Locking Your Knees In Yoga

Why do we lock our knees?

Whether in yoga or simply standing and waiting, many of us have a habit of locking our knees. This is also referred to as hyperextending the knee joints, which is essentially pushing the knees back so far it reaches the end limit of the joint’s range of motion. Pushing the knee joint to this limit can place strain on the ligaments, tendons, and can also wear down the edges of the cartilage. Yet, when we lock our knees, there isn’t any pain, and in fact it feels effortless. This is because the damage to cause pain happens slowly overtime, and locking a joint actually requires less energy since there is less activation in the muscles than neutral posture – essentially we are riding on the structures of the joint to hold the position.

Locking the knees extends to a bigger picture of negatively affecting the whole body’s posture. When one area of the body is forced to an extreme, somewhere else in the body shifts to compensate to bring the balance back. When a person locks their knees in standing, this often forces the pelvis and spine to shift in posture. The image below shows two postural types that occur with locked knees: sway back posture and hyper-lordosis. Both can cause pain in the back (and neck) and eventually cause stress to the structures of the spine.

Unfortunately, locking the knees and the subsequent postural accommodations don’t just show themselves in standing still, they transfer to all our movements and activities, such as our yoga postures. Some commonly affected yoga postures are Triangle pose (Trikonasana) and the standing balance poses such as Tree (Vrksasana), and Dancer (Natarajasana) – see images below. By locking the knees in these postures, our alignment and safety is affected through the spine.

A Yoga Practice to Bring Awareness to Unlocking the Knees

Yoga provides us with a discipline from which we can learn to correct this habit and improve our posture. To bring more awareness to how we posture our knees start by practicing how you stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). In Mountain Pose, create a solid foundation in your feet: posture your feet straight ahead and ground evenly on all four corners of the foot. From your feet bring awareness to the posture of our knees, and if you feel them locked, practice generating a little give, or softness, to the joint (not bending, the legs still remain fairly straight). Then from the neutral knee posture notice how this affects your posture all the way up as you lift and lengthen.

Then choose a standing balance posture from which you can practice holding the knees in good posture, e.g. Tree or Warrior III (image above). As you challenge yourself on one leg you may realize that it’s not enough to feel softness at the knee joint, but also necessary to generate a sense of engagement of the posterior knee muscles to prevent the joint from pressing back.  

Then practice Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasa) with the focus on the front leg and the posture of the knee. As you enter the pose, find your base by grounding evenly and firmly through all sides of the front foot and gentle press the big toe mound into the ground. From there, feel the line of activation that travels up the back of the leg to behind the knee. You are aiming to have the front knee straight without locking, and see if you can sense the engagement in the posterior knee muscles at the same time.
This pose is especially good because the posterior leg muscles are stretching, but we practice activating them in this lengthened position.

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Yoga Therapy as a Certified Profession!

160304-069When I first started learning yoga I knew there was something unique going on in its healing role for me personally, but I would have never predicted the momentum to which it has grown today.

Jump forward to the last few years you can find numerous yoga studios in every community, all of which are unique in their flavour, and offering you a variety of classes for your needs. Then to the rise of therapeutic classes being offered alongside the emerging profession of yoga therapy.

Today there are doctors prescribing yoga for their clients with high stress and anxiety. Other medical professionals such as MT’s, PT’s and counsellors are referring people to yoga for injuries, mental health conditions, and as a way to reconnect with one’s body. The medical field is really starting to recognize yoga’s role in the healing modalities, and this is exciting to see.

But with this privilege of caring for those who are unwell, the yoga community was forced to look at its role and its safety in the health professions. As with anything new that gains popularity, in order to move forward in a responsible way, standards and procedures were needing to be developed and training programs would need to become more stringent.

Although there is still a long way to go, I see the movement towards stronger programs producing more responsible yoga teachers. I’ve been impressed by how senior teachers and leaders of the yoga community are rising to the challenge to develop new training standards based off of research and safety for the people, and I feel we are on the right path to becoming a unified body of professionals.

Then, in the field of yoga therapy, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) made great strides in defining what it means to be a yoga therapist, delineating the difference between a yoga therapist from a regular yoga teacher, and then to accredit certain schools with this training designation. As much as this process of defining the profession and accreditation of schools was a long and complicated process, it was an important step to ensure safety and quality within the profession.

Today the IAYT reserves certification only for those who have met the training standards and the association has just started to award the first members with the title of Certified Yoga Therapist (look for the C-IAYT designation). As I look back on my journey, first as a yoga student, next to become a certified teacher, and then to become a yoga therapist, I recognize I am at the forefront of a whole new profession gaining momentum, and one which is ever evolving as research guides its shape to serving individuals in a very special way. Now, I am very excited to say that I am a certified yoga therapist!

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Memory In Our Tissues

Do you believe that our physical bodies hold memory of our past experiences? 

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I recently worked with a lady who had a painful injury to the left side of her rib cage and every time she leaned towards this area she felt pain. To avoid the pain she would chronically lean away from the pain, and over the course of a year her muscles reset to a new “normal” of her trunk leaning to the right. This makes sense that our bodies shape around physical injuries and most frequent activities.

But what about this notion of storing “issues in our tissues”… can unexpressed emotion, fears, expectations, and our beliefs about ourselves actually be stored in our bodily matrix, shaping our physical form? Take for example, the chronic hiking of your shoulders from years of taking on too much responsibility or the forward rounding of your upper back to shield your front body, the place of your vulnerability and insecurities.

To me it feels very logical that thought, emotion, and memory can affect how we hold ourselves, and over time, how this holding pattern could be memorized through repeated transfer of information from cell to cell. There is a great quote from Ken Dychtwald that considers posture in relationship to the emotional body, “The body begins to form around the feelings that animate it, and the feelings, in turn, become habituated and trapped within the body tissue, itself.”

What I find so interesting about this is how we can go months, years, and sometimes lifetimes being unaware of the storage of memory in the tissues of the body until one day, your attention is called inwards and you experience your body outside the conditioned grooves that day-to-day living assumes. So often is the case for many of us when we first start practicing yoga. As Elisa Cobb writes in her book, The Forgotten Body, “the silence and the moment-to-moment awareness cues in yoga are invitations to finally notice sensations, thoughts, and images that arise, and the physical postures, asanas, knead the body’s cells, moving energetic information and triggering cellular memories. Yoga provides the atmosphere that interrupts our patterned living and provides us with the opportunity to meet ourselves with fresh perspective at the level of bodily experience.”

I find it fascinating that yoga can teach us that a tightly held muscle or rotation in our hip stores valuable information about our past and present selves. A simple stretch or pose becomes an invitation into the psychological and physiological web that form the matrix of the mind-body… a place from which we can let our bodies speak the stories of our past and reveal the ways in which our patterns of conditioning affect us. And with this new awareness of the “issues in our tissues”, it plants a seed for a different relationship with ourselves, the possibility of change, and in some cases a whole new way of standing in the present moment.

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Top 10 Reasons To Try Yoga Therapy

151016-028-2Do you believe that the mind and body are connected? Most people do these days. It makes sense that whatever happens to you physically affects you mentally/emotionally and vice versa.

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapists are mind-body practitioners. By blending supported yoga poses/stretches with non-directed dialogue, the connection between what’s happening in your body is explored in relationship to your thoughts and emotions.

To borrow a phrase from a Vancouver based yogi, Eoin Finn, “Our issues are in our tissues.” And let’s face it, we all have issues… it’s just a matter of how much and when. And when life deals you a case-lot size of them, it might be time to check in with what valuable information your body has to offer you.

Here’s a list of 10 really good reasons to try yoga therapy:

1. When you’re faced with a big decision or difficult life choice and need clarification on what the next step can be.

2. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and the pace of 21st century life feels out of balance. Like many people seeking out their first yoga class, you feel a need to slow down, reflect, and regroup.

3. If you have run into a roadblock with your healing, either physical or emotional and you want to assess the source of your obstacle or want to investigate other options for healing.

4. Because you put everyone else first. Ever sit down at the end of a day and realize that between work and family you’ve done absolutely nothing for yourself?  You’ve been taking care others for so long you’re left wondering, “Who am I and what do I want?”

5. Your body needs it. You have tight muscles and stiff joints and you feel you could use some deep relaxation and, really, when couldn’t you use some gentle stretches and traction done to your body?

6. You’re confidence is low and you’re up against feelings of self-doubt and you are doubting your aspirations.

7. Life took a turn you didn’t expect and now you’re left sorting and processing – What now? What are my options? Where do I go from here?

8. You’re in a creative slump. You feel your source of inspiration–your creative well–is all dried up and are looking for ways to access it again.

9. Your past is catching up with you. Whatever you have pushed away and avoided dealing with, whether it be some aspect of your physical health that you’ve ignored or an emotional issue from your past, it’s resurfacing again and it’s time to check in about it.

10. For the joy of Discovery. You are interested in delving into your spiritual and mindful self and seeing what might be revealed.

For more information about what it’s like to received a yoga therapy session link here.

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Happy New Year

Here’s a fun picture Oliver caught of the the girls and I “playing” yoga in the back yard. I love this picture, not because my little squeakers are budding yogis, but because we were being silly and enjoying the simple fun of trying to balance on our bottoms. There was no expectation of technique, or a goal of any kind for that matter. That’s how I feel yoga should be for kids–pure, playful, and in-the-moment fun. Gets me thinking maybe we could all use a little bit more of this kind of yoga in our lives.

Have a look at my latest blog post giving you a yogic perspective on making New Years resolutions here.

Wishing you a playful New Year,

Renee

 

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A post on creativity and yoga

Let me start by introducing myself. I’m a woman who believes “reliability and functionality” define a good handbag, I studied science in university, my favourite iPhone app is my Reminder’s checklist, and my friends nicknamed me “The Grid” for my exceptional ability to think in straight lines. Over the years, I certainly have not placed myself on the top of the creative totem pole. In fact, I used to get low grade anxiety whenever someone invited me to a crafting event. (The echo of my subconscious reminding me, “I’m not creative–that’s reserved for that other group of people–the artsy, color-outside-the-lines people”). But recently my yoga practice revealed a new possibility to me, and a whole new perspective of what defines creativity and where I stand in this definition came into colour.

It happened gradually, like the peeling away the layers of an onion; however, recently a big chunk fell off. I was in Cobbler pose–a common pose where you join the soles of your feet and let your knees fall out to the sides. This pose has been in my practice for years, but also one I have never felt satisfied with since my left hip has slowly become less and less flexible (my suspicion is arthritis). I can’t count how many times I’d done Cobbler and pressed down on my knee as if to try to force my left hip to open like the right side–the thought was, if I spend a little more energy and focus on it, it will loosen, it will improve–but it hasn’t. Then one miraculous morning, I accepted it. I sat upright, joined the soles of my feet, and let my knees fall as they would–beautifully asymmetrical and seasoned with age. For the first time, I felt at peace with it, as if to say,” This is who I am right now and there is no need to change or fix anything.” What I realized at that moment was I was finally getting out of my own way. Letting go of the old, or fixed ideas about who I used to be or how my hip should be, and opening to the space of who I am right now.

So how does this relate to creativity you might ask… Well, it was very near after this day I saw the same awareness show up in another aspect of my life. You see, I’d always written the odd poem in my journal and this recent acceptance of “this is who I am right now” gave me a green light to write more poems. I used to think they were just something I did when I needed to vent on paper (more a process of processing, if you will) and my belief that they weren’t any good because I’m not good at writing and I’m not a creative person prevented me from truly engaging in this interest. I realized I’ve been holding this part of myself back out of fixed beliefs and old ideas of self, much like the ideas that made me believe that my left hip and right hip should perform the same. My poems, my writings (interestingly about yoga), are a genuine passion for me, and right now, this is what’s in me that’s calling to be expressed. It’s time for me to let them
exist just as they are, imperfections and all.

More to this revelation of mine. Even though my breakthrough acceptance appears like a sudden epiphany, in reality, to get to this place of resolve–to be able to say my writings and poems have value and deserve to be expressed–took inner work. It took a gradual building of trust and confidence in myself. And my yoga practice was instrumental in this process (and when I say “practice”, a word to the wise, if the yoga class you’re thinking of promotes a beach-body and rock-hard abs, this is not the type of yoga practice I’m referring to).

It required what I like to call introspective yoga to cultivate this psychological growth. What I needed was a safe, slow, and quiet space where the volume of my inner knowing could be turned up. What was revealed to me was a confidence in my inner voice and the value of expressing it. Essentially, I was building trust in following my heart’s desire, and, for the purpose of this blog post, giving me the foundation from which I’d take the next step of sharing my poems. (For those of you who are interested you can read one here).

So here’s the truth I’ve come to realize–creativity evolves out of the recognition of what you do in your life that brings you joy. You need to identify the topics and activities that naturally get you curious and excited (you know, the ones you’d spend all your free time doing just for the fun of it) because this is the place from which creation is born. And no matter the end product, it’s truly special because it’s a product of genuine passion combined with the uniqueness of you. If you’re anything like me, sometimes these inner yearnings get dampened by the “shoulds and should-nots” we carry in our heads, and what’s needed is a platform like yoga to open the space for the wise body and inner voice to be present. Perhaps it’s time to get out of your own way and ask yourself, “What’s in me that’s not being expressed?”

This post was originally published on the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy website’s guest blogs here.

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The Uninvited Guest (It’s okay to cry)

You can close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see but you can’t close your heart to the things you don’t want to feel.

-Johnny Depp

I was just on Facebook and as I scanned through the numerous pretty pictures with inspiring quotes and affirmations, I was pleased to happen across this one post linking to Elephant Journal with an article on healing and pain, Pain is a Process; Honor It . In this article the author, Christine Gutierrez, is referring to the type of pain that comes from life’s bum deals, you know, the heartaches, failures, cruelties and unfairness, lessons of loss and grief, disappointments, etc. To heal this pain, she explains, there is a process that needs to take place, and this process doesn’t always come in the package of positive thinking and affirmations – sometimes the process needs to include the messy moments, the sadness, and hurt.  I especially like her line, “No matter how good we may get at tracking a storm, the beauty of nature is that she does her own thing. Sometimes it hurts, but it is what it is.”

Reading this article was like a sigh of relief! Tbh [to be honest] I get really disconcerted when I hear “keep your chin up”, or, my personal favourite, “stay positive” when I’m really down. It seems to me that some of this proper, tea party talk has roots in the idea that it’s not okay to show your emotions, that it’s weak and improper, and god forbid imposing on another. Or, rather, if you just wish it away it will be no longer… Really? So you just learned some really crappy news or maybe you’re sorting through some painful childhood stuff. I for one, am not going to tell you how to feel, how to be, or when to be it. I can see how it would be radically confusing to chant messages of light and optimism when every cell of your being is aching in grief. And, it’s my opinion that if you look a little deeper at this notion of “staying positive” there’s a shadow called fear walking beside the mind-set. Yep, people are afraid to feel emotions, afraid to show emotions, and afraid to witness another’s emotions because this makes them feel uncomfortable, or better yet, vulnerable.

I once read that to watch a young child be with their emotions is a good example of healthy expression. When it comes to feelings, toddlers have a natural ability to flow from moment to moment – they can go from peaceful, happy play to abrupt tears and cries, and then, like the flick of a light switch, back to peaceful, happy play. I wonder, what would it be like to let our feelings move through us in this way rather than stuffing them deep down where they can do the lethal damage? Now I’m not saying we should all regress to childhood tantrums in the schoolyard, but I am suggesting to feel is good, and to feel all of it. It’s okay to cry, to be messy, to be angry and sad. This is all a part of the human experience we call life. As Dolly Parton said, You can’t have the rainbow without the rain.” And really could we even know happiness without it’s polar opposite of sadness?

So I say befriend your emotions – all of them. Acknowledge and accept them, and when the time is right, find a place and a way to be with them. Maybe something you do is journalling; some like poetry, painting, talking with a friend or therapist, watching a chick flick… whatever opens the dam and lets you feel and express. Personally I have found my yoga and yoga therapy to be the most healthy and effective ways to get in touch with what’s really going on. My promise to you is feeling the ugly won’t make you ugly. I’m betting that if you find authentic and productive ways to be with your emotions, your body, your being, will thank you for it. To quote Ms. Gutierrez, “This to me is the true art of healing – to allow the healing to be what it is.”

 

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I bow to the wisdom of my divine self

One of my yoga therapy course work assignments is to practice certain postures and to write about what I learn about my body in relation to the pose. One of the poses I am practicing this term is yoga mudra.  I’ve chosen to do this pose while in lunge position. My body enjoys this pose; it is strangely comforting and edgy all at once. I think it’s because I fold into myself, but at the same time, I am using strength through my legs to support and balance myself while my arms extend and stretch out away from me.

One day when I was practicing this pose I realized I could stretch my arms up further than I was doing… and it was easy. At that moment I had an awareness and it brought me back to a time when I was doing this pose on the rocky shores of Maui. My husband had taken a picture of me doing it and I remembered seeing the photo thinking my arms were not reaching very high. What I have since realized was in this photo, and countless times thereafter, I was NOT demonstrating my full ability, and the awareness became: sometimes I hold back and even when I know I can push further (and when it is completely safe for me to do so!). Hmmm… what an interesting realization. So what am I holding back for?

This became a very insightful question for me to ask myself, “What am I holding back for?”, and with some space and acceptance, a big learning piece emerged. Without going into all the gloriously messy details, let’s just say I realized I was holding a fear of fully expressing myself, a coping strategy learned from my younger years which no longer serves me. Wow, what an awareness – all from the simple practice of one pose allowing my body to speak it’s wisdom.

So… back to “what I learned about my body in relation to this pose”, of course my arms can extend further, so let them… and I have.

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Yoga Therapy

I just finished the first couple levels of my technical training for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy.  Wow, what an experience.  I really had no idea what a beautiful and in-depth practice and training I was stepping into.  I have a long road ahead of me to become certified, but it is really exciting.  I plan on blogging about my journey as I move through the course work and practicum.  To begin with, I thought it would be a good exercise to describe what yoga therapy is, as taught by Phoenix Rising

It’s body work, like receiving a massage, but instead of massaging, I am Continue reading “Yoga Therapy”

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