Yoga

Psoas release

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THE PSOAS UNCOVERED
Deep in the central hub of our body lies the psoas muscle. Unique in the fact that it is the only muscle that connects upper and lower body. It starts at the lower spine (T12), travels through the pelvic bowl, connects to the thigh bone (femur) and is part of the body of muscle known as the ‘hip flexors’. Both a tight or weak psoas can cause instability in the hips and lead to lower back pain – a tight psoas tilts the pelvis forward and cause an overarch in the lower back, while a weak psoas causes the pelvis to tilt backwards and reduces the natural supportive curve of the lower back. When the psoas is flexed it lifts the thigh towards the spine in standing poses, and the spine towards the thigh in seated poses. The glutes at the back of the hips contract when the psoas is lengthened – causing the back body to strengthen and the front body to stretch. The psoas becomes tight and shortened through prolonged periods of sitting or activities where it is repeatedly flexed like cycling or large amounts of core work. Running can either help maintain or cause problems with the psoas. When running, as you kick the leg forward you are contracting and strengthening the psoas, and when the other leg is extended back it is lengthening and stretching the psoas. For this reason it is important to consciously maintain a nice wide stride when running to catch both actions and avoid a chronically tight hip flexors.

THE PSOAS AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
This muscle is not only a functional muscle that connects upper and lower body and facilitates movement, it is also linked to the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system response. When we feel under threat the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered, releasing the hormone cortisol which causes a series of responses in the body as it become ready for action. One of the muscles involved in this automated response is the psoas muscle. It contract ready to fight it’s ground or take flight. Chronically tight psoas caused by prolonged sitting continuously triggers the stress hormone cortisol. When there is no action required the cortisol stays in the system leaving you feeling a constant low grade state of anxiety and exhaustion. Lengthening out the psoas through gentle yoga poses will break this cycle and help to relieve this built up physical and mental tension.

EXPLORING THE PSOAS IN YOUR PRACTICE
In our practice we look for strength in the connective tissue of the psoas first by contracting it then lengthen it out through gentle lunges and backbends. Spend a bit of time at the start of the sequence to feel for where this deep set muscle lies and see can you get a sense of it contracting as it draws the leg towards the spine and relaxing as it stretches the leg away from the spine and extends the hip joint.

ALIGNMENT CUES
Approach your lunge with fresh eyes. Instead of dropping the hips as far forward as you can stay more upright with the hips stacked over the grounded knee. Press into the front foot, and lift your pointy hip bones up. Roll the inner thigh back and lift the back of the thigh up. The peak poses for this sequence are Anjaneyasana/Low Lunge and Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon. You will come in variations on these two poses several times. Use the alignments cues below for Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon to get the most out of these poses.

  • From Adho Mukha Svanasana, inhale, step your right foot between your hands, exhale here.

  • Inhale, press into your feet to come up, reach your arms up high, shoulder width apart or palms together. Stack your front knee over your front ankle.

  • Press out through your left heel, lift the thigh and firm your back leg, hug your outer hips to the midline. Pointy hip bones lifted.

  • Draw your navel towards your spine, broaden through your collarbones, lengthen through your spine to the tip of your crown, gaze forward or to your fingertips.

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Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Twisty flow

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SUNNY TWISTS
The sun is finally making an appearance and the winter coats are being put into storage. I’m finding recently I’m drawn to twists in my practice to help shed the stagnation in the spine and step into a sense of new beginnings and the start of new energy patterns. The warm weather brings everyone out of hibernation and there is a general air of happiness around as we shed our winter layers and make use of the great outdoors and brighter evenings.

THE BENEFITS OF TWISTS
In our twists we mirror nature by growing that little bit taller through the spine to reach for the sunny sky and finding space between the vertebrae to twist into. Twists balance the nervous system, help good digestion, ease stress, tension and anxiety, and boost the immune system. In a twist the cells are activated in the organs and circulation is boosted which generates internal heat. When the circulation is stimulated it supplies the brain with more oxygenated blood and give you an extra boost of energy. Making them great to add into your morning practice but maybe not so beneficial to do too many in an evening practice.

There is a misconception that they ‘wring out’ the organs of the body. They will press on the intestines and help move waste along but in terms of the liver and detoxification the liver is very efficient at doing its job and isn’t stimulated with applied pressure of a twist. Where that can help is through the added flow of circulation which will help the organs work more efficiently at detoxing the body. The heat they generate through the activation of the cells will also encourage the skin to emit moisture to control the temperature of the body which will help remove toxins from the body.

EXPLORING TWISTY FLOW IN YOUR PRACTICE
There is two different schools of thought when it comes to twists – the first is to keep the hips level and facing forward to facilitate the full rotation to come from the spine, and the second is to allow a small rotation of the hips in the direction of the twist to prevent unnecessary pressure being added to the sacroiliac joint. The way I approach the twist is to keep the hips level but not to go to full range of motion to protect the connective tissue and the precious ligaments of the sacroiliac joint. Play around with both versions and see which suits your unique body best.

ALIGNMENT CUES
The peak pose in the Twisty Flow is Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana/Revolved Half Moon. This pose is the ultimate challenge in a standing twist. The whole body is twisting along the spine and at the same time you have the added challenge of balancing on one leg. Have a read through these steps and pay particular attention to the level of the hip as you twist.

  • Staring with transitioning into Virabhadrasana III/Warrior III from Parsvottanasana/Intense side stretch. Place two bricks about a foot forward of your front foot. Bend your front knee and place your hands on the bricks.

  • Exhale, hinge forward from the hip joint, lift your left leg parallel to the ground behind you, hips level to the ground. Roll the inner thigh of your left leg up, flex your foot and press out through the heel.

  • Lengthen through your spine and the sides of the body, gaze to the ground.

  • To move into Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana/Revolved Half Moon place your left hand on the right brick. Keep your left leg parallel to the ground, toes facing down.

  • Reach your right arm up high, palm facing right, stack your shoulders. Bottom waist rolls forward, top waist rolls back, lengthen from the heel of your lifted leg to the tip of your crown, gaze forward or to your right fingertips.

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Ruth Delahunty Yogaru


The ultimate runners flow

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SYMBIOSIS
There are more similarities between yoga and running than you might think. Both disciplines cultivate a meditative state of mind – where you can go inward, find space to unwind and get completely lost in the present moment. They both relieve stress and anxiety, help with symptoms of depression, strengthen your bones, and are very beneficial for healthy lung capacity and oxygen absorption.

While there are some similarities, the elements that make them very different disciplines are what makes them mutually beneficial to each other. They complement each other in a yin and yang relationship and are the perfect combination for balance and wellness. Running boosts cardiovascular fitness and yoga helps you stay injury free and improves your strength, stability, flexibility and endurance. The movement skills in yoga loosens tight spots, stabilises weak spots, increases range of motion and improve your running posture. It gives you the opportunity to connect to your body and help you move with a fluid, reactive running cadence. It also cultivates a focused and calm mindset on and off the mat, and helps prepare you for long endurance runs.

WHAT A RUNNER NEEDS
Runners need strong, stable, flexible and responsive muscles. The feet in particular need to be strong enough to weather the repeated pounding and the changing terrain for off road running. Stability of the ankle and knee will help you go the distance injury free, and as with everything in life, prevention is better than cure. Strong, stable and flexible hip flexors, quads, calves and hamstrings are important for building performance levels, and a strong and supple core will protects the back as the body twists from side to side to project the legs forward with each stride.

EXPLORING RUNNERS FLOW IN YOUR PRACTICE
Contrary to popular belief yoga is not just about stretching, it is about equal amounts of stretching and strengthening for a strong, flexible and balanced body. This sequence is not your traditional ‘yoga for runners’ sequence. It offers different way of looking at runners needs beyond a hamstring stretch with lots of ways to find strong, stable and flexible muscles and the supporting muscles around the joints. Pay particular attention to your transitions from pose to pose, they are just as important as the poses themselves and are sometimes a safer way to stretch a tight muscle rather than in a static hold. They will also give you the chance to work on your mobility and stability of the joints.

ALIGNMENT CUES
There is no single peak pose in the sequence. Each pose is there for a specific reason related to a runners needs. The single leg standing poses will build stability in your feet, ankle and knee joint; the standing poses will build strength, stability and flexibility in the hip flexors, quads, calves and hamstrings; the reclined core work and leg lifts will work build a strong and supple core; and the steaded poses will stretch out any build up of tension in the hips, inner groins. You’ll notice there is not mention of intense hamstring stretches. For most runner hamstring stretches are a frustrating endeavour that needs to be approached from a different angle. Pulling at tight muscles is the fastest way to cause injury to the connective tissues. As you flow and move the hamstring are gradually being lengthened in a more dynamic way than labouring through a sequence filled with forward folds. Here are some tips to help you navigate your way through the sequence:

  • Move slowly through your warm up poses in row one. Circle each joints, remember to go both directions and notice any areas that feel tighter.

  • In Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Dog pause for a few breaths on each side with one knee deeply bent and the other leg straight as you press the heel down towards the ground. Feel the stretch through the whole of the back of the leg.

  • Flow through you toe taps and leg lifts mini flow in row two as slow as possible and notice the ankle of the standing leg working hard to find your balance.

  • In Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon press out through your left heel, lift your thigh up and firm your back leg. Squeeze the glute of your left leg to strengthen the hamstring and open the left hip flexor. Hug your outer hips strongly to the midline for balance.

  • Use a brick to raise the ground up for Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon and Ardha Chandrasana Chapasana/Half Moon Sugarcane centre of row three.

  • Step back from Garudasana/Eagle to Ashta Chandrasana/Crescent Moon, take a breath and step forward to Tadasana/Mountain.

  • Spend at least 5-10 minutes in Savasana/Corpse Pose after you have finished the final pose a spinal twist.

Not sure what the poses is? Click on the links to bring you to the poses. To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru



Strong legs

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SLOW MO
Stability is considered to come from the core, but the legs are also working very hard to stabilise your movement while standing, walking and running. Conscious movement through transitions give the opportunity to add depth to our yoga practice. When we move slowly from pose to pose we recruit all the strong stabilising muscles of the body. Take the simple step forward from Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon to Tadasana/Mountain at the top of the mat – you can use momentum to lift and swing your leg forward, this is a cardiovascular output, or you can press strongly into your front leg, lift the back leg up and gradually draw it forward to the top of the mat as slow as you possibly can – this is a strong muscular output.

CULTIVATING STRONG LEGS
When it comes to strong legs in your practice look to build from the ground up. Press into the three points of contact with the ground – the big toe mound, the little toe mound and the centre of the back of your heel. Feel the arches of your feet lift, and the energy travel up your legs, as the muscles react to this simple action of grounding down. When the legs are strong, supportive and reactive in our everyday movement, the upper body becomes more fluid and holds less tension.

EXPLORING STRONG LEGS IN YOUR PRACTICE
As you move through this sequence concentrate your attention on the quality of your movement from pose to pose. Feel for the stabilising muscles around your joints and how the body is constantly correcting it’s balance with proprioception. See can you isolate the sensations in the muscles of the legs as you move slowly through the ‘step back’ flow. Take your time and don’t rush. You might even find that you don’t get through the full range of standing mini slow flows in one practice. If so, come back to it at your next practice, start with the warm up section and explore the next mini slow flow.

ALIGNMENT CUES
You will flow through the peak pose of Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon several times as you work through this sequence. This pose is a opportunity to strengthen and stretch all the muscles on of the legs in the alternate sides. In the front leg the hamstrings and glutes are being stretched, and the quads and hip flexors are being strengthened; while the hamstrings and glutes are being strengthened, and the quads and hip flexors and being stretched in the back leg. The alignment cues below will guide you through your optimal alignment for Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon and how to approach the first mini slow flow.

  • From Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Dog, inhale, step your right foot between your hands, exhale here.

  • Inhale, press into your feet to come up, place your hands on your pointy hip bones and lift them up to stack the pelvis.

  • Press out through your left heel, lift your thigh up and firm your back leg. Squeeze the glute of your left leg to strengthen the hamstring and open the left hip flexor. Hug your outer hips strongly to the midline for balance.

  • Reach your arms up high, shoulder width apart or palms together. Stack your front knee over your front ankle. Press strongly into your right foot and feel the quad working hard to keep you balanced.

  • Draw your navel towards your spine, broaden through your collarbones, lengthen through your spine to the tip of your crown, gaze forward or to your fingertips.

  • Exhale, lean your weight forward over your front foot. Inhale, slowly lift your left leg and draw it forward to Urdhva Hastasana/Upward Salute with a lifted leg. Pause.

  • Bend your front knee and on an exhale slow as you can step back to Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon. Repeat three times.

To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Strong glutes

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TIGHT & WEAK
Recently in my practice I’ve become more conscious of building a sustainable practice with longevity that will see me practicing well into my 90s’! After twenty years of a regular practice I’m starting to notice an element of overstretch in the back of my hamstrings and glutes. A phenomenon called ‘yoga butt’, which is very common in yogis with a long standing practice, where the tendons become inflamed from regular stretching and you develop tendinopathy. It doesn’t necessarily correlate with flexible muscles. Forward bends remain as the poses I find most challenging. We associate tight with strong but muscles are more often tight and weak. We are very sedentary in our day to day lives, we sit for long periods of time. This causes the muscles to become weak and tight from lack of blood flow and lack of movement. Stretching strongly into tight, weak muscles increases the chances of injuries to the connective tissue and the tendons. An athlete, or someone who has a specific regular sport discipline, may find they have certain areas that become tight and strong over time. For these people plenty of stretching in their practice will balance them out. But for the majority of us we need equal amounts of stretching and strengthening in our yoga practice.

FINDING EQUAL STRETCHING AND STRENGTHENING
The misconception about yoga is that it is all about stretching. Yes there is plenty of opportunities to stretch, but there is equal opportunities to strengthen too. To remedy my ‘yoga butt’ and make my practice more viable for the future I am consciously looking for the strength in each pose and adding poses to strengthen certain areas where I know I need more stabilisation and strength. Finding the strengthening muscles isn’t as hard as you’d imagine. To every muscle that is stretching there is a muscle that is strengthening. Think of a forward bend – the back body is in extension and stretching, while at the same time the front body is flexing and strengthening.

EXPLORING YOUR STRONG GLUTES IN YOUR PRACTICE
The glutes comprise of three muscles – gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. Glute max extends the leg back, externally rotates the leg and abducts it out to the side. Tight gluteus max limits forward bends. Glute medius and minimus are quite similar in function – they abduct the leg out to the side, internally rotate the leg and stabilise the pelvis. They are the muscles we switch on when we ‘hug to the midline’. Tight medius and minimus leads to instability in standing poses.

ALIGNMENT CUES
This sequence will give you plenty of poses which to feel the glutes working and to help you sense their position and their function in the body. The peak pose is a version of Ardha Chandra Chapasana/Half Moon Sugarcane where you will be coming into the balancing pose with the top leg bent and reaching back, and instead of holding onto the foot you will reach for the foot but not hold it. This will allow the strength of the muscles to carry the weight of the lifted leg. Particularly the glute max of the lifted leg and the glute medius and minimus of the standing leg as they work to keep you stable in this balancing pose.

  • From Ardha Chandrasana, bend your left knee, reach your left hand back toward your left foot without holding onto the foot.

  • Flex your foot and reach your left knee up and back, squeeze into the back of the knee.

  • Hug your right hip in to the midline and press down through the three point of your right foot.

  • Draw your navel to your spine and lift your pelvic floor.

  • Broaden through the collarbones. Arch through your whole spine, lengthen your neck and softly reach your head back, gaze down or up.

To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru