Watercolour background artwork: Ali B
Watercolour background artwork: Ali B
And let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.
I’m talking big juicy blisters under the pads of my toes.
I’ve even resorted to painting my toenails dark red in an attempt to hide my bruised and blackened nails.
But a couple of battered toes aren’t too bad of a sacrifice when training in such a high impact sport. Unfortunately, some people suffer from joint pain and injury while training. Knees are a common casualty of runners and high endurance athletes, which is why it is important to develop even strength throughout the muscles of the legs so that the knee joint is stabilized.Click for full post
Let’s break it down very simply.
Your femur is the long bone in your upper leg.
Your tibia is the bone in your lower leg, also known as your shine bone.
The round bone where these two meet is called your patella, or knee cap.
Together these comprise the knee joint, one of the largest and most complex joints of the human body.
Surrounding your femur are tendons (which attach muscle to bone), ligaments (connects bone to bone/cartilage) and the muscles of your hamstring and quadriceps.
Your hamstrings consist of three muscles that originate in your pelvis and run along the back of your leg.
Your quadriceps consist of four muscles that are situated at the front and side of your thigh. These four muscles come together to form a tendon that connects to your tibia by crossing your patella.
By understanding how the knee joint works and moves it is easier to imagine how a muscular imbalance in the thigh may cause the knee joint to track off course. This causes stress on the joint and can lead to injury or inflammation of the meniscus (the shock absorbing cartilage in your knee).
So how does Yoga help?
Yoga can be an excellent preventative or even restorative practice for athletes with knee or joint issues.
Yoga asanas strengthen the muscles that support the knee, which helps to stabilize it and therefore prevent injury.
Yoga also improves balance and core strength, allowing you to move tactfully while running.
Aside from the benefits of stretching and strength building, yoga helps to increase an athlete’s awareness of their body, making them more sensitive to the warning signs of potential injury.
Phew! That was a lot of information.
If you are more of a visual or kinesthetic learner check out the most recent video I filmed for the globe and mail: Utkatasana/chair pose which is particularly good for building even strength in the legs, providing stability for the knee joints.
Have you been to a yoga class and the teacher tells you to “engage your root lock”?
‘What the hell is a root lock?’
You glance around the class hoping to mimic a student who knows what this means, but you see no change in what the other yogis are doing?
If you’re confused by the term “bandha” you’re not alone. Even if you have been practicing yoga for many years you may have never experienced the sensation of engaging the yogic ‘locks’ or Bandhas. Discovering these three zones can unleash new potential in your practice; especially when it comes to your inversion practice (hello handstands!).
There are three bandhas, or locks, within the body. Bandha means binding or bondage; it is the practice of contracting the muscles and organs of a specific region of your body and thereby controlling the flow of energy within the body.
Practice a few rounds, taking breaks between each round to return to a steady unforced breath.
This is just an introduction to the Bandhas. Each bandha can be elaborated on with great detail, particularly when getting into the energetic influences of these three locks.
Having a basic understanding of where to focus your energy when the teacher mentions any of the three bandhas is a great start. You can practice engaging each of the locks to get familiar with the sensations and control over each area of your body.
Once you become more aware of these three areas, you will begin to notice the effects of engaging them while you are in different asanas. (Downward facing dog is a great pose to practice engaging all three bandhas). When you bring the concept of the Bandhas to your inversion practice you will notice how the drawing up of energy will help with your alignment and steadiness.
Swami Muktibodhananda, 2013. Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Shavasana, or corpse pose, is the relaxation pose that comes at the end of our yoga practice. Due to studio time constraints, more teachers are cutting shavasana short. Busier lives means some students have to rush for the door early, skipping this essential relaxation. It is often these people who can benefit most from it. In today’s high paced and over stimulated society, many people have forgotten how to relax.
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What is Shavasana?
Shavasana appears to be one of the simplest postures, but many students often find it the most challenging. After we have moved through a series of asanas, or physical poses, the body needs time to consolidate and rebalance. In shavasana, the body can fully relax. With the palms face up and the arms and legs at approximately a 45 degree angle from the body, the joints are able to relax in their sockets. This also temporarily frees our muscles from the physical stress of supporting all of our bones and organs.
Benefits of Shavasana
Shavasana has many physical benefits.
Some of which include:
Bringing awareness inward
Shavasana is not just a time to nap, it is a meditation. What makes it so challenging is that it requires us to relax while remaining aware and conscious. It is an excellent tool to increase awareness of your body, which in turn can also strengthen your yoga practice. During shavasana we systematically bring our awareness through our physical body, acknowledging any tensions and releasing them. Once the physical body is relaxed we shift our awareness to the mind.
The eyes are closed to limit sensory distractions and allow us to turn our awareness inward. Focusing on the natural rhythm of the breath is an excellent way to keep the focus on the present moment, preventing it from running away with the stories the mind wants to tell.
Still not convinced?
It is important to allow ourselves to relax, especially after a yoga class when we have just worked our physical body. Yoga is more than just a physical experience of asanas; it is a union, through breath and meditation, of our physical body, spiritual body and our minds. Shavasana is meditation, it is a time for the chatter of our mind and the stories we tell ourselves to dissolve. To focus inward, to visualize, dream and to surrender. You may be surprised what happens when you do.
International Journal of Yoga article: Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life