As much as I support the idea of children walking to school, I cringe every time my third-grade son hefts his gargantuan bookbag onto his shoulders and trudges hunchbacked toward campus.
Loaded up with his required laptop, lunchbox and textbooks, my son’s bookbag weighs 14 pounds. That’s nearly 25 percent of his body weight, a hefty addition on his half-mile trek to school, which is – I swear I’m not exaggerating – uphill both ways. If I had to haul an extra 30 pounds on my back to get to work, I’m pretty sure I’d malinger more often.
The poor boy has started to develop the posture of a desk-bound office worker. And every now and then, he gripes about back pain. I can’t tell if it’s the usual moans and groans of a coddled 9-year-old or the beginnings of a real problem.
The pediatrician did nothing to alleviate my concerns. Nothing more than 10 pounds, she said. If that means buying a second set of textbooks to keep at home or subjecting him to embarrassment with a rolling backpack, so be it. He’ll thank me later.
Heavy backpacks, it turns out, are a real health issue. In 2017, roughly 7,800 children were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to backpacks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting backpacks to no more than 10 percent of a child’s weight. Heavier loads can give kids low-back strain, shoulder pain and poor posture, a preview of middle-age they don’t need.
A few years ago, the California legislature adopted a resolution urging school districts to develop guidelines for easing the backpack load. The resolution is full of suggestions, everything from electronic textbooks and more lightweight handouts to hanging scales in classrooms to monitor backpack weight.
But if local school districts are working on the issue, they haven’t gotten the word out to my overloaded boy. I’m starting to question whether studying for a social studies test outweighs the spinal stress of hauling that textbook home. An extra-credit science project? Not if that means schlepping five pounds of clay volcano to school.
At the parent-teacher conference, I couldn’t concentrate on the teacher’s comments about math aptitude and reading scores. I kept waiting for the chance to ask my one burning question: Does my son really need to bring the Chromebook home every day? Can’t he leave that three-pound monster at school? Because achieving technological competency is important, but so is an uncompressed spine, and surely we can have both.
Experts urge ergonomic backpacks with well-padded shoulders. Waist straps, which help distribute the weight more evenly. Even smaller bookbags, which seemed counterintuitive until I realized my son was using his extra-large bag to haul around broken keychains, interesting rocks and 37 pencil stubs. I’m now more diligent about clearing the junk.
But the problem may only worsen as my son approaches middle school, and then high school, where presumably the workload intensifies, textbooks thicken and after-school activities add new supplies to his already stuffed backpack.
So I’m steering my son toward lighter-weight activities. So what if he dreams of learning to play the tuba? A harmonica is fine. And he’ll thank me later.
27,886. That’s how many days Lis Heckmann lived on this Earth prior to the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. The 76-year-old retiree from Lehigh Acres, Florida, was the oldest competitor tackling the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run this year. Here’s what we learned from six-time Ironman, who BTW, has also tackled 20 half Ironman races (70.3 miles), 100 Olympic and sprint triathlons, 12 marathons, 20 half-marathons, and countless 5K and 10K races. [Editor’s note: WHEW!]
1. Build from your specialty. One of Heckmann’s top tips for beginners? “Aim to be proficient at one event prior to training for your first triathlon. This gives you an anchor to work on and allows you to work on two instead of three disciplines,” she says.
2. Never lose hope. Strike 1: “While carrying a box in a slippery, greasy parking garage in 1975, I slipped and broke my ankle into 16 pieces. Fifteen screws and 6 months later, I was able to exercise again and started swimming and biking as part of my doctor-advised rehab,” she says. But her career kept her too busy to become a hardcore fitness fiend until about 10 years later when Heckmann took up running. Strike 2: That bad break caused arthritis. “In 2000, I started doing triathlons after my orthopedic doctor told me that I needed to focus more on cross-training to take some of the pressure off of my ankle,” she says. Strike 3: Heckmann was hit by a car while on a 75-mile bike ride in 2009. Her leg was broken, but just like always, her resolve was not.
3. Find a support team. Tim, her husband of 25 years, is her number one fan. “My proudest moment is seeing my husband’s smile as I cross the finish line. He is the most supportive man in the world,” Heckmann says. “Even though he thinks I’m nuts, he’s spent hundreds of hours taking me to the beach for open water swims or shadowing me in the car when I do long bike rides.”
4. Don’t fear new gear. “I’ve tried nearly every brand of sneakers. Three months ago I discovered Hoka shoes and I now own three pairs. Running feels better than it has in years!” she says.
5. Practice, practice, practice. Almost like a full-time job, Heckmann prepares for her next race for about 30 hours each week. Her seven-day schedule:
Every morning: 30 minutes of stretching
Five days/week: Swim for 1 hour
Three days/week: Run 7 miles, strength train for 1 hour
One day/ week: Spin for 1 hour
Plus 8 to 10 hours of biking
6. Keep yourself entertained. During those long and slow training runs or bikes, Heckmann tunes in to “bouncy Latin music or audiobooks.” Follow her lead and pop in those headphones (when on a safe, traffic-free path) and cue up one of our go-to motivating playlists.
7. Time it right. Next big race, Heckmann plans to arrive earlier to recover from jet lag and give her body time to adjust and deal with any lingering exhaustion, illnesses, and more.
8. Choose an active hobby. Since retiring from her career in real estate, Heckmann focuses on preparing for triathlons and tending to her organic garden. Even something as low-intensity as weeding and digging can help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis, and more.
9. Reflect on your success. “My most memorable race was running down Alii Drive, the final sprint, during my first Kona Ironman in 2005. I could hear Mike Reilly over the loudspeakers saying, ‘You are an Ironman.’ It was extremely emotional knowing that an entire year of training was coming to fruition, and I would be joining a very exclusive club of triathletes that have run the same path,” Heckmann says.
10. Move forward after failure. Unfortunately, Heckmann had to drop out of Kona this year, after struggling with a cold and stomach issues during the swim and the first 40 miles of the bike leg, but being in good enough shape to even attempt the 140.6-mile triathlon seven decades in has us uber-inspired. “I don’t think that age is a limitation to me and never really gave any thought to being the oldest in any race. I just want to do my best,” she says. Now, she’s more determined than ever to race down that road again! Next up: Training for the 2016 Florida Ironman to qualify for 2017’s Kona Ironman. Remember: Never let one setback hold you back.
The holidays are a mixed bag. On the one hand, they’re fun. We get to turn our focus to reconnecting with friends and family. On the other hand, adding lots of extra commitments into our calendar can create feelings of stress. It’s not always easy to fit more commitments into our schedules. Then there’s shopping, wrapping, mailing, etc.
All these things can add up to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Yoga—including asana, pranayama and meditation—can help. Here are some ways to use your yoga practice to relieve potential holiday stress. I call it developing holiday presence.
4 Ways to Develop Holiday Presence
Adjust your attitude: While we may indeed be overwhelmed with responsibilities at the moment, we don’t have to add to the overwhelm by responding with negativity. We have a choice. We can approach our responsibilities with resentment or we can approach them with appreciation. Truth is, generosity is a positive force. Being generous with our time, energy and other resources is a source of joy. It’s helpful to remember this.
Restore yourself: Make restorative yoga your best holiday friend. It’s important to take time for yourself during the holidays. Think of it as a way to develop generosity. That this generosity is toward yourself doesn’t make it any less valid. Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose) is one of the few poses you can practice on a full stomach. Practice it any time, for 5 to 20 minutes.
Breathe: It sounds a bit trite, especially since humans breathe about 23,000 times a day anyway. But taking time out to practice long, slow, deep breathing can refresh and calm a frazzled nervous system. When you feel yourself becoming agitated, breathe slowly and deeply. Slow, deep breathing calms your nervous system, and therefore the rest of you as well. Breathing is the superpower we all have at our disposal. Use it!
Gain perspective: Remember that whatever stress you’re going through at the moment will be but a memory tomorrow, or maybe even an hour from now. Mindfulness teaches us that everything changes, all the time. That drama that consumed you a week or a month ago—where is it now? When you feel drama starting to take over, step back, breathe deeply and tune into the sensations in your body. Let the sensations be. Relax into them.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably already practice yoga. Put your skills to work, not just on your yoga mat, but in your daily life. Developing holiday presence will help smooth out stress and bring joy and gratitude to your holidays.
It was Friday night after a long week. I was exhausted, but I had recently signed up for a trial yoga membership in an effort to practice more “self-care,” so I looked up the schedule and found a late-night restorative yoga class that promised to leave me feeling “balanced, rested, and elevated.” Yes, please, I thought as I grabbed my mat and hurried through the cold to the warehouse-like studio.
Once inside, I was instructed to grab what felt like a large carry-on of props: two blocks, a firm pillow-like thing called a bolster, and two blankets. I dragged this load into the dark room, laid everything out, and was prepared to be restored. I couldn’t wait to feel balanced, rested, and elevated—look at me and my Friday night self-care!
As the class started, we moved through a few stretch-like positions slowly, then set up for our first restorative pose. I followed instructions and positioned the bolster-pillow-thing under my stomach while in child’s pose. The teacher instructed us to turn our head to the right and lay it on the bolster. Great. Done.
Then I waited. And waited. And waited. After what seemed like an eternity, we were instructed to turn our head to the left and… lay it on the bolster.
My mind erupted. Are you kidding me?
If I knew I was going to walk in the cold just to lie on a pillow and turn my head every 10 minutes, I would have just gone to bed early instead! After the 75-minute class ended, I stormed home and that’s exactly what I did (… and slept like a baby).
At the time, I didn’t put together that my childlike slumber could have been a positive side effect of the class, but I was curious as to why anyone would pay money for what seemed like a 75-minute group-snooze. So I decided to do some research and talk to people who are fans of the practice.
Restorative yoga was first developed to help people heal from injury, illness, or burnout by holding certain poses for longer stretches of time (5-20 minutes) compared to a traditional yoga class. Some claim that it is the most advanced practice of yoga due to the difficulty of achieving conscious relaxation—it’s all about moving past the “Um, now what?” I was fixated on in that first class and learning to achieve a state of active relaxation.
OK, great. But couldn’t I just take an hour-long nap instead?
Elian Zach, yoga instructor and founder of the Woom Center in New York, believes that naps and yoga are both useful self-care tools, but they’re not interchangeable. “When restorative yoga is done right, it can facilitate a deeper rest than sleep. What happens is almost the equivalent to REM sleep, but when we sleep, we dream and can experience anxiety. It’s not necessarily always a quality time of rest.”
Eileen Goddard, a restorative yoga teacher at Yoga Vida in NYC, shed some light on all the added equipment. “In order to fully relax, we need to feel supported, both physically and mentally. We prop up in restorative yoga, particularly at the joints, to give the body this experience of full support.” Goddard adds that another important prop is the presence of the teacher, which offers another level of support.
And the studio atmosphere itself can make or break a good restorative yoga class. “The environment needs to exude a personality that is soothing and calming,” Zach says, adding that at the Woom Center, they have everything from a 3D sound system and overtone-emitting instruments to three unique aromatic combinations that alchemist Michelle Gagnon developed to help students unwind. (Which, whoa.)
This is all starting to sound a little better than a nap—but what are the real benefits of this type of self-care?
A study from the American Diabetes Association observed a focus group of obese women who practiced restorative yoga over a 48-week period and a group who engaged in a stretching program over the same time period. They found that those who practiced restorative yoga lost a significant amount of subcutaneous fat over the six-month program compared to those in the stretch group, and those same women continued to lose during the maintenance period once the program was over. The study credits this to the practice’s focus on relaxation and stress reduction, which led to a decrease in cortisol (the hormone we blame for abdominal fat).
Sign me up! Restorative yoga for life! I have self-care figured out now!
I won’t be removing Pilates and cycling classes from my schedule any time soon—you can’t just replace regular exercise with restorative yoga. Instead, even the study noted that restorative yoga is a “complementary, ancient practice” that should be used in addition to regular exercise.
So, intense workout, restorative yoga class, or just a nap? Why not all three. “There is room for high-intensity classes,” Zach says. “There is a time for sharing space with others and another to sit alone and veg in front of the TV. Sometimes that’s OK, but sometimes you want to find self-care in a bigger way. Restorative yoga isn’t lazy—it’s a proactive act of self-care.”
E.J. Johnson is a Brooklyn-based comedy writer and performance artist. If you like pictures of pink sparkly things, you can follow her @ej.sunshine on Instagram.
We know we need to exercise for our health, but a lifelong exercise habit may also help us feel younger and stay stronger well into our senior years. In fact, people in their 70s who have been exercising regularly for decades seem to have put a brake on the aging process, maintaining the heart, lung and muscle fitness of healthy people at least 30 years younger.
Take 74-year-old Susan Magrath, a retired nurse practitioner who lives in Muncie, Ind. Magrath has been running almost daily for 45 years. She often runs outdoors and describes it as addictive. “It’s just such a release, just a wonderful release,” she says. “I ran today and there were little snowflakes coming down, and I was down by the river and it’s just wonderful. And I think it’s become more of a contemplative meditative process for me.”
Magrath may be living proof that lifelong exercise helps with cardiovascular and muscle health. She recently took part in a study at the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University, also in Muncie, headed by exercise physiologist Scott Trappe. Trappe is among the first to study the enticing new population of lifelong exercisers.
After the running and aerobic boom of the 1970s, large numbers of septuagenarians stuck with it and have been exercising regularly for the past 50 years. In this population, Trappe says, “We were interested in basically two questions: One, what was their cardiovascular health? And two, what was their skeletal muscle health?
What he saw surprised him. “We saw that people who exercise regularly year after year have better overall health than their sedentary counterparts. These 75-year-olds — men and women — have similar cardiovascular health to a 40- to 45-year-old.”
” ‘Exercise wins’ is the take-home message,” he says.
In the study, Trappe divided 70 healthy participants into three groups. Those in the lifelong exercise group were on average 75 years old and primarily kept their heart rates up through running and cycling. They had a history of participating in structured exercise four to six days a week for a total of about seven hours a week.
The second group included individuals who were also, on average, 75 years old but did not engage in structured exercise regimens, although they might have participated in occasional leisure walking or golf.
The third group consisted of young exercisers who were, on average, 25 years old and worked out with the same frequency and length of time as the lifelong exercisers.
All participants were assessed in the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University. Cardiovascular health was gauged by having participants cycle on an indoor bike to determine VO2 max, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, which is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense exercise and is an indicator of aerobic endurance. During the cycling test, which became increasingly challenging, individuals exhaled into a mouthpiece that measured oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
The aerobic profile of the participants’ muscles was measured by taking a sample via a biopsy about the size of a pea, says Trappe. Then in the lab, researchers examined the micro vessels, or capillaries, that allow blood to flow through the muscle itself.
They also looked at specific enzymes that provide fuel to the working muscle and help break down carbohydrates and fats.
Although the study was relatively small, the findings, which were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in August, suggest a dramatic benefit of lifelong exercise for both muscle health and the cardiovascular system.
“Lifelong exercisers had a cardiovascular system that looked 30 years younger,” says Trappe. This is noteworthy because, for the average adult, the ability to process oxygen declines by about 10 percent per decade after age 30.
“It’s kind of a slow decay over time that’s probably not so noticeable in your 30s or 40s,” says Trappe, but eventually as years go on, becomes apparent. People can get out of breath more easily and may have difficulty pushing themselves physically.
The age-related reduction in VO2 max is directly associated with an increasing risk of multiple chronic diseases, mortality and loss of independence. Maintaining a strong heart and lung system has been shown to decrease these health risks.S
As for muscle health, the findings were even more significant, says Trappe. Trappe says researchers were surprised to find the 75-year-old muscles of lifelong exercisers were about the same as the muscles of the 25-year-olds. “If I showed you the muscle data that we have, you wouldn’t know it was from an older individual. You would think it’s from somebody that’s a young exerciser,” he says.
David Costill, 82, was not part of the study but is a former colleague of Trappe’s and professor emeritus of exercise science at Ball State University. As an exercise physiologist, he has always known about the benefits of exercise and has been committed since high school.
He says he has spent about “60 years actively exercising.” Costill ran marathons for about 20 years until his knees started to bother him, so he headed to the pool. “And I’ve been swimming for the last 35 years.”
When Costill looks at his friends, he says he finds he can do a lot more physically than they can. “If I’m out with a group of my peers, guys who are near 80, and we’re going someplace, it seems to me they’re all walking at half speed.”
Trappe says the findings are clear: 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day may be the key to a healthy life. But you don’t have to run marathons or compete in cycling events. “If you want to do 30 to 45 minutes of walking a day, the amount of health benefit you are going to get is going to be significant and substantial,” he says. “Will it equal the person training for competitive performances? No. But it will outdo the couch potato.”
Unfortunately, couch potatoes are the norm. Federal guidelines recommend two hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Yet 77 percent of Americans do not come close to getting that amount of exercise.
Dr. Clyde Yancy, spokesperson for the American Heart Association and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says the findings suggest “a lifelong investment in health and fitness appears to be associated with a really sustainable benefit out until the outer limits of life.”
Since we are living longer, maintaining a good quality of life is more important than ever. While the study was small and the findings need to be confirmed, they present a “strong argument” for lifelong exercise that is inexpensive and accessible for everyone. “If you can swim, do yoga, cycle, or walk,” you can benefit,” Yancy says.
You may want to stand up while you read this — and a lot of other stuff.
Experts now say you should start standing up at work for at least two hours a day — and work your way toward four.
That’s a long-awaited answer for a growing number of workers who may have heard of the terrible health effects of prolonged sitting and been wondering whether they should buy standing desks or treadmill desks.
Today, the average office worker sits for about 10 hours, first all those hours in front of the computer, plowing through e-mails, making calls or writing proposals — and eating lunch. And then all those hours of sitting in front of the TV or surfing the Web at home.
According to the expert statement released in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Americans should begin to stand, move and take breaks for at least two out of eight hours at work. Then, Americans should gradually work up to spending at least half of your eight-hour work day in what researchers call these “light-intensity activities.”
“Our whole culture invites you to take a seat. We say, ‘Are you comfortable? Please take a seat?’ So we know we have a huge job in front of us,” said Gavin Bradley, director of Active Working, an international group aimed at reducing excessive sitting that, along with Public Health England, convened the expert panel. “Our first order of business is to get people to spend two hours of their work day NOT sitting. However you do it, the point is to just get off your rear end.”
Bradley said the first level of activity is simply standing.
“I’m standing right now while I’m talking on the phone,” he said. While the group endorses the use of sit/stand desks, Bradley said there are other activities that can get people to move for two hours during the work day. “Taking your calls standing. Walking around. Pacing. Holding standing meetings. Walking meetings. Walking over to a colleague’s desk instead of sending an e-mail. Using the stairs instead of the elevator. Taking a lunch break. Simple stuff.”
Bradley himself has changed the way he works completely since taking on this challenge to get people out of their seats: He starts his day standing on a comfort mat and has his sit-stand desk programmed to tell him, through a pop up notification on his computer, to change his posture every 20 to 30 minutes.
It’s all about mixing it up,” he said. “Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. And after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20 percent. Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again. These things are so simple they’re almost stupid.”
Researchers have known about the link between inactivity and higher rates of sickness and mortality dating back to studies of bus drivers and office-based postal workers in the 1950s. And more recent observational studies comparing workers who sit for long periods against those who sit for fewer hours have found that sedentary workers have more than twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a 13 percent increased risk of cancer and 17 percent increased risk of dying.
At the same time, with the rise of office work, the use of cars and buses rather than walking or bicycles, and the rise of leisure pursuits like TV and computer games that favor the couch potato, the world has become more sedentary. The World Health Organization estimates that 95 percent of the world’s adult population is inactive, failing to meet minimum recommendations for health of 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity five times a week.
Authors of the new guidelines said they were a starting point only, and designed to give people some kind of research-based target, rather than rely on the claims made by the manufacturers of treadmill and sit-stand desks that are becoming all the rage. (More than 90 percent of workers in Scandinavia have access to them.)
“This is an initial guidance, which we do expect to have to evolve with time,” said James Buckley, one of the report authors and a professor at the Institute of Medicine at the University Centre Shrewsbury and University of Chester. “But to ensure the marketing and promotions people to race away with self-determined claims, we have felt it is better to have some guidance rather than no guidance that is some how linked with scientific evidence.”
James Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic and author of the book, “Stand Up,” though not involved in the guidelines, said they were a good start. In his work, he found that the reason why some people seem to eat a lot, never work out, yet never put on weight, is because they’re standing, walking and moving more throughout the day, rather than sitting for hours on end.
The guidelines “show we need to fundamentally rethink the way we’re working,” Levine said. Some small studies, he said, have found not only health improved, but also productivity ticked up 15 percent when people stood and moved more during the day. “The way we have developed our workplaces and even our schools is actually profoundly unhealthy. It’s a real design failure.”
But it’s not just office design, the researchers say. It’s work culture. Shannon Wurthman is a case in point. When Wurthman, 29, moved with her husband to Urbana, Ill., she left her office job and became a freelance consultant for web development companies and social media organizations. She began working at home.
“In the office, there’s so much pressure to sit – the feeling is, if your butt’s not in your seat, you’re probably not doing your job,” she said. “But now that I’m working at home, I don’t get up and walk around to talk to people. I’m not walking to meetings. I’m not even walking to and from my car in the parking lot.”
She has the flexibility to take walks during the day. But she doesn’t. “I get so caught up in my work,” she said. Plus, her work in social media keeps her digitally connected at all hours. And, research has found, people who telework tend to put in longer hours than office workers.
But Levine and other researchers said change is on the horizon. Some companies are holding standing meetings. Jennifer Heimberg, a physicist at the National Academy of Sciences, goes on a run with her boss for her annual performance evaluation. “It can be easier to introduce difficult topics when you aren’t sitting across the desk from each other,” she said.
Ikea is marketing a cheaper sit-stand desk. And Apple’s new watch can be programmed to tell people when it’s time to move.
Jessica DeGroot, who heads the nonprofit ThirdPath Institute designed to help people better integrate their work and home lives, can also find herself caught up in work.
“But I know that I think better when I get up and walk outside,” she said.
So at a recent conference, she paired up attendees and had them “Walk and Talk” from 2:30 to 3 p.m.
“At the typical conference, people have been sitting all day, and by 2 or 3 o’clock, they’re drained,” she said. “Instead, when people came back from the walk, they were smiling and engaged. Strangers sat down next to each other just so they could keep on talking they were so jazzed. It was fun to watch.”
Thirty-some years ago, when I was beginning to teach yoga, injuries related to yoga practice were relatively rare. They did happen, of course, but they were an anomaly. In recent years, yoga injuries have become a hot topic of conversation in Western yoga culture. A recent study, published in 2017, found that injuries are on the rise.
From a Yoga Journal article about the study:
“The study, titled Yoga-Related Injuries in the United States From 2001 to 2014, found that there were 29,590 yoga-related injuries seen in hospital emergency departments from 2001 to 2014. Overall, yoga injuries became almost twice as common in 2014 as in 2001. But among seniors especially, yoga injuries truly skyrocketed. During the same time period, the rate of yoga injuries among adults 65 and older increased more than eightfold.”
There are many possible reasons for the rise in yoga injuries. First, with the sheer numbers of people practicing asana these days compared to 30 years ago, it would be odd if there weren’t more injuries. Second, the popularization of yoga in the West has required that yoga look more like what we interpret as exercise—raising your heart rate, sweating, etc. Third, we’ve imported just one aspect of a comprehensive practice into our culture, independent of its larger context. Finally, Eastern ideas about practice are fundamentally different from Western ideas. In the West, we approach asana practice from a completely different intention.
It makes sense that in transferring a foreign practice into a completely different culture, adjustments must be made to fit Western practitioners. For example, most of us who practice yoga are not holed up in caves practicing all day. We are householders with families, jobs and other competing interests.
The yoga tradition actually makes plenty of room for the householder. You might be surprised to find that the philosophy of one of yoga’s ancient and defining texts, The Bhagavad Gita says that a yogi need not leave the world in order to find freedom. According to Mircea Eliade, scholar and author of Yoga, Immortality and Freedom, Krishna encourages Arjuna to continue to be a “man of action,” finding his freedom in the midst of his life in the world.
Conditioned to Compete
The problem with plopping one small component of a practice as vast and deep as yoga into a completely different culture is one of context. In the West, from an early age we are conditioned to interpret physical endeavors through the lens of competition. Think about it: We watch competitive team sports for entertainment. Even sports where the judging is clearly subjective—think ice skating and gymnastics—are subject to competition.
For many of us physical endeavors like running, hiking and bicycling that could be seen as purely pleasurable are subject to the “no pain, no gain” conditioning we’ve all grown up with. We almost expect to injure ourselves in physical practice, so on the surface, yoga injuries might even seem completely normal.
When asana practice is severed from its roots and brought to a culture that celebrates competition, it will be interpreted through the competitive lens because that is the lens we know. This is why much of the yoga that is popular today is active and fast paced, with a focus on a high-intensity physical workout.
I’m not saying, “Western culture=bad, Eastern culture=good.” Nor am I knocking healthy competition. I’m just pointing out that most of us have been conditioned, simply by growing up here, to equate physical activity with pushing oneself, striving for excellence, etc. This is neither good nor bad. It is simply the context from which most of us, at least initially, will perceive and interpret asana practice because that is our most familiar filter. When competition, striving and forcing are our context, yoga injuries are more likely to occur.
Early in my practice it was easy for me to see my own competitive tendencies. I was born with a body that is capable of doing fancy poses, and I practiced them regularly for years. Practicing fancy poses is fun. But when I was in the stage of practice where these poses were important to me, I did not find that performing them made me a kinder, wiser or more compassionate person. They did not make meditation any easier either. Since that is the putative purpose of practicing asana, I began to question and shift my practice.
Competitive Mind vs. Wisdom Mind
Even now, I sometimes catch my competitive mind feeling the need to justify a slow, quiet practice. I’ve found myself wondering if I’m really doing a legitimate practice when I simply lie on tennis balls for an hour to help alleviate back discomfort from spending too much time in chairs.
My wisdom mind helps me remember that whatever practice brings my body/mind to balance in a given moment is the best practice. I continue to learn that asana practice must be flexible. I must stay flexible also—mentally and emotionally—to remember that asana practice is designed to serve the individual needs of each person in each moment. We are not here to serve asana practice; it is the other way around.
Even if you don’t count yourself among the Type A crowd, the process of rewiring the competitive mind can take time. While I rarely act from competitive mind in my asana practice anymore, it still makes its voice heard. The difference is that I now have the power to choose which mind to listen to.
How to Avoid—Or At Least Lessen the Possibility of—Yoga Injuries
Assess your needs. We’re not all the same. Each person who comes to yoga practice has different strengths and weaknesses. If you are just starting out, and you want to ease into practice, steer toward classes titled “Hatha Yoga,” “Iyengar Yoga,” or “Viniyoga” rather than those titled “Power Yoga,” “Ashtanga” or “Vinyasa.” The latter are fast-paced classes where it’s much more difficult for students to practice healthy alignment and for the teacher to give individual assistance. If you want to practice a faster-paced yoga at some point, attend those classes after you’ve built a strong foundation.
Find a qualified teacher. Not all yoga teachers are the same. Experience and education of teachers can vary widely. You may need to do some research here. The number of education hours required for a Yoga Alliance-registered teacher is relatively small—200 hours. Make some phone calls. Interview teachers to find out about their experience and their philosophy for practice.
Respect your body. We all come into the world with vastly different structures, which means our levels of natural mobility and stability are all very different. Some people’s structures will never do fancy poses, while others will perform amazing feats of flexibility from day one. Turn your mind inward to what’s actually happening in your body in the moment, rather than comparing yourself to others.
No pain, no pain. One of my main asana teachers, Judith Hanson Lasater, has modified the old “No pain, no gain” philosophy. Instead, she says, “No pain, no pain.” This means that no pain in your present practice will more likely yield no pain in your future. Of course, you need to distinguish between pain and the sensations of stretching. (That’s a whole different post!) But in general, if you feel painful sensations, especially in any of your joints, it’s a good idea to back off. Pain is a signal to stop doing what you’re doing, not to try to “push through it.”
Meet your body where it is today. It’s helpful to remember that each time we come to our yoga mat, our bodies are different. Today’s Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) is absolutely unique, no matter how many times you’ve practiced the pose in the past. Let go of the expectation that today’s practice should be like your last practice. Also, let go of the idea that because you’ve been practicing for x number of years, you ought to be able to perform certain poses like the hot Instagram yogis do. What does your body need today?
Michaelle Edwards is one of the most free-thinking, iconoclastic, revolutionary yoga teachers in the world. She is one of the first modern postural yoga teachers, who over 20 years ago, began introducing curvy, dynamic myofascial alignment in her public classes in rebellion to the yoga world’s standard model of static, linear stretching. Her leading edge book, “YogAlign: Pain-free Yoga from Your Inner Core” (published in 2011) emphasizes health through natural alignment of an anterior tilt of the pelvis and an activation of the posterior chain of fascia. She has infused her postural method, YogAlign with techniques that allow the body to heal by rewiring the innate postural software using core breathing, primal body positions, self-massage, proprioception enhancement, visualization, experiential anatomy, and activation of the psoas/diaphragm connection. Michaelle has been a student of yoga for more than 40 years and a teacher for more than 25. She is the founder and director of Kauai Yoga School, offering teacher trainings, retreats, and workshops in Kauai and worldwide.
Bowspring method is much in agreement with Michaelle’s curvy, natural alignment ideas, so it was reinforcing and supportive for me to have a full conversation and interview with her back in the Spring of this year to discuss the new paradigm of dynamic, curvy alignment.Michaelle speaks boldly and provocatively, yet with care and concern for yoga students worldwide who inadvertently hurt themselves with their regular asana practice of the standard model of linear alignment. In this eye-opening interview, Michaelle contrasts passive, heavy, hyper-extended linear alignment, which is common today in modern postural yoga, with a radically new, curvy, springy posture in which the back of the body is actively engaged. This new paradigm of alignment, expressed by both Bowspring and YogAlign, embraces animal-like, primal movements that brings lightness and agile power to the practitioner. Despite all of its health, therapeutic, and fitness benefits, the new curvy alignment paradigm continues to get push-back from the status quo of the yoga world. Michaelle openly shares about the opposition she has faced from the mainstream yoga world, which is economically invested in the old paradigm and afraid to shift paradigms. Yet, the standard model is breaking down as more and more new students are embracing wavy, dynamic postural alignment.
John – Michaelle, who has been your greatest influence in the creation of YogAlign?
Michaelle – My answer is the human body. In reality, it took many years and specifically hundreds of hours to create YogAlign and it came about mostly from my own explorations in my practice as well as conducting private classes with clients. Teaching one-on-one is key because I could actually observe if anything was changing using the techniques I was developing. I realized that in order to feel balanced in our structure, we have to change the automatic programming of posture and movement by engaging the conscious and unconscious aspects of our vestibular system thereby increasing proprioception in the client. I practiced yoga for 20 years before I trained as a bodyworker (massage therapist). I realized after a few years of doing bodywork that most chronic pain is a result of posture and movement imbalances and massage; although it was beneficial to the client, was not enough to really change postural alignment at the neuromuscular (brain) level.
At the same time, I had yoga injuries and was beginning to see clearly that – Modern Postural Yoga (MPY) alignment – was not working the way I was taught to believe it was. That’s when I started changing and creating a whole new system of yoga based more on maintaining the spinal curves and also developing poses based of posture alignment rather than alignment of the ‘pose’. We use a great deal of movement in YogAlign because this is how the brain learns new patterns.
One of the ancient tenets of yoga is that ‘change is possible’. I have felt a keen desire to give people tools to make changes that could lead to a feeling of ease and stability in the body and the mind. Over my many decades of teaching, many people would say they could not do yoga because it felt so uncomfortable or it was unattainable to them. I wanted to create a way to do yoga that made anatomical sense and would support how we move in the body naturally rather than just ‘performing poses’. Why not do yoga in a way that felt comfortable and allowed everyone to do it? That made sense to me. Many of our habits in the body and mind happen in the unconscious mind or in the autonomic nervous system. I became fascinated with ways to tap into our natural ‘bio-intelligence’ and learn how to change the body by changing the way the brain automatically dictates our posture and how we move. So, in YogAlign and FitAlign, re-programming the brain is one of the key elements to facilitate change on a deep level.
The body is designed to move so it made sense to create something using movement rather than some yoga poses, which are static body positions; and some of them go against the way our body is designed to move.
Also so many people told me that yoga felt so uncomfortable or unattainable to them. I wanted to create a way to do yoga that felt comfortable and allowed everyone to do it. That made sense to me. Reprogramming the brain is the key element to the work I do with YogAlign and FitAlign Posture Training.
YogAlign is a form of somatic re-education, and we do not try to force the body – the re-alignment is more like blooming it from the inside. I train people to use breathing in a way that recruits the trunk muscles as stabilizers to align the spine in its natural curves and position the sacrum in its natural 30 degree nutation.
I think it’s definitely more natural to have a slight anterior tilt. You can see in pictures of people in Africa of these guys that stay totally strong into their 90’s – they have a lot of anterior tilt to the pelvis.
Most yoga instructors (and people in general) tell others to pull their navel in if they think they have lordosis. When there is lordosis, or excessive lumbar curve I use the breathing to create a lengthening of the lumbar as well as aligning the rib cage over the hips. For people with a flat or posterior tilted sacrum, and SI joint pain – it is best to do movements and breathing that restore the lumbar curve and sacral nutation.
Traditional yoga forward bends are not practiced in YogAlign as we keep the anterior flexors and posterior extensor chains engaged in all movements.
Bending forward to do a pose like Uttanasana can create laxity in the ligaments of the posterior chain including the spine, sacrum, hip, hamstring and knee area. There is a belief system in yoga that stretching the posterior chain to make the hamstrings and back looser or longer is beneficial. However, we need a strong back and so why not practice being upright instead of forward? Also, the ligaments of the spine, sacrum and hip are stretched and pulled apart in doing straight leg forward bending, which is so common in mainstream yoga.
So, that’s what I’ve been teaching for years is to stop trying to pull things apart. Instead, pull things together. I look at a lot of what people are doing and to me it looks like they are just trying to pull their limbs away from their body. Though my views are counter to most of the industry, what I do teach is still Yoga. Although I have friends say to me, “you know this is really great, but this isn’t Yoga,” I’ll say, In YogAlign, we practice asana and breathing that helps us move and breath from the center of our body and that is the middle path so often described in the yoga sutras. In yoga philosophy, we are encouraged to practice ahimsa or non-violence and YogAlign is comfortable and safe so we feel that we are practicing ahimsa in asana. Many people told me how uncomfortable yoga was for them so I decided to practice ahimsa and make YogAlign steady and comfortable. People are coming to my classes, and saying they feel more comfortable and stable in their body, and when they feel more comfortable in their body, their mind is naturally more peaceful, so they get what they are looking for in yoga.
J – To get some more clarity on the historical beginning of YogAlign, when did you start to open up to other ideas of alignment instead of the classical forms in Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. Do you remember the year?
M – My son was born in ‘87, so probably around ‘95.
J – Yeah, that’s important to note because a lot of people after they hit 40-years old attribute their pain in yoga mainly to their age. They don’t consider the source of the pain in their yoga practice to be the widely accepted standard model alignment. For you, as you are now moving into your mid-60’s, it sounds like the curvy alignment method of YogAlign has helped you age in a very healthy way.
M – Basically, what I try to do in YogAlign is in response to the fact that we’re all so out of alignment from sitting in chairs. We’ve all got these breathing problems because of our posture because we’ve been forced into the chair which is a linear right angle and not a natural shape for the curving design structure of the human body. So, basically my whole focus is to restore the natural spinal curves, but also including the knee curve and the foot curve.
I have experience with a number of people who have torn the hamstring tendon off the sit bones doing vinyasa flow types of yoga. They felt no pain until the attachment pulled away from the bone. These people were never told that trying to bend forward in a straight line and even using the hands to create tensions and pulling on the back side of the body will undermine the necessary tension in the ligaments and also lead to laxity and collapse of the natural curves of the posterior chain. I’ve been telling people this for a long time, the human body is made of curves, we’re not made of linear lines. These curves act as shock absorbers and help our body to undulate during movement so keep the curves! So, I don’t do poses like staff pose. I don’t see any point in that – trying to flatten the body into a right angle doesn’t make sense to me.
So far, I am not being invited to teaching in the popular yoga conferences and perhaps its because I’m too different. There has been a lot of pushback and alienation over the years because of my views on yoga pose alignment and the importance of working with the body globally rather than in parts. I also have had hundreds of people contact me who have serious injuries from yoga and they are afraid and feel that their body failed them. I give them a safe and effective way to continue to practice and/or teach.
J – So, in the mid-1990’s, you’re following your own heart and just feeling what alignment is right in your body. You’re feeling that we need to return to these curves and allowing the pose to come from inside – is that more like it?
M – My whole idea is that the Universe is in a state of contraction and expansion, and you want to walk that line between. The way I teach the breath is that if you’re in a position that is compressing the spine, the breath won’t move. So, you can use the breath as a barometer to know how close you are to the middle balance place. I stay away from extreme extension and extreme flexion of the spine. I focus more on a neutral spine.
I used to think that going to the end range of flexion or extension and having my joints as flexible as possible was going to be good for me. Now I know that that is absolutely not true. There is science showing that you don’t create the middle neutral posture by going to the end ranges. I believed it for years, and I believed that making my body as flexible as possible was going to be good for me, and it was a mistaken idea. A flexible spine is an unstable spine and statistics show that those with a loose, flexible spine have the most back pain.
I do explore beyond the neutral spine of course. It’s not that I don’t to go into flexion or extension. I just don’t go to the end range. I relate it to how you use your body in real life. Do you need to extend or flex your spine that far to function in the world?
Although, I get my students on the fitness balls and they go into really deep backbends, I don’t let them do it passively. I train them to engage their muscles.
I’m not a proponent of Yin Yoga as I think passive stretching is really problematic. It is important to engage the muscles to make the joints move. Holding the body in static positions can create laxity in forces needed for upright stable alignment. I think that the benefit of just staying with your breath and mindfulness is important, but you can do that taking a walk.
J – Let’s talk about the benefits and the downside of the most static yin positions. Do you find any benefit? How does that alignment serve?
M – I think again, if you’re in passive spinal flexion – say you’re gone to do Child’s pose or something like that – it’s like hanging meat off a hook or something. It’s going to start to pull the structures apart. To me, collectively we have such a big issue with people going forward. I don’t see the point in making a body flexible by bending it more forward. My version of a yin pose, would be more, to lie on a support in Shavasana. Most people are so forward (contracted on their front line) that just laying on a floor is to them, an opening.
In a loaded spinal flexion – when people hang on their ankles in a forward bend and pull with their spine in a C-shape – they can do a lot of damage because there can be so much more torque from pulling into it using their arms.
Recently, I had a discussion with a guy online that was telling me that my before and after YogAlign pictures are just anecdotal and did not prove anything. I said well, let’s talk about Janu Sirsasana – where you are sitting, you bend one knee in and you’re gonna flex your spine over the other leg. I asked him if he ever saw injuries in that pose? This guy teaches some kind of Ashtanga vinyasa flow derivative.
He’s says, “Yeah, I’ve seen people herniate their discs, de-stabilise their SI joints, hurt their knees, and he said especially when they power in there using their hands on the ankles to pull forwards.” I asked him if he has seen these injuries? “Yeah.”
Do you see a benefit? “No, there’s no benefits to Janu Sirsasana,” he replied.
So, I asked, “But do you still teach the pose?” “Yes,” he said, “you don’t need a reason to teach a yoga pose. It’s just a challenge.” That’s what this guy said.
We’re having this discussion online and then I said, “I’ve been working on YogAlign for more than a couple of decades. I’d be happy to send you my book and see if you might be interested in reading what I’ve been doing with yoga.” “No”, he replied, “I just started PT school, so I don’t have time.” He didn’t think that was scientific. He is one of these people that has probably taken a logic course and likes to go line-by-line through one of my articles to and try and debunk it by saying it is simply ‘anecdotal evidence’ or ‘non-secular’.
J – That is very interesting, because it’s been just 5 years for Desi and I with the Bowspring method, and there is so much is just exactly the same. We naturally discovered what you’ve been doing for a couple of decades — of not going to the extremes in the poses, finding the natural curvy spinal alignment — and then getting push back for teaching it. We have gotten used to being trolled and attacked for also disturbing the standard paradigm.
M – People (yoga teachers) are trying to protect their livelihoods. I taught at a couple of conferences and people came and took one of my classes along with many other classes offered on the conference menu. After the first day, I’ve got gangs of students following me around asking questions and obviously excited for a different perspective. But I also have other teachers over in the corner avoiding eye contact or discussion with me. What would happen is that students would come in and take my class and then go into the next class and say, “wait a minute, we just learned that spine alignment is not beneficial, and we don’t want to do that now.” The conflict in the alignment paradigms seems to cause problems, so for now, YogAlign is not yet offered at the big yoga conferences.
J – What is the first step in helping people to shift their mind?
You’ve been doing it for so long, you know the tendencies for the students’ minds.
What are some of your strategies in helping the students to open their mind and maybe even switch systems of alignment?
M – I explain, “this may challenge some of your practices and belief systems. I’m not saying that this is the only way, I’m just presenting to you my experience and what’s been working.
I encourage students to focus on the value and functional benefits rather than the belief systems about a yoga pose or exercise. I’m very careful to consider people’s feelings and their experiences because I have seen some of them almost have nervous breakdowns once they get the global body concept and realize what they may have been doing to their body for decades.
I’ve had people start shaking, crying. Because they realize, in order for them to understand it, they have to view the body differently, they have to see it globally.
I take pictures, so they see it looks so much different and it feels that much different, they go, ‘whoa! I feel really light, energized, strong.’
Very few people, once they have taken my class, will go back to straight line body positions or linear right angle poses. They tell me, ‘you’ve ruined yoga classes for me. I can’t go anymore.’
I say, “You can adjust what you’re doing and still go to yoga classes. Many people in the yoga world are adjusting the way they teach and questioning what they teach. Back when you and I started yoga, John, it was considered disrespectful to question the teacher or the practice.
By the time the students come to me, they’ve already been around the yoga block and they’re hurting or they have pain they do not understand. A lot of people will come to me and say, “I always thought that poses just didn’t feel right. So I quit doing yoga.”
Most people will think that it is the fault of their individual body – that there is something wrong with them. What I do is give them the understanding that they are not designed to bend over with their knees straight, not designed to touch their toes and try to pull on their hamstrings to get deeper.
They go, “OH!” when they see that it’s a big relief to them – that they don’t have this tyranny that they have to always stretch things out. Most people have a feeling of guilt when they say, “I can’t stretch, so I am really bad at yoga.”
You don’t see a lot of men in yoga classes because their back body including their hamstrings and butt muscles are so developed that their body won’t let them bend forward without a deep bend to the knees. I joke around that we women make all the men do the hard work. We don’t have strength in our backs, so we can just flop forward. Men may feel that they can’t do yoga because they’re not good at it and they don’t want to look foolish. But usually, I have half and half (men and women) in my classes because the men feel comfortable, they can do it. That’s another great thing.
I think a lot of yoga has become elitist, where only certain body types and certain people can keep up, and it leaves a big part of our population out. Anyone can do my class. You don’t have to be 25 and hyper-mobile. I think that yoga is leaving a lot of people behind because of that.
One of the things I recently read about is that they are seeing a big link between people with hyper-mobility, perhaps born with a connective tissue disorder, and anxiety and stomach disorders.
J – That’s very interesting. Can say more about that?
M – Hyper-mobility is now being related to anxiety, stomach disorders and fibromyalgia. I think it could be the proprioceptors/mechano receptors in the ligaments and other connective tissue that are relaying to the brain that something is not stable in the joint area. The brain may respond by creating a sympathetic state in the nervous system that leads to many kinds of autoimmune diseases. Stress creates higher levels of cortisol, less blood to the organs etc., and it is possible that over-stretching may do the same thing. What I understood is that the researchers know there is this health problem with laxity in the connective tissue, but they don’t know why.
J – We also see with students that low tone of the connective tissue leads to adverse effects in the nervous system. Our hypothesis is that the connective tissue, particularly the fascia, when it is low tone or very lax, doesn’t give the nervous system the necessary balanced level of uniform engagement that a natural posture provides. The nervous system can freak out into classic fibromyalgia symptoms. The fascia moves away from the bone and its stable centerline, and it becomes spongy. Anxiety is a normal fibromyalgia symptom.
M – I think that the movement to foam roll the fascia and use balls to loosen their tissue is happening without consideration of how the nervous system responds to all that we do. I remind people that it is most likely a bad idea to make connective tissue too loose. Fascia has a natural recoil which helps us move forward as much as the contraction of our muscles.
Years ago, they studied that kangaroos capacity to jump so far from a static position, which was originally attributed to some sort of special muscle tissue, but then they realized the power to jump came from fascial recoil. We have the same type of fascia recoil in our body as the kangaroo. We have the necessary good ‘tensional forces’ in our body needed to keep the tissues resilient and strong, which we don’t want to reduce by passively stretching connective tissue.
J – How do you deal with the difficult students – the ones with the biggest push back to this new paradigm alignment? Do you find it’s the yoga teachers who have the most difficulty or trouble with this curvy alignment?
M – By the time someone comes to a YogAlign workshop, they’ve already read my book or seen some of my videos, they already want to hear what I have to say. But I tell them, “Don’t believe me. This is just the beginning. I’m giving you tools, and you have to work with your body. And if you want to teach this, you gotta get out there and experiment by teaching.
But in terms of the pushback, the negative comments on an article I wrote or my alignment ideas, I think that some of it comes from people feeling threatened. Others want to blindly believe things like “ no yoga pose is inherently bad for the body’. I have heard that as an argument to dispute the natural spine alignment in YogAlign.
Yoga hasn’t been questioned for so long because it has sort of a ‘religious’ protection around it, and you don’t question the church’s beliefs, you know.
I just worked with an older yoga teacher from NZ and she said “thank you for giving me my asana practice back, because I practically gave up on it because of my injures and my discomfort.”
So if anything, I feel that I’m trying to help put yoga teachers back in a working condition – because once they start hurting, and when they realize it’s their yoga, they can really suffer a lot of anxiety and/or denial. Those who have a conscience about what they are teaching, question, “what am I showing to other people?”
They realize, ‘I better quit this damaging alignment, and I want to learn how to do this so I’m able to teach in a safer and more effective manner.’
Most of the people counter against my warning about the dangers of the standard yoga alignment with, “well, I only teach gentle yoga”, but I say just because the alignment is slow and easy, doesn’t mean it’s gentle on your body.
J – In the short-term, you can do a sitting forward bend and it can feel good. But that postural form as a long-term practice and lifestyle is degenerative. These common misalignments are now catching up on the health and joint mobility of many experienced yoga teachers. Yet, they don’t know yet about an alternative, new alignment paradigm. That is one reason why it is important for us to spread this information to support the growing awareness about curvy, dynamic alignment.
There is a lot of questioning starting to happen in the dogmatic yoga culture. However, the standard model is pretty deeply ingrained in modern postural yoga.
M – What you and I are teaching is more about alignment — about how your posture is like a program to support the function and longevity of your joints.
But I think that the bread and butter of teacher trainings has been the performance of yoga poses.
To me, the word ‘pose’, which if you look it up in the dictionary, it says, ‘to strike a position’, to make one look sexy and powerful. There might be some benefit to holding poses for a short amount of time, but certainly not the five-minute static Virabhadrasana (Warrior pose) and that stuff. Most of my work is movement-oriented.
The idea of posture and alignment is changing and people are waking up to the fact that the body is a continuum and all parts affect the whole.
John, you have had a big influence on changing yoga. The basis of Anusara alignment – the Loops and Spirals and other principles. You got people to turn and think in another direction and see that there’s more to the body than the cut and dry, linear alignment.
It’s so much more fun for me to teach this way, so much more dynamic. Without being attached to standard model, you’re learning all the time as a teacher, not confined in a box.
There are some other posture educators like Kathleen Porter talking about how babies shouldn’t be put in those C-shaped carriers, since we start collapsing the sacrum in the infant stage. My theory is that babies should walk a lot sooner than they do. My son crawled at 3.5 months and walked at 7 months. By the time he was one years old, he was running and dancing. I simply let him move, swim and be on his stomach so that he could push up with his arms and engage his back muscles. We don’t let the babies engage their back muscles enough.
J – So in functional movement, how much focus do you give to the action of the glutes?
M – I do a lot of exercises that recruit the glutes, which are part of the extensors of the back chain of myo-fascial tissue that includes the entire back, hamstrings and the back of the neck. Most people have their head forward, their hamstrings disengaged, sacrum flat with their non-existent butts. So, I do a lot of things to recruit the extensor chain in positions where the cranium and the sacrum are in line.
I also focus on the breathing apparatus and recruiting the midline. If your breathing apparatus is collapsed — if your ribs, for instance, are collapsed, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re not going to be able to align your posture. So, this imbalanced alignment, in which it is difficult to expand your ribs when you breath, is really disturbing to me.
I think the whole Yoga thing might be falling apart from the inside out.
I think that when the mainstream media really does an in-depth report on what we know now about alignment – all these people getting hip replacements, etc. – the yoga industry may get a lot of backlash from orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists.
I obtained the ‘YogaInjuries.com’ domain in 2008 when there was no other websites on yoga injuries and now there are hundreds of similar sites.
People are going to start thinking… ‘whoa, maybe this pose alignment isn’t that good for us?!’ This growing awareness among the public is why I think the yoga world is scrambling now to try to respond to the increasing number of injuries.
You know, everybody is learning all this anatomy in yoga teacher training. But I tell people that it is not enough for a yoga teacher to learn a bunch of anatomical terms and the names of various bones and parts. You have to understand how it all works together. Just naming a bunch of separate body parts or seeing some image where the hamstring is highlighted in blue does not help people understand the global nature of the body.
The hamstrings do not exist in isolation and are part of the extensor chain which is the entire posterior chain. That’s the trend I’m seeing — you might know all the names of the bones and muscles, but you don’t know that they don’t exist in isolation. And do you know what you need to do to teach someone to recruit them in their natural chains? If you don’t, all that information on separate anatomical parts is not going to be enough information to change the global picture at the nervous system level.
J – You mentioned to me in a recent email about a “saggy sacrum.” Can you please elaborate on that?
M – Forward bends recruit the flexor chain to shorten tremendously. As it does, and especially as the psoas shortens or as the navel is pulled in, the sacrum is going to flatten. It causes the natural nutation of the sacrum that should be there – the 30 degree tilt – to flatten and to tug backwards on the sacroiliac joint. Then of course the skull will likely be pulled forward, because it’s all connected. You’re generally not going to observe someone with a saggy butt and see a skull aligned with the rest of the spine.
I received a letter from an Australian man. He said, ‘Oh my god, my girlfriend started Yoga 6 months ago. Her butt is disappearing, her sacrum is flat. I don’t like it, it doesn’t look good. I told her that too. This can’t be good anatomically, it just can’t be good. You’ve got to write my girlfriend now!’
Another yoga teacher injured from hip openers who started a Facebook group about yoga and movement explains that she was told to relax her butt in the backbends. I said to her, ‘but to think beyond just back-bending and see all of yoga. She did thousands of forward bends without using her back or butt extensor forces. If you’re glutes are recruited, you wouldn’t be able to bend over into a forward bend. In other words, you don’t use your butt in forward bends. I .am not sure she understood what I was saying.
J – Even I taught that you could do any forward bend while squeezing your butt. In Anusara yoga, I always had the glutes going down, yet that’s not a functional direction.
I think that there is a big confusion about what is good postural alignment. There are two separate optimal alignments – a natural functional, dynamic alignment versus a passive, quiet alignment that is best for rest and sleep. Neither alignment is to be used 24 hours a day. For a healthy, balanced life, we need both dynamic, curvy alignment and a static, more linear, C-curved alignment.
M – Right, that’s a good way of putting it. What is commonly taught is forcing the natural design of the body in another direction. I tell people, you look at any 2-year old, and they have perfect posture. They have a really strong butt, their head is sitting on top, they have a slight anterior tilt, they don’t push their knees back when standing or bending forward.
Then what do we do? We put the children in a chair. That’s the insanity – the chairs are the deep cause to the global misalignment in the western world. So why do we then practice yoga poses such as staff pose that are the same shape as a chair?
I’m going to start doing something for the schools here, for the 6th graders. Because I’m concerned about this movement to have kids do yoga, since that’s not a good thing either. They shouldn’t be stretching their joints, their end plates of their bones aren’t even properly formed till about age 16- 18.
Even though a 14-year old girl who did Ashtanga Yoga in the school said she got a labrum tear from doing this alignment and she couldn’t do sports anymore, they didn’t even listen to her because everybody thinks that yoga is so harmless.
J – Oh, that’s unfortunate. Sorry to hear that.
M – I think the main thing is if we never say… ‘we’d feel uncomfortable in our mind, you created a yoga, yoga came from a feeling of separation and I think we’re so separate from our body, from being in that linear angle, so that’s why we need to move more towards paying attention to the global nature of the human body.
It’s like I tell people, you wouldn’t drive a car 100 miles an hour down a bumpy road to think about how you are using your car, and if this way is beneficial in the long run? I’m getting younger, and younger people that are listening.
One young gal, she’s only 23, she started passing out and it was from her hypermobility. She now says it’s hard because her friends don’t want to listen to her about the problems with the stretchy, flexy alignment. But she’s trying.
J – Thank you, Michaelle for this insightful interview. This paradigm-shifting idea of wavy, springy alignment is now starting to spread out more and more, so hopefully we won’t have to wait decades before there is a big awakening!
Here at Fitness-Equipment-Source, we make it our business to understand how people exercise throughout the country. That is why we are one of the top trusted sources for Elliptical Reviews and Ratings.
But what about other types of exercise? What activities get our American red blood pumping? We did a little research and found some pretty gnarly information. Check it out!
State-by-State: Here are the Most Popular Exercise Activities in America
National Search Results: Here are the Top 14 Exercise Activities in the United States
Here are the top 14 exercise activities in the USA based on estimated average monthly search volume on Google’s search engine
Yoga is by far the most popular activity in the United States with 361,860 related keyword searches per month (according to Google AdWords.)
2. Running is the second most popular activity with 289,190 related keyword searches per month. You’ll find the most runners in California.
3. 238,870 was the total number of related keyword searches for hiking which is popular in Colorado, California, and Texas.
4. CrossFit had 138,290 related keyword searches for 4th place.
5. Swimming had had 117,390 related keyword searches with the highest per capita rate in the state of New Jersey.
6. Kayaking had 93,500 related keyword searches and is most popular in Florida.
7. Gymnastics reigns supreme in Texas with 64,430 related keyword searches.
8. 57,810 related keyword searches were logged for general cardio workouts.
9 & 10. Bodybuilding comes in 9th place with 47,790 related keyword searches. Weightlifting follows close behind with 45,590 related keyword searches.
11. Aerobics logged 44,670 related keyword searches per month.
12 & 13. Mixed martial arts (MMA) had 38,670 searches while martial arts had only 15,690.
14. Finally, 4,970 searches were found for jogging to round out the top 14 activities.
How Did We Get These Results?
To figure out the most popular exercise activity in each state we used Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool to examine the estimated average monthly search volume for keywords related to an exercise activity in each state.
Our study looked at 14 different exercise activities; MMA, Kayaking, Hiking, Running, Jogging, Swimming, Weight Lifting, Yoga, Aerobics, Cardio, Gymnastics, Bodybuilding, Martial Arts, and Crossfit. We were unable to use the exact keyword for each activity due to Google’s recent policy of adding in what they call ‘close variants’ into the search volume for some keywords that would have made the data unreliable (i.e. the data for the keyword ‘jogging’ includes search volume from searches for joggers which is a type of clothing).
Instead we performed in-depth keyword research to find keywords that might be used by individuals performing the exercise activity or looking to get involved in the activity (such as “yoga studio near me” or “marathon training” among hundreds of other keywords) and then pulled the estimated search volume for those keywords with the geographic location set to only include searches from a specific state. We had to pull the data across several days to avoid getting data in ranges provided by Google after so many queries using the tool and verified the data with at least one more pull to ensure the numbers reported by the Keyword Planner Tool were consistent.
Once we had all of the data, we added up the estimated monthly search volume for keywords related to one of the 14 types of exercise for each state and selected the type of exercise with the most search volume as the most popular exercise activity in that state. You can see the results from this research in our map above.
Your doctor has told you that you have bone loss or thinning. Is this a reason to stop exercising? Not at all.
Weight-bearing exercise has been proven to help avoid these conditions, which are called osteoporosis and osteopenia. Weight-bearing exercise forces you to work against gravity. Some examples include weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, and dancing.
A recent study suggests that yoga may be a good addition to the list of weight-bearing exercise that keep osteoporosis and osteopenia at bay.
Increased bone density
Yoga has established benefits — including better balance and coordination—that protect against falling, a major cause of osteoporosis-linked fractures, the study’s researchers said. But the researchers wanted to see whether a set of certain yoga poses also might increase bone density by imposing force on the spine and hips.
The researchers recruited 741 people who joined the study between 2005 and 2015. The participants submitted bone density scans of their hips and spines and other lab tests at the beginning of the study. They also received instructions for the 12 yoga poses, which included tree, triangle, warrior II, locust and bridge, and were asked to log their yoga activity online.
The 227 participants, 202 of whom were women, practiced the routine at least every other day for two years. The average age of the participants when joining was 68, and 83 percent had lower-than-normal bone density.
At the end of the study, the participants submitted new bone density scans — and the test showed significant increases in bone density in the spine.
Hip bone density increased, too, but not significantly. None of the participants reported bone fractures or other injuries caused by doing yoga.
Incorporating yoga into a regular exercise routine that also includes strength training can be beneficial for those who want to maintain and build bone, says Judi Bar, E-RYT 500, Cleveland Clinic yoga program manager. Many yoga poses done on a mat can be considered weight-bearing, Ms. Bar says.
“Every pose has a benefit toward bone health if the pose is activating muscles and/or has any part of the body touching the ground,” Ms. Bar says.
Practicing yoga also improves balance and coordination, which can help protect you from falling and incurring a bone fracture.
“We’re practicing good posture, mind-body connection and balance all together. Practicing to develop better balance is a really important part of a protocol now for patients with osteoporosis. If we are able to develop better balance to be able to catch ourselves, we’re less likely to fall and possibly fracture our bones,” Ms. Bar says.
Ms. Bar noted that the study participants did 12 poses within 12 minutes, which might be a challenge for some yoga practitioners. Others may want to hold poses longer to build strength or work on alignment.
Both approaches are fine, she says, as long as they are appropriate for your personal fitness level and your medical conditions or physical limitations. Yoga is not a competition sport and should never cause pain, she says.
“What’s important to getting the desired results is the quality of how we practice the pose,” Ms. Bar says.
Yoga for every body
If you’re new to yoga and think you might have difficulty lowering yourself to the ground, use caution and take your time, Ms. Bar says.
When you first attempt balancing poses, try steadying yourself with one arm by leaning on a wall or using a chair until you build up strength and experience, she says. Practice yoga with the attitude that you are learning and not competing with anyone.
For people with chronic conditions or painful joints, Ms. Bar recommends finding a yoga instructor who is experienced in modifying poses for people with medical issues.
“Not all the poses in this study are accessible to everyone, but they can be adapted or modified to build a yoga practice that is right for you,” she says.
If you have very low bone density, be sure to avoid forward-bending exercises and spine-twisting movements, which may put too much pressure on your back, Ms. Bar says.