Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes...

Dear Sweet Community,

So we jumped back an hour for daylight savings. I love that feeling at the end of the day when there is still some light before twilight. I have been appreciating the time to meander home and watch people as their day ends; children skipping while holding their parent's hand, dogs being walked etc. There is such comfort in seeing everyone slow down with me. These are not my children or my dog but I feel connected to the joy of them in my life. 

Yoga teaches us that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. This is related to the yoga of service. We are of service to our greater community. This is also true when it comes to the body. Each joint in our body is of service to the rest of the body. A practice that focuses on the joints is like taking the time to really see all the people who share this community with you. I have always said the body is a community; your knee is in relationship with your hip. And we are not isolated beings. We are deeply attachment oriented. 

So as much as I love my sunny afternoons where I can slowly find my way home and pass all of my fellow community members gardening and grocery shopping, I do really hope it rains so that we can sustain our community. Maybe next week we will do a rain practice sending metta to the earth!!!

Alignment Tip of The Week

The past two Fridays we focused on the cervical spine (the neck) and the joints of the body.

The cervical spine supports the head. Like all vertebra, there are discs between each vertebra which allow some cushioning and space. It is important to make sure these discs don't get compressed. The muscles of the neck are quite delicate and do not need a lot of pulling. To stretch the neck you can take a strap behind the head in line with the tops of your ears. Holding both sides of the strap, on an inhale, pull evenly forward as you press the back of your head into the strap and release on the exhale. Repeat this three times. Turn your head to the right and, on an inhale, pull both sides of the strap as you press the left side of your head into the strap and exhale release- repeat three times and then switch sides. Lastly, with the head center, pull straight down with both sides of the strap and stay for a few breaths. 

Sirsasana (Headstand) is known to stimulate the brain and the last of the chakras which is our wisdom and bliss center. I think the biggest misconception is that all of the body weight is supposed to be on the head and the neck. This is not true. Headstand is the hardest inversion because you have to use your core to stay OFF of the cervical spine which is very delicate. Remember, there are discs between each vertebra which can bulge if there is too much compression on the neck. 

To do headstand face the wall an all fours and drop your elbows onto the earth. Measure the distance of your shoulders by bringing opposite fingers the each elbow crease and then interlace the finger with your pinkie fingers stacked in front of each other instead of crossed. Tuck your chin in and bring your head onto the earth so the back of your head rests in the hands. Straighten your legs. Feel your shoulder blades pull down your back so that they are trying to kiss in the middle and press down through your elbows. See if you can lift your head a tiny bit off of the ground. This is to remind you not to rely on the neck to hold you up but rather pressing down through the arms, stabilizing the shoulders and drawing the core in. Bring one leg to a tuck and then the other gently landing both feet against the wall with the knees bent. Now knit the front of the ribs in and use your core to lift out of the neck and straighten your legs. Immediately glue the legs together and reach through your feet! The more you reach up and out of the shoulders and neck the more you protect the cervical vertebra. Headstand should be comfortable and activate the top of the head without hurting the neck. 

After headstand take Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulderstand). I like to take a yoga blanket and fold it in quarters. Take the folded side and face it towards the top of your mat, fold your mat over the folded blanket. Lie on your mat with your shoulders about an inch in from the edge of the folded blanket. Your head will come onto the floor. Don't get too close because your weight will shift forward more when you life the legs to the sky. Bring your knees into your chest with your hands under your hips with palms flat. Rock backwards and forwards a few times until your legs come up and over towards your head. Bring your hands to your low back, fingers pointing up to your sacrum. Shimmy your shoulders in and send your legs to the sky. Lean your weight into your hands so you are staying with weight on the shoulders and not he cervical spine. This pose stretches the neck and cervical spine but it should not put pressure on it. DO NOT turn you head side to side, keep it straight. After a few breaths bring your legs back down and enjoy plow pose and slowly unwind to lying on your back with the legs straight. Tuck your hands underneath your hips only halfway with the palms flat and prop yourself up on your elbows allowing your head to tilt back and the chin to tip to the sky for (fish pose) which is a counter stretch in the neck to shoulder stand. 

Doing these poses can open up the neck and the gateway of communication. Just remember to be mindful of the cervical spine and it's delicate nature :)

The vertebra are each a joint. They are a member of a community of joints in the body. All of these joint are engineered to work together. Like the joint in a car, there is a fluid called synovial fluid which acts like oil lubricating the joints. All of our joints are made of bone, cartilage and soft tissue (tendons and ligaments). Some joints like the hip are a ball and socket joint, some are more a threaded joint like the scare-iliac joint and some are more a hinge joint. The shoulder joint has the least amount of bone and is mostly compromised of soft tissue which makes it very flexible. 

To care for our joints we need; strength, flexibility and traction. To warm up the joints get them moving in circles if they are ball and socket, or back and forth is they are hinging. The point is to get the synovial fluid moving. A nice exercise is to bring the feet together and come to chair pose bring your hands to your knees and move them around in circles in one direction and then the other. This will get the synovial fluid going in the ankles, knees and hips. Be aware of your joints, we don't always want to just stretch the ligaments and tendons attached to the bones of the joint, this makes the joints unstable. If you are hyper mobile in a particular joint you don't need to stretch it, you actually need to strengthen it. You can stabilize joints by placing them in alignment with the other joints and by activating the bones in their socket, meaning don't pull joints out of their socket in traction keep them in the socket and use the muscles around them to get stabilization. For example, bring the shoulders blades down the back in plank to strengthen rather than letting them float away and create instability in the shoulder. 

A joint practice each morning can really wake up your body together as a community of working parts and promote holistic health in the body for many years. 

I look forward to seeing you all on the mat,

Sweet Day,