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Anatomy of the Spine: What You Need to Know About Your Spinal Curves

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How to maintain an optimal (natural!) spinal curve to breathe better, stand taller, and sit longer—on and off your meditation cushion.

Understanding—and maintaining—your natural spinal curves is crucial when it comes to the anatomy of the spine. Here’s what you need to know to keep your spine healthy and pain-free.

High school gym class is a vague memory. I do remember my classmates and I often being asked to stand close to a wall, turn around, and then try to flatten our lower backs against it. We all stood around the gym, dutifully pushing our lower backs against the hard surface, while our teacher counted to 20 and then repeated. We were never told the benefits, but the subtext was that this exercise helped our backs.

The spine is not a straight line though. I learned this many years later when I studied anatomy in depth. This is true especially when you stand, because the vertebral column bears weight more efficiently and more healthily when you allow it to maintain its normal curves. Consider the spine’s shape, relative to the back of the torso: The cervical spine (neck) curves in, the thoracic spine (mid- and upper-back) rounds out, and the lumbar spine (lower back) curves in again. The base of the spine, the sacrum, is a series of fixed bony segments that also curve in.

See also What You Need to Know About Your Thoracic Spine

We need to let go of the belief that flattening the lower back in a gravity-loaded position protects the spine. In fact, it does the opposite. When you flatten your back, or tuck your tailbone, when you stand, you:

• Tend to inhibit the normal action of your abdominal muscles.

• Distort the curves of your cervical and lumbar regions.

• Compress your vertebral discs in an unhealthy way.

• Compromise the stability-creating disconnection between your sacrum
and pelvis.

• Displace your abdominal organs by moving them back and down.

• Interfere with your breathing.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Distorted breathing is one of the simplest effects to experience in this pose. Try this: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Now tuck your tailbone. Sometimes teachers suggest “dropping your tailbone” or “letting your sacrum move down.” These statements are what I call “sneaky tucking” because they sound innocent but actually are just other ways to say “tuck your tailbone.”

Mountain Pose | Tailbone tucked

Now, in Tadasana with your tailbone tucked, try to take a deep breath. It’s hard to breathe well this way. That’s because you have moved away from neutral (a normal curve) in the lumbar spine and into flexion. Flexing the lumbar spine interferes with the excursion of the diaphragm—the key muscle of breathing—because the diaphragm is attached to the lumbar spine at the L1 vertebrae, or top of your lumber spine.

Mountain Pose | Pubic bone toward feet

Now, instead of tucking, move your top thighs back so 2/3 of your weight is on the back 1/3 of your feet. Slightly internally rotate your thighs, and invite your pubic bone to move down toward your feet. This is the opposite of tucking and encourages the natural shape of your spine. Do you feel taller? Does your head seem to float above your body? Do you feel your shoulder blades dropping down? Do you notice that the shoulder blades are in a vertical line? 

See also 5 Steps to Master Tadasana

Seated Poses

Take a Seat

You can also bring the principles of Tadasana into the sitting position you use for meditation. I have long practiced and taught that to sit comfortably, you must begin by creating a 120-degree angle between your trunk and femurs (thigh bones). This means you need to sit elevated on the corner (not the edge) of a cushion or small stack of blankets, letting the thighs drop more easily below the rim of the pelvis. If the angle is less than 120 degrees, the pelvis could easily tip back, disturbing the spinal column. If that happens, the lumbar spine is in flexion, and your posture won’t be as stable or comfortable.

See also Essential Foot and Leg Anatomy Every Yogi Needs to Know

Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

Now try this: Sit on the corner of several stacked blankets and make sure you are high enough for your thighs to release down. Be sure to elevate your pelvis—not your thighs. If you elevate your thighs and your pelvis, there is little difference between this position and sitting on the floor without blankets.

Now find a comfortable crossed-leg position. Sit slightly forward of your sitting bones. This engages your iliopsoas, which is contracting to pull your lumbar spine forward into a normal lumbar curve. originates from the bodies of the 12th thoracic vertebra and all five lumbar vertebrae. It joins with the iliacus to insert on the lesser trochanter of the medial femur. When you walk, the iliopsoas initiates the action of bringing the thigh forward; in other words, it initiates hip flexion in walking. The iliopsoas therefore has a lot of endurance because we use it so much every day; we can walk for hours. It’s the best muscle to keep you upright in a meditation seat.

If you instead sit behind your sitting bones, you will slump, and very quickly your paraspinal muscles, which run vertically along either side of your spine, will work too hard trying to hold you up against gravity, fatiguing quickly. The paraspinal muscles are more efficient at extensions (backbends) like Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose).

See also Anatomy 101: Why anatomy training is essential for yoga teachers

Next, take your attention to your pubic bone, and roll it toward the floor. The iliopsoas is the muscle you use to do this too. This action is the opposite of tucking. The downward roll immediately brings your pelvis into a neutral position and thus your spine into its normal curves. Be sure to make this distinction: Roll the pubic bone down between the legs; do not push the spine or pelvis forward. Pushing the spine or pelvis forward uses back muscles instead of the iliopsoas.

Finally, place your hands on your top thighs so the little fingers rest on the thighs, the palms facing your abdomen and close to it. Keep the elbows a little distance from the sides of your body. Drop your shoulders. Imagine that your pubic bone and breastbone are moving apart. If sitting crossed-legged is uncomfortable, try sitting on a yoga block in Virasana (Hero Pose) instead. Let your thighs find their own natural distance; you don’t have to hold them together. Notice how you are creating a triangle with your thighs and your pelvis. This is your base of support. Roll the pubic bone down to draw the spinal column inward and upward, establishing the normal curves.

Meditation

To meditate, very slightly drop your chin and take your attention to a spot you can imagine is at the very center of your brain. Either close your eyes or let them stay half open, gazing about 18 inches ahead on the floor. Take a few soft breaths, and let your mental focus and bodily sensation lie gently on the breath. Does the position create the meditative state or does the meditative state create the position? I think both happen at once.

See also The Best Clothing for Meditation: 17 Soft, Loose, and Super-Comfy Picks at Every Price

The pelvis is the pot out of which the spine grows. When the pelvis is balanced, the spine is free and long with its normal curves. Think of this position of meditation as one that allows you to come home to yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. True balance is the expression of your natural wisdom. Let your spine express its natural wisdom in standing and sitting by always honoring your natural curves. 



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Mercury Retrograde Is Here During the Midst of Eclipse Season—These Six Yogis Will Help You Get Through The Chaos

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These six yogis you should follow will help you stay in alignment with the stars during this chaotic time.

Mercury Retrograde went into full effect July 7 and will be lingering around until July 31. While Mercury RX is usually doted as a time to avoid contractual agreements and long term commitments, is responsible for tech glitches and malfunctions, and is seen as a time that will wreck havoc over our lives, this is actually a great time for an inward journey and deep self-reflection. These six yogis you should follow will help you stay in alignment with the stars during this chaotic time. 

View the original article to see embedded media.

1. Nina Yoga

“Cancer month, dig down in your roots! Cancer is the sign that connects us with our roots, our family and culture. now wonder why my consciousness got me there. Every person has a family tree, know it or not.Mine is very colorful, with different cultures and races interconnected in one body now. The richer the tree, the richer the personality I believe.

This month is an opportunity for us to know what makes us feel connected, belong and be part of s family, cause that’s what’s coming with LEO next. Out Identity. Family is the pre-set for us to create our personality and identity.

In order to go through that process of “becoming” & “to be who we are” fully and completely, we have to do a bit of work. First deconstruct yourself, start digging deep down inside. Learn who you are. You’ll find that you are not alone, you come from a family, a tree… so how is that tree? Is it healthy ? is it sick? Once we figure that out , then ask the same about culture. It represents me? not? Do I feel a part of it? not? Then about your country and at the very end, ask the same question about your race and then the human race. By honestly examining ourselves we can make some change for the better if necessary. With the eclipse a new cycle of six months has began relating to all this matters, now is the time to start moving to a different way. We are entering into a new space of possibilities and opportunities to change, individually and collectively. It’s been too long , too wrong.

Is obvious that things in the world need to change, now the time begins. Let’s do our work , lets learn who we really are and what we really want for us and the world. and this beautiful blue planet.”

View the original article to see embedded media.

2. Cameron Allen

“Astrology and yoga. I never really see them as separate, they are always in union, except when I’m trying to relate to others. ASTROLOGY IS YOGA from the perspective of my practice.

Reflecting on it through some of the limbs. Yama is the literal basis of how I practice astrology. Niyama is how I choose to attune to the true Self for myself. Sit over your chart in the morning, what is the energetic overlay for the day? Tap in by doing pranayama. I’ve been doing lunar breathing to align myself with Mercury being in Cancer conjunct the north node. Mercury can be the monkey mind, the north node can bring excess, and Cancer is ruled by the moon. Are we calm enough to think about our emotions and make choices from a space of emotional security during times in which safety doesn’t seem to exist? When the meditation is over I practice pratyahara and more pranayama. Laying down to do deep abdominal breathing while attuning myself to the energy of Mercury and Cancer even more. Cancer rules the stomach and Mercury rules the nervous system so I awaken the energetics within my being because I directly experience the lack of separation.

It has me thinking about astrology and yoga and how they are usually presented in pieces.

Most of the time when people think about yoga, they really mean asana yoga because in the mainstream it has been reduced to stretching practices that are fuel to our vanity which causes the opposite of what yoga truly is (from my understanding and perspective). Astrology is no different on some level, reducing people down to their sun sign when most do not even know what a rising sign is. I have no quarrel with this anymore because it hopefully is the prelude to a deepening process. But I do wish to extend an invitation to everyone to go tune in.

What are the 8 limbs of yoga?

Where were the stars when you were born?

Feeling thankful for the gnosis that pranayama is Mercury. Work your astral body.”

View the original article to see embedded media.

3. Yazamin Adibi

“Spirit never put a cap on your potential. So why would you? Spirit, the cosmos, and our body actively listen to every tiny thought, gesture, pattern and intention we whirl into the ether. New moons are potent for activation + initiations. SO If you had no limits (at all), no breaks, no holds, what would your process, outcome, and feelings of connecting to your dream self look like? Take one actual (tiny or big) step today in that direction. Then take another tomorrow , day after, day after. By the full moon (in 2 weeks) you’ll have cues on how to refine your process or intention. A lot of you already do this subconsciously.”

View the original article to see embedded media.

4. Astro Yogis

“I have chosen Sukhasana or, easy pose as the yoga pose to pair with the moons energy. This is one of my favorite poses and provides a place for me to close my eyes, look within and give myself that self love and care through prayer, reflection and meditation. In this pose I connect to the universe and my highest self, I honor myself and my journey and express all of my gratitude. This pose creates a sacred space for you to be, let be, and breathe. I invite you all to give this a try for 2-5 minutes. Sit in a comfortable crossed legged seated position (I am in an advanced expression of this pose here), you may sit on a pillow or bolster for added comfort. Lay your palms facing up on your knees to allow yourselves to receive the peaceful energy and simply connect to your breath. Focus on gratitude and let whatever comes, come.”

5. Elisa Rose

“In Cancer season, the theme being played out is allowing healthy boundaries for our sensitivities and emotions to arise and teach us/others what needs to be processed, experienced, or felt. But the patriarchal world we’ve been living in for generations has taught us to fear, disown, suppress, and apologize for our emotionality. And our BIG feelings are a part of who we are. Yes, they fluctuate and we are NOT the emotions themselves, BUT we do need to allow safe space to feel them through so they don’t become stuck in the body and nervous system recreating and recycling trauma pathways and patterns. AND those tend to come out like big ol’ zit THROUGH body symptoms and illness. When these symptoms arise, it’s a call from our soul/the universe to LISTEN and PAY ATTENTION so that you can realign yourself back to our innate wisdom, truth, and authenticity. To come back home to our wise + wild soul.

View the original article to see embedded media.

6. Destiny

“Ishvara Pranidhana | Surrender | Surrender to the divine. Know that you are always divinely guided. Trust that everything is always working out for you. You get to choose how you perceive this reality. Promise yourself that you will always perceive this reality in a way that feels good to you and then don’t break that promise.Whenever something “bad” happens remember that promise and remember that every is always working out for you. Now that spirit has everything planned out and even if you don’t understand right now everything that happens is truly divine and is always working out for your highest good. Everything really is all good. Believe that, breathe that, live that! Everything is all good. Everything is aligned. And so it is.”



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How The Transformation Yoga Project is Helping Prisoners Find Peace

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Transformation Yoga Project leads trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness classes in Philadelphia addiction treatment centers and prisons.

Eastern State

In 2009, Mike Huggins pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for the off-label promotion of a medical device at a division of the company he worked for. As he awaited sentencing, he turned to his yoga practice—which he’d started years earlier—to mentally prepare for prison. He attended a workshop held by the nonprofit Street Yoga, which teaches trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness practices to youth. “The idea of yoga for trauma was a game-changer for me,” he says. By the end of 2011, when a judge sentenced him to nine months, he was a certified yoga teacher with a new mindset. “I was committed to using prison as an opportunity to explore yoga off the mat,” he says.

At the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia where Huggins was first incarcerated, inmates were periodically allowed to leave their cells and spend time in a common area, where some chose to work out. During those times, Huggins did yoga. Other men noticed and asked him to teach them. That led to guided meditations and talks about violence and the men’s anger, frustration, and shame over the crimes they’d committed.

Inspired by how quickly a yoga community formed, Huggins continued teaching yoga to inmates after being transferred to a minimum-security prison five weeks later. “After our practice, we’d discuss the techniques and tools, such as breathwork and meditation, that could support us in living a full life while incarcerated and navigating the challenges of the reentry process,” he says. He also trained five men to continue his work after his release in 2012.

See also How Yoga Offered a Former Inmate a Second Chance to Serve His Community

After being released, Huggins continued to study how yoga can support those dealing with trauma and he started volunteering at an inpatient addiction recovery facility and a VA hospital. In 2013, he founded Transformation Yoga Project (TYP) to build a community of people to teach trauma-informed mindfulness practices to those impacted by violence, incarceration, and addiction.

TYP trains teachers who lead classes in justice centers (prisons and youth detention centers), addiction recovery centers, VA hospitals, and other facilities in the Greater Philadelphia area. These trauma-informed classes always have the elements of safety, predictability, and control. “Unless you feel safe, no inner work can be done,” Huggins explains. Telling participants exactly what is going to happen and how long they’ll hold poses helps them stay calm so they can explore their feelings. Teachers use invitational language such as “Take a breath and see how you feel,” followed by suggestions for how to modify poses to empower students to have control over their bodies and breath.

TYP also holds workshops about every quarter to go deeper into the eight limbs of yoga, and once someone is released from prison or rehab, they can continue to practice at free TYP classes at community centers or at yoga studios that donate space to TYP participants.

“A lot of people really turn their lives around,” Huggins says. “People start to feel at ease with themselves and they’re able to do things they may not have thought they could do. Their yoga practice provides the tools to deal with the inevitable challenges they will face.” 

See also 6 Yoga Retreats to Help You Deal With Addiction

Transformation Yoga Project

FOUNDER: Mike Huggins

website: transformationyogaproject.org

AT A GLANCE

  • 40,000+ participants since 2014
  • 400+ yoga instructors trained since 2014
  • 15 recovery centers served in 2018
  • 10 justice centers served in 2018



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Yoga Alliance to Require Tests in 200-Hour Teacher Trainings, More Credentials for Lead Trainers

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There are new standards for registered yoga schools and teachers. Learn what’s changing.

Learn more about the teacher-training tests here. 

Yoga Alliance will update its requirements for 200-hour yoga teacher trainings today, marking the first overhaul of its standards for yoga schools and teachers since the organization’s inception in 1999. The updates, which go into effect after February 1, 2020, include mandatory tests for students, required completion of an online course on equity in yoga, and more training and years spent teaching to qualify as a lead trainer.

These additions follow an 18-month standards-review project by Yoga Alliance that included surveys completed by more than 12,000 respondents, recommendation papers from eight working groups, and virtual town halls.

“We heard loud and clear from the community that people are ready for Yoga Alliance to do the work necessary to up-level and then uphold the standards that underlie the credential,” says Shannon Roche, president and CEO of Yoga Alliance and Yoga Alliance Foundation. “We wanted to make the credential mean more but not overstep into a space the community is not ready for us to go.”

Yoga Alliance is also dropping the terms “contact” (with a faculty member) and “non-contact” hours (not in the presence of a faculty member) and instead making all 200 hours in classroom and tied to a newly defined core curriculum. The organization is also allowing up to 40 of those hours to be completed online in a virtual classroom. The remaining 160 hours must be in-person. 

See also A Yogi’s Guide to Evaluating Teacher Training Programs

While these changes target the 200-hour registered yoga schools (RYS 200) and 200-hour registered yoga teachers (RYT 200), expect future updates to the 300-hour and 500-hour trainings to be announced in June 2020, according to Yoga Alliance.

Here, four key things you need to know if you plan to take or teach a 200-hour training:

1. All 200-hour YTTs will test students

Yoga Alliance will require that each school assess teacher trainees before certifying them as 200-hour yoga teachers, yet the organization will be pretty hands-off when it comes to the actual test.

“To be a home for most, if not all, lineages, we won’t prescribe a mandate for the assessment,” says Catherine S. Marquette, vice president of marketing and communications for Yoga Alliance and Yoga Alliance Foundation. “We’ll offer resources and sample rubrics, but schools will be responsible for these tests.”

See also Survive Yoga Teacher Training: How to Prepare

The tests can take a variety of formats, including a combination of written work and practice teaching. What Yoga Alliance will require is that the 13 competency categories outlined in its new core curriculum be included in the assessment: asana, pranayama and subtle body, meditation, anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, history, philosophy, ethics, teaching methodology, professional development, practicum (practice teaching), and elective hours. 

If you sign up for a 200-hour YTT in 2020 or 2021, whether or not you are tested will depend on three factors: whether or not your school already tested students prior to the updates, when your school first registered with Yoga Alliance (registration after February 2020 means required testing in 2020), and when your school updates its training to meet the new standards (current schools will have up to one year from their 2020 renewal dates). Come 2022, all 200-hour trainings by registered schools will include the mandatory assessments. 

2. All trainees must take an online equity in yoga course

Yoga Alliance plans to launch an online course focused on equity in yoga by February 2020. The course will be a requirement for trainees and free of charge. It will also count toward 10 Continuing Education credits with Yoga Alliance.

“The course will heighten members’ comprehension of and responsibility to change the societal and systemic inequities that exist in yoga so that we can begin to address the root causes behind why people feel excluded and underrepresented, or what leads them to believe that yoga is not for them,” says Marquette. 

Roche says the decision to create the course came after members of the working groups flagged “barriers of entry to yoga” as a top issue of ethics and safety. All working groups highlighted in some capacity the issues of inclusion, equity, and diversity, says Marquette.

See also Inclusivity Training: 4 Ways Yoga Teachers Can Hurt Students with Language

“If you are not being made to feel like you belong in a place because of the color of your skin or the way your body moves or works, it’s a question of safety in yoga and yoga spaces,” Roche says. “We aren’t going to solve this problem with one course, but we want to elevate the conversation and make sure that anyone who holds the credential has an awareness of the elements that contribute to making people feel unsafe or unwelcome—and in elevating that awareness to encourage teachers to do their own work.” 

The format of the course and the experts who will appear in it are not yet determined, according to Roche. She says the organization will reach back out to participants in the working groups for another “listen and learn” stage before the course is developed. 

3. Lead trainers will need an E-RYT 500 credential

If you want to be a lead trainer of a 200-hour YTT, an E-RYT 200 (you completed a 200-hour training plus taught at least two years and 1,000 hours of classes) will no longer fly as a minimum requirement. 

You’ll need an E-RYT 500 (you completed a 500-hour training and taught for at least four years and 2,000 hours of classes—with at least 500 of those hours since graduating from an RYS 300 or 500) by February 2022 

In addition, the organization will require that lead trainers teach at least 75 percent of the curriculum, more than doubling the current requirement. 

See also Is 200 Hours Enough to Teach Yoga?

4. The approval process for registering a school will be more rigorous

Yoga Alliance also plans to take a closer look at registration applications for new schools during the review process. When a school seeking RYS-200 submits its manual, syllabus, letter of intent, and list of policies (ranging from how to handle sexual misconduct to refunds), it will be reviewed by a panel of three Yoga Alliance staff members who are yoga teachers instead of just going to one person at the organization. 

“We looked at other associations that provide credentials and who have the gravitas we’d like to offer our members. A panel or peer review is a best practice in the industry,” says Roche. “There will be more eyes on every application and a more robust discussion internally.” 

See also How to Lead in Challenging Times



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