Tag Archives: yoga therapy

Understanding Yoga Therapy

A one-on-one complementary alternative medical approach to health and healing.

PeaceYoga Therapy, or yoga chikitsa, is an ancient therapeutic adaptation of yoga used to suit the condition of the individual to help address suffering (dukha) at all levels of the being. This approach to health and healing has gradually evolved, and modern day Yoga Therapy functions independently, as well as a complementary approach to allopathic medicine (modern day western medicine), in supporting health and healing. The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) defines Yoga Therapy as the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.

Western Medicine, or allopathic, practitioners, such as Doctors, Nurses, Physical Therapists, etc., focus on diseases and injuries, and their cures. Yoga Therapists may also work in a curative direction, the primary focus of Yoga Therapy is to work with the individual who has the disease — helping them find greater balance at the levels of the mind, body, and spirit to help reduce suffering. Through the thoughtful and intelligent application of Yoga practices, individuals can gain insight and confidence in the fact that they can improve their condition through their actions. In most cases, this is not a substitute for medical attention, but a complementary approach to improve outcomes at all levels of the being.

Yoga Therapists typically consider the five koshas of the individual including the physical body, the energy body (breath body), emotional body, wisdom or witness body, and the spiritual or bliss body with the understanding that imbalances in any of these layers can result in disease and suffering. A variety of yogic practices, including asana (postures), breath work (pranayama), meditation, intention setting, and affirmations may be utilized to promote greater balance at any of these layers. My Yoga Therapy teacher, Joseph Le Page, M.A., Integrative Yoga Therapy, defines Yoga Therapy as the “facet of the ancient science of Yoga that focuses on health and wellness at all levels of the person: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Yoga therapy focuses on the path of Yoga as a healing journey that brings balance to the body and mind through an experiential understanding of the primary intention of Yoga: Awakening of Spirit, our essential nature.”

Recently the International Association of Yoga Therapy (IAYT) set standards for accrediting Yoga Therapy training programs. These programs must meet standards including at least 600 hours of advanced Yoga Therapy training. Beginning the summer of 2016, the association will begin certifying individual Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). The basic standards for this certification will be graduation from an accredited Yoga Therapy program.

I have been fortunate enough to study Yoga Therapy through Integrative Yoga Therapy, which is an accredited Yoga Therapy Program. I have completed my initial 500 hundred hours of training, and will be grandfathered in as a C-IAYT when the certification process begins. Despite my opportunity to be grandfathered, I continue my Yoga Therapy training to meet the highest standards and expect to complete this process by November 2016. As a professional Physical Therapist of 20+ years, I feel so fortunate to have discovered this complementary therapy, and to be able to make it available to the residents of the Oxford Hills of Maine.

By Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc., physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.  You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

Life Balance – I want it, and I want it now!


Do you ever feel like you just can’t find that sweet spot of optimal life balance?  Like external influences just keep knocking you out of balance?  While day to day life can make this challenging, with attention and mindfulness we can return to a state of peace, harmony, and balance.  To experience and enjoy this state of greater balance, it is helpful to understand what balance is, where your balance point is, and how to go with the flow.

Some words used to describe balance are equilibrium, stability, and steadiness.  From a Physical Therapist’s point of view, postural stability or balance is defined by the center of gravity being within the base of support (more on that below in Chikitsa Chat).  The point is that balance is not static or rigid, it allows for some level of movement and fluidity.  The Empire State Building sways, mountains move, and the earth wobbles.  As Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Below are some steps to help you experience greater balance and ease in your life:

  • Find your center – Stop taking your cues from outside sources telling you what your center is or should be.  You are unique, your center resides in your true essence.  No one – not the experts, the gurus, the media, nor your closest loved ones can tell you where your center is.  Only you know that.  Quiet the distractions and take some time for quiet contemplation to discover your heart’s desire, your calling, and your bliss.
  • Expand your base of support – You can weather the outside influences that tend to push and pull you in many directions by broadening and strengthening your “base of support.”  Instead of focusing on or excelling in, one area of your life, bring attention to all areas including your physical, energetic, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being.  When you do this you will have a stronger and broader base to support yourself and your life purpose.
  • Stop being so rigid – As I mentioned, buildings sway, mountains move, the earth wobbles. When things or people become rigid or do not allow for movement, then there are only two options – perfect balance (Not sustainable) of being completely out of balance.  By releasing rigid expectations, perceptions, and attachment to rules we allow greater fluidity and ease into our lives and experience greater balance.
  • Streamline, simplify – When we become overloaded or overwhelmed we become “top heavy” making it easier to fall out of balance and making it more difficult to move back to our center.  Learn to say no – no to things, extra duties, excess baggage that do not enrich your life.  As you lighten the load, you will experience greater ease, joy, and equanimity in all aspects of your life.
  • Step out of your comfort zone – Life is not comfortable.  Throughout a lifetime, we will have many uncomfortable experiences.  The more that we practice stepping out of our comfort zone, the more prepared we are to respond to these challenging times without totally losing our balance and having to struggle to get our feet back under us.  Hang glide, strike up a conversation with a stranger, dance naked in your living room, sit in silent contemplation – anything to challenge yourself and embrace new experiences.

Lastly, if you fall out of balance, it’s OK.  Simply learn from the experience, brush yourself off, and step back into your center.

“No person, no place, and nothing has any power over us, for ‘we’ are the only thinkers in our mind. When we create peace and harmony and balance in our minds, we will find it in our lives.” ~ Louise L. Hay

PosabilitiesBy Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

What is Somatics?


thomashannaquote-1Somatics is generally understood as being an approach that addresses mind-body integration.  Pioneers in the area of Somatics were Moshe Feldenkrais and Thomas Hanna.  The term Somatics was coined by Thomas Hanna in the 1970s.

I was first introduced to Somatics during my Physical Therapy training as part of our exposure to “alternative” therapeutic techniques.  Since then I have attended Feldenkrais continuing education courses, and Hanna Somatic techniques have been an integral part of my Yoga Therapy training.  Over the years, I have enjoyed using these techniques with Physical Therapy and Yoga Therapy clients, in Therapeutic yoga classes, and for myself when I have suffered from restrictive tightness or discomfort.

The term Somatics is derived from the word somatic which pertains to awareness of the living body as it is experienced and regulated from the internal environment.  Somatics techniques strive to strengthen integration between the mind and body and to decrease restrictions within the mind and/or body.

So, you may be saying to yourself, “That all sounds great Katey, but I’m still not sure that I understand what Somatics techniques are.”  Essentially, Somatics are movement sequences that have been designed to support natural patterns of the body and mind.  These movement sequences can be performed as independent exercises or as guided movements with the supportive touch of a Somatics practitioner.  Each movement of the sequence is repeated a number of times using small, subtle motions while bringing your attention to any sensations that may arise in your body, breath, or thought patterns.  Between each movement in the sequence, you rest quietly.  Many of these sequences you can complete in 5-10 minutes.  I always encourage individuals to practice these techniques in a quiet, relaxing setting free of distractions, and at a time when they are not in a hurry to rush off to something else.  This way the full benefits of these techniques can be experienced.

Frequently people share that they are amazed how doing so little can make such a big difference.  Truly an exercise in the concept of less is more.  The benefits from Somatics can be many and varied, including:

  • photo-9Control of acute and chronic pain
  • Improved flexibility and strength
  • Increased voluntary control over habitually tight muscles
  • Enhanced mobility and coordination
  • Improved posture
  • Re-established normal breathing patterns
  • Improved balance and awareness of the position of one’s body
  • Stress relief and relaxation

Through the practice of Somatics, you can support your mind in becoming more in tune with your body, and experience growth, change, and transformation regardless of your health status or age.  If you are interested in learning more about Somatics or experiencing Somatics I would encourage you to visit the Hanna and Feldenkrais websites, find a trained Somatics practitioner in your area, or a Physical Therapist or Yoga Therapist in your area who has training in Somatics.

Less is more.” ~ Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

What is … Yoga Therapy?

The topic of last week’s “What is” blog was Physical Therapy.  Most people are somewhat familiar with Physical Therapy, but Yoga Therapy is much less familiar.  I have to admit, I didn’t even know that Yoga Therapy existed as a discipline until two years ago!  Although Yoga Therapy is fairly new on the scene in the Western World, it is gaining more and more recognition in the medical community.

Yoga was first introduced to the US in 1893 by Swami Vivekananda.  A little less than 100 years after that Yoga Therapy became recognized in the United States with Dr. Dean Ornish’s study that showed that therapeutic yoga, meditation, dietary changes, and other lifestyle changes could reverse the effects of heart disease.  Dr. Ornish’s “Program for Reversing Heart Disease” got approved for health insurance coverage in 1990, and it opened the door for yoga therapy gradually to make its way into mainstream medicine.

So, what is Yoga Therapy?  According to one of my Yoga Therapy teachers, Joseph LePage, M.A., “Yoga therapy is that facet of the ancient science of Yoga that focuses on health and wellness at all levels of the person: physical, psychological, and spiritual.  Yoga therapy focuses on the path of Yoga as a healing journey that brings balance to the body and mind through an experiential understanding of the primary intention of Yoga: awakening of Spirit, our essential nature.”  (Integrative Yoga Therapy (U.S.A.), Joseph LePage, M.A.)  

OK… So, what are the differences between Yoga, Yoga Therapy, and Physical Therapy?

This is not a simple question to answer, but I will try my best using the table below.

Yoga Yoga Therapy Physical Therapy
Systems addressed May address physical, psychological, and spiritual levels of the student. Addresses the 5  Koshas – Physical body, energetic/breath body, emotional body, wisdom/ witness body, and bliss body or the essence of the individual. Addresses primarily the physical body – with a focus on the musculoskeletal & neurological systems, may incorporate breath work in support of the physical systems.
Techniques used In the US primarily Yoga postures/ Asanas, as well as breath work/pranayama, relaxation, & meditation. Yoga postures/Asanas, somatics, breath work/ pranayama, techniques to direct energy including mudras, self inquiry with the support of yogic texts, relaxation, meditation, and yoga nidra. Hands on manual techniques, physical agents to address pain and inflammation, education, therapeutic exercise, neuromuscular retraining, functional retraining.
Approaches Classes or sessions that may be centered on a specific intention such as hip openers, strengthening the core, quieting the neurological system, etc. Guided self inquiry –  support of an inquiry of where imbalances may reside, and how to bring greater support to the self as whole to decrease pain and suffering. Hands on techniques, modalities, education, and prescriptive home exercises/ activities to decrease pain and increase function

So, which is the right one for me?  

This does not need to be an either/or proposition.  Any of these approaches can stand alone, or complement the other.  Additionally, I did not discuss the role of Yoga Therapy in addressing psycho emotional challenges.  Yoga Therapy may also be beneficial in addressing depression and anxiety.  If you are unsure of the appropriate approach for you, discuss this with a trusted health and well being professional.

If I am interested in Yoga Therapy, how do I find a Yoga Therapist?  

Currently, there are no regulations around who can claim to be a Yoga Therapist, so buyer beware.  This may soon be changing though.  The International Association of Yoga therapists has passed requirements for Yoga Therapy training programs including an additional 600 hours of training beyond the initial 200 hours of teacher training.  (www.iayt.org/Documents/IAYT_Educational%20Standards_final_7-1-2012.pdf)  If you are considering a Yoga Therapist ask them where they received their training, and then check out that program.  As in any profession, credentials don’t guarantee anything except that an individual has met minimum requirements of training and education.  Beyond that, talk with the therapist that you are considering and look for reliable references to ensure they will be a good fit for you.

kt-photo-300-frameOK Katey, so what is your training?  

After completing my 200 hour yoga teacher training, I completed one months worth of intense Yoga Therapy training through Integrative Yoga Therapy  (www.iytyogatherapy.com/).  I am preparing to begin my final stage to receive my initial 500 hour PYT (Professional Yoga Therapist Certification) and then will continue on to complete my 1,000 hours of training as a Yoga and Yoga Therapy professional.  I know that to some of you Yoga Therapy may sound a bit fluffy, but I can assure you that after 20 years of practice as a Physical Therapy,  I was amazed and impressed with the depth of knowledge and teaching that was provided in my training.  I feel very strongly that my abilities as a Physical Therapist have been boosted by my Yoga Therapy training, just as much as I feel that my Physical Therapy background has supported and strengthened my abilities as a Yoga Therapist.  I truly feel blessed by the lineage and professionalism in both of these fields.

The part can never be well unless the whole is well.”  ~ Plato

Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc.., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

The Path to Posabilities

Posabilities was not a life long dream come true.  If you had asked me two years before I started Posabilities, it would not have even been on my radar!  So you might say it came pounding on my door and said, “Katey, you’ve got to do this!”

Flashback about two years ago.  I had been practicing as a Physical Therapist for 20 years and held a comfortable (if not always fun) middle management position with a large health care provider.  I love being a Physical Therapist, but after 20 years I was feeling like I needed a new challenge.  At the same time, I was enjoying the many benefits of my own regular yoga practice.  So a reasonable option seemed to be to pursue my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT).  I could continue with my secure full time job, and teach a yoga class or two as a side “hobby job.”

I started down the path of finding an YTT program that I could attend in my spare time.  One day, I casually  asked Amy Figoli, owner of the Maine Yoga House, if she knew of any YTT programs that would fit my schedule, and lo and behold she was preparing to offer her first one that next fall and it would be a weekend format which was perfect for me!  Rap, rap, someone’s at the door!

Fall arrived, and I began to open the door a crack as I started my YTT.  How exciting!  Wait, this is intense.  In addition to the once a month three day training, I have to show up at class twice a week?  I need to practice yoga every day?  I need to write papers, read books, and OMG! I have to delve into some deep self-inquiry?  My employer had allowed me some flexibility around my seven month training, but I was going to need way more flexibility than they could offer.  I’d opened the door a crack to check things out, but I was being asked to open it even wider.  What to do?  Open it some more? Close it?  Stand back a safe distance and peak through it?  Rap rap.

I opened the door a little more, left my secure middle management position, and went back to direct patient care which allowed me greater flexibility.  This was great!  In addition to greater flexibility in my schedule, I was occasionally able to use yoga postures with patients on their road to recovery. After 20 years as a Physical Therapist I was having an epiphany.  These yoga postures were having significant positive effects on my patient’s outcomes.  Calming of the nervous system, decreased pain response, improved posture and body awareness, and the patients loved it!  At the same time, I made the discovery that there was a whole field out there called Yoga Therapy.  The rap rap was becoming a knock, knock.

My pursuit of a hobby job was becoming a calling.  Knock knock – “Come on Katey.  Open the door and step through it.”  Despite some misgivings, with the urging of my husband, Jeff, I opened the door wider.  I committed to a 300 hour Professional Yoga Therapist trainingand headed out to Tucson for my first two week module.  Surrounded by inspiring instructors, Yoga Therapists, and fellow students the knocking at the door was becoming more and more persistent.  I began to formulate a vision.  My vision included a space housing a studio and a clinic space where I could offer Physical Therapy, Yoga, and Yoga Therapy, other instructors, and health and wellness providerssharing that space with me, and the space would be close to Main Street. This vision had a name, Posabilities, and I envisioned a time line of three to four years…

Bam, bam, bam – come out from behind that door!  Four months (not years that I had planned) after my vision had begun to gel my husband found a building one block off of Main Street, Norway that could be retrofitted to be fully accessible, and include a studio and clinic space for myself and other practitioners.  Again, I had my misgivings, but the universe rarely knocks twice, and Jeff continued to support and urge me forward.  So I stepped through the door and headed down the path to Posabilities!

Posabilites_11082012_GraphicPosabilities has now been open for four months, and I have been blessed by the many people that have traveled and continue to travel the path with me.  My YTT instructor, Amy Figoli, and my sister in law, Ruth lead me to the door and urged me to open it.  The OH Yoga! instructors (more on OH Yoga! next week), and the other collaborators at Posabilities have brought  richness to the journey that I could never have manifested on my own.  My husband, Jeff, has been with me every step of the way – sometimes leading, sometimes following, but usually right by my side, and never letting me turn back or take the easier path.  And finally, the members of the growing Posabilities community who sustain and nourish me as we continue to forge the path forward!

Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.”  ~ Tony Robbins

Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc.., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

I’ve gotta go – NOW!

Connie Continence – “Hey, I’ve got an idea! Wanna go for a ride and check out the scenery?”
Overactive Odette – “Oh, I’d love to, it’s so pretty out, but I can’t. We’d be too far away from a bathroom.”
C – “Oh,OK. How about we go to the beach?”
O – “Seriously? You know I can’t do that. The bathrooms are way back by the parking lot, too far from the beach. I’d never make it. Plus, the sound of the waves? Forget about it!”
C – “Huh, bummer. Well how about the mall? There are bathrooms there.”
O – “If we can go online and pull up a map of the mall showing the bathrooms I guess we could do that.”

Connie Continence is fortunate to have normal bladder control, while her good friend, Overactive Odette, suffers from overactive bladder (OAB), or urge incontinence (UI).  Urge incontinence is the strong, sudden need to urinate due to bladder spasms or contractions.  The symptoms of urge incontinence, or OAB, can be triggered by things such as turning a key in the door, washing dishes (Remember the old trick of  putting someone’s hand in a bucket of warm water?), or hearing running water.  As compared to stress incontinence where small leaks occur, urge incontinence leaks are usually of a larger scale emptying almost all of the contents of the bladder.  One in five adults over the age of 40 are affected by OAB or recurrent symptoms of urgency and frequency, a portion of whom don’t reach the toilet before losing urine. (http://www.nafc.org/media/statistics/urge-incontinence-and-oab/)  There are many different potential causes of urge incontinence, and in many cases the cause cannot be identified.  If you experience overactive bladder or urge incontinence you should discuss this with your healthcare provider to rule out any potential medical causes for the problem.

Mixed incontinence is when an individual suffers both from stress incontinence and the urge of the stress incontinence.  Typically it starts with stress incontinence.  As a result of the stress incontinence the individual may decide to use the facilities before they feel the urge, “just in case.”  As a result they rarely allow the bladder to completely fill.  Over time the nervous system becomes “reset” and sends a message to the brain that the bladder is full and must empty before it is anywhere near being full.  The lesson here is that you should be cautious about forming a habit of regularly urinating before you feel the urge.

So, what is one to do about urge incontinence?  Once medical problems are discussed and addressed with your healthcare provider you may consider behavioral treatments, medications, electrical stimulation, and/or surgery.

Behavioral treatments that I frequently recommend as a Physical Therapist and Yoga Therapist are:

1) Lifestyle changes (See my blog, “Control Issues”.)

2) Urge suppression techniques that help calm the nervous system include belly breathing, sequential muscle relaxation, and visualization of being in a relaxed soothing environment.  These techniques can be practiced on a daily basis.  Other possibilities include meditation techniques and yogic breath techniques that help calm the nervous system.

3) Bladder training – With bladder training you determine when you are going to urinate rather than responding to the bladder anytime that it sends a message that it “has to go really bad.”  The goal is to gradually increase the time between trips to the bathroom up to anywhere between 2-5 hours during the day, and 1-2 trips to the bathroom at night – which are normal frequencies.  Here is a guideline for retraining your bladder.

  • Figure out how often you typically experience the urge to urinate.
    • every __________  hours
  • For the 1st week, during the day, go to the bathroom at this same interval or a little less, whether you feel the urge or not.  (For example, if you usually have to go every 60 minutes, go every 45 minutes whether you have to or not.)
    • Week 1 every _________  hours
  • Each week increase the interval between trips to the bathroom by about 15 minutes
    • Week 2 every _________ hours
    • Week 3 every _________ hours
    • Week 4 every __________ hours
    • And so on until you are able to comfortably spread trips to bathroom out to every 2-5 hours.
  • If you feel the urge to urinate before the scheduled time:
    • Stand or sit quietly until the strong urge passes.
    • To help quiet the urge practice the urge suppression technique (above) that works best for you
    • You can also practice 3 quick contractions or lifts of the pelvic floor as mentioned in my blog “I laughed so hard tears ran down my legs” )
    • If at all possible, once the urge has passed, wait until the next scheduled time to void.
    • If you cannot wait until the next scheduled time be sure to walk SLOWLY to the bathroom.  Rushing stimulates the nervous system and bladder, and can increase the risk of an accidental leak.

If you suffer from urge incontinence consider taking steps to control your bladder, rather than letting your bladder control your life.  Studies have shown success rates up to 75% for improvements in bladder control with bladder re-training, and 12% for complete resolution of the problem.  Consider discussing these symptoms with your healthcare provider, making lifestyle changes, and consulting with an individual trained in Yoga Therapy or Meditation techniques to help you master approaches to quiet your nervous system, and/or a Physical Therapist who is knowledgeable in pelvic floor dysfunction if you have mixed incontinence.

We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators of circumstance.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc.., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

Embracing Your Core

Last week, when I wrote about accessing the core, I was referring to the deep core muscles of your abdomen that provide your body with strength, stability, and vitality.  This week the topic is the core of your being.  “Whoa, the core of my being, do you really want to go there?”  Sure!  Why not!

In yoga therapy, we use the koshas to represent the layers of our being with atman at the very center representing our true self or essence.  Unlike the core muscles of the trunk which can become weak or inflexible, atman, or your essence, is enduring and unchanging. What can change is your connection with and awareness of your essence.

The koshas or layers that make up your being are the physical body (annamaya kosha), energy or breath body (pranamaya kosha), emotional body (manamaya kosha), wisdom or witness body (vijnanamaya kosha), and bliss body (anandamaya kosha).  When these koshas become imbalanced or distorted your perception of your essence changes.  Just like the sun never changes even though it may seem to dim with the clouds, your essence never changes even though it may seem to waiver with imbalances in other areas.  When we bring balance to the physical, energy, emotional, wisdom and bliss bodies our essence shines brightly, just like the sun shines brightly when the clouds are cleared away.

There are many approaches that you can use to achieve greater balance and reconnect with your true essence.  Some approaches include:

  1. Get out into nature, feeling the earth, and breathing in fresh air.
  2. Meditate, including sitting meditation, practicing mindfulness, or praying.
  3. Practice Yoga including yoga postures, yogic breath techniques, and mudras.
  4. Eat mindfully and nutritiously, and drink adequate amounts of water.
  5. Surround yourself with people that love and support you.
  6. Get enough sleep.
  7. Read philosophical or spiritual texts.
  8. Engage in creative outlets that you enjoy.

Just as strong, flexible, and engaged core muscles provide your body with strength, ease of movement, and vitality, a strong connection to your true essence allows you to find greater contentment and harmony in your life and experience your bliss.

Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted — in body, mind, and heart — and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow — or we begin to flow more in our lives.” ~ Cybele Tomlinson

Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc.., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

Accessing the Core

There is a lot of talk about “the core”, and just as much confusion.  In functional anatomical terms what are we talking about when we discuss the core, why is it important, and how do we access it?

When we talk about the core we typically are referring to the collection of muscles that surround and support the abdominal region, and that stabilize the spine.  These muscles include all of the abdominal muscles, the posterior spinal muscles, the pelvic floor muscles, and the diaphragm.

When these muscles are strong, flexible, and working together in a coordinated manner we experience greater strength, ease of movement, and vitality.  It is when these core stabilizers become imbalanced with each other that we can get into trouble and begin experiencing dys-function and possibly pain.  Your spine is naturally curved in a gentle S-curve when viewed from the side.  This curve allows your body to evenly distribute body weight and provide shock absorption as you move through your daily live.  If your “core” muscles become overly weak, strong, flexible, tight, or are not working together in a coordinated manner the curves in your spine can begin to distort leading to degeneration, pain, and eventual decreased functional abilities.

There is no one, (or two or three…) magic exercise for the core.  The first and most important step is to bring your awareness to your core muscles and learn to engage them in a balanced and coordinated manner.  Here are a few of my favorite approaches to do just that:

  1. Table push downs:  Sitting in front of a table with your feet resting flat on the floor, and your hands on top of the table palms down, focus keeping your elbows in at your sides and your shoulders down as you press your hands down into the table.  Exhale as you push down and hold for a count of three, and then relax.  As you do this you should feel a gentle tightening and drawing in of your lower abdomen.  This is your TVA (transversus abdominis) which is your deepest abdominal muscle.  The great thing is that when ever you engage your TVA your pelvic floor muscles are engaged also, so this is a 2 for 1!
    (It has been estimated that the contraction of the TVA and other muscles reduces vertical pressure on the intervertebral discs bays as much as 40%.  *Hodges P.W., Richardson C.A., Contraction of the abdominal muscles associated with movement of the lower Limb.  Physical Therapy. Vol. 77 No. 2 February 1997.)
  2. Table push ups:  Still sitting in front of the table, bring your hands into loose fists with the thumb side of the hand facing up and place your hands underneath the edge of the table.  Continuing to keep your elbows in at your sides and shoulders down, inhale and press your hands up into the table for a count of 3, then relax.  When you do this you should feel the small muscles on either side of your lower spine engage.  These are your multifidi muscles.  These muscles are a group of deep spinal muscles that run up and down the spine each spanning 3 joint segments.  These muscles offer stability to help the vertebra work more effectively, and reduce degeneration of the joints of the spine.
  3. Weighted inhalations:  Lying down on your back with a 1-2 pound bag of rice or beans on your belly right below your ribs, breathe in deeply through your nose filling out your belly so that the bag rises, then exhale relaxing and softening the belly.  This helps engage the diaphragm as you breathe in.  The diaphragm is your primary respiratory muscle and separates your thoracic cavity from your abdominal cavity.  This muscle connects with your TVA, as well as the top 3 vertebrae of your lumbar spine.  You can gradually increase the weight of the bag up to 5 lbs as long as you do not have a compromised respiratory system (COPD, asthma) and using higher weights is not indicated with young children or the elderly.
  4. Somatics:  Most Somatics sequences (Feldenkrais, Hanna) focus on coordinating movements in the core, alone with the breath.  These are a resting exercise of mindfulness of movement and can help you increase your awareness of your core, and improve your engagement of the core.  In addition to Somatics, Yoga and Pilates are two great ways to improve balance and coordination in your core since they focus on the entire body, rather than just isolating out one muscle at a time.  Enjoy taking some time getting familiar with your deepest core muscles and reaping the results in increased health, well being, and vitality.

“My strength comes from the abdomen.  It’s the center of gravity and the source of real power.” ~Bruce Lee

Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc.., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .

Posabilities Grand Opening-A Big Success

Our Grand Opening on January 26, 2013 turned out to be a wonderful day!  Thank you to everyone who participated in the day’s events. Our goal is to provide a peaceful space for all to enjoy, relax, restore, heal and be happy!

Our local news agencies helped us celebrate this grand opening:

To read the article from the Advertiser Democrat, click here.

To read the article from the Sun Journal, click here.

Here are a view photos from the folks who joined us for the evening activities:

Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc.., is a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.

You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and .