Most yoga students know alignment is important, but what IS “good alignment,” and how can you use this awareness to get the most out of your practice? In this fun, experiential afternoon workshop, we will explore what is “neutral:” the archetype of key asanas (poses), through the lens of their functional anatomical architecture as well as how they move prana (life energy). As we learn to move towards neutral, our habit patterns become clear, and we can begin to free ourselves from these often destructive habits and move into greater vitality and freedom, not only in our bodies, but also our minds.
Private Sessions with Avery will also be available. Please contact her at email@example.com to make an appointment.
for more information on the workshop, and to sign up visit
Organizing the femur in the hip socket is foundational to nearly every other action we explore in our yoga practice. Similar to “quieting the mind,” femur grounding is not an action we do, and then it is done, rather it is like a search for a holy grail in that it is a
moment to moment awareness, a sense that develops over time, and that is key to shifting other patterns in the body, nervous system, and mind. The term and concept of “grounding the femur” was taught to me by my primary teacher, Kim Schwartz, who learned it from Ramanand Patel, a student of BKS Iyengar.
I hope you develop awareness of this experiment in hip stability and take it into you day, when you drive, stand in line at the bank, and sit at your workspace. As you play with getting grounded as you move through your life, you will shift away from the habitual/ familiar and into a more free, deliberate, healthy and capable way of being in your body. The ability to experience the following list of actions and releases depend on the femur being grounded. Finding this action alone will not create all the results on this list, such as inner body length, but it is an essential component for these experiences to be successfully explored.
Some Benefits of “Grounding the Femur”
-Ability to relax the inner organs. When the inner organs hold habitual tension, the breath is inhibited and circulation through the vital systems decrease. As the visceral body relaxes both circulation and breath become more full, healthy, and effective.
-The illio psoas can lengthen, which is key to releasing the kidney area and finding balance in the nervous system. If the psoas is tight, this can “pull” on the kidney area, creating restriction and over-stimulating the adrenal glands.
-The neutral curves of the spine are supported.
-The angle of the pelvis allows sacrum to sit in a stable position.
-The ligaments in the groin area are protected from being over stretched.
-The femoral artery, which delivers blood to the lower body, has space; this artery is compressed when the femurs push forward, hardening the groins. Because of this, restless leg syndrome, and issues with numbness and circulation can be assisted by femur grounding.
-The sciatic nerve has healthy support and is not compressed. If the femurs are pushed forward, the sacrum is often destabilized, so the periformis tends to grip up in compensation, compressing the sciatic nerve, (one cause of sciatica) which can be painful.
–The knees are protected from hyperextension, if the knees tend towards this pattern which is damaging for the knee joint over time.
-The bones of the legs transfer weight to the earth effectively, minimizing strain on the joints of the lower body. Femur grounding also helps allow the bones, which are constantly regenerating and reforming themselves, to develop in a healthy, thick, strong form.
-Healthy weight distribution in the feet become possible, allowing the heels to bear the weight of the body so that the metatarsals in the feet can broaden and the toes can spread wide, helping avoid or diminish bunions and other issues in the feet.
-The lower body is stable so that the spine, shoulders, and neck, and head position can also become grounded, spacious, and at ease.
-Inner body length is possible, which creates groin length, decompresses the intervertebral discs, and allows for subtler yogic techniques to be performed effectively, such as the 3 bandhas (energy locks, or valves) and pranayama (regulation of the breath)
-Access to good organization, pelvic floor strength, and the lift out of gravity required for active inversions like sarvangasnana (“no limbs pose,” or shoulder stand) and sirasasana (headstand) and more complex asanas, such as large backbends like urdva danurasansa (upward bow pose).
-We feel supported and centered in the body, which allows us to be more focused, aware, calm, grounded, and available, emotionally and psychologically.
(This list reflects my personal experience and learning, and is not intended as medical advice or treatment. Yoga can be a wonderful compliment to allopathic treatment but if you suffer from a medical condition please consult your doctor.)
Helpful Definitions &Terms:
Femur: The thigh bone. Femur Grounding: The action of drawing the inner head of the femur into the center back of the hip socket. To find an example of this feeling in your own body, stand in tadasana, and hold a yoga block between the upper thighs. Make sure the joints of the legs are parallel. Pull the block back between the thighs, like you are trying to push it back towards the wall behind you. Notice if the knees are trying to do this action,
and resist the calves forward into the shins as you move the inner head of the femur back. This will deepen the groins, align the leg bones over the center of the heels, and increase lumbar lordosis. Now for the other half of the equation: without pushing the block forward, SQUEEZE the block, like you are trying to crush it. This action should engage the upper thighs, bottom buttocks, and the space between the sitting bones, the lateral pelvic floor. Notice how these combined actions create a strong base from which the spine can rise up out of, particularly in the kidney area. Use this as a reference point for the action in the legs in tadasana, as well as many other poses.
Ligaments: Strong, fibrous connective tissues that connect bone to bone. Unlike muscles that engage and release, ligaments should not be stretched out, since they will not “go back.” The ligaments that connect to the head of the femur include the iliofemoral ligaments, which limit hyperextension and lateral/ external rotation, the pubofemoral ligament which limits extension and abduction, and the ischiofemoral ligament which limits extension and medial/ internal rotation. The deeper we can organize the femur on the socket, the more these ligaments can do their job of holding this deeply stable joint in place while supporting healthy range of motion. If the organization is compromised, for instance when flexibility without alignment is forced upon the body, these ligaments become over-lengthened, which strains them and makes their job harder, resulting in various individualized patterns of muscular tightening throughout the hips, including sometimes, in the muscles of the pelvic floor, which can alter the symmetry and stability of the pelvic girdle. We want to protect the ligaments from getting stretched so that they can do their job of binding the inner head of the femur into that perfectly formed acetabulum, or, inner surface of the hip socket. When they are safe, healthy muscular and joint mobility will increase in a more healthy, effective manner.
Groin Depth: Occurs from the femur moving back in the hip socket. Untucking the sitting bones or bringing the pelvis into an anterior tilt doesn’t on it’s own create groin depth, but it is the first step in creating space for groin depth to happen.
Groin Length: Occurs because of inner body length. Whereas groin depth is more in the plane of front-to-back, groin length refers to length along the vertical axis. We want both groin length and groin depth, though depth precedes length. Sometimes this action can be sensed as vertical “spaciousness” in the hip joint, where the head of the femur is no longer grinding against the top of the acetabulum. This action is important, when we consider that often when a hip replacement takes place the head of the femur as well as the top frontal region of the acetabulum have to be rebuilt. This inner body length includes length in the kidney area and the lift of the inner walls of the rib cage and sternum. Groin length relates to udyiana, or the 2nd bandha, which translates as “flying up.”
Lateral Femur Grounding: Once groin depth and length have been established, then containing the outer head of the femur, or greater trochanter, in medially (towards the midline) is an important dimension to explore. Especially if you stand with one hip pushed out the the side, possibly with a toddler sitting on top, you may be able to get a sense of the strain this can put on the hip joint. In standing poses, watch for the front leg, does the hip want to “lean out” beyond where the ankle and knee are? Strong thighs and bottom buttocks help to create containment here, so that the tension of compensating muscles groups can release, supporting healthy range of motion and stability.
Adduction: Moves the leg medially, in towards the midline of the body.
Abduction: Moves the leg away from the body. The leg can abduct or adduct either in neutral, external, or internal rotation.
Flexion: In the spine, flexion means the back of the spine is longer than the front, as in a forward bend. In hip flexion, imagine a tiny spine in the front of your hip joint: the front of the hip joint is very deeply folded. During poses with deep hip flexion, inner body length/ groin length is important.
Extension: In the spine, this means the front spine is longer or more open than the back spine, like in a backbend. When we say hip extension, the groin area is lengthening and opening wide. In poses which require this action femur grounding is very important to support the length of the spine.
Neutral Spine: The spine is healthiest and has the most length when it has a curvaceous shape. There are 4 parts of the spine: The cervical (neck), thoracic (where the ribs connect), lumbar (lower spine) and the sacral (5 or so fused vertebrae which comprise the sacrum, and the coccyx at the very bottom). The cervical and lumbar regions curve inward, in extension, and the thoracic and sacral areas curve outwards, or in flexion. So, the intervertebral discs have the most space when they are in their curved shape. The amount of curve depends on everyones unique spine. Ideally, we want to cultivate the deepest lumber extension at the base of the L4 L5, (NOT the kidney area which is more common for most folks) and the deepest thoracic flexion at the mid thoracic region, around T6. The curve of the lumbar echos the curve of the cervical: we want T1 deep, and L5 deep. When one is out, the other most likely is compromised. For many bodies, checking to see if L4/L5 area is in is a good sign that the femurs are back in the hip sockets.
Kidney Area: Describes the physical and energetic area around the T12-L1 juncture, where the fist-sized kidneys are located, tucked up under the back of the lower ribs. Energetically, this area corresponds to manipura chakra, which mean “city of jewels,” and relates to fire, passion, and willpower, and when tight, can create feelings of force, anger, or aggression, leading to fatigue. Kidney gripping relates to over stimulated adrenal glands, as the adrenals are located as thought “sitting” on top of the kidneys.
Asana: A stable, comfortable posture.
Ayurvedic terms: Dosha: in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the three biological humors or energies (kapha, pitta, vata) which combine in various proportions to determine individual constitution and mental and physical disorders. We can look at many things in terms of the 3 doshas: Body types, weather, areas on the planet, foods, types of yoga practice. In sanskrit: “fault, disease.” Vata: Relates to air/ ether, movement, change. People with high vata are irregular and erratic, with appetite and sexual desire varying between extremes. They sleep lightly, are easily disturbed and prone to insomnia. Their speech and movement is usually fast, and they are talkative and enjoy all forms of communication. Their pulse is fast, weak and irregular. They dislike cold, windy or dry environments and feel chilled quickly or shiver easily. Extremities (hands and feet) are often cold, or become cold easily. Mentally and emotionally they are rapid. They gather information or display emotions quickly, or determine swiftly whether they like or dislike something. While they learn quickly and are usually intellectual, their retention is poor. Money is spent quickly and impulsively. They demonstrate high creativity, innovation and sensitivity. In excess, vata can show up as anxiety, feeling scattered, overwhelmed, spread too thin, indecision, rushing around while exhausted, accidents due to multitasking, exhaustion, constipation… ultimately feeling ungrounded. Poses and practices which ground the femur are very effective for quieting vata, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I regularly teach an afternoon worlshop on femur grounding. Please see my current listings under the classes and workshops section to view my upcoming classes.
Prenatal Yoga is one of the most effective, safe, and enjoyable ways to increase comfort during pregnancy and prepare for an empowered birth. Partner Yoga offers a uniquely nurturing way to experience deeper awareness, strength, stability, and release. These two practices combine gracefully and can help to ease discomfort during pregnancy and prepare both mom and partner for birth.
Some Benefits of Partner Yoga as Birth Preparation:
~Increase body awareness, and the ability to breathe through the moment.
~Helps increase confidence in birth partners and their ability to support the birthing Mom.
~Partner assists allow for deeper release and organization in yoga poses, allowing for more effective relief from common issues that arise in the pregnant body, such as back pain, sciatica, leg cramps, leg swelling, acid reflux, exhaustion, stiff muscles, and/or insomnia.
~Explores touch as a gateway for the focus to move away from the mind (where fear resides) and into embodied presence.
~Releases Oxytocin, which assists in shifting out of fight/flight mode and into the parasympathetic mode, thus increasing feelings of safety, relaxation, pleasure, and connection. This shift is essential for labor hormones to be released and allow for the deepening intensity of contractions to build. Oxytocin is released in large amounts after distension of the cervix and uterus during labor, facilitating birth, maternal bonding, and, after birth, stimulation of the nipples, and lactation.
~Brings awareness to multiple areas of the body at once, helping to diffuse mental tension and refresh the nervous system.
~Allows for increased attention, insight, compassion, and gentle encouragement from the helping partner, which often allows the person performing the asana to feel safe to go deeper, gain new understanding on their alignment, or be able to experience subtle but key actions in the pose.
~Creates a fun, expressive experience of unity and trust between partners, and creates a nurturing time and space to connect with your new baby!
Want to learn more? Join Emily and Avery for an upcoming Prenatal Partner Yoga Workshop Sunday, Feb 23, 2-5 pm at High Desert Yoga in Nob Hill, Albuquerque NM. Both mom and partner will experience all poses, so that both can benefit from -and enjoy- dynamic active poses followed by gentle restorative poses. The workshop will include guided partner relaxation, focused connection with each other and your sweet baby, and experiential education about anatomy, the breath, and techniques you can use together to ease labor. Experience the healing, relaxing power of touch. Open to moms and any birth partner – husbands, dads, doulas, midwives, sisters, wives, etc. A great way to honor your journey together! Also open to birth professionals, yoga teachers, and yoga teacher trainees, who are looking for more hands on experience with safe techniques and assisted poses from pregnant moms.
In preparation for my upcoming workshop, “Body-Mind Detox with Restorative Yoga,” I am having a fun time exploring how to make some of the more traditional cleansing poses, such as marichayasana II, (pictured below) accessible to folks who don’t have the hip organization that would allow these deep forward bends and twists, which utilize tonifying pressure to release the vital organs. I am excited to explore these adaptions with my students: creative uses of props and self massage to mimic what my heel is doing here to bring deep release, and circulation to visceral body.
In this workshop, however, we will be focusing on more than just physical cleansing. Vedic philosophy discusses 5 koshas, which are sheaths, or “layers”of our subjective being, and our yoga practice can affect all of the koshas. In this afternoon workshop, we will experientially explore, through the lens of the 5 koshas, supported, long held yoga poses combined with guided relaxation, journalling exercises, and breath work as a way to help release toxins, nourish, and heal. We will use guided pratyahara, or “sense withdrawal,” to bring the awareness deep within, honing our ability to sense subtlety. From here we will restore and cleanse. Physically let’s replenish the vital organs, nervous system, hormonal balance, and circulation. Emotionally, energetically, mentally, let’s let go of imbalanced patterns and destructive beliefs.
Then from a centered space, we can create new reference points for being present, non-reactive, and vibrantly alive. Wonderful on its own, or as a supplement to your New Year’s cleansing/ health program, this workshop will leave you feeling deeply relaxed and freed up from burdens of the past.
This workshop will be appropriate for every body. Please wear warm, non-restrictive clothing, and if possible bring a glass/cup you like and a journal. Purified water with organic lemon, chloroxygen water, and blood purifying herbal tea will be available throughout the workshop.
Experience it! Saturday, Feb.1st 2‐5pm
Cost: $40 pre-registered, $45 at the door. (Plus tax)
Register at our studio in Albuquerque NM, call 505.232.9642, or sign up at highdesertyoga.com
Wed Nov 13, 2013: RELAXATION FOR PLEASURE & ORGASM
Both classes are 7:30-9pm at the Self Serve Store in Nob Hill, Albuquerque. Preregister HERE or call 505-265-5815.
Yoga practice can create access to your ability to feel what is happening in the body, strengthen your confidence in your body/ mind ability, balance hormones, build awareness, tone, and ability to relax the pelvic floor muscles and pelvic & abdominal organs, increase circulation and oxygen to various vital systems, including the endocrine and sexual/ reproductive systems, neutralize the nervous system, which enables increase of both mental/ physical/ emotional relaxation (parasympathetic nervous system response) and simultaneously, sexual excitement/ tension (sympathetic nervous system response), build emotional stability, give insight to what and where are your “edges,” increase feelings of vitality, vigor, and enthusiasm to experience new things, and help support feelings of gratitude, selflove, compassion, and connection, and creativity.
Relaxation opens the gateway to pleasure and orgasm.
Mental Distraction takes us away from our bodily awareness, out of the present moment, and dilutes the intensity and availability of feeling turned on/ pleasure, and challenges out ability to connect with intuition, and our partner(s). The mind habitually will wander; Focus/ Awareness takes practice. Be compassionate with yourself and, as possible, be entertained by the mind, rather than get critical/ frustrated with it.
Sound (especially when long and low toned) helps release the throat/pelvic floor, lengthens exhalation and therefore quiets the nervous system, channels focus/ energy, intensifies pleasure sensations, helps release endorphins, and can assist orgasmic release. Also great for claiming space and giving positive feedback to partners!
Playful Curiosity is a great way to deepen into sexual discovery. Don’t confuse Sincerity with Seriousness. Let what feels good and fun guide you. Keep shifting back into the body’s feedback loop and away from the narrative of the mind.
Stability and Freedom are 2 sides of 1 coin. The more we feel stable, safe, organized, and grounded, the more we can truly let go, get vulnerable, expand, and get ecstatic.
~ Presence building practices, Yoga practice, and physical support (inside: strength, body awareness. outside: props, pillows, walls…)
~ Pelvic Floor Work: healthy tone, awareness and strength
~ Femur grounding to support gentle release of the psoas, pelvic organs, and pelvic floor muscles.
~ Alignment (in our bodies, as well as with our partners)
~ Slowing down to feel what is there.
~ Good, Clear Boundaries and Agreements
Ahisma: Non violence Santosha: Contentment
Bramacharya: Respectful, Healthy Utilization of Sexual Energy
Svadyaya: Self Study(internal learning) Samadhi: Total Freedom/ Bliss/ Self Realization
(from Yamas & Niyamas, the foundations of yoga: in our minds, bodies, and with others)
Exploring embodied sexuality may bring up fears or triggers, yet the very techniques of presence, breath, and feeling through what is there, can be effective ways to release layers of tension, trauma, heavy emotionality, or resistance.
When we perceive our thoughts, feelings and actions to be “good,” it’s easy to “love” ourselves, or at least feel capable of receiving love, appreciation, acceptance, or attention. These feelings build up a healthy form of ego, an ability to appreciate oneself independently of any comparison of competition with an external frame of reference. (In a cosmic sense, the ego, that perspective of separation of the self from all that is “other,” can be a hinderance to our realization of wholeness; however for the purposes of this discussion, in the context of our human existence, having a healthy sense of self, so that we can be capable and responsible, keeps us balanced and available to connect outside ourselves, rather than swinging into the extremes of self obsession, either by placing ourselves way below or way above other people.)
However, when we only feel deserving of love when we judge ourselves as “good,” then anytime we feel our “goodness” is challenged either by others, or our own self, this conditional form of self love diminishes. Because the human mind often generates discontentment, and tends to focus on what needs work, what is “wrong”… we can get stuck in ruts where on some deep, hidden level, we believe we don’t deserve love and appreciation unless we are “good,” perfect… and this self criticism loop tends to bind our attention to ourselves, so we have less attention for the people we love, our projects, our work, our dreams.
When we can learn to appreciate ourselves, even when we are face to face with a challenge: a mistake we have made, an unpleasant emotion, a situation that points to our lack of intelligence, sensitivity, or skill, THEN, we are building our ability to love ourselves. When we are challenged is often when we most need love. This moment of compassion can create the shift we need (often by diminishing our resistance to experiencing what is there) and the external world shifts too: we discover a step we can take to make things right, have insight towards a solution, or have some more space emotionally to breathe through what is there.
In our yoga practice, we can change the nervous system’s patterns in terms of how we react internally to challenge. If a pose is physically, emotionally, or psychologically challenging, we can either go into self criticism, or pause, breathe, back up, and observe, working through the re-patterning with awareness, creating a new way, breath by breath. This process is more accessible when we are not rushed, and if we feel safe to be in our process. This is one reason why the goal of organization, rather than range of motion, in our asana practice serves us greatly.
Asana can affect our ability to sense, release resistance to, and even appreciate, where we are at in our journey. Through practice over time, and even in just one session of asana practice, we can gain a palpable sense of how much more stable and grounded we feel through organizing the bones -the inner scaffolding- so that the soft tissues can release, the organs can cleanse though increased circulation, the breath becomes more available, creating a sense of lightness, and wellbeing, etc. By aligning our physical form, the way prana moves through us is altered, allowing us to shift out of old patterns and into more neutral perspectives. These practices also affect our mind’s dialog of self assessment partly by interrupting the inner critic, and also by quieting the nervous system and releasing tension patterns associated with emotional stress and feelings of failure, anxiety, or regret.
In my workshop this Saturday, I am excited to explore with students, first creating a safe internal space. Restorative forward bends, warmth, darkness, and an embryonic begining will establish a home base in the nervous system. From there we will gradually branch out into stability work, to support us in lengthening versions of backbends, which not only have an energizing, joyful affect, but also can be a bit scary and confrontational, so that in a slow and safe manner we can explore loving ourselves through the challenge of opening.
Another way to look at this sense of appreciation is through the niyama santosha, contentment. Through growing and changing, moving through feelings, challenges, highs, and lows, this healthy form of self love helps us have compassion for ourselves as we change and grow, and therefore compassion for others. Our relationships with others echo the ways we relate to ourselves. As we cultivate and strengthen our ability to accept and love ourselves through the ups and downs, we can more fully love and give attention to our lovers, partners, family, and community.
As we descend into the dark, into our selves, into the quiet, into rest, we replenish, shedding all the old dead layers, letting them go, so that we can arise anew, strong, resplendent for the coming cycles of our life.
May you find the perfect way for you to honor this special time, Winter Solstice, 2012. For Albuquerque Locals, join Avery at High Desert Yoga for a
Special Solstice Class 9:30-11am this Friday Dec. 21st.