Pigeon is a yoga pose we all love to hate. Its dynamics are intense and liberating at the same time.
Pigeon can aid in a laundry list of issues and symptoms, but for many, pigeon is a pose that we often just flop into with no real direction or understanding of how we should position our body and why.
Pigeon is about unlocking our deepest fears, traumas and anxieties, a pose that releases the pressures put on our lower two chakras.
These lower two chakras, the root and the sacral; house our relationships with ourselves and our relationship between you and me (one on one).
It’s our grounding potential: our needs for survival, intimacy, trust and stability reside here.
Furthermore, it's been my observation that we're a society in dire need of grounding, releasing and developing trust. Moreover, it will be difficult to trust others if you don't trust yourself.
Having spent most of my life in recovery, I never really understood what that meant until I myself realized that I did not trust myself, honor myself and (to be blunt) like or love myself in any shape or form.
The anxiety I'd feel in pigeon was the same anxiety I was feeling in life, in those tight uncomfortable situations, and as I practiced and journeyed down the road of recovery I began to notice a huge parallel in the two experiences.
To me a big part of yoga is allowing yourself to feel, and what I mean is not just coming into class, flying around your mat for 75 minutes and then laying down and calling it a day.
Feeling on your mat means that yes you get in touch with your emotions, but also feeling in your body what is actually going on both on a physical level and an internal level. As we better understand what a pose is trying to offer us we can then better appreciate the need for it and maybe even sustain a longer period of time in the pose.
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Sit ups are a sure fire way to damage your back, neck and hip flexors. Remember the Physical Fitness tests in school, who can throw themselves up and down on a wrestling mat the most in 60 seconds is in shape. WHAT? Who in the world is coming up with these tests? No wonder as adults we are throwing ourselves all over the room thinking and feeling like we are getting our bodies in shape. If you never do another single sit-up in your life you will be better off. So what if you could engage in a exercise that would turn on more core power in less time and guess what, less effort? When I teach classes of any sort and especially core based classes most new-Be's feel the urgency to go fast and go really what they would call deep in the hopes of getting a better workout. And I am pretty sure I have pissed a few students off from time to time because I hold them back. And it's not the kind of holding back you are probably thinking, but rather the kind of holding back that will actually require more core power and more control.
As a teacher I see this often, other teachers and students trying to replicate moves they have seen in a magazine or others do in a class or at home. The only problem is they don't really know what they are doing, what they should be using and how to activate deep core muscle.
So today all you need is a small ball, or what some call a mini ball and take your time, go slow and focus more on stability than mobility. Think baby steps. A child will never learn to walk before he or she learns to stand and so on.
- Find neutral (refer to my you tube channel for a walk through on neutral) with the ball behind the sacrum and the spine long above.
- Step your feel sit bones with apart, if necessary place a block or extra ball between the knees for more pelvic floor integration and leg control.
- Exhale and slightly kiss the sacrum into the small ball without rounding the spine. Think about a hula dancer they can move their hips without moving their torso.
- With that kiss activate your pelvic floor muscles which will allow your pelvis to refrain from overly tilting when you go back and also assist your groin from taking over.
- Either place your hands gently at your knees or up at shoulder height.
- Inhale; begin to extend your body back without rounding and with out tilting your pelvis forward.
- Come to 45°, were the hip flexors are not straining and the body feels a slight earth quake shake. Remember to activate the pelvic floor region.
- Exhale and return back to an upright seated position. Be sure not to pull forward with the arms, but rather pull up through the top of the head and imagine a little hand in your core floating up.
- Repeat this 8-10 times, only as many as you can be the most effective.
- Don’t arch your lower back
- Adjust arm positions to support the neck or try arms crossed holding opposite elbows.
- It is not about speed or how many reps, this type of core work is about control and stability.
- Watch that your not resting on the ball, think trying to be in front of the ball when you move.
- Make an effort to minimally breathe into the belly and maximize breathing into the side body and ribs.
Our obliques are an important muscle(s), they are a vital part of our core and torso. We have two obliques, an internal oblique and an external oblique, and when combine with the transversus abdominus, create a great support system for the spine and entire body. When strengthening this part of the torso it is important to keep the muscles long and strong, as restriction can lead to a slew of issues such as hip, back and shoulder pain. Enjoy this 30 minute video of stretch and strengthen.
The need to want to work our core is ever present, and the misunderstanding that comes with that is greater that we realize. Our standard fitness tests in schools elude us to believe that speed and getting it done at all cost is the equivalent to a healthy body. Remember the sit-up test? Now I look back and I'm pretty sure that those sit-ups I was doing, while being held down by my partner had nothing to do with my core. Heck my gym teachers never even mentioned where my core was or what it was. I'm starting to wonder if they even knew. And then we take that mind set into our adult lives and retrain ourselves into this belief system, an uneducated one but none the less the mindset of no pain no gain, core work should involve flailing appendages and possibly even holding our breath at any one given point.
My approach to core work is slightly different where educating the student in what they are doing, why they are doing it and how to know if they are effective is the fore runners in how to approach the movement. Core work should not have to kill you and feeling something working can be as much as a good experience as it is a challenging one. So as you join me with Small Ball Heel Taps and keep in mind the pace, speed, and depth you drop your heel in this movement has nothing to do with it's effectiveness, it is all about stability before mobility then the progression of the movement.
- Begin by placing the small ball underneath the sacrum (it feels like the flat plate behind your pants).
- Find neutral pelvis and relax the rib cage for more torso support and a neutral spinal zone.(Neutral pelvis is ASIS [bony knobs on the front of the pelvis] laying parallel with the pubis bone to the ceiling).
- Inhale and feel the body on the ball.
- Exhale and activate the pelvic floor region, feeling the muscles of the pelvic floor draw inward and slightly towards the pubis bone (anal sphincter contracts forward), then begin to lift both legs off the floor without losing the neutral zone.
- Flex the feet and steady the legs together.
- Pause for a few breaths and find stability on the small ball.
- Adjusting the arms as necessary either arms long palms face in, bend the elbows (robot arms) or extend the arms to the sky relax the shoulders down into the floor.
- Reduce belly breathing and maximize side body breathing to more effectively use the lower core.
- Inhale; lower one heel towards the floor only as close as you can remain steady.
- Exhale and lift the heel back to center, all the while keeping the non-moving leg steady and still.
- Repeat one leg five to ten times, and then move to the other leg, resting in between as necessary.
- There after go back to the weaker side and repeat the process again, applying the 2:1 ratio to the practice.
- Further is not better, if the body cannot maintain a steady position the distance is too large.
- Do not let the back arch off the ball, floor or foam roller (which ever you are choosing to use), it is important to learn neutral before we take our bodies elsewhere.
- Choose an arm position that offers support, but is not gripping.
- Keep the shoulders relaxed, and use a head support if the eye line is directed above your forehead.
- Try this off the ball on the floor, work to keep in neutral zone, or try this with a foam roller.
Bracing is a concept that trumps "navel to spine". Sucking in the belly does not create stability and a stronger core. Join Hope for a quick "how to" to better understand your local layer of the core and the concept of bracing or co-contracting the core.
Now activate your core is a phrase you're likely to hear in any fitness class, yoga included. But I wonder, what does that mean? And does the instructor even know what that means?
It's been my experience teaching both students and teachers from all over the country that most people assume they're using the core, assume they know where the core is and assume the cues they are using are helping more than hurting.
To be able to cue the core, one needs to understand why it’s so important.
Everything is an extension of the core, and every muscle above and below eventually feeds into the core (or more specifically the pelvic floor). Muscles in the body are not separate, but connected, one turning into the next.
Our body consists of layers, and our core is no different. These layers help us better understand the concept of the core being the Motherboard for all movement. And if one does not know where the Motherboard of any device is, then how will you ever be able to tweak it to operate better?
Every person needs to begin at what I know as the Local Layer. This is the permission layer, the layer of the core in which we stabilize before we mobilize. Sadly, even in core-focused classes, this is often ignored because it's difficult to locate, awaken and continually keep awake. It can take many sessions before someone feels confident they are using the proper muscles.
It's important to remember that the body is an amazing piece of machinery unlike any other; if one body part can’t do what you are asking it, and then another body part will step up and try to do it for us. The problem with this is that it gives us a false idea that we are properly performing the movement.
So this local layer consists of the transversus abdominus (which is a hoop-like muscle), multifidus, diaphragm and the pelvic floor, consisting of the perineum, anal sphincter, and area surrounding the urethura (to simplify things). This is our permission layer, our layer of stability, and I’d like to focus here.
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We all love Plank, or at least love to hate it. Almost all yoga or fitness classes incorporate Plank, and for many it is a way for them to feel like they are toughening up the degree of the class. Now sadly, Plank for many is practiced improperly, meaning most are just using the arms to do the job of the core and legs. For many Plank feels like they are slowly dying, low back pinching and arms burning. By breaking up the Plank into three segments of the body, one can more fully experience the positives of Plank as it should be. A pose beginning at the core of the body.
As discussed in this short video clip you will be taken through the following:
- One Part Legs
- One Part Pelvic Floor/Core
- One Part Arms
Our obliques are a great support and a mover in our core region, not to mention a wonderful way to keep our digestion and elimination working smoothly in our bodies. Our obliques are needed for improved postural support, better support of the lower back helping ward off pain and not to mention help give you the great figure you have been dreaming about. This is often the body that is a source of frustration, for women especially. I have designed a great mini series of oblique focused movements to give you a wonderful combination of stretch and strengthen, and incorporating the 2:1 ratio will ensure that your body truly finds balance.
1. Performing sit-ups will increase back health. In all reality there is very minimal research and true testimony to support this concept. The quality of actual core development you receive during core work on your back with full flexion of the lumbar spine in combination with excessive and repetitive disc stresses; this can in fact lead to lumbar damage in most people. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health states that repeatedly compressing the spine to levels higher than the NIOSH standards in a repeat fashion has been shown to increase the risk of low back disorders (Axler and McGill 1997).
2. Strengthening your back will aid in protecting your back from injury. You would think this to be true and many use this catch phrase to assure people that what they are teaching is helpful rather than hurtful. But it is important to understand that muscles work as a team and just because you are strengthening your back does not take into account that you won’t throw it out again or that your chances of injury will be lessened. Your back is a part of your unique core circuit and when I care for my own body and other people’s bodies, I try to make it a point to help people understand that they body should not be segmented into tiny little muscles or controlled areas, but rather seen as a unit. Think of back care as full body care. Many of times the need for back care is really an issue with the hip flexors, or sacrum, hamstrings, even the arches of the feet.
3. Stop crunching your vertebrae. And I mean exactly that. As a yoga teacher and educator in core health, I have seen huge success and head way for those who change their approach to back bending. Most of us lean back and call it a back bend, only to leave the back, particularly the lower lumbar and sacrum to suffer. Now that suffering may not be felt today or even in the next year, but that build up of negative compression over time will eventually lead to an unexpected pain or injury. Utilizing your pelvic floor and leading with your pelvis can allow you to feel a more complete spinal opening and also receive release in the groin, an area we have muscles attaching in and locating their opposite ends at our lower back and ribs. So stand up, find neutral, activate your pelvic floor and torso circuit and inhale raise your arms and leading with your pelvis lean back. Let your spine, neck and head follow in the action of the pelvis rather than the neck and head flailing back as a means to go deeper.
4. Strength and stretch simultaneously. When you work with back care do you find you have separate moves for strengthening and separate moves for stretching? If so, why? What if every pose was its own counter pose, what if what you were doing was able to work the entire body and the back reaps the benefits.
5. Our back muscles cover our kidneys which is an area all about detoxifying and letting go. You can do all the physical exercise you want, but sometimes the physical ailments you are feeling are of something much deeper. Look at your person body, mind and spirit. When I work with students one-on-one or in a group, I am constantly reminding them that their life and issues are not separate of their physical bodies. Our bodies are like a filing cabinet, and if they have not been emptied out in thirty years, well then, I think you get the idea.
6. Finally, in the end how you care for your back is really a mental change even more than a physical one. We as a society (this is just a generalization, not everyone) have a: give it to me now, quick fix attitude. And that attitude will reflect in our bodies’ responses to healing. If you want to improve flexibility, strength, or heal an injury, we need to start understanding and addressing that those things take time, both as the student and as the teacher to develop and maintain. A little goes a long way. Be detailed in what you are teaching and ask questions as a student. Just getting the movement done is not enough and just because something is hard or you are moving quickly doesn’t mean it’s healthy. So if your back could talk what would it say to you today?
What if core work could be fun? What if core work could be effortless.... Well effortless in that in a split second your body turns on like a wild fire and you are reaping the benefits of killer abs in just one minute flat. And best yet, you are able in that minute to locate areas like your obliques, transversus abdominus, back muscles, and rectus abdominus.
Teaming up for workout is often thought of as the buddy system, only that usually means you do your thing and I'll do mine and then we go our separate ways. Well not in this case, in Core Functional Fitness it is important to address wellness as a whole unit, that being said the need to interact with others is part of that wellness. When was the last time you worked with your neighbor in yoga, that you laughed in class, oh and all at the same time fired up your core like no other?
In just three minutes flat you can work your middle and feel great.
- Locate two mini balls (available at hopezvara.com store).
- Partner one sit down and snugly place one mini ball behind your sacrum.
- Once the ball is placed properly, sitting tall, exhale and mindfully tilt just the pelvis so that the sacrum is kissing the mini ball and activate the pelvic floor (view past posts for a how to).
- Inhale and recline the spine, keeping neutral back to 45 degrees.
- Finally extend your arms up either to shoulder height or slightly higher.
- Partner two stand above partner one and step back with one foot for stable balance.
- Place a mini ball between you and your partners hands and you too brace your core.
- Partner one work to keep your legs, hips and torso still and steady, using all the muscles of your middle to help you do that.
For the next 30 seconds to minute Partner two (standing) direct the ball up and down, right and left, in circles all the while adding resistance to each other.
What partner one (and partner two for that matter) should notice is the entire core region of the body firing, when the ball moves left you feel your left obliques, the ball moves down you notice your lower belly and back. Remember to stay stable and remember that both partners need to resist each other against the ball.
Now switch and see how you both do when you switch roles.
P.S. Personal Trainers this is a wonderful way to get some quick core work in with your clients and make it educational at the same time, helping them locate vital muscles, plus when students learn to use their own bodies versus machines first, the body and mind develop an important relationship that would not otherwise be developed.