Back To Life: Yoga for Low Back Pain (Part 3: Transverse Abdominis)

Previously we discussed the role of the hamstrings and the psoas muscles in regard to a painful low back. If tight, both muscle groups have the ability to pull on the lumbar (lower) spine, creating pain and even injury*. This week we will discuss the core’s role in stabilizing the lower spine, specifically transverse abdominis (or TVA).

Transverse abdominis is the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, wrapping around the torso from front to back and from the rib cage to the pelvis.  It acts as a corset supporting and stabilizing the low back. We use transverse abdominus without even knowing it when we “suck in” our stomachs to fit into a tight pair of jeans.

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Back to Life: Yoga for Low Back Care (Part 2, Hamstrings)

As we discussed in part one of this series, the majority of those who suffer from lower back pain do so because of muscular imbalances that we can correct with some simple exercises. Last week we discussed the psoas muscle and it’s connection to a healthy and balanced low back. This week, it’s all about the hamstrings.

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles (biceps femoris, semitendonosus and semimembranosus) that are located on the back of the thigh. Their origin is along the sit bones (ishial tuberosity) and they insert down into the bones of the lower legs (tibia and fibula).

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Back to Life: Yoga for Low Back Care (Part 1, The Psoas Connection)

Most of us, at some point, will experience some form of lower back pain. Whether it is from sitting on a plane for too long, from gardening or from something more serious, like a disc injury, it is one of the most common complaints I hear from my students.

For years, I have had my own struggles with low back pain. Over a year ago, I was told that I would need back surgery, a diagnosis I took very seriously. As a dancer and yoga instructor, I rely on my body every single day. But who doesn’t? What injuries often teach us is that we take our bodies for granted and it’s time to change our ways.

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Burn Fat with Awareness: Yoga for Weight Loss

My journey in yoga began as many of yours probably did: I wanted a work out, I wanted to increase flexibility, I wanted that yogi buzz of blissful relaxation… and I wanted to lose weight. While first focused on postures and technique, I soon began to realize there was much more to this practice than physical postures alone. My intentions, my goals and shock-horror–my feelings were waiting to surface.

Since I began my journey over 10 years ago, I have lost over 40 pounds.  Now I am not saying this happened over night, because it certainly did not. I had tried every diet under the sun. I would have success for a limited amount of time, and then the pounds would pile on again, usually adding a few more to boot. Yoga is not a quick fix, but a long term tool to build the relationship between your body and mind. It requires patience, compassion and persistence…

…Still with me? Good.

It took me a long time to realize that I was literally burying my feelings with food, and then even longer still to undo the habits that had gotten me to the place I was at. Yogis call these habitual reactions, samskaras. Samskaras are like little tracks or ruts of a wheel in a muddy road. The mud hardens into permanent fixtures, then anytime a car travels down that road, the car’s wheels want to slide into those tracks. It takes a lot of awareness and effort to derail that car, but it is possible. What you practice gets stronger; this I know for sure.

What yoga continues to teach me is how to sit with uncomfortable feelings. It allows me to sit and feel whatever comes up. Those sensations can often be very overwhelming, sometimes they even seem unbearable. What we know is that those feelings won’t last forever. If we really sit with them and see them through, rather than distracting ourselves with tv, food, alcohol or gossip, they will dissipate and lessen their grip and their track will begin to soften.

As a yoga instructor, one of my responsibilities is to provide my students with an experience of themselves. Sometimes when we really see ourselves, we do not like what we see. But once we see ourselves as we truly are, faults and all (and without judgment), we can accept, assess and make changes as necessary. It is those who cannot or are not willing to see that stay stuck in the mud.

As I began to acknowledge my feelings, I also began to recognize and differentiate between them. Where before feelings of anger, sadness or boredom might be confused as feelings of hunger, I can now recognize feelings of hunger as just that. We often reach for something to eat or drink when we are nervous or have feelings we don’t quite know what to do with. Once I became aware of this, the mindlessness began to lessen. I eventually began eating only when I was physically hungry and slowly, the pounds began to drop. Now I savor food, rather than mindlessly consume it.

So unfortunately I cannot provide you with a yoga prescription that you can practice for a week in order to shrink your waistline and reveal the “new you”. The good news? The “new you” has been there all along, just waiting to be recognized.

As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said, “Do your practice and all is coming.”

See you on your mat.