Iyengar Yoga Workshop 2018

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

thoughts from the mat

December 11, 2018

Carrie Owerko: Iyengar yoga workshop

How are you this fine December? We’ve had a chilly and rainy month here in the Bay Area. I find myself not having the time to get out in the daylight hours. Do the seasons affect your movement practices? What have you been doing to support your movement this month?

In colder winter months, I really enjoy spending more time on my yoga mat. I tend to have a busy schedule (both during the week and weekend) and have a tough time making classes- so I do my yoga practice at home.

This weekend, I did get out. I had the good fortune of attending senior Iyengar teacher Carrie Owerko’s workshop in the city at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of SF. Iyengar is a form of yoga highly focused on alignment and often in line with current biomechanics principles in western medicine. As a PT, Iyengar yoga feels like returning to grad school- and also a bit like coming home.

I found a kindred spirit in Carrie- a person who loves to explore movement and resulting sensations. The workshop was very playful and often felt like a dance class.

Carrie made three points during her teaching, that I have found myself saying to clients over and over through the years.

1) In order to preserve health, move each joint through its available range (under your own muscular control) daily

The other way I will hear this stated is “motion is lotion” or “move it or lose it”. It is connected to the third point below (the concept about sensation), and yet deserves its own focus.

Each joint segment in the body has its own way of moving. When you get a chance, check out your knee. Notice how it bends and extends. Can it rotate? Most of the movement at the knee, a hinge joint, is in flexion and extension (there is rotation available that is almost imperceptible).

Now check out your hip. Notice how it slides away from the body (abduction), back toward the body (adduction). Flex and lift your leg in front of you. Now extend and sweep it behind you, like a ballerina. The hip can move through many more planes of motion than the knee joint, largely due to the bony architecture.

What if, as part of our health practices, we took each joint in the body: fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, feet, ankles, knees, hips, ribs, neck, mid back and lower back and moved them each through their full available motion?

How would that impact our health? We know that active range of motion (AROM- movement you can control) can create muscle strength, stimulate synovial fluid production across the joint surfaces, and create flexibility in the deep collagen structures of the joint capsule. All of the above factors serve to help preserve function and integrity of the cartilage at the ends of the bones.

I have often thought moving each of the joints through their available range is the best way to stave of osteoarthritis. Yet, I don’t practice it myself. But since the workshop I have started- focusing first on the parts of my body I know to be the stiffest (my neck spine, my hips). I will keep you posted on how it goes!

2) Babies don’t have IT bands

We are a product of how we move. All of the cells in our body (neurons, skeletal muscle, bone) change based on how we use them. This is one of the points in our current understanding of health that I think we as health care providers do not communicate often enough to our clients. Our body and brains are masters at becoming efficient in how we use them. Our bones are some of the most dynamic tissues in the body. They are strengthened when the right amount of compression loads them in various directions. We do this through muscle contraction, and using gravity and weight during movements. Astronauts who are usually fit and physically trained lose bone density during their trips in space without gravity because of the turnover of bone cells.

When infants are born, they do not yet have the strong fibrous band- an outcropping of a tendon that helps move the hip, known as the IT Band (iliotibial band). The band is formed to help stabilize the connection between the hip and knee as we learn to walk and move on two feet. We develop it as we move through the years. We change the shape and quality of the anatomical structures in the body through our daily movements. It is similar to how water running over rocks shapes and carves valleys.

Practice noticing how your own movement or thoughts about movement is nourishing or debilitating your own structure.

3) Practice a sense of curiosity (rather than judgement) around sensation that are experienced during movements

So often, the movement patterns we assume are products of things we have been told in the past about how heath- if you have pain related to intervertebral disc compression, avoid flexion. But the swelling, inflammation and irritability of an acute injury eventually resolves. As this resolution occurs, the body can begin to move again in the ways it did pre-injury. A safe way to explore this is by using the first point- gently moving a segment through its pain free range. And pain free does not need to mean free from any sensation. As you first begin moving a joint that has not been moved in a while, there will be sensations. They may include: tightness, pulling, compression, weakness (and more!). Moving slowly, maintaining curiosity about these sensations, knowing they are under your control is quite important for practicing this way. So often, we avoid moving a segment where there has been pain or injury in the past. And when we do move, it is easy to label all sensations as “pain”. But when we practice as if we were scientists of our own body, watching for what arises, noticing differences or similarities side to side, noticing the internal dialogue as we move these segments, we begin to work through gentle motion.

And this gentle motion (linking back up to the first point) serves us by lubricating the joint surfaces. Hydrating and nourishing the cartilage surfaces. Gently, practicing active range of motion also strengthens surrounding muscle groups. And so, long term, it is the best way to avoid the degenerative process that occurs with osteoarthritis.

And so, noticing our classification of sensations, our desire to avoid or experience certain sensations over others shapes our movement outcomes. Practicing noticing, naming sensations beyond “good or bad” “pleasure or pain” is a nuanced practice that may help us return to a larger spectrum of available movements.

When I look at health through this lens, I feel empowered to do more to support my physical health. That health is something that does not rely on anything outside of us.

I hope this message has a similar effect on some of you.

Wishing you healthy movement and joy during the holiday season and in the New Year.

Happy Moving!