Dahn Mu Do Holding Posture

''gure (i.i6. The plank posture complements forward bending poses because it "olds the deep back muscles, gluteals, and hamstrings (all just previously fetched by forward bending) in a state of isometric contraction in a straight, ^fc position.

350 Aj\A7t)M) OF HATHA IOGA

contain the other, joined to one another at a 60-90 angle at the hip (fig. 6.17). This represents 90-120° of hip flexion. The heels should be on o reaching for the floor. It may not be possible for beginners to assume th: position, and instead of looking like an upside-down V, the posture wi more likely resemble a croquet hoop, with the arms and forearrr constrained to an obtuse angle from the torso, the lumbar region roundi 1 to the rear, the hips flexed only 45-60° instead of 90-120°, and the heels lift. 1 off the floor. Such students can make the pose more attractive by bendh r their knees to take tension off the hamstring muscles. That's fine. Doi g this will permit more hip flexion, keep the lumbar region flatter, a d anchor the pelvis more effectively in sacroiliac nutation (fig. 8.27).

[Technical note: Recall that the amount of hip flexion by definition refers not to ie angle between the pelvis and the thighs (which is a measure of the angle displa >d by the V in the advanced student's down-facing dog), but to the total excursio of the thighs (from the anatomical position) relative to the pelvis. That's why 111 uf hip flexion reveals a 70° angle between the torso and the thighs in the exp< 's down-facing dog (fig. 8.26).J

In intermediate students the lower back is probably flat rather t in arched forward, and the arms come more in line with the shoulders, he heels may still be off the floor but the piked position begins to appeal", 1 th perhaps a 100° angle between the two planes, which represents 80° of lip flexion.

In an ordinary standing or sitting forward bend, beginners usi lly round the back at the expense of the hip joints. In the down-facing >g, however, they can lift their heels, which takes tension off the calf mi les (the gastrocnemius and soleus) and allows them to arch the back. The\ an then focus on trying to achieve more hip flexion.

Figure 6.17. This simulation of an intermediate level down-facing dog (the -e's are still slightly off the floor) should be taken as something to work toward >y the beginner, who will probably have to be content with a hoop-shaped d< posture until developing better hip and ankle flexibility (see fig. 8.26 for th' advanced pose).

Figure 6.17. This simulation of an intermediate level down-facing dog (the -e's are still slightly off the floor) should be taken as something to work toward >y the beginner, who will probably have to be content with a hoop-shaped d< posture until developing better hip and ankle flexibility (see fig. 8.26 for th' advanced pose).

To understand why lifting the heels helps you flex the hips, we have to look at the design of the lower extremities as a whole. First, because the gastrocnemius muscles take origin from the femur just above the knee joint and insert (along with the soleus muscles) on the heels (figs. 7.6 and 8.10), they have two actions: extension of the ankles and flexion of the knees. Second, the hamstrings, which are the primary limiting elements to hip flexion, also have two actions: extension of the thighs and flexion of the knees. And since the gastrocnemius and hamstring muscles share one of these functions—flexion of the knees—it follows that if you lift the heels and bring the insertions of the gastrocnemius muscles closer to their origins (thus reducing tension on them), this will allow you to stretch the hamstrings in relative isolation. And that is exactly what happens when you lift your heels in the down-facing dog. If you try it you can instantly feel the lumbar lordosis become more pronounced and allow increased flexion at the hips. Then as you lower the heels to the floor you can feel tension increase both in the gastrocnemius muscles and in the hamstrings, which in turn causes the lumbar region to flatten or even become rounded to the rear.

To put these principles into practice, students should lift up on the balls of the feet as they come into the piked position, arch the lower back forward to establish both nutation of the sacroiliac joints and a convincing lumbar lordosis, and then try to press the heels toward the floor while keeping the back arched. If this is difficult they can bend one knee and press the opposite heel to the floor, making an asymmetrical posture in which they stretch one side at a time and incidentally take pressure off the lumbar region and the opposite hip.

The down-facing dog is supported equally by the upper and lower extremities, but a common beginners' error is to compromise the spirit of this principle and leave the arms and shoulders relaxed. The extended knees automatically keep the lower half of the body in one plane, but the scapulae, which connect the arms to the torso, are held in place almost entirely with muscular attachments (chapter 8), and for the down-facing dog to be properly supported, these muscles have to remain engaged at all times. As you extend the arms and actively flex your hip joints into the Piked position, the scapulae should be pulled down and laterally; otherwise, they will be drawn in and up, causing the posture to degenerate. Instructors correct this error by telling students not to let their chests hang passively between their arms.

In the down-facing dog, tension should also be maintained in the hands. The fingers should be spread out with the middle fingers parallel, and Pressure should be exerted against the floor with the entire hand. This Activates flexors of the wrists and hands when they are in a moderately

_»50 ahaiom) of hatha y(h.a contain the other, joined to one another at a 60-90c angle at the hips (fig. 6.17). This represents 90-120" of hip flexion. The heels should be on or reaching for the floor. It may not be possible for beginners to assume this position, and instead of looking like an upside-down V the posture wil more likely resemble a croquet hoop, with the arms and forearm constrained to an obtuse angle from the torso, the lumbar region rounde to the rear, the hips llexed only 45-60° instead of 90-120°, and the heels lift* off the floor. Such students can make the pose more attractive by bendii their knees to take tension off the hamstring muscles. That's fine. Doii this will permit more hip flexion, keep the lumbar region flatter, ai 1 anchor the pelvis more effectively in sacroiliac nutation (fig. 8.27).

[Technical note: Recall that the amount of hip flexion by definition refers not to e angle between the pelvis and the thighs (which is a measure of the angle displa d by the V in the advanced student's down-facing dog), but to the total excursitu if the thighs (from the anatomical position) relative to the pelvis. That's why lie of hip flexion reveals a 70" angle between the torso and the thighs in the expt 's down-facing dog (fig. 8.26). |

In intermediate students the lower back is probably fiat rather t in arched forward, and the arms come more in line with the shoulders le heels may still he off the floor but the piked position begins to appear, v th perhaps a 100° angle between the two planes, which represents 8oc of iip flexion.

In an ordinary standing or sitting forward bend, beginners usi illy round the back at the expense of the hip joints. In the down-facing og, however, they can lift their heels, which takes tension off the calf mu les (the gastrocnemius and soleus) and allows them to arch the back. The an then focus on trying to achieve more hip flexion.

Figure 6.17. This simulation of an intermediate level down-facing dog (th> if i''s are still slightly off the floor) should be taken as something to work towar

¡by the beginner, who will probably have to be content with a hoop-shaped 'g posture until developing better hip and ankle flexibility (see fig. 8.26 for I1 e advanced pose).

6. HMWAKD HFAntKC. POSTl 'ltES 351

To understand why lifting the heels helps you flex the hips, we have to look at the design of the lower extremities as a whole. First, because the gastrocnemius muscles take origin from the femur just above the knee joint and insert (along with the soleus muscles) on the heels (figs. 7.6 and 8.10), they have two actions: extension of the ankles and flexion of the knees. Second, the hamstrings, which are the primary limiting elements to hip flexion, also have two actions: extension of the thighs and flexion of the knees. And since the gastrocnemius and hamstring muscles share one of these functions—flexion of the knees—it follows that if you lift the heels and bring the insertions of the gastrocnemius muscles closer to their origins (thus reducing tension on them), this will allow you to stretch the hamstrings in relative isolation. And that is exactly what happens when you lift your heels in the down-facing dog. If you try it you can instantly feel the lumbar lordosis become more pronounced and allow increased flexion at the hips. Then as you lower the heels to the floor you can feel tension increase both in the gastrocnemius muscles and in the hamstrings, which in turn causes the lumbar region to flatten or even become rounded to the rear.

To put these principles into practice, students should lift up on the balls of the feet as they come into the piked position, arch the lower back forward to establish both nutation of the sacroiliac joints and a convincing lumbar lordosis, and then try to press the heels toward the floor while keeping the back arched. If this is difficult they can bend one knee and press the opposite heel to the floor, making an asymmetrical posture in which they stretch one side at a time and incidentally take pressure off the lumbar region and the opposite hip.

The down-facing dog is supported equally by the upper and lower extremities, but a common beginners' error is to compromise the spirit of this principle and leave the arms and shoulders relaxed. The extended knees automatically keep the lower hall of the body in one plane, but the scapulae, which connect the arms to the torso, are held in place almost entirely with muscular attachments (chapter 8), and for the down-facing dog to be properly supported, these muscles have to remain engaged at all times. As you extend the arms and actively flex your hip joints into the P'ked position, the scapulae should be pulled down and laterally; otherwise, they will be drawn in and up, causing the posture to degenerate. Instructors correct this error by telling students not to let their chests ^ng passively between their arms.

In the down-facing dog, tension should also be maintained in the hands. The fingers should be spread out with the middle fingers parallel, and Pressure shoidd be exerted against the floor with the entire hand. This

152 axatomy of hatha toga stretched and extended position. Special attention should he paid o tension in the thumbs, index fingers, and the medial aspects of the arms a d forearms. Holding the arms and shoulders correctly will also create a mi e substantial stretch in the pectoral muscles on the anterior surface of the chi t.

Students who are having difficulty with the down-facing dog because )f stiff hips and ankles can try some preparatory stretches. They can st; d with the feet 2-3 feet apart, slide the hands down the thighs and legs, hi id the knees, plant the hands on the floor, and walk the hands forward u il the body is in the shape of a hoop. From that point they can explore in iy one of several directions to create stretches that prepare for the full post e: they can walk the feet further apart to create an adductor stretch; they in walk the feet closer together to focus on the hamstrings; and they can 1 nd one knee at a time while pressing the opposite foot toward the flex to stretch the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

THE CHILD'S POSE

We'll end this section with the simple child's pose—simple that is, if ou arc as flexible as a child, for the posture requires the entire body to be li cd in on itself in the fetal position. You can come into the pose from a h. Is-and-knees position, with the feet and toes extended, by first sitting bat on your heels, thus lowering the thighs tightly down against the calf mus es, and then flexing the torso down against the thighs, resting your fore ad on the floor in front of your knees. Ordinarily, you will lay your 1 jer extremities alongside the legs, with the palms up and the fingers li tly flexed (fig. 6.18), but if you have need of a milder posture that does no old you so completely into flexion, you can place your hands alongside >ur head. The posture is relaxing and refreshing, and so long as you do nr fall asleep, you may hold it for as long as you like. The child's pose is often >ne between other forward bending postures because it stretches the ine from end to end in a non-threatening manner.

Figure 6.18. The full expression of the child's pose is sometimes a challeng< but one that is easily remedied by placing the hands in a more neutral position alongside the head and by the use of props such as a small pillow under th ankles, another one between the legs and the thighs, one or two thick pill« -'s between the thighs and the torso (especially helpful for stiff backs), and ye' another small pillow under the forehead.

6. FORWARD UENOIM, POSTI RES 353

Those who have good flexibility in the spine and healthy hip and knee joints will not have trouble with the child's pose, but some people will be in discomfort. The remedies are simple—one or more pillows between the torso and the thighs for a stiff back, another pillow between the thighs and the legs for tight knee joints, a small pillow just underneath the ankles for feet that resist full extension, and a cushion for the forehead. With one or more of these props the child's pose can be adapted to almost anyone and still yield its benefits. If it is done with care the posture can also be a welcome palliative for those with chronic back stiffness because it places the lumbar region under mild traction.

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