Why We Don’t Squeeze Our Butt In Backbending Yoga Postures

urdhva dhanurasana "wheel" yoga pose

“Stop Squeezing those pumpkins!”

If you ever make it to a class with my teacher and mentor Annie Carpenter she will probably remind you to stop squeezing your butt at least once during backbends. As you probably already guessed, she likes to refer to the buttocks as “pumpkins”. As lovely as a lil’ perky pumpkin shaped butt sounds it is really not all that great for you when you are attempting your backbending poses.

In the above photo you can clearly see the feet turned out indicating there is external rotation in the thighs. If you look closer you can see there is some “pumpkin” misuse and even classic puffing of the groins. As lovely as this photo and practitioner are in this photo this is unfortunately a perfect example of what not to do.

We will get to why in a moment but the feeling you want is more like a baby after a couple of laps in the kiddie pool, oh yes, the “wet diaper” feeling, now we’re talking! Drop your hips two inches at least and then extend your tailbone towards the back of the knees while rolling your inner thighs down and pressing your shins towards your shoulders. No “pyramiding” the groins towards the sky, your crotch should not be the highest point on your body. Let’s face it, leading with the groins is probably never a great idea. (Write that one down, it’s brilliant advice!)

So what does your butt have to do with your back? Glad you asked! When you squeeze your glutes it creates a strong external rotation of your thighs which in turn forces your sacrum (the flat bone that attaches your butt to your back) into compression. Kinda like the 405 freeway at 5pm, major traffic jam, no fun and your backbend is stuck! The way to get things moving again so to speak, is to internally rotate the thighs. This can be done by squeezing a foam block between your upper inner thighs. This will engage your hamstrings and quads (enjoy the burning sensations, that’s your thighs getting stronger, yay!) and save your lower back and sacrum heaps of problems while taking your backbends to the next level! Can you say superstar backbends? Oh, yeah!

The problem with overbending in the lumbar spine (lower back L4-L5 to be more to the point) is that it is much like a credit card that has been bent back and forth about a thousand times, eventually it breaks at the seam. Not too cool if that “seam” happens to be your lower back. As we age we have very little to no cartilage left in that area and with overuse it becomes bone on bone, Ouch! (At that point you may as well lay out a welcome mat for your new friend Mr. Arthritis)

Okay, enough with the bad news, the good news is when you stabilize and neutralize the lower back safely then the body will begin to blossom the backbend into the upper spine! Trust me when I say understanding this is like winning the backbending lottery, the payoff is huge!

Below is yoga teacher and friend Diana Cohanzad in a very full, healthy and beautiful backbend.
Diana Cohanzad backbending urdhva dhanurasana


Yoga for the Athlete: Excellent Tips for the Yogi Runner

Here is an excellent article on yoga and running I found over at Daily Cup of Yoga blog.

This article has a complete sequence of yoga poses specifically for runners along with pictures (always helpful) With running yoga is especially helpful as it helps to prevent injury, increase stride length, and loosen the pesky IT band that tends to be particularly troublesome for athletes!

Yoga is the perfect compliment to running as it loosens the hips, hamstrings and lower back muscles which will improve your posture while you run. Improved posture also means improved breathing, which of course means better athletic performance! Yoga is to Running as Yin is to Yang

Lessons In Flying Unlocking the Mysterious Mulha Bandha



Angela Kukhahn in Handstand. Photo by Leelu Morris

How Does One Unlock The Power of Mula Bhanda?

Bandhas are energy locks that help us to direct Prana within the body. For some they are somewhat of a mystery and are seldom discussed in depth within the yoga classroom. For some discussing Mula Bandha in particular is may be difficult as it deals with the pelvic floor muscles and for some teachers may be embarrassing.

To engage mula bandha, exhale and contract the muscles between the pubic bone and the tailbone, pulling the perineum up in towards the abdomen. As you pull the pelvic floor up, feel the lower deep abdominal muscles engage and pull towards the spine. This sort of feels like stopping the flow of pee, or for guys stepping into icy cold water I am told. Initially you will need to contract the anus and the genitals, but over time work you will learn to relax the external muscles and solely isolate the perineum deep inside the body to find the lift.(the space between the anus and genitals). You can practice isolating Mula Bhanda with the breath and work on lifting it in and up and either holding it or using rhythmic contractions with the breath. Do not hold the breath or strain. Try to maintain calm and centered breathing throughout your practice of Mula Bandha. Below is a drawing of exactly what you are lifting, the muscles of the pelvic floor form a hammock of sorts that supports the internal organs at the base of the spine.
mula bhanda

My hero Sadie Nardini explains it here in a fantastic YouTube video I highly recommend you watch she calls it The Most important Yoga Pose

Using mula bandha with yoga postures has many benefits. It helps with jumping especially as it integrates your core on the very deepest level. It helps build core body strength, enables you to hold the postures longer, and helps to prevent injuries. Mula bandha also increases your energy and vitality, and provides an overall feeling of well-being. Using mula bandha to support the asana from your core body allows the distal muscles to relax, enabling the body to use less energy to hold the posture. Mula bandha usually begins to happen naturally over time with the practice of arm balancing and inversions.

If you have a hard time finding Mula Bhanda at first don’t worry that is very common and over time breath work in particular will help strengthen it until you can feel a strong contraction and lift.

David Life founder of Jivamukti yoga centers in NYC wrote an excellent article on Mula Bhanda called “To Infinity and Beyond” and says

“Mula bandha is said to cut through brahma granthi, the energetic knot of our resistance to change, which lies in mula-dhara chakra. On the physical level, practicing mula bandha creates attentiveness in the supportive musculature of the pelvis. This increases the stability of the pelvis, and, since the pelvis is the seat of the spine, its stability creates a safe environment for spinal movement. Thus, mula bandha strengthens—and teaches the importance of—the solid foundation that should underlie any movement.”

Another fantastic article is found HERE and is a very practical guide on some exercises meant to guide you into discovering Mula Bhanda in some very basic asanas to get you started!

Yoga For Whiplash: Yoga Sequence For Neck Injuries


Are you suffering from whiplash or a neck injury? Yoga to the rescue! 

I was unfortunately in a car accident last week which got me thinking about yoga and whiplash and how it can help ease some of the discomfort. Here is what I was able to gather on the web.

About 1,000,000 whiplash injuries occur in the United States every year.

Whiplash describes the neck pain which follows a ‘soft tissueinjury to neck, that is an injury where no bones are broken but instead the muscles, ligaments and tendons are injured.

What to avoid….

If you tend to have neck pain, Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) can worsen the problem. As the pose drops your chin toward your chest, it makes it very easy to completely flatten the cervical curve or even curve the neck in the wrong direction. So, if you have a fairly recent, still painful, and acute neck injury like whiplash from an auto accident, avoid Shoulderstand. It would only exacerbate the injury, and practicing it too soon could significantly prolong your healing time.

Besides avoiding alignments and poses that flatten the neck too much, you should also work on strengthening the muscles that help support your cervical curve.

This site was great and completely outlines the exact way to go about healing your whiplash injury Yoga Therapy For Whiplash

Here is a nice ‘lil sequence for those of you easing back into your yoga practice.

My yoga sequence

Supta Badha Konasana
Easy Twist
Childs Pose
Cat Cow
Down Dog
Cobra (note: Do not throw your neck back, no matter how cool it may look when other yogis do it! Keep the back of the neck long, it is very important when healing from whiplash)
Legs Up the Wall Pose

What is a SMART Yoga Flow?

Annie Carpenter Smart Flow Lab at Exhale center for sacred movement in venice california

If you do not know the answer to that question don’t feel too bad, neither did I before I met Annie Carpenter.

The body does have a safe and logical way in which it can be opened.

That being said, there is also an unsafe and illogical way in which some people approach the yoga practice.

In fact there are many…

Two words…

It Hurts!

Yoga shouldn’t hurt.

So how do you practice in a safe way?

In the hands of a knowledgeable teacher who cares about your body, and will guide you along your path.

Annie has countless years of training, teaching, and sharing this information in a concise way. She is my mentor and I learn from her daily!

(Yes, I said daily!)


Long after leaving her class (and even years later) stuff will start to reveal itself, like “Ahah, so that’s why she told me to stretch my psoas muscles because it was pulling on my hip,”…I will have these little momments of discovery about what she was able to see in two minutes of looking at my body. (funny how that works when it may take me years!)

I highly recommend you go see Annie at her new home at Exhale Center For Sacred Movement in Venice, CA and see for yourself.

I will be heading over there to visit her at her new yoga studio home tonight at 7:30pm for her evening class so perhaps I will see you there!

Below I cut and pasted her info for you guys. See you in class!

Yoga Teacher Training Group with Master Teacher Annie Carpenter
Assisting Annie Carpenter in Sydney Australia for a Yogaworks 200 Hr Training

Pranayama and Meditation class starts this Sunday!

8-9am may seem early, but breathing and sitting in community every week is a powerful way to move your practice forward.

Also, this Sunday is the second YogaLAB. We’ll be awakening the core and activating mula and uddiyana bandha. From 2-4pm.

This Summer:

July 1-11 and August 1-12

SmartFLOW yoga celebrates the innate intelligence of juicy, flowing movement. This training is for anyone who wants to take their practice to a new level: teachers, future teachers, and lovers of yoga. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.

For information about registering, click here.

Here’s my permanent Exhale schedule:


10:30am-12:00pm (2/3)


9:00-10:30am (2/3)

7:30-9:00pm (2)


9:00-10:30am (2/3)

7:30-9:00pm (2)


10:30am-12:00pm (2/3)


8:00-9:00am — pranayama and meditation

9:00-10:30am (2)

Annie’s YogaLAB Series

May 16, 2010 – this Sunday!

2:00-4:00pm – To the Core

May 30, 2010

2:00-4:00pm – Backbending and The Happy Sacrum

exhale.com for more information.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

Love and peace, and joyous spring!


Upcoming Travel Schedule

June 4-6, 2010

Midwest Yoga Conference

Bloomingdale, IL


July 30-August 1, 2010

Wanderlust Festival

Lake Tahoe, CA


September 10-12, 2010

Bhakti Fest

Joshua Tree, CA


The Key to Getting Strong Abs and a Sexy Mid-Section

Do you want to have strong, sexy abs that you actually want to show off?
Me too!

(And no, I don’t think it makes me or you less of a yogi for wanting that.)

So lets talk sexy and lets talk abs because I am sure you guys are ready to get started…

Oh, and for those of you so enlightened that sexy abs mean nothing to you, chew on this for a momment…

50% of all doctor visits in the U.S. are due to back pain, for which either weak or imbalanced core muscles are responsible.

So grab your yoga mat and get your enlightened self a little stronger today.

  • There are 4 muscles that make up your abdominal muscle anatomy: rectus abdominus, external oblique, internal oblique and transverse abdominus. They work together to flex the spine forward and sideways, rotate the spine, and compress the abdomen.
  • Most movements involve more than one muscle.
  • Possibly the most misunderstood, underrated, and overlooked of these muscles is the Transverse abdominus.
  • Most people overwork the rectus abdominals, which is the largest superficial abdominal muscle
  • The Transverse abdominals usually get neglected altogether. This is a huge mistake!
  • An overworked rectus abdominal flattens the lumbar spine, which reverses the natural curve of the lower back, and restricts the movement of the diaphragm.
  • If you overtrain your rectus abdominals your abs will protrude.
  • The Transverse abdominus runs horizontally and serves as a girdle for your internal organs, and it also supports the back.
  • These muscles connect to both the lower back muscles and the rectus abdominus and form a girdle for the entire midsection.
  • You engage this muscle when coughing, sneezing, or exhaling forcibly.
  • Unlike the other three abdominal muscles, the transversus doesn’t move your spine.

Core Exercises:

As with any new workout routine please consult your physician particularly if you suffer from back issues. And of course always warm up as well.

Begin by lying down on your back with your feet about 8 to 12 inches from your buttocks. Keep the knees and feet inline with the hips and the toes pointing straight forward. Again you want to maintain the natural curves of the spine. Your neck should have a small space underneath it to protect the cervical vertebrae, as well as your lumbar spine while keeping your tailbone pressing down.

Place your hands on the bony parts at the front of your hips. Move your hands in an inch towards your belly button and down and inch towards your toes. You should now be directly over the transversus abdominus muscle. When you contract your core correctly you should feel a gentle tightening under fingers when they are in the above position. If you feel a ‘bulge’ you are contracting too much. Failure to contract properly will mean unwanted contraction of the larger muscles surrounding the core. These will take over the movement and thus defeat the aim of the exercises. In the same position as above take a deep breath.

On exhaling focus on ‘drawing up’ from the pelvic floor muscles (mulha bhanda), and at the same time release the buttocks. Imagine that you wish to stop yourself going to the toilet while moving your sitbones away from each other. This will take practice. Be patient!
1. Pelvic Tilts

This stomach exercise requires lying on your back on a flat surface, such as the floor or a bench. Use a mat or towel to cushion your spine. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Raise your pelvis (and only your pelvis) off the floor, hold momentarily, and then lower it back down. Repeat for an entire set. Maintaining a controlled movement is crucial to this exercise. This will allow you to use your abdominal muscles, rather than your body’s momentum, to do the work on the exercise. Also, be sure to keep your upper body on the floor throughout.

2. Crunchless Crunch

This exercise is fairly simple but can also be fairly difficult. Essentially, it involves trying to pull the belly button in towards the spine. This can be tricky, as it involves using muscles which you may not be used to activating. To start, either lie or on your stomach or kneel. You might want to try both ways and see which helps you feel the exercise better. Relax your body as much as possible, then try to use only the lower abdominals to move your belly button toward your spine. Hold for ten seconds. If holding for ten seconds feels easy, hold for a longer period. The goal is to hold the contraction until you either cannot feel it, or you feel other muscles working harder than the transverse abdominus. When you feel this, let the contraction out. Remember your neutral spine if you can manage it here, and the engagement of the pelvic floor muscles.

3. Office workers Delight

This one is fantastic and easy to feel. Again these movements will be small and subtle to work properly; any large movement will recruit the other muscles and defeat the purpose. Sitting in your chair with your knees bent to 90 degrees. Draw the navel in towards your spine. Contract your pelvic floor muscles as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine. Maintain the contraction in your core as you tuck your pelvis and then arch your lower back. Start with a set of 40 slow controlled hip rolls.

Breath of Fire

Sit in a comfortable seated position, for most of you sliding one or two blankets under the hips will be beneficial. Sit up with the spine long reaching up through the crown of the head, and your hands placed on the knees with your eyes closed. Practice several calming breaths to get started bringing awareness throughout your body. Move into your ujjayi breath saturating the body with fresh prana. Next take an inhale and expel it with a quick strong blast by drawing the belly muscles in towards the spine. (Imagine being hit in the stomach, or a pair of bellows used to stoke fires) If you exhaled correctly your inhale will happen naturally without any effort. Continue 4 to 8 times if you are new to this to complete 1 cycle, ending with an out breath. Return to your ujjayi to recover, or if you wish you can hold onto your breath, for 5 to 8 seconds engaging the pelvic floor muscles drawing them in and up. Exhale slowly if you held the breath, and take several rounds of the ujjayi breath. This will rest your lungs and the diaphragm and prepare your body for the next round of breathing. Repeat 3 to 4 times with or without the retention. Remember to rest between cycles and relax with several rounds of deep satisfying ujjayi breaths. Afterwards take a shavasana (final relaxation pose) to release the body completely.

(Please refrain from doing this if you are pregnant, are on your cycle, or have high blood pressure. Stop if you feel dizzy or lightheaded or if your breath becomes ragged. Being a yogi means listening to what your body is telling you.)

Floating, Flying and Balancing: A Guide To Yoga Wrist Care and Proper Alignment

Angela Kukhahn and Marysia Weiss in doing handstand at Yogis Anonymous. Photo by Jim Knowles

How to care for your wrists when practicing yoga. Tips on how to modify your yoga practice to prevent wrist injury and what to do if you have already injured your wrists and still want to practice yoga.

These tips are especially helpful to the yoga student who is interested in inverting, arm balancing or practicing flow yoga.

Do you dream of balancing on your hands, suspended between the Heaven and Earth transcending all reason while mocking gravity? Well, I thought so…but first let’s take a moment to talk about what you are balancing on, your hands and wrists!


1. Take a moment to look at your palm, the are peaks and valley (the center of your palm is a valley for example, so is the area between the index finger thumb, and the center of the wrist) When placed on the floor the weight should mainly rest on the peaks, or fleshy mounds of the hands, and the rest distributed evenly through the extended fingers

2. The Median Nerve passes through the center of the wrist. It is important not to collapse on a nerve; I think that one is self – explanatory. (I mean it just sounds bad!) To avoid doing this grab the floor with your hands like you are palming a basketball. For most people this requires them to lift the forearms further away from the floor.

3. Never practice arm balances, or for that matter any weight bearing exercises on a soft, squishy surface. Sand, carpet, and super cushy mats fall into this category. Anytime the base of your wrist dips below the fingertips it is in hyperextension.

4. Spread your fingers WIDE apart from the thumb to the baby finger. This will insure that your weight is evenly distributed on your hands, protecting your wrists.

5. Here are some options if you are experiencing wrist problems. If you feel a strain in your wrist, try using a yoga wedge or a slant board to lift the base of the wrist and reduce the angle. The wedge has many uses and can be good for  Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), but I also like using two blocks tipped up against the edge of a wall as well. Also good to try is making fists, using Foam Dumbells, special yoga gloves or alternate Dolphin Pose with Down Dog when your wrists get tired. Of course, Child’s Pose or Cat/Cow are always wonderful options as well.

6. Sometimes soreness in the wrists is due to a lack of conditioning, so take a day off and relax : )

7. Remember to stretch the wrists gently, and perhaps give yourself a mini wrist massage. Yum!

8. Finally, if you have hot, intense, shooting pain you should see a doctor, as much advice as I can pass along it is not a substitute for a qualified medical practitioner.

Happy wrists = joyful arm balancing, inverting, floating and flying!