Yoga Situps

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Yoga sit-ups are a far cry from the fast, jerky exercises in a high school gym class. For one thing, they should always be done in slow motion. For another, they should always be done with full awareness of the spine as you roll up inU) a sitting position "one vertebra at a time," as hatha yoga teachers like to say. Yoga sit-ups also differ fundamentally from leglifts in that for sit-ups you are rolling up the part of the body (the torso) that controls the movement itself, while in leglifts you are raising up a part of the body that is merely connected to the lifting unit.

The initial position for sit-ups is lying supine, keeping the thighs together, Hexing the feet and toes, extending the knees, and pressing the lower back to the floor. Then, with the hands pointed toward the feet and the lower back held against the floor, flex the head toward the chest. Breathing evenly, continue to roll up one vertebra at a time (fig. 3.21a) until you are in a sitting Position. Concentrate on the action of the abdominal muscles, and stretch the hands forward as much as possible. Come down from the posture in reverse order, slowly rolling down, first the sacrum, then the lumbar

170 ANA roMY or HATHA yoga region, chest, and finally the head and neck, breathing evenly all the w If you are unable to lift up significantly, just squeeze up as much as comfortable, hold the position isometrically for a few seconds, and slow y roll back down. You will still benefit from the posture. Work on it every d and you will soon be lifting up with ease. When you have developed enou h strength to do sit-ups with the hands pointing toward the feet, you c n work with progressively more difficult hand and aim positions—plac g the fists in the opposite armpits (figs. 6.13-14), catching the opposite earlol interlocking the hands behind the head, and stretching the arms overhe;i

Holding your back flat against the floor while initiating a sit-up pou •-fully activates the abdominal muscles, and this enables them to act is prime movers for rolling you up and forward, but if you start with ie lower back arched forward, beware. The abdominal muscles will be rela d and less effective, and the psoas muscles will create excess tension at ie lumbar lordosis, exactly as in old-style sit-ups. Do not let that happen. II >u y y f

Figure 3.21a. Intermediate position for a slow easy yogic sit-up.

iliacus and psoas tli a< th

Figure 3.21a. Intermediate position for a slow easy yogic sit-up.

iliacus and psoas

quadriceps femons muscles keep knees extended and thighs braced rectus abdominis muscles act as prime movers for initiating sit-up rectus femoris muscles pull forward on pelvic bowl quadriceps femons muscles keep knees extended and thighs braced

Figure 3.21b. Locations of muscles involved in slow sit-ups.


don't have enough control to keep the back against the floor, bend the knees before you do the sit-up just as you would in crunches.

Sit-ups in yoga, whether done with extended or flexed knees and hips, complement leglifls because they involve some of the same muscles. But there the similarities end. Leglifts simply flex the hips, but for sit-ups, muscles from head to toe on the l'ront of the body act first to brace and then to bend the torso up and forward like an accordion. The iliopsoas and rectus femoris muscles first act as synergists, bracing the pelvis and lumbar region and merely supporting the action of the rectus abdominis. Then as the upper body is pulled further up and forward, the hip flexors take a more active role. Picturing the locations of all three hip flexors plus the rectus abdominis muscle from the side makes it obvious that the rectus abdominis is the only one of the four that has a good mechanical advantage for initiating the sit-up, especially when the knees are straight and the thighs are flat against the floor (fig. 3.21b).

Even if you are careful to keep the lower back against the floor as you start the sit-up, the exercise still compresses the spine and should be done for only a few repetitions. If you are looking for an athletic abdominal exercise that can be repeated hundreds of times, all modern trainers recommend that you do sit-ups by first bending your knees and pulling your heels toward your hips. When the hips arc partially flexed as in fig. 3.1, the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris are able to act more powerfully as synergists from the beginning to support rolling up and forward, keeping the pelvis stabilized at the crucial moment the sit-up is being initiated by the rectus abdominis muscles.

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