the one muscle group or joint action that we pull through an entire class, or workshop, while the TTL is similar but for building awareness of the mind and subtle energies of life. Because I encourage Chromatic Teachers to be authentic with how they teach, each will have their own way of creatively sharing the PTL and TTL. This month PTL – Abductors of the hip, is the focus of the video below. These are just a few ways to strengthen and become aware of the muscles.

To find a Chromatic Yoga Teacher near you be sure to visit us at www.ChromaticYoga.com 

3 Steps to Master the Abductors

  1. Awareness: learn the sensation of activating the abductors
  2. Strengthen: the muscle group through various postures in your yoga practice.
  3. Practice: activate the abductors over the course of time, through as many yoga postures as possible until you can easily activate them on command in any posture!

Step 1. Awareness

The first step to building awareness of any muscle is to intellectually understand where it exists in the body. The abductor group is generally located in the outer hip/pelvic region. In addition to the intellectual understanding, you must learn what it feels like to activate this muscle. For this, it’s typically easiest to “create a boundary” and press into it. So here I have placed a hand outside the knee and I press into the hand which creates the action of abduction and engages the abductors.

Step 2: strengthen

Next, you will want to develop strength in accessible postures. Typically choosing static postures for “isometric” engagement is a safe and stable way to strength. Isometric means activate the muscle without movement of the joints. For this video, I chose Chair pose to share with you. With feet about hip-width apart, push your yoga mat apart with your heels while keeping your knees pointing straight forward. Note: if your pelvis is tucked under you may not be able to access the abductors, stick your buttocks upward.

Step 3: Practice

Lastly, you will need to learn how to activate this muscle group through a range of motion. This means not only choosing a wide range of static yoga postures to activate the abductors in, but you will also want to do the movements that it creates. For this, I chose fire hydrant pose, both abducting the upper hip by lifting the leg up high, and the lower hip by squeezing the pelvis inward. Because the foot is on the ground, moving and rotating the pelvis away from the foot is abduction. You will feel it in your outer hip muscles.

Mastery Leads to Discernment

Why become masterful at anything? Mastery is not an end goal, it is simply a state of heightened awareness and capability. To become masterful in your physical body is not a chore but rather a privilege. Getting to know this vehicle that we have for only a short period of time is a form of respect and love. There is no end to mastery, just like there is no end to potential, it’s simply a trajectory or path that we walk out of respect to the greater energy that pulses through us. Mastery simply means that we can assess what is appropriate for the well-being of our body at any given time, and we have the tools to do what’s necessary to feel better. While we will always have blind spots, we can minimize the vast amount of guesswork by taking the step-by-step approach to understanding our body – one muscle group or joint action at a time.

To apply this approach to the body,  I recommend practicing The July Immersion – 12 Yoga Classes, 4 Guided Meditations – and Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em!  The online workshop is a journey through what I call the 4 quadrants of the hips, supporting you on the path toward mastery of the inner thighs, outer hips, posterior chain, and hip flexors.

Hips: Rock & Unlock 'Em

Get 2 full hours with Matt Giordano focusing on the techniques that increase the range of motion in your hips and provide long-lasting freedom. You will have immediate, unlimited access, and can enjoy the benefits today!

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Triangle Pose: Trick to Avoid Hip Impingement

Triangle Pose

Avoid Hip Impingement & Increase Your Range of Motion

Triangle Pose

Triangle pose is an iconic posture in yoga that has tremendous benefits for increasing hip range of motion by creating more flexibility of the hamstrings and adductors (inner thigh muscles). There are several potential strength benefits that triangle pose has to offer, however, it requires an intentional activation of our muscles and they likely won’t engage on their own. In the video and photo breakdown below, I go over my favorite muscle activations for triangle pose. From my experience in practicing triangle pose with teachers across the world, I have heard these verbal alignment cues more often than not: “Square your pelvis to the sidewall, tuck your tail bone, and place your hand on your shin, block, or ground.” When I practice, I try to really do what the teacher asks, but every time I tried this I noticed an immediate pain in my hip that I never get when I approach triangle pose on my own or coming from a posture like side angle pose. I also noticed that if I maintain these alignment cues, my hand only goes to my shin at best unless I fall into a deep side bend. Knowing the anatomy of the hip, I assumed that this alignment increased the potential compression at the hip joint, and maybe caused the soft tissue to be pinched. I decided to do some research on Hip FAI (femoral acetabular impingement) or hip impingement.

The Research

After much research on Hip FAI (femoral acetabular impingement), I was hoping to bring you conclusive data on how yoga could cause or help hip impingement, however, the current research on yoga specifically is minimal and mostly all over the place. It is commonly agreed that range of motion and proper strength training can help prevent hip impingement. It is also commonly agreed that many athletic sports could be the cause of it, as well as childhood development of the bones and joints. There is however an interesting study that showed increased impingement and stress on the hip joint in dancers when performing specific dance positions which include external rotation and posterior titled pelvis. The research doesn’t mention these specific structural alignments, however, being the husband of a dancer raised on ballet I was able to confirm my suspicion about these pelvis and femur bone alignments. In ballet you are asked to keep the low back long which is a posterior tilt of the pelvis – often cued as “tuck your tail” in yoga classes. One pose in the research article stood out to me: développé à la seconde, which is essentially standing triangle pose or Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana B. The photo of my good friend Beau Campbell (@theyogarina) to the right (below on mobile) shows the posture in the study. Food for thought: If this posture is creating compression at the hip, what happens when you add the weight of gravity as we do in triangle pose. 

What is Hip Impingement 

Hip impingement is the result of increased friction or damage of the soft tissue that makes up the hip joint. The hip joint is where the thigh bone and pelvis connect. It is a ball and socket joint – the head of the femur (thigh bone) is a round “ball” and the pelvis has a “socket” that receives it. There are soft tissues that cover and surround the bones so that the joint becomes slippery and smooth. Articular cartilage covers the two bones, and the labrum is like a gasket that forms a tight seal around the joint. When these soft tissues become inflamed, irritated, or damaged it is referred to as hip impingement. Some Hip impingements are the result of the way our bones were formed growing up, and others could be the result of repetitive high impact exercises or sports. A healthy hip joint is one where there is no wear and tear of the soft tissues.

Are there other hip injuries?

Hip impingement is not the only kind of injury around the hip area. The hip is surrounded by ligaments, muscles, fascia, and nerves that can all become injured due to stress, strain, or structural miss-alignments. Just because you have hip pain does not mean you have an impinged hip. We are also coming to realize that not all physical pain exists in the body, but can also be stemming from mental or emotional trauma. What should you do if you have hip pain? Don’t freak out- see a specialist to assess where the pain is stemming from so you can take proper action to support your health. It could be a pulled muscle, or as simple as a muscle that is hyperactive and causing a myriad of issues. Physical therapy, Acupuncture, and Massage are all great healing modalities to try.

Dance With The Flames

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4 Steps TO ENTER TRIANGLE POSE 

 

Step 1 - Internal rotation

Rotate the back foot, thigh bone, and pelvis inward toward the front leg. No need to overdo this like you would when trying to square the hips in a lunge pose. How much to turn in will depend on you and your structure so go slow and try various angles and observe what you feel. This will increase the amount of possible joint mobility, but tight hamstrings might still inhibit the range of motion.

Step 3: Glute Activation

From your front buttocks press down into your heel until you feel your pelvis starts to open back toward the sky (the opposite of step 1). Ideally, activating both gluteus Maximus and gluteus medius/minimus as you do so. This likely will all happen when you press down, but if your pelvis doesn’t rotate open and your outer hips don’t engage, try pressing your inner heel down and outward.

Step 2: bow at the pelvis

Flex (or bow) at the hip joint to bring your front hand to the block or the ground I personally avoid asking students to go to the shin as not to put more downward pressure into the front knee. Personally, I come to fingertips as it’s a bit easier than full palm and still grounded.  Press down into your hand for support and activation of your deep core – psoas muscles.

Step 4: Counter Action

Similar to step 1, we are trying to rotate the thigh and hip inward again, however, the major difference is that in step 4 it is simply an activation of the muscles, not an actual movement of the bones. Counteraction creates stability and also helps to prevent going too deep into the end range of motion which could bring you right back to impingement or just an overstretch of the adductors.

Facilitated Stretching

Increases your range of motion while maintaining muscle integrity. Facilitated stretching is the activation or engagement of the muscles that are stretching. Activating the muscle while stretching causes the Golgi tendon organ to send a signal to the spinal column, and the spinal column speaks back, telling the muscles to relax.

The Adductors

The muscles along the inner thigh are referred to as the adductor group, and typically serve to bring the thigh bones toward the midline of the body, but they can also internally rotate the thighbones, extend them backward like the hamstrings (adductor magnus) and even externally rotate when in deep extension. The adductors also help to stabilize the pelvis.

The Adductors

The muscles along the inner thigh are referred to as the adductor group, and typically serve to bring the thigh bones toward the midline of the body, but they can also internally rotate the thighbones, extend them backward like the hamstrings (adductor magnus) and even externally rotate when in deep extension. The adductors also help to stabilize the pelvis.

Practicing Triangle

Is triangle a high-risk posture? Probably not on my list of postures to avoid, but depending on your body and how you approach it, it may have massive benefits or setbacks. The steps I have provided for you have helped me feel better in my triangle pose, and many students have felt the same. This doesn’t mean it will be best for you, so proceed with presence, observe what you feel as you practice, and go slow enough to be able to make choices. There are many more potential options of how to isometrically activate your muscles in postures like triangle. Should you want to learn more please check out the Hips: Rock Em and Unlock Em workshop below.  Leave a comment if this post has been helpful or if you have questions or requests for future posts.

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find your seat

3 BEST SEATED MEDITATION POSTURES

Find Your Seat: 3 Ways to Sit without Knee, Hip or Back Pain!

Find Your Seat

Let’s go over the 3 best seated meditation postures and find out which one is right for you. The deep benefits of seated meditation are well known to have been experienced by many. On the other hand, people around the world find the practice to be inaccessible because they can’t sit comfortably for more than a minute. This is true for me, even to this day! No matter how open my hips are, or how strong my core and back are, if I try and sit on the ground for an extended period of time one of my legs will fall asleep or I will at the least just be uncomfortable. If you have the same experience, you will find these particular postures to be very supportive!

THE CHALLENGES

Why is it challenging to sit? There are a host of reasons why we might find it difficult to sit on the ground – perhaps primarily because we just don’t do it. Sitting in a chair does not allow our hips to go through their full range of motion each day and as a result, our back and hip flexors don’t develop the strength needed to keep us upright. Yoga can serve as an amazing practice to redevelop the capacity to sit more efficiently although it won’t happen overnight – which is why it’s necessary to check out the 3 postures in the video and photos below, so you can sit comfortably on the ground while you are working on the long term hip-opening journey.

Trying to re-pattern our body takes repetitive practice. As with any other skill, you can only learn from doing it. That is why I created a 12 class immersion to help you feel better, sit better, and establish a meditation practice. MOVE•BREATHE•RELEASE helps you increase flexibility of the hips, strengthen your back muscles for better posture, teach you breathwork techniques, and gives you the tools for mental and emotional clarity and freedom. Meditation requires guidance just like yoga, and I guide you in all 12 classes so you feel safe, confident, and inspired with each practice.

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Is Meditation Calming?

When Most people begin a meditation practice they expect it to have the results that everyone preaches; calm mind, relaxing, stress reducing. While some people do experience these results right away, others may experience the opposite. In weight lifting you must build a foundation of strength before you can move on to heavy compound movements, and establishing this foundation can at times be challenging and discouraging. Meditation is very much the same, the practice of it might feel like you are lifting heavy weights for your mind and as a result, you might initially only experience the challenge of it. With repetition, your mind will get stronger. You will be able to focus longer and the results will come faster!

On top of it, if you are physically uncomfortable when practicing meditation you are not likely to magically walk away feeling calmer. This is why it’s important to find a seat by selecting from one of the 3 best seated meditation postures.

VIDEO TO FIND YOUR SEAT

CHOOSE FROM THE 3 BEST SEATED MEDITATION POSTURES

Assess your hips

Each of us has our own movement patterns which cause some muscles to be stronger, some weaker, some are tight, some are not, etc. We also have different bone structures that will make some positions easier than others. Finding a comfortable seat is one of the most important aspects of a seated meditation posture. If you are uncomfortable, it is very hard to move the mind beyond the discomfort of the body. This is why I have provided three options for seated meditation postures. Go through each and ask yourself which one is most sustainable. Keep in mind there is no perfect seated posture for meditation, there is only the best one for you and that is the one you feel most comfortable in and that also allows you to stay awake and present.

“3 Best Seated Meditation Postures” Detailed Break Down

best seated meditation posture

Option 1 - Bhadrasana (Hero's Pose)

My personal favorite seated posture for those who have tighter outer hips and inner thighs as it requires little flexibility in these areas. It presents a challenge for those with tight quads and shin muscles. Using blankets and blocks can help alleviate these challenges. I would suggest warming up and stretching the thighs and ankles prior to working on this posture. In the above video, I go over a twisted thigh stretch and a seated posture on heels. If these postures prove to be too challenging after a warm-up, then this posture is likely to cause discomfort during a seated meditation.

best cross legged seated meditation posture

Option 2: Cross Legged

Sukhasana, the so-called “easy seat” – an ironic title, as it can be incredibly misleading. For those with open inner thighs, hip flexors, and outer hips this can be an easy posture indeed, but if that is not the case for you then you’ll definitely want to use props. Using the right amount of blankets and block support can make this posture easier and more accessible.

seated meditation posture on chair with props

Option 3: On Chair with Blocks

In the video I show a seated option call sidasana, however, I wanted to offer one other one here. Sitting in a chair can seem like cheating, as it can be incredibly easy to get too relaxed in it. Here you will notice how I prepare the chair with blocks and a blanket and I sit on the edge of the seat so that I still used my back and hip flexors to keep me upright. Some level of muscle engagement is important to stay awake and present when meditating.

MOVE•BREATHE•RELEASE

12 Class Package for Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation

  • Breathe better with pranayama “breathwork” exercises
  • Release Hip Tension with asana practice
  • Increase Flexibility & Strength
  • Increase Focus and Clarity
  • Decrease Stress
  • Unwind physical & Emotional Tension
  • Move more freely
  • Release low back tension through hip opening
  • 12 All Levels Live Asana Classes
  • Lifetime Unlimited Access to All  

How to Start Meditation

The best way to practice meditation, like anything else, is to have guidance. When I was younger, I struggled for years to meditate without the support of a teacher and mostly I became frustrated and lost in my thoughts. When I stumbled upon my teacher “Rudrani” she helped provide me with the tools and guidance to make meditation accessible and enjoyable. This is why I created the MOVE•BREATHE•RELEASE  to share with you the techniques that produce the intended results that so many talk about; peace of mind, inner freedom, focus, mental clarity, joy, equanimity, balance, etc.

From Body to Mind

One thing I noticed early on in my meditation practice was the discomfort of my body. I couldn’t focus my mind on anything when I was seated because I was distracted by my back, my knee, my neck, and so on. This realization led me to the physical practice of yoga. Through the yoga practice, I gained a heightened sense of awareness of my body. At first, this was almost a curse because I could feel everything – including my discomfort! Over time and practice, I gained a bit of mastery in my body, in that I could feel the discomfort and choose postures to better accommodate myself and release it. I suggest you choose from one of the 3 best seated meditation postures above and use it for now as your “go-to pose”. I also recommend you get to know the other two poses as well because you will find that on some days your “go-to” is just not the appropriate one for you.

The seated meditation practice became so much more enjoyable for me when I could extend my attention beyond the physical, knowing that I wasn’t causing damage by forcing myself to sit through knee or back pain. While I do believe that some pain in the body can be a result of mental projection, I also know firsthand that placing love and attention on the body can support the health of the mind.  There really isn’t a divide between brain and body – the mind is a collective of all our physical and emotional experiences. For sound mental health to be our primary state of being we must get to know ourselves on all levels and develop our awareness.

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Avoid Hamstring Tendonitis “Yoga Butt”

YOGA STRETCH FOR HAMSTRINGS

HAMSTRING TENDONITIS:

AVOID HAMSTRING PAIN “YOGA BUTT”

HAMSTRINGS

A Different Approach To Stretching The Hamstrings

Stretching the hamstrings provides many benefits – including my personal favorite, low back relief! In the pursuit of flexibility, many of us accidentally go too far in our practice. It can be challenging to gauge where our limits are, and sometimes we reach them. Rather than feeling frustrated or ashamed about hurting yourself in yoga, just direct your attention to healing and maintaining health. In my early years as a yogi, I tore my hamstring attachment near the sit bone and with some diligence healed it up pretty quickly. However, I didn’t quite learn how to practice in a way that would maintain its integrity and as a result, I tore it once again. After my second tear I finally decided to find another way. In this video, I go over the techniques I use to maintain hamstring integrity at the sit bone attachment point (just under the gluteus Maximus, buttocks muscles). The idea is to become aware of the fact that most of us use gravity to stretch because quite simply it is easier to completely let go and not put in any effort. First I want to make the point that there is nothing wrong with passive stretching, and allowing gravity do the work for you. However, it is important to understand that the movement patterns in your body will only become stronger – whether they’re good or bad. Whenever you let your body do what it wants to do it will always default to patterns. Same is true with the mind, which is why meditation is such a powerful practice in re-wiring the patterns of our mind. Normally a thought arises and we react, neurons fire in a predetermined pattern, and this elicits a response in either a sequence of thoughts or actions. For example, someone in the middle of a city street raises their hand, your mind probably thinks “oh they are looking for a taxi.” This is how the mind holds patterns. The body holds patterns in the exact same way. If we simply stretch without activating muscles, we will perpetuate our patterns. If our patterns serve us then this is absolutely OK, but if they do not, then we could easily cause injury.

Facilitated Stretching For the Hamstrings

The approach I like for the majority of my practice is active engagement. This means finding the muscles that tend to be asleep and weak and activating them. This also includes something called facilitated stretching. This refers to the process of activating the muscle or muscle group that is stretching. So in the case of a forward fold where the hamstrings are stretching, a facilitated stretch would involve activating the hamstrings. This is not an easy task. Most of us are only familiar with activating a muscle in order to create movement, but what if we activate the muscles and do not move?  The benefit of this approach is that you do not have to sacrifice your flexibility while you re-pattern your body’s responses. Most people actually find a major increase of range of motion when using the facilitated stretch technique, because it “tricks” the muscle into a deep relaxation effect when you release the engagement – this is also known as PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). For most people, this method is safer and more effective. The one thing to be mindful of is the amount of muscle activation you use. I suggest 15-30% engagement of the muscle that is stretching. If you engage muscles too strongly in a lengthened position you could transmit too much force to the joints, or run the risk of injuring parts of the muscle. Rather than intellectualizing what a facilitated stretch is, try practicing along with this video. If you are interested in practicing in this way, I highly recommend the workshop “Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em” as it is packed with this approach to flexibility. For a more in-depth study, check out the 12 class package called “The Breakthrough“.

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Reciprocal Inhibition

When the muscle group on one side of the joint contracts, the opposing muscle group will relax. This happens naturally, but can be used as a technique for stretching.

 
beginner yoga hamstring stretch

Step 1 - Align Thigh Bones

Align the femur bones so they are vertical. There are many reasons for this. One reason is that the head of the femur (thigh bone) is most congruent in this position, meaning it has the most amount of space for the range of motion to occur. The other reason I do this is to put weight in the hands so that the leg muscles aren’t involuntarily engaging – kind of like starting from a blank canvas. Put more weight in your hands and you can bypass a lot of holding patterns that might exist. Lastly, by leaning forward two things will happen: you will lengthen the calf muscles, and later on when you place the hands on the ground, your calves will activate in order to stop you from falling forward. This becomes a facilitated stretch for the calves without you having to even think about it.

hamstring stretch with low back strength for chair yoga

Step 3: Lift Sit Bone

Lifting the sit bones requires two muscle groups to activate; hip flexors and low back muscles. The low back muscles (Q.L, the Erector group)  will arch the lumbar spine (low back) and pull the pelvis into anterior tilt (forward fold) which will lengthen the hamstrings upward away from where they attach at the back of the knees. The hip flexors will do the same with the added benefit of reciprocal inhibition (relaxing the hamstrings). This step, with hands on the chair, is what stretches the hamstrings without gravity. It is important to understand that you have a responsibility to observe the level of stretch sensation in the hamstrings while you do this. If your low back and hip flexors are strong you may overpower the hamstrings and cause an overstretch. For this reason, it is beneficial to only go about 60% of the way into the stretch sensation.

hamstring stretch with internal rotation of hips

Step 2: Internal Rotation

Pressing the backs of the legs apart will initiate internal rotation of the thigh bones. When moving into a forward fold, if the objective is to lengthen the hamstrings, it is incredibly helpful to rotate the thigh bones inward because it initiates the tip of the pelvis forward (anterior tilt). With this cue, the typical muscles that activate are the abductor group (gluteus medium, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia lattae, aka T.F.L). Activating the T.F.L, in particular, is helpful because it is also a hip flexor and internal rotator. Activating the hip flexors and internal rotator reciprocally inhibits the external rotators of the buttocks. Reciprocal Inhibition simply means when you activate a muscle group, the opposing muscle group relaxes and lengthens – this is the opposite concept of facilitated stretching.

chair yoga hamstring stretch

Step 4: Facilitated Stretch

Lastly, to maintain the integrity of the hamstrings we will want to activate them. The ability to engage a muscle regardless of the depth of stretch or length of the muscle is one way to determine the health of the muscle. If you simply work on flexibility but the muscle loses its ability to contract along the way, you run the risk of acute injury or chronic pain. The body is a system, which means that a loss of hamstring integrity could show up as chronic pain in the sacrum, low back, or even neck. Quite often in modern yoga, there is an emphasis on lengthening the hamstrings, and not much on strengthening them, this approach supports both and is why I practice this way and why I teach this method to flexibility. The action I call for in step 4 is to isometrically tuck your tailbone. That means to try to press the sit bones down toward the heels in order to activate the muscles, but maintain the structural alignment of the pelvis (anterior tilt)

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Many Methods

 

I personally have seen the massive benefits of facilitated stretching, as well as reciprocal inhibition in my practice and in my students over the last 10+ years. However, there are times where I find passive stretching or even holistic stretching (bouncing) to be more appropriate. Use this approach as one of many tools for yourself, learn it well, and observe the benefits and drawbacks, then you will be able to decide when it is appropriate for you and when it is best to go another way. If you have questions or something to share, please feel free to comment at the bottom of the page. Please share this post if you found it useful, and for a full practice using this approach, check out Hips: Rock and Unlock ‘Em

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  • SHOULDER & NEXT RELEASE
  • SHOULDER BIOMECHANICS
  • BALANCED STRENGTH
  • INCREASE RANGE OF MOTION
  • 12 ALL LEVELS CLASSES

$298.00 $128.00

BIRDS OF PARADISE

  • FLEXIBILITY OF INNER THIGHS
  • 4 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
  • LIVETIME ACCCESS TO ALL
  • LEADS TO BIRDS OF PARADISE 
  • COMPARTMENTS OF THE MIND 

$298.00 $128.00 

BEST STARTER PACKAGE

  • 6 YOGA CLASSES
  • 2 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
  • LIVETIME ACCCESS TO ALL
  • 6 PEAK POSTURES
  • 6 YOGA SUTRA THEMES

$148.00 $78.00

back health online yoga classes

THE SPINAL RESET

  • BACK & SIDE BENDS
  • TWISTS AND FORWARD FOLDS
  • SPINAL BIOMECHANICS
  • 4 POST CLASS MEDITATIONS
  • 12 ALL LEVELS CLASSES

$298.00 $128.00

JOURNEY TO BLISS

  • PHYSICAL MEETS SPIRITUAL
  • EXPLORE THE KOSHAS
  • MIND BODY TENSION RELEASE
  • 4 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
  • 12 ALL LEVELS YOGA CLASSES

$198.00 $118.00

BACK, NECK & SHOULDERS

  • 12 YOGA CLASSES
  • 4 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
  • LIVETIME ACCCESS TO ALL
  • 12 PEAK POSTURES
  • 12 YOGA SUTRA THEMES

$178.00 $128.00

October Livestream Yoga Classes

THE BREAKTHROUGH

  • HIP OPENERS
  • HIP BIOMECHANICS
  • EMPHASIS ON ARM BALANCES
  • 4 POST CLASS MEDITATIONS
  • 12 ALL LEVELS CLASSES 

$298.00 $128.00

JOURNEY TO THE HEART

  • FULL BODY RESET
  • INCREASE BALANCE
  • ARM BALANCES
  • 4 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
  • ELEMENTALLY THEMED

$298.00 $118.00

KING PIGEON & HANUMAN

  • FLEXIBILITY OF HIPS
  • SHOULDER & SPINE MOBILITY
  • 4 GUIDED MEDITATIONS
  • 12 INTERMEDIATE CLASSES
  • HAMSTRINGS RANGE OF MOTION

$198.00 $128.00 

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