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6 Yoga Warm-Ups for Wrist Pain and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Yoga teacher Mark Stephens shares methods for warming up and massaging the wrists to reduce pain in yoga practice from his book Yoga Therapy.

Although wrist pain is clearly an overly general description and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a specific diagnosis, we discuss these together because of the various interrelated factors involved in them. Wrist pain almost invariably extends beyond the wrist, especially into the hand, and even when it does not, its cause can derive from factors extrinsic to the wrist itself. The pain can also manifest in different parts of the wrist, offering some clues as to the cause. CTS occurs when the median nerve is entrapped in the small passageway on the palmar side of the wrist joint through which several tendons and the medial nerve pass. Inflammation of the tendons places pressure on the nerve, causing pain or discomfort in the wrist, outer fingers (thumb, index finger, and middle finger), and sometimes up the forearm. Wrist and hand pain can also manifest in the fourth and fifth fingers due to pressure on the ulnar nerve.

Healing depends on the condition and its cause. Persistent wrist tenderness or strain usually benefits from ice, splints worn during sleep (due to the ways we tend to flex the wrist and otherwise place pressure on it during natural movement while sleeping), and anti-inflammatory agents (including turmeric and ginger). Repetitive stress injuries invite one to reduce or stop the repetitive actions and to assess the dynamics of posture and movement that are involved. In practicing yoga, there are several ways to play with slight modification of position and energetic action to variably affect pressure in the wrists, while props minimize the pressure from wrist extension. Acute injuries often require medical attention, and many chronic conditions also indicate receiving medical attention. 

See also Hand Positioning Tips To Bear Weight + Prevent Wrist Injuries

Basic Wrist Therapy

Students and clients experiencing mild wrist pain can benefit from warming up their fingers, hands, arms, and shoulders before beginning their practice. Wrist and forearm massage are also effective in helping reduce pain. So long as the pain is mild, the following exercises can be healing.

Persistent wrist tenderness or strain usually benefits from ice, splints worn during sleep, anti-inflammatory agents (including turmeric and ginger), acupuncture, and other alternative treatments. Encourage students and clients to explore all possible measures and to consult a doctor for additional guidance.

Excerpted from Yoga Therapy: Foundations, Methods, and Practices for Common Ailments by Mark Stephens, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2017 by Mark Stephens. Reprinted by permission of publisher.

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3 Restorative Poses to Optimize Organ Function

Long day? Try these poses from YJ Influencer Meredith Cameron to create space in your upper body to soften, flush, and balance your organ system.

It sounds simple, but getting the right kind of rest can be a game changer for your body’s organs. Our bodies are all composed differently, and lifestyle choices add to, or take away from, organ efficiency. So it’s important to think of your organs as one unit designed to work together. If one organ gets squished or works too hard, it can tax the entire system. But the more you can support and stabilize the lower body, the more the upper body, where your organs are housed, can soften and relax. This helps them detox, repair, and function efficiently so you can feel your best on a regular basis.

The key to optimizing your insides? A little restorative asana. Yoga poses that support your bone structure will create maximum space for your organs to flush and function properly. Below, try these three simple, supported yoga poses to balance and restore your organ system.

See also 38 Health Benefits of Yoga

1. Seated Forward Fold

Props You Need: 3 blankets, 2 blocks

Roll and place one blanket into the crease at the base of a wall. Sit on two folded blankets, adjusting your sit bones for full contact of your perineum. Bend your knees to keep the low back and kidneys spacious and place your feet on the rolled blanket in front of you. Stack two blocks like an upside down T, lean forward, and rest your head, allowing the neck and shoulders to relax. You will feel space in the low back and a complete upper body tension release.

Restorative tip: Using two blankets folded as a seat helps get you out of your hip joint. Creating space in the joint allows blood and oxygen to flow through and feed the organs.

2. Supported Frog

Props You Need: 1 blanket, 3 blocks

Come to tabletop position on your hands and knees and place the folded blanket on top of your calves. Bring your knees wide and sit back on the blankets. Grab two blocks, then lean forward and place one block under each armpit, on the tall setting. (Make sure the blocks plug right into the joint.) Place a third block, on the medium setting, under your forehead. Reach your arms out straight, so the elbows are not bent and the lungs can expand fully allowing maximum oxygen exchange through the joints.

Restorative tip: If your hands begin to fall asleep, place two blocks or books underneath them to lift them higher. If your hip flexors feel uncomfortable, add another blanket between your calves and your sit bones.

3. Organ flush with a chair

Props You Need: 1 blanket, 1 chair, 1 strap, 3 regular blocks, 1 thinner block (or modify with an extra blanket)

Lie on your back and scoot your sit bones close to, and facing, the chair. Place the balls of your feet on the edge of the chair. Stack three blocks next to your hips, and place a folded blanket under your head. With your legs zipped together, take your strap and wrap it loosely around your mid thighs. Place a thinner block or folded blanket next to your shoulders.

Push into the chair and lift your hips, sliding the three blocks just under your sacrum. From here, straighten your legs. Your shoulders will naturally lift. Place the thinner block under your shoulders. Tighten the strap. Relax. Use two blocks instead of three if you feel any pinching.

Restorative tip: This pose allows a clean pathway through the front of the thighs for energy to travel into the organ house. The downward slope inverts the body and provides the flush. 

See also Ask the Expert: Do Twists Really Wring Out Toxins?

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Why Your Diaphragm Could Be the Core Strength Game Changer You’ve Overlooked

Most yogis are familiar with their diaphragm in the context of pranayama practice, but core work? Not so much.

As a yogi, you know how important good breathing is for your overall health and wellbeing. Your breath affects all of your vital systems, right down to the cellular level. It impacts your sleep, memory, energy level, and concentration. But in a busy life, even for yogis, breathing well can be easier said than done. Poor posture (all those hours hunched over a keyboard or steering wheel), emotional stress, mental pressure, conscious or unconscious movement patterns, and lack of movement can all contribute to restricted, shallow breathing and tension in the diaphragm, your primary breathing muscle. Though you may not be aware of poor respiratory mechanics throughout your day, the effects can be profound. Did you know that the way you breathe (or don’t) also influences how effectively your muscles work? 

See also The Science of Breathing

How Your Diaphragm Can Affect Core Strength

The diaphragm isn’t typically talked about in the context of your core. But located right at the center of the abdomen, it connects to many of your body’s stabilizers. Working in close relationship with the deep abdominals, the pelvic floor, and the multifidus muscles in the lower back, the diaphragm is part of your intrinsic core. You can think of these muscles as forming the sides of a pressurized container: the pelvic floor is the bottom, the deep abdominal and back muscles form the sides, and the diaphragm is the lid on top. If any of these muscles don’t perform their important tasks perfectly, the container will start to lose pressure, weakening the stable base you need to move effectively. The result is a decrease in overall strength due to the lack of support from your core, which can cause all kinds of compensation patterns.

The brain organizes how all the muscles work together to make your movements fluid and effective. If one muscle is stuck or not working properly, something else will have to step up to create stability and make movement happen. So if your diaphragm is tense and less flexible—in turn causing the other core muscles to weaken—other nearby muscles, like in the hips or the more superficial parts of the trunk may be recruited to compensate for the lack of core stability.

An overactive diaphragm may also cause strained breathing and even cause neck tension. Neck muscles are secondary breathing muscles, helping with inspiration, and thus also frequently get involved in issues with the diaphragm and core. Ever felt your neck tighten up during ab work? It may be compensating for missing core strength.

Additionally, the diaphragm connects to and affects the thoracic and lumbar erectors, quadratus lumborums in the low back, and the psoas muscle that crosses the rim of the pelvis to connect the legs to the spine. These are all important muscles in moving and stabilizing the spine, and any one of them not working properly can have system-wide effects in the body. So as you can see, the proper functioning of the diaphragm is essential for a body that moves effectively and effortlessly. 

Lucky for yogis, the practice offers many wonderful tools to unravel the negative effects of modern lifestyle. Simple diaphragmatic breathing, restorative postures, meditation, mindful movement through yoga poses, the coordination of breath and movement, and a focus on alignment can all help relieve tension in the diaphragm and deepen the breath. When the diaphragm is less tense, your core muscles have a better chance of stepping up to their primary task. As you optimize your breathing, you might see all kinds of other changes happening you didn’t expect.

See also Anatomy 101: How to Tap the Real Power of Your Breath

3 Ways to Relax the Diaphragm and Connect to Your Core 

About Our Expert
Gry Bech-Hanssen is currently working toward her 500-hour yoga teacher training with Tiffany Cruikshank. Based in Oslo, Norway, she has a background in contemporary dance and has been teaching movement for well over 10 years. She teaches yoga and pilates in groups and therapeutic private sessions, and is also trained in Structural Bodywork, massage, and Neurokinetic Therapy. Gry is passionate about using yoga in combination with all the other tools in her tool box to help people make lasting changes in their bodies and lives. You can find more about her at www.somawork.no.

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12 Yoga Poses to Boost Breast Health

Breasts are intimately connected to a woman’s overall well-being and heart, yet proactive tips for keeping breast tissue healthy are scarce. Fortunately, your yoga practice can help.

Menses, pregnancy, breastfeeding, perimenopause, and menopause are some of the shape shifts women face in a single lifetime. And the breasts, intimately connected to a woman’s health, relate to these physical passages in profound ways. One in eight American women will receive a Breast Cancer diagnosis in her lifetime. Cysts, myofascial issues, heart disease, and hypertension, which can result in cardiac arrest and open-heart surgery, are also common. Yet, aside the recommendation of a monthly self-exam American women, don’t get much in the way of tips for maintaining breast health. The good news is yoga practice can be a powerful tool for healthier breasts.

What Yoga Can Teach American Women About Their Breasts

American cultural attitudes about breasts careen wildly from festishization to repression: while we are accustomed to seeing women’s breasts objectified on the covers of magazines and advertising, breastfeeding women often need a place to retreat and hide just to nourish their babies. But around the world, Goddess images attest to a more reverent and profound connection to this important area of the body. In Tantric art and Hindu iconography, bare-breasted goddesses such as compassionate Tara and Ferocious Protector Kali embody a more sacred view of the breasts. These deities are open-hearted, brave, and courageous, as their physical language shows in paintings, sculptures, and modern-day posters and advertisements. The chest has long been associated with love, courage, and confidence in many cultures. In Ayurvedic medicine, the 5,000-year-old wisdom and healing tradition of India, the heart and chest are viewed as intelligence centers, “The heart is the seat or root of the brain,” as Dr. Sheila Patel, medical director of the Chopra Institute explains. So how can you better nurture these important parts of the body?

How Yoga Practice Can Boost Breast Health

“A well-rounded yoga practice will benefit the breasts,” notes Bobby Clennell, Iyengar Yoga teacher and author of Yoga For Breast Care: What Every Woman Needs to Know. Expanding the heart center in backbends and twists suffuses the chest and lymphatic system with circulation, facilitating optimal immune function. Although inconclusive, research from several studies suggests that tight or ill-fitting bras may contribute to breast cancer risk by limiting circulation and blocking the flow of lymph. Asana can also counter the postural issues—hunching, tightening and closing off of the chest—modern devices pose. The deep breathing (like Sama Vritti and Kapalabhati) and retention (Kumbhaka) yogis practice in pranayama enable oxygen to reach the upper lobes of the lungs, facilitating the release of more oxygen to the upper chest and lymphatic areas, boosting immune function.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Yoga, yoga poses and practices reduce stress and boost immunity. Some research studies show a positive correlation between the stress response and breast cancer, particularly in resurgence or relapse and the relaxation response and survival ratesForward folds and resting poses, especially, soothe the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the fight-or-flight stress response, and switch on the the parasympathetic system, which enables optimal immune function. 

Additionally, Yoga Journal’s 2016 Yoga in America study found people who practice yoga are more inclined to engage in cardiovascular exercise, which is known to reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Yoga’s mindfulness component also fosters an intimate connection with the body, which can heighten one’s awareness of changes and aid in early detection of disease. 

See also How to Use the Body Affect the Mind

The Anatomy of the Breasts

To understand how yoga practice can impact this important area of the body better, let’s briefly look at its anatomy. Mammary glands, or breasts, are made up of lobules, glandular structures that produce milk in women. The lobules drain into ducts, connecting to channels that transport milk to the nipple. Between glandular tissue and ducts lie fat cells and tissue. (Male breast anatomy is nearly identical to females’, except for the milk lobules.) Breasts do not contain muscle, but are adjacent to the pectoralis muscles of the upper chest. Blood vessels and lymph gland and lymph node networks for draining and detoxifying impurities run through the breasts, the surrounding armpit, upper chest, and groin areas.

The Energy of the Heart Center

Energetically, the Anahata Chakra, or heart center, the seat of wisdom in Ayurvedic medicine, lies at the sternum, between the breasts. Opening this energetic and physical area results in feelings of expansion, vulnerability, joy, and sometimes pain, as grief resides here, too. It seems appropriate then that the breasts and heart are so intimately connected. The classic bare-breasted icon of Green Tara, goddess of Compassion, typifies this view of sacred feminine power. And open-hearted, bare-breasted Kali, the ferocious but compassionate manifestation of the feminine divine, reminds us it takes courage to live from the center of one’s heart.

Use the following practice to boost circulation, lymph flow, and energy through your heart and chest for healthier breasts.

See also 23 Jams to Ignite Your Inner Warrior for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A Yoga Sequence for Chest & Breast Health

See also Massage for Healthy Breasts

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What You Need to Know About Your Thoracic Spine

Here’s how to strengthen and gain mobility in your upper back

Got back pain? You’re in good company: About 80 percent of Americans experience back problems at some point. Most people attribute back pain to their low backs (lumbar spine) or necks (cervical spine), but oftentimes issues in the thoracic spine—the upper back—are actually to blame.

Although the thoracic spine doesn’t get much attention, it’s literally the backbone for your lungs and heart, surrounded by your rib cage, which protects these vital organs. Of the spine’s 70 joints, 50 percent are in the thoracic spine. If you factor in the additional 20 specialty joints (called the costotransverse joints) that help your ribs articulate and move, you’ll quickly understand that your thoracic spine is a workhorse responsible for two-thirds of the movement in your torso—so the odds of something going awry are high.

Despite the thoracic spine’s potential for movement, the unique design of your upper back and rib cage does not allow for as much movement as you may think. This is to protect your lungs and heart: excess motion here could impact these key organs. What’s more, the vertebrae of the thoracic spine interlock with one another and act as a hard stop during back bends—again, to defend your internal organs.

These movement-inhibiting mechanisms are important. However, if you lack the proper amount of mobility in your thoracic spine, then the most mobile junction of your spine—T12/L1, the lowest point of the thoracic spine and the highest part of the lumbar spine—may become hypermobile to make up for it (particularly in backbends). Lack of thoracic spine mobility can also create an excessively mobile cervical spine.

To help keep your cervical spine and lumbar spine pain free, you’ll want to move the thoracic spine in smart, safe ways to maintain strength and mobility and prevent it from recruiting extra help. Here’s what you need to know.

See also A Yoga Sequence to Target Sources of Back Pain

The Thoracic Spine/Breath Connection

The hallmark of a healthy spine is that it can access all its inherent ranges of motion. Once you start leaving a motion out, the joints and tissues stiffen—and in the case of the upper back, this can translate into breathing issues. An excessively immobile thoracic spine can lead to a stiff rib cage, which can then restrict the capacity of your diaphragm and lungs. Because breath control gives us access to our nervous system and emotional centers, the interplay between the upper back and breath are critical for permitting relaxation, well-being, emotional attunement, and whole-body health.

A Yogic Self-Test for Range of Motion

Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock) This challenges your thoracic spine and rib cage to use their full ranges of motion at the costovertebral joints. The motion takes the ribs to their most elevated state, causing the diaphragm to stretch laterally.

How to Stand with your feet slightly apart, eyes open. Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale quickly and forcibly through your nose. Fully contract your abdominal muscles, pushing as much air as possible out of your lungs; then relax your abdominals. Perform what’s called a mock inhalation by expanding your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but don’t actually do so. This pulls the abdominal muscles up into the rib cage and creates a concave shape resembling an umbrella within the rib cage. Come into Jalandhara Bandha (Chin Lock). Hold for 5–15 seconds, then slowly let your belly descend, inhaling normally. Note: Perform this only on an empty stomach and only after an exhalation. If you’re pregnant, it’s OK to practice Uddiyana Bandha if you did so regularly before your pregnancy.

See also Work Your Core in Any Pose

Body of Knowledge: Anatomy of the Thoracic Spine

There are multiple muscles in your thoracic spine region, most of which also run through your cervical spine or lumbar spine regions (or both). Here, get to know the deeper muscles that attach to your thoracic spine, as well as those that share a soft-tissue relationship with the thoracic spine and rib cage.

Transversospinalis

As a group, these muscles connect different portions of each vertebra to adjacent or semi-adjacent vertebrae.

• otatores

• ultifidus

• emispinalis

Erector spinae muscles

As a group, these muscles provide postural support for your trunk and facilitate multiple motions of your torso.

• pinalis thoracis

• ongissimus thoracis

• liocostalis

Serratus posterior superior

This muscle connects your upper three thoracic vertebrae to ribs 2–5. It helps elevate your ribs when you inhale.

Respiratory diaphragm

This muscle attaches to the inside of your lower six ribs; you may notice it when it’s spasming with the hiccups.

Intercostals

These muscles are situated between each rib. They stabilize your rib cage and assist in breathing.

Levatores costarum

These muscles connect the transverse processes of each thoracic vertebra to the rib below and help you inhale.

See also Poses by Anatomy

A Vertebra, Dissected

SPINOUS PROCESS These are bony projections off
the back of each vertebra. Alongside each spinous process is an arch-like structure called the lamina, which provides
a major point of attachment for your spine’s muscles
and ligaments.

INTERVERTEBRAL DISCS These are the spine’s shock absorbers. Each disc forms a fibrocartilaginous joint (a symphysis) to allow slight movement of
vertebrae and hold adjacent vertebrae together.

TRANSVERSE PROCESS These bony projections off each side of each vertebra are the attachment sites for your spine’s muscles and ligaments.

VERTEBRAL BODY This thick oval segment of bone forms the front of each vertebra. A protective layer of
compact bone encircles a cavity of spongey bone tissue.

See also Poses for Your Spine

4 Poses to Increase Thoracic Spine Mobility

Take your spine through its five different motions—spinal flexion, spinal extension, lateral flexion and extension, and spinal rotation—with these poses. 

About Our Pros

Writer Jill Miller is the creator of Yoga Tune Up and The Roll Model Method, and author of The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility, and Live Better in Your Body. She has presented case studies at the Fascia Research Congress and the International Association of Yoga Therapists Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research, and she teaches at yoga conferences worldwide. Learn more at yogatuneup.com.

Model Amy Ippoliti is a yoga teacher and faculty member at 1440 Multiversity, Omega Institute, Esalen Institute, and the Kripalu Center.

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5 Yoga Moves to Practice Daily for Everyday Core Strength

Incorporate these poses from Nicole Sciacca into your daily routine to strengthen your core muscles and help you maintain a strong and flexible spine.

While you may think about your core on the mat, how often do you consider the work of the core in everyday life? As a mother of a 70-pound four-year-old (he has a very tall father!), I can attest to the importance of full-body strength and mobility. You use your rotational core every single day for basic movement. Those muscles that make up the front, side, and back of your core allow you to flex, extend, and twist. They play a role in everything from carrying groceries home from the farmer’s market to picking up dog poop. The great news is that incorporating the following five moves into your daily yoga practice will strengthen them to help you maintain a strong and flexible spine.

5 Everyday Strong-Core Yoga Moves

About Our Expert

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