Tag Archives: hips

Missing my easy pose

Photo: meditators sitting cross-legged on the floor
Sitting cross legged in easy pose or Lotus.

Last night, I was practicing at Thrive Yoga and I felt as if I was fighting against a head wind. My balance was off and my feet did not seem to fall into alignment. My calves were tightening up.  My legs were heavy. With all these mixed signals from the ground up, my hips had lost their bearings. As I struggle through the class (great job, Dorota Preysnar), I tried to feel out where the problem was coming from.

Then, it came to me. The biggest change since the end of my yoga teacher training (YTT) last Thursday, has been a shift in my sitting habits. Yesterday, I had spent the full day working in front of my computer monitor and keyboard. During YTT, I would have been sitting cross-legged, propped up on a blanket or bolster, for at least three hours a day, maybe more. My hips screamed in anguish at times (learning Sanskrit with Pierre Couvillon), but I had experienced a major improvement in my hips (actually, an on-going shift accelerated by  YTT).

I used to have a kneeling chair at my computer, but I had to give it up because the pressure on my shins was cutting off circulation to my feet. Now I sit on the edge of a normal office chair. Now no longer working at an office, I broke my  habit of taking frequent breaks and stretching my legs.

Over the past five days, I have not been actively finding opportunities to sit cross-legged. I am going to have to switch some of my computer time (reading e-mails, web browsing, reading, using my laptop or a tablet) and TV watching  to a cross-legged position on the floor. I need to keep up the practice or my tissues will return to their old alignment — or worse.

How to recover from a kick-butt yoga session

Easy—take a class the next day from the same teacher.

Yesterday, I took the 2/3 vinyasa class at Thrive Yoga with Sarah Wimsatt, who was substituting for this class for the first time. We had requests from several people to go deep in the hips. I was able to keep up with the pace, but Sarah did introduce a couple of sequences that I had not done before and ignited some muscle combinations that had been dormant in me.

At 9:00 pm in the evening, I noticed that I was tapped out energy-wise, and gave up trying to do anything productive that required attention and focus. I slept through the night. When I got up this morning, I immediately broke my promise to go to the 9:00 am yoga class because I felt my body dragging and stiff. My hips and lower back were sore. Over breakfast, I debated whether to make it to the 10:45 am class or just chill out for the day. With some caffeine to speed up my mind, I packed my kit and headed to Thrive Yoga.

What do you know? Same scene as yesterday—there was Sarah W. at the front of class (1/2 hatha yoga) and several students asking for work on hip openers. I cringed inside. But Sarah knew she had a less experienced class with her today so she eased into the hip openers much more gradually. By the end of class, I had worked out the stiffness in my hips and back, re-energized my body and mentally tagged a couple of poses that I want to work on during the week.

We’ll see what time this evening I tap out of energy.

From the yoga mat to the massage table and back

I found myself in a curious position over the weekend in yoga class. I was unable to sustain myself in a pose modified for novices or people not used to sustaining their body weight. It should have been easier for me.

Modified side plank

The pose was side plank (Vasisthasana) — most vinyasa 1 practitioners grind their teeth when they have to get into this pose from plank. In this case, the teacher decide to use me as a demo for the pose and its modification, which required me to place the lower knee on the ground to support my core (as illustrated in the photo to the right). I found that I could not keep my leg directly under me and aligned in the same plane as  my body because I could not fully open up my hip. It seemed to reach a limit at about 45 degrees. It was more difficult resting on the right knee, but I also had issues with the left variant. When I tried to muscle my way into a more open expression, it was as if I butted up against bone, with no give. It actually hurt.

Continue reading From the yoga mat to the massage table and back

Breaking the silence

I’ve been silent too long on these pages so I am going to force myself to sit in front of my computer and explain what’s been happening. Over the summer, the demands on my time and energy have pushed aside blogging. Something had to give. I’ve also felt that I really did not have a lot of insight to inject into the blogosphere, especially about my own yoga practice or yoga as a part of US mainstream culture or the DC yoga scene. I had a couple of drafts in the hopper and could never focus enough to get them done.

Honestly, I was battling through some injuries that kept me from going to yoga class. I developed a problem with my iliopsoas and SI joint, this time on the right side. I stopped going to yoga class and kept up treatment with my chiropractor. But I also developed a problem with my left knee about the same time (early September), which has gradually gotten worse. I first felt a twinge of pain in the knee, but did not think that it was anything serious [“Must have twisted my knee in my yoga classes”]. I started  taking Aleve in the morning and evening to get by. I saw my orthopedic surgeon as soon as I could get an appointment. He examined it and found some inflammation, but nothing showed up on the x-rays. He injected cortisone. I was supposed to wait 2-3 weeks and if there was no improvement, I should get an MRI and go back to see him. The idea being that I may have some cartilage floating around in there, and would need do another arthroscopic surgery to clean up my knee, as with my right knee.  My doctor told me to stick with doing stationary bike for exercise and keep my yoga simple so that I do not stress my knee joint.

I found myself in a kind of  downward spiral: I didn’t go to yoga class to avoid worsening my core (iliopsoas) issues, so my neuropathy worsened; my neuropathy led to bad body mechanics (walking), which causes pain in my knee; I didn’t exercise to avoid hurting my knee, which reduced my stamina and resilience; my general fatigue reduced my ability to manage and tolerate pain; my pain kept me from sleeping early and soundly and led to sleep deprivation, which turned me into a zombie during the day. That sounds like a familiar formula — I went through something like it last year.

I think I have things under control now, thanks to working with my chiropractor and my body worker, and monitoring my symptoms. I have never stopped doing my evening routine of self-massage, hip openers, stretches and restorative poses so I have not stopped doing yoga. If anything, it’s what keeps me going physically, emotionally, intellectually, psychologically.

And in August, my desktop’s hard disk went out, which required installing the Windows operating system, my applications, working files and music. I am still trying to get the computer back to where I feel that it meets all my needs. Fortunately, having a laptop kept me going with e-mails and other essentials.

In any case, I did not feel much like blogging during these past six weeks. I’ve wanted to make some changes in the layout and features, which have had only minor tweaks from the original WordPress template, but that’s going to have to wait for a while. Just maintaining my websites takes a lot of time.

No yoga class in a month — bummer

I have not taken a class since April 7. That day, I was in Susan Bowen’s 2/3 hot vinyasa class. She led an upbeat session that had us moving through sun salutations and modifications. I noticed something was wrong: I began feeling pain and discomfort in practically every pose and transition of the vinyasa, deep in my core and focused on my left psoas and radiating down by leg, up towards my hip and kidneys and across my hips. In the earlier stages of the injury, it was happened only in certain poses, and I would avoid them or get into them very mindfully. Now there was no avoiding the pain and muscle spasms.

In the middle of the class, I shut myself down. I did poses to soothe my core muscles, hip abductors/flexors and lower spin, laying or seated on the mat. I rested on my back with my knees propped on blankets. All the while my friends were sweating away in an active class.

For two month, since the first instance of the injury, I had rested the injury, making regular visits to my body worker, Howard Rontal, and then started taking yoga class after two weeks being very mindful in my poses and flows. During my daily routine, I was not conscious of any difficulties. At the gym, I did not feel any problem doing aerobic exercises.

Obviously, that approach did not work, because the injury (?) has flared up in a more generalized pattern. I decided to stop yoga classes again, see a chiropractor and check in with my acupuncturist, Kelly Welch, who had helped me in the past. More in future entries.

What I learned from my hip abductor meltdown

It’s been a while, hasn’t it.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a chance to extract some lessons from the pain and discomfort from the meltdown on the mat. I am even hesitant to call it an injury because there was no visible damage or impairment, except that in a few poses it would flare up again:

  1. After my injury, I actually had an increased sense of feeling in my left foot (numbness caused by peripheral neuropathy has a problem for me). Of course, with time, the symptom came back because my muscles and tissues tightened up again; in fact, the symptoms have evened out between my two feet.
  2. I also had more feeling in my lower core, which may just be a consequence of focusing more on that part of my body because of the injury.  I am also aware that I pay more attention to the pitch (tilt) of my pelvis.
  3. A few years ago, I would have freaked out that I had hurt myself doing yoga; I would have taken it as a sign that I was not properly aligned, a “bad” practitioner, and had broken the rules. But injuries sometimes are caused not by what we are doing, but what we did in the past, the accumulation of ingrained neuro-myofascial patterns acquired over a lifetime, and when we may break through some of those patterns, it may leave us “flapping in the wind” because the old rigidity was also a support structure; my muscle and tissues did not know what to do with the new freedom so they went into spasms. I now see that as I loosen up my hips, it’s going to affect other parts of my body so I have to remain alert, aware and sensitive to what my body is telling me. And even then I may not avoid injury.
  4. With an injury to something like the hip abductors, it’s really hard to reach down through several layers of muscle and tissue. I am lucky to have a veteran massage therapist (Howard Rontal) to do that for me.
  5. It’s really touch and go to get back into a vinyasa practice because I did not want to start too soon, but probably waited too long, even though the injury was still sensitive,  and I’m not the kind of guy who believes in practicing through the pain. How’s that for stringing together four contradictions in one sentence. But once I started returning to class, I became less preoccupied and more aware.
  6. When I had this interruption to the intensity of my yoga practice, plus other distraction, I notice that the drop-off in physical exercise had a ripple effect through my body and mind.
  7. Restarting is always disagreeable because I am constantly reminded about how far I have backslid (“Oh, God, I’m going to have sore muscles tomorrow, and I can’t do the jump-backs as well as before, and — this is an order, punk, drop into child’s pose, and give me 20 breaths!” ).
  8. Don’t stop doing yoga even when injured (give it a couple days rest, of course); just modify poses and pick sequences that won’t stress out the problem area.

Well, you get the point. I’ve made it to about five classes in eight days so I am gradually get back to “normal.”

Tying a bow on my birthday present

I’ve now been taking treatment from Howard Rontal for a month now, currently with a frequency of once a week for 60 minutes. As a birthday present to myself (turned 62 yesterday), I took an 90-minute session in which Howard gave me his “ligament treatment” — basically going progressively from soles to neck and stretching out all the muscles and assorted fascia, with special attention to places that were seriously compromised (in my case, hips, sacrum, lower back, neck — Howard was much more specific in naming muscles and ligaments).

A full 48 hours later, I am still feeling the impact of this body readjustment, a different kind of experience than what I had experienced in previous sessions. Rather than just relieving symptoms like numbness, tension, or pain (which I did on Tuesday), I’ve felt as if I’ve been put thorough boot camp. I’ve gone to bed feeling exhausted and sore, and woken up feeling fatigued and sore, especially in my hips, thighs, shoulders, arms, forearms. I almost felt as if I had flu symptoms — or something had gone wrong with the treatment. Obviously, something different is happening; it’s no longer just the “happy talk” of relieving tension and pain. Because of the work done on my core, I am using muscles differently, in new ways, with new lines of tensile stress. I’ve only done one Hatha yoga class (Tuesday evening) and my evening yin yoga sessions, so I’ve not be overexerting myself in a more traditional way (as if I’d gone to the gym for weight lifting for the first time in years). Rather, I am carrying myself (body frame and muscles) in a different way. So the very process of holding myself upright, walking, bending over is more physical exertion for me.

Howard told me that giving me a massage is like stroking a tree trunk: my muscles and fibers are thick, dense, hardened, inelastic, stiff, some more than others.  It takes an enormous amount of energy on his part to get a response, but eventually my body does respond. There’s not a lot of give in my fibers.

I don’t look like someone wound too tightly. I’ve always been slender, un-athletic, and relatively lightly built. At around 40, I put on 25 pounds; when I quit smoking the first time, I added another 10 pounds; and by the time I finished my MS degree, I had added another 15 pounds, pushing me over 210 pounds. So I’ve bulked up over a relatively wiry, tight frame, adding layer over layer.  And for the past seven years, I’ve been trying to reverse that tightness while reducing my weight, with moderate success since I can do a yoga class without looking like a complete klutz. I half joked with Howard that he’s lucky he did not have to work with me when I started yoga.

So what Howard did on Tuesday (and probably in a less concentrated form previously) is to start stretching out some of those sinews, freeing them to movement. Which means that instead of relying on rigidity to hold together and mobilize my body, my muscles are having to work. To use a metaphor, instead of using wooden struts to prop myself up, I am using the tensile strength of wire that has to be adjusted continuously to keep me upright. I may have felt it less before because we’ve tended to focus on a single area (feet and calves, core, shoulders and chest, neck and back). This time we were more ambitious in treatment scope.

Howard explained to me that the model for understanding the body is based on geometric principles — called Tensegrity:  rather than thinking of “flesh hanging off of bones,” it’s better to think in terms of a dynamic tension in which the bones are suspended by the fascia much like a suspension bridge. The concept is fascinating, but right now I am dealing with the discomfort of the transition to being a more embodied form of plasticity from a wooden prototype.

Happy birthday to me

I see the time and money that I now am investing in this treatment as more than just pain relief or injury repair, but as a down payment on future well being in my “seniorhood.” This past year, with my parents’ deaths and all the upheaval and disruption in my personal life, I let my personal care slip and saw a dramatic drop-off in my well-being as my peripheral neuropathy and other symptoms worsened dramatically. With the myofascial release massage, I feel a renewed interest in my yoga practice.

What is really surprising is that the therapy seems to have more than transitory effect (relieving pain or loosening up muscles). You would think that “moving around muscles and ligaments” would eventually mean that they fall back in place. I suspect that if I might slip back into old patterns if I did not do yoga (or exercise or stretching) to lock in the new range of movement.

Restarting a yoga practice can mean breakthroughs, too

Photo: yogi folds forward over leg
Janu Sirsasana at Bryan Kest's master class at Thrive Yoga

As I mentioned yesterday, I have gone into beginner’s mode again, after a long lapse in my vinyasa practice due long work hours and family tragedies. I took Marylou McNamara’s hatha yoga class at Thrive Yoga as my remedial course in yoga basics so that I can start rebuilding from the ground up as I regain strength and stamina for a more vigorous practice.

When I got up this morning, I knew that I would be better served by a slower class because I was still feeling the aftereffects of yesterday’s class — sore thigh, hips, and chest, a crick in my lower back, and general fatigue. I grabbed an extra hour a sleep.

My biggest surprise was that in Head-to-Knee Forward Bend pose (I know, there’s no good name for it in English, that’s why everyone calls it Janu Sirsasana), I was able to get my folded right leg firmly down on the ground, with the aid of a blanket under my sit bones. For the past seven years, my right knee always popped up, and I had to put a blanket or a block under it so that it had some support. When I reverse the pose (right leg outstretched, my left left folded back), my left leg rests on the ground.

Over the past year, my emphasis on loosening up hips has meant that my leg has slowly been coming closer to resting on the floor, but this was the first time that I did not need to use as much as a towel to support my leg. Admittedly, I still need a blanket under my sit bones, but I am certainly headed in the right direction.

Anatomical scepticism

I put in a weekend’s standard dose of yoga (two classes); plus, I managed to turn the torture of watching the Redskins losing to the Lions by rolling out my mat and getting into frog pose for a full quarter [This particular post stayed in my Blackberry for two weeks before I finally published it. That explains the time frame: I’m referring to a game two weeks ago. ]. My hip joints are slowly, gradually opening and frog posture really gets into the most hardened fascia. If I did not know better, I would have said that breaking through this apparent barrier was impossible because I was bumping up against the anatomical limits on my range of movements. It seemed that solid.

The next step is noticing how this slight variance can ripple through the rest of my practice — in lotus pose, in standing postures. I’ve developed a kind of anatomical skepticism: my body feedback says that I can’t get deeply into this or that pose, but that judgment may just the false testimony of being locked in a certain setting for 30 years.

This process is different from just starting yoga or learning a new pose when you’re exploring the postures. No, I’ve tried frog or reclined bada konasana 50, 100 times and my body always wimpers it can’t go any further. But I persist patiently at the edge and the barrier gradually gives way.

A tree in the forest

I have added another wrinkle to my bedtime regime of yin yoga. While I am on my back in reclining bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana), I rest a sandbag on each knee. I leave them there as long as I can stand the stretch. This angle of my leg and hip is extremely problematic for me. I do not have much range of movement in that direction. The best illustration of this obstacle is in tree pose: I have been unable to place my foot on my thigh; I may reach my thigh, but I can’t hold it there because my muscle torque pulls my foot off. My knee/leg, instead of being extended at 0 degrees to my body, is at 45 degrees. This issue also complicates my hips and balance since the rigidity does not lend itself to the micro-adjustments made to keep balanced on one leg, as well as in seated postures because I can’t rotate my thighs.

In class today, I was rewarded for my efforts by seeing that I could put my foot on my thigh, just above my knee, and hold it there. I still have a problem maintaining my balance, but the change shows that with just two weeks of work I am seeing results. In the past, I would have told myself that the obstruction was just the way that my body was put together, and I should never expect to get into full tree pose.