October 1, 2013

I Am a Yoga Astronaut! (Part Two). ~ Kirstie Segarra

As I stated in my previous article “space is the final frontier,” or at least a goal of asana from a fascial point of view.

The fascia is a term for all the connective tissues and all the substances they produce to hold us together as a being on this planet. I like to think of it as the “cosmic glue” that forms who we are.

All of our muscles are surrounded by fascia, the fascia is a continuous matrix throughout our whole system. So our tendency to isolate a certain muscle when we teach yoga is in error. The hipbone is connected to thighbone, etc. through the fascial net.

I am always slightly bugged when I open an issue of Yoga Journal or read an article that says “strengthen your core”. Then they proceed to give sit-up variations to strengthen the proverbial six-pack  (rectus abdominis). Maybe if you have low enough body fat you will be one of the few that pulls off a great set of abs!

So first of all, lets get something straight. The rectus abdominis is not a core muscle. Its role is to bring the torso toward the hips. It also helps with the investing fascia of the abdomen to keep your guts inside. Which is helpful in keeping things neat as opposed to everything spilling onto the floor. Yuck!

The core is something different.

It includes several muscles that stabilize are lumbar spine. One of the post popular is the psoas major. The psoas major, joined by the iliacus, inserts on the lesser trochanter of the femur, leg bone.  The origin of the psoas is divided into a superficial and deep aspect. The deep part attaches to the transverse processes of the lumbar spine (one through five). The superficial aspect attaches to the lateral surfaces of the 12th thoracic vertebra through the lumbar vertebrae (one through four).

The psoas is involved with flexion and external rotation of the hip joint. It is a unique muscle because it can be a primary flexor bringing the torso closer to the hips or it can be an extensor drawing the hip into external rotation.

This is the piece I am trying to get too. The psoas major, along with the psoas minor and iliacus are all part of what Tom Myers, author of  Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, defines as the deep front line. This core line of connecting fascia, which starts at the base of the feet in tibialis posterior, moves upward to the intermuscular septum space of the adductor magnus, then to iliacus to psoas. The line continues up to the top of the head in three potential tracks of fascia connecting the body to the head, of which the most anterior track is through the infrahyoid muscles in the front of the neck.

These are the core muscles! Not the six-pack.

In general, most yoga asana that is taught well is a core asana. Indeed, we are continually engaging our pelvic floors through our root locks, which are stabilized from the lifting of our internal arches in the base of our feet, which engages are inner thigh muscles, then connects everything on top. This is the saving grace of asana, it truly is great for healing our cores and strengthening our low backs.

There is an energetic aspect to the core. This is where we store emotional trauma. Due to the nature of the psoas being a fast-twitch muscle that turns on in sympathetic fight-or-flight response patterns, it is important to learn how to turn it off.

This can be done in any stretch that lengthens or shortens the psoas. One of my favorites is  a modification of figure four or modified pigeon pose. To find this pose, lay on your back in bent knee position as if you are setting up for a bridge pose. Then take are right ankle just below are left knee. Place your right hand on your knee, or use a block, and gently press the knee away from your head to lengthen your psoas. It is helpful to anchor the opposite hip down with the left hand. Through the gently lengthening of the psoas you aid your body in letting go of the emotional holding.

All our muscles are interconnected by the myofascial meridians. Thanks to Thomas Myers for coining the term and neatly laying out each of the myofascial meridians in his book Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists. I was introduced to his work in the early 2000’s and it profoundly shifted my understanding of asana and how to incorporate Western anatomy into the teaching of asana.

Asana is an incredible medium to shift “who we are” and prepare us for other pathways in yoga and meditation.

With each breath and sustained hold we can create more space in our bodies, free ourselves from pain so we have the freedom to be fascial yoga astronauts!

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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Kirstie Segarra