I love this series, and hope you do, too! Recently, people have been writing in and saying that they have an embarrassing question, so next week I'm going to focus on those types of questions. If you've got one, submit it (anonymously, if you wish) here.
Question 1: I suffer from lower back pain and was once diagnosed with start of slip disc.
I have been doing yogasanas off and on for fairly long time say 45 years (my age is 57 years). However, whenever I stat doing surya namaskar the back ache returns.
My question is - How can I keep doing surya namaskar without having a back ache?
Answer 1: Provided your back is otherwise healthy, I'd be willing to bet the back ache is due from compression of the low back when you come into cobra or upward facing dog in your sun salutations. Perhaps, instead of cobra or upward facing dog, try doing sphinx pose. It's a bit more gentle, and you can really focus on lengthening the spine when you're in the pose. Visualize your low back being very long and the tailbone reaching down to the feet. Alternatively, skip the cobra or up dog, and just go from chaturanga to downward facing dog.
Question 2: First of all, I'm OBSESSED with your blog! I love the way you instruct in your videos and all your helpful posts!
My question has to do with pigeon pose. My hip flexors are pretty flexible and I do enjoy this pose to get a good stretch, but I sometimes feel pain/pinching in my low back, especially in proud pigeon with my arms up and chest puffed. Maybe I need to strengthen my low back or maybe I'm doing something wrong - I'm not sure. Any advice?
Answer 2: First of all, thanks for the blog love! So glad you enjoy it!
A pinching sensation indicates compression in the spine. It means your spine is making sort of an L shape instead of a J shape. We don't want any 90 degree angles. :) My advice for you is similar to what I said above to the person having trouble with the low back hurting in sun salutations. Use visualization in your yoga practice, and think about the low back being very long. Imagine that no part of the lower spine is touching even though it's curving in a little back bend. I'd also suggest working on the flexibility in your hips. As the hips become more aligned in pigeon pose, the rest of the posture sort of straightens itself out.
Related How to do king pigeon pose
Question 3: As active duty military, I have a very odd, unpredictable schedule. That being said, I work out whenever I can and however I can. So my question is, when would be most beneficial for me to complete a yoga routine to help increase my strength and stability- before or after workout sessions?
Answer 3: First, thank you for your service. I truly appreciate it.
For a strength and stability yoga session, I'd recommend doing it as its own separate workout rather than immediately before or after a workout session. I say this because a strength building yoga session is going to be quite powerful so it's best to have a full tank of energy. You wouldn't want to just put it before one of your regular workouts though, because then you might be sort of drained.
Question 4: My yoga practice has changed in a HUGE way just because of the Common Mistakes in Warrior Poses diagram. It got me thinking that since just my moving my knee an inch back over my toes made such a big difference, there has to be something i can do about my hip flexors which cause me major grief.
I clearly have tight hip flexors. In your tight hips youtube video I tend to feel it way more in my butt, which lead me to think that area was part of the hip flexors. Now that I know the hip flexors are just in the front of the legs, I'm wondering if there's anything i can do to start feeling it more in my actual hip flexors. My massage therapist does assisted stretches for me and he has a hard time moving my right leg up and over my left leg. It's very uncomfortable. Any suggestions?
Answer 4: Great question. So when we think about the legs connecting to the torso, we realize there are actually quite a few muscles and tendons that make up our hips. We have the adductors (inside of thighs), the illiopsoas muscle group that run from the spine to the femur, the lateral rotator group (i.e. piriformis and one of the quads), and I'd even argue that the glutes are part of the hips as well. All of these muscles work together to give us good range of motion so we can do poses like half moon, and warrior 2. From what you're describing (feeling the stretch in the bum and the fact that it feels uncomfortable to stretch the leg up and over the other leg) sounds to me like maybe it's not really your hip flexors that are giving you trouble, but the backs of the hips which are the glutes and illiopsoas. Instead of focusing on one specific part of the hips, I'd just check that your alignment is in check by looking at the poses diagrams and then just breathing into wherever you feel the stretch. If it is indeed the back of the hips that is tight for you, I'd suggest that you do the yoga for sciatica sequence (even if you don't have sciatica, it's beneficial for the backs of the hips in particular), try fire log pose (first picture here) and child's pose.
Related: 5 yoga poses for runners.
Question 5: I read that you used to be a Spanish teacher. I'm a teacher too, (9th grade)! You made a comment that fascinated me. You said that you encountered various perspectives and approaches about yoga all over the world. Would you please write more about that? What are the varying views? What differences and similarities do you notice? I just think that's really interesting.
Answer 5: Yeah! It's been really cool to be able to travel all over from Dubai to India to Ibiza to Greece and of course the US. I can only speak from my experiences, so I'm sure there are exceptions but I've noticed a few things regarding the yoga world in my travels. Because you're a teacher and I used to be a teacher, and teachers appreciate lists, let's do it that way. :)
1. Types of Classes: In the US, at least where I spent the most time (Los Angeles, greater NYC area, Jacksonville, Florida) it seems there are yoga studios on nearly every corner. And all types! In LA this past summer, I found this studio that used crazy lighting for their classes. So one class would be lit up in bright pink lights, another would be bright green. I've also seen 420 yoga classes, hip hop yoga classes, baby and me yoga classes, etc. There are just a ton of options.
By contrast, in Europe, the yoga craze hasn't caught on yet to the extent that it has in the US. I mostly see basic hatha classes offered. Don't get me wrong, I love hatha, but I just don't often see yin, restorative, power, or vinyasa offered. There are a handful of studios in major cities from a certain lineage like Bikram or Iyengar, and of course every once in a while you'll see a really dynamic studio, but for the most part I haven't seen anything like what's offered in the US. For the last two years I taught in a mid-size city in Germany and while there were a number of yoga classes at various studios and gyms, they were almost all very slow, hatha yoga classes. I regularly encountered people who had never tried a vinyasa flow before, never mind to music. Some people hated it. Some people loved it.
2. Lifestyle: In the US, I feel like the yoga industry is big and booming because it's packaged as a lifestyle. Many studios have community events including meditation, drumming, kirtan, potlucks, etc. Many bring in outside yoga teachers for workshops and continuing education. There are often cooking classes or massage workshops. Sometimes a studio has a little merch section with books, dvds, magazines, clothing, health food, and more. When you're buying a package of classes at a studio, you're essentially now a part of a healthy living community with likeminded people. Same with yoga clothing brands. If you look at what made Lululemon popular, it was their incredible branding. They were selling a lifestyle. For the most part, I just haven't seen this happen yet in Europe, with the exception of London. In London, it seems like yoga is quickly catching on and that's reflective in Wellicious and Sweaty Betty, and a number of other brands emerging on the scene. It also seemed to me like the yoga lifestyle was thriving in Dubai, but when you consider its huge expat population, it makes sense.
3. Yoga Gear: Yoga gear is a topic I could talk about forever. In the US, there are just so many brands to choose from (although I will say that the men's yoga clothing department is lacking big time). In Europe, I know of maybe three brands that make quality yoga clothing that's comparable to the US. Their prices are super high, and they can be, because there is little to no competition. There is little to choose from in terms of mats and props. Obviously all of this is a reflection on the lack of demand, so I'm curious to see how it'll change within the next few years.
4. Insurance & Certification: Another thing I've noticed is that in the US, every studio I've ever worked with has wanted to see my certification and my insurance. The biggest thing you need to watch out for as a teacher in the US is protecting yourself from being sued.
In Europe, I've never once been asked for my certification nor my insurance. It's just not as much a part of the culture to be sue-happy in Europe.
5. Teachers: I often think yoga teachers are a lot like teachers in the public school system. You'll have some that consider themselves students first - always learning, always trying to improve their craft, thinking of new ways to explain things or experimenting with how to reach certain students. They'll be the ones who sign up for workshops so they can improve, who are able to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously. They're the ones who welcome all people to class regardless of their job, eating habits, or what they wear.
Then you have the ones who are, um, just the opposite. Their yoga/way of teaching is the only way. They'll make blanket statements about meat eaters or people who follow a different type of yoga, or who lift weights. One teacher in Connecticut told my mom (who is in her 50s and wore a tank top) that she needed to cover her shoulders because yoga is a "reverent" practice. I once had a teacher who humiliated another student in class. These situations make me all sorts of angry. Anyway, I've learned that no matter where you are in the world, there will always be great teachers and not so great teachers.