Category Archives: anatomy

Fix how you sit! Tips from my rolfer

Yesterday I had my second rolfing session. While rolfing doesn’t feel particularly feel good like a massage, it’s totally worth it to me to go nerd out about anatomy and physiology with my brilliant ‘rolfer.’ I am amazed by her knowledge of the human body and love to pick her brain. I wanted to share with you some of the tips she gave me about sitting that will improve postural alignment and overall balance in my body.

I don’t have a tv, but I told my rolfer that I spend most of my ‘sitting time’ at home at my desk. Right off the bat she recommended that my computer screen be slightly raised so the chin is lifted as opposed to tilted down. Your keyboard should be at a level where you arms sit at a 90 degree angle, like sphinx pose. Your knees should ideally be lower than your hips and your spine erect rather than curved.

Sitting on a very soft surface(like a sofa) puts our pelvis in a posterior tilt and curves our spine, so placing a more firm prop underneath you keeps the spine straighter. It makes sense to me now why most meditation pillows are firm and filled with beads as opposed to soft and fluffy.

I have always had problems with badha konasana, sukhasana, and most sitting meditation poses (without the use of a block) because my spine wants to round and I quickly feel back pain. That being said, these changes have not been easy for me! I am on day two of making these changes at my desk, and my back feels very tired. As I was told by my rolfer, this takes time to develop muscle memory and break the habit of years of slouching.

If these changes are unrealistic, maybe just schedule a pop-up reminder on your computer reminding you to sit up straight!


For goodness sake- do NOT sit on a ball! It’s almost impossible to sit with a straight spine on such a soft surface.


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5 Ways to add shoulder opening to your hip opening poses

Two birds, one stone. Stretching both muscle groups at the same time will give you twice the benefits!

Also, it’s a good way to break any patterns or habits you may have developed in your practice. If you are a yogi that practices 3+ times a week, please don’t be afraid to break out your own remixes of the poses presented. Trust me, the teacher wants you to do what feels good and benefits you, even if it doesn’t look like what your neighbor is doing. It’s easy to go on auto pilot, especially in forward folds. I am frankly OVER yanking my hamstrings into folds 20x a class! Switch it up and give your shoulders some love in these hip openers!


Bound high lunge. It’s not all about bound side angle pose all the time! You can do this variation with your heal up or down in a bound ‘Warrior VI’ or ‘Flying Warrior’ as some call it pose.


Prasarita Padotanasana Cherry Picker. I love this variation, instead of just hanging down or yanking on your feet to stretch your hamstrings, this stretches your shoulders and gives you a new way to open the back body. The resistance you get when you walk your hands back behind you will make your traps and deltoids sing.


Twisted Janu Sirsasana. I must thank my teacher Silvia Mordini for teaching me this unique variation of one legged forward fold. It’s hard to see in the photo, but this is actually a twist that you will immediately in the outer muscles of your back. Use the hand and arm not touching your foot as leverage to twist further. Further the stretch by softly bending the outstretched leg and twisting further.


Starfish fold. This variation of Badha konasana is mostly practiced in Jivamukti classes, but this is my new favorite fold! This is a super passive fold that feels great at the end of practice, especially one heavy in back bends and heart opening.


Bowing Balasana. This variation of child’s pose feels great in the muscles of your upper back and shoulders. To intensify, walk the elbows forward as much as possible.

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Raja Bhujangasana

Yoga Journal doesn’t call this a pose, but I have always liked the idea that any shape in your body that feels good or challenges you is yoga. My teacher Silvia Mordini always uses the example that making a pizza is a vinyasa.

I snapped this shot of my beautiful friend Michelle, the Graceful Yogi, who ‘graciously’ guest posted when I was away. You can read her inversion tips here, and her forearm stand tips here.

If you’re a vinyasa junkie, you’re probably doing tons of upward facing dogs and cobra poses. These help with spine mobility for sure, but reaching the toes to the head is an even deeper backbend and is just another way to improve poses like your wheels and bows. So give this rarely used pose a try, and remember it’s a life long practice!


Notice how the curve in her spine is in the thoracic and cervical spine, not just the sacrum. Mobility in all parts of the spine is needed to do backbends safely.


Cool show of progression in raja bhujangasana

Work every section of your spine.

Work every section of your spine.

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The Spine: Hyper Lumbar Curve


For some this might be a boring anatomy post, but to those of us constantly grimacing during backbends, please read on.

If you had a mother like I did who was always telling you to ‘sit up straight!’ and ‘don’t slouch!’ then you may have developed the habit of puffing up your chest and tilting your pelvis down, pushing your front ribs forward. But an exaggerated lumbar curve can happen in many other ways. If the muscles around the hips and low spine become tight or weak, it creates an imbalance. It can be caused by bad shoes, bad posture, obesity, and a number of structural deficits in your feet.

Another common cause of this is weak core muscles. The lower abs and low back are a see-saw system of agonist and antagonist muscles, meaning they work together- when one flexes, the other releases. So if your core muscles are weakened, they will not be able to support your low back and you may compensate by sticking your duck tail out. This effects more than just yogis and athletes, my sister works on her feet all day long and suffers severe low back pain from the repetitive posture we both adopted as kids.

My experience & some tips:

Utkata Konasana/Goddess squat- I’ve never found a comfortable, natural feeling way to do this pose. Squatting when my lumbar spine is already so curved puts painful pressure on my low back. The best way I’ve found to counter this is to engage mula banda finding strength in the core, and tuck my tailbone in as much as I can.

Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II- I only noticed an issue with this during a hatha class where we were directly facing the mirrors. It shocked me how much my butt stuck out! From then on I focus on the energetic pull of my front knee open, my hips even, and my tailbone tucked.

Urdhva hastasana to Uttanasana/Coming up from forward fold During a vinyasa class we’re constantly moving up and down, and this can lead to over-effort in your low back to pull you up and down. Just as they say ‘lift with your legs not your back,’ keeping a slight bend in the knees and space between the feet gives your low back more space and less risk of injury.

Urdhva Danurasana/Wheel pose- I picked up this tip at training and work on it constantly to prevent the crunching in my low back. Contract the adductor muscles to draw the knees toward each other (not touching, just an energetic pull as if you had a block in between them) and focus on turning the thighs inward. The movement in your hips directly intertwines with how the low back feels, so this simple action can make a big difference.

Sources & Related Articles:
Top 5 Stretches to Minimize Back Pain
Anatomy of the Spine- for visual learners
How to get Rid of Lordosis

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Restorative Shoulder Openers

Happy Saturday Yogis!

I wanted to share with you one of my favorite sequences to teach at the end of a vinyasa class that’s full of chaturangas and other poses that are weight bearing on the shoulders. This sequence should be done like hip opening, spending a good amount of time (20 breaths or so) on each side. These open the the anterior shoulder muscles, specifically the deltoids, traps, and pectoralis major. It also opens muscles that are part of the shoulder but you may consider back muscles like the rhomboids and posterior traps. If you are a typical vinyasa-junkie and have been ODing on chaturangas lately, consider the following.

Chaturanga strengthens many muscles, it’s an excellent shoulder strengthener appropriately nicknamed ‘the shoulder shredder.’ However, strong, tight pectoral muscles, if not adequately stretched, pull the shoulder blades, collarbones, and upper arm bones forward and inward, creating hunched shoulders and a closed chest. Trust me yogis, this is something I’ve struggled with for a long time.

An example of how this might effect another area of your practice is shoulderstand. Tight pecs and deltoids limit arm movement and chest opening in shoulderstand and backbends. In shoulderstand you need to pull your shoulders in as much as you can to keep your neck and spine free of weight, and if you’re all muscle and no mobility then that is going to be tough, and possibly dangerous.

Be cautious if you have shoulder injuries, these are intense openings but can be modified for any level of mobility. Don’t forget to breathe!

Sphinx pose. Use this as a 'reset' between sides of the following two poses

Sphinx pose. Use this as a ‘reset’ between sides of the following two poses

Thread the needle stretches the deltoids and triceps

Thread the needle stretches the deltoids and triceps.

I've heard this called 'wing pose,' but I like to call it 'pigeon for shoulders.' This stretches the traps and the anterior pecs, and creates a tourniquet effect, letting fresh oxygenated blood flow to the shoulder when the stretch is released.

I’ve heard this called ‘wing pose,’ but I like to call it ‘pigeon for shoulders.’ This stretches the traps and the anterior pecs, and creates a tourniquet effect, letting fresh oxygenated blood flow to the shoulder when the stretch is released.

Bleeding heart pose stretches the rhomboids and deltoids and provides relief for your rotator cuff and tendons.

Bleeding heart pose stretches the rhomboids and deltoids and provides relief for your rotator cuff and tendons.


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