Today we mourn the passing of Dr Prem Sundar Das. Dr Das spent his life teaching yoga. He was a kind and generous soul who lived a life of service.
For decades, Dr Das has been affiliated with various yoga organizations. He served as a consultant, founder, chairman or principle for many institutions such as the World Yoga Society founded by his late brother Mr. Dibya Sundar Das, Ghosh's Yoga College, and his own research and teaching institutions. He taught over 1,200 teachers and spent countless hours with students and patients, teaching and prescribing therapeutic yoga.
Dr Das held a plethora of higher degrees and was held in the highest esteem by communities he came into contact with, both in India and abroad.
In his book Yoga Panacea, Dr Das writes:
"The art of yoga not only concentrates on the physical organs and muscles but also on the power of life. The life force in the muscles and nervous system is rejuvenated by the practice of yoga. In order to develop physical strength and the power of the mind, most people acknowledge the efficacy of the 'Love Formula.' God is love and love is god."
Both his knowledge of yoga and his caring demeanor touched the lives of so many around the world. Today our hearts go out to his family, and all of those close to him who are mourning his passing.
Here is a simple act of generosity you can do: Next time you are at the grocery store, in addition to buying your own groceries, pay for those of the person in line behind you.
You can apply this act in restaurants — pay for the table next to you.
At a drive through — pay for the car behind you.
In a coffee shop — pay for the order behind you.
At a fast food restaurant — pay for the person behind you.
At any other store — pay for the person behind you.
Don't try to judge whether that person needs your help, nor whether they deserve your help. It is a simple act of generosity on your part, offering some of your resources for the benefit of someone else.
Chances are it will do more good for you than the other person. And it may inspire them to commit an act of generosity for someone else.
The vast majority of humans need to sleep for about 8 hours per night. This fact is increasingly supported by scientific studies. Sleeping for less, even if it's only one or two fewer hours per night, can have immense negative impacts on our brain, physical health and longevity. Even if you don't read any further, make a point to get plenty of sleep tonight, tomorrow and every night thereafter.
Our modern culture has come to wear all-nighters and claims that "I don't need much sleep" as badges of honor that signify determination and a strong work ethic. Unfortunately, no amount of will-power or toughness can match the memory, cognition and mental flexibility that sufficient sleep offers.
You probably know that our daily sleep-and-wake cycle is governed by the circadian rhythm. Every living being on earth has this cycle built into its cells and brain, as we have evolved on a planet with 24 hour patterns of light and dark.
It has long baffled humans why we spend so much time unconscious. Do we really need that much "rest"? Actually, no! Because sleeping shouldn't be confused with inactive "rest". Sleeping is an active state for many systems in the body and brain. It is not just "turning off", but more like a race car pulling into a pitstop. The car's wheels may not be spinning, but it is getting vital repairs and maintenance that enable it to function. Skipping a pitstop will reduce function and eventually cause catastrophic failure.
Sleep is the same way for humans. It is absolutely vital, and every hour of it is essential.
Humans need about 8–9 hours of sleep each night. This is broken up into 90 minute cycles where the brain goes into deep sleep and then returns to a shallower form. There are a few different "levels" of sleep, and each accomplishes different tasks in the brain. We need all of these things for the proper function of our memory, learning and coordination, let alone our health.
Put another way, we sleep differently early in the night than in the morning just before waking. The first hours of sleep are populated with deep, dreamless sleep, while the last hours are full of vivid dreams. Deep sleep clears our day's short-term memory, integrating it into long term storage and preparing us for the next day of learning. Dreaming sleep improves coordination of the body and motor function. Athletes and others who will benefit from physical coordination—including modern yogis—need this part of sleep. So don't skimp!
Sleep shortages, even as small as one or two hours, can negatively impact our memory, our ability to learn new information, our blood sugar, our immune system and our hunger. We may think that missing only a couple hours in a night will have minimal impact, but sleeping six hours per night for six nights is roughly equivalent to pulling an all-nighter. Our waking function becomes hugely compromised.
The moral is this: Don't cut your sleep short! Be sure to get enough total hours, and be sure to get all the different parts of sleep. Probably the easiest to neglect is dreaming sleep in the morning, which is the first to get cut off by an early alarm.
(Also, read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD. An excellent book that blew our minds. Thanks to Sue for the recommendation!)
Usually we write about yoga topics like anatomy, philosophy, history and such. Today we have a different purpose, because these are extraordinary times. This morning we got the first dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine.
In Northern Minnesota, about an hour from where we live, is a large vaccination site. It is in a curling arena, right next door to the National Hockey Hall of Fame. In the past few days, word began spreading that they were not filling the available appointments for vaccine shots. One day it was 30 slots that went unfilled, and yesterday it was 400, which is about half of the capacity of the site. So, in order to vaccinate as many people as possible, they encouraged anyone to make an appointment and come, regardless of age (as long as you're over 18, of course).
Scientific experts say that this pandemic will only end when the world reaches herd immunity. Vaccination plays a pivotal role in that goal. Leaders have also encouraged us to talk about getting vaccinated and post pictures, since some still fear or distrust vaccines or consider them pointless.
Throughout this pandemic, we have made an effort to listen to respected scientific leaders and follow their advice. We are relatively young and healthy, but it is clear that our actions affect others who are more vulnerable, including our own parents, grandparents and families. In order to do our part, we (like so many others) drastically changed our lives over the past year. We thought that we would have to wait until the summer to get the vaccine, due to our age and health histories. We were fortunate to have this opportunity to get vaccinated, and we took it! We hope that you and your loved ones (and everybody else too) gets vaccinated as soon as you can.
Yoga, like pretty much every other skill, relies on a combination of factors. Two of the most important are knowledge and practice. Knowledge is our understanding of more theoretical concepts: why we are doing it, what is the underlying belief system, how might I improve, etc. Practice is the actual putting-in-motion of these concepts: the hours, days, months and years of using the body and mind to build experience and generate progress.
These two are powerful when used together. They are much less impactful when apart.
Knowing what you believe, why you believe it, what you're practicing and why is absolutely essential to any sort of progress. If you don't know these things, any effort you exert could easily be put in the wrong direction, taking you further from your goals rather than closer to them.
If you want to go north but don't have a compass, it doesn't matter how fast you run. You are likely to unknowingly head in the wrong direction, getting further from your goal. And the harder you work, the further you get.
Yoga practice is the same way. Whether you're trying to improve your balance, stand on your hands, breathe better, or have deep meditation, it is essential to first know what to do. Each of these goals will require different techniques, and if you use the wrong one you will essentially make progress in the wrong direction. Therefore knowledge is indispensable to progress.
Effort or practice without knowledge can be futile and counterproductive. This can lead to frustration. Often, when you feel stuck in your practice, it is greater knowledge rather than greater effort that will help.
Knowledge helps us refine our understanding of who we are, where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there.
The other half of the conversation is the effort we exert toward our goals — practice. It may be obvious to say, but this is where the actual progress happens.
If you want to go north and you know which direction is north, you still have to put one foot in front of the other and actually go north. No amount of knowing will get you there.
It is easy for intellectual people to overemphasize knowledge. We think that if we know more, then we will make more progress. We continually collect and consume copious amounts of information and knowledge. But we make limited progress this way.
Knowledge must be accompanied by practice, because our bodies and minds grow through use. To improve our balance, we must allow the body to learn how to connect the feet, legs, hips, etc. No amount of study will do this. Only actual practice.
Also, study uses the mind in a specific way, essentially practicing one skill. If we study a lot, we will get good at studying. But we won't improve other skills, like balancing, breathing or meditating. To progress at those, we must practice them.
PUTTING THEM TOGETHER
There is a well-known saying in the yoga world, often attributed to K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga: "Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory."
The quotation is probably hyperbolic, intended to make a point. But the danger in this mentality is that it may encourage thoughtless practice and effort. To return to our analogy, it is like saying "99% walking, 1% checking the compass."
As teachers, we speculate that the lesson Jois was trying to teach is: Don't get stuck in thinking about things. And don't think that knowledge will save you or be enough on its own. You must practice.
We agree with this, but we also think that the opposite is equally likely. Students may think that practice and effort are enough on their own. Then they will cultivate very little knowledge or understanding of what they're doing and why. They will end up making progress in the wrong direction.
We think that the two are equally important: 50% practice, 50% knowledge. The two feed and inform each other. Your actual practice will help you understand why ancient scriptures say what they do. And your knowledge of history, philosophy, and your own goals will help your practice be more effective and productive.
This blog is part of a series about the hips.
The final two movements of the hips to discuss are abduction and adduction. Like internal and external rotation, these are less powerful movements of the hip than flexion and extension.
Abduction and adduction do not need to be developed to any great extent on their own. The muscles that make these movements possible are often accessed through other movements. For example, the muscles of abduction are used for stability and balance. Standing on one leg (or even walking) requires the muscles of abduction.
While we don't need to focus on developing these movements to a significant extent, let's look at them in more detail so we know what the actions are and which muscles make the movement possible.
Adduction refers to movement toward the midline of the body (or toward something). In the case of the hips, adduction is the movement of the leg toward the midline. Not surprisingly, this movement is achieved by engaging the adductors. These can be thought of as the muscles on the inner thigh. They include muscles like the adductor magnus, adductor brevis, adductor longis. All of these muscles connect from the pubis, or bottom and inner part of the pubic bone, to the femur (leg bone).
Throughout this series we've discussed six movements of the hip joint: flexion, extension, internal & external rotation, adduction and abduction. Considering this, anytime we are talking about the hips we have to consider what position the hip joint is in. Remember the hips can be in any one of these six positions or in a combination!
Any time you think "I have tight hips" or "this pose is a hip opener", think about what position the hips are in. Knowing these six options (and that it may be more than one), you can figure out with more specificity what is happening in the hips.
This blog is part of a series about the hips.
So far, we have covered three out of the six movements of the hip joint. We began with flexion and extension. In the last blog we discussed external rotation. There are three more movements of the hips to cover in this series. They are: internal rotation, adduction and abduction.
Let's look at internal rotation. This is a very small movement that occurs when your femur (leg bone) rotates in toward the center of your body. It is far less common than the prior three movements. It is not a movement worth working on to any significant degree. Rather, it's just beneficial to be aware of.
Muscles of Internal Rotation
We do not have a muscle dedicated to internal rotation of the hip. That is why this movement is not particularly powerful or coordinated. Instead, we have a few muscles that aid in internal rotation. These are smaller muscles that do other jobs in the body. These muscles include the tensor fascia latae and two adductors. Depending on what position the body is in, they can work together to internally rotate the hip. Let's take a closer look.
It is not surprising that when we discuss about hip adduction, these will come up again! Their main job is to adduct the thigh, which means to pull the thigh toward the centerline of the body.
However, if the hip is externally rotated to begin with, the adductors can help bring the thigh back to a neutral position. To say this another way, from a neutral position the adductors will not internally rotate the hip to a significant degree. It is when the hip is already externally rotated that the adductors will help to internally rotate.
Remember, internal rotation of the hip occurs within a small range of motion. It isn't a movement that is particularly coordinated. Rather than develop it in your body, be aware of it and use it to inform and bring clarity to your understanding of the other movements of the hip joint.
2020 has been an incredibly yogic year.
By that, we mean that it’s been a time where we’ve been forced to question or change our patterns of behavior and take a deeper look at our desires. To a yogi, these are great blessings.
We may think that our actions are important, but far more interesting are the desires that lead to action.
Desire itself is always something to investigate. For thousands of years, yogis (and Buddhists) have recognized that desire is a cause of suffering. Therefore, they teach the removal of desire as a means to spiritual liberation.
We can only confront our desires when we recognize them. Most of the time they lie low beneath the surface of our awareness. A time that forces us to recognize desire is helpful. It may not be pleasant, but it is beneficial for yogic progress.
Beyond desire, 2020 has been a time to recognize impermanence. Not only did many of our patterns die, many of us have lost someone we are close with, or lost some of our (perceived) comforts. These again are great teachers on the yogic path.
Finally, self inquiry is inherent in philosophical systems. The Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita teach the nature of the self, the Buddhist Nikayas teach the idea of non-self, the Yoga Sutras examine the relationship between consciousness and matter. For centuries, inquiry into the true nature of the self has been a part of human existence. This is because incorrectly identifying the self is also a source of suffering.
In a year like 2020, we’ve been stripped of things we identify as self. Our customs, patterns, habits have been interrupted. The crisis we have felt is our sense of self being pulled out from under us. To a yogi, this is incredibly useful! We never needed those patterns in order to be who we are. We simply are.
This blog is part of a series about the hips.
The next movement of the hips we will explore is external rotation. This movement is subtler than flexion or extension. However, external rotation plays a big role in yoga practice. External rotation of the hip is needed for challenging postures like Leg Behind the Head, but is also needed for all seated postures. For this reason it plays a big role in enabling pranayama and meditation practices. It is a physical skill that is needed for practices that take us beyond the body.
Muscles of External Rotation
External rotation is when the leg bone (femur) rotates away from the body. There are a lot of muscles that facilitate this motion, and any one of them can give us trouble. These muscles include: piriformus, quadratus femoris, two obdurators and the gemelli. (The gluteus maximus also aids in external rotation.)
External rotation is not particularly difficult when standing. Most of us have no problem pointing the toes of one or both feet out to the sides. However, this action is complicated quite dramatically once we had hip flexion.
Seated postures like Lotus can become problematic because the knee joint is much less stable than the hip. If we attempt to sit in Lotus without being able to do so safely, the knee tries to compensate for tightness in the hip.
In cultures that sit on the floor, external rotation is not a challenging movement. For those who sit in chairs, this movement is much more challenging. It can take time to develop this skill.
This blog is part of a series about the hips.
The second movement of the hips we will explore is extension. Extension is when the front of your thigh moves away from your pelvis. The main muscles of hip extension are the gluteus maximus (butt muscle) and the hamstrings.
Unlike quadrupeds, humans walk upright. So, one of the strange things about the hips is that they are already in extension while we are standing. We don't have much range of motion in the hips past 180 degrees. What might feel like hip extension beyond that, often begins to incorporate the spine.
Let's look at the muscles that extend the hips. They are the muscles that work in a posture like Locust, or when we stand up out of Chair. They also work in poses like Balancing Stick or the back leg in a Lunge.
The second main group of muscles that extend the hip are the hamstrings. There are three main hamstrings. They are the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus and the biceps femoris.
In yoga poses, these muscles often work to stabilize the pelvis. For example, in the standing leg of Balancing Stick, both the hamstrings and the gluteus maximus are what hold the pose. It's common to hear that tight hamstrings are the cause of trouble in Balancing Stick. However, it's quite the opposite. Weak hamstrings are the issue.
It is important to recognize the muscles of hip extension and strengthen them. Unlike the hip flexors which do not need to be strengthened, strength in the hip extensors should be cultivated. They are big and powerful muscles. Especially in cultures that tend to be sedentary, they are often underdeveloped. This leads to further imbalances in the body.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are scholars as well as practitioners of yogic postures, breath control and meditation. They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga.
- The 113 Postures of Ghosh Yoga
- Make the Hamstrings Strong, Not Long
- Understanding Chair Posture
- Lock the Knee History
- It Doesn't Matter If Your Head Is On Your Knee
- Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
- 5 Reasons To Backbend
- Origins of Standing Bow
- The Traditional Yoga In Bikram's Class
- What About the Women?!
- Through Bishnu's Eyes
- Why Teaching Is Not a Personal Practice