Adductors and Abductors

Once in while, but not often enough, I take notes when I do my morning asana practice. This morning I came up with a few things that I think would be helpful for all of us to keep in mind as we practice.

Mountain Pose is where I begin. But in addition to the standard pose, I’ve begun to work with the abductor and the adductor muscles to give the legs a stronger sense of both inward and outward grounding.

The abductor muscles of the legs are on the outside of the thighs, and as the word abduct implies, they pull the legs away from the center. This all begins on the floor at the grounded soles of the feet. Abductor engagement is achieved simply by pulling the knees apart in Mountain Pose. Immediately one feels the feet root into the floor and all the muscles on the outside of the legs contract.

Give this a try. As you do, I invite you to feel the muscles involved. The muscular ridge of the tibialis anterior on the outside of the tibia stands up and the rest of the calf muscles, thighs and even the gluteus muscles are strongly brought to bear in this pulling away action.

As you can tell, with a little practice abduction is a great way to strengthen not only the muscles directly involved, but to enlist the related joints, tendons and ligaments as well. Take a moment to check out the ankles, knees and hips and the connective tissues that hold them to the bones and muscles. Use your hands and feel what’s happening. (Of course, its’ best to do this alone when no one is watching. Perhaps even practice this nude in front of a mirror so you can see and feel what’s happening.)

Look at the tendons in the feet. Feel the ligament and tendon action in the ankles.

Needless to say there’s a lot going on with the simple act of abduction.

Conversely, there is an equal amount of action on the flip side of the anatomical coin in adduction. By grounding the feet and pulling the knees together we involve the muscles on the inside of the thighs.  Again, draw the knees together toward the body’s median line, note the muscles you feel; touch them and notice their tension. Explore their length and thickness. On the top and inside of the thighs there’s a big ligament that connects the femur to the pelvis—the inguinal ligament.

Remember the golden rules in yoga practice—sukha and sthira, or easy, pleasant and steady. Use these rules to explore the amount of exertion used in these two forces.

Consistent practice of adduction and abduction will strengthen your legs as the stable platform they should be for all your standing poses. You can experiment with these two forces as you practice the standing poses as well.

At the same time that I’m abducting and adducting the legs, I’m doing the same kind of isometric techniques with my hands and arms. Hook your fingers together and pull to engage the arms. Change your grip and repeat. Then place the hands in prayer position at the chest and push. Feel the pectoral muscles under the breasts spring into action. This tension supplies massage to the lymph nodes in the chest. You will get full arm engagement from fingers to shoulders and upper back with arm isometrics.

Also use eagle arms, reach over your back to clasp the opposite hand or do any kind of arm stretching or strengthening move you can think of. Or you can rest the arms if you wish.

Standing abduction and adduction is the best way to get total involvement of the legs. Seated weight machines that work these muscles don’t offer the all-engaging grounding that standing does. This leaves the feet, ankles and knees out of the equation. Running doesn’t really help to build these balance muscles either. A friend of mine who is an avid runner has very poor balance, which at his age puts him at risk for falling.

Embracing both aspects of Mountain Pose will serve you well in building strength and awareness as you practice. Adduction and abduction are also foundational practices for building bone density as you pursue mastery of the standing poses.

Remember to use your long, slow, full three-part diaphragmatic breath as you practice. This will help you turn each posture into a meditation on a stable body and a peaceful mind.

I wish you health and peace,

Tim

P.S. As always, I’d love to hear your adventures in yoga. Please drop me a line and let me know what the practice is doing for you.

 

 

 

 

Once in while, but not often enough, I take notes when I do my morning asana practice. This morning I came up with a few things that I think would be helpful for all of us to keep in mind as we practice.

Mountain Pose is where I begin. But in addition to the standard pose, I’ve begun to work with the abductor and the adductor muscles to give the legs a stronger sense of both inward and outward grounding.

The abductor muscles of the legs are on the outside of the thighs, and as the word abduct implies, they pull the legs away from the center. This all begins on the floor at the grounded soles of the feet. Abductor engagement is achieved simply by pulling the knees apart in Mountain Pose. Immediately one feels the feet root into the floor and all the muscles on the outside of the legs contract.

Give this a try. As you do, I invite you to feel the muscles involved. The muscular ridge of the tibialis anterior on the outside of the tibia stands up and the rest of the calf muscles, thighs and even the gluteus muscles are strongly brought to bear in this pulling away action.

As you can tell, with a little practice abduction is a great way to strengthen not only the muscles directly involved, but to enlist the related joints, tendons and ligaments as well. Take a moment to check out the ankles, knees and hips and the connective tissues that hold them to the bones and muscles. Use your hands and feel what’s happening. (Of course, its’ best to do this alone when no one is watching. Perhaps even practice this nude in front of a mirror so you can see and feel what’s happening.)

Look at the tendons in the feet. Feel the ligament and tendon action in the ankles.

Needless to say there’s a lot going on with the simple act of abduction.

Conversely, there is an equal amount of action on the flip side of the anatomical coin in adduction. By grounding the feet and pulling the knees together we involve the muscles on the inside of the thighs.  Again, draw the knees together toward the body’s median line, note the muscles you feel; touch them and notice their tension. Explore their length and thickness. On the top and inside of the thighs there’s a big ligament that connects the femur to the pelvis—the inguinal ligament.

Remember the golden rules in yoga practice—sukha and sthira, or easy, pleasant and steady. Use these rules to explore the amount of exertion used in these two forces.

Consistent practice of adduction and abduction will strengthen your legs as the stable platform they should be for all your standing poses. You can experiment with these two forces as you practice the standing poses as well.

At the same time that I’m abducting and adducting the legs, I’m doing the same kind of isometric techniques with my hands and arms. Hook your fingers together and pull to engage the arms. Change your grip and repeat. Then place the hands in prayer position at the chest and push. Feel the pectoral muscles under the breasts also spring into action. This tension also supplies massage to the lymph nodes in the chest. You will get full arm engagement from fingers to shoulders and upper back with arm isometrics.

Also use eagle arms, reach over your back to clasp the opposite hand or do any kind of arm stretching or strengthening move you can think of. Or you can rest the arms if you wish.

Standing abduction and adduction is the best way to get total involvement of the legs. Seated weight machines that work these muscles don’t offer the all-engaging grounding that standing does. This leaves the feet, ankles and knees out of the equation. Running doesn’t really help to build these balance muscles either. A friend of mine who is an avid runner has very poor balance, which at his age puts him at risk for falling.

Practicing both aspects of Mountain Pose will serve you well in building strength and awareness as you practice. Adduction and abduction are also foundational practices for building bone density as you pursue mastery of the standing poses.

Remember to use your long, slow, full three-part diaphragmatic breath as you practice. This will help you turn each posture into a meditation on a stable body and a peaceful mind.

I wish you health and peace,

Tim

P.S. As always, I’d love to hear your adventures in yoga. Please drop me a line and let me know what the practice is doing for you.

 

 

 

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The Meek Will Inherit the Earth

Human evolution is now at its most critical crossroad. We are facing a world where converging crises threaten our survival as a species. Within a generation, according to the World Bank’s most recent report, temperatures will rise 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit  and perhaps seven degrees in fewer than 100 years. As oceans rise and food production becomes less dependable, mass migrations will challenge every strategy we know to maintain some kind of stability.

Our inertia in the face of climate change has caused us to sit passively by as the point of no return has come and gone.

Even at the age of 61 many of these cataclysmic changes will happen or at least begin within my lifetime.

If we face these facts honestly we return to the fundamental questions we all ask ourselves. Why are we here and what is the purpose of life? These are the questions that Roy Scranton poses in his sobering essay, “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.”

The Anthropocene is a new term for the epoch in which we now live—an epoch that has seen human beings become a global geological force powerful enough to knock our climate out of balance.

In light of these changes Scranton asks what it will mean to be human as we respond to an unrecognizable world that is hostile to life as we know it? Contemplating our individual deaths and the finality of our extinction as a species is forcing us to answer these questions.

Who will we become and how will we behave in a world that presents humans with precious few options for survival? Scranton answered this question as an Army private on duty in Baghdad reading the Hagakure, an 18th century treatise on Samurai conduct. It’s author, Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily…. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way.”

So, how does this relate to yoga? The Hagakure and yoga both direct the aspiring human being to gain mastery of over his or her nervous system. Toning our nervous systems through meditation and conscious action helps us to face death and achieve the freedom of knowing how to live.

Jesus the Nazarene also spoke prophetically when he proclaimed that “the meek will inherit the earth.” I read this as the “cooperative” will inherit the earth.

As yogis the great mysterious creative force that gave us birth beckons us to embrace impermanence, our ultimate death. In so doing we are guided to live lives that transcend our ego driven pursuit of wealth and power. Jimi Hendrix put it aptly, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”

We are being called to a higher level of existence. We are being called to face our finest hour—the hour when we, as human beings no longer pursue the eternal in the transient—an hour when we will mature and ripen into the god-likeness that is our destiny.

Thanks for reading my work. Please leave a comment. I need to hear what you think.

Here is the link to Roy Scranton’s essay:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/learning-how-to-die-in-the-anthropocene/?_r=0is

Recovering from Addiction Through Yoga and Ayurveda

During a yoga training course I recently completed we studied with renowned Ayurvedic teacher, Durga. She teaches the yoga of recovery from addiction. The first day she asked each of the 22 people in our class to share their experience with addiction. I found out we were all closely related to an addict of some kind. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents and siblings were all among those with addiction issues.

 

My parents were addicted to cigarettes. Tobacco killed them both. They also used alcohol daily.

 

My ex-wife was a cocaine and crystal meth addict for many years. She has never recovered her health.

 

The essential question is why do so many of us succumb to addiction? Durga, a recovering alcoholic who combines the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with yoga and Ayurveda treatment addresses this question from a spiritual perspective. Yoga and Ayurveda (the medical sister science to yoga) say that addiction stems from the fact that we have forgotten our true identity and nature. Likewise, Deepak Chopra speaks of addictions as “self-destructive outlets for an unrecognized spiritual craving.” According to these ancient teachings we are spiritual beings whose true nature is bliss. Consequently, our longing for fulfillment, love, freedom and peace are turned outward rather than inward to our true nature. As Durga says, “we seek the eternal in the transient.” We try to find our bliss by seeking euphoria in the many intoxicants or habits the world offers. Whether our addictions involve alcohol, drugs, food, gambling or shopping, it is a fundamental unhealthy dependence that is at issue.

 

The next question is: what do yoga and Ayurveda offer to help us remember and connect with our true nature which helps us break addictive behavior patterns? Yoga/Ayurveda and the 12 steps agree that breaking addiction begins with recognition of our powerlessness over our addiction and that we must conduct “a fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Yoga calls this svadhyaya or self observation. As we examine our lives with compassion we begin to see the errors and misapprehensions that have led us down the blind alley of addiction. This is where we can start to reclaim our lives and our own heroic journeys. We re-establish the connection with our basic goodness, our innate talents, our breath and our eternal life force or prana.

 

Yoga and Ayurveda offer ways for us to nourish our life force. Through a balanced regimen of delicious, wholesome foods, herbs, proper exercise and meditation we reignite our desire for the sweetness of life that sustains us. Tasting the sweetness of life once again helps to displace addictive behaviors.

 

We also begin to form a new bond of community with like-minded healthy people who can lovingly help us on this path of awakening and reconnection to our true nature and identity.

 

Yoga and Ayurveda offer an effective path of health and recovery to the addict because they address the roots of addiction. Combined with the 12 steps, yoga and Ayurveda provide a comprehensive, holistic way to restore ourselves to balance.

 

For more information please visit Durga at: http://www.yogaofrecovery.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Own Persona Massage Therapist!

 

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal massage therapist? You do.

Many of us have enjoyed the deep relaxation of a massage at the hands of a skilled practitioner. When the massage is finished we lie on the table in semi-consciousness with every muscle in our bodies free and released from tension. Ahhhh.

But what about those places that external massage just can’t get to? The organs and glands need stimulation, cleansing and toning too. A massage on a passive body, as glorious as it is, cannot address the body while it’s active.

This is where the conscious breath is used in conjunction with asana and gravity to massage the body in a unique, singular fashion.

Part of the genius of asana, or yoga postures, is how each posture directs energy into the body differently. As we listen to our bodies and breathe deeply we can see where the energy goes and how it pushes into our deep tissues. This is the massaging quality of the breath. Choose any posture and then apply the three-part breath and see where the massaging quality of the breath goes.

An easy, effective way to demonstrate this to yourself is to practice bridge pose. Lie on

your back with the feet just under your knees in front of the buttocks. Push into your feet and raise the sacrum and spinal column off the ground so your torso is suspended like an arched bridge between the feet and shoulder blades. Breathe deeply into your belly and sacrum. Draw the breath up into your heart and push your chin down onto the top of your sternum (breastbone). Keep the breath flowing deeply yet comfortably and be aware of the massage being received by the kidneys and adrenal glands

just above them. Notice also how the wave-like motion of the inhalation compresses all the abdominal organs. Lastly, as the breath fills the lungs from bottom to top, feel it move through the heart and thymus and into the thyroid and parathyroid glands in the throat.

With the chin pushed down onto the sternum, you are performing jalandhara bandha or throat lock. At the fullness of your inhalation this lock forms an energy dam so that the whole interior torso is filled with the energy or prana of the breath. This is the peak of the massaging energy of the breath in this posture.

By applying the deep, three-part breath to this simple pose, so many vital organs and glands are being deeply massaged by the breath from the interior. This is why I tell my students that the breath is your own personal massage therapist.

This is just one example of how the breath plays through the body supplying deep, purifying massage. Use this technique in every pose and note where the breath goes and what gets massaged as a result. Your awareness and practice of this pranayama, or expansion of the universal energy via the breath, will deepen your strength, range of motion and flexibility as it purifies your organs and glands.

Practice in vigor and health!

Namaste!

Since this is National Yoga Month I want to highlight the ability of yoga to turn back the clock on aging. Personally, in the last twenty years, I’ve increased my capacity for abundant living with my yoga practice. I am stronger, have a better range of motion (I can do the splits) am much more mentally acute and have a more conscious, happier outlook on life than when I was younger.

The pervasive theme of aging is decline, senility and a less than graceful passing. But as I tell my yoga students, decrepitude is a choice. Rising and greeting each day with movement and the breath of joy is the path to conquer all the obstacles in life.

To celebrate my good health and gratitude for my yoga practice I entered the AARP New Faces of 50+ Model Search with the encouragement of my darling wife, Michele. I penned my motto: Gentleness is the Path to Strength, wrote a brief essay and had a new picture taken. Well, low and behold, out of hundreds of contestants I’m a finalist in the contest.

If I am lucky enough to win, I will use this opportunity to continue my yoga/ayurvedic education at the California College of Ayurveda.

If you’re over 50 and reading this, perhaps I could persuade you to take a moment and vote for me. You can VOTE EVERY DAY through Sept. 24. Every time you vote you enter yourself into a sweepstakes to win $5,000. It’s a simple process; even simpler if you’re an AARP member. Below is the URL for registration and voting.

http://sweeps.aarp.org/facesof50/

Simply copy and paste to your browser.

This could potentially mean a great deal to me. I thank you in advance for your vote.

May you be healthy, may you be happy, may you flourish to your potential.

Namaste,

Tim

Rewiring the Brain!

Because of the results reported by practitioners, medical researchers are training their sights and technology on yoga and why it works the way it does. Harvard neurologist Dr. Sara Lazar is one of those researchers.

Dr. Lazar injured herself while training for the Boston Marathon. Her orthopedist recommended stretching in lieu of running.

She started practicing yoga and loved it. She did skeptically roll her eyes though when her yoga teacher claimed that yoga would increase her capacity for empathy and compassion. With continued practice she began noticing the presence of these very traits becoming more pronounced in her life. As a scientist, she wanted to know why.

Since she had her own lab and Magnetic Resonance Imaging equipment, she began using the MRI to record images of the brains of yoga practitioners and a control group of those who did not practice yoga and meditation. She was astounded at her findings!

The brains of the yoga and meditation practitioners showed significant differences in the eight weeks of the study. The hippocampus, where learning, memory and emotional regulation take place became denser and larger with practice. Likewise, the parietal lobe, where empathy is initiated, also grew and got denser. The amygdala, home of fear, fight and flight, actually shrank. The control subjects showed no appreciable change in brain anatomy or physiology. The ability of the brain to rewire itself in response to stimuli like yoga and meditation is called neuroplasticity.

Because of the criticism of her methods, Dr. Lazar repeated her study beginning with subjects who had never practiced yoga. The results were the same. In the eight week span of the study, the brains of yoga and meditation participants displayed the same dramatic changes previously demonstrated by established practitioners, while the control subjects showed no measurable change.

I can add my personal testimony to this research as well. At times in the past ten years, challenging life changes have led to my own very real experience with depression. While medication proved to be a temporary bridge to wellness, I wanted to restore myself to health without the undesirable side effects with which such remedies often inflict upon us.

Even though I’d been a hatha yoga practitioner for many years, I had not cultivated mental resilience through meditation. This is where I had to put up or shut up about my confidence in yoga’s ability to deliver me to wholeness. I realized that I simply lacked diligence and consistency in my meditation practice. I also realized that new levels of challenge demand new levels of commitment.

It began with me making a commitment to myself, a commitment to total health through the conscious examination of my life and the diligent application of that knowledge in my practice. Though this path is not always strewn with roses, my daily practice of mental and physical hygiene rewards me without ceasing. Like so many people in the past and present, I am learning that the conscious breath is the beginning of a path to liberation from the demons of tension, stress, and depression. It is a gateway to plumbing the depths of what it means to be human and to tapping into the infinite well of boundless joy and creativity that is the birthright of each one of us.

Yoga Lessons from Downton Abbey

Spoiler Alert: If you’re a Downton Abbey fan and haven’t seen the last episode of the third season, read at your own risk.

My partner, Michele and I are avid Downton Abbey fans. Though I was hesitant at first, the acting, writing, costumes et cetera won me over. It’s a classy production.

Last night we watched the final episode of season three and I was appalled and angered by what I considered to be the untimely, gratuitous death of Mathew Crawley. Just as the family was on the mend after Sybil’s death in childbirth, and as they celebrated the arrival of Mathew and Mary’s baby boy, Mathew’s sudden death in a car crash on one of the happiest days of his life just felt so wrong. My reaction was swift and bitter; I was through with a series that would so cavalierly kill off one of its finest characters. Admittedly, I realize that this is perhaps a juvenile, even childish response. After all, it’s just a TV drama. But I felt so manipulated; and that’s the point.

Life’s vagaries, whether they thrill, soothe or disgust us stand as reminders of impermanence. Outwardly, change is the only constant, and it’s not always pleasant.

Our emotional state is too often like an unconscious knee jerk elicited by the sharp strike of life’s random mallet. Suddenly we can be caught, whirling in an emotional spin cycle that plops us flat on our faces dizzy from some surprising twist of fate. At other times slow, relentless pressure can exhaust us until we’re seemingly out of options.

This is all part of being human; and one of the great accomplishments of any human being is learning to deal with change without being manipulated into losing our balance and composure.

But how do we do that? How do we gain the resilience of mind to calmly withstand and flourish through life’s unceasing changes?

Like anything else, it’s a practice born of awareness. First, we must recognize the possibility of such strength. Most of us have either known people with such qualities or at least have read or heard of them. Their stories all have something in common. They were beset by myriad challenges and learned to train their minds to react in prescribed ways. It doesn’t mean they didn’t experience sorrow, pain or suffering. It does mean that they were conscious of what the yoga sutras call the modifications of the mind, or the careening, unorganized quality of the mind that leaves us without bearings in troubled times. With that awareness they resorted to meditation to build a neuro-chemically resilient brain that is able to digest and process difficulty. They learned, as we can learn, to transcend or rise above difficulty. Through the process of cultivating our minds in meditation, we change the way we perceive our experiences until we become victorious over our challenges. We intentionally and literally rewire our brains through meditation to produce a transcendent way of being.

This is emotional technology or emotional intelligence if you will. This is the next step in our evolution as Homo sapiens. Though we possess technological genius, we are a juvenile species who remain ethically and morally stunted. The under developed potential of our minds fails us when we run up against the essential questions of good, evil, justice and equality.

In the next post of Comfortable Engagement Yoga: The particulars of rewiring the brain.