Monthly Archives: December 2013

Off The Mat Yoga and Smartphones!

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Recently, I read a British article called “Do you suffer from IPosture” which you can read in the following link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2439365
It was found that 84% of 18 to 24-years-olds have admitted to suffering back pain in the last 12 months – perhaps because they were spending a large amount of time hunching over tablets and smartphones. Besides, this age group now loses more working days a year to back pain than those in their parents’ generation. Also, half of the population experience pain in the neck or lower back every year.

Are you in this age group? Do you go to the yoga class in the hope to get some relief?
Or do these issues actually keep you away from yoga?

Yoga is a good start for these neck and back pain because stretching tight muscles can be very helpful provided you do not force your stretch excessively. Of course, it also feels awfully good. The question is: what do you actually integrate from your yoga class and what is it you forget as soon as you leave the yoga studio? It seems to me that increased flexibility and strength are definitely yoga benefits that can drive you back to your class because you can feel the difference in your everyday life. However, could there be something missing in your practice? What could account for the difference in how aligned you look on the yoga mat and how it all melts away when you grab that smartphone or when you find yourself in front of a screen, be it the computer or the TV?

Can you give me a specific example?
Ok. For instance, when doing your eagle pose, your head neck and torso are aligned and your arms are bent at the elbows, hands pointing up. Then your class over, you go to the changing room and grab your smartphone to check your messages. Before you know it, do you find yourself with  your neck extended forward as your eyes face your smartphone which is itself parallel to the ground? Head neck and torso no longer are in alignment and the forward extension past your chest of both your neck and head are pulling your shoulders forward and down as well. Does that sound familiar? Look at the pictures below.

I PostureAligned ViewingI PhotoAligned Viewing

Why is alignment present on the mat and so difficult to remember off the mat?
First, you are mindful of your postural balance when in your yoga class in a way you are not outside of it. Still, you should not have to think about your postural balance all the time. So mindfulness is only part of the solution. The other part is to have a deeper understanding of movement, an understanding that includes the awareness of your postural reflexes and how to activate them. Without letting your postural reflexes do their job, you are using too much muscular tension to control your yoga pose. As a result, you cannot sustain it for very long. As a matter of fact, you are building unnecessary muscle tension while you are trying to build strength. That excess tension interferes with  your postural muscles strength build-up. Your postural muscles are in charge of your postural balance and can do so for long periods of time. When interfered with however, they can no longer do their job. They become lazy and make you surrender to gravity as in reading the smartphone after the yoga class.

 Helpful tips
As shown on the pictures above, you can start by bringing your yoga awareness to your everyday activities. For instance, next time you grab that smartphone to read your messages, don’t sacrifice your head neck and torso alignment. Use your eagle pose as a model of how to bring the phone in front of your face instead of binging your head and neck down to the phone. When possible and if you are planning to use your phone for a while, have your elbows supported so that you don’t have to hold your arms. You could use the back of a chair if it is tall enough for your height. You could sit and lean forward so your elbow rest on your thighs close to the knees or above them depending on your body type. Once you know what you do not want to sacrifice, you will figure something out that works in your environment. And till you learn to activate your postural reflexes so you can release and expand into your inner space, make sure you use the least amount of effort to do what you do. Release body excess tension into your support without sacrificing your head neck torso alignment. You will be ahead of the game!

Coming next: Off the Mat Yoga and working at the computer!

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Part 2: What is Off The Mat Yoga?

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What is Off the Mat Yoga?
Off The Mat Yoga was created to help you get the best out of your yoga practice, to prevent injuries and to help you feel good in your movements on and off the yoga mat. It is also to guide you in using your yoga poses as a guide in your everyday movements whenever possible. Through basic yoga poses and other daily movements, you will be guided both verbally and with a gentle touch to trigger your own postural reflexes. They are responsible for your best postural balance and ease of movement and can help you perform your best yoga yet! Check the blog on postural reflexes for more info about what these reflexes are and what they can do for  you.

On The Mat Yoga and Off The Mat Yoga are the two sides of the same coin. The way you understand and perform movements in your everyday life affects how you understand and perform yoga poses and movements. The reverse is true as well, the benefits of your yoga practice can help you handle life movements differently. You may have focused on getting more flexible or strong. You may have focused on learning the proper form. You may have focused on practicing being in the present moment and all these benefits of yoga are why people do go to yoga classes. However, many people still get hurt doing yoga, including some teachers. Many shy away from yoga from fear of getting hurt. And this does not have to be so! Many of you may have already experience moments of yoga or daily movements where everything seems to work together effortlessly, only you don’t necessarily know how you got there and how to get back to it instantaneously. Learning how to trigger your postural reflexes is the way to get to that place of perfect integration.

Yoga injuries and other types of injuries often happen because you have not been told how to activate your postural reflexes. Even when your teacher says “do what is right for you”; you only know how to control the degree of tension you use. Instead you can learn to let your postural reflexes do their job of reorganizing your whole body so unnecessary tension can be released on demand instantaneously. Learning about postural reflexes activation outside of the yoga mat helps you develop greater awareness of your ways of being and moving when you are off the mat. This way, you won’t bring harmful unconscious habits of movement to your yoga mat and you’ll feel better more of the time!

The truth is that your yoga class is likely to be overcrowded and your teacher has neither the time nor the skill to help you in this way. She is there to teach you the form as best she can. There is often a discrepancy between what she asks you to do and how you interpret it in your body; besides, the fact is that she is not trained in this primitive understanding of the body functioning nor is it her responsibility to teach you how to use your body in cooperation with your postural reflexes on and off the mat.

Coming soon: Off The Mat Yoga & Smartphones?

Part 1: What are postural reflexes?

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What are postural reflexes? What do they do for you?
Postural reflexes are automatic movements that control the equilibrium required once you started walking and dealing with the gravity pull. They maintain your posture, balance and fluidity of movement effortlessly if there is no interference in the way.

What does that allow you to do while in your yoga class?
By activating your postural reflexes, it allows you to release through and expand into each pose in a way perfect to you in each moment. It also allows you to create modified versions of the poses you know not to attempt yet.

Don’t I do that when I try to be aware of my posture?
Not quite. There is posture and there is poise. Posture is something held, fixed and stopped in time that you can look at, like on a picture. However, poise is a sort of postural balance at work. And it is the job of the postural reflexes to maintain this postural balance as best as possible!

What is preventing my postural reflexes to do their job then?
Great question! Do you find yourself holding up into what you think is good posture and feel the urge to collapse in a flash if you let go of any holding?Did I hear you say “yes”? There is your answer; any amount of holding is preventing the postural muscles to do their job. No holding is necessary to be upright. We are so well designed in that way.

Have you ever thought that the unconscious way you handle movements in your everyday activities shows up in your yoga class? And could it be that although you do yourselves good when practicing yoga, yet you also strengthen unconscious habitual patterns that you take for granted everyday?

How can I learn not to do this holding and still be up?
Your golden key to all this is the ability to trigger your postural reflexes to stop overusing your muscles just to sit or stand upright! This way you can handle any activity or your daily yoga practice with confidence and know what is appropriate for you at any given moment. This way, you listen to yourselves rather than force your body to conform to a specific shape.

Coming soon “What is Off The Mat Yoga“?

Part 1: Why do you get hurt?

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Why do you go to yoga in the first place?
You want to feel good and take care of your body and mind, right?

Yet, do you not wonder why you or others, sometimes even teachers get hurt doing yoga?
That is what I want to blog about because there is a common way to get injured that can be prevented.

When you get hurt on or off the mat, is it because you pushed yourself too hard? Is it because you are not flexible enough? Or perhaps you start your routine too fast? Or maybe you think your body gets hurt easily?
Yes
, partly sometimes , but not only! You get hurt because no one told you how your body really works on a deep primitive level. When you understand that, your yoga improves and it flows into your everyday life as it is intended.

I have done Kripalu Yoga, known to be gentle as well as Baptiste Yoga even though I am no boot camp fan. I like the sweating part to get toxins out of my system and also I like to challenge myself in movements I don’t do every day. My body is not your typical yoga class slender body and I had to overcome lots before I took up yoga. In fact, I started to learn about body movement and poise by becoming an Alexander Technique teacher and then I inched my way into yoga by becoming a Thai Yoga Therapist. Finally, I just went for it and by then I did not have to worry about hurting myself or embarrassing myself if I could not do a specific pose because I knew how to activate my postural reflexes. Also I knew that  I needed the yoga teacher to learn the form, yet I did not have to depend on her to teach me how to use my body to execute the form, and in a crowded class, it is a plus. Postural activation is your best friend everywhere you use your body!

More coming on Postural Reflexes!