The second (and eleventh) asana in the 12 posture Suryanamaskar is the overhead backward bend or hasta uttanasana.
• From pranamasana, raise hands upwards overhead with the elbows extended, palms open and stretched out, and upper arms in line with ears as you arch the spine backwards in a backward bend.
• As you begin the movement, the legs start moving forward at the ankle joints as a unit from lower legs to the hips with the hip joints in extension, the pelvis rotates anterior and the spine from the sacrum to the cervical region starts a gradual and uniform extension movement, the shoulders are neutral with shoulder blades rotated upwards as the gaze fixes upwards on hands or ceiling.
• Muscles: The transversus abdominus contracts initially for stabilization, and back extensors, like multifidi and erector spinae, contract to bring about extension, the gluteus maximus contracts as do the dorsiflexors with eccentric elongation of gastric-soleus to allow forward translation. Multiple muscles provide lateral stability like gluteus medius at pelvis and obliques at trunk to produce symmetrical movement.
• Breathe in slowly during this movement, expanding the chest wall anteriorly and laterally. As you breathe in, the diaphragm flattens with the contraction and pelvic floor muscles relax to accommodate the abdominal organs. Hold breath 2-3 seconds at end of completing posture.
“Om Ravaye namaha” (I bow to the one praised by all)
This week I am focusing on the Suryanamaskar in detail with the subtle nuances and considerations of each posture.
Not only is it important to do the 12 postures with accuracy, but also the performance must exude tremendous grace throughout, including a smooth transition from one posture to next. Mindfulness to cadence can impart a rhythmic quality. The body stretches and as you progress into a few cycles, you will notice ability to bend further into the postures. As important as it is to complete the entire cycle of 12 postures, equally important is the execution of a single posture with simplicity, dedication, and attention to detail. Ideally 12 cycles of 12 postures is a beginning goal. There are masters who have the ability to do 108 cycles in close to 1 hour. Different approaches like mastering one posture before moving onto the next or learning all 12 and then working on fine tuning the movement pattern are acceptable. You have to know how you learn best and pick your own approach. When you have no prior exercise routine and are not doing so regularly for about 15-30 minutes at least 3 times a week, you may have to build the endurance to do maybe one cycle, then 3, then 5 increasing up to 2 cycles per week, till you build up to the 12 cycles of 12 postures, for example.
Today I will brood on the first posture, which is the pranama asana. This is also the 12th asana. It is basically tadasana with the hands folded in “namaste”. “Talk to yourself once in a day … otherwise you may miss meeting an excellent person in this world”-Swami Vivekananda. When doing the Suryanamaskar, it is basically coming into touch with your own being by looking deep within yourselves. The folded hands may be placed with thumbs close to the heart and head bowed down to touch the fingers. When done in presence of a teacher, one bows in reverence to the soul present in the heart of the other and so may the divine relationship blossom.
Considering the posture in terms of joint position, the spine is neutral and elongated with natural curves- cervical (neck) and lumbar (low back) lordosis or convex forward, and thoracic(mid-back) kyphosis or concave forward, neutral pelvis, shoulders relaxed and shoulder blades slightly pulled back symmetrically(retraction), to open chest. When bowing head, gently tuck chin in while elongating back of neck, instead of reversing the natural lordosis of the cervical spine.
Muscles: Low level co-contraction of the trunk stabilizers to maintain upright spine. The dorsiflexors and plantaflexors balance the moment of force around ankle joint. The knees relax, with quadriceps and hamstrings balancing the moment around knees, hip joints are balanced by the glutei and iliopsoas, neck stabilizers which are the deep neck flexors.
Breathing should be natural, and, gradually as the body and mind relax, it becomes deeper. Be aware of your breathing pattern. The abdomen moves out while you breathe in, with the flattening of the diaphragm as it contracts. The diaphragm slowly returns with breath out as it relaxes into a dome shape, expelling air from the lungs. The transversus abdominus (abdominals) are contracted throughout with intensity slightly more during exhalation. Multifidi (back extensor) co-contract providing spinal stability. Diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles work like a piston.
“Om Mitrayah namaha” (I bow to thee, my friend)
I am wondering what I should write in this post? Hmm… now let’s see.
I presented Health and Wellness: A Physical Therapy Perspective at New Seasons Market in Evergreen on Saturday, 11/12/16 amidst supportive family and friends. This was the very first presentation with a power point slide show and interactive session, getting everyone present involved in increasing awareness of their movement patterns. It was a fairly simple or basic session with emphasis on healthy movement, the 3 main pillars of which are: 1)Spinal Stability
2)Good Functional Movement Patterns and
3)Stable Foundation and Balance
I also spoke about the goal being either:
1) working on dysfunction in existing movement pattern to improve it or
2) taking the health to a new fitness level
During a yoga class this Sunday, one of the asanas is danda asana, kind of long sitting with emphasis on lumbar extension and forward pelvic rotation, with hip at 90 degrees. This calls for strong contraction of back extensors including multifidi and transverse abdominus for stability. This was particularly hard for me and I feel reinforcement coming from hand support and using elbow extension and shoulder girdle retraction to weight bear through arms instead of natural ability for weight transference from lumbar spine to pelvis. Hence it is an example of working on existing movement pattern for improving it.
There were a lot of new asanas that I learned today which involved increasing upper and lower trunk rotational mobility, something that I notice I have to work towards. So, overall participating in a one and a half hour active yoga class is in itself a journey for taking my health to the next fitness level.
Weekend is almost done. Have a good week ahead.
Posture is very much a sub-conscious activity. We automatically do what is needed without putting thought into it. However, it becomes imperative to bring it to the conscious level in order to make adjustments and corrections deliberately, as in the case of correction required for postural deviations. If allowed to go unnoticed for long, such deviations can cause muscle imbalances and eventually alter joint alignment and biomechanics.
When you go to a physical therapist, they look at your static standing posture, dynamic standing posture or posture in motion, (for example, gait assessment, heel walking, and toe walking) as well as challenge the base of support to assess balance/stability (single leg stance, tandem standing, etc.). A functional movement assessment looks at both static postures and dynamic movement patterns. A good posture in various positions is the basis of all functional movement. Hence in physical therapy sessions, posture is the first consideration towards fitness, not speed or number of repetitions of movement, as is popularly thought. A good static posture is the foundation on which you superimpose all other movement patterns. While looking at a good dynamic posture, there are certain basic movement patterns that we employ for all activities. These activities are variations of these basic movement patterns or building up of more complex movements over the basic patterns. The basic patterns consider biomechanics with good joint alignment and muscle function.
Progression for training of any activity or movement is necessarily from good static posture to basic or fundamental movement patterns followed by training of specialized or complex patterns needed for particular sport or dance. Repetitions and speed for fitness come only after these basic postural requirements are achieved. It is much like acquiring the motor skills in infancy. The young child puts the entire being into learning the new skill, be it rolling, coming up on arms in prone position, learning to shift weight and sit up, moving from sitting to standing, and so the list goes on. The baby will rock the weight till balance is achieved, then repeatedly practice that posture to build strength and agility and eventually master it with sufficient speed, till it is a sub-conscious activity.
There are some common traits we share in terms of basic posture like an upright spine and normal curves in the spine (lordosis in cervical and lumbar spine, and kyphosis in thoracic and sacral spine). Though “normal” here includes a range of joint mobility (about 10°-15°) when measured using an inclinometer. From observation, it is evident that each of us is comfortable in a particular posture and the muscles around the spine are in equilibrium at a different point in the range for each individual. Therefore, posture is an individual consideration. Basic factors such as spinal curves are common to all, however tuning should be done on an individual basis after detailed evaluation and should be adjusted as needed on an ongoing basis.
There are certain key muscles which are predominantly active to maintain upright position. Spinal stabilizers (erector spinae, multifidus, transversus abdominus, obliques), scapular stabilizers (rhomboids, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, trapezeii), and postural leg muscles (gastrocnemius-soleus, tibialis anterior, gluteus medius) play a vital role in static postures as well as in movements. Co-contraction of trunk muscle groups offer proximal stabilization and the leg muscles enable fine tuning to maintain a steady stance. Posture is more or less dynamic. Subtle body movements and weight shifts are happening all the time (one cannot stop breathing!) which cause the muscles to be in constant flux to balance the moment of force around a given joint.
To consciously make changes to posture, it is essential to improve muscle flexibility / joint mobility to allow greater range of motion than existing in case of soft tissue tightness / joint stiffness, or, to stabilize a hypermobile joint by co-contraction of muscles around the joint and challenging static holds. Manual therapy offered during physical therapy sessions can target specific deficits and impact those effectively as per individual needs. Once change is made consciously and repeated, this movement pattern is learned and recorded in the brain. Repetition and speed help strengthen the nervous pathway and permit ease of signal transmission to make this change “sub-conscious” or “automatic.” Soon this no longer requires conscious attention and a good movement pattern becomes the norm.
Thus, this five-part series on posture comes to conclusion after discussing basics of posture, basic postural positions and how to make changes to posture. The decision to make that change, and for the change to be effective, should come from you. Once committed, it is only matter of “when” and not “if” the change happens. And as always, the emphasis is on the journey made to change a habitual posture. In yoga, it is said “The study of asana, is not about mastering the posture. It is about using the posture to understand and transform yourself.”
Ami Gandhi is a licensed physical therapist in the state of California. She is the owner of StableMovement Physical Therapy, a small boutique practice in San Jose that offers patient centered, one-on-one, hands-on physical therapy.