The IBS/SIBO-Psoas Connection and Why It’s Important for Highly Sensitive People
Note to the reader – this is one motherload of an article. Grab some coffee and a low-fodmap cookie and let’s dive in.
In my personal experience with SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), back and hip injury, and with my experience working with highly sensitive people (HSP) with similar issues, a pattern has emerged that feels much too important not to talk about. So far, I haven’t really seen anyone having this conversation (not to say that it isn’t happening, I just haven’t come across it yet) so here I go, in hopes of starting one.
My lens as both an Ayurvedic health counselor and an energy medicine practitioner is one of seeing the body holistically, of noticing how different parts of the physical body interact, how different parts of the subtle body interact, and how the physical and subtle bodies interact. When working with digestive issues like IBS and SIBO, taking a big picture look at how the systems of the body interact is important. Through my lens as a highly sensitive person I have come to see the nervous system and subtle body as the center of the highly sensitive world – the central point which governs everything and through which all issues or discomforts must be addressed.
Other HSP experts have noticed common physical issues that HSP’s, as a group, tend to share. These include things like connective tissue disorders, scoliosis and other spinal issues, pelvic issues (bowel, bladder, menstrual, low back), digestive issues (IBS, SIBO, food sensitivities, leaky gut), and gut flora imbalances. Because the nervous system is the main focus with high sensitivity, we must start here when seeing how these issues may be linked for the HSP. The nervous system is incredibly complex and literally connects everything in the body together through a system of communication. It is also through the nervous system that us HSP’s take in sensory information and process it. Deeply. This very strong microphone of a nervous system, which connects to everything in the body, must be considered a central anchor in regards to physical and subtle issues in the HSP body.
If we think of the nervous system as the network of information that connects the body together, similar to our global information system, then we can start to see how the infrastructure through which the nervous system operates is important for the function of the whole system. Having a blocked infrastructure can cause problems with communication. Conversely, too much communication in the system (additional stress in the nervous system, for example) can short-circuit the infrastructure (kind of like running too much power through an energy circuit – you can flip a breaker). Consider using this metaphor as we look at the ways in which our muscle, connective tissue and digestive distresses are linked and how this can be a bigger problem for HSP’s.
In my Sensitive Self Intelligence course (soon being renamed as Flight School), we cover a lot of these connections. Here, I’ll mostly just be talking about the connections between IBS/SIBO and the Psoas.
Getting to Know the Psoas/Illiopsoas Complex
Two muscles, the psoas major and the illacus, together make up what is known as the illiopsoas complex or simply, the psoas. This muscle group is one of the most important in the entire body, and especially so for the HSP body. Because of its location, it is one of the major muscles that allows us to stand upright, connecting our spine to our legs from the front. The psoas begins at the long head of the femur (thigh) bone and wraps up over the front of the pelvis. The illiacus then attaches to the inside of the pelvis, while the psoas major draws back and connects to the sides of our lumbar vertebrae. Functionally, this is the muscle that pulls our knees towards our chest. It is also one of the main core muscles involved in body’s “fight, flight or fetal” response. (*Note – this response is called the “Red Light Reflex” in the study of Somatics. I highly recommend reading Somatics by Tommas Hannah for more information).
Our body has a physical response to stress that prepares the body to fight, flee or go fetal – curl into the fetal position. The psoas is the muscle responsible for all three – readying our body in a fighting stance, driving our body forward in a run, or curling us into a tight ball.
Additionally, large nerve bundles (transmission lines) that supply the digestive system with nerve impulses (communication/information) must pass through the psoas muscle, giving it an even more important job – messenger muscle, or, referring to our metaphor – an environment through which our transmission lines run. Liz Koch, an expert in pelvic wellness, says:
Although the psoas has been thought to serve the spine as a guide wire creating stabilization, its main job is to message subtle changes in weight, location, and safety. The psoas bridges the belly enteric brain, central, and autonomic nervous systems. The large nerve ganglion located within the belly core going to the digestive and reproductive organs passes over, embeds into, and through the psoas. Serving as messenger of the core our psoas translates and transmits all expressions of safety, harmony, and integrity; signaling whether or not we are centered and congruent or encumbered and vulnerable.i
When the psoas muscle is constantly charged with feelings of fear, or it’s holding a past trauma, it may become chronically short, tight and dry. It can also react this way when there is dysfunction in the pelvis – the psoas will react to take up any slack in pelvic stability. So if the pelvis is weak from inactivity, singular repetitive movements or trauma, the psoas will step in and do the job of stabilization, while continuing its more primitive and important work as messenger.
Many HSP’s suffer from low back pain, scoliosis and other spinal problems. While there is no major research on the link between HSP back pain and the psoas, I see more HSP clients with psoas issues than any other sub group of yoga students.
Stress affects the psoas, shortening it and pulling the body forward. The psoas provides the basket in which the digestive organs sit.vIf you think of the psoas as the bowl in which our softest most primal organs sit, you can see that it forms a sort of foundational layer within our body. This foundation, related in energy medicine to our first, second and third chakras, are often the areas that HSP’s struggle with most – issues with survival and money, trouble in identifying like-minded tribe or family, in relating with others and in self empowerment. Physically, a tight psoas can affect how well we digest food, the comfort of our menstrual cycle and how well we eliminate and remove waste from the body. When looking at issues in the gut, including IBS/SIBO, I think the psoas may be a big contributor.
Liking this article? You can subscribe to more like it right here.
A bit about Connective Tissue HSP’s tend to have more connective tissue disorders, or problems with the fascia, than hardy people. Fascia is a type of connective tissue that acts like a spiderweb or network in the body. Fascia surrounds all of our organs and covers all of our muscles, effectively connecting our innards together in a web-like sheath, kind of like plastic wrap. But different from plastic wrap is the way that fascia acts like a network of information, relaying nerve impulses and reacting to stress and tension in the body. When flexible, our fascia is healthy and unrestricted. When unhealthy, the fascia becomes restricted and sticky.
Mainstream medicine still considers fascia a relative mystery, and largely ignores it in treatments for physical pain. What is known, but not really understood, is that within the body, fascia has a slippery quality, holding the organs but allowing them to glide over one another – allowing what visceral manipulation practitioners call “mobility” of organs. When fascia is unhealthy, largely due to inflammation or injury, it becomes sticky and can form adhesions – areas of drier tissue, causing tension that you can imagine by stretching plastic wrap tight around an object, then pinching it on one side – it stretches and gets tighter in some areas to account for the pinch.
Many sources cause the inflammation that leads to adhesions, the most obvious being direct injury or trauma. Other factors include infection, repetitive movement, poor diet, toxins, poor posture and emotional stress. Because fascia provides the atmosphere through which nerve interactions happen, it responds to stress and tension. Additionally, during an injury, it’s common for fascia to constrict around the injury in order to provide structured protection, tightening the whole fascial system and potentially causing pain and discomfort in an area of the body not associated with the injury.
For HSP’s with digestive and/or other pelvic imbalances, considering inflammation or stress-induced adhesions may be an important factor for treatment and relief. As we’ll see as we look at IBS and SIBO specifically, the small intestine is really long and loops its way through the abdomen, connected to our insides through several connection points. There are many opportunities for small adhesions to bind up the small intestine and inhibit motility and mobility. For example, the right sacro-illiac joint is the attachment point for the end of the small intestine. When the sacrum is out of place, the end of the small intestine can’t empty properly into the colon – and this works both ways. Disruptions in the psoas can cause inflammation, leading to small internal adhesions anywhere in the gut, and likely in some of the meters of small intestine. This sticky connective tissue can pull on the side of the sacro-illiac joint, internally causing rotation.
The Digestive System-Nervous System Connection
Remember that we are using the nervous system as an anchor or lens through which to link the psoas and digestive disturbances. I believe that a huge part of the reason HSP’s experience increased digestive discomfort (like IBS) is because of how the nervous system and gut communicate and because of the environment through which the transmission wires reach the digestive system. As stated earlier, the nervous system rules the roost; it plays a huge role in several digestive system processes. Some of the control the nervous system has over digestion comes from links between the digestive system and the central nervous system (CNS), however, the digestive system also has its own, local nervous system. This is called the enteric or intrinsic nervous system. We are only beginning to understand the complexity and magnitude of this immense nervous system – but we do know that it contains as many neurons as the spinal chord.ii
The enteric nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, along with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The enteric nervous system has two main networks of neurons (transmissions) embedded into the wall of the digestive tract from esophagus to anus. These exert control over the motility of the digestive tract (how well each organ moves of its own accord – primarily the act of pushing food and digestive juices through it) and in sensing the system environment in order to regulate blood flow and control cell function.
Within these plexuses are several types of neurons (communication centers) which receive sensory information from the mucosa and the muscle and respond both to the internal, chemical stimuli like digestive fluids and muscular stimuli like stress and tension. Other neurons respond to the motility and secretion of the digestive organs, and others integrate this information.
The enteric nervous system functions autonomously (without us thinking about it), but requires communication between this system and the CNS through sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers connecting the two (transmission wires). Through these links, the two systems can speak to each other. For example, when we see appealing food (sight is a sensory information coming in through the CNS), it signals the stomach to start secretions. Generally, sympathetic stimulation (usually a stress response, indicating activity) inhibits gastrointestinal secretions and causes the digestive tract to constrict or close down. Parasympathetic stimuli (our “rest and digest” system) stimulates digestive activities.
Stress and Digestion
What this tells us is that when we are chronically stressed, we don’t digest food as well. Additionally, because us HSP’s continuously take in sensory information, when we eat, we aren’t just digesting the food – we are digesting the entire atmosphere of the room, including conversation, emotions and the look and feel of our location. Eating in a stress-free environment is SO important for proper digestion and absorption of food, especially for HSP’s. The first and easiest thing can do to reduce gut disturbances is to learn how to manage stress and eat undistracted in a calm atmosphere.
When we experience chronic stress to the point that our fight, flight or fetal response is triggered, even at a low level, for long periods of time, the psoas muscle become short, dry and tight. Remember that the psoas is like the basket for our digestive organs and provides the atmosphere or environment through which our nerve transmissions run from our CNS to our enteric nervous system. If our psoas is short and tight, it signals to the CNS that we are somehow not safe, secure or calm. This information will be relayed to the enteric nervous system and be present as we eat. If we are continuously stressed or otherwise not managing our gift of high sensitivity well, our gut may be consistently receiving messages to shut the system down (so that we can run or fight or fetal).
IBS was once thought to be a diagnosis for gut disturbances that didn’t have any other cause. When flexible fiberoptic cameras became the rage in the endoscopy world, the whole practice shifted to focus on diseases that you could see with the naked eye. Patients whose problems couldn’t be identified via scope were often thought of as difficult because answers took effort and solutions were less lucrative; they were often diagnosed with IBS. Due to new research primarily being conducted by Dr. Mark Pimentel at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, we are now developing a new understanding of the causes of IBS.
Even though I just got done talking about digestion and stress, I want to clarify that I don’t believe that stress is the cause of IBS – in fact, it’s been proven not to be. However, especially for HSP’s, management of both the psoas muscle and stress-induced inflammation in connective tissue are a piece of the puzzle that remain important for healing and management, especially for those IBS sufferers who also deal with low back/hip/pelvis issues.
IBS is now thought to primarily be caused by bacterial overgrowth. The theory goes something like this: At some point, an otherwise healthy person gets food poisoning. Due to factors that are not yet understood (possibly genetics), the body does a poor job of completely eradicating the offending bacteria. This bacteria sticks around and its first order of business is to disrupt the cycle the regular cleansing waves of the digestive system. The digestive system must cleanse itself through peristalsis in order to move food through the system and repair. After these waves are disrupted (resulting in either too many or not enough), not only does food back up in the system but also the bacteria, colonizing in areas where few bacteria should live – namely, the small intestine (bacteria should primarily be found in the large intestine). Once bacteria have moved into the small intestine, they act as little thieves, stealing nutrients meant for the host and feeding on highly fermentable foods. Their by-product is methane. This whole process results in either too much or too little movement in the gut (diarrhea or constipation, or a combination of both) and severe bloating.
When people are diagnosed with SIBO, attention is usually put on the overgrowth of bacteria. While this is a problem, it’s not the main problem – the main problem is that the motility of the digestive organs is out of whack. The bacteria have messed with the nervous system impulses needed to keep the system moving. Yes, we must get rid of the bacteria, but only as a starting point. The real issue is in restoring motility so that the the whole problem doesn’t happen again.
In step one of SIBO treatment, an antibacterial drug or herbs are given. This is often the focus of treatment, but again, I want to reiterate that this is really just the starting point – this is how we wipe the slate clean in order to restore the system. Once the bacteria are gone, we can move into the important process of restoring proper digestion. This is where things like digestive enzymes, which work internally to restore proper digestive juices, come into play. One may also be prescribed an internal motility agent like small doses of erythromycin. This is also the phase of healing where management of stress as it pertains to the psoas and connective tissue comes into play.
Addressing Additional Causes of Poor MotilityWhile bacteria may have been the leading cause of poor motility within the system, there may be other factors. As HSP’s, there is a good chance that small adhesions within the fascia and/or a tight, dry psoas could be contributing to poor digestion and/or lack of motility. The primary ways I have found to address these is through regular (for me, this means monthly) trips to a good visceral manipulation therapist and through practicing constructive rest pose.
You can find a certified visceral manipulation therapist through the Barral Institute website. If you are in the Seattle area, I recommend Michael Hahn – he books out a month in advance but is well worth it.
Constructive Rest Pose
This position, coined by somatic educator Lulu Sweigard, is a position that uses gravity to release muscle tension in the psoas in order to support a neutral spine. Remember, tension in the psoas can build up over time and is often caused not just through physical activities, but through stress and feelings of tension, or lack of safety and security. Because of this, we are likely releasing tension that has been stored for a very long time.
CRP is done laying down with knees bent and feet on the floor. Place your hands just inside of your front hip bones to draw attention to the layers of muscle and tissue within the pelvis. If this is uncomfortable, place arms along your sides. If this position causes back pain, you may put your feet up on a chair or block, creating a 90 degree angle with your knees (not pictured). You may also put a small towel (no more than 1 ½ inches high) under the head.
Separate feet hip-width apart. Make sure your head is neutral and does not tip forward or back. Allow your eyes to gently close or remain soft but open. Rest for 10-20 minutes. As you rest, allow yourself to notice the sensations within the deeper layers of your tissue. Because the psoas will release excess primal energy, there is the potential for sensations of vulnerability, emotional pain or memory to flow through the body. Stay centered and allow for this release to happen. Notice what they are but do not become absorbed by them. Balance internal sensations by noticing sensations in your outer world, like air currents, warmth, comfort, sounds, smells, etc. Through moving between the inner releasing world and outer present-time world, you’ll create a balance of stimuli in the body.
If at any time your body spontaneously moves, flinches or changes positions, do not change it or tidy it up. Allow the muscles to guide their own release. You can do this pose any time. The best times are in the morning and before dinner, as it can help you release tension in the digestive system and energize you.
Congratulations, you made it all the way through is thesis of a blog post. Whew! You better stand up and stretch your psoas and thank your body for getting you through it! But in all seriousness, the connections that I have laid out here just scratch the surface of connections that can be made between the nervous system and high sensitivity, IBO/SIBO, the psoas and connective tissue and stress. There is so much information to learn and to put together. My hope with this article is that I have made connections for at least one person who might be struggling to find that missing, elusive piece to their recovery. I know that understanding this piece has been critical in my road to recovery and in my continued healing.
Like what you’ve read? Sign up for weekly Sensitive Missives and never miss another post.
iKoch, Liz. Psoas, Instinctive Responses & The Healthy Pelvis.1 November 2011 <wholewoman.com/blog/?p=931> 16 February 2015
iiBowen, R. The Enteric Nervous System. Control of Digestive System Function. <www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/basics/gi_nervous.html> June 24, 2006.
Practices for Self-Compassion with Rhiannon Kim Sunday 12:30-3:00 January 6, 2019
mindfulness practices, self-compassion and self-absorption mindfulness-based practices rooted in practices that support betterment of the self so that the self is better able to support their community and the world around them. recent Western studies have indicated that people in Western cultures who meditate and practice yoga are more likely to be self-absorbed and are more prone to self-righteousness.
this makes sense to me. there are apps for us to meditate by ourselves. there are books upon books and innumerable articles on how to take care of ourselves. Kristin Neff’s book on self-compassion offers many ways in which we can take care of ourselvesand soothe our inner hurts.
i love all of this. i love that we are recognizing that our emotional and psychological health are important and that there are ways we can bolster our health.
and, i do not enjoy that this crucial piece is missing: betterment of the self so that the self is better able to support their community and the world around them.
Kristin Neff’s book uses an example of how to use self-compassion. the scenario is of a person who was unkind and rude to a server. the server took longer than expected in bringing the bill. the person in the scenario did not leave a tip and stormed out of the restaurant.
the solution provided in the book is that when you see your unkindness toward another, offer yourself self-compassion, get out of the shame-spiral, and look at the context for which your behaviors erupted (stress, needing to get to an appointment, etc.). beautiful. i love all of that. self-shaming is corrosive and toxic to the body, heart, and mind.
in this example, i see only the betterment of the self . the server was subjected to unkind behavior and a lack of a tip. there was no mention of apologizing to the server and holding oneself accountablefor the leakage of stress and anger onto someone else. that server does not deserve the burden and weight of our emotional distress. in fact, depending on their place of employment, their life and livelihood depend on tips. we do not know the suffering of nor the context surrounding why the server was late bringing the bill.
invitation: bring self-compassion into all aspects of your life. and don’t stop there. don’t hold onto that self-compassion as a treasure to be hidden. harness the strength of self-love and self-acceptance to motivate you into looking honestly at your patterns and to take steps and actions to remedy hurts for which you are responsible.
how often do i take out my stress/irritations on others?
do i usually “punch-down” and act out these behaviors on people i view as “less valuable than me”?
why do i view people as having less value than me?
where do these beliefs come from?
who can i reach out to for some honest conversations to deepen my understanding and change my behavior? *note – do not put the emotional burden on those you have hurt, especially someone who identifies as a POC, LGBTQ, non-binary, and other marginalized groups. instead, apologize thoughtfully and then change your behavior. that’s a better apology than applying more emotional labor onto them.
From ancient wisdom, to modern science, join us on a journey through yoga. Watch ‘The Science Behind Yoga’, featuring Bruce Lipton Ph.D, Sat Bir Khalsa Ph.D, Dr. Mithu Storoni, and many other experts on the scientific research behind the benefits of yoga.
If you’re into wellness and spirituality and moving your body, then becoming a yoga teacher is a great idea, right?
I call bullshit.
If you want to be a yoga teacher to show off your back-bend or tight core, don’t.
If you want to be a yoga teacher to wear tight leggings and to become a clothing ambassador, don’t.
If you want to be a yoga teacher to meet yogalebrities and travel to fabulous beaches in Hawaii and Mexico and Bali to host an expensive retreat, don’t.
If you want to be a yoga teacher because you have a crush on the owner or you see sexy Instagram posts of yoga asanas, don’t.
Please honor this ancient tradition of yoga in a respectful way.
Please teach classes only after you’ve studied this science for a long time with someone you trust who has been teaching for a very long time.
Please don’t injure your students by not fully understanding the language you use.
Please don’t pretend to be a mental health expert just because you are a yoga teacher.
Please don’t pretend to have deep knowledge of the human body just because you have read a few anatomy text books.
Please don’t pretend to use yoga as a social justice initiative unless you’re doing more than teaching wealthy students during their lunch break.
As much as I want to love how popular yoga has become in today’s world, I find myself hoping for smaller classes with my teacher - a teacher who has deeply and vastly devoted her life to this practice.
I want to be delighted by all the many yoga studios I see everywhere. Instead, I have started to doubt their purpose. I have started to wonder who they are serving and more importantly, why? I wonder how many studios are birthed as a result of an egoic drive.
The next time you’re in a yoga class, don’t be afraid to be critical.
If something feels off, it probably is.
If you don’t feel supported, listen to that.
Listen to the language present in class. Listen to the subtle messages. If the teacher cues an advanced asana, look for modifications. I have taken classes where teachers have instructed students to find a headstand in an unsafe way. I have watched teachers show-off in class and have witnessed teachers be distracted and even check their phones.
I’ve watched students fall down in dangerous ways in yoga classes. I have felt uncomfortable when a male teacher placed his hands on my back for a little too long while I was resting in balasana. I’ve also received aggressive adjustments that hurt.
If you are teaching yoga, I am hoping you will pause and ponder what and why you are teaching. Are your classes open to all shapes and sizes and to all walks of life? (Not just to those who wear Lululemon and who are straight, white and middle class). Are your classes teaching more than movement? Are you taking the art and science of yoga seriously? Are you respecting your students and honoring their time and choice and payment to learn from you?
Please also think about the language in your marketing materials. If you advertise “changing your body,” stop immediately. I’ve started to cringe when I read about various forms of manufactured yoga, such as:
“Core power yoga roots an intensely physical workout in the mindfulness of yoga, helping students change their bodies and their lives.”
Yoga is not intended to be morphed into a consumerist workout. And yoga is definitely not supposed to be body shaming. (why do we need to change our bodies? Our bodies are wonderful just as they are).
I’ve also become dubious about classes that are specifically geared for curvier yogis. Are we not allowed in regular classes? First they move pregnant ladies out of classes, next are curvier folks not welcome? I also have seen advertisements for ‘Mens’ Yoga’ and ‘Trauma-informed Yoga.’ I hope men and people who’ve experienced trauma are welcome in all yoga studios and classes.
Yoga has been a part of my life for a long time and it has helped me heal and inhabit my body in more positive ways. It has humbled me and also brought me friends and community. It has been a therapeutic tool as I navigate new motherhood. I am very thankful for this practice and for those who have illuminated my yogic path. I hope yoga has been and will be a positive vehicle in your life and I remain hopeful that the pop culture of yoga will fade as those who teach its essence will continue to shine brightly.
In the realm of social media today we are weighing our worth through the "likes" we receive and the number of followers we collect. There are numerous studies about the affect on our brain, our psychology and our place in society and community.
What does it really mean? Are we a collection of "likes" and followers? And how does this impact our real life relationships?
I grew up in the country, on a long dirt road with a shared party line for our telephone. This sounds more exciting than it actually was. We shared a line with 3 other households. We had a small black and white television with un-trustworthy bunny ears for reception. On a good day we got 3 channels with a snow storm of static. Times have changed immensely.
Now I have a smart phone, lap top, and a flat screen television. I question my involvement with these devices all of the time. Do they serve me? Or do I serve them?
We are in a rampant cult of Narcissism. People leave their house and take a selfie (or several hundred to be edited) and play the reward game all day as the approval ratings roll in, and we get a small hit of dopamine every time we get a "like".
Is our involvement and dependency on our social media changing our real life relationships and interactions? Would we offer the same endorsement for an image or a company/business with our words (energy) in an actual conversation with other human beings?
Thousands of filtered selfies give the vain game away for the obviously afflicted.
Natural Awakenings Magazine: Interview with Piper Abbott
Although media coverage of yoga often highlights advanced yoga poses, the practice is not reserved solely for super-flexible folks. Benefits are available to everyone of any age or physical type.
“Many people assume that yoga requires the ability to be a contortionist. Yoga is an internal process and can meet us wherever we are,” says yoga therapist Kimberly Carson, of Mindful Yoga Works, in Portland, Oregon. Springing from the theory that half of our capacity to become more flexible lies less in the muscles than in the nervous system, this calming practice helps the body release tension and achieve a suppler state.
Why it Works"Yoga poses don’t need to be intense to have a significant effect. Gentle, regular practice can improve range of motion, increase muscle strength and promote circulation of the synovial fluid surrounding joints that supplies oxygen and nutrients to cartilage.
'Basic yoga' is just as beneficial as more advanced ideas of yoga, especially in terms of body awareness,” says Piper Abbott, an integrative yoga therapist and teacher who owns Burlington Yoga, in Burlington, Vermont. “Where our attention goes, energy flows. When we’re holding a posture and directing this focused awareness into the sensation of a stretch, we’re learning to read our body.”
Agility is usually associated with muscles and joints, but underlying flexibility goes deep to further enhance wellness. Stiff muscles often go hand-in-hand with stiff arteries, for example, but appropriate exercise can have a positive effect there, too.
According to studies by physical therapist Miriam Cortez-Cooper, Ph.D., and her colleagues during her tenure at the University of Texas at Austin, stretching exercises performed for 11 weeks improved flexibility of the carotid artery—the main vessel that transports blood to the brain—by 23 percent. Such an increase did not result from aerobic exercise or strength training.
Every Body Can Benefit“Yoga is truly for any and every body. Flexibility or a lack thereof can be found in anatomies of any shape. Many options for poses exist to help you find the version that works best for you. Yoga props such as blocks and straps can provide support to encourage experimenting while ensuring a safe approach,” says Anna Guest-Jelley, CEO of Curvy Yoga, in Portland, Oregon. She loves sharing the value of yoga with people of all sizes. “What’s important is working wherever you are within your current range of motion, so your body can open to new movements appropriately.”
Maintaining a regular practice offers an opportunity for individuals living with chronic pain or undergoing cancer treatment to feel more at ease. “Even in cases of severe fibromyalgia, some movement is better than none, and can foster better sleep. Restorative sleep can help to heal microtears in muscles, which can be common. Non-goal-oriented yoga also offers layers of benefits for cancer patients, both supporting physical function, as well as offering a way to practice kindness towards the body/mind during tough times,” says Carson.
For seniors, yoga is an excellent way to foster better flexibility, even in the presence of osteoarthritis. Studies conducted by Dr. Sharon Kolasinski, of the University of Pennsylvania, found that Iyengar yoga reduced joint stiffness and pain reduction during an eight-week period in people with knee osteoarthritis. Chair yoga, though popular with seniors, can introduce unnecessary risk if not tailored appropriately for those with osteoporosis, Carson cautions. “It’s important for older adults to find classes taught by appropriately trained instructors. Inappropriate chair sitting itself can compromise bone health, so teachers trained in spinal health and planes of action are recommended.”
No matter the level of an individual’s agility, improved flexibility is a boon, especially when it goes beyond the physical to embrace mental and spiritual aspects. Abbott remarks, “Yoga has taught me not only how to move and relate to my body, but how to gracefully adjust to change and the challenges of life.”
Marlaina Donato is a freelance writer and authors books related to the fields of alternative health and spirituality. Connect at MarlainaDonato.com.
By Lee Albert NMT
A recent NY Times article (How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body) is warning us about the dangers of yoga. There are a number of good points in the article about inversions and stretching too deeply into postures. The article goes on to describe various injuries many people suffer while practicing yoga. This even includes some quite accomplished yogis. The article concludes that the vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether.
While I agree with much of what is said in the article, I have come to a much different conclusion. I believe yoga to be safe and beneficial for most people. What is needed is a little bit more knowledge and a smaller ego.
As a Neuromuscular Therapist and a yoga teacher, I know that muscles work best in their mid range and not their end range. It is most beneficial to stretch those muscles in the mid range. This means not going too deep into a posture. The typical instruction in a yoga class is to “go a little deeper” or “feel the edge”. When I teach a yoga class I tell my students to keep at least 25% in the tank. In other words, do not go to the edge and do not push too deeply.
Ironically by lessening the stretch you will usually get a better result and avoid a lot of injuries. This will lengthen the muscle in the mid range and the muscle will respond more readily. Muscles want to be invited to open not forced.
This is often difficult for people to do especially in this country, because we are taught more is better. Now I do believe this is true of chocolate but not stretching. People are usually trying to stretch deeper, and this is typically just ego. People have told me, they want to look like the teacher, they want to bend over and touch the floor without bending their knees or they want to be able to perform a particular pose. The list goes on.
I studied yoga under Swami Satchidananda in the early 90‘s, and I remember his wise words even to this day. He said the only reason to practice the postures is to bring the body into balance. Bringing the body into balance eliminates a lot of pain and thus you could sit comfortably in meditation and find God. He said it is very difficult to meditate if you are in pain. He also said there is very little chance you can find God by standing on your head.
In my opinion, this brings us then to the main reason why so many people are
getting hurt in yoga. They are stretching the wrong muscles. I tell my students that every yoga posture has some value but not every posture will be beneficial for your condition. Some postures will make your condition worse, and some will make it better. The trick is to
know which ones are best for you.
Let’s take a little trip together. The place is India. The time is 3,000 years ago. You wake up on sunny, hot morning and you have a sore back and a stiff neck. You make a visit to the Ayurvedic doctor and tell him your complaints. The doctor looks you over and tells you to go home and do three postures. He did not tell you to go home and do yoga. There are way too many postures, and you will probably pick the wrong ones and potentially make yourself worse. So you see each posture that the doctor told you to do was a prescription for your particular condition. Doing just what the doctor told you would probably make
your pain go away. Then of course, you could get back to that all important task of meditating and finding God.
So now you ask how can I figure out which postures are suitable for me and which ones will harm me. Fortunately the answer to that is fairly straightforward. I have practiced as a Neuromuscular therapist for 25 years, and whether the pain is in your foot, your head or anywhere in between the common element that causes that pain is muscle imbalances. This simply means that some of your muscles are too short and tight and are pulling you
out of alignment, and some of your muscles are too long and tight (like an over stretched rubber band) and are pulling you out of alignment.
90% of the time that I have treated someone for a yoga injury it is because they were stretching a muscle that was too long already. Almost everybody makes the same mistake in yoga. They assume that if a muscle is tight it must be too short. Many muscles work in pairs which means that if one is too short the opposite muscle must be too long. For example, a very common muscle imbalance is that many people have their shoulders rounded forward and a little hump in their upper back. This condition means that the muscles in the chest are too short and tight, pulling the shoulders forward and the muscles in the upper back are too long and tight often causing a sensation of tightness or pain.
The tricky part is that the muscles that are too long often times feel tighter than the muscles that are too short. Because they feel so tight, people will try to stretch that area in the upper back. When they do so it will feel good at the time because they are bringing more blood and oxygen to the area, but in the long run, it will make their shoulders round forward even more and make their muscles in the upper back even longer and tighter (think of that overstretched rubber band again).
If you want to get the maximum benefit out of your yoga practice and not injure yourself, it is imperative that you only stretch the muscles that are too short. In order to do that, we need to know which muscles those are. When your muscles come back into balance then you can add in the other postures.
Fortunately most people have the same muscle, imbalances (too long & too short) because we all do similar things like sit in a car or at a computer. In general muscles on the front of the body are too short and muscles on the back of the body are too long. Remember that those muscles that are too long most often feel much tighter than the short ones.
I have been practicing yoga for 20 years and I have observed that most yoga classes emphasize front folds and hip openers. In general, front folds stretch muscles on the back side of the body and hip openers stretch muscles on the inside of the thigh. I believe this is so common because these muscles often are palpably tight. As I mentioned before these muscles are usually too long in most people. It will often feel good when they are being stretched, but in the long run this can lead to the muscle being even more over stretched and tighter. This can lead to possible injury.
To sum up, I believe yoga to be not only safe but particularly beneficial when
practiced with a few basic guidelines:
• Warm up the muscles before stretching.
• Park your ego at the door and practice with a more mindful intention.
• Do not stretch more than 75% of what you think you are capable of stretching.
• Do not struggle in a posture. Yoga should not be painful. Make appropriate use
of props to support yourself.
• Limit front folds and groin openers until your muscles come back into balance.
• Add a few more back bends and twists, which often target the muscles that are too short.
• Use your breath to ease into the posture.
• Hold each posture at least a minute.
The transformative power of yoga is undeniable. When integrated into your lifestyle, it opens your mind, relaxes your body, and frees your soul; and the more frequently we practice it, the more it becomes second-nature. So if you want to incorporate yoga into your daily routine and really give it the providence to improve your way of life, it's important to be able to access a yoga space outside of the studio. The universal beauty of yoga is that it can be practiced anywhere. As long as you have your yoga mat, you don't need to wait for your weekly class to practice it. You can take it outdoors into nature or into your own home haven. Having a personal yoga space is empowering; it gives you both the freedom to practice whenever it suits you, and the private space for a much more individualistic meditation and spiritual experience.
Make A Zen Environment
Space and airiness are the most important aspects of any meditative space. Make sure there is lots of natural light, and the room has a bright and clean color palette with few distractions on your walls; the space you occupy should be clear and open, just like your state of mind during yoga. It is also important to make sure the natural world has a presence in your space. Opening windows and doorways to the outside allows for the spiritual elements of nature to enhance your practice. One day a gentle breeze may come through, another day you might have the refreshing sound of the rain; no matter the conditions, it is important to let nature have its healing, soothing and restorative effects on you.
Set The Meditative Mood
As this is your private yoga sanctuary, you get to choose your preferences on setting the mood for a meditative and spiritual experience. Lighting candles is a simple yet effective way of setting the tone for your yoga practice as they give off a stress-relieving aroma, warmth, and are entrancing to watch. The multi-sensory experience of candles means every personal space should utilize them, even during daytime practice. It is imperative, though, to avoid paraffin wax candles at all costs. Paraffin is the most common type of candle as it's cheap and petroleum-based, however actually emit dangerous toxins into the air when burned. Vegetable-based wax are the clear alternative; the health benefits of soy candles, in particular, make them the best choice as they are non-toxic, organic, renewable and biodegradable. Particularly when practicing the sacred art of yoga, the space must be clear of all negative energies and toxins, so it's important to make this switch. If you enjoy burning incense sticks, make sure you do so near a window to avoid any toxins permeating your air.
Once you've created the space using these tips, you can then personalize it with meaningful decorations and spiritual objects, and make it your kind of zen. Once you begin to use it, you'll soon see the effects on your spiritual wellness; the empowerment of having a personal meditative yoga space is life-changing. It allows you to commit to the practice much more frequently and ritualistically, and really see the benefits of turning yoga from a weekly hobby into a lifestyle choice.
Time for some surprising news. While many of the yogic philosophies are around 5000 years old, the physical practice of yoga is relatively recent. Possibly no older than 200 years actually! However, this is by no means a sign that yoga is not a complete, gentle and holistic body of exercise that should be ignored. Yoga is a powerful and healing practice that promotes overall well-being. There are 6 types of yoga, and yoga is an excellent way to build lean muscle, burn calories, and most importantly, create a highly-effective mind-body balance. It’s the ultimate total workout. If you thought that yoga was easy, think again. While beginner yoga is designed to help you stretch, it also helps you to slowly and safely build muscle and balance from the beginning. In addition, yoga teaches you about the importance of breath in everything you do. Yoga really is a non-jarring, full body workout. If you are looking to lose weight, here's how yoga will help you achieve your fitness goals.
Lean And Mean Yoga Machine
Remember that yoga is an exercise. It is one that slowly builds lean muscle, and muscle burns more fat every day than fat does. In fact, you can expect to burn about 250% more fat per pound of muscle you have, than per pound of fat. So muscle building exercises are something you should be doing in order to have sustained fat burning in your body, even when you are at rest.
However, yoga is an advantageous exercise for muscle building in that it is oriented towards building lean muscle. You won’t look like Tarzan after practicing for a few years, but you will probably have a killer body. There are many asanas (poses) that build muscle in your core and other areas, which you will do the more you progress in your yoga practice. Its as simple as strength building yoga exercise builds muscle, and this helps to burn fat, even in a resting state.
Covert Calorie Attack
There are ways that yoga increases your metabolism that are slightly more surprising. First,
stress increases the hormone cortisol in your body, which slows down metabolism. Yoga, especially the meditation, is great for stress management, thus lowering your stress levels and lessening fat-building cortisol levels.
Yoga also emphasizes breathing techniques which can be surprisingly taxing. Pranayama, which is what the study of controlled breathing is called, increase blood flow, oxygen levels in the blood system, and metabolic rate. This will increase your rate of calorific burning, even when you are just relaxing and practicing breathing.
Wakes Up Your Thyroid Function
Another important aspect of yoga is that it improves thyroid function. Some people suffer from hypothyroidism, which is a highly underactive thyroid and leads to slow metabolism. However, even if your thyroid is only mildly underactive, many yoga poses such as the Camel will stimulate it to release important hormones that will boost your body’s metabolic function and burn more fat.
Yoga is an excellent exercise that can be practiced at any age and fitness level. More importantly, it boosts metabolic function in several ways and is effective at helping you to burn fat and lose weight.