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Posts Tagged ‘Fascia’

Moon Rises- Hip Opener Tutorial with Jill Miller

Posted on September 8th, 2015 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Jill Miller shares this dynamic sequence from her Yoga Link: Hip Helpers DVD. This is hip opener a great addition to your practice especially if you have tight hips and psoas muscles. Jill says” the psoas muscle is a cable like muscle that shares attachments with the diaphragm and large intestine. Because it is linked to our physiology and our nervous system in way s that other muscles are not, it is truly a vortex that effects the entire well being of the body. Doing exercises that bring balance to the body help us align our posture  and we can once again became vital.

You can find out more about Jill Miller on Pranamaya and if your hips need a little help, check out the DVD Yoga Link: Hip Helpers

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The Functional Approach and Yin Yoga- My Day with Paul Grilley

Posted on May 20th, 2015 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Dearbhla Kelly

Paul Grilley and his teaching partner and wife Suzee. Our group comprised mostly yoga teachers from as far afield as Australia, Connecticut, Chicago, Montana, Orange County, and Los Angeles.

Best known as an innovative and brilliant Yin Yoga teacher, Paul has a masterful understanding of anatomy and his ability to convey his knowledge is superlative. He made anatomy practical and accessible by supplementing his use of a skeleton with live demo models from among the yogis present to illustrate particular concepts.
I was present for the last of a five day shoot and the focus was ‘functional yoga’, a method of teaching yoga that applies equally well to ashtanga as it does to yin. A functional approach is pragmatic rather than aesthetic, which is to say concern with which body part(s) the pose is targeting replaces concern with how the pose should look. A new concept for most practitioners of modern postural yoga.
Many of us have come up going to group classes and been taught alignment principles of varying degrees of strictness. Particular emphasis is usually placed on where the hands and feet are in relation to the rest of the body. Almost everyone is familiar with directives to articulate the back foot at an exact rotation and in an exact relation to the front foot in poses like Virabhadrasana I and II, or to sit with the seat touching the floor (or block), knees together, inner heels snug at the hips in Virasana. This approach can have the effect of making poses painful, or even undoable for students whose particular structure does not allow them to articulate their joints to such degrees.
Structural limitations show up when bones bump into each other at a joint (knee, hip, shoulder, spine, elbow) and restrict the range of motion such that no further movement is possible. No amount of stretching will change this; we are limited by our structure simply because when bone rubs up against bone there is nowhere else left to go. No amount of ‘letting go’ or ‘breathing through it’ or ‘releasing the emotion’ will change this.
A functional approach to yoga accomodates the diversity of people’s bodies by focusing on the target area of the pose (for example, glutes and outer thigh in pigeon) and allowing the arms and legs move whatever way is necessary to access the target area. In Paul’s words: “In a functional approach to yoga there is no perfect pose. Each hand and foot position helps or inhibits our ability to stress the target areas. The most effective way to do this varies from person to person.”
The radical inclusiveness of this approach is genius. All are welcome to the practice when we teach functionally. Yin yoga is everyone yoga. Thank you Paul Grilley.

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Dearbhla Kelly began practicing yoga in 1994 while studying philosophy in Amsterdam. She holds M.A.’s in philosophy from University College Dublin and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Currently based in Los Angeles, she teaches yoga, neuroscience and philosophy workshops worldwide.

Dearbhla is particularly skillful at marrying the esoteric teachings of yoga with the practicalities of everyday life, and integrating insights from current science to deepen our understanding of how yoga helps us find increased joy, wellbeing and freedom. She also finds great joy in doing yoga with children who have cerebral palsy. She has published articles exploring the aforementioned subjects in Yoga Journal, Huffington Post and other publications. See more about Dearbhla at durgayoga.com

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Yin Yoga and Stretching the Spine

Posted on February 9th, 2015 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Paul Grilley

When working a joint the first thing a yogi or yogini must decide is whether she intends to work muscle or bone. She must decide if she wishes to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the joint or stretch the ligaments to increase range of motion. In this article we explore the second option: stretching the joints of the spine through a specific yin yoga pose.

Two layers of the joints

A fundamental insight of Taoist analysis is to see the body as at least two layers. For different needs the body could be analyzed into many more layers than two but for a discussion of joint movement two is enough.

The two layers of a joint are Muscle and Bone. Muscle is the yang layer and includes muscle and tendon. Bone is the yin layer and includes the ligaments. With the proper yin yoga pose, yogis should train themselves to feel the differences between the muscle and ligament sensations.

The Neck

The following neck stretches are an effective way to start this process. Once a yogi has learned to discriminate the sensations of muscle and ligament in the neck with a certain yin yoga pose, then it will be easier to feel these differences in the rest of the spine.

Drop your chin to your chest and relax. This is a passive or yin stretch for the muscles and ligaments of the back of the neck. The muscles of the neck are on the left and right sides of the center line. The ligaments we are concerned with are on the centerline. A yogi can learn to feel the difference by comparing the sensations on each side of the spine with the sensations in the center.

Move the head to the right while it is still dropped forward. This yin yoga pose stretches the muscles on the left side of the neck making it easier to discriminate them. Moving the head to the left stretches the muscles on the right side of the neck. Bringing the head back to the center the yogi should be able distinguish sensations that are neither left nor right but in the midline. These are the ligaments.

Muscular stretches feel sharper and are easily locatable. Ligament sensations are deeper, duller and more attached to the bones. This is why Taoists use the expression “Stretch you Bones” to describe ligament stretches.

This simple yin yoga pose should be repeated many times. The distinctions may not be noticeable the first few times but with time and experience they become clear. Remember that it’s possible to feel ligament stretches when the head is moved to the left and right. But by exaggerating the stretch on the muscles it is easier to feel the difference between the two tissues.

Yin Stresses

Once a yogi has learned to feel the difference between muscle and bone the next step is to determine how much leverage to use when stretching them. Passively dropping the chin to the chest is a gentle approach to this yin yoga pose. The next most aggressive effort would be to contract the muscles of the neck to depress the chin deeper toward the chest. But the most aggressive stretch would be to use the hands to gently pull on the back of the head. This is the deepest possible stretch for the neck while seated.

Yang Stresses

All three of the above stretches are yin. The muscles of the front of the neck were used in second variation and the muscles of the arms were used in the third variation. But in each variation the muscles of the back of the neck were relaxed. This allowed the neck to round forward and stretch the joints. If while doing any of these exercises a yogi contracts the muscles of the back of the neck he is resisting the forward bend and preventing the stretch. This principle can be demonstrated as follows.

Gently drop the chin and place the hands on the back of the head as before. Now engage the muscles of the back of the neck and try to lift the head up. At the same time gently pull down on the head with the arms. The yogi is now in a tug-of-war with himself. His arms are trying to pull the head down but the neck muscles are trying to lift the head up.

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at paulgrilley.com  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.

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Why Does Yin Yoga Practice Feel So Good: Exploring the Three Tissues of the Body

Posted on January 22nd, 2015 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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“Why does my body not move the way I want it to?”

To answer this question we will look at our joints. There are many tissues that form a joint: bone, muscle, tendon, ligament, synovial fluid, cartilage, fat, and sacks of fluid called bursae. Sufficient to our purpose we need only consider three of them: Muscle, Connective Tissue and Bone. Each of these tissues has different elastic qualities and each responds differently to the stresses placed upon them by yin yoga practice. By learning to feel the differences between these three tissues Yogis can save themselves a great deal of frustration and possible injury.

We begin our analysis by classifying the three tissues according to quality. Muscle is soft; it is the most elastic, and mobile. So Muscle is the most Yang of the three. Bone is hard; it is the least elastic, the least pliable and is immobile. So Bone is the most Yin. Connective Tissue lies between the two extremes.

It is interesting to note that this classification of the Three Tissues remains the same when we examine them not by quality but by location. The muscles are the most external and exposed during yin yoga practice. They are Yang. The bones are the most internal, the least accessible. They are Yin. The connective tissue lies literally between the two.

Why bother with this analysis? Because Yang tissues should be exercised in a Yang way and Yin tissues should be exercised in Yin way. The characteristics of Yang exercise are rhythm and repetition. The characteristic of Yin exercise is prolonged stasis or stillness. We are all familiar with Yang exercises like running, swimming, and weight training. All of these activities are rhythmic. We alternate the contraction and relaxation of our muscles to run or swim or lift. It would be unproductive to just contract a muscle and hold it until it spasms. It would be equally unproductive to just let a muscle stay relaxed. Healthy muscle requires the rhythmic contraction and relaxation that Yang exercise provides. The rhythm is very important. Indeed, it could be said that it is rhythm that distinguishes exercise from simple manual labor.

Manual labor is rarely of the proper rhythm or of adequate repetition to make a person “feel good”. It is usually a haphazard mix of too much of some movements, not enough of others. This leaves us feeling sore and “kinked” at the end of our labors, not pleasantly perspired and relaxed, as with yin yoga practice. In cultures where long days of manual labor are unavoidable Human Beings have responded by making up “Work Songs” and soldiers have invented an endless variety of “Marching Songs”. The purpose of these songs is to create a rhythm to work to. Labor is still labor but it is made more palatable and less destructive by moving, singing and breathing with a rhythm.

Yang exercise is easy to define and identify. It is what we are all familiar with. By contrast Yin exercise seems a contradiction in terms. How can something that is gentle and static even be called “exercise”. One purpose of these articles is to expand our conception of exercise to be more inclusive. Yang exercise is not the only form of exercise.

The characteristic of yin yoga practice is stasis or stillness for long periods of time. Yin exercise has a rhythm but it is a much, much longer rhythm than Yang activities like running. A common misinterpretation of Yin stillness is “passive” or “inactive”. But this misconception is due to our cultural bias to muscular, Yang activities. If nothing were happening in Yin exercise then it would indeed be a contradiction in terms. But tissues are being stressed in proper Yin exercise, particularly connective tissue.

The most common example of Yin exercise is traction. If someone’s leg were broken it would not be beneficial to rhythmically pull on the injured area. But gentle, steady, continuous traction might be absolutely necessary for healthy recovery by using yin yoga practice.

An even more common and less dramatic example of the Yin principle of prolonged stasis is orthodontia; braces on our teeth. Teeth are bone anchored in more bone and yet even they respond to yin yoga practice that we call “braces”. Bone is the ultimate Yin tissue of the body. If we were to exercise our teeth in a Yang way it would be disastrous.

Imagine an enthusiastic body builder taking what she learned from the gym and applying it to her mouth. If she had decided she was going to straighten her crooked teeth by rhythmically wiggling them back and forth in multiple sets it would not be long before her teeth fell out. Yang tissues should be exercised in a Yang way and Yin tissues should be exercised in a Yin way.

We will finish this article with a reminder of the Taoist conceptions of Yin and Yang. When we analyze things we are comparing them to something else. There is no absolute Yin. There is no absolute Yang. If we recall the Tai Ji symbol of spiraling half circles of Black and White we must remember that there is a black dot within the white spiral and a white dot within the black. This is to remind us that when we use language such as “Yang is rhythmic but Yin is not.” that this is not absolutely true. Yin has a rhythm but it is much longer than Yang. Likewise it is not absolutely correct to say “Yang is active but Yin is not.” There is activity in Yin but it is of a different type. It can be tedious to be meticulously accurate in our speech. One of the great benefits of Yin/Yang terminology is that we can express ourselves in terse, memorable ways but always with the understanding that this is not the final word. Like poetry; a deeper analysis might be necessary for different purposes.

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at www.paulgrilley.com 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.

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What is Yoga? A Talk with Paul Grilley

Posted on April 22nd, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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We recently had a chance to ask Paul Grilley a few questions about his understanding of yoga and how that gets expressed in his own practice. We would love to hear how his answers resonate with your practice or teaching.

 What is Yoga? 

Yoga is a collection of techniques that yogis have found effective for calming the physical, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of our existence, what the ancient texts traditionally refer to as the “three bodies” of soul encasement. When we calm the restless activities of these three bodies, the soul can realize its own limitless nature.

How do you weave that definition into your teaching? 

I try to emphasize the functional approach, the why we practice asana and pranayama rather than just the how. If we simply practice something by rote without reflecting on its purpose, we have no way of judging whether our practice is effective or if it should change.

How do you bring this into your own practice?

I constantly compare and contrast different ways of accomplishing a given purpose. I try not to lapse into an unexamined mechanical practice. For example, when should I hold a bandha during breathing practices? Is it useful or distracting? We all have to ask this sort of question many times before reaching an accurate answer because we’re never exactly the same two days in a row. We can’t draw useful conclusions just by trying something once or twice.

How has your understanding of yoga’s true meaning evolved since you began teaching?

I comprehend more clearly that each of our three bodies is a particular combination of energy and consciousness. Some yoga techniques emphasize clarity of awareness and others emphasize energy movement, but, ultimately, the goal is the same.

What is the biggest misconception about yoga that you would like to change?

There is no one-size-fits-all yoga practice, not physically, not emotionally, not energetically, not philosophically. There is no “best type” of yoga either. Different forms of yoga suit people at different levels of their development. We should avoid growing emotionally attached to a particular school of yoga because our needs will change over time. The goal of yoga transcends the varied techniques of yoga, just as the goal of good health transcends the particular medical practices of a given time and place.

 

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Yin Yoga Revolution

Posted on April 8th, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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Mindful yin yoga is a quietly radical practice that welcomes all bodies types and sizes regardless of injuries or idiosyncrasies. In yin practice we relinquish any idealized notions of how a pose ‘should’ look in favor of exploring yogi’s bodies with their particular limitations and needs. So how a given pose should look becomes a function of how the practitioner’s body gets the best opening in the pose, as opposed to the yogi trying to approximate a picture in a yoga magazine!

Mindful yin yoga celebrates diversity; it’s the punk rock of yoga. Rather, than seeking homogeneity, yin says ‘bring your quirks, your tight hips, your busted left knee, your tweaky neck, your sloping left shoulder. Come to class with an open mind, an interested attitude and a willingness to unwind. No matter if you need the support of two bolsters, blanket and a block, if you are getting a juicy opening, if you start to feel some space open up in your body and mind, you are excelling in the practice.”

Yin for is for everyone: young, old, fat, thin, sporty, sedentary (especially sedentary!), wound up, chilled out and everything in between. If you have a body and you can breathe, you can practice, and benefit from, mindful yin yoga.

Paul Grilley the godfather of Yin yoga describes that Yin practice targets joints, specifically ligaments, the dense connective tissues that wrap around and stabilize joints are exercised by slow deep stretches. Most of us think of exercise as running, or strong asana practice that engages our muscles, like Bikram, vinyasa flow, Asthanga, Iyengar. These types of yang yoga target muscles and work by rhythmic repetition, stretching and contracting to strengthen.  In Grilley’s DVD Yin Yoga- The Foundations of a Quiet Practice, he makes a strong case for the therapeutic effects of mindful yin yoga practice.

Bones and connective tissue don’t need rhythm and repetition, they benefit from traction and stillness. By placing a joint in traction, we can target the ligaments and slowly pull them causing them to elongate. Unlike muscles, which are elastic (they can lengthen and subsequently retract), ligaments are plastic; they stretch and stay stretched, just like taffy.

It seems obvious that we want strong muscles to stay fit and go about our daily lives, most of us are less aware of why we need to exercise our joints. In both cases the ‘use it or lose it’ principles applies. Under-used muscles atrophy and weaken; under-used joints lose mobility. Over-stressed joints deteriorate but joints that are not used enough degenerate.  So mindful yin yoga is about creating balance; the middle path.

Joints are places where bones connect, for example elbows, knees, hips, spine, shoulders. Their job is to facilitate movement. Lack of movement means that joints are not subjected to sufficient stress and we experience discomfort or even pain; this is why folks who have a sedentary lifestyle are more susceptible of joint pain.

Eighty per cent of people in the Western world complain of lower back pain at some point in their lives. Many of those people are office workers, confined to sitting in chairs for up to eight hours a day. Sitting in chairs (or driving) compresses the lumbar spine by putting pressure on the discs, compressing them and causing the vertebra to move closer together. As the bones move closer together the ligaments shrink, restricting movement, causing pain and increasing compression.  It’s worth noting that in cultures where people spend less time in chairs and more time squatting and sitting cross-legged on the floor, the incidence of chronic back pain is much lower.

‘Contracture’ is the name given to the process whereby ligaments shrink due to not being stressed enough.  Though beneficial, moving a joint through its’ range of motion doesn’t adequately stretch ligaments, only prolonged, slow traction does that.  Just as sustained meditation practice over time can reduce our reactivity in favor of responsiveness and thereby reduce suffering borne of unmediated actions, sustained traction of joints over time can lengthen ligaments, increase mobility, and decrease pain. Mindful yin yoga has two cardinal rules – (1) stay in a pose long enough for the stretch to be effective (3-10 minutes), (2) put the targeted joint in traction and relax the surrounding muscles. Mindful yin yoga encourages yogis to honor their particular physiological make up with all its foibles and get creative about how to find more comfort and ease while holding a pose, to play with the angle of joints and use as many props as are helpful for creating space.

Many students new to mindful yin yoga find this completely alien. Being used to yang classes where little individual instruction is given and practitioners are asked to make their bodies conform to generic instructions (“line your feet up heel to heel and, hips level, fold over your straightened front leg”), they are frequently astonished that yoga can be practiced in a way that celebrates what can otherwise be thought of as limitations and impediments to practice. This is a radically inclusive practice.

Experientially a mindful yin yoga class is incredibly relaxing. The long holds using props and the art of relaxing muscles allow for a deeper relaxation, an unwinding not just of physical tension, but also of the knots and tight places in the mind and the emotional body.  This deeper releasing allows the prana or chi to flow more easily through the body creating a feeling of expansion and radiance animating the entire field of being.

Longtime yin practitioner and senior teacher, Denise Kaufman, (who leads the yin program at Exhale in Venice, CA and teaches yin at conferences and festivals nationally) was one of the original gangsters of the yin movement in early 1990’s Los Angeles. Denise was one of a small group of students and friends of Paul and Suzee Grilley who would meet at their house to explore mindful yin yoga poses. These yogis were advanced practitioners used to doing intense yang practice. They came together to workshop yin style long holds and experiment on themselves to see the results of yin practice. What they discovered was astounding.

Denise had been practicing yoga since 1968 and had completed in-depth studies with Yogi Bhajan before becoming a Bikram teacher and later and advanced Ashtanga practitioner and teacher. She says that from 1968 to 1992 people knew her as a dedicated practitioner and one who suffered intermittently from severe back pain. Even with her dedicated yang practices, only yin yoga increased her flexibility and eliminated her chronic pain: it has never come back. This is pretty astonishing and ought to make those of us who are yang practitioners interested in our long-term health sit up and take notice.

Or maybe it’s more apt to say it should make us abandon sitting in chairs in favor of getting to the floor, stretching slow and deep embracing taking care of our joints as part of a well-rounded yoga practice. Yin is profoundly relaxing and inherently balancing, an exquisite tool to add to your repertoire of yoga poses.

Photo of Audray Kingsley in Balasana – Laurence Garceau

 

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Born and raised in Ireland, Dearbhla Kelly M.A. is a Los Angeles-based yoga teacher, writer and neurophilosopher. She began her academic training in Amsterdam and received degrees in philosophy in Dublin and Chicago. She is particularly skillful at marrying the more esoteric teachings of yoga with modern scientific insights and the practicalities of everyday life. Her writing has been published in the Huffington Post, Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine. A dedicated ashtanga practitioner, she teaches yoga and neuroscience workshops worldwide. Her lilting Irish accent and Dublin wit make her classes uniquely enjoyable.

Learn more about Dearbhla Kelly at www.durgayoga.com

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Q&A: Paul Grilley on Meridians and Cadavers

Posted on August 17th, 2010 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Throughout his career, Ashland-based yoga teacher and anatomist Paul Grilley has done extensive research on how our different bone structures affect range of motion for different yoga practitioners. Recently, he’s been turning his attention toward gaining a deeper understanding of fascia, and what its connection might be with the meridians and nadis, which are seen, in the Chinese and Indian systems respectively, as the channels through which our life force flows. Read More »»

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