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Archive for June, 2016

Maintain a Healthy Spine Through Yoga

Posted on June 17th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.


By Paul Grilley

Some yoga instructors insist that students avoid curvature of the spine by insisting on tucking the pelvis. But any healthy movement can be overdone. Rather than insist on always having the pelvis tucked encourage your students to utilize the full range of pelvic motion in their practice.

Bad News Ballet?

The idea that a “tucked pelvis” is good for you comes from ballet. Ballerinas are taught to tuck their pelvis so they can spin on a straight axis. It is difficult to spin multiple times if the pelvis is not tucked. Ballerinas are also taught to tuck their pelvis so they can maximize the height and appearance of leg extensions. Many yoga instructors are former dancers and it is habitual for them to remind students to tuck their pelvis.

If ballet is bad for you, why imitate it?

Well, number one: ballet is not bad for you. Much of ballet training is about balance, stretching, and learning to isolate movements. This is good for you. Number two: tucking the pelvis is a natural movement you should learn how to do. It only becomes destructive if you remain stuck in that position.

Is an arched pelvis better than a tucked pelvis?

The last two covers of Yoga Journal magazine feature photos of young women in deep backbends. This is the opposite movement to a tucked pelvis. The poses look beautiful and one can’t help but admire the ease and range of motion of the models. But I doubt if anyone would think it healthy for someone to habitually hold their spine in this deep bend. If anyone attempted to do so, the discs in their back would degenerate painfully.

Then is a neutral position best?

Constantly arching the spine is unhealthy. Constantly tucking the spine is unhealthy. So should we live our lives in a timid neutrality of spine position, neither tucking nor tilting the pelvis? The answer is an emphatic “No!” The neutral spine position is how office workers live their lives, and statistics show that 80 percent of them will suffer serious back problems.

Inhale and exhale, tuck and arch, life is about movement.

To have a healthy spine, we must systematically move it through its full range of motion. This means sometimes we tuck the pelvis to flatten the spine, sometimes we tilt the pelvis to arch the spine, and sometimes we keep the spine neutral. This is the Taoist view of life, a constant alternation from one opposite to another. The contraction and expansion of the heart are opposites, but by alternating they are the Tao of circulation. The expansion and contraction of the lungs are opposites, but by alternating they are the Tao of breathing. Tucking and tilting the pelvis have opposite effects on the curve of the spine, but by alternating they are the Tao of posture.

Tuck it and arch it.

When practicing backbends such as the Cobra, don’t try to tuck the pelvis but let the spine arch. When practicing forward bends such as Paschimottanasana, don’t try to tilt the pelvis but let the spine round. These are normal movements for the lumbar spine, and to fight against them is to nullify the effects of the poses. Of course, overstretching an already injured spine could make it worse. But sooner or later, the goal of all physical rehabilitation is to regain the natural range of motion. Yoga practice helps us retain our full range of motion so we can easily alternate from a tucked pelvis with a straight spine to a tilted pelvis with an arched spine. Both these movements are necessary to maintain healthy posture.


To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at and check out his DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

Paul Grilley:  A well-known master of yin yoga, Paul brings a thorough grounding in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga as well as anatomy and kinesiology to his teaching, which integrates the Taoist yoga of martial arts master Paulie Zink and the Chinese meridian and acupuncture theories of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul’s book, Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice, explains how yin yoga can teach us to relax, be patient, be quiet, and focus on the skeleton and its joints—a necessary counterpoint to today’s more ubiquitous muscular yoga.



Elevating the Pelvic Floor

Posted on June 9th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Leslie Howard


By Shalmali Pal

It’s a unique situation: A group of women, gathered together in a yoga studio, to discuss their pelvises. That’s what happens when yoga teacher Leslie Howard leads her workshop, “Demystifying Down There,” designed to shed light on the anatomy, physiology, and mechanics of the female pelvic floor. For many of the attendees, the workshop is a chance to talk freely about an issue that they feel is given short shrift by their healthcare providers.

“Women often tell me that they aren’t happy with the care they’ve received in terms of their pelvic floor health,” Leslie explained. “A lot of women have said that when they complain about incontinence, their doctors will tell them that incontinence is just a natural part of aging. They express a fair amount of frustration, either because they feel like there’s a lack of attention or a lack of information.”

Leslie was my primary yoga teacher for many years. I’ve attended her workshop more than once and I always come away with new insight into my body. Leslie describes the pelvic muscles as starting at the perineum and creating a “bowl” for the lower organs. She says to think of the torso as a tote bag with the pelvic floor serving as the bottom of the bag; if the bottom is too loose or too tight, the contents are more likely to come spilling or crashing out.

For many of the attendees, this simply analogy is a revelation. “Most of the women are not aware of their own anatomy,” she said. “Some women are so disembodied that when we do certain pelvic floor exercises, they tell me that they just don’t feel anything.”

I can understand their discombobulation; the female pelvic floor strikes me as pretty complex so any possible health problems are going to be equally complicated: There are several types of incontinence, overactive bladder, pelvic pain, vaginal pain, vulvar pain, sexual dysfunction (physical and psychological), pelvic prolapse, and vulvodynia, to name a few.

It’s a long list, which may explain, in part, why female sexual dysfunction never makes as big a splash as male sexual health issues. The market for erectile dysfunction drugs brings in well over $5 billion a year in sales, while treatment options for female sexual dysfunction — androgen therapy, estrogen therapy, non-hormonal therapies, counseling — seem difficult to distill into a single blue pill.

Even in this age of Googling health-related information online, workshop attendees complain that getting the goods on pelvic floor dysfunction is difficult. If they do find information, they can’t always make heads or tails of it, which is when they turn to their doctors for guidance.

It looks like the female pelvic floor is finally getting its due in the scientific community, and what’s particularly noteworthy is the breadth of research.
For instance, the meeting schedule for the International Pelvic Pain Society will hold its includes presentations on the basics of chronic pelvic pain, the psychological aspects of living with chronic pelvic pain, and functional brain imaging during pelvic floor physical therapy (PT).

Leslie is also helping to design the yoga component for a randomized clinical trial called LILLY (Lessening Incontinence by Learning Yoga). Currently in the recruitment phase and led by Alison Huang, MD, at the University of California San Francisco, LILY will assess the feasibility of a yoga therapy program to manage urinary incontinence.

I searched the web site using the term “pelvic pain and women” and came up with nearly 200 studies. Again, what struck me was the range of therapies under investigation: PT for vulvodynia; Botox for pelvic pain related to endometriosis; acupuncture for adenomyosis; and, of course, prescription drug treatments.

We keep hearing that under the the Affordable Care Act, more than 30 million U.S. residents will be eligible for insured healthcare  — how many of them will be women who are contending with pelvic dysfunction or pain?

Hopefully, the research that is getting off the ground now will yield results that translate to real-world practice. Then we can look forward to the day when a woman at Leslie’s workshop will say: “I had problem X with my pelvic floor and my physician really helped me figure it out.”

This article was originally posted on MedPage Today.


To learn more about Leslie Howard, visit her website at, and check out her online course here at Pranamaya.

LeslieHoward To understand why Leslie is so passionate about bringing attention to the hips and pelvic region through yoga, you must learn a little more about her. Leslie was diagnosed with hypertonic pelvic syndrome, a condition that is defined by muscle spasms in the pelvic region. It was through meticulous practice of Iyengar style yoga, characterized by great attention to detail and body alignment, that Leslie found relief. Because of this, she became determined to create her own form of yoga that specifically focuses on the hips and pelvic floor so as to help others aid and prevent such symptoms.


How the Internet Effects Our Brain

Posted on June 4th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.


By Nicholas Carr

In 2008 , Small and two of his colleagues carried out the first experiment that actually showed people’s brains changing in response to Internet use.  The researchers recruited twenty-four volunteers— a dozen experienced Web surfers and a dozen novices— and scanned their brains as they performed searches on Google. (Since a computer won’t fit inside a magnetic resonance imager, the subjects were equipped with goggles onto which were projected images of Web pages, along with a small handheld touchpad to navigate the pages.) The scans revealed that the brain activity of the experienced Googlers was much broader than that of the novices. In particular, “the   computer-savvy subjects used a specific network in the left front part of the brain, known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, [while] the Internet-naïve subjects showed minimal, if any, activity in this area.” As a control for the test, the researchers also had the subjects read straight text in a simulation of book reading; in this case, scans revealed no significant difference in brain activity between the two groups. Clearly, the experienced Net users’ distinctive neural pathways had developed through their Internet use.

The most remarkable part of the experiment came when the tests were repeated six days later. In the interim, the researchers had the novices spend an hour a day online, searching the Net. The new scans revealed that the area in their prefrontal cortex that had been largely dormant now showed extensive activity— just like the activity in the brains of the veteran surfers . “After just five days of practice, the exact same neural circuitry in the front part of the brain became active in the Internet-naïve subjects,” reports Small. “Five hours on the Internet, and the naïve subjects had already rewired their brains.” He goes on to ask, “If our brains are so sensitive to just an hour a day of computer exposure,   what happens when we spend more time [online]?”

One other finding of the study sheds light on the differences between reading Web pages and reading books. The researchers found that when people search the Net they exhibit a very different pattern of brain activity than they do when they read book-like text. Book readers have a lot of activity in regions associated with language, memory, and visual processing, but they don’t display much activity in the prefrontal regions associated with decision making and problem solving. Experienced Net users, by contrast, display extensive activity across all those brain regions when they scan and search Web pages. The good news here is that Web surfing, because it engages so many brain functions, may help keep older people’s minds sharp. Searching and browsing seem to “exercise” the brain in a way similar to solving crossword puzzles, says Small.

But the extensive activity in the brains of surfers also points to why deep reading and other acts of sustained concentration become so difficult online. The need to evaluate links and make related navigational choices, while also processing a multiplicity of fleeting sensory stimuli, requires constant mental coordination and decision making, distracting the brain from the work of interpreting text or other information. Whenever we, as readers, come upon a link, we have to pause, for at least a split second, to allow our prefrontal cortex to evaluate whether or not we should click on it. The redirection of our mental resources, from reading words to making judgments, may be imperceptible to us— our brains are quick—but it’s been shown to impede comprehension and retention, particularly when it’s repeated frequently. As the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex kick in, our brains become not only exercised but overtaxed. In a very real way, the Web returns us to the time of scriptura continua, when reading was a cognitively strenuous act. In reading online, Maryanne Wolf says, we sacrifice the facility that makes deep reading possible. We revert to being “mere decoders of information.” 10 Our ability to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction remains largely disengaged.


Excerpt from: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.
Available here on Amazon

To learn more about meditation and the positive cognitive impacts of the practice, please visit Pranamaya Meditation.