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Thai Yoga: Trapezius

I wasn’t able to find a picture of how Thai yoga therapists work the trapezius muscles in Thailand. I suppose I need to make my own demo. The method I learned in school just never worked for me. It felt uncomfortable for me and I’m sure that was sensed by my clients. Also, I suppose I never felt much effect from how my fellow students were practicing on me. It was always wobbly and unstable.

But when I went to Thailand, they all used the same method, whether in Northern Thailand or in Bangkok proper. It was always with knees against the back for the client to rest against. They wrapped and interlace hands around the forehead and leaned the head forward. Then applied double pressure with the forearms into the traps. It felt so amazing. Then, for instance, they would hold the forehead with the left hand and tilt the head left. Then they would roll their right forearm along the traps. I could feel a bump as the forearm would roll over tight muscles.Then they would switch sides. It was super amazing. I became a big believer after that.

Now, the picture that I did find above is something I definitely want to try. I think it would be stable, comfortable, and super effective for traps. I have sessions scheduled this week where I will certainly try this.

If you want to see how this feels for yourself, you can schedule with me anytime. Click the "Book Now" on my Andy Yoga Facebook page.

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What are you trying to stretch?

For every yoga pose, there is a primary muscle you are trying to strengthen and a separate muscle you focused on stretching. They are often antagonistic, whether strongly or mildly. Regardless, you as a practitioner or you as a teacher are asking "why"? Why am I doing a stretch this way? What cues do I give students so they can get the most out of a pose?

Pictured above is a high or crescent lunge (Anjaneyasana). No, this is certainly not warrior I (virabhadrasana A). I was trying to find a version with bent back leg, but nobody posts it that way. But some yoga teachers will offer you to bend the back leg. I think that is OK but it changes the intention of the stretch, and to me, the intention of the pose. I think the primary intention is with the straight leg. So, to answer your question, the primary muscles that are strengthened are the quadriceps of the front leg. The primary muscle being stretched is the psoas of the back leg. "Why" do you ask?

The psoas (pictured below) is a muscle that starts from T12 to L4 of the spine mostly on the transverse processes. It attaches to the lesser trochanter of the femur. They say its the only muscle that connects the upper body to the lower body. That can be debated, but its mostly true. It connects the back to the leg. So since it does, when you bend the back leg, it takes most of the stretch off the psoas and puts it on the rectus femoris. Because of its emphasis on the psoas, I try to make that my focal point. So I insist on a straight back leg. Adding a slight backbend to the pose will stretch the psoas even greater.

Now if you decide to switch the primary focus to the rectus femoris. That’s OK. I think there are better poses for a rectus stretch since the more you bend the knee the better. And if you bend the knee too much in a high lunge, then its no longer a high lunge since your knee will be on the ground. The last two pictures I present will show variations that focuses more on the rectus femoris. The rectus femoris inserts in the front of the hip and attaches to the upper patellar tendon. The patella then connects to the tibia (lower leg). This makes it a two-joint muscle. To stretch the other 3 quadriceps, you just have to bend the knee. But to stretch rectus femoris, you have to also extend the hip forward. Its all biomechanics.

My favorite rectus femoris stretch is supta virasana (reclined hero pose; pictured below). The hip is neutral but in some extension and the knee is heavily bent. I cue students to make sure the baby toe touches the ground. The old school hurdlers stretch with the foot rotated outward is very dangerous to the knee. So I encourage the toes down method. A modification is to do this sitting on the heels and not heel against the hip. But that becomes a different pose; more like a leaning vajrasana (thunderbolt pose).

Another good rectus femoris stretch is couch stretch or King Arthur’s pose. I feel that it is much more uncomfortable because of the pressure on the knee. But it is more modifiable for beginners and can be a very deep stretch for advanced students. In addition, you can place your hip in even more extension with couch stretch (pictured below).

So the bottom line to this story for any pose is, ask yourself what are you trying to stretch and what are you trying to strengthen? Sometimes a practitioner or teacher will modify a pose not really considering these focal points. Anytime you do a modification, does it still meet the intention of the pose? A good knowledge of anatomy goes a long way with yoga. Every yoga teacher who is certified to teach knows these things. But we can all use a refresher now and then.

Update: Intermittent Fasting

Now that I’ve been Intermittent Fasting (IF) consistently for the past month, I am amazed by it. I have done it off and on for a couple years. The addition of the Zero app makes it so much easier. I’m a Type-A, analytical kind of guy, so I love tracking progress with the App. Here are a few insights to how its working.

There are several Fasts that you can choose with the app. The lowest is the Circadian Rhythm fast that roughly runs with the nighttime hours and lasts 13 hours. The other fasts graduate to 16:8, 20:4, and multi-day fasts. I was bouncing between the 13 and 16 hour fasts based on my life schedule. But I found that if I was going to fail (early on in this process) a 16 hour fast, then I didn’t want that blemish on my history report. So I would switch to a 13 hour fast mid-stream. Now, I always do a 13 hour. Then if I go longer, I just go longer. I don’t call it anything else. Regardless, I reach my goal and often have more hours than the minimum.

I haven’t read the research lately that speaks to how a stomach stretches when you eat. I watched Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest on the July 4th. I often wonder when they eat so much food, their stomach and other organs must stretch to some crazy volume. But do they feel hungry the next day after all that stretching. For me, I feel on IF, I get full very easily after my fast. So a big dinner for me is usually very moderate in size. I think that’s an added bonus with IF.

When I come off my fast, I almost never eat something significant unless its the weekend. If I have my druthers, I would much rather break my fast with a Ketogenic option. Then, I am not triggering insulin production, which makes you more hungry and shifts away from fat burning. Part of my goal with IF is to also DE-hypersensitize my insulin response. I only want to use it when I really need it. So if I can eat fat instead, like medium chain triglycerides, then I can keep in the fat-burning zone. But honestly, have something like a normal breakfast food like a pasty or something sounds much more delicious. I’d rather not crave something like that and I usually don’t. So that happens rarely. Actually, if I can go the full day being totally ketogenic, then all the better. For instance, last night I ate dinner at 530pm consisting of a grilled (half) butterfly pork chop and a big helping of broccoli. No starches or sugars at all. So I’ve been fat-burning for two days now and it feels fabulous. I can visualize fat melting off of my organs. That’s a good feeling.

The other benefits of IF are amazing. For one thing, each day I do IF, I am becoming less hungry and cravings are at their lowest. Most times, when it comes time to break my fast, I forget and just keep working. I don’t have peaks and plateaus of energy. Everything is Even Steven. When I ate a normal 3 squares a day, that lunch time feast would always cause me to find a Circadian trough where I needed a Siesta after lunch. I don’t feel that way anymore. Usually, I just work through lunch "time" and feel motivated all day.

The difficulties were weekends. The first few weeks, I would break my IF or not even attempt it. Then I’d eat like a normal person. When Monday rolled around, I was back on IF. But this past weekend, I didn’t have a desire to break my fast. So I just kept to it and it wasn’t a big deal. Also, I would make myself some eggs and sausage links for breakfast when it was time. That is a hearty meal that fuels a busy, physical day while still being ketogenic. Its a much better option than bagels, waffles, pancakes, donuts, or any other flour based treat. I even cook the eggs with some bacon fat to make it more tasty and giving more energy units.

Another good option I’ve used during the work week is to have oatmeal in my office. Despite my disdain for grains in general (I love the taste, hate the effect on us), I will eat oatmeal on occasion. Research studies show that oatmeal is one single food that can assist with reduction of type 2 diabetes and other conditions. So that is my one slack food that I’ll eat now and then.

Experiment with IF even if for only one or two days a week. It is instrumental in breaking food dependence and hormonal hypersensitivities. If Caveman did it and lived through very tough times, then its probably good for us too. Do it for your kids too. Then they know what its like to do without and can make them more resilient mentally and physically. Take out the silver spoon and throw it away. Its a lesson for us adults as well. You definitely are not going to die if you miss a meal or two. Its good to learn that in life.

Thai Yoga Poses That I Don’t Do

Several of my instructors from Thai Yoga Massage school came to it from a place of pain. Back pain is so crippling for many in our population. If you’ve had it, you know what I mean. It totally undermines your quality of life. When I was giving Thai massage to my instructors or when colleagues were talking about do’s and don’ts when giving to them, they told me to NOT do certain poses. Most of it stemmed from back pain problems.

The pose pictured above is cobra. If you did a vector analysis, from my friends who took kinesiology or body mechanics, you’d see the greatest force in this pose is directly in the lower lumbar spine. Yes, its great for opening shoulders, chest, and anterior chain too, but the crux of the problem is with the back. So we were told not to do this to our instructors. And, in essence, I don’t do it to clients anymore for this very reason. There is a twisted lift that I don’t do anymore for similar reasons. Its just too much on the back.

Instead of cobra, I would use the variation seen above. Its much easier on the back and the client can feel the goodness of the heart opening. Its a much safer and more effective pose. You have the added advantage of walking the back making it very luxurious. A good therapist can find the best poses that are most effective for you. The sexy, picture-worthy poses that you see are not always the best poses for our bodies.

Another pose is full locust pose. It is also somewhat dangerous to perform on someone with a bad back. For those who CAN do it, its a very deep and soulful stretch. I think there is a lot of value in it. But there are too many precautions to do it safely. Instead, I do a half locust (pictured below).

However, I couldn’t find a good picture of how I exactly do it. To me, the target muscles for this pose are the hip flexors including rectus femoris, and deep into the psoas and illiacus. So to guard from dumping pressure into the lower back, I keep the hip firmly planted with my hand directly on the glutes and I don’t let the hip rise. Any hip rise can result in back pain. But its a really good stretch and super effective as a resolving stretch following treatment.

Whether you are a Thai Yoga Massage therapist, a yoga teacher, or personal trainer, you need to think hard about what is most effective for your clients. Is what you are doing just fluff? Or is there a strategy for embracing a complex situation? Hopefully, you find someone who is keenly aware of the human body and knows how to treat it properly. We really have to think for ourselves when we work with clients.

TRUE STORY: In one of my first excruciating lower back episodes, I was sent to a physical therapist. Without touching me or resolving my issues, he had me sit in a chair folded forward over a couple pillows. He told me to rest, no exercise or anything, for 2 weeks and do this forward fold 3 times a day for 10 minutes each. I walked out of his office and across the street to a different physical therapist. This therapist did Manual Release Therapy and my pain started to subside right away. Then, she had me do a few exercises of cross-body, antagonistic muscle engagements. Again, more opening. And she told me to keep moving with walking, yoga, and other exercises she prescribed. It was a tale of two treatments. One that was totally ineffective. Another that was completely miraculous. Don’t go for window dressing. Go for results!

Side position: Thai Yoga Massage

In Thai yoga massage, side position is the place where most of my therapy happens. Its no more important than other positions, but I find it crucial to accessing muscles and moving a body through range of motion. The Thai yoga massage school I attended embraces this idea too. There are so many possibilities in side position.

However, when I went to Thailand and received from traditional therapists, we didn’t go into side position even once. It was all supine, prone, and seated. My school often said that people in different parts of the globe need different things. If a culture is seated on the floor a lot, or in a squatted position, and has different kinds of activities for work and play, then they will have different needs. Whereas, in the West, we sit in office chairs, cars, and recliners for a majority of our days. Our hips flexors become tight along with psoas and TFL. Back muscles become very deconditioned. So for those of us in the West, side position becomes even more important for those specific muscles.

Besides back and hip flexors, shoulders are a real problem for Westerners. Much of it comes down to scapular mobility. Once our shoulder blades becomes immobile, a host of other symptoms arise. And yes, side position is the best place to work on shoulders. So I end up doing it a lot.

In Thai Yoga Massage, no session is ever the same. We have a sequence that we follow, but its just the blueprint for what we need to do. Many variations depending on the needs of the client arise in a session. Its good to communicate not only pains that are felt, but also the lifestyle. Much can be found by our daily habits in life and family history. Its all about coaching the body to become more open and ready to live a happy life.

Home Finances Getting So Much Worse

Imagine when you are 40, 50, or 60 years old and you sit down and think about what you’ve squandered in life.

Yes, you may have seen wondrous things you may never see again. You’ve seen sunsets on distant oceans. You’ve experienced the best parties anyone could ever experience. You’ve lived and loved a good life at an early age.

Yet now, you sit down to think. You wonder why you are eating Ramen noodles every day for lunch, alone, in the dump of an apartment that should be condemned.

The element I was thinking of the most the past few days is disability insurance. I mean, many people don’t carry life insurance or even car insurance. Yes, while you are healthy, you can work construction, stocking shelves at Walmart, and maybe even thrive in the fitness industry. You may be living off your health and youthful good looks. But what happens when you get old, you can’t control your weight as easily, and your face wrinkles? What happens when you herniate a disk or your knee blows out? What happens to that job where you need to use your body or good looks? It vanishes. Then what are you going to do?

This is where socialistic ideas create a false fantasy. It makes you think a safety net is there when it really isn’t. If you think the government is going to save you, the reality is that government can’t even save itself. When politicians offer "free" stuff all the time, it makes you think that you can squander all that you have because you are going to be safe. Its not true!

Yes, many think its an old school idea to have a pension, a mortgage, and a successful marriage where you can cover each other with life insurance should something happen. But guess what all of this provides:
-a roof over your head when your mortgage is paid off.
-a consistent income not dependent on the government.
-a backup support system of home care and family who cares for you.

Newer generations today don’t see it this way. They live from paycheck to paycheck and blame rich people for their woes. They don’t get married. They go to college just to delay the inevitable. Instead of being frugal and going to a school in their own town, they have to go to Bali or Switzerland. They don’t really want to be an adult yet. Then they are hampered with mountains of debt that maybe they get out from under by the age of 35. Many don’t. They save money and then blow it on extravagant vacations. Then they wonder why they are in such debt.

Somehow the idea of safety and financial security is a past-time. The government is always there to help them out. They are living the dream. When, in a decade or two, they’ll realize where they’ve gone wrong. I’ll probably be there to say I told you so. But I’ll try to not say anything because you don’t kick a person when they are down. I really feel sorry for people.