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Myofascial Release

Yoga & Chinese Medicine: Unwinding the Back Line

Allie Geer, Yoga Medicine Instructor shares a yoga practice that is perfect for winter. Learn about the Chinese Medicine concept of the Back Line, and how to use it to find balance, and treat tightness and pain.

A Nourishing Practice for the Winter

“My hamstrings are tight.” “My low back hurts.” “My feet are sore.” These are such commonly heard phrases both in and out of a yoga studio. Up until recently, I addressed these issues by picking different poses that I felt might be able to provide some relief. Great, right? But as a yoga teacher maybe it’s even more important to look at the interconnectedness of the whole body, using the big picture to create balance. When we look at the fascial connections in the body, we can clearly see that it’s all interrelated. What’s also compelling to me as a teacher is a connection to our health through nature and our energetic body with Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The Superficial Back Line

The Superficial Back Line is a continuous line of connective tissue extending from the bottom of the foot up the back side of the body over the top of the head. Tension, movement patterns, trauma, or strain here tends to transmit throughout this fascial line. In our body, this line has both a left and a right side. In Yoga Medicine’s recent cadaver dissection, I had the honor of meticulously dissecting this superficial back line. This process gave me a hands-on experience of just how interconnected these tissues are and helped me to see in person why so many of us (myself included) struggle with pain, weakness, or resistance here. I believe the answer tends to lie within our own fascial restrictions.

The muscles involved in this line are some of the most common culprits for back, leg and foot pain. Rather than thinking of them or working with them as separate entities, it’s important to work with them as a team.

Landmarks of the Superficial Back Line

  1. Plantar fascia of the foot
  2. Gastrocnemius
  3. Hamstrings
  4. Sacral Tuberous Ligament
  5. Erector Spinae
  6. Epicranial Fascia

Connection to Traditional Chinese Medicine

What I find most interesting about the superficial back line is the connection to the bladder meridian in Chinese Medicine theory. In fact, their pathways are almost identical. In Chinese Medicine theory, the bladder meridian is part of the water element which is associated seasonally with winter. Winter represents the most Yin aspect in Chinese Medicine. Qualities of yin are slow, dark, cold, an inward energy compared to those of yang which are fast, bright, hot, an outward energy. Winter is an important time to nourish the yin qualities through introspective practices to harmonize and balance the body, and its relationship to nature.

The following practice focuses on the connection between the superficial back line and the kidney and bladder meridians. May this practice nourish your body and mind from the inside out and help you to settle into to the winter months. Enjoy!

Practice to Cultivate Balance through the Back Line

Myofascial Releases:

1. Begin standing with a tennis ball or myofascial release ball near a wall for balance. Roll out one foot at a time, working the arches, ball of the foot and even into the heal. 30-60 seconds. Pause between sides in a brief forward fold to notice the difference. Repeat the second side.

2. Seated, using tennis balls or myofascial release balls, one leg at time roll the calves (using a block under the calf for support), then roll the hamstrings, switch sides.

Pose 1: Supported Calf Myofascial Release
Pose 2: Hamstring Myofascial Release

3. Roll the erectors, using your myofascial release balls or tennis balls. Sometimes it’s helpful to put 2 balls into a sock (use the wall as a gentler modification).

4. Roll back of the neck with a block on the medium height. The closer edge of the block should sit at the base of the skull so the neck is off of the block.

Breath Exercises

1. Lying on our backs with feet into the mat about hip-width take a moment to observe sensations in the body. Begin to connect with the breath.

2. Adding belly breath, begin to contract the transverse abdominals (TVA). On the exhale, draw in around the spine, cinching around the waistline as if you were putting on a belt. Notice the connection we have from the front body to the back body through our diaphragm and abdominal wall.

Yoga Poses

1. From all fours take some variations on cat/cow.

Pose 1: Cow
Pose 2: Cat

2. Bird Dog (lifting alternate arms and legs in tabletop) paying attention to the connection around the waist and through the back side of the body.

3. Salabhasana noticing the awakening of the back line from heels to head. Draw in around the belly to support the spine.

4. Crescent Lunge to Warrior 3 variation, moving slowly and mindfully.

Pose 1: Crescent Lunge
Pose 2: Warrior 3

4. Seated, perform a forward fold of choice (Paschimottasana, Janu Sirsasana, Upavista Konasana) adding any props to support the body in a longer hold. Let the focus and intention be on the breath. Create stillness in the body to tune in and listen.

5. Lying on back Supported Bridge with either a block or bolster under the hips/sacrum.

6. Supta Padangusthasana with a strap, hold each side for 2-3 minutes with a pause between sides.

14. Set up Savasana in the Divine Heart Opener. Accordion fold a blanket( about 2 inches in width) so that it rests down the length of your spine. Let the hips be free on the mat or can rest on a folded square blanket for support. A bolster under the knees might feel nice if there is any lower back pain.

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:

Yoga Journal – Free Your Side Body: A Flow for Your Fascia

By Allison Candelaria.

Do you practice yoga regularly but still feel “stuck” in certain spots? Senior Yoga Medicine teacher Allison Candelaria created this muscle-and fascia-freeing flow to tune up the lateral sides of your body.

With much of the body’s natural movement being forward, the side body tends to get overlooked in our daily lives. We rarely bend to the left or to the right. As a result, the tissues of the side body can end up tight and/or weak from top to bottom. Poor postural habits don’t help. Slouching can create so much tension in the upper body that lifting the arms fully overhead becomes impossible and stretching from side to side causes discomfort.

Let’s take a look at how the individual muscles are affected. The triceps rarely get a good release and can sometimes be the limiting factor in yoga poses with arms overhead. The latissimus dorsi muscle, which plays the important role of connecting the lower body to the arms, tends to adhere to surrounding tissues. Melting tension in this very large muscle can free up more range of motion. The quadratus lumborum (QL), our lateral lumbar spine stabilizer, often tight from sitting or standing, can shorten and decrease the distance between the ribs and the pelvis. Creating a nice release in the QL can make us feel taller and more pliable.

Standing, sitting and repetitive forward movements have a huge impact on the lower body. The gluteus medius on the side of the hip, for example, is prone to becoming tight from all of our natural forward movement, which can interfere with our ability to stabilize the pelvis. We can use our yoga practice to stretch the front and back of the hip to reduce tension in the iliotibial band that runs down the side of the leg (think poses like Reclined Figure Four and Gomukasana with a Side Bend). But with myofascial release, the goal is to release it from the quadriceps muscles, allowing them to move independently of one another. Finally, the lower leg can hold a lot of tension from the stress of holding us upright. The extensors of the foot can get bound up with the flexors, including the calves, so these areas are also worthy of some relief.

By focusing on releasing the fascia, this flow will tackle these common areas of tension—one at a time—then retrain the muscles to lengthen, strengthen and fire more efficiently. Since the tissues are all connected via the fascial system, working on any part of this lateral line of muscles will affect the rest of the chain. Not only can this flow reduce pain and increase range of motion, but with a consistent practice we can teach our muscles how to move more efficiently. Post-myofascial release, we will test our range of motion to see the instant results of the work. I recommend using this sequence as needed (daily for more limitation or few times a week for less) and holding each trigger point area for 30–60 seconds.

Click here to see Allison’s 12 Poses for the Fascia of Your Side Body

Self-Myofascial Release: Yoga Flow

YogaMedicine’s Allison Candelaria shows off how to use yoga postures to perform self-myofascial release. Increase flexibility and relieve pain with this series of postures.

Allison Candelaria demonstrates how to perform self myofascial release with yoga postures.

Free Your Back Body Like Never Before: A Flow for Your Fascia

Do you practice yoga regularly but somehow still feel “stuck” in certain spots?  Senior Yoga Medicine teacher Allison Candelaria created this fascia-freeing flow to tune up the whole backside of your body.

The back side of the body takes on a lot of tension. Our postural habits, stress and natural tendency to move mostly in the sagittal plane (forward, specifically) can all be to blame. Sitting, standing, and walking make the external rotators of the hips, hamstrings, and calves tight and weak. Our low backs tend to house discomfort from sitting. Another culprit could be over-exaggerating the curve in the lumbar spine (hyperlordosis). It could be something as simple as sinking your weight into one hip while standing.

Moving up the body, the rhomboids (the muscles between the shoulder blades and spine) become weak from our tendency to round the upper back. And the upper traps (top of the shoulders and neck) are notorious for holding stress-induced tension. To top it all off, our necks have to work very hard to hold up our heads, so tension can get trapped in the base of the skull and sometimes send referral pain to other areas in the body.

Read the full article on the Yoga Journal website.

About the Author

AllisonCandelaria_YogaMedicine_HSAllison Candelaria is a senior Yoga Medicine teacher and the owner of Soul Yoga studio in Oklahoma City, where she resides with her husband and two children. For Allison yoga was a perfect transition from her previous dancing career and complement to her professional work in the nonprofit sector. Her vinyasa flow classes are anatomically informed by years of study and uniquely incorporate myofascial release techniques to balance the mind, body and breath.

She is currently working on her 1000-hour certification with Yoga Medicine. She has also had the privilege to be personally mentored by Tiffany Cruikshank herself. You can find Allison leading 200-hour training with Yoga Medicine around the world. She also teaches workshops, classes and privates in the midwest. Learn more on allisoncandelaria.com and soulyogaokc.com.

Improve Fascia Flexibility to Boost Overall Flexibility

Allison Candelaria of YogaMedicine shares the basics of Fascia, how the flexibility of your fascia impacts your overall flexibility, and how to improve it.

Allison Candelaria using a ball to treat tight fascia. Learn why your fascia flexibility might be able to improve your overall flexibility,

What is Fascia? The Flexibility Factor You’re Probably Missing on the Mat

From your big toe mound to your Crown Chakra, there’s a lot to think about on the mat. So we can’t blame you if you’ve never given your fascia flexibility a second (or first) thought. Senior Yoga Medicine teacher Allison Candelaria explains why you will want to start now though.

Fortunately, aware of it or not, every time we step onto our yoga mats, our fascial system benefits. Fascia, which means “band” or “bundle” in Latin, surrounds, connects and supports our muscles, organs, bones, tendons, ligaments and other structures of the body. Fascia is similar to the membrane around each section of an orange. It both separates and connects body parts. These tissues have nerves, so they also serve as a layer of protection and body awareness.

Read the full article on the Yoga Journal website.

About the Author

AllisonCandelaria_YogaMedicine_HSAllison Candelaria is a senior Yoga Medicine teacher and the owner of Soul Yoga studio in Oklahoma City, where she resides with her husband and two children. For Allison yoga was a perfect transition from her previous dancing career and complement to her professional work in the nonprofit sector. Her vinyasa flow classes are anatomically informed by years of study and uniquely incorporate myofascial release techniques to balance the mind, body and breath. She is currently working on her 1000-hour certification with Yoga Medicine. She has also had the privilege to be personally mentored by Tiffany Cruikshank herself. You can find Allison leading 200-hour training with Yoga Medicine around the world. She also teaches workshops, classes and privates in the midwest. Learn more on allisoncandelaria.com and soulyogaokc.com.

Why Fascia Matters

10 years ago the yoga world was all about the core. Now, it seems that fascia is coming up more and more. Conversations amongst my yoga teacher friends and an abundance of fascia vocabulary getting thrown around in classes that I have been going to. Problem is nobody is really talking about what it is, how it functions, or what it does and doesn’t do. Below, you will find a brief explanation of what fascia is and why it matters to you and your overall wellbeing.

What is Fascia?

Most of what you will hear about the fascia is that it is a continuous piece of fibrous material that wraps the body just underneath the skin. This is true of the superficial fascia but it is important, even for a basic understanding, to know that the fascia is much more than that. The fascia weaves its way into the body and forms the architecture for the soft tissue deep inside. Fascia connects muscles to bone and bones to bones by way of tendons and ligaments, respectively. It helps hold your organs in place and even helps support the bones of the spine via your spinal discs.

Fascia is everywhere, and new research is showing us just how important it is in relation to the healthy use of our body.

Hydrate Your Insides…

The fascial system requires hydration and not just from that glass of water that I know is sitting next to you right now :). Yes, you need to be hydrated, but if the connective tissue is bound up it’s not getting that hydration. You have to work on your tissues to unbind the sticky bits in there. Myo-fascial work and Structural Integration are two of my favorite ways.

Put Your Right Foot In, Put Your Right Foot Out…

Movement hydrates your tissues. Varied movement and varied tempos will hydrate your tissues even more. Find movements that are the opposite of what you do in your day to day activities. For most of us this means lateral movements and higher intensity movement.

The Leg Bone Is Not Connected To the Hip Bone…

Well, it is but via the fascia and the tensegrity model. This model is important for us to understand as it shows how important the fascia is to the overall health and wellbeing of our muscles and bones. This really is where the meat of why fascia matters is. Think about that tight IT band you might have for a moment. Do you ever experience knee pain? Think they might be related? How about that little fender bender you were in years ago and got whiplash? Do you experience neck or shoulder pain today? Think those might be related? The answer could very well be yes. When one part of the body is under stress iaffectsts all surrounding parts which in turn effect the surrounding muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones around it. The domino effect begins via the fascia.

Our understanding of the fascia and it’s relationship with the rest of the body is growing as new research is published. What I hope you take away from this is that your fascia is important, its hydration and pliability have a great effect on the overall health of your body. Vary your movements and allow yourself long stretches like a yin or restorative yoga class at your local studio/gym.

By Krystyn Strother.

Krystyn Louise Strother is a certified yoga and meditation instructor and a proud Yoga Medicine senior teacher and assistant. She is in the process of completing her 1000-hour teacher training certification with a focus on using yoga therapeutically to preventing and managing chronic pain. Krystyn’s intent is to provide a safe and fun environment for people to cultivate awareness, physical and mental strength, and an overall sense of well-being in all they do.

You can find out more about Krystyn at her website. http://www.krystynstrother.com

Natural Headache Cures: Yoga Prescription

We all get headaches. Explore some natural headache cures with Tiffany Cruikshank and Well+Good.

“People get headaches for many reasons, just like people have stress for many reasons,” Cruikshank says. “The most common headaches are tension headaches, from tension building in your neck.”

Tiffany Cruikshank shares a simple yoga pose and holistic practice to nix a headache the natural way. To read the article on Well+Good NYC’s website, click here.


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