Saturday, 2 November 2013

How to live longer and suffer more

Symtoms of Aging: Reduced movement, skeletal compression, 
The inevitable consequences of being born is that one must die. Having said that, the process of living is often accompanied by aging before one is eventually laid to rest. The question however is, what is aging and why does it happen? To do this I encourage you to conduct a small experiment. You need the following

1. Baby (preferably from 0-2 years old) 01

2. Old Man (preferable 60+) 01

Put both subjects on a mat and with one hand touch  the baby and with the other hand the old man on the calf. You may observe that the infant's body is supple while the old person's body is stiffer. You will see that baby is incredibly flexible while the old man is not. You will also notice that body of infant
Observe the flexiblity of freshly created fascia
when compressed attains its original structure instantly while the mark of your finger on an old person will stay for quite a long time to due fluid retention in them.
This simple experiment tells us the following: aging is a process of tissue hardening in the body and the consequent lack of mobility of body fluids. It leads to muscles tightening and pulling the bone structure closer. The result is a loss of height, bent posture,  reduced range of motion, taking more effort in simple tasks. While these are apparent external signs of aging, inside the body the blood vessels harden, internal organs also loose their vitality. The connective tissue that provides these organs' structure also harden impeding blood flow in and out of the organs. Eventually diseases of bio chemical imbalance like High BP, Cardiac complications, Diabetes, Osteoporosis start cropping up.

Science has however started unveiling the causes of aging. To understand aging we need to first  understand the basics of the human body. In school we have learnt the human body is composed of Skin, bone, cartilage, muscle, blood, lymph, various chemicals secreted by glands, nerves, internal organs of various shapes, sizes and functions. What we are not  taught about is an organ (there is some dispute if it could be called one) that constitutes
Fascia attaching to muscle
about 25 to 35% of our total protein weight called Fascia. Only in the post war years has increasing amount of research gone into understanding this element of the human body. Fascia is that fine whitish translucent covering you may see over the muscle, it is also the stuff that forms tendons and ligaments. If you happen to have cleaned meat then you will observe that this fascia is also around the internal organs of the body and helps stabilize and position them in reference to the spine and its neighboring tissue. Fascia also covers the brain and spinal cord offering it protection and structure. Fascia is made of a substance called collagen. A word you may have heard in relation to new age cosmetics that can help you look younger (or so they claim).

More about Collagen

Collagen is a protein with a triple helix structure. It forms a chain that gives structure to all vertebral animal including us, from shortly after our conception to our death. It covers each muscle fiber, every blood vessel,
nerve and organ and is the ultimate reason why our liver does not pop out of mouth when we do a head stand!  The fascia forms one continuous chain or a 3D net from head to toe giving
Collagen Molecule
shape to the body.  While this 3D netting helps hold things together it also has an element of flexibility. This allows impact, injury to be absorbed over a larger area rather than be focussed on the impacted area only. For example if you stub your toe on a stone the fascia transmits the impact  by allowing the bending of the toe and knee away from the stone. If the fascia was not flexible then it would have kept the foot and leg stiff  and the toe would hurt a lot more. 

While the primary function of fascia is to give shape, it also provides a lubricated surface such that various parts of the body can move independently. For example on the calf, the Gastrocnemius muscle is on top of Soleus muscle(see image below). In a healthy person these two muscles can and do work independently  because the fascia covering both of them allow smooth movement without any friction. However age catches up and you don't feel like going to a party any more!

Aging of the fascia

When we are shiny and new, just out of our mother's womb, all our fascia is fresh and well structured. That means they have no adhesions and move quite well over each other. Remember the flexible baby! In time life happens.  We fall, injure ourselves, get shouted at and fight.  Through all this our fascia serves us well by absorbing the impact of these traumas by distributing them over the entire body. Slowly however the collagen in the fascia starts changing its chemical structure. A chemical reaction called glycation starts happening. Glycation is a reaction where  sugar reacts with the collagen molecules in a non enzymatic method forming covalent bonds. These molecules are called Advanced Glycation End products (A.G.E.s). These molecules  happen naturally in the human body as we age but to make matters worse the food industry has been adding this into our food during processing because they increase taste and aroma (see research here). The problem with AGE molecules is that they tend to form covalent bond with any collagen molecule around them. In the context of the Gastrocnemius and Soleus  muscle, an AGE molecule that has formed between these two muscle groups will not only fix itself to the fascia of the Soleus but
eventually will attach itself to the upper fascial layer of the Gastroc muscles. Once sufficient such attachments have formed the individual will be unable to independently use the Soleus or the Gastrocnemius. Eventually you will need more energy to make a movement because it now involves two muscles instead of one.  Now imagine this process can happen anywhere on the body where collagen occurs and that is just about everywhere. The result is impeded is blood flow, hardening of the arteries, compression in the skeletal structure, reduced muscle movement, inflamation of brain/ spinal cord dura and inefficient energy utilization. A.G.E.s molecules have been implicated as a cause for Alzheimer's and heart disease.The whole process is called getting old.

Causes of A.G.E.

Peer reviewed research says that diet especially food cooked excessively creates A.G.E. molecules. Tobacco smoking also accelerates the process of generating A.G.E molecules. Presence of sugars in diet give fuel for the glycation reaction. A sedentary lifestyle allows A.G.E. molecules more time to stabilize and attach themselves to the underlying fascial layers.

How to slow this process

Once you understand the mechanical impact of A.G.E molecules then we understand how
Prevent the cotton candy of fascia from getting stuck to stay young
stretching, movement and massage can help in delaying the inevitable process of aging. By stretching we prevent the  fascial layers from adhering and keep them separated. In the end this  prevents the A.G.E molecule from doing their dirty work. Deep massage like Thai Yoga Massage helps to open these adhesion and  the stretching in Thai Yoga Massage  keeps the fascial layers separated. 
Moreover research has revealed a new molecule called Alagebrium from family of molecules called Thiazoles are proven effective as A.G.E cleavers. The company Alteon that has been conducting clinical trials over several years has reported that the Alagebrium has been quite effective and safe in clinical trials on animals. The only problem is that this company ran out of money to complete the trials and was taken over by another company called Synvista Tech. For reasons that are not clear Synvista Tech closed down this research. Pity ,because it means until this pill pops up again, you are back to stretching, massage, dropping the sugar/  carbs in your diet, stopping smoking and exercise. 

Diet to Prevent A.G.E.
1. You might  want to try Red Grape Skin Extract which is proven to prevent A.G.E. 
2. Avoid processed food because most industrially produced food uses heat that causes the protiens in that food to undergo Glycation. Almost two thirds of these A.G.E molecules end up being absorbed by your body and the remaining is excreted via your kidneys.
3. Avoid burning your food because that creates A.G.E molecules to form in the food.
4. Avoid Coffee (that's right!)
5. Stop smoking
6. Hydrate after yoga or massage
7. Eat less and reduce sugar and carbs

Enjoyed this? Join us to learn more about your body and mind. Click here to join our Anatomy of Thai YogaMassage course.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sartorius muscle, Knee pain and Postural Alignment

Swatantra Yoga for the Sartorius Muscle

The Sartorius muscle (in Blue) is one of the lesser known muscles of the human body. It however still it plays a crucial role in knee pain and position of the pelvis and the lumbar curve.

The origin of the name Sartorius arises from the word “sartor” which means tailor in Latin. Perhaps the name arose from the position that tailors sat in the old days, with their legs folded up such that the Sartorius' muscle was kept in a state of contraction.

Sartorius is the longest muscle in the human body. It is a flat and thin muscle, and it has a significant amount of fascia or connective tissue in it. It is divided into several compartments, unlike other skeletal muscles.

Postural implications of the Sartorius.
The Sartorius is a critical postural muscle and plays a crucial role in the angle of pelvic tilt. A tight Sartorius muscle pulls the Anterior Superior Iliac Spine (ASIS) downward resulting in a lordotic lumbar spine. The Sartorius connects from the medial portion of the knee and travels upward to attach to the ASIS.
Anterior Tilt of the Pelvis
 Tightening in the Sartorius results in stress not only in the medial part of the knee but also pulls the pelvic girdle downward front, which can cause excessive Kyphosis of the Thoracic spine and forward Head Carriage and pushes the abdomen forward.

The result is lower back pain and issues with digestion, reproductive functions, and excretion due to the additional pressure on the intestine and pelvic area. It can also result in stress on the spinal column and potential impingement of the spinal nerves arising from L4 and L5.

Downward, the tight Sartorius can create an inward rotation of the knees bringing them into a knock-kneed position. One can also check the condition of Sartorius by imagining that there was a direct line from the kneecap outward.  If those lines point inward, then the Sartorius could be in a tightened situation.

Pain and other chronic implications resulting from a tight Sartorius
Trigger points on the Sartorius' muscle result in pain in the inner knee on the location where the muscle attaches to Tibia. Further trigger points are located all long the belly of the muscle and its path up to the ASIS. A tight Sartorius can also result in a condition called “Meralgia Paraesthetica,”which is a condition describing numbness in the front and outer thigh due to nerve impingement.

The most common symptom is the inability to lie on your side with your knees together as the pain in the inner knee makes this position uncomfortable.

Causes of tightening in the Sartorius
If you are a yogi who sits for a long time in the lotus position while meditating then, you are likely to
Trigger points of the Sartorius
find several fire spots or trigger points (Trps) along the Sartorius as this position keeps the muscle in a contracted state. Also, a sudden extension of the hip i.e. pushing the leg back like when running without warming up can result in trauma in the Sartorius. See the locations of Trps on image (marked in red). The Sartorius is often not the primary cause of postural the therapists should check associated muscle groups like such as the Quads, Psoas, and Adductors.

Self Treatment for a tight Sartorius;
You can sit on the floor or on a chair and palpate the muscle length to locate fire spots that generate a burning sensation. This muscle does not typically produce the same kind of pain as other trigger points. You can use double thumbs to compress and release the trigger points. Check if the spots become less tender in about 1 minute and if the points have softened. Once done proceed to stretching.

Stretching the Sartorius
Stretching the Sartorius
First sit in Vajrasana, then using the arms to support your weight gently fold the spine backward til back is flat on the ground. There should not be too much pain in this position but a light, good pain of stretching and releasing. This position works the Sartorius on both sides. If this position is too intense, then you can work them one at a time like shown here. You should feel the stretch along the entire length of the muscle.

Where Can I learn more?
If you have been doing yoga or massage based on sequences and techniques, it is time to you moved your practice a notch higher by understanding the reason WHY you what you do. Learn Self Healing and Anatomy in the context of Yoga and Massage with three day Swatantra Yoga Course. Get more details here.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Addressing Knee pain using Swatantra Yoga

Pain to Muscle Map
Knee pain is a common issue especially among runners, climbers, and cyclists. Most knee pain arises from a large group of muscles called the quadriceps which cover the front and sides of the thigh.

Overworking these muscles causes shortening and formation of trigger points along the length of the muscle. It causes the thinner tendons of the quadriceps muscles that insert into the Tibia bone to pull at the point of the connection. This gives the sensation of pain in the lower part of the knee.

Often tightening of this muscle cause excessive curvature in the lower back and forward movement of the neck causing lower back pain or even neck pain ( explaining the entire mechanics is beyond the scope of this article).
Below is a diagram of the pain pattern that arises when these muscles are strained, and part of it get blocks/ trigger points.

Knee Joint- 3D
Trp Map- Side
Trp Map- Frontal

What can I do?
If you can identify your pain pattern in the pain map, then select the muscle from the Trp maps and find its location on yourself. Search with light hand along the strained muscle for areas of hardness. These can be identified by hard small ball/knot like formation along the muscle length. Indicative location of such points is shown on the muscle maps.
Step 1: Keep massage ball on vastus lateralis Trp points

Step 2: Roll over and bring moderate pressure onto the Trp

working the septum between vastus lateralis and rectus femoris

Working on Vastus Medialis Trps
Working the Trps of Rectuc Femoris
On locating such knots use a ball or your elbow to press into it. As you increase pressure, exhale out and press into the point where you can feel the most pain. 

Once located regulate the pressure such that it is not unbearable. Keep steady pressure rather than pumping it. While holding the position, breathe normally close your eyes and feel the sensation running down towards you feet. You might most probably feel it running down till your knee. If there are not too many blockages in your calf, then you might even feel it running down to your ankle.
Hold the position for half a minute until the pain subsides. Inhale slowly as you release.
Check if the ball/knot has softened or reduced in size. If not then repeat one more time for thirty seconds.

Now stretch the muscle by sitting in Vajraasana or the backward flip combined. Easy version can be done with the heels up or with a pillow between your calves and hamstrings
Vajrasana- with pillow
Vajrasana- with heels up
Vajrasana -Normal

Vajrasana- Hard
Do it every alternate day and test the area for a reduction in hard knots and overall suppleness along the muscle length. You can also test your ROM   (range of motion) by evolving from heel up Vajrasana to classical Vajrasana to back flip Vajrasana over a few days. If you overdo the pressure on these points, you might feel soreness for a day or two hence it important that you put only as much pressure as you can bear on a trigger point.