Anatomy Resources

Happy Hamstrings are Healthy Hamstrings

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located in the back of the thigh. If your hamstrings are weak and tight, they’re vulnerable to strain. Daily activities don’t stretch them, and tight hamstrings can cause all kinds of problems, including lower back pain, neck pain and muscle cramps, as well as limited range of motion in hips and knees.

The legs can hold on to tension, especially in a “fight or flight” situation; the hamstrings can grip as a physiological response to psychological stress. This tension moves into the tissues of the body as a hardening or bracing reaction, which can move into the mental attitudes we live in the world. This response can also set up an armor in response to challenging, complex and difficult situations.

The release in the hamstrings and back body may require a deeper level of surrender, and a release past conflicts, memories, anger, or resentment. Many asanas involve extension of the hamstring and spine, and perhaps forward folds teach this best. Forward folding helps provide a feeling of sanctuary and support, which calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression.

They open up the back body, lengthens and strengthens hamstrings, inner legs, spinal muscles, ankles and knees. The asanas mimic the shape of the body in the womb (primary curve), providing a physiologically nurturing support, which aids in working with anxiety and grief.

What is Range of Motion (ROM) in Joints?

In a recent conversation with my good friend, teacher and mentor Judith Hanson Lasater, the degrees of movement in the spine came up as a topic. Yes, yogis do really have dinner conversations about this!

We were discussing a pose, and I was describing my surprise when I looked up the average and normal range of movement for the shoulder girdle. I asked, because my shoulders are hyper mobile, and I have struggled over the years with the appeal of mobile shoulders, and how easy it is to access certain movements, yet can see that those movements may not come easily (or ever) for some of my students. It has also been my achilles heel, in that it has allowed me great freedom in the joint, yet also at great risk for injury and pain

This got us onto the topic of standard anatomical Range of Movement (ROM), She suggested I look up the numbers and share them with my students. So in this virtual world of yoga online and global student base on the web, I am following up with a post to share what I have found.

The ROM of Major Joints

In my last post What is Range of Motion (ROM) we discussed ROM and how it is measured. It is something that is interesting to note, as we often assume in Yoga that all joints can move in all directions and degrees in all bodies. I have often heard one “should” get to blah blah in a certain pose. Have you ever considered the length of limbs, torso-to-limb ratio, height, weight, age etc. and how that might impact a pose, and everyones ability to be in a shape.

That would be akin to saying all women wear the same dress size. And I don’t know about you, but I certainly know that I am Not the same size as a Sports Illustrated or Victoria’s Secret model. Or many of the yoginis I teach!

We often say that Yoga is individuated, and yet also say that we “should All be able to have 90 degree arms in chattaranga” , be able to bind our arms around leg/torso in all bound poses, and other myths. As I have continued my own study of anatomy (under the guidance and tutelage of Judith Hanson Lasater, who is a physical therapist and senior yoga teacher), I have discovered my own truths about myself and others. Additionally, I have grown older, had injuries, illnesses and other aspects of life that have changed my view on asana.

Koshas - 5 Sheaths

5 Sheaths – Koshas कोश kośa

The five sheaths (pancha-kosas) are in the Atmabodha. From gross to fine they are:

  • Annamaya kosha, food-sheath
  • Pranamaya kosha, air-sheath
  • Manomaya kosha, mind-sheath
  • Vijnanamaya kosha, wisdom-sheath
  • Anandamaya kosha, bliss-sheath

Annamaya Kosha: Part of the physical body. It is known as the “food sheath”. This is the anatomical body. It is the most obvious (like feeling your hamstrings in your first forward fold!). This body is composed of muscular and connective tissue, and bones. Anna means food. This body needs food for it’s maintenance.Composed of elements of the physical world. Made from food and will go back into the cycle of food upon death. It is overcome through asanas and proper diet.

Harmonising Yin Yang - To Squat or Not to Squat

This is a translation of an article published in Yoga Journal Thailand April 2011

Harmonising Yin Yang – To Squat or Not to Squat

In Asia, it is natural to squat. It’s comfortable, and a part of daily life activity in cities and the countryside. A view of a shadow squatting in a field would naturally presume “Asian” rather than Western. When Westerners move to Asia, that is often one of the biggest complaints – how difficult it is to squat for knees, ankles and shins. Yet, most Asian may wonder why Malasana squat is a yoga pose?

I noticed years ago, even before I did yoga, that people in the West can’t squat as easily as Asians. Is there a different angle in the hip or joint that makes it easier for us to squat than our Western brothers and sisters? Is that something from childhood, or is there a physical difference? Are we built structurally differently? Will that effect how yoga poses are accessed in the body?

People in Asia often sit on the ground or floor more than in chairs. This allows us to sit without back support into old age. Squatting can improve stability of the lower back and hips, however, if the knee over stretches, it loses stability, which leads to flat footedness.

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