Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Craning Your Neck in Monkey Pose

I've had sun salutes (surya namaskar) on my mind, ever since a local group of yogis got together a couple weeks ago to do 108 of them for a fund raiser.

So when I read this today, I immediately thought of banarasana, the monkey pose, known to some as a high lunge:
"The more extension there is in the thoracic spine, the less there will have to be in the cervical and lumbar spine."
That's a quote from Leslie Kaminoff's recent book Yoga Anatomy (2007, Human Kinetics). He wasn't even talking about the monkey pose, the lunge that's in the middle of every sun salute (at least the version I practice).

But his remark made me think of what I often see when I look out across a room full of lungers. I see quite rounded backs with heads hanging down. This curved shape in the upper spine is called kyphosis.

Since there are some serious structural deformities that are also called kyphosis, it's not uncommon to refer to this more temporary exaggeration of the thoracic curve as 'postural kyphosis.'

You don't have to be a whiz-bang physiologist to know that if you maintain this position very long its hard to breathe, and you compress your thoracic and abdominal organs. You'd be better off with a long, neutral spine.

Kaminoff calls this "axial extension." I like that term.

When I see this, I ask my students to come up on the finger tips and stretch the heart away from the navel.

But here's what happens a lot. The skin and clothing on the front of the torso are caught. They're trapped in contact with the front thigh. So it's not uncommon to see very little axial extension. What commonly happens is the head gets lifted up and now I see my students craning their necks.

They look just like those bicyclists who's backs are very rounded to reduce wind drag, but can only see where they're going if they lift their heads and jut their throats forward, like a crane.

A few days ago I wrote about low back troubles. I mentioned that the lumbar spine and the cervical spine (the low back and the neck) don't have much support around them, so they tend to bend too much in back-bending poses.

That's what's happening here.

Since there's very little extension in the thoracic spine, the cervical spine, the neck, must bend to an extreme.

The neck is craned and pained. Ouch.

So here's my tip of the day. Take Mr. Kaminoff's advice. Don't damage your neck in every lunge of every sun salute. Extend the thoracic spine.

The more you stretch your breastbone away from your belly button, the less your neck has to take a beating by either drooping down, or craning.

Align your neck so that it's an extension of the rest of your spine. It's most easily done by freeing up the skin on the torso and side chest so you can lengthen through the upper back. Then you can see what's out ahead of you without "crunching" your neck.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

Kevin Perry

p.s., The Sanskrit Word of the Day from my previous Daily Yoga Tip was pada. Pada means foot or leg as in utthita hasta padangusthasana, the extend-a-hand-and-and-grab-the-big-toe-on-the-end-of-the-leg pose.

p.p.s., Today's Sanskrit Word of the Day is sarvanga. I'll tell you what it means next time.

p.p.p.s., We'll be bringing the next Experience Sanskrit workshop to Saint Charles, Missouri in just one month. Join us at Jane's House of Wellbeing, Saturday, March 15 at 12:00 noon. Register here. Visit to lean more about the Experience Sanskrit workshop. It's the fun and unforgettable way to learn the Sanskrit names of yoga poses.

p.p.p.p.s., While I was searching around on the web for a picture of a lunge, I found a name for the high lunge pose that I had never seen before. Here goes: utthita ashwa sanchalanasana. DK Children, the publisher of the Yoga for Teens Card Deck, has sent me several copies of this great home study aid to review. I'll give away the card decks I have to the first among you who email me with a literal English translation of the Sanskrit name of the pose.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved, Mo Yoga LLC.
Kevin Perry
Mo Yoga LLC
1305 Elmerine Ave
Jefferson City, MO 65101

(573) 680-6737


Blogger Leslie Kaminoff said...

Nice post. I'm glad to see that the ideas in the book are providing food for thought. If there are any follow-up questions, I'd be happy to address them.

2:31 PM  
Blogger salvinder said...

Description: Sivananda ashram Yoga retreat Bahamas offers complete information about Yoga from basics to expertise. We offer all type of courses on Yoga

7:58 AM  
Anonymous said...

So much useful data for everyone!

2:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home