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YOGA - The Human Posture and Chronic Pain

Updated: Jul 17, 2023




Although Yoga is considered a safe form of exercise, recommended by GP’s Physiotherapists, chiropractors and alike, existing pain and injuries can persist and new ones can occur.

This happens when we try to force our bodies into postures we are not ready for or when we do not understand and respect the universal laws of alignment we are subjected to since human beings have been standing on 2 feet.



YOGA IS PRESENCE, FULL AWARENESS. IT IS THE DOOR TO A HIGHER STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS. LISTENING TO OUR BODY WHILE PRACTICING YOGA IS AN ART AND A SCIENCE. INJURIES OCCUR OR GET AGGRAVATED WHEN WE ARE NOT LISTENING AND WHEN OUR INTENTIONS ARE BUT THE ONES OF HARMONY AND RESPECT OF THE UNIVERSAL LAWS OF ALIGNMENT.


Knowledge of our body’s innate wisdom is one of the most important skills while teaching Yoga and particularly when we address chronic pain and dysfunctions. Our ability to “read’ the body in static and dynamic postures can help us help our students and ourselves.

The Human Posture

Understanding and treating the human posture and its dysfunctions is a holistic science. Studying the human posture is far more than looking into the physical alignment of our joints and the working of our musculoskeletal systems. At its origin, standing upright involved a massive shift in “human” consciousness. Today healing the human suffering that stem from postural dysfunctions demands a massive shift in our approach. This holistic scientific approach recognizes that the entire universe is to be ultimately understood as an undivided whole with all its “potential” and “manifested” particles working as one. In the context of healing chronic pain we must also acknowledge the intimate relation between the teacher and the person in pain. We cannot deny the “uncontrollable disturbance “ of the patient’s information field by the act of the therapist. The patients cannot be regarded as a well-oiled machine anymore, with parts that sometimes break down and needs repair. The new paradigm of quantum physics that is the base of our understanding and creation of our world today in physical science, chemistry, engineering, human behaviours and…. must come to all aspects of health. And fortunately today we know that both ancient spiritual traditions such as yoga and meditation is sharing the same understanding about our universe and human nature Posture is dynamic. It is a balancing act between groups of muscles working together to keep our body upright. It is how your body aligns and finds stability to oppose the pull of gravity, using the least amount of energy. For individuals and athletes, repetitive movement without a sound knowledge of the laws of alignment can play havoc on the body. Daily routines and faulty training are often the cause of repetitive injuries and poor performance. Posture is the bodily manifestation of our thoughts, our state of mind. For instance, if you feel depressed, you will find it difficult to “stand tall”. It is important to know that stressful postural patterns can begin as a protective mechanism against emotional pain. Patients suffering from chronic pain are often, if not always, emotionally and mentally stressed. Human posture and long-standing, recurring pain. “Pain can only feed on pain. Pain cannot feed on joy. It finds it quite indigestible” Eckart Tolle. People have not broken free from the cycle of chronic pain because no one has told them that they can. More than 30 per cent of our population is known to live in postural and post-injury chronic pain. It is a complex human health issue and often falls in the “too-hard” basket because of a lack of understanding and a lack of experts who can offer long-lasting solutions. We must regards human beings as a whole. Chronic pain is not just the part or parts of our body that are in pain, but rather, a long-term disruption of our original equilibrium: physically and psychologically, through postural and nervous system dysfunctions as well as stressful states of mind and distorted perceptions of life. Chronic pain is a sign that the body has taken over from the conscious mind. In other words, the body is in control, not the mind. In chronic, neuromuscular pain, poor posture with its intrinsic physical and psychological stress patterns has become a learned behaviour, a “bad habit”. Over time, it can have a devastating effect on your body and your emotions. Physically, the muscles that support your once- aligned, efficient human stance fail to function and muscle spasms, wear and tear of the spine and joints, nerve damage, recurring injuries and pain become the norm. Emotionally, the psychological and thoughts patterns have become second nature and depression and anxiety are the daily companions of most people with chronic pain. Overall there is a vivid sensation of being in a vicious circle with every attempt to heal through conventional methods reaching a dead end with no more hope for improvement. How does this happen? – Through repetitions! Your body learns through repetitions. Indeed repetition is the mother of all skills. Your body can learn to hold itself crooked for many reasons: emotional shielding, stress, lack of motivations to exercise, excessive unhealthy motivations to exercise! Leading to muscles abuse and misuse, faulty training. It is the same for post injury where protective body’s mechanisms can stay in charge for years before someone realises that muscle “amnesia” has become an issue. Most importantly, the body can learn and remembers Pain as efficiently as it can learn to ride a bike or play the piano.


Treatment

In the end, these engrained and distorted physical and mental patterns rule your Life. So unless someone that understands this process interact compassionately and with an open heart with this unfortunate field of information and give you the tools to re arrange your brain, it is very difficult to change those “habits”

Neuroplasticity of the brain is the ability to change and create “habits” or patterns. You can create both good and bad habits through repetitive behaviours, movements, thoughts and feelings. You will always be successful at it. You cannot fail, it is the way the brain learns and remembers. But if you need to change present painful “habits” into empowering healthy ones, you need skills in the repetitions! You need to learn the right exercises: mental and physicals.


How? By understanding the underlying process that govern daily thought and physical activities

At the Mind level: Understanding the “bad” habits perpetuated by a well trained brain Reinforcing the presence of the body in your consciousness: “Grounding” the mind in the body by monitoring thoughts through body’s behaviours. Developing the most important muscle of all: Awareness Through the repetition of simple and yet powerful exercises, so it becomes second nature…

At the Physical level: Understanding biomechanics of the body. The law of Alignment Assessing the structural alignment and how the muscle have been used, misused, abused or not used at all Educating and giving simple but mindful exercises that can be done simply during daily activities.


Postural Exercise


MUSCLES QUICKLY HABITUATE TO HOW WE USE THEM BECAUSE ONCE NEURO-MUSCULAR PATHWAYS ARE ESTABLISHED, NERVE IMPULSES LIKE TO TRAVEL ALONG THESE FAMILIAR ROUTES. WORN NEURO-MUSCULAR PATHWAYS ARE LIKE RUTS IN THE ROAD: UNLESS WE CONSCIOUSLY STEER AWAY FROM THEM, THEY ARE EASY TO FALL INTO. FOR EXAMPLE, AFTER TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF DRIVING A STANDARD CAR, I NOW DRIVE AN AUTOMATIC. BUT WHEN I’M TIRED OR DISTRACTED, MY FOOT STILL PUSHES FOR THE CLUTCH AS THOUGH IT HAD A MIND OF ITS OWN! INTENTIONAL MOVEMENT IS THE KEY TO BREAKING MUSCULAR HABITS.

EXERCISE 1. CONTRACT AND RELAX

The first step in training a postural muscle is being able to distinguish between contraction and relaxation.

  • Begin sitting or standing in a comfortable, upright position. Place your hands on your lower abdomen, right above your pubic bone (see Exercise 1). Let your abdominal muscles completely relax and hang out.

  • Slowly contract the perineal muscles between your sit bones, as though you had to go to the restroom and were holding it. Did the tone change in your lower abdomen? The muscles should tighten right above the pubic bone because the perineum co-contracts with the transverse abdominus muscles.

  • Relax the perineum. Practice slowly contracting and relaxing until you can feel the difference.



EXERCISE 2. TRANSVERSe ABDOMINUS AND DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING

Intentional diaphragmatic breathing is crucial to balancing vertical tone among the “notes,” or muscles, of the postural flute.

  • The lateral expansion of the lower ribs is the hallmark of diaphragmatic breathing. To feel this, place your hands over each side of your lower ribs. Close your eyes and breathe easy.

  • On each inhalation, expand your lower ribs into your hands (see Exercise 2). Continue to breathe like this until it feels comfort- able. If you’re not a diaphragmatic breather, it will be difficult and may take months of practice to re-pattern.

  • Now allow your abdominal muscles to relax and distend your belly. Take several breaths, expanding your lower ribs on each inhalation. Distending the belly usually restricts diaphragmatic breathing.

  • Relax. Next, put your hands on each side of your lower abdominal wall. Slowly and lightly contract the transverse abdominus muscle, drawing your lower abdominal muscles back toward your sacrum. Use minimal effort and hold.

  • As you lightly hold your lower abdominals, return to breathing into your lower ribs. This should feel easier than the diaphragmatic breathing you did in step 3, when your belly was distended. Lightly contracting the transverse abdominus contains the viscera and keeps the diaphragm from bottoming out, so expansion from inhaling spreads along the length of the trunk rather than just bulging the belly.



EXERCISE 3. DIFFERENTIATING TONIC AND PHASIC CONTRACTIONS

For effective postural education, it is important to feel the difference between tonic and phasic contractions.

  • Sit in an upright position, on top of your sit bones.

  • Contract your abdominal muscles hard and fast, then hold. This strong phasic contraction will flex your trunk and pull your ribs down. How long can you hold before your muscles tire? Notice how it affects your breathing

  • Relax. Slowly and gently draw your lower abdominal muscle above your pubic bone straight back and hold. Use minimal effort.

  • If you are doing this correctly, you’ll be able to hold this tonic contraction for a long time without tiring. This is the quality of contraction used to train all postural muscles.



EXERCISE 4. ACTIVATING POSTURAL MUSCLES IN THE LUMBAR SPINE

  • Sit upright, on top of your sit bones.

  • Lightly contract your lower abdominal wall as described in Exercise 3.

  • Place your fingertips inside your hip bone to monitor them. Keeping your spine straight, rock backward over your sit bones (see Exercise 3).

  • Keep the core (Transverse abdominus) contracted as you lean forward and return to your original position.

  • Next, place your fingertips along your lumbar spine in the lamina groove. Keeping your spine straight, rock forward over your sit bones Feel the multifidi contract and bulge either side of your spine.

  • Under your fingers. (If it is already working, you will not feel a change in tone.)

  • Keep this muscle contracted as you lean back and return to your original position.



EXERCISE 5.THE POSTURE AS A WHOLE


  • Lightly contract one part at a time. Keep it contracted as you move to the next one so that by the end, all your postural muscles are co-contracted. Use minimal effort. If you tend to over- work, only visualise each muscle contracting, which will be enough to begin waking them up.

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position with your spine in neutral (no excessive curves or slouching).

  • Perineal muscles. Lightly and slowly pull your sit bones together and hold (see Exercise 1).

  • Transverse abdominus muscle. Next, slowly draw the muscles above your pubic bone straight back toward your sacrum (see Exercise 3).

  • Multifidi muscles. Now increase tone along the front and back of your lumbar spine (see Exercise 4).

    • Diaphragm. Gently breathe into your lower ribs, widening them as you inhale (see Exercise 2).

    • Lower trapezius. Imagine sand- bags on the bottom of your scapulas, lightly drawing them down (see Figure 2). Allow the front of your shoulders to lift and widen. Stay wide and relaxed between your shoulder blades.

    • Cervical intrinsic. Lightly lift the back of your head without lowering your chin, which should lengthen your neck (see Exercises 5A and 5B).

    • Breathe easily while mentally reviewing each part of your posture Sense your neck lengthening front and back; feel your scapulas sinking and widening, breathe into the width of your lower ribs; sense tone increasing along the front and back of your lumbar spine; feel your lower abdomen drawing back; and sense tone gathering between your sit bones.

    • Gently hold and breathe into your lower ribs, then completely relax.





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