Category Archives: Anatomy

Why Reclined Pigeon Rocks

Why Reclined Pigeon Rocks

Reclined Pigeon pose – also known as Eye of the Needle – is a fantastic post-run and cycling stretch and also a great Pigeon variation that is kinder on the knees than the more traditional version of Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana).

As well as particularly targeting the hips, glutes and lower back this is also very helpful for stretching the IT band (illiotibial band), therefore improving your performance.

I found this pose and Legs Up The Wall especially helpful after running the Brighton Half Marathon in February this year. I had no soreness the next day. (NB – Click here for a Legs Up The Wall video where I show you how to get into the pose).

That said, even if you don’t run or cycle this pose can be of help if you spend a lot of time sitting – I imagine that includes most of us! :)

Reclined Pigeon can also be good for easing sciatic pain. Speaking from my own experience of sciatic pain due to having spondylolisthesis I have found this pose to be incredibly beneficial.

Aim to hold this stretch for at least 5 breaths but ideally longer. Work up to holding this stretch for 3-5 minutes on each side.

In this short video filmed at evolve, I show you how to get into Reclined Pigeon.

(Thanks to Urban Lucy for the comfy Beyond Yoga outfit I’m wearing in this video!)

Continuing Education with Laxmi

Continuing Education with Laxmi
Continuing Education with Laxmi

“Through our yoga practice we aim to bring balance into the body so we can bring balance to the mind.”
– Sally Parkes, Laxmi Yoga

I love that there is always more to learn.

I’ve just got back from a week in Wales with a brilliant bunch of yogis: Part One of Laxmi Yoga Teacher Training founded and led by Sally Parkes.

It is a year since I began my yoga teacher training journey and in that time the learning hasn’t stopped. From learning to teach restorative yoga with Judith Hanson Lasater to studying the teaching of vinyasa flow with Shiva Rea and attending numerous workshops. I’ve continued to learn from my spondylolisthesis in my own asana practice. And mostly, I’ve learned from everyone I’ve been fortunate enough to guide through their yoga practice since I started teaching.

In the Hindu sacred texts, the Vedas, the Goddess Laxmi is the one who has the object and aim of uplifting mankind.

The above, comes from the opening page of Laxmi Yoga’s training manual. This particular training has come at just the right time for me. There have been many lessons over the past year and I knew I wanted to deepen my knowledge in certain areas as well as engage in some more self-inquiry.

I have attended Sally’s classes and retreats as a student and since starting to teach I’ve had the pleasure of joining her retreat team. With a background in studying sports and exercise science, and some fourteen years experience teaching not only yoga but also Pilates and personal training to people of all ages and abilities, Sally has a wealth of knowledge. As a student I appreciate her non-dogmatic style, her passion that yoga really can be accessible for everyone and that she incorporates all aspects of her experience into her approach to teaching. So, I’m very happy for the opportunity to study with her!

Our first week in Wales was spent studying and practising at the welcoming Dru Yoga Mountain Lodge in Snowdonia, which is also home to the World Peace Flame.

Our group consists of a mix of practitioners who have some teaching experience either in yoga or other disciplines along with some completely new to teaching. What we have in common is that we are all dedicated yogis and it was wonderful to share our range of experiences over the course of our first week together.

Partner work in Warrior 2

Partner work in Warrior 2

Outside of our regular sessions and posture clinics each day with Sally, we practiced meditation with Nanna Coppens from Dru Yoga who has been teaching for over twenty years.

I got to teach a restorative yoga class for the group, which was a real joy! For some, it was their first experience of a restorative yoga practice. Another group member who we affectionately named ‘Guru Chris’ guided us through an energising Kundalini yoga session. While Neil Phillips gave us a great insight into the principles of Ayurveda.

We are studying Anatomy and Physiology with Dawn Morse. As well as being the programme leader of the Sports Therapy Foundation Degree provided by the University of Bath and lecturing in Sports Therapy and Sports and Exercise Science, Dawn has also taught yoga (including mother and baby and children’s yoga), Pilates, personal training, sports and remedial massage and injury rehabilitation… So, it’s fair to say that Dawn knows her stuff!

With our friend Fred the Skeleton

With our friend Fred the Skeleton

Though I have a deep interest in studying anatomy this is not a subject that comes easily to me. But Dawn’s approach is brilliant. We came away covering so much more than we’d imagined possible. Certain aspects were familiar to me from study I have done so far, but I’m particularly enjoying learning more about biomechanics. And I wasn’t alone here as we even spent a whole evening of study time outside our anatomy sessions watching and discussing Paul Grilley’s anatomy DVD. I’m looking forward to studying with Dawn again when we return to Wales in November.

Friday night was Kirtan Night! It was great fun and I’ve been known to enjoy a chant :D. Along the way Nanna, who led the session told the stories of Ganesha, the Gayatri Mantra and talked about the World Peace Flame Foundation. Very apt indeed as our Kirtan was taking place on the International Day of Peace. An uplifting evening all round.

On Saturday night we after dinner we watched Yogawoman together. I’m so glad that I finally got to see it! An added treat was that one of the contributors to the movie is Laxmi Yoga course tutor, Caroline Shola Arewa who we’ll meet in October.

The week whizzed by. Yet in that short space of time so much happened. For one thing, we realised we had all taken in more that we had thought. That’s thanks in no small part to Sally consciously cultivating a great learning environment. We arrived mostly as strangers but bonded as a group very quickly.

Laxmi Yogis with Sally Parkes (far right) and Dawn Morse (far left)

Laxmi Yogis with Sally Parkes (far right) and Dawn Morse (far left)

I’m already looking forward to Part Two in October where we’ll be delving deeper into the subtle body and the Chakras with Caroline Shola Arewa. And we’ll be doing First Aid for Yoga Teachers training with Julie Cleasby – a refresher for some and all new to others among our group. To follow that in Parts Three and Four, among other things, we will be learning more about teaching special populations and the business of yoga, the latter being especially crucial for anyone seriously planning to earn a living as a yoga teacher. At each stage of the course, I’ll be blogging about the experience. In the meantime, there’s studying and assignments to be done before we meet again in October, so I’d best get on with my homework! :D

Straight to the Core

Straight to the Core

Ever since confirmation of my spondy, in seeking advice on how I might work on addressing this, one word (even from some fellow yoga teachers) has repeatedly come up.


I’d wanted to do some more Pilates since Tilton House but never got round to it. Now I’m in a situation where I know that strengthening my core (in particular the TA muscles) will help to support my lumbar spine.

I turned to one of my yoga teachers, Sally who is also a very experienced and knowledgeable Pilates teacher. It was at Sally’s retreat at in the summer last year where my interest in Pilates was re-ignighted.  I took classes for a while several years ago and always felt that yoga and Pilates complemented each other.  But as ever, life got busy, work to took over and Pilates (and yoga, for a while) fell by the wayside.

I was so grateful when Sally kindly said she would guide me through some Pilates moves I can do at home.  Not least because I know she is a great teacher, but also because I know she is patient and kind.  (I remember an experience of a Pilates teacher barking at me like a drill sergeant in a scenario which apparently wasn’t a bootcamp style class.  That didn’t really work for me…).  In my first session with Sally it took me some time to get re-acquainted with Pilates breathing on some of the exercises, which does differ from how we breathe in yoga.  I really appreciated Sally’s patience then!

I am also seeing a wonderful yoga therapist who after my initial assessment explained that, in yoga terms, my prana was being depleted down the front side of my body between my ribs and my pelvis.  Aside from working with my yoga therapist on correcting my posture from my feet upwards (as even the way I naturally stand has been putting additional pressure on my lumbar), there is a significant focus on the front body being able to support the back body, thereby allowing the back body to rest.  So, she mentioned working on the TA muscles (and Mula Bandha) in my very first yoga therapy session too.

I’m finding that combining my yoga therapy exercises along with the Pilates exercises Sally is showing me are really complementing each other. It does take dedication to practice regularly but just a few weeks in I am already noticing a positive difference in how my body, and mind, feel.

Sally is kindly going to monitor my progress over the next few weeks or so, gradually building on the exercises where appropriate, so I’ll be charting my progress here on the blog too.

As I work on my own physical therapy I am looking forward to seeing what I learn along the way and consequently being able to share some of this experience while I grow as a teacher too.

I’m feeling good about 2012.

Can you say ‘Spondylolisthesis’?

Can you say ‘Spondylolisthesis’?

Well done if you can!  I personally still find it a bit of a tongue twister.

The anatomy geeks out there will know exactly what this is, but for those of you who’ve never heard of this or are a bit rusty on the old anatomy front, to quote fellow yogi, Jennifer Aniston from her classic L’Oreal commercial, “Here’s the science bit”:

“The term spondylolisthesis refers to the anterior slippage of one vertebra on another, most commonly L5 on sacrum or L4 or L5.  This can be caused by a fracture of the ‘pars interarticularis’; often the result of high impact falls as in a skiing accident.  It can also be a congenital defect’” - Chris Swain

Chris is the anatomy guru from my YTT course – an award-winning osteopath and a yoga practitioner and teacher for over 20 years. He even has a name given to him by his teacher who he lived with in a temple (though he told us he never uses it now – probably not so necessary at home in the UK, but that’s by the by).  Basically, Chris knows his stuff.

Anyhow, it looks like spondylolisthesis might be what has been causing my sciatica according the x-rays I saw of my spine in the chiropractor’s consultation room.  In my case it looked like L5 had slipped onto S1, hence the pressure on the sciatic nerve.  I also noticed a nice ‘S’ shaped curve in my spine – right thoracic scoliosis – an unexpected, though not entirely surprising bonus.

“I have a tilted womb – welcome to getting older world! Can I be in your gang?” 

That was one of the first responses I got from a friend after sharing the news. This is why I love my mates.

Pain is a great motivator and it was pain that got me to chiropractor’s office.  In the month or so running up to final YTT assessments backbends had gone from slightly uncomfortable to definitely painful.  (As it happens, extension of the spine – backbending – is contra-indicated for spondylolisthesis, which would explain the pain I was experiencing.) After the best part of three frustrating years of trying to confirm the cause of my sciatica and patching myself up in between, this was the final straw.  Yoga is the only thing that has consistently helped, but now I needed to take some other action.

Maybe because I am in denial or maybe because I am stubborn, I am getting a second opinion.  I want to be absolutely sure about what’s going on so that I can make an informed decision with regard to what to do about treatment.  I’ve just had more x-rays done, at hospital this time, and get those results back with my doctor in about a week’s time.  Though before I went to get changed out of the rather flattering hospital gown after the x-rays were done, the radiographer did comment, “Oh yeah, you can see the scoliosis straight off”.   I suspect she wasn’t meant to say this, as when I asked if she saw anything in the lumbar spine area she got a bit flustered and mumbled something about just seeing the curve of my lower back.

Crap.  Is that a bad sign?  That got me really paranoid about what she did or didn’t see on the x-rays…

I’m having an MRI scan tomorrow which I am really glad about.  It should confirm what’s going’s on – whether it is definitely spondylolisthesis or something else.  But I’ve started to feel a bit anxious about it.  Not about the scan itself though. I’ve started to wonder about the potential outcomes and what that might mean for me teaching-wise.  I know my mind should not be racing ahead and speculating, but this wasn’t quite the situation I had envisaged right after graduation.

My practice has changed over the past weeks – less frequently and certainly no backbends, for now. And no dynamic practices which has been frustrating.  It’s shown me in a big way just how attached I’ve become to my physical practice.  And with other stresses going on in my life, my practice – the thing I would usually count on – is in flux.  And I don’t feel comfortable with that yet.

I went to a class recently where the teacher said that injury can be a gift.  An opportunity to re-focus. That’s how I am trying to see this time.  The learning never stops and, I feel, there are some new lessons for me to learn here.

P is for Psoas…(?)

P is for Psoas…(?)

I was in Flow class the other day when just as we were moving into half-pigeon our teacher uttered the words, ”…working into the Psoas”.  My eyebrows shot up.

The wha -?

While I’ve become more familiar with terms like Mula Bandha (Root Lock) and Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock), for instance (though I’m still not sure I’m always applying either when I’m supposed to be or doing so correctly…), the ‘Psoas’ was a completely new one on me. So, after class I took the opportunity to ask our teacher what is the Psoas (sounds like ‘so-as’) and where is it?   The answer I got was really helpful but I don’t feel sufficiently able to do it justice here.   This Yoga Journal article explains it far better and in much greater depth than I ever could. Suffice to say, it’s a deeply buried muscle that is more important to our asanas than I realised.   It’s quite difficult to get to and I have a feeling I may not have found mine yet…

I had another anatomy-lightbulb moment last week in Pulse Yoga class when Allie on touched hip rotation, explaining to us about the knees not being able to go where the hips won’t let them.  When she said that it clicked as to why I was less open on my irksome left side.

I’ve been becoming increasingly curious about anatomy in relation to yoga, not least because of how having a regular practice has affected by body.  I no longer suffer from the back pain that made most days a misery and it’s seriously alleviated on ongoing sciatic issue.

Thanks to a recommendation from my yoga home I have seen a fantastic osteopath about my sciatic pain.  My worry had been that she would tell me not to practice yoga but in fact the opposite was the case – she simply advised me to do as I have been – listen to my body and don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right.  Having osteopathy treatment has been a revelation because now my leg is fine most of the time, but every day is different and there are still times when it flares up and, frustratingly, really impairs my mobility in class.

Anyhow, all of this has made me want to try and gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on with my body in the yoga postures.  My osteopath has kindly and patiently answered my questions when I have quizzed her on the spine, the pelvis, parasympathetic nervous system, the foot…. I have taken in bits of information but there have also been a lot of moments where her mouth was moving and what I was hearing may have been easier for me to understand if she was speaking in an obscure Guatemalan dialect. And I am pretty sure she was giving me the idiot’s guide.

Yet still, I do want to try and learn. But where to begin?  After a bit of impromptu headstand practice after class the other day with Zara (thanks Zara!), I asked her advice.  Why hadn’t I done the most obvious thing of asking my teachers in the first place?!

I’m really touched that Zara has so kindly lent me her Yoga Anatomy book to help me get started. And very luckily for me, it doesn’t appear to be written in an obscure Guatemalan language. 

I just might start to get my head round a little of this anatomy stuff after all.