200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training

Mexico | July – September, 2020

Learn More

Most Popular Articles

Anatomy

3 Innovative Ways to Improve Balance With Yoga

Senior Yoga Medicine teacher Rachel Land for Yoga International breaks down core balance-pose concepts and offers three creative ways to challenge your balance in order to improve it.

Yoga for Athletic Recovery During a 9 Day Race

Charlotte Johnson for Yoga Medicine® shares how yoga for athletic recovery can help during long-haul endurance sports like multi-day cycling tours.

Yoga at an Endurance Sporting Event

The JoBerg2c is a 9-day mountain biking race from the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, to the coast – 900 kilometers away. Over 800 riders enter this event every year. And this year I joined the recovery team to offer yoga and myofascial release sessions to the riders. It is an incredible learning experience to work with a mountain biker after one long day in the saddle. But to do this nine days in a row requires a different application of yoga and recovery techniques as the athletes’ bodies wear the stress over the course of the race.

The mind of the athlete is key

The long-distance triathlete Sebastian Kienle said; “Your body drives you to the line, but your mind makes you cross it”. I instantly became aware of the role that the mind plays on an endurance race. I would argue that the mind is also what drives you to the line. The athletes who gained control of their minds were clearly having a different experience than the other athletes. Athletes who were invested in the enjoyment and the experience of their sport, rather than solely their performance or ranking, appeared to wear the physical effects of the race better than those who allowed themselves to be weighed down by fears, uncertainty, pain, and performance. In particular, one athlete stood out to me. He was over 60 years old and his sheer enjoyment of mountain biking seemed to keep him (somewhat miraculously) pain-free throughout the race.

So how did I apply yoga? After noticing this, I spent time in every session inviting and guiding the athletes to take control of their experience. I would invite them to mentally recap their day and to think of a few things they were grateful for, such as the things that went right that day. I encouraged them to recall all the reasons why they enjoy their sport. Many of these athletes are riding it for a purpose beyond themselves – for a charity or in memory of loved ones lost. It was helpful to reconnect with these purposes. It was also good to acknowledge that although the race held many factors that were beyond personal control. The one factor that did remain in their control was the choice of how they would respond to adversity or the unexpected.

The immune system of the athlete needs TLC!

In the JoBerg2c, the average athlete spends about 6-8 hours in the saddle daily and therefore, would have anywhere between 12-16 hours of recovery time before getting back in the saddle. However, the body’s recovery rate starts to slow down over the course of nine days as you keep loading the body with stressors without giving it enough time to fully return to homeostasis.

My perception is that from Day 1- 3, the athletes experienced general muscle soreness, cramping, and fatigue. Yet they were able to return to a somewhat rested state between these days. From Days 4-7, the recovery time noticeably slowed and the athletes’ immune systems became compromised. Many athletes picked up head colds and stomach issues. This was also the time period during which I noticed the mental fatigue, resulting in more accidents and errors occurring on the bike.

During this time, I took particular care with addressing the immune system through yoga. Imagine being taken out of the race of your life over a runny nose! During these yoga sessions I focused on boosting circulation, reducing stress, and facilitating relaxation.

These were my main focus points:

  • Boosting circulation assists the body in processing toxins faster. To do this, I offered poses that incorporated gentle compressions such as twists, child’s pose, or a modified version of broken toe pose.
  • Stress reduction is important because when one is on a bike descending a sheer cliff face, there is a good amount of adrenaline pumping through the body as the sympathetic response kicks in. This sympathetic response is good for keeping one alive and negotiating obstacles on the bike with acuity. However, too much time spent in this heightened state starts to impact the body on multiple levels, including adversely affecting the immune system. I spent time cultivating breath awareness and deepening the breath. The movement of the diaphragm during slower, deeper breathing . massages the vagus nerve, in turn tbreathing.he parasympathetic response which reduces stress.
  • Facilitating relaxation when you have a limited amount of time to gain the maximum amount of recovery is important, however, not all relaxations are made the same. This means there are ways to quickly ‘switch on’ the parasympathetic response versus times where you can slowly slide into relaxation, like putting your feet up with a beer in hand. The former being the method of choice when your body has limited recovery time. To ‘switch on’ the parasympathetic response, I offered restorative or yin style postures that made use of props for support. I also incorporated myofascial release techniques into the practice. It is best to try ‘switch on’ the parasympathetic response within the first 2 hours after exercise.

Here’s what I didn’t expect…

I expected a consistent decline after the effects of fatigue kicked in.  I expected my exhaustion to compound. Instead around Day 7 or earlier, many athletes had adapted or compensated to reach a strength and resilience plateau. They felt physically strong, mentally capable and were enjoying their sport. Noting how quickly the athletes were able to adapt, I came back to the importance of the mind in an endurance race. It is impossible to ignore the correlations between the strength of the mind (affected by among other factors, the enjoyment of the sport) and an athlete’s recovery rate or their perceived need for recovery.

I also pondered on the effect that nature had on recovery. For nine days we were steeped in the most remote and beautiful landscapes that the South African hinterland has to offer. It made me think of what the author Henry David Thoreau described as “wilderness tonic”. I dug a little deeper on this one and found that, indeed, there is scientific evidence backing the positive effects that being in nature has on the immune system and recovery rate.

You can recover “too much”

By this I mean that in the body’s return to homeostasis, inserting too many recovery methods can, in fact, hinder the process. At the race, there were various recovery options available – physio, sports massage, dry needling, yoga, myofascial release, compression boots, and more! There were athletes that would come off a bad day on the bike feeling cramping, sore and shattered, then work their way through every therapy available. But it’s important to remember that many of these modalities also requires a recovery period for the tissues to respond and adapt so more isn’t always better.

In myofascial release for example, we are triggering an inflammatory response to instigate the healing process that allows the tissues to adapt and recover more quickly. As the body heals, it lays down the collagenous fascial wave in a stronger, more orderly configuration indicative of healthy fascia. However, with deeper, more aggressive work, there is also more inflammation. And thus, more recovery time is needed. When an athlete is low on recovery time, it is very important to mete out the amount of therapies one applies. To take care in this regard, I applied gentle myofascial work, in the initial days of the race. I stayed away from highly inflamed areas of the body (due to over-exertion), such as the legs. And focused on areas of secondary stress such as the quadratus lumborum and semispinalis capitus.

Conclusions

It was important to assess the need of each athlete and for some, I had to prescribe the feet-up-beer-in-hand recovery option as their tissues would not benefit from the additional inflammation. For these athletes, it was also important to reacquaint and reassure them of their body’s ability to adapt and recover because in many cases, the angst around recovery sat within the mind. Many athletes needed to be reminded that their body had a keen sense of its own recovery process and that their success or failure did not hinge on a myofascial release tool or a massage table.

Watching and working with these athletes over nine days shattered many preconceived notions I had about how bodies function in certain conditions. It ultimately reminded me anew of the magic that is the synergies between the mind and body and how important it is to engage all of ourselves in the way we move and heal.

Chronic Pain: What Yoga Teachers Should Know

Christina Le-Short, M.D. for Yoga Medicine shares some advice for yoga teachers about helping chronic pain sufferers. She provides a quick summary of several common chronic pain disorders, and suggestions for treating each one with yoga.

What Yoga Teachers Should Know About Students with Chronic Pain

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 1 in 4 adults in the United States suffers from daily pain. Given this high percentage and that more healthcare providers are recommending yoga for chronic pain, yoga teachers are very likely to find a chronic pain sufferer in their class.

As a physician who specializes in chronic pain management, here are some factors I think yoga teachers should be aware of when teaching students with chronic pain.

Chronic pain is more than a physical diagnosis

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as a subjective unpleasant sensory, emotional experience due to an actual, or potential, injury or described in terms of such injury. By definition, the medical community recognizes that pain has a mind-body connection and can only be described subjectively. Unlike diabetes or hypertension, there are no objective measurements to diagnose chronic pain. As they say, “Pain is in the brain,” however, this does not mean that pain has no physical effects on the human body. People in chronic pain have sustained deep myofascial tension and psychological stress, especially of the postural groups of muscles. Thus, patients in pain often have poor posture which further contributes to pain. Chronic pain affects breathing as well. Respirations become mainly thoracic with a lesser excursion of the diaphragm into the abdomen leading to fast, shallow breathing.

There are emotional effects

Chronic pain sufferers have decreased daily function and increased chances for anxiety and depression. The body is placed in a state of perpetual stress (via the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis) and thus in a state of hyperarousal. In other words, your students may feel emotionally drained and/or have emotions stored in various parts of the body. Because of this, they may find it very difficult to relax.

It is common for chronic pain sufferers to consciously or subconsciously seek to escape their pain through avoidance, medications, etc. However, research has shown that the opposite is beneficial: mindfulness and body awareness.

Yoga has been long proven to provide benefit for chronic pain sufferers both physically and emotionally. Yoga teaches pain sufferers to activate the relaxation response which lowers inflammation and stress leading to less pain and suffering.

In one randomized controlled trial, a specific form of yoga, called Yoga of Awareness, a type of mindfulness-based yoga therapy compared 53 fibromyalgia patients with standard care. Those receiving the yoga program demonstrated greater improvements in pain, fatigue, and mood and in pain catastrophizing, acceptance, and other coping strategies. [1]

Yoga teachers should also realize that some students with chronic pain may never have their pain resolved. However working in combination with the student’s physician, chronic pain can be managed like any other chronic illness.

Specific precautions for common chronic pain conditions:

Back Pain:

This is the most common pain complaint healthcare providers see. Back pain is often due to poor posture, misalignment, and/or degeneration of the spine. As a yoga teacher, be on the lookout for red flags including decreased strength or sensation in the arms/legs, shooting pain down one arm/leg or another, or loss of control of the bowel or bladder. If these signs and symptoms are present, the student should immediately contact their medical provider.

Myofascial Pain (Fibromyalgia):

This condition is primarily caused by prolonged inflammation and a chronic stressful mindset and is frequently associated with emotional pain, depression and/or anxiety. People with fibromyalgia will have diffuse full body pain with particularly painful trigger points. They may require gentle and slower movements.

Migraines:

Most migraine sufferers know what works for them and what triggers their headaches. Be careful with any movements they know will trigger them such as inversions. Red flags include impaired vision, dizziness, lightheadedness, or imbalance.

Knee/Hip/Shoulder (joint) pain:

Chronic joint pain is typically caused by osteoarthritis or inflammation and degeneration of the joints leading to stiffness and pain. These students will need gentle work around the muscles and tendons that surround the involved joint. Avoid deep flexion or hyperextension of the affected joints. Red flags include swelling and redness of the joint.

Neuropathic Pain:

This condition is caused by nerve damage affecting the smallest nerve endings in the skin, most typically in the hands and feet. It can affect a person’s sensation and balance. Because of this, be careful with balancing poses or if you ask the student to close their eyes. These students will be more likely to lose their balance with eyes closed.

Cancer Pain:

Students with cancer-related pain will differ immensely depending on the location of cancer, stage of treatment, history of surgical operations and more. Students with cancer will have emotional pain as well. If they are on or have had chemotherapy, students may have fragile bones susceptible to fractures and/or easy bruising.

Be careful to avoid falling and deep twists or bends. They would benefit most from gentle and restorative yoga practices, meditation, and pranayama which can soothe the body’s inflammatory responses.

A note on pain medications:

For students who take prescription opioid pain medications, you will need to take extra precautions. Opioids may make it difficult for students to exercise safely because these medications affect the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The heart rate and respirations are typically slowed and become less responsive to increased exertion, thus increasing the likelihood of lightheadedness and shortness of breath. Chronic opioid users may also experience changes in hormonal regulation leading to decreased sex hormones, decreased immunity, changes in mood, and increased likelihood for osteoporosis. They may also experience chronic constipation and nausea. For these students, gentle practice is preferable with reduced exertion.

As always, have your student consult their medical provider before beginning or resuming any physical program.

Sources

1. Carson, JW. A pilot randomized controlled trial of the Yoga of Awareness program in the management of fibromyalgia. Pain. 2010 Nov;151(2):530-9.

Diastasis Recti: Suggestions for Yoga Practice

Surgeon and Yoga Medicine teacher Dr. Ryland Stucke for Yoga International explains how yoga can help with this common, yet often misunderstood condition.

Yoga and Diastasis Recti

You may have heard of rectus abdominis diastasis. It is also known as “abdominal separation” or “a false hernia”. It’s often caused by increased abdominal pressure and is common during and after pregnancy. Although, it can also occur in those who have not been pregnant. In fact, in one study, diastasis was found to occur in 66 percent of pregnant women in their third trimester and 36 percent of women who were at five to seven weeks postpartum. 1

Diastasis is recognized by a wide and deep “valley” between the abdominal muscles when they’re at rest or by a bulge running from the sternum to the belly button when one is doing core work. Some describe its appearance as similar to a “shark’s fin,” and you’ll surely know it if you have it. The consequences of this are often not severe but can include abdominal weakness and instability, pelvic floor pain, and incontinence, symptoms which are much more common than people realize. 2-2b

Diastasis can spontaneously self-correct after childbirth. But if it persists at eight weeks postpartum it’s unlikely to resolve on its own, and that means it’s time to get to work! 3

Thoughtful core awareness during and after pregnancy, especially in yoga poses that target the transversus abdominis and obliques, may increase the chances of resolving the condition.

A Quick Anatomy Lesson

The rectus abdominis, also known as the “six-pack,” is a paired muscle that runs from the ribs near your sternum down to your pubic bone. Diastasis occurs when the midline connection between the rectus muscles, called the linea alba, is stretched over time and the distance between the muscles increases.4  A space greater than about two and a half centimeters is typically considered diastasis. (In my experience, the wider the diastasis, the more likely it is to cause problems.)

The main action of the rectus muscles is to flex the lumbar spine and shorten the distance between your ribs and pubic bone (as in a “crunch”). The connection between the rectus abdominis and pelvic floor is much debated and poorly understood. Many believe that the rectus muscles also contribute to pelvic floor stability and function. One study showed a correlation between diastasis, a weaker pelvic floor, and higher rates of incontinence and pelvic pain. 2b

How Yoga Can Help

Knowledge of the muscles that make up your core and targeting them in your asana practice can help correct rectus diastasis. The rectus abdominis, the transversus abdominis (TVA), and the obliques are the three main groups of abdominal muscles. In addressing diastasis, the TVA and the obliques are the muscles you want to focus on strengthening.

The TVA is the “corset” or “girdle” muscle of the abdomen. The deepest abdominal muscle, it wraps around your core horizontally starting at your spine and meeting in your abdominal midline. Anytime you scoop your belly or cinch in your waist, you are turning on your TVA. There are two layers of oblique muscles that overlie the TVA. The obliques are diagonally oriented sheets of muscles. When contracted, they allow for a twisting motion of the core. Strengthening these muscles can provide more balanced core contraction. This helps by taking the strain off the rectus and allowing the diastasis to narrow. (The “shark’s fin” appearance of diastasis will be more visible when the rectus is contracted in isolation because of the additional strain on the linea alba.)

[/fusion_text][fusion_title hide_pop_tinymce=”” margin_top=”40″ margin_bottom=”40″ hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”quote_green_head” id=”” size=”2″ content_align=”center” style_type=”none” sep_color=””]

“In addressing diastasis, the TVA and the obliques are the muscles you want to focus on strengthening.”

[/fusion_title][fusion_text hide_pop_tinymce=””]

Extended bird dog (extending the opposite arm and leg from hands and knees), kumbhakasana (plank), and vasisthasana (side plank) are great postures in which to practice engaging your TVA. Because the TVA helps with stability and posture, it is always gently active. Do not merely maintaining this typically mild engagement. While practicing these postures, focus on creating a strong, conscious engagement of the TVA. This can be done by scooping the belly or cinching the waist. Any revolved variation of crescent lunge is great for engaging your obliques. Avoid sinking into deep twisting poses. Instead, think about cinching the waist and lengthening through your sides, which activates both the TVA and obliques simultaneously.

What to Avoid

Be careful with rectus-focused exercises like crunches. When you activate your rectus muscles in isolation, there is a natural tendency for them to pull apart. This increases the strain on the linea alba—which is likely to cause a widening of diastasis and prolong your recovery time. Additionally, you’ll also want to avoid postures that overly stretch your belly, such as wheeldancer, and even anjaneyasana (low lunge), unless you can really activate and stabilize your core in these poses. If you do have diastasis and notice a bulge in certain postures, you’ll want to modify those postures. The bulge is usually more apparent when you are activating your rectus muscles without the support of your TVA and obliques. You may need to back off the intensity of some core poses as you learn how to support your rectus abdominis by using the TVA and obliques.

Gradual Change

By focusing on core stability, over weeks or months you may begin to notice gradual changes. With dedication and diligence, the gap between your rectus muscles may start to close. In extreme cases when the gap either does not close or causes abdominal or pelvic instability or dysfunction, surgery may be necessary. The need for surgery, however, is rare.

Adjustments and advice from a yoga teacher familiar with anatomy can ensure that you’re on the right track. And as always, if you experience pain in certain postures, or have pelvic floor instability or incontinence related to diastasis, consult a medical professional.

Meanwhile, cultivate patience, be mindful about the muscles you’re using, and have fun on your journey of exploring your abdominal wall anatomy!

For an in-depth dive into the current research on abdominal wall and pelvic floor dysfunction consider further reading: Lee D. (2011) The Pelvic Girdle: An Integration of Clinical Expertise and Research4th edn. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh.

Footnotes

1. Boissonnault, J.S. & Blaschak, M.J. Incidence of diastasis recti abdominis during the childbearing year. Physical Therapy,68(7), 1082-6, 1988.

2. Parker, M.A., Millar L.A, & Dugan S.A. Diastasis Rectus Abdominis and Lumbo‐Pelvic Pain and Dysfunction—Are They Related? Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy,33(2), 15-22, 2009.

2b. Spitznagle TM, Leong FC, Van Dillen LR. Prevalence of diastasis recti abdominis in a urogynecological patient population. International Urogynecology Journal. 2007 Mar 1;18(3):321-8.

3. Coldron, Y., Stokes, M.J., Newham D.J., & Cook, K. Postpartum characteristics of rectus abdominis on ultrasound imaging. Manual Therapy, 13(2), 112-121, 2008.

4. Lee, D.G. New perspectives from the Integrated Systems Model for treating women with pelvic girdle pain, urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and/or diastasis rectus abdominis. Journal of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health,114, 10-24, 2014.

7 Strategies for Healthy Hamstrings

Rachel Land for Yoga International. Senior Yoga Medicine teacher Rachel Land offers her top 7 tips for relieving tension in your hamstrings and keeping them happy, healthy, and strong.

7 Strategies for Healthy Hamstrings

5 Steps to Release The Erector Spinae & Balance Organ Function

Erica Yeary for Yoga Medicine® shares some key information on what the erector spinae is, what it does, and how to treat it.

5 Steps to Release The Erector Spinae & Balance Organ Function

The more time I spend studying the anatomy of the human body, the more I am fascinated I am. Both the function of individual systems and how the systems are intricately interconnected are astounding.  To dive into both, we are going to look specifically at the function of the erector spinae muscles, how they connect with other systems in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and how to use myofascial release (MFR) techniques to address issues throughout the body.
Copyright Yoga Medicine®

Erector Spinae

First, let’s get to know the function of the erector spinae muscles.  The erector spinae is a group of muscles that extend on each side of the spinal column from the skull to the thoracolumbar fascia in the pelvic region.  The three muscles, from medial to lateral, are the spinalis, logissimus, and iliocostalis.  These are powerful, movement-oriented muscles that create bilateral extension of the spine and unilateral rotation and/or lateral flexion.  Without the strength of the erectors, we would not be able to stand up straight. While strength in this muscle is imperative, many people can have overly tight erector spinae muscles and present with lower cross syndrome, which is a condition where the lumbar spine is overly curved with an anterior pelvic tilt and hyperlordosis.  As a result, many people could benefit from utilizing MFR techniques on this group of muscles.  But what if you feel along the sides of your spine and the muscles don’t feel tight or tender?  You could still benefit from MFR because of the interconnected communication between these muscles and other systems of the body. Much like our physical hips are related to our “emotional junk drawer”, the erector muscles are more than just physical movers of the spine.  Specific points along the erectors are direct links to major systems of the body, as explained in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  The following steps explain how to use tennis balls or MFR balls to not only release the muscles themselves, but also aid in the function of specific internal organs.  As a general rule of thumb, stay at each step between 30 seconds and 2 minutes for the full effects to settle in.
Copyright Yoga Medicine®

Step 1

Place two balls that are touching at the center of your mat. Lay down on your back on top of the balls so that they are on either side of the spine (not on top of the spine itself) at the level of the top of your shoulder blade or T1.  The knees can be bent or straight.  If the intensity is too much, place a blanket on top of the balls and then lay on top of the blanket.  Feel free to move the arms in a manner that is appropriate for you, which could include giving yourself a hug or just letting the arms fall to the sides.  This location is known as the UB11 acu-point and it relates to the lungs by spreading and descending Lung Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Stimulating this location can help with coughing or an inability to connect with your breath.

Step 2

Roll the balls down the back until they are at the level of the bottom of the shoulder blade at T7 on either side of the spine.  Relax the shoulders down on the ground.  Stimulating this location, known as UB17, can invigorate the blood to aid in any blood or cardiovascular related conditions because it is the converging point of blood.

Step 3

Roll the balls down just a little further to T9.  If you wear a bra, this is about the level of the horizontal bra strap across the back.  Continue to let the entire body be heavy down on the ground with the balls on either side of the spine.  This location would be particularly important to address if you consume alcohol on a regular basis because UB18 acu-point is related to the liver and gallbladder.

Step 4

Remain on your back as you roll the balls further down the spine to the base of the ribcage at T11 and T12.  This is slightly below the level of the belly button.  Continue to breathe deeply and relax the muscles in contact with the balls.  For increased intensity, you may bring the knees in toward the chest slowly.  Known as the UB20 acu-point, stimulating this location can help with bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, and any spleen conditions because it is related to the spleen and stomach.

Step 5

The final MFR location is at start of the lumbar curve of the spine at L2.  Make sure the balls are still touching and on either side of the spine.  This location, the UB23, is known to strengthen and balance the kidneys. After 30 seconds to 2 minutes, remove the balls and lay flat on the ground to reflect on any changes you feel.

Quick Tips for MFR

Always look for an area that you can calmly breathe and relax in without pain, sharp and/or shooting sensations.  Avoid nerves, bones (in this instance, especially the spine!), visible swelling or bruising, and broken skin.  Always consult healthcare provider first as this is not meant to replace medical care.

What is the Interstitium REALLY all about?

Michelle Dickey for Yoga Medicine® on what the interstitium is, what it does, how it can affect your yoga practice, and how to keep it healthy.

The Interstitium: Breaking Down the Mystery

What is all this talk about our “new human organ”? Did scientists really NOT know about an entire organ in the body? You might have heard that a new human organ has been discovered. On March 28, 2018, scientists named the new organ the “Interstitium”. Upon first reading this, my instant reaction was to wonder how scientists could possibly discover a new organ. We’re all aware of our heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, etc. being organs, so how is it that one got overlooked?

In 2017, I was lucky enough to take part in Yoga Medicine’s cadaver lab where we dissected untreated cadavers. Untreated means that the body is not preserved with formaldehyde nor had the body been previously deconstructed. Throughout this dissection, Master Dissector Todd Garcia would name the various tissues that we were handling and moving through. This included all the organs. Not once in this dissection, did the trainer stop and hold up anything and say “this is a thing without a name,” and then move on. So, it baffled me when I saw the headline about discovering a new organ. Especially because my hands had been in a cadaver, learning about all the different components within the human body.

What is it?

The newly discovered interstitium is defined as “a contiguous fluid-filled space existing between the skin and the body organs, including muscles and the circulatory system.” [1] That means that this organ covers the whole body from head to toe and is underneath our skin but before our body organs. Our skin isn’t that thick; it’s about the thickness of a few pieces of paper. Somehow this new organ lies under that single piece of paper before the muscles? That seems pretty crazy.

Now it becomes a little easier to see why this organ was hiding from us for so long. With the more common organs such as the heart and lungs, etc, we have a large mass of body tissue that is palpable. These more common organs are able to be seen right away within the body as they have their own individual texture and feel to them that differentiates them from the other body tissue surrounding them.

Where is it?

But this interstitium, it’s the king of hide-and-seek. In a cadaver, peel off the skin, first layer of adipose, and fascia, and you’re left looking at, what appears to be, the beginning of the silvery layer of deep fascia that covers the muscles. At least that’s what was previously thought.

In the video link below [2], you can watch as Fascial Researcher Gil Hedley dissects various parts of the body and finds in each area that between the skin and the muscles and organs of the body, there is this layer that is extremely difficult to see unless you know to look for it. Watch as Gil Hedley expertly dissects through this “fuzzy layer” or “perifascia” and shows that this isn’t just a slimy goop of boogers hanging out on top of things, but it’s a very fine layer of collagen and elastin that has rebound properties and tensity.

This tiny, tiny layer of fuzz, is so thin it’s transparent. This is the “new” organ that is finally coming out into the open. The layer is tricky though because when exposed to the elements, it hardens and turns brown and doesn’t seem to be of any true importance. This hardened layer was thought to be a densely-packed stack of connective tissue, lacking moisture. It wasn’t until a team of researchers, using a new in vivo microscope technique called confocal laser endomicroscopy, discovered this layer while investigating a patient’s bile duct for cancer. They found that within this fuzzy layer are microscopic subcompartments of interstitial fluid (aka lymph fluid) that wrap around the entire body and connect into the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system connection that the interstitium has could be a key player in cancer metastasis [3].

Just like the other organs in our body, there are ways to keep this newly defined interstitium healthy and strong so it can continue to act as a shock absorber (because of the rebound properties) and help protect you from damage.

How to Keep It Healthy

1. Yoga:

Taking part in a yoga class works many different areas of the body from the cardiovascular system to the muscular system and everything in between. To focus in on the interstitium during your practice, pay attention to longer holds of poses and work into a gentle “bounce and recoil” within these holds.

For example if you’re in low lunge, pretend your back leg is a rubber band and deepen your stretch to your body’s most comfortable depth and then let your body rebound naturally to the natural lunge stance. Try not to control the rebound but let the body’s natural elasticity bring you back to the starting pose – thus working the elastic properties of the interstitium.

2. Myofascial Release Techniques (MFR):

MFR is a great way to work the interstitium as well as multiple fascial lines throughout the body. As an example, while standing, take a tennis ball or lacrosse ball and place it underneath the middle of your foot. Then, roll the ball from the base of the heel to the toes in a straight line. Next move the ball to the outer side of your same foot and repeat rolling in a straight line from heel to toes.

Move the ball to the inner side of the foot and repeat once more from heel to toes. After you’ve rolled the middle, outer, and inner sides of the foot, go back to a spot that felt it needed more work, place the ball under that spot and set your heel down. Wrap and unwrap your toes around the ball. Repeat on as many spots as needed then switch and repeat on other foot. This can be done throughout the entire body in a variety of ways and will reduce and eliminate restrictions.

3. Water:

Drinking water will help keep the moisture and elastic properties of your fascia, including the interstitium. Try to get at least eight – 8 oz. glasses of water each day to help keep your body and interstitium at peak function.

References:

  1. Wiig, H; Swartz, M. A (2012). “Interstitial fluid and lymph formation and transport: Physiological regulation and roles in inflammation and cancer”. Retrieved April 11, 2018 from Physiological Reviews https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/physrev.00037.2011
  2. Hedley, Gil – Somanaut (2018, March 28). “Interstitium aka: Perifascia: Gil Hedley dissects “the fuzz” on camera.1” [Video File] Retrieved April 11, 2018 from Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=407&v=gf_2TSnlagM
  3. Olena, Abby (2018). “Is the Interstitium Really a New Organ?”. Retrieved April 11, 2018 from The Scientist https://www.the-scientist.com/ articles.view/articleNo/52168/title/Is-the-Interstitium-Really-a-New-Organ

The Definitive Yoga Guide for Everyone

Tiffany Cruikshank and the  Yoga Medicine Team share a comprehensive yoga guide with Healthline. Check out this guide for in-depth information and advice for all levels of your yoga journey.

 

Get your Yoga Start with Tiffany Cruikshank’s Yoga Guide

Tiffany Cruikshank is a teacher’s teacher, international yogi, author, and wellness expert. Tiffany Cruikshank founded Yoga Medicine as a platform to connect people and doctors with experienced yoga teachers. Yoga Medicine trains their ever-expanding community of teachers to understand body anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, and the traditional practice of yoga.

With this fortitude of knowledge, they’re able to create individualized, effective yoga programs for each student.

Ready to channel your inner yogi?

Get your start with this comprehensive guide, crafted by Tiffany and her team of accomplished Yoga Medicine teachers, trainers, and contributors.

This detailed guide is for yogis at any stage in their practice (beginner, intermediate and advanced) and covers several topics including definition and history, motivation, basics and foundation, and many others.

Click here to read more.

Deep Stretches To Ease Everyday Aches And Pains

Andrea Ferretti for Prevention Online shares 15 deep stretches that can help with everday aches and pains. These stretches allieviate stress in commonly injured joints, help correct back pain from office work, and can be done almost anywhere. Yoga Medicine founder Tiffany Cruikshank shares some insight on the importance of stretching as we age.

15 Deep Stretches To Ease Everyday Aches And Pains

Dealing with achy joints doesn’t have to be part of getting older. By improving your posture and doing gentle exercises to strengthen muscles that support your joints, you can avoid becoming one of the 100 million American adults who live with chronic pain.

Years of hunching over can put pressure on the soft disks between vertebrae. Tissues that surround joints lose elasticity as we age. But, thankfully, these changes can be remedied, says Steven E. Sampson, a sports medicine physician at Ortho-Healing Center in Los Angeles. “Stretching improves blood flow to muscles and tendons, which can tighten with inactivity,” he says. “Strengthening the muscles around our joints helps alleviate stress and inflammation.”

These simple moves can be done almost anywhere with minimal equipment. Work them into your day three times a week to ease aches or head them off before they begin.

Read the rest of the article here.

Yoga for the Thoracic Spine

The Thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae (T1-12) from the top of the spine to the bottom rib. The boney structure of the Thoracic vertebrae and the attachments to the ribs means that this is the region of the spine with the least range of motion in flexion and extension. Support provided by the Thoracic spine and ribs is essential for protecting our vital internal organs, however, this region of the spine can become notoriously congested. Less range of motion in the Thoracic region can cause an increased range of motion in the Cervical (neck) and Lumbar (lower) spine, which can become problematic over time as these more flexible regions of the spine begin to overcompensate. Here are 4 simple yoga poses and technique that have been most beneficial.

Thoracic Extensions

GOOD FOR: Releasing tension in the muscles and connective tissue, Thoracic spine extension and vertebral disc hydration.

You will need a foam roller, block or tightly rolled up mat for this pose. Lie on your back and place the block (or other option) at the back of the ribs under your Thoracic spine. Bend both knees and keep your hips on the floor. Engage your core muscles by cinching in around your waist and drawing your front ribs in. Interlace your fingers and support your head with clasped hands. On your inhale, peel your shoulders and spine off the block. On your exhale, let your spine lower down again. Repeat ten times, moving slowly with your breath.

Myofacial Release

GOOD FOR: Releasing the tissues on either side of the Thoracic spine to help release tension in the muscles and connective tissue.

You will need two yoga massage or tennis balls for this myofascial release technique. Lie on your back, bend both knees and draw your feet in towards you as if setting up for Bridge pose. Place the balls on either side of the mid Thoracic spine in between the shoulder blades and the boney prominence of the spine. Avoid the actual bones. There are often several points of tension in this region of the spine so listen carefully to your own body until you find a tender spot. Once you have found this point of tension, relax your whole body and allow the balls to sink through the layers of connective tissue and muscle to release tension. Less is more when it comes to myofascial release. If it is too painful and you cannot relax the muscles, you may end up causing more tension – so be mindful of this.

Table Twist

GOOD FOR: Rotation of the Thoracic spine and vertebral disc hydration.

Come into a Table Top position with your knees under hips and hip width apart and shoulders stacked over the wrists. Spread your fingers wide. Keep your neck long and ensure that you are not letting your head drop down. Stabilise your core muscles by cinching in around the waist and drawing your belly button in towards your lower spine. Place your righthand to the back of your head. Keep your belly button pointing down towards the mat and on your inhalation twist your Thoracic spine towards the right. On your exhalation, tap your elbow to the opposite elbow. Repeat for ten breaths on both sides.

Cobra Pose

GOOD FOR: Thoracic spine extension, strengthening the muscles in this region of the spine and vertebral disc hydration.

Lie on your front with your legs straight. Firm up the muscles in your legs and have your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointing behind you. Firm up in your legs and push down through your pubic bone to engage your core muscles and the support portion of the spine. Place your weight onto your forearms. Ensure that your forearms are parallel to one another with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Make sure that your neck is long as you look straight ahead. Hold this pose for 10 deep breaths, breathing in and out through your nose.

Seated Cactus Twist

GOOD FOR: Circulation around the Thoracic spine.

Find a comfortable seat. Raise your arms to the side and bend the elbows into ‘cactus arms’. Sit up tall, cinch in around the waist and relax your shoulders. On your inhalation rotate your Thoracic spine to the right, keeping your belly button pointing straight forward. On your exhalation, rotate your Thoracic spine to the left still with your belly button pointing straight forward. Repeat this for 20 breaths.

Depending on how congested your Thoracic spine is feeling, add one or all of these postures/techniques to the start of your yoga practice to help bring awareness and restore mobility to this region of the upper back. Remember that consistency is key to making a change. If you want to notice a real difference to the range of motion in your Thoracic spine, you will need to practice one or all of these postures on a regular basis.

Other articles by Alice:

Join The Yoga Medicine® Community

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with
our latest trainings and resources.

Yoga Medicine
Scroll to Top

Find Out More