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Archive for the ‘Health through Yoga’ Category

Yoga Therapy for Knee Problems

by Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca  Machliss

Bianca and I have just completed presenting our 2015 Yoga Therapy course. It was a really good course and one of the highlights was meeting Matthias St. John, an amazingly talented young man who came to see us to get help with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). We have developed 17 co-activation exercises that are progressively more challenging for the knee and to be able to practice. An ACL deficient knee is usually very unstable unless can simultaneously tense (co-activate) all of the muscles around the knee joint complex. Matthias St. John is the only person who I have ever in my experience been able to perform all these exercises while keeping stable and continuous co-activation of the opposing muscles around the knee joint complex. The most extreme of these movements is to rotate his weight bearing and flexed knee forwards backwards and sideways around his heel while balances on one leg. This is a testament to his skill as a roller blading expert. Please view the short linked video of Mathias and you will see that although the things his knee has to do are very extreme and although many of these extreme knee movements would potentially dislocate most peoples knees, he has sufficient flexibility, strength and control to co-activate his knee muscles in ways that most people can not. It is a lesson to all therapists that although we sometimes think of certain exercises as being dangerous but as the old adage says “ if it doesn’t kill you it will make you stronger” (but normal people should note that if it does kill you will kind of miss the point! So most people are definitely not qualified to do most of the knee movements (or other extreme movements) that Matthias demonstrates in his video.


Knee problems are amongst the most common physical problems experienced by adults in our western society – many students of yoga, arrive at yoga with a pre-existing knee problem, and some, unfortunately, get knee problems as a result of incorrect yoga practice. Knee problems that occur as a result of yoga are often due to Western yoga practitioners who start yoga late in life with stiff hips and ankles trying to prematurely force themselves into extreme postures of the knee [such as those shown in Figure 1]. Hip stiffness is less common in non-Western cultures partly because of a lifestyle, which includes squatting to go to the toilet and sitting cross-legged since childhood. About 20 years ago, after already teaching yoga for 10 years, our understanding of how to deal with knee problems was greatly improved when we both went back to Sydney University as mature age students to become physiotherapists. After many years of experimentation and research we successfully blended our understanding of traditional hatha yoga with western medical science to develop our synergy-style of yoga. Synergy style is essentially a dynamic and meditative yoga, which applies the basic principles of anatomy and physiology of yoga to the western body.

Figure 1a & 1b: (a) Bianca Machliss in mulabandhasana (downward ankle-twist pose): and (b) Simon Borg-Olivier in kandasana (upward ankle-twist pose): Both of us have had injuries in knee ligaments and cartilage (menisci) but an active approach to yoga with a sound basis in applied anatomy and physiology allows us to now practice postures that would be quite stressful for most people’s knees.

Figure 1a & 1b: (a) Bianca Machliss in mulabandhasana (downward ankle-twist pose): and (b) Simon Borg-Olivier in kandasana (upward ankle-twist pose): Both of us have had injuries in knee ligaments and cartilage (menisci) but an active approach to yoga with a sound basis in applied anatomy and physiology allows us to now practice postures that would be quite stressful for most people’s knees.

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When it is Good to Hunch Your Shoulders Up

by Simon Borg-Olivier

When you should lift your shoulder blades up as high as possible

As I travel around the world I see many people in the world of exercise and yoga teach and practice that when you lift your arms up in the air you should pull the shoulder blades down (scapula depression). While there are times when you should not lift your shoulders or shoulder blades (such as if it causes pain), there are a lot of really good reasons to lift your shoulder blades up (elevate the scapulo-thoracic joint) when your arms are raised above your head (glenohumeral joint flexion) (Figure 1). This is not new information. It is precisely what Sri BKS Iyengar taught and you can see him practice in his classic book ‘Light on Yoga’ (Figure 2), but for reasons, (some of which I’ll also explain below) many teachers around the world of modern yoga today teach and practice that when your arms are above your head you should pull the shoulders down.

Figure 1: Here we are all lengthening our spine and facilitating calm breathing into the chest by elevating our shoulder blades with our arms above our heads. Photo of my workshop in Moscow by Mikhail Lisov

Figure 1: Here we are all lengthening our spine and facilitating calm breathing into the chest by elevating our shoulder blades with our arms above our heads. Photo of my workshop in Moscow by Mikhail Lisov

 
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The Risks and Benefits of Chest Breathing

Simon Breathing around the spine in unsupported headstand, and here doing exhalation retention with isolation of the rectus abdominis (nail)

Simon Borg-Olivier breathing around the spine in unsupported headstand, and here doing exhalation retention with isolation of the rectus abdominis (nauli)

Chest breathing can be extremely beneficially if done correctly but can also cause problems if done in a way that overstimulates the nervous system.

Many people teach and practice to inhale into the chest, and to exhale from the lower abdomen, but clinical research using Real Time Ultrasound (RTU) has shown that about 90% of the average adult population cannot really breathe into the chest without first inhibiting the functioning of the diaphragm by activating either the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation which firm the abdomen and draw the navel to the spine (co-activation of the internal and external abdominal oblique muscles, or ha-mula bandha), or by activating the anal constrictor muscles (ashvini mudra). Similarly, most people cannot exhale from the lower abdomen (and draw the lower abdominal muscles inwards) without inhibiting the diaphragm and immobilising the lumbar spine.

In this two minute video, Yoga Synergy Director and physiotherapist, Simon Borg-Olivier demonstrates breathing around the spine in such a way that the expansion due to inhalation is first seen and felt in the lower back, then the upper back, then the chest, and finally the abdomen. Then the contraction due to exhalation begins in the lower back, then the upper back, then the chest and finally the abdomen. In this type of the breathing, which is best learnt from a seated or normal standing position, the inhalation up the back starting from the tailbone up the spine is quite subtle, so it appears that the chest is being inflated first and the abdomen second. Similarly, on exhalation up the back starting from the tailbone up the spine is quite subtle so it appears that the chest is being compressed first and the abdomen draws inwards second. In the final part of the video Simon holds his breath out and performs an expansive uddiyana bandha, which is an expansion of the chest and upper back like an attempt at inhaling into the chest with a relaxed abdomen but without actually inhaling. This is followed by an isolation of the rectus abdominis (nauli).

 
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Ten things to do that can improve your life

Here are ten great reminders for the day that have been shown to have a positive effect on your life. This is inspired by an article by Eric Barker but I have adapted it to be more inclusive of Yoga practitioners.

1. Get out in nature – bare feet on the earth if best and in the water if you can
2. Exercise – do some yoga – move your spine
3. Spend time with friends and family
4. Express gratitude
5. Meditate – be happy with yourself
6. Get enough sleep – and relax more in the day
7. Challenge yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally
8. Laugh – kids laugh 300 times per day – adults often not more than twice!
9. Touch someone – hugs are even better!
10. Be optimistic – its free!

 

One of the first Yoga Synergy Workshops by Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss at the Poland Rainbow Festival in 1991

One of the first Yoga Synergy Workshops by Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss at the Poland Rainbow Festival in 1991

 

Read our detailed information about what to do get the most of these ten reminders by clicking on the rest of the article below.

 

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The Best Side Stretches for Energising You and Relieving Back Pain

 

by Simon Borg-Olivier

In every day life many people do not get enough sideways movement and freedom. Sideways ‘stretches’ (spinal lateral flexion) are really important movements and postures, and are often understated and not practiced in many exercise, stretching and yoga classes.

In this post we demonstrate a simple side stretch (Figure 1 and Figure 2) that can be simply done from standing, and can even be performed with normal clothes on while you are at work. I also give  detailed instructions with the application of 18 different bandhas throughout the body for performing two well known ‘side-stretching’ postures from the classic book by Sri BKS Iyengar “Light on Yoga” named Utthita Parsvakonasana (Lateral Angle Posture, Figure 3) and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolving Lateral Angle Posture, Figure 4). Once performed using these bandhas these postures become very effective methods to enhance your levels of energy and can be an effective means of preventing and relieving joint pain.

The simplest ‘side-stretch’ (Figure 1 and Figure 2) can be done as follows without trying to overstretch or cause pain:

  • stand with your legs about hip width apart and your knees slightly bent
  • push the sitting bones down, and move the top of the hips back to lengthen the lower back
  • move your lower front ribs back and lift and slightly round out your upper back
  • lift your left shoulder (and also your whole arm if possible) as high as you can (shoulder past your ears if possible)
  • push your right shoulder downwards and lengthen your right hand towards to the floor
  • lean on your left leg and then push the right ‘sitting-bone’ slightly up and forwards and come onto your right toe tip.
  • breathe naturally into your abdomen and make sure you do not over stretch or cause pain.
Lengthening the side of the body, by Simon Borg-Olivier

Figure 1: Lengthening the side of the body, by Simon Borg-Olivier

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Figure 2: Lengthening the side of the body, Bianca Machliss (photo courtesy Alejandro Rolandi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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